These volumes are young adult or young adult friendly volumes of fantasy we have read in the last few months. Some are from smaller publishers so we thought many of our readers might have missed them. Only the first volume is marketed as a young adult novel, the others are fantasy with appropriate content for most young adults.
Review of War of the Seasons, Book 3: The Hunter by Janine K. Spendlove (Silence in the Library, Dec 2013)
This is the third volume about Story and her adventures in Ailionora, the land of her mother. Elves and dwarves are real, but fairies aren’t what you would expect. Steel harms the beings there, so Story’s knife is a deadly weapon.
Story is engaged to the hunter Eírnin and in this volume that relationship is tested by the arrival of Story’s best friend Josh at the very end of Book 2. Eírnin thinks it’s a love triangle because he doesn’t realize Josh is like Story’s brother, so she wouldn’t think of him in that way. So while the entire kingdom is planning a war against the Winter King to get Story’s sister back and save the entire multiverse, Eírnin and Story spend a great deal of time talking around the problem and avoiding each other.
Story is trying to learn to control her dreams because as the Ailesit (a heroine out of elf legend) she has a responsibility to the kingdom and can’t keep going off into a deep sleep at random times. She makes some new discoveries about her dreams and her ability to reach others through them, but what she discovers just makes her situation more complicated.
Josh turns out to be much more useful than one might expect because he came across on purpose and he got to pack first, including his hunting bow with modern steel tipped arrows. He also brought his favorite superhero t-shirts and jeans, so while everyone else including Story looks like a renaissance festival worker, he sticks out because he continues to wear modern clothes. It turns out that this gives you some insight into his way of thinking about things in general, so his outside-the-norm attitude helps a one-armed hunter be useful and ultimately lets Josh help end the war.
The setting of these books is interesting, particularly those parts which “our” fairytales got wrong about different beings in the elf world. The cultural differences which Spendlove shows as Story and Josh interact with the beings in the kingdom are well thought out and make sense with the rest of the setting. Story and her supporting cast are well developed and it was good to see into some supporting cast members’ heads during the dream sequences, because they have a different understanding of Story and her place in their kingdom as well as the places of everyone else.
Story wears very girly clothes because that is the norm for Ailionora, but unlike some fictional young women, this does not mean she doesn’t fight or that she is weak, just that she is comfortable in them now and Eírnin likes how she looks in them. There are descriptions of clothes and food from Ailionora and this makes Story seem more like a complex person. She has to deal with more sleeping and eating than the elves so it makes her life complicated.
The battle scenes are well done (Spendlove is a Marine officer, so that strategy training is put to use here) and from a personal perspective not a god’s-eye view. This means the deaths and injuries and disasters have much more impact on the point of view character and their emotions are allowed to show. She makes war feel and look just as horrible as it should be depicted and not a glorified exercise as it is often depicted, particularly in some fantasy for young women.
This is certainly a young adult book, but enjoyable by adults due to the good setting and characters. Plus, readers can see how funny realistic young adult relationships can be from the outside.
Review of Mistress of Land and Sea: A Novel of the World-Queen by Betty Cross (April 8, 2014, Double Dragon ebooks)
In this volume, the Hegemony forces of Promono-Dei have to fight the forces of the Nobalos on the sea, which is the where Nobalos is strongest. Promono-Dei (Promi) uses intelligence she gets from asking perceptive questions of Oracular Topaz to set fire to the ship construction projects of the Nobalos forces.
Weinti, a slave freed by the Promi is both guard and significant other to the queen. She and her queen return to the city where Weinti was a slave and Promi’s father ruled as the king when she was very young. The homecoming is bittersweet because although they get to see some of Promi’s extended family, they must also deal with some who betrayed her father. Promi deals well with the adults who knew her as a child and manages to get through the executions necessary to keep the kingdom running but she is still a young adult who would rather not be around all the killing. Even so, she is determined to not let her people see her upset by those deaths.
After settling in and getting ship construction underway, Promi spends some time getting her kingdom in order. She consults the topaz and determines what strategy is needed to defeat the Nobalos fleet. However, she neglects to plan for bad weather and her own ships don’t make it back home. Kordo-Stri’s husband has managed to construct a gem like the topaz but it won’t work for her; it only works for him or their son. After he is killed on his fancy new ship during battle, Kordo-Stri helps her son formulate questions to use its info to battle the world-queen. It is a battle of the best questions as Promi and Weinti wait to be rescued from the island where they crashed and hope it is in time to save everything they have fought for.
Promi and Weinti have a normal relationship for young adults, and both lack some understanding of the wider world. The young world-queen makes some errors which cause embarrassment and confusion with her allies and Weinti doesn’t realize the problem either, even though she was a slave and might have realized how freed slaves would react. Promi starts to realize that even though Weinti has more physical skills than her, she cannot depend on her to do everything and must develop her own skills as well as she can. They both must make some hard choices in order to get back to civilization and these decisions make them stronger as a couple and more mature by the end of the book.
