Tag Archives: YA novel

Novel Review: The Guinevere Deception

A lot of retellings recast females in much more active roles than they originally had. Kiersten White does this with the Arthurian legends in The Guinevere Deception. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

The Review

The Guinevere Deception seems written for those looking for a feminist take on the Arthurian legends. Arthur’s queen isn’t your usual pretty trophy wife. She’s clever, she takes initiative, and her mission is to protect the king. But she’s not the only strong female in the cast. Most women boast backbone plus some power or ability, and the two greatest threats to our protagonist are female.

As to the main character, she’s called Guinevere, but the third person narrative initially only refers to her as “the girl,” which makes for a clunky opening chapter. It’s not until the middle of Chapter 2 that it settles on referring to her as Guinevere. That’s because “Guinevere” is a changeling and only recently assumed this particular form and identity (which was taken from a now-deceased princess). This is done at the behest of her father Merlin. Having convinced King Arthur to ban magic from his realm, the great wizard is obliged to stay out of Camelot. But so that Arthur’s not left completely vulnerable against dark magic, he sends his daughter to watch over the king in his stead, and their marriage is a ruse to allow her to keep close to Arthur.

It’s a complicated setup. It’s also complicated because our main character has big gaps in her memory, which makes it difficult to tell what kind of person she was before assuming her Guinevere identity. For instance, Merlin is her father, but she knows nothing about her mother, and it doesn’t strike her as strange until two thirds through the book. At the same time, she’s faking her way as queen without any real guidance on who the real Guinevere was. The only thing that is absolutely clear about her is that she is determined to protect King Arthur no matter what.

Her loyalty is admirable, but it is also baffling, given that she dedicates herself to the task before she’s met Arthur. Moreover, she’s a creature of magic who’s been isolated from people. Prior to becoming Guinevere, she lived in the wilds, and her only interactions were with Merlin. She doesn’t have any real investment or connection with human society, yet she’s ready to put herself on the line to make sure Arthur’s vision for Camelot succeeds.

However, if you can accept that elaborate setup, the plot that follows is interesting. Guinevere must use magic to detect and fight magic, but because it’s against the law, there are close calls and clandestine measures. Guinevere ends up behaving like the superhero who must wield her superpowers judiciously in order not to blow her cover. Arthur, who contrived the arrangement with Merlin, knows her secret, of course, but eventually she let others in on it, mainly because she holds an equally weighty secret of theirs.

Regarding Guinevere’s relationship with Arthur, this novel is YA, so they get around the issue of sex by agreeing that their marriage is just a cover and therefore does not need to be consummated. However, Guinevere, who devoted herself to Arthur even before laying eyes on him, pretty much falls for him once they actually do meet. Although that’s not too surprising because everyone in Camelot is in love with the king. While female characters have a fair amount of complexity, the male characters are flat. That includes Arthur, who’s invariably adored by his people and always does the right thing no matter what. The one exception to the banal male lineup is Arthur’s nephew Mordred, who forms a love triangle with Arthur and Guinevere. His interactions with Guinevere are much more interesting, although they have so many encounters that it’s a wonder it doesn’t trigger any malicious gossip in the court that Guinevere trying to navigate as queen.

The multifaceted aspects of this world are the novel’s strong suit. Guinevere’s acting sentinel against magical forces, so there are battles and investigations involving enchantment. At the same time, she’s queen at a castle, so there’s an element of royal pageantry. And Camelot doesn’t exist in a political void, so Arthur has human enemies in addition to the supernatural ones. Plus, a kingdom has more mundane problems, like poop disposal. This envisioning of Camelot is lively and fascinating, so even if our heroine is sometimes baffling as she sorts through the disconnected bits that comprise her identity, the activity swirling around her form an engaging backdrop.

In Summary

This Guinevere isn’t just a pretty face. She’s a magic-wielding, smart-sleuthing protectress of the kingdom. However, the fact that she doesn’t remember much of who she is while simultaneously impersonating a person she never knew makes her someone difficult to relate to. But if you like mysteries and enigmas with a cast of knights and various magic-wielding entities, give this book a shot.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Novel Review: House of Salt and Sorrows

Fairy tale adaptions are a popular subset of YA novels, but not many are based on The Twelve Dancing Princess. However, Erin Craig has taken that lesser known tale and combined it with gothic flavored horror in House of Salt and Sorrows.

