Here are five more of the most interesting books I’ve read so far in 2012.
Eon by Alison Goodman
It’s been suggested in recent years that the use of dragons in fantasy fiction has become cliche. And I get that: if you’re going to use a fantasy staple, then it’s hard not to fall back into what others have done before. That’s why I chose not to have any dragons whatsoever in my own fantasy novel. I didn’t want to be cliche, but I also think that you can take a tired old concept and do it in a completely different way to break out of the cliche cycle: this is exactly what Goodman has managed to achieve with Eon. Instead of having a cranky old dragon dispensing cryptic advice (ala BBC’s Merlin, which I love, btw) or a dragon-lady breathing fire (ala ABC’s Once Upon a Time, which I also love) Goodman has drawn on Asian traditions to make her dragons stand out from the crowd. The result is a compelling story and a main character who you want to see succeed, despite the double disadvantage of being a girl in a society that didn’t allow women to do much, and being crippled on top of it. Eon/Eona is not a heroine who’ll make you roll your eyes by being too perfect. My only complaint: pacing. Sometimes the story moves a little slow. Partially this is because of the intense world-building that needs to be done in order to tell this kind of story.
Final grade: B+
Unearthly by Cynthia Hand
Genre: YA paranomal/angels
I mentioned in my previous review about how angels are the new vampires: a few years ago, everyone was writing about the vamps and the wolves and the fairies and the witches, but now we’re seeing stories about angels and mermaids and various other fantasy critters. Angels are a hot commodity right now, but like the Mercy series, Cynthia Hand has also made a successful story that stands out in the crowd of heavenly beings. In the Unearthly universe, angels and part-angels all have a sacred purpose in live: the one thing they were set on this earth to do. We see Clara Gardner recieve her purpose early in the novel, but things get complicated along the way. As humans we don’t always like the idea that destiny rules over freewill. Clara struggles against her destiny and her actions at the end of the novel will have implications for what follows in Hallowed, the sequel. My only criticism of the book was the love triangle: I’ve said that I think the love triangle is an over-done plot device and while it works for the purposes of this story, I’m hoping the two boys in question will be more interesting in the next book because at this point I’m not sure which one I’m rooting for yet.
Final Grade: A-
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer
Genre: children’s fantasy/fairytale
Full disclosure: my motivation for picking this one up is because of Chris Colfer. I love his character on Glee and I was curious to see if he was more than just a pretty face with an amazing voice. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed: the guy can write too. And he’s only 22 and already published. He makes me feel like a slacker.
Now to be fair, I liked this one but it didn’t quite blow my mind the way some of the other books on this list did. I think part of the problem is in the pacing: there was a lot going on and there wasn’t always room to breathe between adventures. The characterization wasn’t always consistent, but there’s so much potential here. And let’s face it: fairytale adaptations are all the rage right now. Colfer’s is one of the better ones.
Final grade: B
Nevermore by Kelly Creagh
Genre: YA paranormal
Have you ever had an OMG moment: you know, that moment where a book/TV show/movie throws you for a loop and you just have to stop and collect yourself? That’s how I felt reading Nevermore. If you’re a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, you have to read this book. You just have to. You also have to overlook the seemingly cliche setup with the blonde cheerleader and the goth boy because it’s true what they say: opposites attract. And in Nevermore they attract in a big way. Even though Isobel and Varen (our resident cheerleader and goth) seem like a pair of walking stereotypes, that’s actually what makes them great: they have to come from opposite worlds, otherwise it just wouldn’t work. If this was a story about two goth kids it wouldn’t be the same.
The novel is very well written and you can certainly tell that the author has done her research on Poe as well. Poe’s stories and poems have continued to have an avid following and Nevermore is the perfect homage to his work. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book that I had this much trouble putting down. I’d set it aside only to pick it up again a minute later because I couldn’t stop reading. This ain’t your average star-crossed love story.
Final grade: A+
The Agency: The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
Genre: YA historical
This is the third book in the series and though it’s cliche to say it, it’s also the best. (I’ve been talking about cliches a lot today, haven’t I?) For those who haven’t read the first two, The Agency series follows our protagonist Mary Quinn and her investigations as part of a top secret all-female detective agency in Victorian England. This time Mary has gone undercover in Buckingham Palace of all places to find a petty thief. Of course she gets more than she bargains for when she tangles with the prince(what a creep!), her old flame James (what a dreamboat), her employers (turns out not all is well within the Agency itself), her father (OMG) and (spoiler alert!) Queen Victoria herself! Fans of the series will appreciate how Lee resolves a few storylines that have been kicking around since the first book (A Spy in the House) but also leaves plenty to keep them interested for the fourth and final book. And on a more personal level, it’s nice to have a biracial heroine for a change. There aren’t nearly enough of them in YA.
Final grade: A+