The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows

Information

Goodreads: The Orphan Queen
Series: The Orphan Queen #1
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Ten years ago, Wilhemina Korte, princess of Aecor, watched her parents die at the hands of the Indigo Kingdom.  She and the other noble children were taken to the capital of their conquerors.  But they escaped and now they live as spies, determined to do whatever it takes to return home.  Even if they do, however, the wraith, a toxic mist born of magic, is slowly wiping entire lands off the map.  Wil wants to become queen.  But can she protect her people from the Indigo Kingdom and the wraith?

Review

The Orphan Queen will seem familiar to any avid read of YA fantasy.  And even readers who do not customarily indulge in YA will find the plot predictable.  The plot is also slightly ridiculous.  Nevertheless, The Orphan Queen is a spirited book.  It wants desperately to be entertaining and, by golly, it is.

You have probably read this book before.  A princess has lost her throne.  Now she lives in the shadows, surviving as a thief and outlaw while she bides her time to a triumphant return to her land.  In the meantime, she will do some espionage at court, pretending to be a noble lady and flirting shamelessly with handsome men for information.  She will make enemies of women who are more beautiful than she, draw the attention of the prince himself, and ultimately be her own downfall because her efforts at spying are terrible–even though the narrator assures us she is amazing at everything.  Despite having read this book, however, you will probably read it again because who doesn’t love some political intrigue?

At some point, you may stop to think about the political intrigue.  You will realize that it is, in fact, ridiculous.  The princess of a subjugated nation has just waltzed into a palace full of people who could conceivably recognize her.  She is pretending to be a refugee, but does not actually know anything about anything she claims to have experienced.  Instead of keeping a map of the palace in her head, she works on it in her room and–best of all–hides secret documents like that under her mattress.  She is warned that people find her suspicious (and how could they not when she acts so weird all the time and not like a noble lady at all?), but still likes to sneak out at night.  After considering all this, you may decide the book is not worth your time.  Or you may realize that a great deal of YA has terrible politics and you don’t really care.  After all, this is fun!

The rest of the book makes just as little sense.  Our protagonist is leading a tiny group of children who somehow plan to take back their kingdom.  No word on how, exactly.  Wilhelmina, the princess, initially starts out enemies with a vigilante but they, quite expectedly, suddenly fall in love after Wil commits a terrible crime.  Wil also takes a random detour into the wraithland.  Her plan is literally “go there and come back.”  She is gone for weeks and thinks no one will notice.  Wil also knows a murderer is afoot but decides that if she gives a noble-sounding speech, it will be all right.  For no apparent reason.  She lets the murderer go.  But to question is to destroy the fun.  It’s better just to go on a whirlwind adventure and hope everything turns out all right, despite Wil’s increasingly silly decisions.

The Orphan Queen is probably not what one would call a soundly-constructed book.  It contains many logical flaws and its premise is is wholly unoriginal.  Still, I don’t think it is claiming to be high art.  It is supposed to be thrilling and romantic.  And it is.  I already have a good idea of how the sequel will turn out, but I still want to read it.

4 stars

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Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

Information

Goodreads: Daughter of the Pirate King
Series: Daughter of the Pirate King #1
Source: Library
Published: February 28, 2017

Official Summary

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Review

Daughter of the Pirate King is a rollicking adventures that brings readers across the high seas with headstrong protagonist Alosa—the pirate princess herself. Alosa is clever, strong, and highly trained, the perfect pirate to take on the task of searching an enemy ship for a piece of a treasure map that will make her father wealthier and more renowned than anyone ever before.

I went into Daughter of the Pirate King expecting danger, mayhem, and a bit of banter, and I was not disappointed. I don’t know that I would call Alosa a “lady Jack Sparrow,” as Anna Banks does in a blurb featured on the cover, but she is great fun to watch. She has a plan for everything and a backup plan for her plans, combining smarts with admirable physical skills.

