Ironskin by Tina Connolly

ironskin

4 out of 5 stars.

This book is Jane Eyre with Faeries. For those of you with exquisite taste, that should have been enough and by the time everyone else has read to the end of this sentence, you are already rushing to your library’s homepage to put this on hold. The rest of you appear to need more convincing. I am slightly disappointed in you all.

This book is an historical fantasy set in the post-WWI era (as far as I can tell from the descriptions of technology and fashion). Instead of European countries bashing at each other, the Great War was fought against the Fey, whose main tactic is to set off bombs embedded with their magic around large groups of people, so the embedded magical shrapnel will give the Fey access to take over the now-fairy-magic-riddled corpses. Those that were hit by the bombs but survived now have little bits of fairy magic cursing them (with anger, hunger, violence, etc.) and are forced to wear iron over their affected parts to keep the curse from leaking out. Our protagonist Jane’s curse is anger and she wears and iron mask to both cover her scars and keep her rage in check. She responds to an add for a governess position in the country, taken out by a mysterious widower whose only daughter is also Fey-cursed.

The language in this book is really reminiscent of Bronte-era writing, which I adore and the addition of an anger curse gives the Jane character a bit more backbone than she had in the original novel. It is not a long read, unfortunately, but there are two more in the series already published. I liked the old-fashioned feel to the novel and the close resemblance to one of my favourite classical novels. A rare rewrite indeed that manages to preserve the character of the original so closely while still adding so many interesting plot elements.

Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

crimson bound

4 out of 5 awesome stars

I was provided with an ARC of this book.

One of the best things about this author (who is one of the most talented of the new YA crop) is how she is able to take extremely different threads and weave them together so well. This book is a mix of Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel,┬áMarie Antoinette style french history, and ancient herb lore and witchcraft. These seem like incredibly disparate elements, but somehow Ms. Hodge makes them work, and work well. The premise for the main character is that there is a specific type of curse that can be laid upon people by the forest-born of the world (think evil elves that inhabit a dark and encroaching sometimes-real forest that creeps closer and closer to civilization and occasionally spits up demon creatures) that will either kill you in 3 days or give you powers if you kill someone within that time span, but accepting the curse by murdering will eventually cost you your soul. This premise is overlaid by political and religious machinations in a land that looks suspiciously like Louis XVI’s and a quest to recover some bone swords that will allow our protagonists to kill the approaching Devourer who threatens to eat the sun and bring darkness. Our cursed heroine is joined by the bastard sun of the King who has had both of his hands chopped off and wears sterling silver replacements. It sounds strange when I try to describe it, but it ends up being really good!

The writing is sophisticated for a teen novel and the action and personal growth of the characters are well balanced. The fantasy elements play into the historical fiction elements nicely to make a unique landscape. I would recommend this to all readers who like fairy tale rewrites, but want something more than a simple retelling of a single tale.

Flunked by Jen Calonita

flunked

I received an ARC of this book

4 out of 5 stars.

Gillian lives in a shoe in a fairy tale kingdom and has to steal to feed her family. She gets picked up too many times for petty theft and is sent to a reform school run by some of the classic fairy tale villains turned good. There she uncovers a plot to upset the balance of the kingdom.

This book is absolutely perfect for my book club, who love the Whatever After series by Sarah Mlynowski and the League of Princes series by Christopher Healy and Todd Harris. It is funny, not too gender specific (interest protagonists of both genders), and clever. Fairy tales are all jumbled together and seeing some of the tales intersect is cool. Also, the boarding school reminds me of Hogwarts, with classes around wand work, Pegasus flying, and instructors of varying species. It is lighter than other rewrites, as would be expected of something aimed more at a junior (grades 4-6) audience rather than a teen one. Do not go into expecting huge depth or grittiness. This is a short, interesting read that is great for grade school students who have shown a propensity for reading fantasy. I enjoyed it, especially the mental image of a school having to equip all their rooms with large tanks for merfolk!

The Vanishing Girl by Laura Thalassa

vanishing girl

I was given an ARC of this book.

3 out of 5 stars.

