Author Archives: Briana
Goodreads: Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends
Series: Ever After High #1
Published: October 1, 2013
At Ever After High, an enchanting boarding school, the children of fairytale legends prepare themselves to fulfill their destinies as the next generation of Snow Whites, Prince Charmings and Evil Queens…whether they want to or not. Each year on Legacy Day, students sign the Storybook of Legends to seal their scripted fates. For generations, the Village of Book End has whispered that refusing to sign means The End-both for a story and for a life.
As the daughter of the Evil Queen, Raven Queen’s destiny is to follow in her mother’s wicked footsteps, but evil is so not Raven’s style. She’s starting to wonder, what if she rewrote her own story? The royal Apple White, daughter of the Fairest of Them All, has a happy ever after planned for herself, but it depends upon Raven feeding her a poison apple in their future.
What if Raven doesn’t sign the Storybook of Legends? It could mean a happily never after for them both.
This review has to begin by addressing the elephant in the room: The premise of The Storybook of Legends makes absolutely no sense—and the problem is not one that can be fixed, bar rewriting the entire book with a new plot. In Hale’s fairy tale world, each new generation of characters must relive their parents’ stories. Apple White will become the next Snow White, eat an apple, fall asleep, fall in love, etc. Ashlynn Ella will become the next Cinderella, work hard, go to a ball, meet her prince, lose her shoe, etc. And so on. This social structure raises a lot of questions.
For one, why are all these characters in high school together? Holly O’Hair (Rapunzel) should have been kidnapped as a baby and raised in a tower. Ashlynn (Cinderella) should have had a terrible childhood with an evil stepmother. Briar (Sleeping) Beauty should be hidden away from spinning wheels. And so on. These fairy tale characters have already missed half of their stories! Other complications arise, however. Apple White and Raven Queen are supposed to be Snow White and the Evil Queen, which means Raven should be Apple’s stepmother. She is not. This is actually mentioned in the book and the characters shrug it off, saying, “There must be slight variations in the story.”
Yet other characters have similar relationship problems. For instance, Ashlynn Ella’s parents are Cinderella and Prince Charming—yet Ashlynn is supposed to marry Prince Charming. But would not her brother, if she had one, be Prince Charming? Whom, then, does she marry? And, since her mother Cinderella is still alive, must she suddenly die so that Ashlynn’s father can remarry an evil stepmother? And then does her family suddenly lose their fortune and royal status so Ashlynn can live as a mistreated commoner girl? The questions can go on and on and on, for each and every one of the characters. Saying that the stories must change a bit with each general of fairy tale characters is far from an adequate explanation.
Nonsensical premise aside (and we must put it aside to get anywhere with this book), The Storybook of Legends is a pretty entertaining read. It is more commercial, or perhaps gimmicky, than Hale’s typical stories, filled with cheesy modern references to musicians (Taylor Quick), and brands and with silly fairy tale puns. The characters have their own fantasy slang, such as telling each other they look “fairy nice,” apparently an attempt to make the book sound hip.
The story’s strongest point, however, is probably the characters. Though Hale is working with fairy tale “types” and with somewhat predetermined personalities, she manages to make each person come alive. Even the characters truly invested in living out their well-known destinies have unique hopes, dreams, and quirks. Apple White is determined to be the best queen she can, yet experiences moments of self-doubt. Briar Beauty wants to live life to the fullest, since she is going to spend a lot of time sleeping. Dexter Charming wishes to be as brave and, well, charming as his older brother. Hale’s star character, however, is Madeline Hatter, a slightly mad girl who speaks in Riddlish yet has the world’s biggest heart and a lot of wisdom. For me, her charisma helps her outshine even protagonist Raven Queen.
The main storyline, following Raven as she decides whether or not to sign the Storybook of Legends and seal her destiny as the world’s most evil queen, is an engaging little adventure. Raven gets into a number of escapades, some related to discovering her destiny, some just to get her through the daily trials of high school. Readers spend as much time with Raven trying to navigate friendships and classes and they do navigating magical perils. In the end, the plot does not get quite as far as readers might wish, instead saving the things that I, at least, really wanted to know for future books in the series. The Storybook of Legends just gives readers a taste, introducing characters and the main problem, without really solving it. Truthfully, I would have liked to see a tighter plot, with everything answered and tied up in a standalone, rather than an entire Ever After High series.
