Archive for Fantasy
Author: A.G. Howard
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: January 1, 2013
Series: Splintered #1
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Amazon • Goodreads
This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl's pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers - precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.
When her mother's mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice's tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice's mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.
Alice in Wonderland is one of those tales that is so pervasive you feel like you’ve read it, even if you haven’t. Though I have never read Lewis Carroll’s classic book, I probably watched my old VHS tape of this ridiculously cheesy 1985 TV miniseries about a hundred times. I’ve seen the Disney version and the Johnny Depp version. And I’ve loved them all.
This modern take on Alice’s story imagines our protagonist, Alyssa, as a descendant of the Alice who lived and inspired Carroll’s stories. Along with a similar name, she is in line to inherit the psychological madness that is passed from female descendant to female descendant. Her mother is locked in an asylum, and Alyssa tries very hard to convince herself that she can’t hear the voices starting to appear in her head. She’s a cool skater girl into art and bugs and other Things That Are Dark And Twisty.
The coolest thing about this book is the brilliant display of imagination on the part of author A. G. Howard. I only wish I could think up stuff this vivid and exciting. When Alyssa goes down the rabbit hole, we get a version of Wonderland that is fresh and new without being unfamiliar. Carroll’s characters pop up, but in different forms than you might expect. I don’t want to spoil the fun of discovery, but I will say that the White Rabbit is not just a rabbit – he’s much creepier than that.
If you’re tired of love triangles, consider yourselves warned. Alyssa is into the boy next door, Jeb, and while in Wonderland starts to fall under the spell of the difficult and dark Morpheus. Morpheus acts as a sort of guide and childhood friend of Alyssa’s on the Wonderland side of things, while Jeb is her friend and protector on the reality side. Morpheus is certainly the more interesting and mysterious of the two, but his sketchy motives later in the story made me not like him as much.
If I had one complaint about this book, it’s that those motives, and the plot, got a little confusing toward the end. I had a hard time following what was happening because the history was so rich and complex. The politics of the Red Queen and White Queen and Morpheus’s place in the middle of all of it overwhelmed me, and I’m still not entirely sure I absorbed it all. I kept having to go back and re-read sections to track who supposedly did what and to what end, and what they really meant when they did them, versus what everyone else thought they were doing.
Did you get that? Yeah. Me either.
Fuzzy plot or not, this was a really enjoyable story. I loved seeing such a cool concept from a debut author, too! I picked this one up at the library because I couldn’t find it at the store, and the cover is absolutely stunning. The text is a beautiful dusty purple color. Normally I’m not a fan of colored print in books, but for some reason this really worked for me. If you’re in the market for a beautiful book for your shelf and want to support a debut author with a fantastic story, I recommend this one.
Rating: 4/5 stars
I have this thing with assassin stories. I love them. One of the things that drew me to this book was the promise of a girl with a special power to kill. Sign me up any day for a female main character who can kick some major ass.
The opening scene pulled me in immediately. Katsa is sneaking around in the dark, roundhouse-kicking guards to the ground, and rescuing a prisoner. Soon after, we meet Po, a mysterious boy with a fighting Grace who lets Katsa beat up on him for fun. I instantly loved both of these characters and the world they inhabited.
In Katsa’s country, her Grace is looked down upon. She is frequently shunned or feared, and her uncle, the king, manipulates and uses her to his advantage by sending her off to settle his quarrels. She’s his muscle – a thug he dispatches to get his way.
Po is a Lienid prince from across the sea, whose country doesn’t see Graces as bad things. He challenges and encourages Katsa to get over her shame and embrace her Grace. As they grow closer, Katsa learns the truth about Po’s Grace, and they both have to learn to trust each other in order to successfully reach their goals. I loved the growth of their relationship over the course of the book.
I know there have been complaints about Katsa as uber-feminist. I didn’t mind her commitment to stay unmarried, because it felt truthful to her character and experiences. I did feel that this point was beaten over our heads a few too many times, however. I also felt sorry for Katsa, because she had this concept of marriage as a loss of identity that was never reinforced by the world. I wasn’t sure if this was Katsa’s perspective that evolved from her own fears, or whether it was truly the way marriage worked in her society. Did child-free couples exist? Were there women who still had freedom and independence within their marriages, if not in Middlun then in Lienid? It was hard to know whether to root for Katsa and Po to end up together.
The plot of the book revolves around the prisoner Katsa rescues in the opening scene – he is Po’s grandfather, and they are trying to figure out why he has been kidnapped. Katsa and Po set off to travel through the country and glean what information they can, and eventually they turn to the southeastern country of Monsea and the strange behavior happening there.
Unfortunately, it was at this point the book lost some of its luster for me. Questing is usually one of my favorite story elements, but here it turned more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings. First, Katsa and Po tromp through the woods finding information. Then they tromp through woods and mountains getting to Monsea. Then they tromp through more mountains trying to get out of Monsea. Then Katsa crosses the mountains, and a sea, trying to escape and plan her next move. But she doesn’t get to plan her next move, because the plot just comes to her. It felt like a lot of unnecessary walking/riding/sailing that didn’t accomplish much.
This was an enjoyable read, and I definitely recommend it to fantasy readers. I’m anxious to spend more time in the Seven Realms and explore other characters and Graces, so I’ll continue with the trilogy.Â
Rating: 3/5 stars
Sophie Jordan is not one to recap. As with the last book, Vanish, this book picks up immediately where the last one left off. This is a great series to read back-to-back if you’ve not yet entered the world of the draki. Needless to say, there are some series spoilers ahead.
Most of the reason I love this series is simply my love for the draki. A secret race of shifters that can become a dragon/human hybrid capable of flight and varying types of powers? Oh man, I am so on board.Â In this book, we see much more of Jacinda and the gang in draki form, beginning with Jacinda’s entrance into the enemy camp to infiltrate their hostages and rescue Cassian’s sister, Miram.
From there, the adventure never lets up. Jacinda, Will, Cassian, Miram, Tamra, and a few new (and incredibly awesome) characters are on the run from the evil enkros and their hunters. Jacinda is simultaneously trying to track down what happened to her parents and balance her family interests against her need to run away with Will.Â
I found this to be a very satisfying conclusion to the series. It was full of excitement and action, and everyone got an ending they deserved. I’ll miss Jacinda and the rest of the draki immensely.Â
Luckily, there’s a new novella…
Jacinda may be a bad-ass fire-breather, but I loved diving into Az’s experiences as a water draki. (That’s right. I made a swimming pun.) This story takes place during Az’s family vacation, where she meets a cute boy and struggles with whether to pursue things with him given her draki nature.
At around 100 pages, it’s a short and sweet visit to the Firelight world. I loved Az – her shy personality was an interesting counterpoint to Jacinda’s bold character. It was also nice to see the draki trying to deal with real world problems again. What do you do when you fall for a boy, and those passions threaten to unveil your draki self every time you kiss? It brought back all of the good stuff I loved about Firelight.
Rating for both: 4/5 stars