The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner

At the back of Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore has a list of books that she recommends. Naturally, I want to read all of them. One was The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. Turner is an amazing writer and I’m so glad I found this series! I wasn’t even that bothered that I read them out of order (which would normally drive me crazy).

The Queen of Attolia book review

Eugenides, or Gen for short, is the Queen’s thief. The Queen of Eddis, that is. He can steal anything – at least, he has been able to in the past – and he can get into any locked, guarded room in the neighbouring kindoms’ palaces to spy for his queen. When he finds himself in the dungeons of Attolia, and angers the Queen of Attolia, he finds that his life will never be the same again. But a greater threat to all three kingdoms – Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis – is bearing down, and each kingdom will have to make sacrifices if all three are to survive the threat of the Medes. Strong, arrogant, and sure of their supremacy, the Medes want to take over the three kingdoms for their own. Eugenides must help his Queen to protect Eddis, without angering the gods and while learning to accept his new fate and looking out for his own heart at the same time.

This book, and indeed the whole series, is so cleverly written I was blown away. Turner does an amazing job of keeping you in suspense, and revealing just enough about the plot and each character that you want to keep reading, knowing there are ulterior motives behind every new page, and endearing you to the characters in spite of what little you truly know about them. The characters are all amazingly complex, and all experience deep and realistic emotions. Somehow, they all know how to push each others’ buttons too, which is amusing to read about. Turner has a knack for showing how incensed her characters are by little jibes in short, artful sentences with very little description (were I a good blogger, I would insert an appropriate example here, but alas I have already returned the books to the library and so we shall continue on example-less). Apparently these kingdoms are loosely based on ancient Greece, which I find very interesting. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’m very visual so I’d love it if there were maps of the kingdoms, and some of the cities, included in these books. Oh well, can’t have everything, right?

I was seriously excited to read that Turner plans at least two more books in the series (there are already four: The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, and A Conspiracy of Kings).  Yay!

 

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Playing catch-up…

Well, there are quite a few books I’ve read over the past two months that I haven’t yet written about here. I’m going to say something about a few of them here since most of them have been out for awhile and I don’t have anything earth-shattering to say (as opposed to my usual posts, ha ha).

Book of a Thousand Days reviewI picked up another one by Shannon Hale, who is quickly becoming one of my favourite YA authors. Book of A Thousand Days is about Dashti, maid to Lady Saren. The two are shut up in a tower for seven years after Saren refuses to marry the man her father chose for her. The books details their seven years in the tower, and what happens after the girls leave the tower. Apparently this is based on one of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. This wasn’t my favourite book of Hale’s (I found Saren to be pretty annoying, and Dashti seemed limited by Saren’s troubles in comparison to the strong female lead characters in Hale’s other books) but I still enjoyed it.

I ripped through True Confessions of a Heartless Girl by Martha Brooks (actually for a course I just finished). This Canadian book won the Governor General’s literary award in 2002 and is about Noreen, a teenaged girl whose life seems to be a pattern of mistakes until she winds up in the small town of Pembina Lake.  Here, she’s forced to confront her choices and think about what she wants. I really enjoyed this one.

Across the Great Barrier reviewI picked up another on of Patricia C. Wrede‘s most recent books (I enjoyed the Magician’s Ward so much!). Across the Great Barrier tells the story of Eff, a young girl living in the borderlands of an alternate wild west. While her best friend and her brother head East to go to prestigious schools, Eff is asked to accompany a professor who is surveying the wildlife in the wild settlement territory, west of the great barrier (a strong magical spell cast to keep out dangerous beasts). I guess this is a sequel to Thirteenth Child, which I have not read. I enjoyed this book but it was a bit slow and I found that Wrede’s world seemed to need a lot of explaining… the characters were great, though.