All that said, The Storybook of Legends is still fun, creative, and cute. Shannon Hale has written better books, but for a book trying to sell a series of Mattel dolls, it really is quality stuff. I would recommend it for readers who enjoy light fairy tale retellings and fantasy books with a modern touch.
Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is
Top Ten 2014 Releases I’m Dying to Read
- Burn by Julianna Baggott
- Cress by Marissa Meyer
- Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
- Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
- Rewriting the Old Testament in Anglo-Saxon Verse: Becoming the Chosen People by Samantha Zacher
- School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott
- The Mode and Meaning of Beowulf by Margaret E. Goldsmith
- The Only Thing Worse than Witches by Lauren Magaziner
- Wayfarer by Lili St. Crow
- What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick
Series: Elantris #1
Published: April 2005
Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
Brandon Sanderson crafts an intricate fantasy world in Elantris, dumping readers straight into a land teetering on the brink of ruin and war. Arelon is ruled by an inadequate king, is being subtly invaded by a destructive religion, and has just lost its crown prince—the only man the people believed could save them all. Prince Raoden is not dead, however. He has become an Elantrian and is standing on his own precipice, doomed to a life of eternal suffering that will eventually drive him insane. Unless he can find uncover the secrets of the once-beautiful Elantrian magic.
The stories of Prince Raoden, quarantined in the city of Elantris, and Arelon at large run parallel in Elantris. Princess Sarene, Raoden’s intended fiancée, attempts to take his place in the capital as the people’s savior, facing off against high priest Hrathen and Roaden’s father. The result is a complex web of politics, as alliances are made, secrets revealed, and murders committed. Elantris is billed as a fantasy, and it does feature magic, but it is just as much a book of political intrigue.
The characters, however, are just as complex as their plots. Raoden is a pretty straightforward hero, but the rest have multiple facets that will be a pleasure for readers to explore. Sarene is a strong-willed woman who does not always believe in herself. Hrathen is a passionate priest who does not always believe in his faith. Their allies have mysterious pasts. Everyone, eventually, learns from their mistakes and grows—sometimes ending on far different paths than they anticipated.
Meanwhile, Sanderon’s writing is superb, something I am beginning to expect after reading Elantris and Steelheart. Occasionally his characters (particularly Raoden) explain a little too much, as if the readers are not smart enough to draw conclusions and put together plot events on their own. However, the structure of the story is tight and the writing intelligent. In the end, everything comes back to the beginning and is beautifully tied up. Elantris is truly a pleasure just to look at.
I would recommend this book to readers who like smart fantasy with fair helpings of both magic and politics. One of my favorite reads of 2013.
Stephanie from Chasm of Books, Krysta, and I will be hosting a three-month read-along of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings beginning next month, January 2014!
- January: Stephanie will be leading discussion on The Fellowship of the Ring at her blog, Chasm of Books.
- February: Krysta will be leading discussion on The Two Towers here at Pages Unbound.
- March: I will be leading discussion on The Return of the King here at Pages Unbound.
Each month will feature three discussion posts, a Twitter chat, and a mystery activity. We will post a more detailed schedule closer to the read-along. You are invited to read ANY of the books with us–one, two, or all three!
To join the read-along discussion on Twitter, use the hashtag #LOTR2014.
If you would like to sign up, you may do so by clicking the green Mr. Linky graphic below. The sign-up list will open in a new window. We hope you join us, and please invite your friends!
Goodreads: The Runaway King
Series: The Ascendance Trilogy #2
Published: March 1, 2013
A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen’s blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!
Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!
With The Runaway King, Nielsen writes a magnificent follow-up to bestseller The False Prince, reintroducing readers to all their favorite characters and intrigues. Sage passes through an initial period of anger, but once he gets a grip on his emotions, he is as clever as ever—something many writers find difficult to maintain over a series. He is joined by gutsy Imogen, old enemy Roden, and a few unexpected new friends.
In addition to creating an evolving cast, Nielsen keeps the story fresh by moving the plot out of Carthya—straight into a pirate camp. Sage and his friends have two new cultures to learn, that of rival kingdom Avenia and that of the pirates’ of Tarblade Bay. How well they can adapt and blend in will determine how long they can keep their lives. One suspects they must succeed (That’s what happens in modern children’s books, right? The good guys win?), but Nielsen still keeps readers on the edges of their seats, introducing plot twist as plot twist.
