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Posts Tagged ‘Shades of London’

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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madnessSometimes I think I want to go back to school. Not ordinary school-school but someplace exotic, like Hogwarts or Brakebills.

Wexford, the London school in Maureen Johnson’s The Madness Underneath (Penguin Young Readers, digital galley), isn’t all that unusual unless you are 17-year-old Louisiana teen Rory Devereaux. As a new student at Wexford in 2011’s The Name of the Star, Rory’s near-death choking experience left her with the ability to see ghosts. And that led to some rousing ghostbusting adventures with the “Shades of London,” a super-secret trio of young police officers on the trail of a ghostly Jack the Ripper copycat.

In the entertaining new book, Rory is still recovering from her Ripper encounter when she returns to Wexford. The Shades — serious Stephen, enigmatic Callum and gregarious Boo — need her help, especially after Rory discovers that Wexford is built atop the graveyard of Bedlam, the old insane asylum. But there also are other mysterious forces who want Rory’s particular talents, which were enhanced by her last brush with death.

Rory again narrates with verve as Johnson expertly combines the ordinary problems of school (exams, boyfriends, roommates) with the extraordinary (murder, secrets, ghosts). But doesn’t Johnson know it’s not nice to leave readers hanging by their fingernails from such a steep cliff?!

etiquetteManners are the thing in Gail Carriger’s first book for teens, Etiquette and Espionage (Little, Brown Young Readers, purchased e-book), set in the steampunk fantasy England of her Parasol Protectorate adult series. As a “covert recruit” at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Quality, 14-year old Sophronia and her classmates have lessons in dancing, drawing, music, dress and modern languages, as well as “the fine arts of death, diversion, and the modern weaponries.” Swords can get caught in skirts, which is why the student assassins-to-be use knives even as they practice advanced eyelash-fluttering.  The school itself is located in huge, interlaced dirigibles floating above the moors, and the professors include a vain vampire and a roguish werewolf.

You can tell Carriger had a blast (and tongue firmly in cheek) coming up with the quasi-Victorian details, outrageous names and over-the-top hi-jinks. Both clever and silly, this genre-bending romp involves agile Sophronia and her sidekicks, including a “mechanical” steam-powered dog, fighting off “flywaymen” for possession of a prototype allowing for better communication through the ether. It’s billed as “Finishing School — Book the First” so the ending is happily not the finish.

nightmareSixteen-year-old Destiny “Dusty” Everhart is a relatively new student at Arkwell Academy in Mindee Arnett’s The Nightmare Affair (TOR Teen, purchased e-book). And she’s having a rough time at this boarding school for magickind, being the lone Nightmare among the cliques of witches, sirens, faeries, etc. But her ability to feed off others’ dreams also earns her a certain reputation, although not as scandalous as that of her estranged mother. But that could change now that The Will, the magickind governing regime, demands that she partner with the handsome human Eli Booker to predict the future.

Arnett’s world-building is engaging, especially the classifications and characteristics of magickind, but the plot is a predictable mash-up of high-school coming-of-age and  Arthurian mythology. Here’s hoping the next entry in the Arkwell Academy series offers more challenge.

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