However, there is a much stronger focus on the romance than I was anticipating when I first picked dup the book. That there is a love interest is no surprise (This is YA, and it’s hard to find a novel without a love interest.) However, the romance takes up a very significant percentage of the book, and readers should be prepared for that. I wasn’t 100% invested in the relationship myself, but I think it works, and author Tricia Levenseller makes it clear why these two characters are right for each other.

The plot, otherwise, is fairly tight knit. The stated goal is for Alosa to find a hidden bit of treasure map, and the plot mostly stays in that sphere. That means a lot of the action takes place on just one ship, with Alosa poking about to find its secrets, but she does venture off board just enough to keep readers from feeling claustrophobic.

This book is fun, a bit different from what I normally read, and it hits more of the right “pirate” notes than Blackhearts did for me.

3 Stars Briana

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

All the Wind in the WorldInformation

Goodreads: All the Wind in the World
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: October 10, 2017

Summary

Since their families died and half the United States turned to desert, Sarah Jac and her boyfriend James have been scraping by working in the maguey fields and dreaming impossible dreams of saving enough money to move East. Everything changes, however, when they find themselves on a ranch called the Real Marvelous that has a reputation for being cursed. Soon, their biggest problem may not be saving money but finding a way to save themselves and the love they have fought for.

Review

All the Wind in the World is a breathtakingly unique YA book that combines magic realism, dystopian, and hints of classic novels like John Steinbeck’s  The Grapes of Wrath to take readers on a heartbreaking journey with protagonist Sarah Jac and her boyfriend James. Though times have been hard for the two teens, they have always been able to rely on each other–until they begin work at the mysterious Real Marvelous ranch, where Sarah Jac must decide what she is willing to do to save their relationship.

I’m not always a fan of magic realism because sometimes it veers off into being just too weird or too unexplained, but I love the way Mabry handles it here. There are whispers of magic and witches about the Real Marvelous, but nothing is ever confirmed or denied; both the readers and the characters can believe what they want, which opens real questions about how much each character is responsible for his or her own actions.  Are they bewitched, or are they calling their own shots?  Themes of trust, accountability, and means of survival all get wrapped into this.

The book is smart, and I do think it has undertones of Steinbeck, with its focus on the employment conditions of migrant workers.  Most of the people have to accept what they are offered, no room for negotiation. I found it interesting Mabry decided she needed a dystopian future to explore this theme (in her world, both of the US has become desert), but I loved the new take on the working class and her decision to replace Steinbeck’s Christian preachers with more mystical “prophets.”

Strong, lyrical prose caps off the book. (Anyone who reads the blog frequently knows I consistently complain about the sad state of prose in YA fiction.) This is a book I enjoyed reading for the plot, the characters, and the writing itself. I highly recommend it, especially for those looking for a something little different in the YA market.

5 stars Briana

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Information

Goodreads: Persepolis 2
Series: Persepolis #2
Source: Library
Published: 2001

Summary

Marjane has gone to France, but she finds that not everyone there welcomes a girl from Iran.  Throughout her school years she starts to rebel, becoming involved with drugs and boys.  At last the pressure is too much and she returns home.  But living abroad has changed her and Marjane is no longer sure she has a future in Iran.

Review

Marjane Satrapi recounts her adolescence with a sense of bittersweet recollection.  She describes many hardships as she tries to acclimate to a new culture and to find acceptance in a country where people equate her homeland with evil.  Even so, she manages to find some spots that are, if not bright, at least formative or maybe even transformative.  From her first glimpse at an undressed man to her experiences dealing drugs at school, Marjane holds little back, inviting readers to consider the incredible versatility of the young.

The content, it should be noted, is adult.  Satrapi recounts her experiences with men and her experiences being high with a degree of frankness some might find uncomfortable.  Likewise, she is not shy about announcing her beliefs that she ought to be able to do with her body whatever she wants.  Progressive women in Iran, she mourns, are often still not accepting of her decision to sleep around.  Perhaps because the restrictive laws laid down are so often bound up with sexuality–the women must wear longer head scarves, they must not run in case someone notices their rear, etc.–Satrapi often seems to equate sex before marriage as true freedom.

