Mapping and Intrigue

Makiia Lucier is known for her historical fiction writing and she’s proved her strengths with her newest book. Isle of Blood and Stone revolves around an 18-year-old mystery of two missing princes and new clues have come to light. There are a couple of gripes people have shared in their own reviews, and I would like to address them and why those things didn’t bother me.

There were some complaints of there not being enough adventure. On the contrary, there is adventure, albeit not the type we might have expected. The protagonist, Elias, is a map maker. This world is largely untraveled and in the city of St. John del Mar, boys are trained to become geographers, preparing them to travel for months, if not years, at a time to chart not only unknown territory but areas recently affected by natural disaster. These maps are copied and sold to traders, showing them the best sailing routes, the best dock stations, and even what coves to expect pirates laying in wait. When we meet Elias, he’s just returned from a trip to Hellespont, charting their changed landscape after a recent earthquake. This might have been the story some people believed they would be reading. I think it does sound like an exciting adventure to follow. The dangers of sailing, visiting new lands even the protagonist doesn’t know. While the story Lucier tells us is a slow burner, it still has its adventures. The mystery is political in nature with two missing princes, but it certainly doesn’t all unfold in a stuffy chamber room. Lucier has a lot of world building to get through first. Which brings me to the next complaint.

There seems to be a bit of contradiction with how people feel about the world. Most agreed the world building was great and imaginative, but they were confused at times where characters were, where they were traveling to, and who characters were. None of this bothered me much. This is probably a personal thing, but I don’t pay too close attention to where characters are traveling or how long it takes them to get there. I’m more interested in what’s happening during the journey and what will happen when they reach their destination. When books include a map in the beginning (this ARC doesn’t include one but I fully expect something beautifully detailed, being a story about map makers after all) I don’t bother studying it until I’ve finished the book. Before I know the names of cities and towns or have a preliminary image in my head, the map means nothing to me. It becomes more interesting after the fact. As for the characters not being explained enough, that didn’t bother me expect for some names being similar. I had a writing teacher in college that always cautioned when you have several characters, keep their names distant, even to the point of not starting them with the same letter. When authors name their characters too similarly, that’s when I get confused. But this only happens here with two characters’ names starting with A. They were different enough in their personalities that if I didn’t skim over the name too quickly, it wasn’t a problem.

There is something enduring about Isle of Blood and Stone. It’s been a while since I’ve truly liked the strong female character and didn’t hate the romance. I criticize the romance in stories harshly, but I was rooting for this one to work out. It’s a romance based on years of friendship and it feels earned when Lucier finally give it to us. Mercedes is the strong female I’ve felt to be missing from my reading lately. She’s true in her loyalties and relationships while being fully capable of taking care of herself. The best part, she doesn’t spend every conversation reminding people of that. Of course, it happens a couple of times, but those times were legit reasons for her safety. And the one time you would expect her to have to fight about being capable, she is given trust and understanding. There were many moments throughout the story that were real and pure and it made me like the book that much more.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

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What Makes Us Human?

Adrianne Finlay tackles a big concept with Your One and Only in only 320 pages. There is a vast amount that happens in this story, and there is even more that could happen.

As humanity is slowly killed by a plague, a group of scientists build a quarantined community in Costa Rica and tirelessly work on creating clones. As the original scientists die and the clone population grows, their views of humanity grow more perverse with each new generation. The originals intended for these clones to reproduce in a natural, sexual way, but the clones have their own ideas for such matters.

After 300 years of cloning the same DNA the structure is breaking down and becoming unstable. Using the archive of additional human DNA curated by the Originals, the clones create a human. Jack is treated with disgust and disdain for being different and not a perfect copy of one of the originals. He is left mostly isolated and introduced to the group of clones his own age when they are in their mid-teens. Naturally it doesn’t go well. One clone, Althea-310 sympathizes with Jack as she has a scar on her wrist, setting her apart from her flawless Althea sisters. And this sympathy is the beginning of the end.

Finlay dedicates much of the beginning of the novel to world building, thus giving it a slow start. She alternates POVs from Althea-310 and Jack and it helps greatly to round out not only the characters but the stores overall. The clones have bizarre customs, but we’re given a chance to understand them with Althea’s POV. Jack’s rage and violence wouldn’t have felt as sincere if we didn’t see his POV, either.

