While I'm probably the last person in the blogosphere to read Dark Triumph, I'm going to go ahead and tell you all about my various feels anyway.
Dark Triumph is the companion/sequel to Grave Mercy: companion, in that it focuses on a different character than Grave Mercy, and in that it has a different tone/focus than its predecessor—it's much more about Sybella's personal journey towards self-forgiveness and personal (as in, in her own mind, not so much in the eyes of others, because in the eyes of Those Who Care About Her, she was never in any need of it) redemption—and a sequel in that it continues the larger political story that began in the first book.
That was a really, really long sentence.
Anyway, so Lady Sybella, like Grave Mercy's Ismae Rienne, is both handmaiden to Death and his daughter. She acts on His behalf, killing those who bear his marque, and she's currently embedded in the household of Alain D'Albret, who is the embodiment of Pure Evil as well as being Sybella's biological father. (As opposed to Mortain, who is her True Father. It's kinda vaguely confusing, but roll with it.) She's there to A) spy on D'Albret and B) assassinate him when (IF) Mortain's marque ever appears.
It's hell being back in the arms—literally, in the case of her half-brother—of her family. In order to fit in and avoid her father's notice (and suspicions), she has to pretend to be callous and vicious, uncaring and bloodthirsty. Being back has stirred up memories that she's tried to exorcise for years, and being back has also given new life to her worry that she's just like her father: heartless, violent, unworthy of love.
After secretly thwarting yet another attempt on her father's part to kidnap and forcibly marry Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, Sybella receives new orders from her abbess: find Benebic de Waroch—a berserker affectionately known as the Beast—in her father's dungeon, free him, and make sure he is reunited with the Duchess, whom he has sworn to protect.
I could go on, but A) you've probably already read it, and B) if you haven't, you get the gist: politics and adventure and romance and personal growth and every good thing.
Because Sybella is so damaged, so emotionally scarred, it's hard to engage with her at first. For the first third or so of the book, everything she feels—or at least everything she admits to feeling—towards others is either dark and violent, or tinged with self-loathing and fear. She hates and fears her family; she distrusts her abbess; she fears that if Ismae knew her true self, that she would lose their friendship. Once she starts to embrace herself, to forgive herself, and to realize that she HASN'T DONE ANYTHING THAT REQUIRES FORGIVENESS, she becomes much easier to engage with, and her fierce joy in fighting, in righting wrongs, and in Beast himself is just... profound.
Like, I felt it in my head, my heart, my gut, my toes.
It deals with faith in God versus faith in those who claim to speak for him.
It deals with blood family versus the family we choose.
It deals with carrying guilt for the actions of others, and with letting that guilt go.
It's not for the faint of heart: it's got incest, infanticide, multiple uxoricides (LaFevers cites Bluebeard as one of her inspirations), rape, murder, torture, mutilation, a gut shot (with intestines!), a threatened (complete with graphic description!) drawing-and-quartering, possible zombification, and I have no doubt that I'm forgetting something.
But at its heart, it's a story of, as I said, forgiveness, love, and redemption; it's a story about how a god can be more than one thing to different people; it's a story about bringing people together through love, encouragement, trust, justice, and inspiration, versus bringing people together through violence and terror.
Lastly, I have no doubt that the Beast of Waroch will be a fan favorite, with his endless warmth, his ice-blue eyes, his honor, loyalty, bravery, and his willingness to let Sybella be Sybella and for loving her for who she is... but my heart belongs to Yannic and his slingshot.
Book source: Bought.
At the Atlantic:
Ender’s Game (along with everything Ayn Rand ever wrote) assures: You are special.
Flower in the Attic commiserates: You are trapped.
While King offers salvation: You are powerful.
We all know literature empowers youth—Stephen King, as is his way, turns the metaphor literal.
The comments section gets a little hairy (YA is stupid, etc., etc.), but the essay itself made me want to dig out a copy of IT.
Generations ago, humans colonized a planet with three moons. Shortly after they arrived, their bodies began to change, to twist, to grow scales.
To avoid mutation, they made a deal with the Dark Heart of the planet: in exchange for the ability to live safely within domed cities, with their smooth skin intact, gardens luscious, and food plentiful... they will, every so often, sacrifice their queen to the Dark Heart's magic roses.
Outside of the domes are the Monstrous. Those descended from the colonists who weren't lucky enough to avoid the changes. They are violent, inhuman beasts, incapable of thought or feeling.
That's what Isra, Princess of Yuan has grown up believing.
Gem, meanwhile, grew up outside the dome. He's grown up hating the Smooth Skins because they prosper while his people suffer.
In a desperate attempt to save his people—and his infant son—from starvation, Gem enters the dome, hoping to steal one of the magic roses that is rumored to be the key to the Smooth Skins' prosperity. He is captured quickly, but in that short amount of time, three things happen: he has the opportunity to kill Isra, but he doesn't; he is gravely injured; and the King is killed, making Isra the Queen.
