Posts Tagged With: fantasy

His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass

by Philip Pullman

The final book in the trilogy follows Will as he tries to find Lyra, who is being kept in a permanent state of sleep by Mrs Coulter. In her dream state, Lyra communicates with her dead friend Roger, and she forms a plan to travel with Will into the afterlife to help him. Meanwhile, Mary Malone has stumbled upon an opening into a fantastical world with strange creatures who take her in as their friend and maybe saviour. Lord Asriel continues his plot to undermine the Authority, and Mrs Coulter struggles with her newfound emotional attachment to her daughter. A lot happens.

You may have noticed that I stopped reviewing books for a while. That is because of this book. Even though I am a fast reader, it took me ages to finish this book. As much as I loved it, it was almost too creative to read. I would start reading it and then get distracted and have to go create something of my own or just stare into space contemplating love or the universe or something. In the His Dark Materials series, I felt the momentum stall in the second book with the introduction of Will, who I couldn’t bring myself to care about. Everything picked up in this book, though, and I became really invested in his character and his relationship with Lyra. I loved all of the characters, even if I felt nothing for them in the previous books. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the writing is. The descriptions of the action, the different worlds, and the different peoples are so vivid I felt like I was watching this book instead of reading it. This series is definitely going on my re-read shelf, even though I think it will take me forever to get through it all again.

Obviously recommended to people who have already read the first two books. To anyone who may have given up over the course of the series like I did, I urge you to read on because it’s definitely worth it.

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A Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, ill. Jim Kay

Late at night, Conor wakes from a nightmare to hear someone calling his name. No, not someone: something. The yew tree from the neighbouring graveyard has transported itself into his yard, twisting its branches into a monstrous shape with arms, legs, and a face. Having been woken by a nightmare more horrifying than a monstrous yew tree, Conor isn’t afraid. He thinks it’s just another dream. But when he wakes up in the morning, the floor of his room is covered in yew leaves. Conor has more going on than midnight visits from a monster–in the waking world, his mother is struggling with cancer and everyone at school is treating him like some innocent victim. The yew tree continues to visit Conor and tell him stories about other times he has been called to enact justice, and Conor starts to hope that the yew tree can help him fix his life. But the monster’s ideas about justice are quite different from Conor’s.

I found this book hard to get into at first, even though the illustrations are really dark and beautiful. I was expecting a straight-up monster story, and the first few pages describe a visit from a monster but it’s not scary. Conor isn’t even afraid, so how was I supposed to be? Then I got to the part about Conor cleaning the house and fixing his own breakfast because his mom is still in bed. I thought it was the typical neglectful parent you find in most horror stories. Once I picked up on the clues that Conor’s mom had cancer, the story shifted for me. Usually kids’ stories about cancer or other illnesses are too after-school special for me to enjoy, with more predictable trajectories than monster stories, but this one is different. This one overlaps the horror element of monster stories with the real life struggles of a child whose parent has cancer. The story is beautifully told, and portrays Conor as he would like to be seen–a flawed hero in a horror story of epic proportions, not the victimized subject of an uncomfortable “issues” book taught in school. Both genres are enriched by this story’s inclusion of the other: the horror aspects of the story embody the dark issues of Conor’s situation, making it easier to empathize with him than if he was merely telling readers about how scared he is about his mom; conversely, the mundane and realistic possibility of Conor losing his mother to cancer makes the horror story more threatening than it would be if simply the fate of the world hung in the balance. While it took me eight or so goes to get to page 20, I found Conor’s complicated dilemma absolutely compelling and read the rest of the book straight through. It is an original, beautiful read with excellent illustrations that bring out both the horror and the sadness of the story.

Recommended for older kids and younger teens who can handle dark books about horror and death. Older teens looking for fanged monsters and blood will be disappointed, but those looking for a sad story will still enjoy it even if they do not care for supernatural horror.

