Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Urban Fantasy Edition

Welcome to the latest episode of Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck -- Urban Fantasy Edition! Check out the Literary Characters Who Do Suck and Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck - Fantasy Edition.

This week we're taking a look at urban fantasy. I combined supernatural, adult urban fantasy, and YA urban fantasy to make one list (and still only managed to find 11 chars), so let's see who made the top 10.

#10. Alexandra "Allie" from Everlost by Neal Shusterman. YA Supernatural. Allie's smart and resourceful, has a mind of her own, and her moral compass isn't always tuned correctly. I love flawed characters. And the book itself? Awesome.

#9. Mira from the Dark Days series by Jocelynne Drake. Adult Urban Fantasy. What I like about Mira is that she's a proper vampire. Meaning she's centuries old and evil, but not pointlessly so. She can beat you up, but she's not exactly a superhero. While she may not be totally awesome, she's still pretty good. And the book itself (Nightwalkers)? Not too shabby.

#8. Nina Harrison from The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks. YA Urban Fantasy. Part of this book's charm is that the vampires aren't super sexy undead bodies of supreme power. They're pretty weak, in fact. But that doesn't stop Nina from (reluctantly) going on a quest to save her friends. And the book itself? Awesome.

#7. Phoebe Kendall from Generation Dead by Daniel Waters. YA Supernatural. Phoebe is one of the few Goth Literary Chars who is actually goth. She's not perky underneath, she doesn't skip around only listening to Evanescence, and she doesn't love shopping so so much. Plus, she's pretty cool all around. And the book itself? OMG SO AWESOME.

#6. Kaylee Cavanaugh from the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent. YA Supernatural/Urban Fantasy. Ah, good old chars who, while they may not know what's going on, they can figure it out pretty well. They have cool heads in dire situations, a proper sense of moral obligation, and still manage to make a few stupid mistakes here and there. Of course, they figure out how to fix them in the end. And the book itself (My Soul To Take)? Awesome.

#5. Mercedes Thompson from the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Adult Urban Fantasy. Mercy's not just around to be the focus of the attention of ten differently-oriented-but-all-incredibly-attractive-supernatural men, which seems to be what most adult urban fantasy is all about. No, Mercy's there to actually be cool, fix cars, and moodily turn into a coyote. This book really teaches you not to judge by a cover. And the book itself (Moon Called)? Surprisingly Awesome.

#4. Clarissa "Clary" Fray from the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. YA Urban Fantasy. Tiny and clumsy, Clary is a pretty average urban fantasy heroine. Not strikingly beautiful and not too extraordinary in general (or so it seems! *very surprised at Clary's totally surprising talent*). So Clary may not be a completely original heroine, but Cassandra Clare actually pulls it off in this case, whereas every other tiny, clumsy, oh-so-normal char can get annoying. And the book itself (City Of Bones)? There's a reason I've read it 4 times and have my own copy.

#3. Kerry Nowicki from Companions Of The Night by Vivian Vande Velde. YA Urban Fantasy. If you know me at all, you know about my obsession with Vivian Vande Velde, and that obsession is not without reason. Fantasy, historical, supernatural, science fiction, urban fantasy, juvenile, young adult, Velde can do it all, and she does vampires spectacularly. Evil hilarious vampire? Check. Twisty plot? Check. Good heroine? Check. Kerry freaks out in the beginning, making her realistic, but gets over it and makes herself team up with Evil-Hilarious-Vampire in order to save her family. And the book itself? OMG SO AWESOME.

#2. Claire Danvers from the Morganville Vampires series by Rachel Caine. YA Urban Fantasy. Easily the best young adult urban fantasy series, Morganville Vampires has what ever urban fantasy book should: evil vampires (see #3). Claire is introduced as a sixteen-year-old in advanced placement in college because she's so smart, and what's awesome is that she proves to actually be a genius, it's not just a clever ploy to get a sixteen-year-old heroine. Claire looks like a bit of wimp, but people constantly underestimating her is what allows her to continually get through ridiculous situations intact. And the book itself (Glass Houses)? Awesome.

#1. Sookie Stackhouse from the Southern Vampires series by Charlaine Harris. Adult Urban Fantasy. Oh yeah, you knew this was coming. Of course Sookie is around the top of the list. She's hilarious, adorable, and can read minds. Throw that in with a southern accent and killer vampires and you've got a fabulous heroine. And the book itself (Dead Until Dark)? Aaawesome.