Next I picked up A Hat Full of Sky by Terry Pratchett. I loved Tiffany Aching when I read the Wee Free Men and was glad I found out where her story continues. In this book, Tiffany begins her apprenticeship in magic with an unlikely mentor. When danger searches her out, neither the Nac MacFeegles nor the most powerful witch, Mistress Weatherwax, can protect her. This was a great read. I think the next one about Tiffany is called Wintersmith so I will be on the lookout for that. Pratchett’s voice is great and Tiffany is so easy to love!

I also read a few free e-books, which were atrociously edited but I enjoyed them nonetheless.. The Mating, The Keeping, and The Finding by Nicky Charles were not great literature by any means but they kept me entertained during some very tedious afternoons where I thought boredom was going to steal my sanity. They are romance novels about werewolves. The first two were short and cute, with some juicy (if extremely far-fetched) romance scenes, but the last one was far too long and the plot was a tad ridiculous (even for the romance genre, and that’s saying something) for my taste. I would recommend these to you if you are stuck on a bus or in an airport and don’t want to spend money but need something to fill time. 🙂 (not the most glowing recommendation but there you have it).

Crystal Line reviewLast but not least, I just finished the Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey. I love this series so wasn’t too surprised that I enjoyed this one. It wraps up Killashandra‘s story and I found that the plot was not predictable – refreshing. The cover is pretty awesome, too. Loving the pink Descente-esque one piece. I was sad to hear that McCaffrey recently passed away. What a legacy of writing to have left behind, though.

Up next, I am very close to abandoning Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I picked it up when I heard, through the recent hype of the last book in the series, that he originally self-published this book, was subsequently picked up by a publisher and has now made some ridiculous amount of money. I am about half way through this and I don’t know if I can do it…  the only reason I haven’t already abandoned it is because I am holding out hope that the next few books will be better, since they will have had the input of an editor (one more impartial than the author’s parents) prior to publication. Anyone with reasons that I should continue, speak up. I’d love to hear ’em.   I also grabbed the second book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, The Subtle Knife, for a dollar. The first few pages had me interested so I may make better progress with this one. I remember liking The Golden Compass but I think it took me awhile to get through that one.

Now we’re all caught up! Aren’t you relieved?

Princess Academy and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Can I just say again how glad I am that I discovered Shannon Hale‘s YA fiction. It is so great!

I read Princess Academy last week. I admit it took me a bit to get into it. I wasn’t sold on her world immediately, but once things got rolling I was immersed.

Princess Academy reviewMiri is small for her age, and lives in on Mount Eskel where everyone who can works at the linder quarry: strength is counted a definite asset. Miri’s father has forbidden her from working at the quarry, so she tends to the house and garden for her father and sister. Since everyone her age started workinga t the quarry, Miri feels increasingly isolated. One day, a messenger comes to Mount Eskel to announce that the royal diviners have seen that the next princess will come from Mount Eskel. As a result, all of the girls aged 13 to 17 in the village must attend the newly created princess academy, to prepare themselves for the possibility of marrying the prince in one year. Now Miri has somewhere new to try and fit in, but she also must participate in the fierce competition to be chosen as top of the class.

This was a cute story, and I liked Miri more and more as the book went along. In fact, the more I got to know about the characters, the more I liked all of them: Miri’s quiet father; Katar, the oldest girl and the academy with the strong personality; and Britta, an outsider herself who befriends Miri after the other girls at the academy shun her. Hale has some really unique ideas too, that seem to be a common theme in her YA books (well, the three I’ve read so far); her characters are usually very in tune with the natural environment around them. This really appeals to me. The people of Mount Eskel, for example, have a real connection with linder, the stone they harvest. Hale’s descriptions of this connection, and how Miri and the other characters discover more about it, are fantastic.

Enna Burning is the sequel (ok, they call it a companion novel but I really think it is a sequel. Let’s just call a spade a spade, ok people? Less confusion.) to The Goose Girl. I will say I enjoyed The Goose Girl more, but I loved Enna just as much after reading this book as I loved Isi after reading The Goose Girl.