Back Cover Blurb

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor with her sisters and their father and stepmother. Once there were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last–the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge–and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that her sister’s deaths were no accidents. The girls have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who–or what–are they really dancing with?

The Review

Erin Craig presents an interesting twist on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. There’s a mystery to be solved, but it’s styled less like a hero’s challenge and more like a gothic horror story. Although the puzzle of the worn dancing shoes comes into play, the primary enigma confronting our main character is the deaths of her older sisters.

Annaleigh is the sixth of the Duke of Salaan’s twelve daughters. However, four of the young women have met untimely ends. People whisper that the sisters are cursed, but Annaleigh suspects murder. As her family attempt to ignore the rumors and move on with their lives, Annaleigh investigates the deaths only to find herself increasingly beset by eerie visions and nightmares.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It got off to a fabulous start with Craig’s gorgeous world-building. Arcannia incorporates many Victorian-era elements in its setting and culture, and those who like descriptions of silk ball gowns and corsets and luxurious gaslit estates will have plenty to enjoy. Another Victorian element of the story is the gothic horror type atmosphere haunting Annaleigh. As she confronts one gruesome image after another, readers are left guessing whether her sisters’ ghosts are real or she’s losing her mind.

Then a third of the way through the story, the nighttime balls come into the story along with a magic/meddlesome deity aspect. From the get-go, Arcannia is depicted as a polytheistic society, with each area of the kingdom paying homage to a regional deity. These initial descriptions make it seem like these gods and their supernatural powers are rather removed from the mortal world. However, once the sisters start going to the family shrine, gods and magic are suddenly very active in the narrative.

This irked me. The initial chapters made it seem like the only possible actors in the sisters’ deaths were ghosts or humans. Annaleigh never considers that magic or immortals might be involved even though their existence is supposedly common knowledge. So when the mystery of Annaleigh’s ghoulish visions is revealed as the workings of a god, that was a letdown.

Another weakness of the story is the romance between Cassius and Annaleigh. It’s not insta-romance on her end; watching her figure out whether he’s friend or foe is actually intriguing. However, he walks into the story besotted with her before they’ve met. Considering how he learned about Annaleigh and the fact that she’s one of eight sisters, I’m left wondering why her and not one of the others.

The story also runs into the same quandary I noticed in another Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling, Princess of the Midnight Ball. Basically, twelve sisters is a lot of people to keep track of. Granted, the deaths in House of Salt and Sorrows reduces the number to eight, but that’s still a lot. Aside from the eldest, the youngest, and the main character, the sisters are a muddle of names without much to distinguish them.

However, a woman that does stand out in this female-heavy family is Morella, the Duke’s new young wife. As soon as I saw the word “stepmother,” I really hoped the novel would depict something beyond the hackneyed evil stepmother. Sadly, Morella winds up among the ranks of the wicked version although she puts on a pretty good nice-mom act for most of the book.

In Summary

This book starts off well and creates wonderful atmosphere in both its radiant and creepy scenes. (And if you want spooky descriptions, there’s plenty on these pages.) However, the deus ex machina resolution to the mystery of Annaleigh’s visions was disappointing, and for the life of me, I don’t see how the main character was so compelling that her love interest would go to such lengths for her.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Novel Review: Spin the Dawn

Fantasies often have wizards as central characters, but how about a tailor with a magical touch? Elizabeth Lim presents the tale of a girl tasked to create three mythical gowns in her debut novel Spin the Dawn.

Back Cover Blurb

Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise. And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

Steeped in Chinese culture, sizzling with forbidden romance, and shimmering with magic, this young adult fantasy is pitch-perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas or Renée Ahdieh.

The Review

This fantasy is a delightful change of pace. Unlike most English language novels in this genre, which tend to have European-style settings, this story takes place in A’landi, an East Asian inspired empire. And instead of having a royal or adventurer protagonist, the main character Maia Tamarin is a tailor.

Not to say there aren’t royals or a dangerous quest in the plot. Following a five year civil war between the emperor and a powerful warlord, the master tailor Kalsang Tamarin is summoned to the emperor’s court. However, the recent war, which claimed two of his sons and maimed the third son, has left him so broken he cannot sew. Unfortunately, the summons cannot be ignored, so his daughter Maia disguises herself, taking her remaining brother’s identity, to go in his place. Soon thereafter, Maia discovers she’s merely one of twelve tailors that will vie to become the emperor’s master tailor, and the judge is none other than the warlord’s daughter Sarnai, whose impending marriage to the emperor is critical to A’landi’s newfound peace.

