Friday, December 30, 2011

FAERIE WINTER


Review of FAERIE WINTER by JANNI LEE SIMNER
(sequel to BONES OF FAERIE, review based on an advance reading copy)

The strength of this story comes from the choices the characters face. No one, even our protagonist Liza, is simply good or bad. Simner takes legends of faerie magic and mines the potential ethical and moral dilemmas, especially those that might appear straight-forward at first glance…but not so much when you look closer. Also, like the best fantasy, the magic serves as a metaphor for choices and tragedies we must face in real life.

I’ll backtrack just a little here to suggest that you read FAERIE WINTER soon after reading BONES OF FAERIE. Or, if you’ve already read the first book, as I did, take the time to re-read it, because I did have a little trouble slipping back into the story when it had been so long since I read BONES OF FAERIE.

But once I slipped back in, I was invested! It’s worth reiterating how Simner gives all her characters such depth. Liza makes some choices that aren’t entirely good, but neither are they condemnable; I could always understand her motivation even as I grasped how her decision hurt another.

For those who need a quick refresher, Liza lives in a post-apocalyptic world left devastated after a terrible war between humans and faeries. Even after the war, faeries have left their mark on humans. (Connection to real-life, humans-versus-humans wars, anyone?) Some people now have magic, which unfortunately makes them seem a lot like the enemy. Liza’s magic in particular is brutal in its power. She possesses the ability to control others with her voice. When she gives a command laced with magic, free will exits the equation and people have no choice but to obey. The plot returns to a key question again and again: Is it okay to take away someone’s free will if you did so to help them?

As well as layered characters, