Archive for young adult books

sorcerer to the Crown [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2019 by xi'an

Sorcerer to the Crown is an historical fantasy book by Zen Cho I got into buying by reading a review linking most positively the novel to the monumental Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Obviously I should have known better, given that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was several years in the making, with both a very convincing reconstitution of a 19th Century style and a fairly deep plot with fantastic historical connections that took me several reads (and the help of the BBC rendering) to completely understand. Nothing of the sort with this first book in the series, except for the acknowledged influence of Susanna Clarke’s novel. I started reading Sorcerer to the Crown wondering whether this was the young adult version of the other book, the parallel being almost obvious, from the decline of English magic to the Fairy Land accessible from a shrinking number of places, to the inhumanity (or rather a-humanity) of the King of the Fairies, to the old men ruling the magician society by being adverse to any sort of innovation. The attempts at differentiating the story from this illustrious predecessor are somewhat heavy-handed as the author tackles all at once race (the two main characters are African and Indian, respectively, and face discrimination, albeit far from the extent they would have been subjected to in the actual late 1700’s England), gender (magic is repressed in girls from the upper classes), class (see previous!), politics (the British Crown would like very much the help of magicians in fighting Napoléon), imperialism (as British links with India and Malaysia are shown to support local rulers towards gaining hold in these countries).  Once more, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell addresses these issues more subtly from Stephen Black‘s significant role in the story, to the equally major impact of Arabella Strange in the unraveling of her husband greatness, to the contributions of Jonathan Strange to the Napoleonic wars… This however made for a light travel read that I completed within a few days. Enjoying the dialogues more than the [rather uni-dimensional] characters and the low-intensity action scenes.

The Magicians [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2016 by xi'an

While in Melbourne, I heard a recommendation for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and the next day, while checking the Melbourne Writers Festival bookstore, found the book (rather than the Kristoff volume I was seeking), bought it, and read it within a few days.

‘Brakebills will remind readers of Hogwarts, though with more illicit fondling. Grossman has written what could crudely be labeled a Harry Potter for adults.” , NYT

So is this an Harry Potter for adults?! First, I think Harry Potter can be read by adults (if I qualify as adult!). This remark presumably means the book should not be read by young readers, maybe, due to recurrent sex and alcohol consumption, plus some drugs and an overall depressive tone.

Back to Harry Potter, there is the same magical boarding school feeling, even though it is located in upstate New York on the Hudson river.  And not in Scotland. With an equivalent to Quidditch, an evil magician, exams, surly teens, one or two love triangles, &tc. If in a more modern and American way. The difference with Harry Potter is that it also doubles as Narnia! A Narnia eventually turned wrong and sour, but nonetheless a strong similarity of stories and ideas. Of course, this parallel could be seen as an attempt at deconstruction, exhibiting the inconsistencies in the original novels, but it is so subtle it does not feel like it. There are the same encounters with sentient animal creatures, who never reappear after, the same call for Kings and Queens, as in Narnia. This lack of depth at exploring the connections between Harry Potter, Narnia and even some aspects of the Wheel of Time is frustrating in that something great could have come of it. And then… then… comes the worst literary trick in my list, the call to a subterranean quest with endless monsters and accidents! (I obviously exclude Tolkien’ Moria episode from this list!!!) Concluding with the evil character dumping information in the last battle to explain missing bits and pieces in the story.

So, in conclusion, not such a magical book, even though I read it within a few days thanks to my 39 hour trip back to Paris. The Magicians remains too teeny for my taste, hearing self-deprecating depressive monologues occurs way too often to make the main character congenial, and the story has not enough depth or structure to be compelling. A reviewer rightly pointed out it feels like fandom fiction. Rather than a universe on its own. (As for instance Aaronovitch’ Rivers of London series.)

the Grisha trilogy [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2016 by xi'an

