Book Recommendations: October
By Appa the Gypsy
I guess it would make sense if I were going to do some Halloween related recommendations this month, for obvious reasons, but I’ve realised I don’t really read much in the way of horror stories or anything like that, so I decided that might not be the best idea. Unless you like to spend your Halloween reading Young Adult fantasy or dystopian novels, in which case, you’re in the right place! Otherwise, Jamie Z put together awesome lists, both this year and last year, of authors to read over Halloween, which you can check out here and here, if you’re looking for a bit of extra scare this Halloween.
Anyway, so horror stories aside, I decided it was time to start reviewing some of the work of the authors I had a chance to see at Supanova in Perth at the end of June this year. It’s been very exciting reading the work of all these new authors and I’ve truly adored their novels, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to round off with a double post next month to finish reviewing the books they were all promoting, as I promised I would try to do. But I thought I’d kick things off by reviewing another series, Kirstin Cashore’s Graceling Realm series, which I only just finished off reading, in between my Supanova related reading crackdown, as well as Trudi Canavan’s Magicians’ Guild from her Black Magician trilogy, and Jana Oliver’s Forsaken from her Demon Trappers series. I first mentioned the latter two in my August Recommendations when I discussed how awesome all the Supanova authors were. All three of these series all fall under Young Adult categories, and I’ve realised that I am actually primarily a YA reader, if I’m being honest, so these were all absolutely right up my alley, and I just plain loved them!
Young Adult Fantasy: Graceling Realm Series – Kristin Cashore
This series is pretty awesome, which is why I took a break from my Supanova reading schedule to finish it off once I got hold of the final book. I’ve come to really adore it. Part of that is due to the world. Cashore’s debut novel, Graceling and the final book in the trilogy, Bitterblue, are set in the Seven Kingdoms, which is a world where people born with two different coloured eyes are also born with a gift, referred to as a Grace, which is essentially a very specialised skill. So, this means there are people in the world whose Graces relate to just about anything you can think of, from one librarian who remembers everything he’s ever read, to the protagonist of Graceling whose Grace is said to be a killing Grace, essentially meaning that she is very good at killing people. The book that chronologically comes before Graceling, but was released at the second in the series, Fire, is set in a neighbouring kingdom, the Dells, cut off from the Seven Kingdoms by mountain ranges. In the Dells, Gracelings do not exist, but Monsters do. These are strange creatures whose appearance can enthral anyone who beholds them, generally with the purpose of making a meal out of them. What’s strange about the links between the second book in the series and the other two is that the link doesn’t appear to be there at first. It’s only towards the end of Fire and Bitterblue that we see these two worlds becoming linked, and these kingdoms learn of the existence of the other.
In Graceling, the infamous young woman with the killing Grace, Katsa, introduces us to a world where Gracelings are the property of their monarchs, should their monarchs want them. Katsa and her killing Grace are servants to a king who uses Katsa as a weapon and a threat to anyone who opposes the monarchy or does not pay their taxes. When Katsa leaves her kingdom, she becomes entangled with the royal families of several other nations, not to mention falling in love with the prince of one of them. His name is Po. That there is a sticking point for any one who ever saw the Tellitubies… Anyway, Katsa and Po come into contact with a princess who is fleeing from her father, an insane man with a Grace that can essentially make people do whatever he wants them to. In their efforts to protect both the princess, Po and herself, Katsa learns that she is not who she was always told she was, and that Graces are not all-powerful, nor are they completely defining. With this knowledge, Katsa is able to accept that she is not made evil by her skill set any more than a knife is made evil by its one possible use, and she begins to realise that she is capable of being a catalyst for very real, very powerful revolutionary change in the Seven Kingdoms.
The protagonist of Fire is a girl named Fire, who belongs to an unusual bloodline in the Dells, and is herself a Monster. Her bright read hair, hence her name, has the power to capture the mind and adoration of anyone who looks upon it, to the point that people left, right and centre are declaring their love for her. This leaves her kept secluded from other people as much as possible, and it has her keeping horrifying secrets about her sadistic late father on her own. When Fire’s life changes, however, she is forced to learn to deal with the way other people see her, and to learn to differentiate real love from the infatuation that her Monster blood brings out in people. In discovering her own power and her own place in the world, she becomes essential in protecting her land from being engulfed and defeated by war.
