Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ category

Amulet: Prince of the Elves by Kazu Kibuishi

November 13th, 2012

I’ve been a fan of Kibuishi’s Amulet series since the first book and enjoy seeing more and more of the grand scale of the story. It’s still about the characters, with Emily and Navin developing more into their roles as heroes.

Where this one branches off, though, is in following Prince Trellis of the Elves for the majority of the narrative. We get to walk around in a trippy memory/dream sequence (signified by squiggly borders around the frames, obviously) and learn about the causes of the war with the elves. We do get to learn more about the actual amulet, which is great because some of my suspicions from the first book are finally starting to play out.

Side note: We use the SpringBoard curriculum in our district and this graphic novel ties in with the angle analysis in the unit for The Giver. The perspectives that Kibuishi uses are definitely on purpose to communicate mood and focus.

The artwork is amazing and always captures both the awe and panic of the setting and plot in such vivid detail. My only complaint is the length between each book’s release. After having worked my way through Bone and enjoying the seamless continuity, I miss Amulet‘s flow and found myself wondering, “Who’s that bearded guy? I’m sure I would have remembered such an awesome beard.” Amulet will translate really well into one giant book when it’s all said and done, though, so it’s no big fault on Kibuishi’s part.

Bone: The Complete Saga by Jeff Smith

October 5th, 2012

This is what 1,300+ pages of awesome looks like.

Yesterday I finished Bone by Jeff Smith. I would read a bit at a time in-between all of the other books that I’m reading and then yesterday was the big push towards the end. It definitely is a character-driven fantasy with fun interactions between the cast. I did get the whole epic in one giant book because that was cheaper than getting the individual volumes, but the downside is that big bindings a lot of times translates into more repairs. It was really nice, though, to be able to take in the giant sweep of the story without waiting for the next volume.

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen

September 21st, 2012

I’m learning more and more that plotlines and tropes can be re-used/re-mixed but that it’s a quality cast of characters that still makes for an enjoyable read. The False Prince is about a missing/dead prince who is next in line for the throne and the main character who is going to try and take the prince’s place. The whole “Is this the heir?/Is this an impostor?” plotline has been done before – and done well – in stories like Palace of Mirrors. What sets False Prince apart is its main character, Sage.

At first glance, Sage reminds me of Disney’s take on Aladdin – complete with the reader first seeing Sage as he’s caught stealing for a good cause. Sage is his own hero, though, and it’s his dialogue that will endear you to him, or at least help you be a little more sympathetic towards him. The fact that Nielsen based Sage on two of her students made me more interested in the book. It also made me want to read a story about those students, but that’s for another time, I guess.

Much like Icefall, I would classify False Prince as a fantasy, but there’s no magic or mythical creatures or any of that. It’s an interesting world at war and I’ll be interested to see how the series develops – if we’ll see more about the other realms or not. I’d be willing to read more.


Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby

August 8th, 2012

Icefall reminds me a lot of The Ranger’s Apprentice, and that’s not a bad thing. Icefall is set in a Viking community and deals with Norse mythology but doesn’t cross into a fantasy adventure, per se. It’s more historical fiction, although we don’t know how far back in the past it takes place. Nowhere does Thor come down to Earth and start smiting trolls or whatever. Instead, main character Solveig’s conflicts are universal struggles of worth and acceptance.

Solveig’s father is king. Her older sister is beautiful, her younger brother is strong and heir to the throne. This right there makes it very similar to most middle grade/YA tales. Even All-American Girl by Meg Cabot had this type of middle child angst. I kindof liked that, though. Solveig is not the chosen one nor is her rise to heroism something akin to farmboy Eragon/Luke Skywalker.

While struggling to figure out who she is, Solveig discovers the life of the skald. Skalds are Norse storytellers and they are in charge of the history of their people. Solveig and her steading are trapped in a small valley surrounded by ice and she learns to tell stories until their time in the steading is done. When the ice thaws, her father should return and everything will end happily. What complicates this, though, is that they are running out of food and, moreover, someone is poisoning their warriors. Solveig must figure out which member of her trusted steading is the traitor.