Sage’s exploits in The Runaway King are as physically demanding as they are mentally. Outwitting pirates often means backing them into a duel. Sage exhibits remarkable strength and endurance through his ordeals, demonstrating his mind and body are as quick as his tongue—characteristics that will serve him well as the king he is meant to become.
Through all the action, The Runaway King promotes some great moral messages about doing what is right, maintaining loyalty, and sacrificing oneself when necessary. The book is not preachy, however; ethical actions are simply something that permeate Sage’s worldview and thus the story. The Runaway King tells readers that doing the right thing is tough, but it is worthwhile.
The Runaway King is a fast-paced middle grade adventure that will please fans of The False Prince with its wit, charm, and thoughtfulness.
Teaser Quote: “Afraid didn’t even begin to describe the terror I felt. Pinched behind me, my hands still shook. But I was angry with myself too. Because for all my good intentions, it was obvious that I had been wrong to come here. There were so many who would pay for my mistakes” (250-251).
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Goodreads: The Twistrose Key
Published: October 22, 2013
A striking middle-grade debut in the tradition of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass
When a mysterious parcel arrives at her family’s new home, eleven-year-old Lin Rosenquist has a curious feeling she’s meant to discover what’s inside.
Much to Lin’s surprise, the ornate key contained in the parcel unlocks a spellbinding world called Sylver, hidden behind the cellar door. Sylver is an enchanting land of eternal winter, inhabited by animals that shared a special connection with children in the real world, either as beloved pets or tamed wild animals. In death, they are delivered to Sylver, where they take on a curiously human-like form and still watch over the children they cherish. While Lin is overjoyed to be reunited with her beloved pet, Rufus, she soon learns that the magic of the Petlings and Wilders is failing, and snow trolls want to claim Sylver for themselves. Lin must discover a way to stop them and save this enchanted world.
Full of charm, suspense, and heartfelt emotion, this memorable classic in the making will leave readers breathless.
The Twistrose Key promises a lot, and I was attracted the moment I heard of it. The official summary boasts, “Exhilarating suspense and unforgettable characters await the readers of this magical adventure, destined to become a classic.” A classic magical middle-grade adventure? I thought. It’s about time someone wrote a book that can stand alongside The Chronicles of Narnia. Count me in!
Unfortunately, for the first 100 pages—nearly one third of the book—I felt I was reading Narnia (see specific comparison quotes below). From the main character’s chance meeting with a talking creature in a snowy magical world to the way time works in Sylver, it is clear Almhjell is heavily inspired by Lewis. While taking some seeds from Narnia would not be amiss in a fantasy, attempting a rewrite of Lucy Pevensie’s iconic meeting with Mr. Tumnus in a frozen wood is bold—and in most cases destined for failure.
Once all the background information on the world of Sylver and Lin’s quest there is set up, the book does become more original. It also becomes more fast-paced. Protagonists Rufus and Lin travel more widely, they encounter more powerful magic, and they uncover a number of titillating secrets. They decipher prophecies, they escape from traps, and they battle a horde of trolls. It’s quite exciting, really, and made all the better by the bond between Rufus and Lin. They are fantastic traveling companions, determined to stick by each other through whatever adventures befall them.
The story also gets progressively darker, which is a major departure from Narnia in itself. Lin suffers various injuries, with appropriate gushing of blood, and seems in real danger of dying at several points. The descriptions of what happens to some of the bad guys in the tale are also pretty grisly. This edgy take on children’s fantasy will appeal immensely to modern audiences.
However, Almhjell strikes a great balance by including childlike moments and activities that lighten the tone of the novel. Lin refuses to remove the grubby old cardigan her grandmother knit her and that Rufus used to live in. She recalls her times playing troll-hunters with her friend at home when she must fight real trolls. She thinks how disappointed her parents will be if she fails in her quest and never returns home. Lin, though a Twistrose, is still a little girl—and a delightful one at that. A well-written and believable child heroine.