Bitterblue tells the story of the young princess Katsa rescues in Graceling. Princess Bitterblue is now Queen of the land she inherited from her insane father, and eight years after the events of Graceling and her father’s death, her nation is still fending off its own insanity. Her people are confused and unpredictable, damaged by the acts their king made them perform, and unsure of their own identities. In an effort to understand how she can save her nation, Bitterblue ventures out into her city and begins to uncover a deadly conspiracy that could cost her life and the free will of everyone in her kingdom.
So, yeah. Big stories. Far from being one that follows only a few characters across one timeline, the Graceling Realm instead tells the stories of this world, from the perspective of these different characters. The protagonists are all very different young women, faced with very different challenges, and they all rise to these challenges in ways that only they ever could. I found Cashore’s depiction of these women to be truly interesting. They all seemed so very well-defined and her writing was so sure of who these characters were. An interesting point to note is that despite two of the characters finding their soul mates, essentially, only one of them actually marries, and while the odd one out does find love, she doesn’t find her soul mate. Cashore deals with these different women in different ways to provide us with stories about more than just a girl who meets her true love and then fights to stay with him. Instead, these stories are about girls who do find love, but go on to do astounding, empowering and world-altering things, despite, and in some cases to the detriment of, the love stories they’ve found themselves living. They are neither made weaker or stronger by love, but instead spend their novels learning who they are, part of which involves learning about love. I guess I just found that to be really refreshing from this kind of novel, which, when presented with a love story, you just kind of expect everything else to fall to the sidelines. But that’s not what happens, and man, was that just so much more fun to read!
Graceling Realm Series:
As promised, Magicians’ Guild was the first book I read from my Supanova book pile, because I was most excited by the concept Trudi Canavan told us about during the panels in June. Essentially the story is about a world where the magical arts have been controlled by the aristocracy for centuries. Magic is a skill that must be taught and learned, and magicians are selective about who they teach, choosing students from the upper classes of society. When a young girl from the slums unknowingly uses magic in full view of several magicians, and one of them is hurt, she flees, afraid for her life. The magicians search for her, astounded by her existence, and some even angered by her attack on another magician, but all aware that uncontrolled magic is unpredictable and the girl, Sonea, is a danger to the entire city, since magic that manifests naturally is more powerful than magic that is taught. Sonea is moved from place to place around the city’s underground, helped by a Thief Lord who sees the value in a magic user aligned with the city’s slums and not the wealthy guild. But Sonea cannot run forever, and when she is caught, she finds that the sugar coated life in the Magician’s Guild masks secrets and a darkness that might take everything she cares about from her.
So, having read the first book in the Kyralia series, I have to tell you that this series may not be for everyone. I loved Magicians’ Guild, and I fully intend to read more of the series, but, and this might have just been me, I found that I felt just a tad let down by the book. Now, I know exactly what caused it, and it was partly my fault and partly Trudi Canavan’s own fault too. She described the series a few times during author panels at Supanova, and she made it sound just so freaking awesome that I built it up rather intensely in my head. I don’t know what I expected. I think it may have been something along the lines of just magic. Magic everywhere. But then I kept having to read things like character development and world building, and all I wanted was magic. Magic everywhere. You see the problem. I also found that the middle section of the novel, in which Sonea spends much of her time moving from place to place, trying to learn magic and waiting for the magicians to almost find her was a little repetitive. But, at the same time, I’m well aware that those sections were important. They taught us who Sonea was, and what she believes in. Once again, I think I was just reading these scenes wondering why more things were not blowing up. But, guys! It’s ok. Things blow up later. Many things.
What I will say is that Magicians’ Guild is an easy read. Different from sweeping fantasy epics where you visit a thousand different places in one book, the novel sticks to the one city, and the politics and diversity of that city are enough to keep the book chugging along, and I kind of appreciate that. I was able to get to know the characters and the specific problems of a single place, rather than have my focus divided across the history and cultures of an entire world. That might be a weird thing to like, but I do. Sometimes fantasy novels get rather unfortunately bogged down in the awesomeness of their worlds that the books lose their momentum, to the detriment of less persistent readers. This doesn’t happen in novels that are more of a snapshot of a time and place in the history of a world. They’re more focussed and they’re more detailed as a result.