The primary thread of this book is Maia rising up to each of Sarnai’s challenges. The demands of those challenges changes drastically as the story progresses, and the novel winds up in three distinct acts. The first is the competition between the twelve tailors at the Summer Palace. It resembles a TV elimination-type competition with plenty of girls-are-capable-as-boys gumption and a thick layer of court intrigue. The second part is the quest for the mythical components of Sarnai’s three wedding dresses. These chapters are reminiscent of impossible task folktales where heroes venture into forbidden territories with the aid of magical helpers. In Maia’s case, her magical helper is the emperor’s enchanter Edan, and in addition to being an adventure-style quest, this section also ends up a romance between the two. In the final section, Maia must reckon with the costs and gains of her efforts and determine whether she can return to normalcy.

It’s a lot of territory for one book, but despite roaming over a bunch of genres, it forms a solid, cohesive, and engaging story. The strength of Maia’s character has a lot to do with it. The novel gets off to a slower start than some, but the family history in the initial chapter forms the core of what makes Maia compelling and relatable.

Actually, the multifaceted nature of the cast is among its greatest strengths. Edan carries centuries of baggage behind his teasing, and although Sarnai doesn’t hesitate to torment others, she’s to be pitied as a woman forced into an arranged marriage. Most characters fall into shades of gray, which makes Maia’s dilemma of whom to believe and trust as pressing as the sewing challenges she must win.

Regarding the love that blossoms between Maia and Edan, I’m happy to say that it is not a case of insta-romance. Maia meets him amid the intrigue of the Summer Palace, where Edan is only one of a number of enigmatic figures she’s trying to figure out. Although the connection between Edan and the palace’s black hawk is kind of obvious, it’s not obvious from the get-go how their relationship will progress, which makes it fun to watch. However, it is odd she refers to him as a “boy.” His actual age aside, Edan has the appearance of a young man of about twenty.

Another interesting facet of this story is the descriptions of the materials, tools, and techniques the tailors use. If you like fashion, this may be a selling point for you. However, I found some aspects of Maia’s abilities jarringly unbelievable. Not only does Maia work so fast that she knits two complete sweaters during her five-day ride to the Summer Palace, she sews the silk portions of Sarnai’s three gowns while she journeying to the desert and a frozen mountaintop. I’ve sewn dresses and shirts myself, and I can’t imagine keeping all those pieces clean and in order while camping, let alone through the sand and rain she supposedly traveled through.

The journey’s pace was also puzzling at times. Maia has a mere three months to travel to the three corners of the continent to gather the magical materials for Sarnai’s gowns. As such, Maia’s constantly under the pressure of this looming deadline. However, there are parts, such as their encounter with Orksan’s caravan and their visit to the monastery, where they stop a couple days as if time is of no consequence.

Those are minor nitpicks though. Overall, I enjoyed this story and its cast, and unlike most recent novel series I’ve read, I’m actually eager to see what happens in the second book of this duology.

In Summary

Spin the Dawn is one girl’s journey from obscurity to fame, from the mundane to the magical, and from loss to love and back again. Combined with a complex cast, an intricate Asian-inspired setting, and plenty of unexpected twists and turns, this novel is a delightful read with wide appeal.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Novel Review: Eve of Man

A recurring theme in sci-fi is humanity’s existence pushed to the brink by everything from monsters to global catastrophes. Now Giovanna and Tom Fletcher adds a worldwide dearth of baby girls as a species-ending dilemma in their novel Eve of Man.

Back Cover Blurb

On the first day, no one really noticed. All those babies wrapped in blue blankets–not a pink one in sight. On the third day, people were scared–a statistic-defying abundance of blue. Not just entire hospitals, not only entire countries, but the entire world. Boys. Only boys.

Until Eve. The only girl born in fifty years. The savior of mankind. Kept protected, towering above a ruined world under a glass dome of safety until she is ready to renew the human race.

But when the time comes to find a suitor, Eve and Bram–a young man whose job is to prepare Eve for this moment–begin to question the plan they’ve known all along. Eve doesn’t only want safety, and she doesn’t only want protection. She wants the truth. She wants freedom.

The Review

What would happen to humankind if the gender balance tipped completely toward males? This book’s premise is an interesting one, especially since societies like China’s are dealing with the fallout from sex-selective abortions. Unfortunately, Eve of Man doesn’t so much delve into social change as it uses the scenario as the basis for a futuristic princess-locked-in-a-tower tale.

