Every so often, I realize that I am reading faster than I can write reviews. Time passes, my friends, and I cannot seem to make more of it no matter how hard I try. So here is an exercise in brevity in the interests of catching up.
House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier. Orbit, 2012
I cheerfully purchased this backlist title by Rachel Neumeier at Kidlitcon on Charlotte’s recommendation. I believe it’s published for adults, though it feels like it would work fine for teens as well.
When the father of a large, all-female family dies, it must sell off two of its sisters to survive. Beautiful Karah is sold to be a keiso – very like a geisha, but focusing more on the arts aspect – at the prestigious Cloisonné House. Dreamy Nemienne is apprenticed to the Mage Ankennes, where she finds a magical cat and the magic that connects things through the shadows. We also meet Taudde, a bardic sorcerer (hooray for magical music!) as well as Leilis, a member of Cloisonné House injured through jealousy so that she can no longer be a keiso. This was a beautiful and engaging story including politics, blackmail, and finding one’s place in the world.
The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. Read by Christina Moore. Algonquin Young Readers (print); Recorded Books.
I read the Newbery winner before it was announced this year! Which tells you how long this particular title has been waiting to be reviewed – I listened to it for the Cybils.
In the Protectorate, one baby is taken each year and put in the woods for the witch. The peasants are told it’s to appease the witch. The Elders do it to keep the people controlled, while the unsuspecting witch just finds the babies new homes on the other side of the woods. But when one baby’s mother fights the Sacrifice, it sets off a chain of events that threatens the established order of things. Antain, a boy apprenticed to the Elders, is horrified and refuses to stay complicit to the Sacrifice. The witch accidentally feeds the baby moonlight instead of starlight, so that she becomes enmagicked and has to live with the witch. It’s not until later in the book that the girl, Luna, comes into her own point of view, as she and her tiny dragon Ferian become caught up in the tangle of opposing interests. This is beautiful and complicated, a perfect example of fantasy speaking to reality better that realism sometimes can. Also there are magical origami birds. But I can’t get my son to try it, and it is remarkably short of a child’s point of view for most of the book.
Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi. Read by Bronson Pinchot. Listening Library, 2016.
Alice in Wonderland is perennially popular both in similar stories and reimaginings, and even though the original Alice has never really worked for me, I was curious to try this #OwnVoices story that has lots of echoes of Alice.
In the Kingdom of Ferenwood, color is magic. White-skinned, white-haired Alice is therefore assumed to have no magical talent at all when it’s her turn to show her village what she can do. She still sets off with her friend Oliver to the land of Furthermore, which has its own set of rules very different from the ones Alice is used to, in hopes of finding her missing father. The audiobook narration here is appropriately over-expressive, in tune with the over-the-top quirky characters and events that populate the book. It does have a coherent plot, which gives it points over Alice, but the intrusive narrator irritated me and I never quite clicked with this Alice. Those who, unlike me, are fond of that kind of story will probably enjoy it –I seem to be in the minority in not liking it – but The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is still my favorite story of this type.