And I recommend that you do check out this series, because, as I say, the concept is fascinating and it’s the kind of book that you can absolutely power through, because the pace and action of the novel draw you in and hold you captive until the very end.
The Black Magician Trilogy:
- The Magicians’ Guild
- The Novice
- The High Lord
- The Magician’s Apprentice (prequel stand-alone novel to the Black Magician Trilogy)
The Traitor Spy Trilogy:
- The Ambassador’s Mission
- The Rogue
- The Traitor Queen’
I managed to get my hands on a copy of the first Demon Trappers novel, Forsaken, when I was at Supanova, signed and everything. And, as I said in my Supanova author rundown, I loved listening to Jana at the panels, so I decided to read her book next. Forsaken tells the story of Riley Blackthorn, daughter and apprentice to Master Demon trapper, Paul Blackthorn. Riley faces many challenges as the only female Demon trapper, but her greatest challenge comes when her father is cruelly taken from her, leaving her on her own and in the hands of a new Master who despises her. Riley slowly begins to adjust to her new life without her father, but things are far from being uncomplicated, and she finds it hard to know who to trust. I don’t want to give away too much more than that, because I really think that that’s the hook right there. At its core, this is a story about a girl whose support system is cut out from under her, and yet she still rises to the challenges that life throws at her.
What I liked about this book is that while Riley is basically your average teenage girl, she’s also a complete badass. She deals with boy troubles, friend troubles, mean girls at school and homework. On top of that, she deals with her grief and with adjusting to her new life and taking care of herself, as well as still finding the time to take out a demon or two every other night. She’s quick, clever and determined, and she’s a rather real picture of a girl whose family has been taken from her. She deals with her grief one step at a time, one day at a time, by focussing on the tasks at hand, and as a reader, you can see that grief her has no resolution. She wasn’t going to wake up one day and not be sad and angry and heartbroken, but she was going to wake up every day anyway. It was very interesting to read a character who’s interests were so very focussed on the coming day, rather than what her life will be like in one year or in ten years, and I felt it was a pretty real picture of that kind of grief. Riley didn’t feel like getting out of bed in the morning, but she kept her mind on the things she needed and still wanted to do for day, and that was how she got up in the morning. She pushed away the grief and just tried to be practical and keep paying the bills.
Enough about that, though. The series is called Demon trappers, and I’m sure y’all want to know more about the world and the kickass action in the novel. Forsaken is set in Atlanta in the near future, in a world where products like metal are scarce and valuable, and petrol prices are so high, they’d have those of us who complain about the prices now just plain fainting from shock. Buildings have fallen into disrepair, schools are housed in former supermarket buildings, and parking lots that are now rather useless have been converted into marketplaces that sell everything from witch charms and holy water to food. Essentially, this is a world right on the brink of your usual apocalyptic dystopian. It’s not quite there yet, but man is it getting there… Oh, and the other kicker? This world is under attack by demons. Everything from your tiny magpie-like demons that actually would seem kind of cute if they weren’t so not cute, to incredibly powerful demons who can control the elements and cause immense destruction. And Riley and the rest of the demon trappers fight and trap these bad boys, and pick up some quick cash for sending them off to the Vatican to be cleansed. Nice.
Anyway, I just really thought that this book was cool. Riley was awesome and flawed and the other characters in the novel ranged from the sweetest nice guy boyfriend she manages to land to her dad’s young demon trapping partner, whose dealing with the same kind of grief Riley herself is struggling with, and is bent on taking care of Riley, despite her own protests. Riley makes interesting discoveries about the people around her, though. She realises she needs to let her dad’s partner help her sometimes, and she realises that despite her new Master being a complete tosser, he also needs someone to look after him, and there’s no one but her who will do it. Buuuut, the absolute coolest thing about this book might actually be that there’s more books to come in the series, and I am just suuuuper keen to keep reading. Super keen.
Demon Trappers Series:
- The Demon Trapper’s Daughter OR Forsaken
- Soul Thief OR Forbidden