And yet another series [suggested by Amazon] I chose at random after reading the summary… The Grisha trilogy was written by Leigh Bardugo and is told by Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan from the fantasy land of Ravka [sounds like Russia, doesn’t it?!] who suddenly discovers powers she did not suspect when fighting supernatural forces. And embarks on a bleak adventure with her childhood friend to safe their country from dark forces. A rather standard trope for the fantasy literature.. The books read well, in a light sense (or mind candy variety, to borrow from the Three-Toed Sloth blog) if addictive. I went over the first one, Shadow and Bone, within a travel day to München and back. Certainly not a major trilogy. And still, those books attracted massive and enthusiastic reviews (one for each book, from different young readers) in The Guardian! And another one in the NYT, nothing less… The explanation is that what I did not get before starting the trilogy [but started suspecting well into the first volume] this is a young adult (or teenager) series. Or even a children’s book, according to The Guardian! So do not expect any level of subtlety or elaborate plots or clever connections with our own world history. Even the Russian environment is caricaturesque with an annoying flow of kvas and tea and caftans. One character is closely related to Rasputin, the ruling family reminds me of the Romanovs, old and grumpy babushkas pop in now and then, the heroes hunt a firebird, &tc.  And still the addiction operates to some level. [Try at your own risk and give the books to younger readers if it does not work!]

Half a king and less of a story…

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , on September 6, 2014 by xi'an

As ‘Og’s readers may have noticed, I have very much appreciated Joe Abercombie’s novels and style so far, having read and reviewed all of his books. Hence, I was expecting something altogether different out of Half a King, his latest novel… Compared with the books written so far, this one feels too light, too easy-going, too much of a one-shot read, too linear and too predictable, with none of the shadows and shortcomings and other moral ambiguities crossing everyone and all in the novel. And making Abercrombie such a special author. The main character Yari is not very enticing and the way he gets out of dramatic situations is not particularly convincing. Nor particularly on the moral high ground (not surprising, this, considering Abercrombie’s style!) But it sounds as if this remains justified as lesser evil against greater evil… The final stages of the story are just too impossible to believe. So this book is a real disappointment. After reading the book in a few hours in Bristol, a few miles from the author who lives in Bath, I went hunting for reactions on the Internet and found out that this was a young adult novel, which may explain for the lack of depth and of moral ambiguity. I wish this had been spelled out more clearly before I had bought the book! (As an aside I wonder why Abercrombie has this fascination with maimed hands throughout his novels. From The Ninefinger in the early novel to this half king with only two fingers on his right hand.)

The Book Thief

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , on June 2, 2009 by xi'an

This is a book by Markus Zusak I came upon in the local bookstore in the young adult section and bought for my daughter. After reading it within a few days and enjoying very much the story, if not the style, she told me to read it as well. The Book Thief is indeed written for a general audience and has a lot of appealing features, even though I would not rank it as a great book. First, the plot is mostly seen from the point of view of a young girl. Liesel, getting adopted by an ideal—in terms of human standards, not of wealth—foster family in a Bavarian town during WWII. Besides the description of everyday life in Nazi Germany—like the compulsory adhesion to the NSDAP or to the Hitler-Jugend, the persecution and deportation of communists, then of Jews, to the nearby Dachau concentration camp, the draft of younger and older men into the German army— and of the quiet resistance of a few of its citizens—reminding me, at a lesser level, of Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone—, this is a tale about the power of reading and writing, as Liesel discovers throughout the story. She first steals a gravedigger manual to overcome the death of her little brother and learns to read with her foster father with this book. Then she steals another book from a Nazi autodafé, still smoldering—as a first conscious act of resistance because she realises his father was deported as a communist—that she keeps reading and re-reading, overcoming her childhood nightmares. The following books are “stolen” from the mayor’s own library, except that the mayor’s wife is aware of this and encourages Liesel to keep stealing more books from her bookshelves. Liesel also discovers the power of words through reading to Max, a Jewish clandestine hidden by her foster parents in their basement, then to a whole shelter during Allied air raids. The next step is about the power of writing, first with Max writing books by recycling a copy of Mein Kampf—that he used as a cover to travel to Liesel’s parents—, painting over its pages to compose an anti-Nazi book, and then with Liesel writing an autobiography that would eventually save her life when the whole street but her was killed during an air raid. Obviously, The Book Thief is quite allegorical, with Death conducting the story and giving her own point of view, which means characters are idealistic and unrealistic. The stylistic choices made by Zusak may also annoy the reader, with many very short paragraphs, the use of bold fonts and of dictionary entries, the continual intervention of Death and her prescience of events yet to come, and they may even detract young readers from finishing the book, even though the story is grasping enough to hook most of them.

Ps— The Book Thief actually seems to be a best-seller (currently #37 on Amazon!) and I even saw one in the basket of a Vélib’ passing by Champs-Elysées last Friday…