The Twistrose Key certainly has its flaws. Its beginning is very derivative, and when it is not being derivative it can be confusing. (Lin’s quest, in particular, is not clearly defined when introduced.) However, if readers are willing to stick out the story until the point Rufus and Lin leave Sylveros, they will find a real adventure awaiting—one that has action, but also charm, one that takes readers to magical places, but also explores real questions like the nature of friendship and courage. I am not as in love with The Twistrose Key as I had sincerely hoped, but it is a pleasant read for fans of the genre.
Are you sure we’re not in Narnia?
This section includes a side-by-side comparison of quotes The Twistrose Key and The Chronicles of Narnia, in order to highlight the similarities. The quotes, of course, count as spoilers for those who prefer to go into books blind.
“There was no cellar, and no riverbank, either. Instead she looked out on a desolate, frozen mountain valley, where winter twilight painted the snow blue, and stern peaks rose into the sky. A creature crouched in the snow before her, facing away, but so close that she could smell it: a musky scent” (Twistrose 9).
“And then she saw that there was a light ahead of her; not a few inches away where the back of the wardrobe ought to have been, but a long way off. Something cold and soft was falling on her. A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling through the air…She heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her. And soon after that a very strange person stepped out from among the trees into the light of the lamp-post” (Narnia 113-114).
“When true danger rises, when the last hope is lost, it is said in Sylver that only a child of Earth can help” (56).
“When Adam’s flesh and Adam’s bone
Sits at Cair Paravel in throne,
The evil time will be over and done” (147).
“That’s right, girl. Time flows differently in Sylver…An hour here can be a day in your world, or a day can be a week, we never know” (49).
“If, I say, she [Lucy] had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our time” (132).
“The Observatory allows us to see our human children, but only for a time….”
“You mean because they died?”
“No. Because they aren’t children anymore” (344-345).
“’Oh, you two [Lucy and Edmund] are,’ said Peter. ‘At least, from what [Aslan] said, I’m pretty sure he means you to get back [to Narnia] some day. But not Su and me. He says we’re getting too old’” (417).
Almhjell, Tone. The Twistrose Key. New York: Penguin, 2013. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York: HarperCollins, 2002. Print.
Series: Reckoners #1
Published: September 24, 2013
There are no heroes.
Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.
But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.
Nobody fights the Epics… nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.
And David wants in. He wants Steelheart—the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning—and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.
He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.
Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart has all the features of a great science fiction book: creative world-building, an enthralling plot, well-developed characters, and thoughtful discussions of morality. However, its most striking characteristic may be the writing itself. Steelheart is so intricately and solidly constructed, from the phrasing of individual sentences to arrangement of the plot, that my English major’s heart was swooning. It has been awhile since I have read a book just so well-written. Sanderson’s style will impress readers from the first chapter. But his skill will hit them again and again—particularly at the moment David concludes relating his life-story for to some new acquaintances. (Seriously, read the book and just wait for the line.)
As stated, however, all this beautiful writing encompasses an incredible story. Readers need not be superhero fans to be drawn into the stark world of Newcago, where all the buildings have been turned to steel and the common folk live beneath the ground in the metal corridors of the Understreets. The sheer visuality of Steelheart is astounding. One easily gets the impression this could have been a comic book or a movie, featuring the dark, sleek city run by superhumans.
Of course, the superhumans, the Epics, are villains in Steelheart, which immediately makes the story unusual and quickly raises the stakes for protagonist David and the band of rebels, the Reckoners, he hopes to join. Do humans have any hope of defeating supermen? This problem certainly makes for a tense plot, as readers never know what to expect or how much to hope for. However, the characters themselves struggle a lot with the question, weighing their options and their duties. Does it make more sense for them to take down minor villains, knowing they are likely to succeed, or should they try to subdue the gods, demonstrating to others that it can be done, that humans should continue fighting for their freedom?
Questions like these provide life to science fiction and superhero stories, and, despite the presence of tons of action and cool, flashy technology, they are the heart of Steelheart. David and his friends confront them every day, just as they must continually confront themselves, evaluating their desires, their strengths, and their fears. Every character in Steelheart has a complicated past, and all of them continue to change and grow, bringing readers their journeys of self-discovery, even as they bring them towards the final confrontation with the dictator Steelheart.
And, wow, is that confrontation intense. (No more on that, so I can avoid spoilers.)