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The Good Neighbors: Kith

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Book two in the Good Neighbors series starts somewhat awkwardly, with a scene of Dale and Justin’s band playing a show, and a faery offering Lucy a love potion. Rue is single-tearing as she narrates a mini-summary of the last book’s events. A couple we don’t know has a dramatic outburst and the girl runs into the haunted forest, setting in motion one of the threads of this book’s plot. We see Dale’s homelife and how he is coping with learning about Rue’s heritage. After this, the story really starts. Aubrey wants Rue to join him, believing and fearing Tam’s prediction that only she can stop him. Rue’s mother sends a shadow to lure Rue to the faery hideout, where she talks more with her mother and with Tam. She learns more about her grandfather’s plan for the city, but is unsure about how she can stop it, or if she even wants to.

This book definitely suffers from middle book syndrome. It starts disconnected from the first volume, and just fits a bunch of insignificant plot threads into the space of time before book one and book three. Panels were devoted to developing Lucy and Justin’s romance, just to pointlessly tie them up in the overly wrought theme of romantic betrayal in this volume. While I felt like Dale’s behavior was realistic, I didn’t really care about what it meant for his relationship with Rue. I wasn’t sure why the nymph ladies even wanted to Riley-Finn him anyway. It all seemed really pointless. Rue seemed so emotionally disconnected from everyone around her, and not in a character development sort of way. I no longer felt what she felt, so it was hard to care about any of the characters. The illustrations are consistent with the first book, but a lot of wideshot frames have less detail in them–particularly in the faces–making it hard to read characters’ emotions when some big events happen.

Still a recommended book for those who have read the first one and wish to continue, but I may change my mind about recommending the series if the third one is as unfocused and emotionally indifferent as this one.

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Beastologist: The Flight of the Phoenix

by R.L. LaFevers, ill. Kelly Murphy

When Nathaniel Fludd is told that his parents are lost at sea, he is thrown into an uncertain world. Miss Lumpton, his caretaker, obviously doesn’t care for him and is all too happy to take the Tidy Sum the Fludds left for her and leave Nathaniel behind. Nathaniel now has to take his suitcase and go live with a distant relative, named Phil. Upon arriving at Phil’s house, Nathaniel discovers that Phil is a lady and that she is, like his parents were, a beastologist. Beastologists study and care for beasts that are either unknown to exist or that are thought to be extinct. It’s a dangerous trade, and one the timid and inexperienced Nathaniel is not sure he is suited for. Despite his doubts, he joins Aunt Phil on a beastologist errand. When Aunt Phil is detained, Nathaniel must learn to do an important beastologist task on his own. The book is illustrated with maps and drawings, as well as Nathaniel’s own sketches of the different beasts he comes across.

A promising enough orphan fantasy premise, but a pretty boring read despite its many plot developments. The writing style just gives this book such a slow pace. Parts of Nate’s adventures that seem like they should be thrilling have zero tension. I wanted to like it because it seems like a promising series and the covers look really nice. The amount of information held back–what happened to Nate’s parents, why didn’t he receive their letters, what was Miss Lumpton’s role in everything, who is working against Aunt Phil–makes the series somewhat compelling, but I can’t be bothered to continue.

The illustrations throughout make this book an approachable read for younger elementary kids, but I wouldn’t recommend it for kids looking for an action-packed adventure or those who are easily distracted from reading. More patient readers or kids who like their adventures gentle will enjoy this book, especially as a bedtime story.

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The Good Neighbors: Kin

by Holly Black & Ted Naifeh

Rue doesn’t worry about anything. That is, she never used to. But now that her mom has disappeared and her dad has been charged with murdering one of his students, she’s starting to look critically at the world around her. Why does she see things no one else can? What’s with all the vines that seem to be encasing all the buildings in her city? Was her mom a crazy person or was she something else entirely? And, most importantly, what does all of this have to do with Rue? A murder mystery, complete with faeries.

As with all graphic novels, the illustrations are the most important part of the book. If the drawings don’t match the story, I usually put the book down after the first page. Naifeh’s art was excellent for this book. They make it easy to tell who is who, what is happening, and what everyone is feeling. The backgrounds are detailed enough to provide a clear setting, but not so detailed that they became distracting. Naifeh’s style fits the story really well, enhancing its dark atmosphere and making the world and characters more full and vivid than they would have been if this was just a novel. Also, there are quite a few characters of colour, which is something I wish I didn’t have to applaud, but very few graphic novels include such a realistically diverse cast of characters. So, bravo to Naifeh for doing it right.