I requested a copy of this book mostly because of the premise. I really liked the idea of someone who would fall asleep, and then end up teleporting somewhere and have to deal with the consequences of nightly travel to who-knows-where. Unfortunately, this quickly turned into a romance with the trappings of what could have been a great science fiction novel. The government tracks our teleporter down, transfers her to a secret base, and pairs her with a male teleporter. From then on the story is about 40% awesome teleporting adventure/ mystery of how they all came to gain their powers and 60% sex scenes and descriptions of how sexy her partner is. For me, the thing that really encapsulates this book is how in one section the two are teasing/flirting/whatever and he laughs at how lurid her romance novel is, when a couple pages later her internal dialogue is telling us how the v-shape of his pelvic muscles and bones points to his arousal. Since I do not appreciate too much romance getting in the way of fighting, the 40/60 ratio was too high for me to bother with anything else in this series. I don’t want to have to skim through furious make out sessions to get to the cool bits where someone gets assassinated. I am not saying I don’t appreciate some romance and relationships. That is pretty much most of Anna Karenina and that is one of my favourite books, but this books was a lot of lust and not much human connection. If I wanted romance, I would read romance. This book had the potential to be really interested, and just ended up a little blah. I would recommend it to some of my friends who really like sexy times, but it is just not for me.

The Globe: The Science of Discworld II by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen

the globe

I was provided with an ARC of this work.

4 out of 5 stars.

First, just as a warning, I don’t usually enjoy reading non-fiction. I have had 2 decades worth of schooling that had too many textbooks and too few novels to make a habit of reading non-fiction in my spare time. That being said, this is a very good intro to non-fiction for fiction readers because it is a blend of the two. For every chapter of facts, there is a chapter of fun. A narrative about wizards travelling to earth to deal with interfering elves is worked alongside a thesis about the importance of narrative to the human condition. It is an unusually complex thesis for something that is meant to be read by laypeople, but it is well done. It draws on evidence from a variety of fields: physical sciences to social sciences to the arts and humanities. There are quite a few concepts thrown at the reader, like the philosophical concept of qualia (which the spell correct on my machine is refusing to even acknowledge), but the comic interludes of Pratchett’s wizards being hilarious ensures that there is time to deliberate on them before the next chapter’s deluge. I would recommend this to any fiction reader who is hoping to softly tread into the world of non-fiction without fully committing themselves, as well as to anyone who likes topics that draw from a wild variety of sources and are blended together well.

Tear You Apart by Sarah Cross

tear you apart

3 out of 5 stars.

I was provided with an ARC.

I was torn on my feelings for this and its companion book. On the plus side, the premise of having people cursed to follow a fairy tale path is something I have really enjoyed in the past (See Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms series). I tend to be always in favour of fairy tale rewrites and this one has some clever allusions to some of the more obscure ones, as well as acknowledging the savagery and cruelty of some of the originals. No Disney-style ever afters here. The problems I had were mostly with the male romantic leads. In both this novel and Kill Me Softly, the main male love interests make choices about the heroine’s future without ┬áreally clueing her in fully. Either Sarah Cross is making a clever point about how unfeminist fairy tales are (valid) or prefers an Edward Cullen like lead who takes it upon himself to save his woman without ever considering whether she would like to be saved in that manner or by him or at all, thank you very much. For me, one is excusable, one is not. With a new generation of princesses who are not just content to sit around and let fate swallow them, I am always hoping for a new generation of prince, who will treat his princess or goose girl or cinder wench like an equal partner in an adventure, not like a fragile statue who needs to be rescued. I also found that the books spent too much time looking at romantic relationships and not enough time on the others. This book starts to explore the relationship between Snow White and the Queen, coming to a tentative conclusion later, but I would have adored seeing that explored more. We get a glimpse of what princess expectations do to someone fated to be evil and it was awesome. If the author ever reads this, more of that please! That being said, I tend to not be a huge fan of kissey-times getting mixed up in my action, so people more interested in romance will probably enjoy this more than me.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

dealing with dragons

5 out of 5 stars.

I adore these books. They are hilarious and touching and wonderful. Patricia C. Wrede has taken fairy tale tropes and turned them on their heads. Instead of waiting around for a prince, Princess Cimorene decides to run away and get kidnapped by a dragon. The life of a dragon’s princess turns out to be more exciting than her boring life learning sewing and dancing, so she tries to drive away all of the princes that come to rescue her. Cimorene is strong, smart and kind. She is just the kind of princess I would want a daughter of mine to emulate. I love fairy tale rewrites and, while this is not a rewrite of a specific fairy tale, I love the dose of inspiring feminism that Wrede has injected into a genre where, too often, the princess just has to sit around and wait.