Steelheart is a breathtaking book, fast-paced and unpredictable, and I could not put it down. Initially, I was wary of its starting a series, but the ending of the novel makes the idea of a sequel incredibly worthwhile. I would read anything by Sanderson after witnessing his mastery of storytelling in Steelheart (Elantris is conveniently sitting on my shelf), and I will certainly be reading Firefight when it is released.
Goodreads: Not a Drop to Drink
Published: September 24, 2013
Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.
Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.
But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….
Mindy McGinnis builds a harsh, barren world in her post-apocalyptic novel Not a Drop to Drink. Lynn and her mother live alone, guarding their pond with their guns. They have nothing but each other—no other family, no friends, and no purpose besides protecting the water so they can live another day. Somewhat unusually for a book of this genre, they appear to have no hope for the future either. They never think that somewhere there are people who are living better, or that one day they, or their grandchildren, will know a world where water is anything but scarce. These characters are not fighting for any far-reaching cause. They live on autopilot, surviving just to survive. That makes them dangerous to trespassers, and incredibly intriguing to readers.
Lynn is not particularly emotional. In part, she is flat because of her lifestyle. For most of her life, she has known one person. Her only education is the bits of poetry her mother, an English major in her past life, likes to quote. She knows little besides lying on her roof with her rifle, shooting anyone who comes close enough for her to see. Her only other tasks all focus on survival: gardening, hunting, chopping wood. In some respects, Lynn and her mother are machines, looking only a few steps ahead, doing only what they must to live. They have no time or need for sentiment.
Yet Lynn’s apparent callousness can make her almost immediately appealing as a character. Perhaps she will not be likeable or relatable to many readers—but she is undeniably different. She is a character readers will want to watch, just to see what she does next, just to see someone do things they can never imagine doing themselves.
Her emotional isolation also becomes thematically interesting, once some plot events lead her to begin experiencing character growth. Lynn’s transformation from an unquestioning sniper to someone with a conscience suggests that a sense of morality is something innate to humans, not something socially constructed and taught. This could be a great discussion topic for readers.
Lynn’s emotional barriers are a small downfall in regards to the novel’s romance, however. While the romantic scenes are well-written, touching with a hint of swoon, the actual relationship Lynn experiences could have been more moving. She meets a nice guy, no mistake—someone who is kind, hard-working, and apparently good-looking. Unfortunately, readers are not given much a sense why the two characters are attracted to each other. If given a guess, I would they bond simply because they are not acquainted with anyone else.
In contrast, the setting of the story is richly imagined—bleak with reminders of a ruined past. It is incredibly effective. The world-building is also generally well-done. McGinnis offers a fairly complete timeline explaining how Lynn’s world came to be. The only fact missing might be the most important: How, exactly, did the world come to lack fresh water? Readers will never know.
Often, the mark of a great dystopian or post-apocalyptic world is its believability, the sense that something in our current world could lead it to become like the world in the book (ex. Obsession with physical appearance could lead us to a world like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies). Personally, I am not aware of any worries over the Earth’s water supply, and Not a Drop to Drink does not introduce me to any, so the novel fails that test. The execution of McGinnis’s idea seems plausible, but its cause is nowhere to be found. I am not afraid of my future looking like Lynn’s reality.
The plot may not be exciting (this is no war novel, no epic dystopian battle against a corrupt government), but it is very satisfying, and it tends to move along at a nice pace. Readers are unlikely to feel stuck, even though the action occurs within a very limited area. Ironically, however, the weakest part of the novel may be the climax. Things get crazier—but the feel does not match the rest of the book. Also, the wrong characters die; other characters would have been a greater loss, from a literary standpoint. The epilogue is worse, as it is unintentionally bland. I did not feel that anything had concluded, or changed much even though it was clear things had. On Goodreads, I docked a star from my rating primarily because of the ending.
Yet overall Not a Drop to Drink is a good read—tightly written, carefully planned, and just incredibly interesting. In a world beginning to fill with post-apocalyptic literature, it feels original. Recommended to fans of the genre and those looking for stark, realistic settings.
Content Note: Implied rape.
(Covers Linked to Reviews)
- Briana was interviewed at This Girl Reads a Lot
- Krysta’s Top Ten Book Turnoffs
- Top Ten Books Krysta Was Forced to Read
- If You Like Witches, Then Read….
- Personality Quiz: What Type of Spooky Story Would You Belong In?