There you are, the 10 heroines of urban fantasy who don't suck. And only one honorable mention: Cathy Vickers from the Cathy series by Sean Stewart and Jordan Weisman.

This weekend: a review by moi, Persy! Next Wednesday: Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck - Classical And Historical Edition!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Arty -- Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Ever since he discovered the mirror in his absent father's study, Jacob Reckless has been going back and forth from one world to the next - the human world... and the one inside the mirror. He calls it, coincidentally, Mirrorworld. Ever disappointed with his life on the human side, Jacob spends more and more time there, once leaving for three years.

This terrifies his young brother, Will. Will is thoughtful and mild and trusting - the exact opposite of his brother. Will doesn't know where Jacob goes for twelve years, but he worries the whole time.

Then, one day, somehow, Will discovers Jacob's secret. And on that day, Will begins a slow, painful transformation into a monster - a stone-skinned Goyl. Now Jacob, his faithful Mirrorworld Fox (a shapeshifting vixen), and Will's human girlfriend Clara have to traverse Mirrorworld to find Will's cure.

But Mirrorworld is based on fairytales, not Disney movies, and the characters they encounter - seductive Fairies, double-crossing Dwarfs, scissor-handed killers, and the Goyl themselves - aren't as safe as they appear.

This is Cornelia Funke. She wrote Inkheart and The Thief Lord. I desperately wanted to like this. Sometimes I almost did. But most of the time, it was... disappointing.

It was almost like reading a well-developed outline. There was action, there was plot progression, there were truly interesting settings and twists there... but no characterization, no emotion. Jacob, Will, Fox, and Clara - as well as other minor characters, like Hentzau the Goyl soldier and the treasure-hunter Dwarf Valiant - were cardboard cutouts. The reader is told what they're like. Will is nice. Jacob is unhappy. Clara is brave. Fox is protective. There were flashes of what they could have been, but most of the time, they fell flat.

Incidentally, the most interesting character was the Dark Fairy - the villainess, most of the time. I hated her at first. Then one scene came along that really made me want to learn more about her - figure out what made her tick. Unfortunately, Funke abandoned that particular part of her story, and she faded into the realm of cardboard again.

I mentioned that the plot had a lot going for it. It could have been amazing. The angst between the two very different brothers had so much potential. But combine the bad characterization with the rather unenthusiastic writing style and a confusing climax, as well as a last page that begs for a sequel, and you have... the least of Funke's books. Stick with The Thief Lord.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Scrolls - Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck, Fantasy Edition

You may remember the hate list I made a few weeks back, listing 12 chars in literature that I can't stand. Another type of char that is usually despicable is the heroine. Heroines are usually annoying little whiners or tough I-can-do-anything-a-boy-can-do jerks, but sometimes there are a few who don't suck. In fact, a few are pretty cool. Originally, I was just going to compose a list of heroines that don't suck, but then I discovered that there were actually quite a few awesome heroines, so I had to divide them up into genres, and I'll be posting each edition for the next few weeks on Wednsdays. But, at the end of it all, I may just start really narrowing it down in an epic showdown, and we'll see which heroines are at the very top of the not-sucking pyramid.

This week's edition: Fantasy. I'll be honest, this was hard. I read a lot of fantasy, and there turned out to be quiite a few awesome heroines, but I managed to narrow it down to 10. This list is by no means absolute, and it's hardly like #1 is significantly more awesome than #6. In fact, this list would probably be different if I'd been in a different mood.

#10. Sabriel from Sabriel by Garth Nix. Sabriel has always been one of my favorite books, and Sabriel herself is part of why. She starts out strong and knowing what she's doing, but she's still a bit new at it all so you get to learn along with her. And the book itself? Awesome.

#9. Stephanie Edgley from the Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy. Hey, if Stephanie wasn't smart, she'd never ended up as Skulduggery Pleasant's trainee, let's just put it that way. And the book itself (Skulduggery Pleasant)? Awesome.

#8. Anidori-Kiladra Talianna "Isi" Isilee from the Bayern series by Shannon Hale. Isi is charming. She's in a pitiful situation, but makes the best of it while saving the world. She also gets points for talking to geese. And the book itself (Goose Girl)? Awesome.

#7. Captain Holly Short from Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Captain Holly Short, a fairy policewoman, so to speak. She's tough, but isn't adamant about it and doesn't go around proclaiming her awe-inspiring ability to knock ten men out with a single blow. And the book itself (Artemis Fowl)? Awesome.