Which means that the clock is suddenly ticking for both of them: Isra's days are now numbered, and Gem's people are still on the brink of extinction. If they work together, they'll be able to save everyone... but a lifetime of xenophobia is a hard thing to overcome.
That was kind of a long intro for a post about a book that is A) basically just a retelling (obvs) of Beauty and the Beast, and B) for me, an across-the-board meh read.
A few thoughts:
Although it didn't do a whole lot for me overall—from a story angle, a prose angle, or a emotional angle—I did find the Epilogue, which talked about how there is a Beauty and a Beast in all of us, oddly affecting.
Book source: Finished copy from the publisher.
...and I don't read German, I might have to buy this edition of Philip Pullman's Grimm Brothers' Tales purely for the Shaun Tan illustrations.
...I wrote about Katie Alender's Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer:
Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer is a hugely entertaining mash-up of genres: chick-lit and ghost story, mean girl drama and romance, travelogue and coming-of-age. It’s light and frothy and fun, it’s full of straight-out-of-a-teen-slasher-movie scenes, but it avoids being forgettable or vapid since it’s grounded by the following elements...
(I've featured the cover art from the ARC, rather than from the finished book. I'm still sad that they removed the blood spatter. BTW, DOESN'T THE MODEL LOOK LIKE A BLONDE LARA FLYNN BOYLE??)
I feel like turning that book into a movie would be like turning, I dunno, the computer game Myst into a movie. Half of the fun of Griffin and Sabine is the active reader involvement.
Or, anyway, that's how I remember feeling when I read it one zillion years ago.
Anyway, the relevant article is here:
Los Angeles based independent production house, Renegade Films, announced today that they have acquired the rights to the epistolary novels, Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence. The 1991, best-selling series, written and illustrated by Nick Bantock, will be adapted into a feature film that travels through the three novels: Griffin & Sabine, Sabine’s Notebook and The Golden Mean. It is the first time the Griffin & Sabine trilogy has been optioned for film.
Bantock is in favor of the project, and judging from this old interview, it sounds like he'd have had to be super-confident in Renegade to let the rights out of his hands.
So we'll see.
I can't believe I haven't read this one yet. It seems right up my alley.
Henry Selick will direct A Tale Dark & Grimm, a live action film based on the popular children’s book by author Adam Gidwitz, who put his own take on some of the Grimm Brothers’ more gruesome stories. Tale follows two unsuspecting children who run away from their own dark fairy tale in search of a better life only to find themselves amidst eight other tales just as fearsome.
The characters’ feelings are so mixed and so constantly morphing that my sympathies—and even alliances—shifted right along with theirs, and it’s especially nice to see a book about revenge that deals so heavily with the blowback that comes not from exposure, but from one’s own empathy and conscience. The explanation of the paranormal element—which I was ready to dismiss as unnecessary until it TOTALLY WON ME OVER in the last 100 pages—ended up being so awesomely unexpected that I’m considering going back and re-reading both books.
It's a fabulous conclusion to a fabulous trilogy, and if you haven't read them yet, I'm super jealous, because now you can sit down and read all three of them in a row WITHOUT HAVING TO WAIT A WHOLE YEAR BETWEEN EACH INSTALLMENT.
If you're a fan of epic fantasy a la Robin McKinley's Damar books and Kristin Cashore's Seven Kingdoms books—stories that have fabulous world-building complete with fully-realized cultures, religious traditions, and political systems; strong heroines who see more than their fair share of combat, are forced to brave the elements and travel long distances over deadly terrain, who have to learn to look past their own insecurities and see themselves as others do: as leaders—then you absolutely should not miss Rae Carson's books.
If you haven't read them, go! Read! Enjoy!
Vague spoilers about the first two will follow.
The Bitter Kingdom begins shortly after the brutal Empire Strikes Back ending of Crown of Embers. As she promised, Elisa is on her way to rescue Hector from his captors. Her team is comprised of, as she describes them, "an assassin, a lady-in-waiting, and a failed sorcerer". Don't let her fool you, though: her companions are infinitely capable, and while they don't necessarily all trust EACH OTHER, they all trust HER, and she trusts all of THEM.
The book has all of the same strengths as its predecessors: the character development, the plotting, the action, the romance, the complex politics and personal motivations of each character, the strength that Elisa derives from her own faith as well as her ability to accept and appreciate the various religious beliefs of other people. We've seen Elisa mature from a self-loathing, insecure, seemingly useless princess into a capable, canny, tough queen. She's got a leader's ability to see the Big Picture in any given situation, but she's also retained her empathy and sense of ethics. She's sacrificed a lot to keep her country together, to protect her people—not just the ones she knows and loves personally, but ALL of her subjects—and she's perfectly willing to sacrifice more.