There’s some action, especially towards the end, but the bigger selling point is the mystery of the traitor. The steading becomes weaker and weaker and there may be no one left when the king returns unless Solveig can find the traitor. Again, not much traditional fantasy here. No dragons or mages, although those show up in the tales that Solveig weaves. What you do have in the story is a good mystery with likable characters.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

July 10th, 2012

I have not seen much Cold War fiction for middle grade students. For nonfiction, I definitely recommend The Dark Game. I was intrigued instantly by the premise of The Apothecary: a young girl’s family is accused of being Communist, so they flee to England where she meets up with a mysterious apothecary.

The first few chapters of the book meet my expectations for spies. The main characters are caught up in watching for information exchanges, secret handshakes, and scary intelligence agents from East Berlin. The apothecary and his cohorts have made amazing breakthroughs in chemistry that will greatly impact the growing nuclear threat. Yes, sign me up.

Then the kids turn into birds. (This explains the birds on the cover, which I thought were some symbol for innocence or whatever and in no way the actual main characters of the book. Nope. The kids are birds.) The story shifted dramatically for me there and I remember being disappointed that magic realism had to be thrown in. So many middle grade novels resort to magic and I was looking for something new.

On the positive, the main character is not some chosen one from an ancient civilization/order. At least we don’t have to rehash that trope – as far as I know, since this book follows another trend of setting up a series. “I will return.” Yep. This is just book one.

The Cold War paranoia and the politics of nuclear weapons is portrayed really well and makes it worth the read. There was enough action to keep readers interested; it wasn’t a bunch of people spouting off ideologies. It’s a good book that I know students will enjoy. The ones that have read it have said so. I just wish it didn’t follow the alchemy trend of books like This Dark Endeavor and others that are out right now. It’s tougher to write a book where you have to think through a character’s escape and not simply resort to, “They drink a potion and everything’s swell.”

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

April 17th, 2012

I’ll be honest. It’s pretty tough to convince me that the world needs another Cinderella re-telling, especially since so many stories out there are rags to riches. Re-tellings of fairy tales are huge right now, which makes sense because literary agents were actively seeking fairy tale re-tellings a few months ago. The fact that there are two Snow White movies competing in the theaters at the same time is evidence enough of the trend.

How does Marissa Meyer stack up in a world already dominated by Gail Carson Levine and Robin McKinley? What does she bring to the table?

Simple. Cyborg Cinderella.

Those two words have been all that I have needed to get students excited about the book. What’s fun is that Marissa Meyer is a Cinderella story herself. She started out by posting Sailor Moon fan fic to the Internet and then went all the way to sell Cinder, her NaNoWriMo project. I can support that.

But is the book more than just cyborg Cinderella? Gimmicks can only last so far.

The characters are interesting takes on the traditional story. By changing the setting to a future where the Earth dominions are at war with the Moon, there is a purpose behind the ball at the end – more than just, “Eh. Prince Charming needs to get hitched.” Prince Kai is a round character who is diplomatically fighting to protect Earth from a Lunar invasion. He’s not shallow by any stretch of the definition. Cinder is an accomplished mechanic that is trying to save her step-sister and can’t be bothered by going to a dance.

The relationships are definitely the focus of the novel. The Lunars can control minds, and there are some cool stand-offs using those powers, but for the most part they’re spiteful and covert. Since this is book one in a four-book series, maybe we’ll see some more overt uses.

It always amazes me in a sci-fi book/movie when the audience (myself included) connects to an alien/robot and sees humanity in them. For example, E.T. is ugly. He’s weird. And yet we love him, we care for him, and we don’t want him to see harm. Marissa Meyer wrote in a robotic sidekick that I really was rooting for. Yeah, I know. But it does go to show her talent in characterization.