#6. Fire from Fire by Kristin Cashore. Fire is a truly unique char. She's not superwoman, in fact, she's technically a monster, "cursed" with indescribable beauty that gives her control (if she takes it) of just about any man (and maybe a few women too). She learns to defend herself, but is never the best warrior ever, and that doesn't stop her from using her own talents to save the world, so-to-speak. And the book itself? Awesome.

#5. Sophie Hatter from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Like Isi, Sophie is introduced to a pitiful situation early on, and, like Isi, she makes the best of it and turns out to be completely awesome. She's the best young-woman-cursed-as-grumpy-old-woman you'll ever find. And the book itself? Awesome.

#4. Benevolence "Ben" from Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Ben leads a very impressive life. She starts out as a fat little thing, a bit piggy and selfish, but when unfortunate circumstances lead her to a life of despair, she starts to teach herself magic and eventually ends up traveling all over a snowy mountain (which certainly gets rid of a few pounds). Ben's character growth is amazing, and she's an enjoyable character all the way through. And the book itself? Awesome.

#3. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Well, obviously she'll be on this list. HP is one of the biggest and best fantasy series ever, and Hermione is definitely one of the (many) reasons why. She's got flaws, she's got character growth, she's got smarts, she's got a feminine side, and she's got a pretty good right hook. And the book itself (Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone)? Awesome.

#2. Flora Segunda from Flora Segunda by Ysabeau S. Wilce. I don't know why this book is so obscure, because Flora is made of awesome. Bit lazy and likes to eat a bit too much, and she may not be the prettiest thing in the book, but boy does she have a nack for adventure. And the book? Well, awesome.

#1. Courtney Crumrin from the Courtney Crumrin series by Ted Naifeh. Is it weird that the #1 on this list is from a comic book? No, it is not, because Courtney Crumrin is amazing. She's got the whole tainted old soul thing down while still a young teen, and not in a sappy urban romance way. And the book itself (Courtney Crumrin And The Night Things)? Awesome, though in my opinion, the fourth book (Courtney Crumrin's Monstrous Holiday) is actually the best.

And there you have it. Some honorable mentions: Creel (Dragon Slippers, Jessica Day George), Princess Cimorene (Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede), Rage Winnoway (Night Gate, Isobelle Carmody), Sydelle Mirabil (Brightly Woven, Alexandra Bracken), Cecelia Rushton (Sorcery & Cecelia, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer), Katherine "Kate" Talgarth (Sorcery & Cecelia, Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer), Opal Cowan (Opal Cowan series, Maria V. Snyder), Suzy Turquoise Blue (Keys To The Kingdom series by Garth Nix), Mira (Mira, Mirror, Mette Ivie Harrison), Alys (Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde), Veralidaine "Daine" Sarrasri (The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce), and Jessica Sternhagen (Erratum by Walter Sorrells).

This weekend: a review by Arty! Next Wednesday: Urban Fantasy edition of Literary Heroines Who Don't Suck!


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Persy -- The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry

(Pre-script: I agree entirely with Arty's last review. Wings sucks.)

An orphan girl in the miserable care of unloving relatives; a mysterious and beautiful witch; a charming prince; a trusty animal companion; a common thief who might not be so common; a sparkling ball. These are the ingredients to a fairy tale novel, and The Amaranth Enchantment has them all.

Lucinda Chapdelaine was the daughter of two friends to the king of Laurenz. She attended parties, smiled at the king, and thought the prince was a bit of bore. But that all changed when she was five and her parents' carriage had an accident, leaving her an orphan. She went to live with her aunt and uncle in a goldsmith shop.

Ten years later, Lucinda is being abused in the shop by her hateful aunt when a young woman enters with a very strange, and obviously valuable, stone. And as if that wasn't enough, almost as soon as she leaves, Prince Gregor enters! Lucinda's heart is all aflutter.

But her budding crush on the crown prince is forgotten when they discover that the woman is in fact the Amaranth Witch, who, as everyone knows, cursed the queen all those years ago leaving her childless. Lucinda is ordered to return the stone to the witch and tell her that they couldn't possibly work for her, but Lucinda knows that her uncle's debts are piling up, and they are in desperate need of the witch's money, so she holds onto the stone in the hope that she'll convince her uncle to do the job anyway.