It's easy to see why and how she inspires those who follow her.
Generally, I have a hard time with the idea of Fate. On one hand, it's a satisfying concept—especially if one is fated to do heroic things and have a happy ending—but on the other, it makes me want to shake my tiny fist at the sky and yell, YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME, BUSTER! Carson, though, deals with it so outstandingly well throughout the series that I just wished all of my dumb philosophical issues off into the cornfield and fully immersed myself in her world: As the bearer of a Living Godstone, Elisa is Fated to perform a specific service to God. She doesn't know what that service is—and there certainly have been bearers in the past who have failed—and without giving it all away, I just want to say that I LOVED how it all played out.
LOVED. Hopefully, some of you will have already read it, so we can do some spoilery gushing in the comments, because OH MY GOD, THE LOVE I HAVE FOR THAT ASPECT OF THE BOOK.
I loved that, as in Buffy, the existence of a support network—of friends—makes all the difference, and I loved Storm's arc, and I loved that amidst the drama and the politics and the action and the seriousness, that there was a healthy dose of humor, too. I loved seeing, over the course of the series, how Elisa's body image issues morphed from her desire for skinny thighs to her appreciation for her own strength. And, of course, I loved her descriptions of food.
And also, HECTOR, HECTOR, HECTOR, YOU DREAMBOAT.
Right, I forgot. I wasn't going to do any gushing here.
BUT I'M MAKING NO PROMISES ABOUT THE COMMENTS SECTION.
Book source: Review copy from a friend.
...I talk about Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold, but more specifically, the awesomosity of heroine Kami Glass:
She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s curious, she’s determined, she’s a girl detective with an insanely steady moral compass, she’s empathetic and stubborn and brave and resourceful and she is the personification of Never Say Die. All of her fabulous qualities make it easy to buy the fact that almost every person she comes into contact with—minus the pro-human sacrifice faction, naturally—ends up totally devoted to her, looks to her for guidance, trusts her implicitly as well as becoming fiercely protective of her.
It's an outstanding read in every way: voice, character, world-building, plotting, and emotional impact. It's multi-faceted and multi-layered and has fabulous re-read potential. It's not an easy read—it requires patience from the reader, as well as a willingness to actively work at understanding Eve's perception of the world—but that makes it all the more satisfying when everything comes together.
It's dark and scary and confusing, but it's also romantic and hopeful and contains moments of pure joy. It's about what it means to be human, about how our understanding of the world is colored by experience, and it's a fantasy, a mystery, a cop drama, a fairy tale, and a romance all rolled into one.
It's a fabulously excellent book, and I hope you read it soon.
And now, here's Sarah!
Thanks for inviting me here, Leila! Hi, everyone! I'm Sarah Beth Durst. My new YA book Conjured is the darkest, wildest, and creepiest book I've ever written. It's about a girl in the paranormal witness protection program, who, haunted by visions of carnival tents and tarot cards, must remember her past and why she has strange abilities before a magic-wielding serial killer hunts her down.
I loved writing the creepy parts.
Okay, the other parts were fun too, especially Zach's lines. But the nightmarish visions...
When I was a kid, I used to lie awake at night, convinced that the sound of my heartbeat was actually the sound of footsteps coming slowly and steadily toward my room. But I couldn't run to my parents for help because if I left my bed, then the invisible giant snakes under my bed would bite my ankles. As they do.
(My husband tells me I wouldn't have had this issue if I hadn't gone to a preschool that kept a massive boa constrictor as a pet. I've pointed out that they also had a goat, and I never had any weird satyr dreams. He says that's not the same at all.)
Anyway, that feeling of dread was what I drew on when I wrote this book, and taking that old feeling and wrapping it in words was... weirdly fun. Or maybe the word I want is cathartic. The novel is told in a very tight point-of-view -- the idea is for the reader to experience what Eve is experiencing. I tried to wrap myself in her shadowy world and see it through Eve's eyes. I really wanted to recreate that middle-of-the-night feeling of disorientation and an atmosphere of claustrophobic chaos as she gropes toward understanding (and then has it ripped away from her).
So for my list of Friday Faves, I picked books that reek with atmosphere. These books smother you with it until you're breathing their air. They wrap themselves around you and pull you into their world. You emerge from them in a fog, the real world tinged with the feel of that darker world, as if it has left behind a thin film on everything.
In no particular order, here are books that have smothered me with their atmosphere:
Past the Size of Dreaming, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
All of Nina Kiriki Hoffman's YA books have a delicious haunting quality to them. Her prose is always beautiful, and her characters are always entrancing. I think my all-time favorite of hers is A Fistful of Sky, but for sheer atmosphere, I have to highlight A Red Heart of Memories and its sequel Past the Size of Dreaming. They're about Matt, Edmund, and Susan, three teens with odd powers and painful pasts. The sequel centers around a haunted house.