The story is compelling enough, if not entirely original. I don’t really care about Rue very much but I am curious about where the story is going. The side characters are developed to the same level as Rue and have problems of their own, which opens up a lot of options for side stories that may become more central in the next two books. The writing is opaque enough to stir curiosity, but not so unclear as to confuse readers or (in my case) cause irritability. Overall, I like the dark urban supernatural mystery Black & Naifeh create together, and I’d read on.

Recommended for fans of Holly Black, faery stories, urban fantasy, and stories with angsty teens finding out they have magical lineage. A pretty dark read with none of the love-at-first-sight supernatural romance fluff found in so many other faery stories. If romance blossoms in later books, it will be of the gritty variety.

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Protector of the Small: First Test

by Tamora Pierce

Keladry wants to be a knight. Fortunately, the page program for knights in training has been open to girls for the last ten years. Unfortunately, Kel is the first girl to enroll, and a lot of people want to stand in her way. It’s hard enough to get by with so many boys avoiding her or outright picking on her, but the training master has also put Kel on probation for her first year in order to voice his displeasure at having to admit a girl to the program. Having grown up with the stoic Yamani, Kel has learned to master her emotions and rise above such provocation. She is determined to show them all just what she can do.

Your basic girl power story, with a girl showing that she can excel among male peers. What I enjoyed about this one was that Kel made sure to not just behave like a boy in order to gain acceptance; although she never wears skirts or dresses at home, she wears them to dinners at training school to remind everyone that she is a girl. It’s rare to find a girl character who wants to do things boys do but doesn’t express a distaste for all things feminine, so I was pretty pleased with Kel as a character. As for the storyline, it’s is pretty obvious, and it gets really cheesy when these birds Kel feeds decide to follow her on a mission and help her out. It seems like the whole series will go on without anyone nice dying, which is always a bummer for me but it makes it a lot better for younger kids who just want an inspirational story.

I would definitely recommend this to kids nowadays, even though it seems like something written in the 80s (it was published in 1999). I think it’s pretty standard fare, and I’ve heard Pierce’s other Tortall stories are more original. It would still be enjoyed by a lot of kids who like the other series set in Tortall by Tamora Pierce, The Ranger’s Apprentice series, books with girl characters doing boy things, or castle fiction in general. Some book sites say this is for 12 and up, but it’s super tame so I would shift the age group to 8-12.

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The Prince of Neither Here Nor There

by Seán Cullen

Brendan is your typical awkward teen. He gets pimples and has to wear braces… and he hears animals speaking to each other. That last detail is the newest one to cloud his life, and he believes it is a sign that he is going crazy. Until he learns that he is of course a faerie prince with immense power. The spell that has been protecting him all his life is starting to fade, and some evil faeries are trying to hunt him down so that they can recruit him to the dark side.

The book flows well enough and is a pretty good supernatural adventure. Some funny stuff about faeries vs fairies, plus a lot of Toronto-ness (if you’re into that sort of thing). I read it because the cover is cool, and I won’t be reading the second one because the cover isn’t cool and the story isn’t as addictive as other supernatural orphan stories.

Despite my faint praise, this book would still be a really good read for those who liked Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. It’s missing something I can’t put my finger on, but it’s still a good adventure fantasy. The Canadian setting might make it more interesting for Canadian kids as well.

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The Unforgotten Coat

by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Julie remembers grade six well. She tells the story of her year as it relates to a series of Polaroid pictures. Grade six Julie just wants two things in life: for Shocky to notice her and for Mimi to invite her over to her house. She becomes interested in bigger issues when two mysterious Mongolian brothers show up at her school. Chingis, the older of the two, tells everyone to call his brother Nergui–Mongolian for “no name”–and tells Julie that a vanishing demon is hunting his brother. Chingis makes Julie their “Good Guide,” making her responsible for teaching them about their surroundings so they can blend in and the demon won’t find Nergui. Julie gets so involved in Chingis’s stories about Mongolia and the demon that she starts to notice some inconsistencies. Like, how did he take photos of Mongolia if he got his camera last summer at a refugee camp in England? Is he even from Mongolia? Doesn’t he know that demons don’t exist and people don’t just vanish?