But then Lucinda runs into Peter, a boy of the street, and gives him shelter in her room for one night. Once she finally gets him to leave, she continues her miserable life for a few hours before discovering that her uncle is dead. Her aunt kicks her out onto the street. With nowhere else to go, she find the witch's house to return the stone and ask for employment, only to discover that the stone has been stolen. Darn that Peter.

Now Lucinda must get the stone back for the witch, AKA Beryl, before all is lost, but that is far easier said than done.

Loosely based on Cinderella (and I mean loosely. It's familiar enough to make you wonder what the story reminds you of all the way through, but you can never quite place it), The Amaranth Enchantment is a fairy tale novel to a T. Except for some science fiction elements, but we won't worry about those.

"Amaranth" is a fine, charming little story if you aren't expecting too much, or if you just want a bit of light reading, but if you're looking for a fairy tale made of awesome you won't find it here (try some Shannon Hale, Mira, Mirror, Jessica Day George, or David Lee Stone). It's a straightforward plot with few surprises and fairly basic characters. The only truly unique aspect in "Amaranth" is that Lucinda's "Fairy Godmother" is pretty much an alien. Honestly, it sounds awesomer than it is.

So just don't enter into "Amaranth" with high expectations, and you'll have an enjoyable few hours with Lucinda, Prince Gregor, Peter, Beryl, and Dog (who is easily the awesomest character in the book).


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Arty -- Wings by Aprilynne Pike

(A pre-script - I accuse Persy of gross generalization in her last review. I personally couldn't stand Poison Study. That's not to say you shouldn't try Storm Glass - I'm mostly just saying this because it'll irk Persy. Okay, that's all.)

Laurel Sewell is perfect. She doesn't need to wash her hair. She survives off salad and Sprite - and has a great figure anyway. At age fifteen, she's never had acne.

Turns out there's a reason for that. When a bump that Laurel thinks is her first zit shows up on her back, and then sprouts into a wing-like blossom, she figures out (after a long, long time) that she's - gasp! - a fairy!

Also entangled in this fairytale are dashingly handsome, cool, calm human David (with whom Laurel's in love) and devilishly handsome, witty, roguish fairy Tamani (with whom Laurel's in love). And her clueless parents. And her pointless friend, Chelsea - kind of.

Oh. Did I mention the trolls?

If you haven't picked up on my blazing powers of sarcasm by now, I didn't like this book. I know, there have been glowing reviews of Wings, all extolling its beautiful prose, wonderful plot, and interesting characters. I'm sorry, but I just couldn't see it.

Persy had a Hate List a couple weeks back. Well, Laurel is officially on my Hate List. She's the personification of everything I hate about modern heroines. She's an empty hole, devoid of any positive personality trait that one can easily identify. But everyone loves her. She's always right (except when she's being just so adorably clueless - isn't it sweet?). Oh, and she's proud. At one point she literally thought I am no ordinary girl.

David and Tamani are your typical two-thirds of the tired old love triangle. David - human, calm, logical, rational, drop-dead gorgeous. Tamani - supernatural, spicy, mysterious, funny... drop-dead gorgeous. If Laurel had described how beautiful they were any more than she did, I would have retched. And they're both sooooo in love with Laurel. (Horrible grammar intended.) Don't get me started on the other characters - like her parents. I'm tired of stupid parents the heroine never trusts over the boyfriend she met three months ago. And please, someone tell me Chelsea's function besides telling Laurel how lucky she was to have David in love with her.

Now, about the plot. Or lack thereof. It's basically a battle against trolls for a gateway to Avalon - yes, King Arthur's Avalon. You don't actually know the bad guys are trolls until a little over halfway through the book (kind of like Laurel doesn't get she's a fairy, even with wings, until about halfway through). That's not to say you can't guess who the bad guys are, but you don't know they're trolls. When you do, this is basically how it plays out:

Tamani: Let's go save Avalon from your scary realtor. Oh, by the way, he's a troll.

Laurel: Troll? Ooh, thcary twoll. DAVID, KISS ME!!

Okay, that might have been a wee bit over-sarcastic. But you get my point.

I'll stop now before it turns into a real rant, because I haven't even gotten to Pike's less-than-stellar writing technique or her... interesting... take on fairy origins. Let me get this straight - I have nothing against adding something new to fairy lore. Heck, I'm trying my hand at writing fairies. The problem is bad execution. At no point in the book did I think the fairy lore was actually better or even just different because of what the fairies actually are in Pike's world. Except for one really awkward discussion about... erm... reproduction that just made me squirm. Other than that... I don't understand. Maybe the differences are more fleshed out in the other three books (!), but I'm not going to be reading them to find out.

