Cinder

By Marissa Meyer

Cyborg Cinderella. The words evoke feelings of intrigue and dismay: the originality of such a concept vs the worry of it being done badly. Twisting a fairytale, after all, is nothing new (though it is eternally fun); there are so many versions of Cinderella/Snow White/Red Riding Hood/etc. that I feel they should be a genre unto themselves. Some of the adaptions are unique, funny, and engaging; good reads. Others are horrendous; I think we can all agree that we’ve read some awful adaptions.

Cinder is the tale of Linh Cinder, master mechanic of New Beijing. Set in the future, long after World War IV, after humans have colonized the moon and mutated into a separate race, Cinder is a cyborg orphan making a living as a street mechanic for her stepmother. An outcast because of her cyborg status (among other things, she has a fake arm, leg, spine and heart), Cinder is volunteered as a test subject for a deadly plague that has been decimating New Beijing. This, unfortunately, interferes with a job from Prince Kaito, who needs her to urgently fix is android. Throw in a sick sister, a wicked stepmother, an evil Queen bent on world domination, politics and love, Cinder has her hand full.

I found Cinder to be a good read. Nice and easy, with a lot of pseudo-science that made it seem nice and real. The plot was somewhat predictable (as ya do), but at the same time I found it a really good play on the normal Cinderella mythos. Cinder the Cyborg turned into a really unique concept that came off much, much better then I had hoped for when looking at this book for the first time.

I’m usually leery about first-time novels, because I feel like authors lose a lot of their creative power against editors’ whose job it is to make money. I’ve been impressed by both Cinder and Legend for their unique stories, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from both. Cinder is just getting started, developing what promises to be a good trilogy. I don’t mind predictability in my beginnings so long as the ending doesn’t disappoint. I have faith that Meyer will take her Cyborg Cinderella (I love that alliteration) and run with it. Hopefully to the Moon and back.

(Read the book to get the joke)

Recommended Ages: Teen

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Legend

By Marie Lu

I’m a member of the online art community deviantArt; I’m sure some of you have stumbled across that website in the past, and it showcases some incredible instances of art. One the artists I followed early on was an artist and aspiring author, mree. She’s a very talented artist, and spent a lot of time developing character designs for her written characters.

Well, congratulations mree (aka Marie Lu)! You need aspire no more!

Around Christmas 2011, Marie’s debut novel, Legend hit shelves. It’s very on-trend right now; a dystopian world reminiscant of The Hunger Games where all children must go through a Trial at the age of 10. The score you receive at the Trial will impact what happens to you later on – labour camps, drudgery job, or elite. Allow me to assure you that this is not The Hunger Games. I really enjoyed the setting, the characters, and how Lu creates a world that sucks you in.

Legend takes place in a future where the United States of America no longer exist. Instead we have the Colonies (as yet unseen), and the Republic. Our story takes place in the Republic, and splits between Day and June. Day is a criminal in the vein of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich, derailing the Republics plans, and helping provide for his family. June is a prodigy with a perfect Trial score, slated to be one of the most elite Republican soldiers. Their paths cross when June is tasked with tracking Day down, an endeavor that has so far proved futile for the army.

The biggest plus of Legend is the setting. It takes place in California, but it could be anywhere. And yet, there are ties to the physical place, and hints of the old USA. While a fairly short story (all things considered), the world feels comfortable, like you could visit it. There’s nothing shoved in there to make it fit, like some stories I’ve read. The plot reads well, and everything flows into each other. A lot of plot threads are left unanswered, but I will wait for the sequel(s), and assume that they will be answered there.

I admit, I wasn’t eager to pick up Legend. I did, however, recommend it to my chiropractor, who bought it as a Christmas present for his wife. After she read it, she started gushing about it, and lent it to me to read. I was completing my final semester of my Masters at the time, and didn’t have the time; I’m ashamed to admit I held onto that book for almost 3 months. When I finally did pick it up, my initial feeling was “meh”; I felt that it was generic. Then I really got into it and changed my mind. That’s what I would call the trick to this novel: don’t get stuck on thinking it’s a Hunger Games knockoff. It’s not, I promise.

Lu gives us a story of two star-crossed lovers, two 15-year-olds trying to find answers to what their leaders are doing and why. There’s romance, action, scheming, tragedy and the promise of more. Many of the plot threads are left hanging, with the promise of resolution in later books. I look forward to sequels, and seeing the future adventures of June and Day. I hope that Lu can continue with what makes her book unique, and avoids the cliches that dominate the market today.