Like some other reviewers who picked up this book, I thought it would be a pure fantasy story. I would still classify it as fantasy, but it binds fantastical conflicts with reality more closely than most. A lot of fantasy takes place in other worlds but reflects on our own; this story manifests fantasy elements from real situations. In fact, many story elements are based on a true story, which Cottrell Boyce tells in the afterword. I loved the genre blending, and I liked the way in which the mystery about the two brothers unfolded. For such a short book, the characters are well developed and I grew to like them. The Polaroid pictures sprinkled throughout the book made it visually enjoyable, and the writing was easy to follow. Although I wouldn’t categorize it as a book I couldn’t put down, I actually couldn’t put it down and stayed up later than I wanted to in order to finish it all in one go.

Recommended to adults who like kids books and kids who enjoy character-driven realistic fiction, curiosity-driven plots, and intersections of fantasy and reality. A good one for teachers of older elementary students to read aloud in units addressing social issues such as refugees.

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Wicked Lovely: Desert Tales: Sanctuary

by Melissa Marr; ill. Irene Diaz & Laura Moreno

Desert Tales is a story arc with characters from Wicked Lovely outside of the Faerie Courts of the novels. Ex-faery Rika lives in the Mojave desert, pining over a mortal boy named Jayce who can’t see her. When some mischevious desert faeries cause Jayce to fall off a cliff, Rika saves him by breaking his fall, causing her to be visible to him and his friends. The faeries continue to razz Rika by trying to harm Jayce, causing her to reveal more of her powers to Jayce in order to keep him safe. But would a boy like Jayce want to be with a girl who wasn’t quite human?

I thought this book was going to be a manga adaptation of Wicked Lovely, but it is a story that takes place outside of the world of the Wicked Lovely novels, and it is probably better for it. As with most manga, the story in the first volume just sets everything up and isn’t wrapped up in the end. The plot is a bit boring because of that, but you get Rika’s backstory and a lot of characterization. The drawings are done in a really pretty manga style and I didn’t have too hard a time telling characters apart in most frames (why must everyone have those stringy bangs?). I love that the lead boy is a person of colour–something you don’t see in a lot of teen fantasy or most manga or even on the cover of this book), but I dislike Rika’s wimpy female routine. She is a very insecure character, super emotional and timidly shy, and she has to tone down her strength so Jayce won’t know she is supernatural. I’m hoping that as the story goes on, her strength will become more of an asset and we’ll get to see her kicking butt. While not a fantastic read on its own, this volume set up a decent amount of conflict in what could be an interesting world, and I would read the second one.

Recommended for fans of Wicked Lovely or teens who like fantasy romance manga. You don’t have to read the series to understand this story, but it probably helps.

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The Amulet of Samarkand: A Bartimaeus Graphic Novel

adapted by Jonathan Stroud & Andrew Donkin, ill. Lee Sullivan & Nicolas Chapuis

A young magician’s apprentice summons more than he bargained for when he invokes an ancient demon named Bartimaeus to do his bidding. All Nicholas wants is a bit of revenge after the upstart magician Simon Lovelace humiliates him in front of a crowd of accomplished magicians. He orders Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand from Lovelace, despite the demon’s warnings that Nicholas is dealing with magic beyond his capabilities. His plot to humiliate Lovelace spins out of control as he uncovers too much about the magician and becomes a target of his wrath.

The illustrations are fantastic. They are consistent, with enough detail to recognize all the characters and interpret their expressions, but not so much detail that the frames become cluttered. On the illustration front, this graphic novel gets top marks. On the story front, it gets props for concept but this adaptation seems to leave out too much for it to be a satisfying fantasy/mystery. There is a group of anti-magicians whose story I would like to see more of, and I would like to have had more of an explanation of the motives and backgrounds of Lovelace and his accomplices. This comic is a good advertisement for the book, but on its own it lacks the necessary substance to be a great story.

Recommended for anyone who thinks they might want to read the Bartimaeus trilogy but doesn’t want to put the time in to try reading the novel. It may be enjoyable for those who read the novel before and would like to revisit the story without having to re-read the book. Vocabulary and some dark concepts more suitable for older kids and teens.

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