For as slow as the beginning is, the ending zips by. The action escalates as the story goes on, but I grew concerned as the number of pages dwindled and the plot seemed to lengthen. The ending is left opened but satisfying enough that I’m not expecting a sequel, but Finlay covers a lot of ground in a dozen pages. This leaves the whole story feeling off kilter. Finlay built an interesting world, giving us a unique clone story. Even with the unbalanced narration, it was still a fun read. It probably won’t make my top 10 for 2018 (there is a lot of year left) but I certainly don’t regret reading it.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman

Welcome Home, Tortallians

She’s back! Tamora Pierce is the Great Mother Goddess of YA, heralded by teens for generations. She gave us Alanna in 1983 and showed girls their inner bravery, to follow their dreams, and show the kingdom who they truly are. These themes are still prevalent in todays YA novels, and Pierce was at the forefront. Now she’s back with a new series for old followers and newbies to sink into.

It feels appropriate that Pierce goes back in time to show us the teenage years of Arram, aka Numair. We know how powerful of a mage he becomes, but everyone was once an awkward teen. Seeing Arram, Varice, and also Ozorne as teens going to school and still learning how to control their magic adds depth to their characters. Tempests and Slaughter moves through four years of schooling in only 455 pages but Pierce has a balance of simple busy school life and the drama of being so powerful you can’t control it, along with being friends with a prince. Pierce has long been an expert with balancing the mundane with the dramatic, and what better setting to do that than a school.

All of Pierce’s stories revolve around the universe of Tortall, and while it is intimidating to jump into an extensive world with 20+ books to back it up, Pierce has always made her books and Tortall accessible. Pick up any book and you’ll easily slip into the world. Pierce continues to be a writer for the young and the old, the new and the familiar. For the new, enjoy! For the familiar, welcome home.

Young Batman

By now most YA readers are aware of the DC Icons books coming out from Random House. Leigh Bardugo caused waves with her Wonder Woman story, and Sarah J. Maas broke Instagram when she released the cover of her own DC story, Cat Woman (not really but she did garner over 34,000 likes). Warcross received positive reviews (myself included in those reviews) and is still being talked about months after its release. Now Marie Lu is following it up with Batman Nightwalker. What a way to start the year.

Lu had the privilege and the challenge of writing teenage Bruce Wayne, before he becomes Batman. We’ve watched his parents die numerous times and have seen him fully committed as Batman in various mediums, but those middle years have largely been absent. This gave Lu the creative freedom to explore what high school might be like for a billionaire, but I can’t imagine writing a character with an extensive history. We had specific expectations of what we wanted to see because we know the ending. We know exactly who Bruce Wayne will be and there are tropes we expect to see to set that up.

This isn’t an earth shattering book, but Lu fulfills our needs with the Easter eggs we were hoping for. Bruce has just turned 18 and is finally allowed in the experimental room at Wayne Tech where Lucian does most of his work and where we get The Suit smoking gun, which is exciting because we know its one of many suits to come.

A major aspect the movies haven’t used enough of is Batman’s detective tendencies. Batman: The Animated Series did an excellent job of portraying the show as a mystery show, with Batman actively researching other villains before taking to the night. Lu plays with this idea, showcasing Bruce’s interest in what’s happening in Gotham by listening to a police scanner, delving into the internet, and poking around abandoned buildings.

Batman Nightwalker is a fun, quick read. It gives depth to Bruce, Diana, and Harvey, seeing them as teenagers. I haven’t met an Alfred I didn’t like, and Lu’s Alfred is no exception. You won’t regret taking a jaunt through Gotham with young Bruce Wayne.

A Snowy Journey

Rene Denfeld’s writing is one of lyricism and comfortability. Her voice is that of your mother reading to you as you fall asleep. There is an ebb and flow to her style that is inspiring. The type of writing that when you start reading, you say, “Ah, this is what good writing sounds like.” Denfeld has mastered her voice and found interesting stories to tell.

There is much about this book that I appreciate in good storytelling. Naomi is complicated; she has an easy smile with an open demeanor, but is guarded about her past. Madison, aka Snow Girl, is young and naïve though quickly learns what it takes to survive when you are a “lost girl.” Her strongest tool is her imagination and she wields it like a master. One of the best ways to write a “villain” is to show not only their weaknesses, but also their reasoning or longing. Mr. B. has done a terrible thing but I sympathized after learning about his background.

Denfeld gave us the point of view of each of these characters. It helped to deepen the heart of the story. Naomi is literally the child finder. Obviously bad things are happening to these children before she finds them, but Denfeld doesn’t lead us on a faceless, rage filled witch hunt. There are tragic circumstances to understand behind some stories, and this story is built on a rock bed of tragedy.