Edit: Marie just released the news of her sequel in the Legend trilogy. The second book will be titled Prodigy, scheduled for release on Jan 23rd, 2013.

Incarceron

By Catherine Fisher

I found two out very interesting things when I worked at the bookstore.

1) The subject divide between “9-12” and “teen” is huge and strict

2) Dystopian novels are huge

Now, allow me to explain. I worked at a fairly small bookstore, rather then one of those sprawling behemoths. Pros and cons to each, but it certainly highlighted to me the divide that exists between what is considered “9-12” appropriate and teen. In the younger section, everything deals with fantasy and magic, the endings are happy and the covers are, in general, decorated in bright and pastel colours. Mostly blue-themed. Move over one more rack to the teen books and every cover, almost without fail is black, or grey. Not only that, but most deal with dystopian themes.

For those of you in the dark, dystopian novels deal with dark, depressing futures, whether some malevolent force is threatening our heroes. In most cases the government is the enemy, with rigorous totalitarian control. Sometimes there has been an apocalypse. Dystopians were first popularized in works like Orwell’s 1984, and more recently with the blockbuster Hunger Games. Since that became popular, publishers have been rushing to produce more and more dystopian-themed books, with titles like Marie Lu’s Legend and Maggie Stiefvater’s Scorpio Races populating the shelves.

Another book that benefited from the surge of dark-toned teen books was Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher. This book disturbed me. Not in a bad way. In fact, there’s probably more blood and gore in Twilight then there is in Incarceron. What makes this book disturbing entirely centers on how well it’s written.

The book is written from two different points of view. The first we’re introduced to is Finn, an amnesiac who lives inside Incarceron, a prison built to contain all the criminals in the world. The prison is dark and hellish, and people eke out livings knowing they could die at any moment. The original criminals have long since perished, and generations have descended without any way out.

The second main character is Claudia, the Warden’s daughter, who lives at court and dreams of entering Incarceron and seeing the perfect society inside. As the Warden’s daughter, she is part of an important family, and it often a focus of the Queen, whom Claudia distrusts.

Incarceron was built with the intention of taking criminals and, through example and teaching by the wise men, creating the perfect society. Somewhere along the line Incarceron itself became sentient, and the program went awry. As desperate as the people inside, Incarceron seeks a way out of itself.

Neither side views it’s situation as ideal. Claudia longs to escape the medieval world that has been forced over an advanced society, and Finn is desperate to escape a prison that he does not feel he belongs to. Complicating matters, Finn might be the lost prince of Claudia’s world.

What makes this book stand out is the tone. Fisher writes amazingly well, drawing you into this twisted world. As Claudia and Finn come together, the flight to escape Incarceron becomes more and more desperate, with death and discovery never far away. Woven into this are existential questions of self. Is Finn the lost prince Giles? Or perhaps is he a creation of Incarceron, who recycles it’s dead, sometimes incorporating two bodies?

For me, what made this book so emotional is that it was lifelike. The characters were not, perhaps, overly likable. Claudia is hard and cold, but deeply intrigued by Incarceron and Finn-Giles who was once her intended fiance. Finn’s journey to find a way out of Incarceron is also a journey of self, where he is forced to try and make something of himself, instead of being what everyone else sees him to be. And there may not be a resolution.

Certainly, there was no resolution in Incarceron. A sequel, Sapphique, exists, but I have not yet been able to detatch myself from the first enough to read the second of the series. Reviews have stated that it’s not as strong as the first, without the character growth one would hope to see. But Incarceron is a master work. While I didn’t enjoy it, it’s hard to deny the merits of a book that affects your mood for months afterwards.

Suggested age: teen

Dragonsong

By Anne McCaffrey

One of the great things about fantasy books is that it can make the transition into reading adult fare much easier on the young reader. In a lot of cases, authors who transition from YA fare to adult (or vice versa) aren’t changing much of their style – the only difference is the length. (I have a 600+ page YA novel on my floor that says young adults can read books over 300 pages, publishers!) Patricia Wrede falls into this category, and so does Anne McCaffery, who served as my indoctrination into the genre of fantasy.

Most times, children fall into books (possibly a series) in their early years and move into the adult books because they enjoy the author and have run out of “age appropriate” material to read. In my case, I went backwards; one of the librarians showed me Ms. McCaffery in the adult section and that was it. I tried to read every one, adult or not. Until very recently, I don’t believe I even realized Dragonsong was a YA book.