Enna Burning reviewWhen Enna returns to the forest to care for her sick mother, she stays on after her mother’s death to look after her brother Leifer. One day Leifer comes home with a mysterious piece of vellum, and he seems to be able to create fire out of nothing. He has changed in other ways too, and Enna isn’t sure if this talent with fire is good or bad for him.  Meanwhile, the kingdom of Bayern is going to war with the neighbouring kingdom of Tira. When Enna learns the secret of fire too, she is torn between staying away from creating fire and using it to defend Bayern.

I was saying above that in Hale‘s YA books, the characters have a special connection to nature: in this book, Enna’s connected to fire. [Spoiler alert] She can feel the heat in all living things around her, and draw on it to create fire. This is the same world as The Goose Girl, where people have the talent of speaking with birds or animals, the wind (in Isi’s case), fire (in Enna and Leifer’s cases), and some have the talent of people-speaking (persuading others with their speech).

[Ok, real spoiler alert… for real this time…] The only thing that bothered me about this book was that Enna killed so many people by lighting them on fire, and I thought the horror of it was downplayed a bit too much. I felt like the knowledge of having done this would have driven Enna crazy. I know it’s a YA book, and I know that war is war, but if you’re going to burn people alive in a book (very disturbing!), at least put enough about how terrible that is into the book.  That said, this could just be my Happy Stories Only complex shining through… 😉 And really, this is mostly a happy story with a great ending! I must say, Hale has a knack for good endings.

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

This book was a surprise. It was so good! Like, Robin McKinley good, I thought. Which I found surprising because the first book I read by Hale, Austenland, was entertaining and based on a unique idea, but certainly not as well-crafted nor well-written as this. Hale is in her element here. 

Based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, this book is about Ani, a princess. For the first few years of her life, Ani spends her days with her aunt, who teaches her how to talk to the swans near the palace. When Ani’s aunt leaves, and her mother, the Queen, finds out she can talk to birds, the Queen prevents Ani from having any contact with birds. When Ani turns 16, she learns that her mother has arranged her marriage to a prince of the neighbouring kingdom, Bayern. As she travels with an armed guard and her lady in waiting to Bayern, she realizes that all is not as it seems. Some of her guards attempt to kill her and she narrowly escapes with her life. Now in Bayern, she changes her name to Isi and works as a goose herder to save enough money to get back to her mother the Queen, and tell her what happened.

Lo and behold, after a quick look on Hale’s website, I learned that McKinley‘s Beauty was the inspiration for Hale to write The Goose Girl!  Go figure. Anyway this book was amazing. It had the otherworldly tone that I love so much in a fantasy book, just like McKinelys and like Gaiman’s Stardust. The world-building was really good, and I loved the characters. The evil ones were truly evil (but in a YA way). There were some plot twists that I didn’t see coming (but probably should have!), which is always a nice surprise. I can’t wait to read more of Hale’s YA books!

After poking around on Hale’s blog, I learned that they are currently filming an Austenland movie! Yes!! So excited about this. I think it’s a story that will translate well to film, and could be quite funny. Here’s hoping!

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

This book was so good!!! I feel like I start every second post with that sentence, but oh well. 🙂 I can’t help it if I keep finding all these wicked books! I can’t believe I didn’t read this one when I was younger. I would have LOVED it.

Kate is a lady in waiting (? or something? I am not too great at paying attention to courtly plot stuff) for the Queen’s sister in exile (Queen Mary Tudor, I believe), along with her sister Alicia. When Alicia makes a blunder, it is Kate who is sent away to the Perilous Gard (apparently a Gard is a castle); so called because it is rumoured to be in fairy territory.

This is a re-telling of the ballad of Tam Lin, apparently, though I was not really familiar with Tam Lin before I read the book. The Scottish ballad is about Tam Lin being rescued from the Queen of the faeries by his true love. I came across reviews of this book after reading Tithe by Holly Black, which is another book based on the ballad.