Suffice it to say, don't read Wings unless you're just really bored. Honestly. You can find better.

Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder

Dear, dear, dear, Maria V. Snyder. We love you. Just saying. And the absolutely only reason we might be a bit hard on you at times, is because you produced a masterpiece called Poison Study. Unfortunately, because of this, anything you write that is not a spectacular work of art will be a disappointment, despite still being better than half of all the other fantasy novels put together.

Now that we've got that out of the way.

Maria V. Snyder kicked off her Ixia/Sitia universe with her Study books, a trilogy of fantasy novels about main character Yelena Zaltana. In the first book (the ever-magnificent Poison Study), Yelena is saved from execution by the law that states the next criminal to die will become the Commander's food-taster. His dies, and since Yelena is next in line for the noose, she becomes the official food-taster. Not exactly safe, but it's better than death.

In the second Study book, Magic Study, Yelena leaves Ixia and goes into neighboring country Sitia, where she starts learning magic and ends up pretty much saving the world (yahoo). This book was lacking because a main character learning magic is really nothing new, you can read about that in any fantasy novel. "Poison" was so good because no one writes about poison.

In the third Study book, Fire Study, Yelena is still (mostly) living in Sitia, but she's now studying the art of Soul finding and trying not to terrify everyone else to death (because Soul Finders are scary, ooooo). Then a plot starts up back in Ixia, so Yelena troops back over there and saves the world again (yay). This book did have a few good points, but the bottom line is, it's like all of Miss Snyder's writing talent just flew out the window. "Fire" is just bad, I'm sorry. Don't read it.

After finally abandoning Yelena as a MC, Miss Snyder started her Opal series, which also takes place in the Ixia/Sitia universe, but several years in the future. And this time, Opal Cowan is the main character. She was a minor char in "Magic" and "Fire", and I'm proud of Miss Snyder for picking her for a new MC rather than a more major char like Valek or Irys (because prequel/origin stories like that are way overrated).

And now that we have all that backstory, let's actually discuss the novel Storm Glass.

For several years now, Opal Cowan has been studying magic in Sitia, only she doesn't really have much. In fact, she's only studying at the keep because her unique magical powers helped save the world a few years back (see "Fire"). But her gift, blowing magic into glass figurines that allow magicians to communicate over vast distances, is really the only magic she can do. She can't even light a candle like all the other magicians.

But then word comes of trouble in the Stormdancer land. Stormdancers use glass orbs to harness power and control the violent storms, and without them all of Sitia would be in trouble because of the weather. But the orbs have started shattering, and they need an expert glassmaker to figure out what's wrong. Well, Opal's not really an expert, but she's good with glass, so they just send her.

Surprisingly, she figures out the problem pretty fast, but then they have to figure out who's behind it. One easily prevented disaster leads Opal and company on a wild mystery that takes them all over Sitia, and even into Ixia.

And let's not forget the charming but broody Stormdancer Kade and the puppy-like Ulrick from Opal's hometown, or Blue-Eyes, a mysterious swordsman/magician who for some reason is after Opal.

Thank God this book is good. I was really scared after "Fire" that Miss Snyder's talent had just evaporated, but I think she just needed a change of characters. Opal is nothing like Yelena. Yelena was the strong, sarcastic type who taught herself to fight and would do just about anything to survive. Opal, on the other hand, doesn't kid herself into thinking she's strong. Sure, physically she's a powerhouse because of all the work she does with glass, but she knows she hasn't got a lot of willpower. She's a well-rounded char who grows throughout the story (yay for real character growth!). Though she can be a bit stupid (*coughcough*Ulrick*coughcough*).

Miss Snyder also managed to creat new chars that were fun to meet and bring back old ones without mixing them all up. Yelena and Leif both had a few starring moments, Leif being even more fun than he was in Study. It was interesting seeing Yelena from someone else's perspective.

The plot was typical Snyder: takes a while and goes all over the place, but eventually everything comes together and it turns out every little thing that happened does have something to do with the story.

I can't say I'm dying for the next book (ugh, Ulrick), but I'm definitely going to read it. Hopefully the series won't sink lower and lower into the swamp of yuck as it continues.

If you enjoyed the Study books, I'd strongly recommend reading Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore. The worlds and writing styles are similar, not to mention that Graceling and Fire are just freakin' awesome.