I must admit, however, that I found Satrapi’s other stands more moving.  When she defiantly asks how she is expected to learn to draw a man while looking in the opposite direction, or why wide trousers are forbidden since they cover everything, Satrapi is fiery and sharp.  One begins to wish that logic could be enough to effect change.  And one begins to see what Satrapi so earnestly seems to desire her readers to see–that even though the people of Iran might outwardly conform, in private they are often rebellious.  They are not brainwashed at all, but hoping for a better day.

Satrapi effortlessly entwines her own story of growing up with the story of her country, illustrating how her own awakening allows her to speak up for herself but also ultimately forces her to leave her home.  The price she has to pay for her personal freedom is not lost on her.  And she suggests that the price for collective freedom might ultimately be high.  Her own ending, however, subtly suggests she thinks the price is worth paying.

5 stars

Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

Dark Breaks the Dawn

Information

Goodreads: Dark Breaks the Dawn
Series: Untitled #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: May 30, 2017

Summary

The forces of Dark and Light must remain in balance on the island of Lachalonia, or the consequences could be dire. Dark King Bain has no qualms, however, and is bent on extinguishing the royal family who bears the power of the Light.  When he succeeds in killing Princess Evelayn’s mother, she becomes responsible for the fate of her people much sooner than she had planned, and she will have to take great risks to keep her kingdom safe.

Review

My feelings about Dark Breaks the Dawn are complicated.  Reading it now, as an adult, I find parts of it cliché and almost absurd—yet I can’t help thinking that if had read this book in middle school, I would have thought those “absurd” parts fabulous.   But, then again, I would have found them fabulous partly because they’re things I might have written about myself in middle school…but I think that I’ve learned better by now.  I guess my main conclusion can only be that I personally thought Dark Breaks the Dawn fairly flawed, but there’s probably a younger audience out there just waiting to gobble it up.

Some of these clichés include people with rainbow colored hair, people who have jewels literally embedded in their bodies that give them magic, and a royal family that is all-powerful simply because they are royal (divine right of kings or something, I guess).  None of these things are inherently bad; they just lack some of the subtlety or nuance that I think can be found in a lot of today’s YA fantasy.  And, as I said, in seventh grade I probably would have thought a character with purple hair and a magic jewel in her chest was the coolest thing ever, so maybe it’s all a matter of perspective.

I think the more objective flaw is the book’s pacing.  There’s instalove, to start, which makes it difficult for readers to feel invested in the romance.  Protagonist Evelayn also solves many of her problems with extraordinary ease.  This mean that things that are hyped up as big, dangerous, impossible events by the characters do not come across that way to the reader.  Instead of feeling that Evelyan was performing epic feats, doing things that no one had ever dared to do before, I got the impression that was she accomplished was hardly difficult at all.  I wish scenes had been more drawn out and built more suspense.

Otherwise, however, Dark Breaks the Dawn is pretty solid fantasy.  There’s a clear battle of good vs. evil, plus a badass princess, and a decent amount of plotting and intrigue.  There’s supposed to be some Swan Princess influence, but that only comes in at the end of the novel and looks as though it will be more of a focus on the sequel.   The book isn’t really for me, but I could imagine other people liking it.

3 Stars Briana

Pawns by Willo Davis Roberts

Information

Goodreads: Pawns
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 1998 (reissued 2017)

Summary

Fourteen-year-old Teddi moved in with her neighbor Mamie a few months ago, after her parents died.  Life is almost starting to seem normal again when Dora shows up on the doorstep.  Dora claims she’s the wife of Mamie’s son Ricky, who died in a plane crash.  But why didn’t Ricky tell his family that he was married or that his wife was expecting a baby?  Is Dora really who she says she is?

Review

I’d never heard of Willo Davis Roberts before picking up this book at the library, though some searching suggests to me that she was, in the 1990s, a well-respected and award-winning author of young adult mysteries.  Still, Simon Pulse’s decision to reissue Pawns surprises me.  Everything about it screams that it was written in the 90s.  I am not convinced that YA readers today will still find it enthralling.