I thought this was a really great YA book, and very deserving of its Newbery honour. Pope‘s writing kept my attention as an adult and I highly recommend it. I am interested to read other re-tellings of the Tam Lin ballad. Time to start searching…

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

I went into this book thinking that it was a prequel to The Hero and the Crown, but after reading it, I don’t think it’s either prequel or sequel. It is set after The Hero and the Crown, as characters in that book are mentioned in The Blue Sword, but it’s centred on a whole different cast of characters. I think my confusion stemmed from the fact that the Blue Sword was written before The Hero and the Crown (but is set after). I absolutely loved this book, as I did The Hero and the Crown.

This is the story of Harry (a girl − her full name is Angharad), who must leave Homeland and join her brother at a remote desert outpost after her noble-born father dies. Not long after she adjusts to life at the outpost, the king of the desert lands, Corlath, visits the outpost to request help of the Homelanders in fighting against the invading Northerners. While there, Corlath sees Harry. His kelar, the magical intuition of the desert people, tells him to steal Harry away and bring her back to his city. Harry soon finds that she doesn’t feel as out of place as she thought with the Damarians, the desert people. She even finds that she has kelar herself. When she begins to learn the ways of the Damarians and train in their legendary horsemanship skills, she is confused by her feeling of kinship with these people. When she participates in the apprentice’s fight to prove her horseriding and fighting skills, Corlath gives her Gonturan, the sword of Aerin, and makes her one of the honoured king’s riders, the Laprun. Harry is the first Laprun-minta, female Laprun, in a very long time. She must listen to her kelar and to Gonturan to protect both the Damarians and Homelanders from certain death when the Northerners invade. She defies Corlath’s orders and rides off herself to protect the pass near the desert outpost where her brother is stationed. Of course there’s a bit of romance in the book for Harry, but I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it.

Just as she did in The Hero and the Crown, McKinley manages to tell a multi-faceted story effortlessly and beautifully. This book has the same legend- or myth-like quality to the writing that I love so much. After reading this, I have to say again how surprised I was by Pegasus: while it was beautifully written and the world McKinley creates is gorgeous, it didn’t seem to go anywhere for a very long time, and when it finally did, it crept along. I find this amazing, considering how much plot McKinley packed into The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword while still maintaining the mystical quality of her writing and without having the books feel rushed; books that are a quarter of the length of Pegasus. I see that McKinley has written many other books, and I’m now curious to read a few of them (though probably not Sunshine, vampires not being my thing).

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure this is my first Terry Pratchett book. For reals. It was great. An original take on witches, and a great heroine.

For those who haven’t read it, the book is about Tiffany Aching, an intelligent young girl from a small town in The Chalk who is a witch and doesn’t know it. Strange things start to happen, and soon it’s up to her to get her little brother back from the Faerie Queen who has stolen him. Luckily, she has the help of the Nac Mac Feegles (the Wee Free Men): pictsies (pictish pixies?) that are mostly into fightin’, drinkin’, and stealin’.

This was an incredibly clever book. I’m so glad I picked it up and can’t wait to read more about Tiffany Aching. I still can’t believe I didn’t read any Pratchett when I was in junior high (the last period of my life when I was obsessed with fantasy, particularly books by Anne McCaffrey). I think I may have unwittingly lumped his books in with those of the Dragonlance variety (never really floated my boat), since Pratchett books were coming out as quickly as the Dragonlances were in the 90s (at least, that’s how I remember it). Speaking of Anne McCaffrey, I recently found some of my old favourites of hers at a used book sale, and I am so excited about it! I found Dragonsinger and Dragondrums, but am still on the lookout for Dragonsong. Since it’s the first one in the series, I have been trying to see if I can find that to read first before I re-read the other two. I may not be that patient…

Right now I’m reading The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, which is amazing so far. AMAZING. So much better than Pegasus.