Tag Archives: GoodReads post November 2009

The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

Ever since I read Meg Rosoff’s fantastic dystopian YA novel How I Live Now I’ve planned on picking up another of her books. The desperate, traumatic, and epic-feeling story and the well-drawn characters sparked my interest initially; but it was the lovely, sparse writing which totally engulfed me and urgently pressed me to try another Rosoff novel. And the gorgeously despairing cover, the alluring historical British setting, and the doomed runaway bride premise of The Bride’s Farewell made it just the one.

It’s the morning of Pell Ridley’s wedding, and she’s creeping out of the bed she shares with her three sisters and onto her horse Jack. Although Birdie says he loves her, she cannot marry him or anyone for that matter. She will not be her mother, abused and starved, bearing child after child to her drunken, good-for-nothing preacher father. So without much thought for where she will go or what she will do, Pell’s off to the horse trading at Salisbury Fair, but not without the company of her mute younger brother Bean, who follows her out the door.

“The open road. What a trio of words. What a vision of blue sky and untouched hills and narrow trails heading God knew where and being free – free and hungry, free and cold, free and wet, free and lost. Who could mourn such conditions, faced with the alternatives?”

But being free involves even more suffering than she anticipated, and Pell’s hardships are mounting – consequences or not – and she will learn that maybe we can’t or don’t ever truly wish to be free from our childhood and familial ties.

Like all of Rosoff’s novels, I didn’t know what to expect when opening The Bride’s Farewell. I made sure I was in the mood for something dreary and possibly tragic but hopeful and totally different than anything I’ve ever read. I expected to savor the writing, and I did. Certain passages just struck me in their sharp depictions and poetic imagery. At barely over 200 pages its short but feels much longer and bigger than the few months the story covers. Pell is hard to decipher but likable in her tenacious will and unbreakable spirit. In the face of starvation, exhaustion, exposure, loss, and shame, she is ever patient and submitting in her search for work and a new life. Her kinship with horses and talent for horsemanship is admirable. I have almost no experience with horses but I was interested in all the breeds, temperaments, and delicate ways of grooming. The book also offered a new picture for me of 1850s Britain; the lowest of the lower class, the nomadic gypsies, and small rural town culture. Some of these images will stick with me. While the ending to Pell and Bean’s story was fitting and offered some closure and sweetness after all that was bitter, the story left me somewhat underwhelmed in its simplicity and regrettably will not stay with me as much as I would’ve liked. Still, I would recommend it selectively and Rosoff definitely wins a prize for her unique and memorable character names. Daisy, Piper, Pell, Bean, Dogman, and Dicken the dog are all names that strike the perfect chord of uncommon but appropriate and even beloved.

Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

Since Juliet Marillier became my new fav author this summer after reading her to-die-for Sevenwaters series, I’d been eagerly anticipating her newest novel set in a slightly later, early Christian Ireland. What I didn’t know beforehand was that the story had elements of Beauty and the Beast, which I noticed straightaway. Later I was happy to realize that it was the Jane Eyre similarities, the Gothic romance feel and Marillier’s deft touch for the otherwordly that made this a suitably chilling autumn read.

Young but experienced-worn Caitrin is an anomaly for her day and age: she’s a scribe who can read and write both Irish and Latin. Her late father taught and trained her with the care most would only show sons. Ironically though he has prepared Caitrin well for her lot when he suddenly dies leaving her in the abusive hands of distant relations claiming heir to the family estate. After nearly permanently becoming a fragile shell of her former self, Caitrin manages to flee with her writing box to the unwelcoming keep of Whistling Tor. But luck is on her side when she overhears a man from the chieftain’s estate on the hill looking for a scribe and hard on his heels finally overtakes him and presents herself as a qualified candidate. This is not before she meets the flame-haired crippled chieftain Anulan in his garden who is shockingly bitter and skeptical of her talents. But as his only hope, he quickly agrees to take her on in one last desperate attempt to free his family from an ancient curse. To do so however Caitrin will need to untangle generations-long knots of sorcery contained in disorganized and crumbling family documents. Compounded with a mysterious eldritch force whispering in the woods, enchanted mirrors and the threat of Norman invaders, Caitrin must face the fact that Anulan may never be freed and she will never be whole again.