And main character Eve is literally confined at the top of Extinction Prevention Organization’s 2.5-mile high tower. Because the youngest women other than her are in their mid-sixties, Eve is the one hot commodity, and the EPO has made it their business to shield her from the opposite sex until she’s mature enough to take a shot at another generation. But now that Eve is sixteen she gets to choose her future mate from three potential males. As you might guess, Eve ends up falling for someone outside of this preselected pool.

The cover flap blurb teases, “But how do you choose between love and the future of the human race?” The question insinuates that Eve’s choice (Bram) is lacking somehow, like he has a genetic disorder or is infertile. That would make for interesting drama. However, the story boils down to revealing EPO as the big bad out to maintain worldwide domination by controlling Eve’s reproductive bits while Bram is the rebel in the organization trying to break her out.

The world-building in this novel is weak, which makes for confusing storytelling. Perhaps this is because it was written by two authors, but important elements don’t get clarified as soon as they should for a sci-fi title. For instance, Bram mentions that the EPO tower is located in a place called Central in Chapter 3, but it isn’t until Chapter 37 that we learn Central was once called London. Chapter 3 also talks about an apocalyptic combination of pollution clouds, global warming sea rise, and extreme weather, which gives the impression that the outside environment is borderline uninhabitable. Two-thirds of the story later, Bram is watching all sorts of mundane activity take place out of doors. The most confusing moment for me was the introduction of Holly in Chapter 1. The prologue had already hammered home the point that Eve is the ONLY! girl on the planet, so when another “girl” shows up in Eve’s penthouse quarters, I was stuck wondering what she was. After a couple of pages without an explanation, I assumed she was a kind of AI. Then in Chapter 2 (after 11 pages of Eve /Holly chatting) they FINALLY reveal that Holly is a hologram.

And not just any hologram. She’s controlled by “pilots,” young men close to Eve’s age, and Bram is one of these pilots. While it is an interesting way for the characters to meet and fall in love, the rationale behind “Holly” is shaky. She’s an extremely expensive technology whose only purpose is to manipulate Eve. However, manipulating Eve is only valuable if Eve has any real power, and she doesn’t. Whenever she shows a hint of disagreeing, the EPO tosses out Holly and reverts to force. So if they don’t really need her permission, why waste the effort and resources to persuade her? Not to mention, their pilot standards are pretty shoddy. Bram and his cohorts are supposed to act the role of a best girlfriend, but when the jerk character pilots Holly, his jerk personality bleeds through. And when the boring guy pilots her, the boringness comes out loud and clear.

The story’s one-dimensional characters, unfortunately, are not limited to these two. The primary villains Vivian Silva and Dr. Wells are especially egregious in their respective roles of unscrupulous, arrogant corporation head and evil scientist/abusive father, but it expands to include the entire male gender. Without the kindler, gentler sex, men apparently unleashed World War III and devastated the environment. Moreover, the book asserts that men possess zero self-control and, if they see a woman, are helpless to stop themselves from raping her. It’s a narrative I find appalling and rather shocking, considering a man co-authored it.

Regarding cast diversity, the main couple is white (and gorgeous), and the other key players are also white. There are side characters who might possibly be non-white, but the physical descriptions on them are so sparse that it’s difficult to tell for certain. The single character who is definitively non-white is Diego, one of Eve’s potential mates. However, he is described in unflattering terms. (“In appearance Diego is small and uninteresting…” “His skin is rough and dark, his eyes small and beady.”) Oh, and within fifteen minutes of meeting Eve, he murders someone and gets blasted to pieces. End Diego.

I suppose it’s up to the authors to decide how to design their characters, but given that they’re depicting a worldwide problem and the setting is London, a city with a diverse population, it would’ve been nice to reflect that in their cast. For instance, the narrative mentions at least three times that Eve is struggling to learn Mandarin, so why not include a Chinese person among her attendants?

The novel isn’t without its strong points. The action and escape scenes are fast-paced and have unexpected twists. However, most of those don’t show up till the second half of the book, and by then I’m already disinterested in the fate of this couple and their world.

In Summary

The book has an interesting premise but doesn’t quite deliver. Problematic storytelling aside, the story takes what could have been an interesting commentary on gender balance, power, and traditional roles and simplifies it into a hero-must rescue-princess-from-the-evil-totalitarian-power tale. Add to that some convoluted world-building and flat characters, and it makes for a less than engaging read.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Whispering Minds Release and Goodreads Book Giveaway

It’s always exciting when someone you know gets published. So I’m thrilled to share that an old critique partner, is making her debut on November 1 with Whispering Minds, a YA thriller. Here’s the cover blurb:

By day, a terrifying blackness eats at Gemini Baker’s memories. Her nights are filled with unsettling dreams.