At 154 pages, Pawns is a short book that gets straight to the point–thrilling or mysterious it is not, especially by the standards of today’s YA.  Readers know from the summary on the book jacket that Dora is obviously not any relation to Mamie.  Her strange behavior throughout the book indicates the same.  It is truly surprising that Teddi takes as long as she does to get really suspicious or to take action.  To make up for this lack of suspense, one might think there would be a sense of danger.  But there is not.  Readers accustomed to fare such as The Hunger Games or Three Dark Crowns will find this domestic drama incredibly tame.

Also dating the book are the age of the protagonist–a mere 14 when most YA characters today seem to start at 16 and maybe age to 18 over the course of a series–and the lack of romance.  Aside from an innocent crush on the boy next door, Teddi reveals a novel lack of interest in the opposite sex (again, according to today’s standards).  A YA book that lacks even a kiss, much less the steamier scenes that seem to be cropping up?  This seems to go against everything that YA is.  Shouldn’t there be love triangles and experimentation?  Isn’t that what sells?

In short, Pawns seems to be precisely the type of book that one wouldn’t be able to convince a publisher to sell these days.  At the same time, I am interested to see how readers will respond.  Its length makes it easy to read.  The age of the protagonist and the innocence of her love life make it suitable for younger readers who like YA.  Maybe this is a YA book that really is written for teens, and not for the adults who are currently driving the market.

3 Stars

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Enchantment of Ravens

Information

Goodreads: An Enchantment of Ravens
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 26, 2017

Summary

Isobel is renowned for her portrait painting, and the beautiful, deadly fair folk are her most prestigious patrons, being unable to engage in any creative Craft themselves without losing their immortality. She has perfected her dealing with them and their tricksy wish-granting to an art itself—until the day she paints human emotion into the Autumn Prince’s eyes—a weakness—and must stand trial for her treachery.

Review

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into An Enchantment of Ravens, but I think I anticipated that this would be more of a fantasy adventure novel and less of a paranormal romance. I like romance in books but not when the romance is the entire book of the book, which was one of the primary reasons An Enchantment of Ravens did not quite work for me. The other issue is that the book is fairly generic and just doesn’t stand out from the YA crowd or even from other human/Fae romances I’ve read.

The book starts intriguingly, with a description of a town called Whimsy and a fairy folk who have zero ability to perform Craft (which apparently includes “making” literally anything, from clothing to art to writing to food; don’t ask what these people eat since they can’t cook). However, as the book progresses, the world building gets more and more muddled, as Rogerson springs an increasing number of magic rules, customs, and creatures onto the readers. And, frankly, I still don’t understand how the world works at large, such as how one gets into the Fae lands or how one gets into the World Beyond (which seems to be the rest of the human world besides the single town of Whimsy?)

The romance is equally baffling at the beginning, since it’s not really clear how or when the protagonists fall in love.  In theory, they have days of interaction; in reality, Rogerson fails to actually describe their conversations or what might have led to their romantic feelings. It’s not necessarily instalove because there is some build-up; it’s more that the build-up is bafflingly off-page.  As the book progresses, the romance gets better, and I do think Rogerson has some talent in writing romantic tension and declarations of love. I simply wish she had used more of that talent at the start of the story.

Plot-wise, it seems as though things happen primarily because they are obstacles to the protagonists’ love.  There’s not really a larger story here, even though there are hints about the transformative power of Isobel’s Craft that I would have loved to see further explored.  I have seen some readers complain about the episodic nature of the beginning of the book.  Episodic quests don’t inherently bother me, but it does seem here as if there’s no real purpose to a lot of the challenges that Isobel and the prince face.

Overall, the book is fine but not remarkable. If you’re normally a fan of Fae/human romances, like the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa, An Enchantment of Ravens could be something to look into.  If, like me, you want more adventure than romance, this might not be for you.

2 star review Briana