Dragonsong is McCaffery’s second series set on the Pern. The protagonist is a young woman named Menolly, who is a gifted musician and singer who is not valued by her fishermen parents. When her mentor dies and she cuts her hand, it looks like any dream she ever had of becoming a harper (musician) is lost. All this changes the day she runs away and discovers a clutch of fire-lizards, miniature dragons, who imprint on her and become her second family.

The primary antagonist of the Pern books is a vicious thing called Thread, a silvery, worm-like matter that falls from the sky and devours anything organic until there’s nothing left. Being caught outside during Threadfall is a death sentence, and this is exactly what happens to Menolly one day while foraging. Trying to out-run the Thread she is saved by a Dragonrider, who takes her to a Weyr (where the dragons and dragonriders live). From there, she is discovered as by the Masterharper himself, and it seems that her dream to become a Harper might become a reality.

This is, of course the first in the Harper Hall of Pern series; the first two books follow Menolly’s growth, and the last follows one of her friends in his maturity. Gender themes and coming-of-age abound in these books, but they strike the right balance. Menolly’s parents are believable, though you aren’t meant to like them, and for me that’s one of the most important parts. You don’t sit there and roll your eyes and feel like Menolly is a spoiled brat; you feel that she has been wronged and is right to get away. At the same time, you realize that her parents do love her, but they cannot understand her. To their too-practical eyes, her music is useless in a Hold where one needs all hands to deal with the catch.

McCaffery does well at keeping her characters real, and I love her depiction of Pern. I love a good world, and Pern is one of the best. Including the other series and standalones that center on the Dragonriders of Pern, McCaffery has created one of the best worlds I’ve ever seen, complete changes in the times, circumstances and technology.

Mind you, these books are quite old; most were published in the 1970’s. I read them in the 1990’s, 20 years later, and I still thought they were fantastic. Sometimes the old is the best, and McCaffery is certainly one of the major players in this genre, despite the age of her books. If this appeals to you, but you’re not sure you want to read something possibly so dated, I suggest The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, or Eragon by Christopher Paolini, as some options for teens.

Recommended ages: 9-12+

East of the Sun & West of the Moon (Part 4)

By Edith Pattou

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

The book is written from five alternating points of view: Rose, Father (Rose’s father), Neddy (Rose’s brother), the White Bear, and the Troll Queen. Each chapter gives a different point of view, and each takes the tale a little farther forward. At first I found this gimmick off-putting, but as the book progressed I found it helped the pace, keeping me engaged and racing for the end.

East gives us plausible characters, realistic scenarios and reactions, as well as a real and solid world setting. Even differing religions and folktales are given a place in East, which makes the religious studies student in me pleased. It is what I wished Ice had been. Some may find the shifting points of view and size off-putting, since East comes in at roughly 400 pages. The chapters are short, however, and can be picked off slowly. A good book for those that love fleshed-out folktales.

Suggested Ages: 9-12+

Pattou, E. (2005). East. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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The Last Dragonslayer

By Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer is set in an alternative-reality where most of the familiar things – companies, telephones, roads, cars and all the other things we take for granted – intermingle with dying magic. Jennifer Strange is a foundling (orphan), who is currently in charge of a magical employment agency that works to find a new field of work for obsolete magicians: home improvement. Everything is turned upside down, however, with the announcement of the impending death of the last dragon.

Fforde handles The Last Dragonslayer with his trademark British wit. It does lack some subtly in its break-neck pace. There are themes of environmentalism, evil corporations, don’t-trust-strangers, capitalism, and necessary evil. Given that this is a book for children, I can forgive the heavy-handedness, and really it can be easily overlooked.

Suggested Ages: 9-12

Fforde, J. (2011). The Last Dragonslayer. HarperCollins.

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Wildwood Dancing

By Juliet Marillier

Set in in Transylvania in the early 1500s, Wildwood Dancing is an adaption of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The novel is told through the eyes of Jena, the second of five daughters.

Wildwood Dancing is the first YA attempt from Juliet Marillier that would be excellent for a young teenager or advanced reader. It has an excellently crafted story with a well-shadowed but still surprising twist ending (for which I would recommend this book alone). It kept me engaged and wanting more the entire time I read it, and evoked real sympathy and empathy for the characters. The cover of the book well reflects what is inside the pages – a beautiful, complex story that is still, at it’s core, very simple and powerful.

Suggested Age: 9-12

Marillier, J. (2007). Wildwood Dancing. Random House. More

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