As you can tell, Heart’s Blood is part-fantasy, part-historical fiction, part-ghost story. And if you’re like me hearing those last two categorical words can be a turn off. But surprisingly as much as I liked Anulan and Caitrin and the sacrifices they make to heal themselves and those around them, it was the “ghost” characters that really shined. Gearrog, the little girl, and Rioghan have suffered sorely in both their mortal lives and cursed existences after death yet still so fearlessly face the towering obstacles ahead, what’s not to love? Likewise the atypical moral message of showing courage step by step and Anulan and Caitrin’s shared journey from weak to strong added a twist of interest to the story that is sure to appeal. While the slow, stop-and-go development of their relationship wasn’t seizing and there was some predictability to the identity of the main villain, the plot kept me guessing and the ending delighted me in its sweet unexpectedness of happily ever after for all of the characters.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Todd and Viola have finally reached Haven, but it wasn’t nearly what they’d expected. Before stepping more than a few feet into the town, they’re being separated – Viola to the woman’s houses of healing and Todd to the Mayor’s headquarters. As Viola is struggling to conform to her new life as a healer and Todd is forced to tend to the enslaved Spackle, two factions are forming, and they won’t end up on the same side. With both of them under the tight manipulative thumb of the new Mayor, will Todd and Viola be able to find each other? Will Viola be able to warn the rest of the incoming settlers in time? And of the Ask and the Answer, who are the good guys? The second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy is somehow even more chaotic as everything and everyone is at stake and Todd and Viola continue to make the difficult choices that define them and affect all those around them.

Since The Knife of Never Letting Go offered little closure, I haven’t been much more eager to read a sequel. Admittedly it’s difficult for me to refrain from comparison, but The Ask and the Answer keeps up the running pace, anything-goes plot twists, excellent characterizations and moral questioning of it’s predecessor while providing a new, fresh story which is told from the alternating perspectives of Todd and Viola. Though it’s definitely hard to see them apart, it’s harder to see their situations go from bad to worse – and when you can’t think it could get even worse – it does. Appeasement, totalitarianism, terrorism, genocide, torture, you name it, it probably occurs somewhere in the narrative. While unsurprisingly dark and grim, this book isn’t all despair and continues to challenge the answers to the hard questions and in doing so touch upon universal themes such as morality, love, and loyalty. I was continually stumped by how frequently I expected straight black and white, good and bad choices for the characters when there just isn’t, Todd and Viola no exception. Discovering that your heroes are flawed and the villains capable of redemption however just makes you love them all the more. Again, Patrick Ness’ up-in-the-air-ending, tight plotting, brisk pace, and exquisite character development has left me clamoring for the third book. Unfortunately this time around I have to wait a year.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Have I said I love my job? Besides working for and amongst the love and hobby of my life right now – books – I’m surrounded by coworkers that are also avid book readers. What this also means is that I have the privilege of hearing about excellent books that I never would’ve otherwise. So when the children’s librarian claims a book to be the best she’s read all year (and she’s read a lot of good ones), you better listen. Because The Lost Conspiracy is just one of those under-the-radar books that deserves any hype and shout outs it can get.

The Lost are special, rare people who are born with the ability to send their senses away from their body, like dust carried by the wind. They essentially control Gullstruck; bringing tributes to towns and acting as the communication network for the volcano-laden island.

The Lace are the native brown-skinned islanders of Gullstruck. Decades ago when the Calvalcaste invaded the island, claimed it as a sanctuary for the ashes of their dead, and built cities on top of their sacred temples, the Lace fought back by human-sacrificing the colonizers. As punishment they were banished to the Coast and the Caves of the Hollow Beasts where food was scarce and shelter from the daily jungle rains was negligible.

Twelve-year-old Hathin is the invisible attendant to her sister, the Lady Lost Arilou. Though Arilou is the only Lace Lost and is responsible for supplying much-needed food and provisions to Hollow Beasts village, she is not the prophetess and oracle a Lost is supposed to be. She seems to speak only gibberish and requires Hathin to attend to her every physical need as well as act as her “translator”. What is not known is how much Hathin actually understands and how much Arilou can comprehend. When the Lost Inspector Skein and his assistant Minchard Prox show up for Arilou’s Lost testing, Hathin couldn’t feel more helpless. How will Arilou pass the tests if she cannot speak coherently? With the life of her village at stake Hathin must find a way to keep the fraud a secret. But even as Hathin’s plan unfolds, she’s unknowingly caught up in a murderous island-wide conspiracy which points to her and her people. On the run and with no one to turn to, Hathin must find the determination to go over volcano and mountain and do absolutely anything and everything to protect Arilou.