Denfeld has given us a beautifully tragic tale and lightened it with a positive ending. I won’t say happy, because these characters have quite the journey ahead of them, but positive. And that is my biggest critique of the book. The continued journey of the characters sounds just as exciting as the beginning journey. The Child Finder is a slim novel that I would have loved to see more of. Maybe Denfeld will continue Naomi’s story as she continues her search for the most important child of all.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Team Player

Marie Lu has some exciting things brewing. Legend will be seen on the big screen soon, and her Batman YA novel will be released in January 2018. Now Warcross’ publication was met with fanfare from fans and YA authors alike. I will confess, Warcross was the first book I’ve read by Lu. It didn’t surprise me that it was well written and well structured. What surprised me is how completely I fell in love with it.

Warcross is set in a future where virtual reality is not only the norm, but beyond anything we can imagine today. Hideo Tanaka created a game called Warcross and it’s so widely played, people have made careers from playing the game. The future generation of professional athletes. Emika is a teenage hacker turned bounty hunter, doing anything she can pay off her deceased father’s debt. Emika is invited to play in the championship tournament as a wild card, but she has to keep her real reason for playing from her teammates and the millions of fans watching: find the hacker trying to destroy Warcross from the inside.

Emika is easily likable and relatable. With her father’s death and her mother walking out on them years ago, Emika is trying to keep her head above the mountain of debt her father accumulated and the never ending rent bill. Girl, I feel ‘ya there. She uses her hacking skills to become a bounty hunter, chasing down people who gamble on Warcross. It doesn’t pay much though. Even finding a waitressing job is becoming obsolete with restaurants turning to automated servers. Everything about Emika character, from her mannerisms to her backstory, felt fully developed.
Lu did a great job with the futuristic world building and describing a technology in a plausible way. It sounded crazy, but plausible. The game levels were intense and imaginative. Gaming isn’t a world I understand, nor a world I’ve been a part of ever, but I understand sports. And watching these teams battle it out in a simulated landscape had my heart racing.

As you would expect with YA, there is a love story tangled in the plot. Unlike some other love stories, this one felt earned. Hideo is famous and while Emika has a crush on him, upon meeting him for the first time, she has a start struck reaction, but is rubbed the wrong way by his stand offish manners. It isn’t until halfway through the book that Hideo fully shows his feelings for Emika. Even then, nothing is easy about their relationship. Not only with keeping it a secret in a public situation, but both Hideo and Emik are private, closed off people, both with baggage they need to work through. Each of their relationship milestones are earned slowly as they both learn to open up to one another. But then….

I thought I had figured out the twist at the end but Marie Lu still took me by surprise. There was a lot of magic at work with her world building and plot, even non gamers will be hard pressed not to be on the edge of their seat. It will be exciting to see what the second novel has to bring. Emika has quite the journey ahead of herself.

 

 

 

By Emily Coleman

Realistic Survival

Clade – a group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor.

 

James Bradley has created a hyper-realistic climate fiction novel. He has taken the definition of clade and applied it to the Leith family. We follow three generations of the Leith family and those they are connected to as they navigate a warming Earth and the drastic consequences that come with it.

While Bradley sets these characters on a dying Earth, he doesn’t spend much time exploring what’s happening but rather shows us the characters reactions to the dangerously changing landscape. Adam Leith obsesses over the climate while his partner Ellie undergoes IVF treatments. Though their daughter Summer means the world to Adam, him and Ellie drift apart as the Earth seems to unglue from the seams. When Summer disappears to Europe, Adam braves the devastating flooding to find her living in a shake with a six year old son. They battle to get out while Ellie is immersing herself in learning about the dying bee colony for an art installation.

Clade could be described as a collection of short stories as each chapter moves through each characters point of view at different times of their life, propelling the plot forward. What I saw of these characters is, even as the world is in turmoil, the mundaneness of life remains. You worry about money and putting a roof over your families head, spouses fight and break up, teens are full of angst and prefer the virtual world to reality. When the world is dying faster than we can stop it, yelling at dad or dancing in a virtual rave is an intrinsic human behavior that doesn’t disappear when faced with life altering challenges.

Clade is written beautifully. Brandley follows not only the destruction of the world, but the turmoil of family. It’s a shame he didn’t give us more. I would have gladly followed the Leith family in more detail rather than snippets. There are themes of loss and redemption and survival, but I wanted a deeper look at them.

 

 

By: Emily Coleman