After the death of her beloved granny, seventeen-year-old Gemi is left with parents more interested in gambling than paying the bills, a best guy friend who’s looking for love at a time when she has none to give and a dark childhood secret that just might be the key to her sucky life.

During her search for answers, Gemi turns to her cyber friends for support and quickly learns that nobody is who they seem. Not her granny, her friends or even herself. As her blackouts increase in frequency, a threat on her life has Gemi on the run…if only she can remember long enough to keep herself alive.

The book will be available on Amazon, and she’s also hosting giveaways on her blog and Goodreads, so check it out!

Gearing Up to Get an Agent (GUTGAA) Meet and Greet!

As mentioned in my earlier postDeana Barnhart is hosting the Gearing Up to Get an Agent (GUTGAA) Blogfest/Pitch Contest this month. This week she’s kicking it off with the Meet and Greet Bloghop! For those participating in the bloghop (or just wanting to get to know me better), here’s my mini-bio:

Once upon a time, I was an engineer who spent my days writing dry technical reports in passive voice. Then I chanced upon anime fanfiction and decided to give it a try. That was my first foray into creative writing, and I’ve been writing fiction, mostly YA, ever since.

So far I’ve had three short stories published (you can find links to them on the side bar) and have just finished my second novel-length manuscript, a historical about the ancient Olympics. I still write non-fiction, mostly in the form of book and manga reviews for The Fandom Post. When I’m not writing, I’m usually spending quality time with my extraordinary husband in a Korean-style spa, cosplaying (hooray for anime conventions!), or plotting ways to make LA County a better place.

And here’s the answers to Deana Barnhart‘s questions:

Where do you write? In the kitchen, dining room, or community college library, whichever is quietest.

Quick. Go to your writing space, sit down and look to your left. What is the first thing you see? The microwave.

Favorite time to write? Whenever it’s quiet.

Drink of choice while writing? Hot water.

When writing , do you listen to music or do you need complete silence? Silence.

What was your inspiration for your latest manuscript and where did you find it? A footnote in history texts about ancient Olympic victors when I was researching ideas for another story.

What’s your most valuable writing tip? Keep a pen and paper handy in all rooms and wherever you go. Can’t tell you how many times inspiration has struck while I was in the shower.

Writing Contest Alert: Pitch Madness!

Remember what I wrote yesterday about it being the season for writer contests? Well, here’s yet another one hosted by Brenda Drake! This contest involves 9 agents who will judge pitches for finished manuscripts for ADULT, YA and MG.

What will you need to submit: A 35-word (exact-anything over will be disqualified) pitches and the first 150-words of your manuscript.

The submission windows for Drake’s semi-annual Pitch Madness go live on Saturday, September 1 at 12PM EDT (EST – NY time) and 6PM EDT (EST – NY time).

Interested? Then go to Ms. Drake’s website for more details!

Writing Contest Alert: Gearing Up to Get an Agent Pitch Contest!

Wow, seems like it’s the season for writer contests! This latest one,  Gearing Up to Get an Agent (GUTGAA), is being hosted by Deana Barnhart and will take place the month of September.It includes random drawings for prizes and an agent pitch contest! The current roster consists of 8 agents who will accept ADULT, YA and MG.

Interested? Got a complete manuscript in those genres? Then go to Ms. Barnhart’s website for more details!

Writing Contest Alert: Three-Two-One Pitch contest!

For those of you who are writing graphic novels, YA, new adult, or middle grade, Author Dorothy Dreyer is hosting a contest that goes something like this:

THREE – Pitch your story in only three sentences.

TWO – Two days to enter: August  20th and 21st.

ONE – One agent will judge and pick a winner.

Interested? Polish up your pitch and go to Dreyer’s website We Do Write for more details!

Writing Contest Alert: Teen Eyes Editorial

For those of you who are writing YA, new adult, or middle grade, Teen Eyes Editorial is hosting a contest on July 31! Miss Snark’s First Victim,  who is one of the contest hosts, has the details posted on her blog. And the very cool thing is that all the contest judges are teenagers. So get your queries, pitches, and first 250 words polished and ready!