The battles on both land and ship are described well with enough detail for those who like it but not so much you get bored if it isn’t for you. The topaz is an interesting item for a ruler, because it takes wisdom to use it to good advantage and not asking the right questions can lead to incomplete knowledge of the situation. This can sometimes cause a worse disaster than doing nothing.
There is no strong language or sex depicted in the book. Although characters (some of them the same sex) sharing quarters are quite obviously in a relationship, the curtain is drawn before we see any bedtime activity. So the book is young adult appropriate and also good for families reading together. Definitely a good read for those looking for strong female characters and for those who appreciate GBLT characters doing something other than wallowing in angst about being treated badly. GBLT characters seem to be a normal part of the Malga setting so no attention is paid to this issue by other characters.
Review of The Chronicle of Secret Riven by Ronlyn Domingue (Atria, May 20, 2014)
This is the second book in the Keeper of Tales trilogy. The universe depicted in this series has locations which seem to be typical fantasy, but other neighboring kingdoms where nature is much more alive and if the character understands this, knowledge of the pathways can allow them to travel between locations. The typical fantasy kingdom started a war because a mapmaker was not able to convince the rulers that there was no treasure in the neighboring kingdom that she mapped.
Now, one thousand years later, the tale is picked up by describing the life of Secret Riven, a strange little girl who doesn’t talk until she is seven. The story follows her as she matures and develops a friendship with the prince, but as in the first volume love between royalty and commoner is frowned upon. Whether the pair in this volume are able to change that will be seen in later volumes, as they are going to be physically separated by the demands on the prince.
The overall feel of the book is sort of like a child’s fairytale, particularly in the early parts where Secret is a child and is exploring her world. She is an urban child so nature itself is a mystery to her until she travels to a forest for the first time. Her society when she is a teen has a slight Victorian feel to it as some technology is introduced to the fantasy world of her youth.
The supporting cast, particularly Secret’s parents, her Old Woman friend and Cyril the talking squirrel are three-dimensional and complex. Her mother is depicted particularly well, as we see her influence even after she is dead. Nikolas is a strong secondary character and you see some of his motivations when he is younger, but his parents control him more in his late teens and he doesn’t speak with Riven in such depth.
The world depicted in this book is beautifully described and makes the forest seem almost magical, even when it is just a forest. The children and parent/mentor relationships are realistic and not always happy. The book is fine for any age reader who can manage a 350-page book, with no sex, violence and bad language. It would also make a great book to read out loud. The covers are beautiful and make the book appear to be an old-style fairy tale with a green dragon overlaying the scene.
Review of Guild of Assassins: The Majat Code Book II by Anna Kashina (July 27, 2014, Angry Robot)
The fantasy world in this series has an Eastern European flavor to it mixed with a bit of Eastern philosophy regarding warriors and duty. In this volume we see Kara and Mai of the Guild of Assassins and Kyth the prince, trying to save the kingdom from disaster due to a takeover of the church by a group of evil sorcerers. Mai was supposed to kill Kara in the previous book because she chose the prince and duty to the kingdom over duty to the guild, but he tricked everyone with a special technique which put her in a deep sleep.
She recovers and is hiding in plain sight until a guild messenger shows up with a letter for Mai. A messenger from a monastery had arrived earlier the same day to report that the evil Kaddim Brotherhood had taken over more of the priests than had been thought previously.
Kyth’s childhood friends Alder and Ellah have come into their adult skills and play a much more central role in the adventures in this book. Ellah appears to have truthsense and other skills of the Keepers and Alder is the emissary of the Forestlands because he is the mate of the Forest Mother, Lady Ayalla. With Kyth’s magical skills maturing also, this means all three of them are throwing around some serious magic. This is bad news for the Kaddim Brotherhood, of course.
The characters don’t all travel together in this volume, but the split travelogue is done well and all the strands are interesting and clear so the reader doesn’t get lost. As with the previous volume, there is some serious blade work in the fight scenes, but the details don’t drag the story down. If you like ninjas or assassins in your fantasy, then this series is certainly for you. The culture of the guild seems eastern European with a bit of Middle Eastern and Far East thrown in also. This gives it a different feel to most other Western European or Japanese fantasy of this type and it is quite refreshing to find such an interesting cultural base for a fantasy universe.
Can’t wait for more stories set in this universe! It is one of our favorite new fantasy series. The main characters are young adults with adult jobs (like assassin, healer, negotiator) but there is no sex, graphic violence or bad language so it is appropriate for anyone over about twelve.