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Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Shannon’

darkestOnce upon a time — actually, the last few months  — I’ve been leading a double life. By day, I’m reading literary fiction and crime novels, but by night I escape to the paranormal via YA novels. Oh, the adventures I have among ghosts and witches, heroes and villains, changelings and dreamwalkers.

High school student Hazel is also leading a double life in Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest (Little, Brown, library hardcover). Hazel wonders why she’s so tired in the mornings, unaware that her nighttime dreams  of being a warrior in the service of a fairy king are true. It’s part of a bargain she made to help her musically gifted brother Ben. Both Hazel and Ben are fascinated by the glass coffin in the forest near the town. Inside resides a sleeping fairy prince, a tourist attraction in a land where humans and fae warily co-exist. But then the coffin is destroyed, the prince disappears, and this already odd world falls out of kilter. As in her vampire novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Black excels at mixing the ordinary  (school, parents, teenage crushes) with the extraordinary (changelings, unicorns, curses). She transforms fairy tale tropes with modern, snarky charm.

nightbirdAlice Hoffman’s many adult novels are suffused with a lyrical magical realism, which also informs her new novel for younger readers, Nightbird (Random House, digital galley). In the small Massachusetts town of Sidwell, residents hold an annual pageant about the town’s long-ago witch. But 12-year-old Twig and her mother, a talented baker, never attend, continuing to lead an isolated life in an old house, where Twig’s older brother James hides inside. Only Twig knows that James comes out at night, unfurling the black wings he’s had since birth, the result of the Sidwell witch having cursed the male side of the family. Twig is afraid someone is going to discover James on one of his nighttime flights; already there are whispers of a shadowy, flying monster. When a new family moves in down the road, Twig makes a good friend and James falls in love, but all is complicated by strange graffiti in town, a mysterious boy, and a woods full of small, endangered owls. Hoffman’s light touch casts a memorable spell. In Sidwell, even the library and the apple trees appear enchanted.

shadowcabMaureen Johnson left fans hanging on the edge of a cliff two years ago with The Madness Underneath, the second book in her enthralling Shades of London series, when she apparently killed off a major character. But never fear; she’s not Veronica Roth, thank goodness (yes, I am still bitter about Allegiant). In The Shadow Cabinet (Penguin Young Readers, purchased e-book), American student Rory Devereaux and her secret London ghost-busting colleagues have the mad skills to save one of their own. Maybe. While team leader Stephen hovers between life and death, Rory and squad members Boo and Callum try to find Charlotte, a student apparently kidnapped by her crazed therapist Jane, who hopes to resurrect the two leaders of a 1970s cult. But that’s just part of a hair-raising plot that also includes the disappearance of 10 other girls, a mass murder and a conspiracy threatening London at large. Readers who like Ben Aaronovitch’s adult Rivers of London series will appreciate the similarities in tone as Johnson leavens the scary with the humorous. Super supernatural.

mimeSamantha Shannon kicked off a projected seven-book series in 2013 with The Bone Season, a wonder of intricate world-building and spirited adventure. I wouldn’t attempt reading the series’ second book, The Mime Order (Bloomsbury USA, digital galley), without reading the first, so detailed is this futuristic London ruled by the corporation Scion, peopled by a thriving underworld of outlawed clairvoyants, and threatened by the otherworldly race known as the Rephaim. Having escaped from the Oxford prison colony controlled by the Rephaim, dreamwalker Paige Mahoney is the most-wanted fugitive in London. She’s rebels against the quasi-protection of the manipulative mime-lord Jaxon, a Fagin-like figure, but really runs into trouble when she encounters the Warden, the enigmatic Rephaite who was both her captor and mentor in Oxford. Scion seeks both of them, and unless Paige can carry out a complex scheme to become a mime-queen, they’re doomed. Five more books? Really?

wallsaroundNova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us (Algonquin Young Readers, digital galley) stuns with its intertwining narratives of mean girls, ghost girls and aspiring  ballerinas. Amber is an inmate at a secure juvenile detention center, imprisoned for having killed her stepfather. Violet is a talented ballet dancer headed for Juilliard. Their stories unfold in alternating chapters, three years apart, but are linked by Ori, who becomes Amber’s cellmate after Violet testifies against her in the murder of two dancers on a hot summer night. Secrets abound, and the revelations are all the more disturbing for the lyricism of the writing. What really happened the night the prison doors opened as if by magic? Shiver.

 

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realmagicIf you want to be a fairy princess when you grow up, or are considering clairvoyancy as a career path, two new books likely will change your mind. They may, however, encourage you to try your hand at fantasy writing. Warning: the field is quite crowded, and these two first-timers set the bar quite high.
The cover and title of Emily Croy Barker’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic (Viking/Pamela Dorman, digital galley) made me think it was going to be some light paranormal fantasy, but happily I was proved wrong. Barker’s debut is a well-thought-out epic referencing literature and fairy tales and reminds me of works by Deborah Harkness and Robin McKinley.
Grad student Nora Fischer, disappointed in love and academia, goes AWOL from a friend’s mountain wedding and wanders through a portal into an alternate world, although it takes her awhile to realize the Gatsbyesque land with all the beautiful people is an illusion created by the Faitoren, a fairy people.
Thoroughly bewitched by dashing Prince Raclan and his manipulative mother Ilissa, Nora’s finally rescued by powerful, enigmatic magician Arundiel and must adapt to a strange medieval world in which neither educated women nor good hygiene are particularly valued. Stuck in Arundiel’s isolated castle, Nora eventually convinces her grim host to teach her magic, hoping that this skill will get her farther in the divided kingdom, or at least closer to home, than peeling potatoes and milking cows. But she’s still a mere beginner when war breaks out, and Nora’s well-meaning actions could cost lives.
After a sluggish beginning, Barker imagines a convincing world that’s familiar from fairy tales but different enough to surprise. There be dragons. And ice demons. It’s 500-plus plus pages of magic and intrigue, with a hint of romance and an ending sufficient to the day. I’m hoping for a sequel.
boneseasonWe already know there’s going to be a sequel to Samantha Shannon’s enthralling The Bone Season (Bloomsbury USA, digital galley), which she began writing as a 19-year-old student at Oxford (all of two years ago) and is the first in a projected seven-book series. That may sound daunting, but Shannon’s world-building is phenomenal and seductive.
In 2059, Great Britain is ruled by the totalitarian corporate body known as Scion, which has it all over Big Brother in the enforcement department, hunting down clairvoyants of all stripes. Paige, a rare dreamwalker, has allied herself with the criminal underworld and when she is captured by Scion after killing an underguard, she expects torture and execution in the Tower. Instead, she awakens after five days of hellish hallucinations in the Lost City of Oxford and discovers that she is a prisoner of the Rephaim, otherworldly humanoids who need Scion’s voyants to fight off flesh-eating creatures who rampage through the aether. The stern blood-consort Warden Arcturus becomes Paige’s “keeper,” but her existence is precarious at best as she tries to contact old friends in London and make new ones among her fellow prisoners.
Intricate, provocative and richly imagined, The Bone Season is meaty dystopian fiction. More, please.

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