I still can’t get over what an odd but inventive fantasy The Lost Conspiracy is. Not only that but the writing is singularly poetic and deeply-laden with meaning it’s difficult to find many YA novels that compare. It takes more than a few pages to find your bearings in this fully-lit world and metaphoric-heavy writing (I had to use my 100-page rule) but once you do it sweeps you off your feet and rather than getting lost in the complex world of peoples, languages, and politics; an entire personified physical world; the changing third-person narrative; and the sometimes distractingly poetic language with which it’s written it has swept you off your feet and 576 pages feels like nothing. This doesn’t represent the book justly as a whole but here’s a small taste of what I mean:

“The winds shifted again, the ashen clouds puckered and plummeted, and everyone glimpsed something enormous plunging through the valley and the town below: sleek, gray-brown, and muscular like an enormous serpent, its back strewn with timber and trees that it did not notice. Not fire but water, a dragon of scalding, murky, terrible water. As they watched, chunks of slope below them vanished as though bitten away by a vast, invisible maw. Bite after bite, working its way up the slope…”

See what I mean? Frances Hardinge is both intimidatingly brilliant and limitlessly imaginative. This book is not capable of being hated. You’ll either love it or it will simply not be your cup of tea. I adored it, not only for what I already mentioned but because of the characterizations. Hathin grows so much and learns how to make her life what she wants it to be. Sorrow, the white volcano; the King of Fans, her tall neighboring mountain; Lord Spearhead and other topical features also become dear characters that have a larger role to play in the story. I even came to enjoy the confusing dialects (such as Doorsy) and the many tribes and people such as the Sours. The absolutely frightening bounty hunters called Ashwalkers – who literally gain power from wearing their victim’s ashes – were again, pure brilliance. Loved, loved, loved this book! These images will stay with me for a long time.

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

In mercenary Kate Daniels’ world, Atlanta is a scary place to live – and we’re not just talking about crime. One day your car may start, the next day it won’t. Because when the magic is up, technology fails, and all kinds of creatures come out to play. Monsters, wannabe mages, vampires, etc. are trouble enough; but it’s the necromancers, The Masters of the Dead, and the paramilitary shapechangers called the Pack who stir up the most trouble in their heated struggle for dominance.

Just when the real fighting begins however tech can be up, no warning and with the snap of a finger leaving a mess of unresolved magical issues behind. This is where Kate comes in – to do what the cops don’t, or simply won’t handle themselves. But when her knight-diviner guardian ends up dead and the Pack and the Masters of the Dead blame each other for a string of bizarre deaths, barely-scraping-by Kate wonders (just for a second) if she’d prefer to pass on her dream job rather than pay her bills…

The real stand out for me in Magic Bites was the concept of a magic-fluctuating Atlanta and the serious havoc caused by the ebbs and flows of tech/magic. The writing is strong and Kate, with her biting sarcasm and wit is promising as the next urban fantasy ‘It’ girl. Likewise Pack leader Curran has potential as the leading man. After the first few take-it-or-leave-it chapters it was his introduction that really grabbed my attention and sparked my curiosity to keep reading. This didn’t change the fact that I was confused, a lot, about the technicalities of the magic waves and the politics and mechanics of the paranormal creatures and races; but perhaps this was only because I’m a relatively new reader to UF. There was also one scene with Curran and Crest in which the characterization of Kate felt inconsistent. While the former left me perplexed and the latter wanting, plenty of readers won’t notice that inconsistency and will be happy just being able to jump in and tag along for the ride, figuring things out as you go. Still, in one respect I admittedly love that Kate keeps a little something from us that we will just have to figure out for ourselves or be patient as it’s gradually revealed in subsequent books. That and the crazily cool Atlanta are the reasons I will definitely be picking up Magic Burns, which I hear only gets better.