This is also an interesting experiment in imagery. When I read a book, I tend to picture the setting and characters on the grittier side. I’m sure that the author of Watership Down would be surprised at the amount of battle scars the rabbits had when I read the book. Why I bring it up is that I started reading Cinder and pictured it a little on the grim (Grimm? Get it?) side. We meet Cinder when she’s detaching her foot, after all. When the Lunars show up, though, they’re straight out of anime in their descriptions. I could see them menacing Sailor Moon or the Gundam Wing pilots. No complaints from me, it just was something that caught me off guard.

Cinder looks to be a popular book. With testing going on, I haven’t been able to booktalk it, but the handsell will be easy. The cover is amazing and even caught my youngest daughter’s attention. “Dad, why is that girl’s foot evil?” “She’s not evil. She’s just a cyborg.” And that, my friends, sums up the whole conflict of the book in two sentences.

The Lord of the Rings Family Tree

February 9th, 2012

The Lord of the Rings is one of the only books that I had to keep flipping back to the index while reading. Everyone’s an “-orn” this or an “-endil” that. It’s hard to keep track of.

Until now.

Check out this extremely large family tree. I do find some irony in ents being included in the tree.

Google Maps is a fan of Tolkien

December 20th, 2011

In Google Maps, type “The Shire” as destination A and “Mordor” as destination B. Choose the walking directions.
Do you see the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings joke in there?

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

December 1st, 2011

I just finished The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. It’s the story of Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two teens on a small Celtic island that is visited by man-eating horses every year.

Yeah, I said it: man-eating horses.

If you’ve heard of kelpies or water horses, you’ve heard of the capaill uisce. Every November, the small island of Thisby holds a race in honor of the water horses.

Yeah, a race course full of man-eating horses.

While this may not seem like the smartest idea, it’s all about tradition and connection with Thisby’s roots. There is a definite conflict between those who want to follow the old ways and those that want to get off of this crazy island.

Surprisingly enough, the protagonists want to preserve the old ways, which is cool. Normally YA heroes are rebellious, and there is a tinge of that. Puck is the first girl to race and there are a few scenes that deal with inequalities between men and women. Puck also has to figure out how to be a strong woman without becoming too much like the crass men of Thisby. Yet Puck doesn’t want her brother to move to the mainland and leave behind their history. Sean is the most capable jockey because he knows the traditions behind raising capaill uisce.

The actual race is only a small portion of the story, which I was a little disappointed in. It’s one big race, so I guess there are no quarterfinals, semifinals, and all that to progress through. The race is quick and that’s how it’s described in the book.

The pacing of the book is a little bit slower because you follow Puck and Sean around on a small island. They keep running into the same characters during the build-up and training before the race, but those characters are described very well. You can tell what motivates each of the island inhabitants.

While the pacing is a little slower, that does not mean that there aren’t enough suspenseful moments to break up the routine. One of my favorite scenes is Puck being caught outside at night by a capaill uisce and her trying to escape.

There is a romance that develops between Puck and Sean that is interesting because the first-person narrative switches back and forth. I’m glad that both characters are focused on more than just each other, an example other YA heroes could learn from, so getting inside their brains was not all obsessive inner monologues.

The rich mythology that Stiefvater has built up is what makes the story, even if she did pick and choose with the myths. Thisby seems so real. I also missed which time period the book takes place in, but small details like the types of radio programs people are listening to or the types of outfits helps place the setting.

It’s worth a read. I’ll booktalk it on Monday and see if junior highers are interested in horses that will eat your face off.

Amulet Book Four: The Last Council by Kazu Kibuishi

September 30th, 2011

The story of Emily continues in yet another beautiful book by Kibuishi. The characters have a great, consistent style to them and the landscapes could be stand-alone paintings apart from the book.

Like the other books in the series, Emily is joined by various characters on her hero’s quest. In each installment we get to see a little bit more of the history of the Stonekeepers and the dynamics of human versus elf politics. The Last Council is great because we see other Stonekeepers fight it out and learn how Emily fits into the grand scheme of things.

The only distraction for me was when a group of kids are thrown into an arena to prove survival of the fittest. I trust that Kibuishi had that classic trope planned because it was needed and not because arena fights are really popular right now.

I bought a hardcover version of The Last Council. I’m excited to see how this stands up since this series is very popular in my library.