The Homeward Bounders, by Diana Wynne Jones
Jamie accidentally stumbles across a game played across parallel universes by scary, powerful beings called Them. But just describing it like that doesn't do it justice. Jamie is lost, and he spends the novel trying to go home again. His fate has haunted me for over twenty years.
The Keys to the Kingdom series, by Garth Nix
Nithlings! Fetchers! Ahhhhhh! This series is about a boy named Arthur Penhaligon who basically has to save the universe. Nearly every page has some brilliant, imaginative creation -- many of which are thoroughly and awesomely creepy.
The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy
I first read this book when I was about ten years old. And then I read it again. And again. And again... It's a supernatural romance about Laura, a girl whose brother's soul is slowly being sucked away by a creepy villain named Carmody Braque. She turns to a witch, Sorry Carlisle, for help, but he and his family have an agenda of their own. Mahy's The Tricksters is also deliciously creepy.
Alice in Zombieland, by Gena Showalter
Alice Bell thinks her father is crazy. He insists no one leave the house after dark because of the "monsters." When Alice convinces her family to go out one night, her family is killed by zombies in front of her. Needless to say, this leads Alice to have a lot of issues. This book is dark and wonderful, and I can't wait for the sequel.
Silence, by Michelle Sagara
Emma can talk to dead people. This is not a good thing. People who have this power usually turn evil and use the dead to work evil magic. People who have this power usually need to be killed as quickly as possible. This book is very compelling and reeks of atmosphere.
The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
Actually, the Neil Gaiman book I found to be the most scary and creepy is his picture book with Dave McKean, Wolves in the Walls. But since we're talking novels here... this book is about Nobody Owens, who was raised by ghosts in a cemetery. The ghosts were charming, and the killer Jack freaked me out. His novel Coraline is also quite ghoulish, and because of that book, I will always find Lalaloopsy Dolls to be profoundly disturbing.
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
You want a book full of atmosphere? This one. It drips with it. It oozes it. This book is about Briony, a girl who has been stuffed full of so many secrets and lies that her self-worth has been seriously warped.
The Darkangel trilogy, by Meredith Ann Pierce
This trilogy is full of angst, romance, and melodrama (in a good way). It always reminded me of a romantic Bluebeard, except the heroine saves Bluebeard instead of needing to be saved. Like The Changeover, I read these books eons ago, but they've stayed with me.
The Dark Unwinding, by Sharon Cameron
Set in England in 1852, this book drips with classic Gothic atmosphere. Think Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights with clockwork gadgets. Katharine is sent to her uncle's estate with instructions to declare him insane but instead discovers a clockwork factory that is the hope of hundreds. Definitely a novel you can sink into on a dark, chilly night.
Previously:Lauren Roedy Vaughn's Five Favorite Literary Adult Mentors... Plus Two Characters Who Need One.
There are two distinct groups of readers who’re bound to find Risa Green’s Projection a whole lot of fun: Fans of Sara Shepard’s Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game, and fans of the website TV Tropes. Shepard fans—especially fans of The Lying Game, which, like Projection, has paranormal elements—will love the intrigue, the mystery and the drama, while fans of TV Tropes will enjoy identifying the various genre conventions that Green weaves together into a cohesive, entertaining whole.
If the books of Ray Bradbury had an affair with the books of Diana Wynne Jones, the resulting lovechild would very probably look something like The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
After that, I don't know if there's a whole lot to say.
So here's the slightly-less short version:
There is terror and there is trust, there is betrayal and there is sacrifice, mistakes are made and stands are taken. It's quiet and strange, and it very definitely won't be for everyone—some readers won't like the strangeness, and others will find the plot extremely slight—but it worked for me. The whole story could have been told in, like, five pages, sure... but it's less about the plot and more about the undercurrents of emotion.
It also felt, to me, like a celebration of women, because—apart from the narrator's mother—the book is filled with larger-than-life female personalities: his sister, Ursula Monkton, and the Hempstocks. And speaking of the Hempstocks... they are a child, a mother, and a grandmother; they are three, but they are also (maybe?) one. They made me think of the Fates, of course, but they also made me think of Madeleine L'Engle's Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which.
It's the story of events that happened during the narrator's childhood—he channels the rawness of the emotions of his seven-year-old self; he describes certain adult events in a way that conveys his lack of understanding about the details of what's going on, but also makes it clear that, in his gut, he understands the wrongness of what is going on—and, across the board, his understanding and descriptions of his experiences comes across as childlike, but never twee. And note that I said childLIKE, not childISH. There's a difference.
Anyway, I liked it. A lot. But I totally understand why some of my patrons have brought it back saying, "WHAAAAAAAAAAA?"
Book source: Borrowed from my library.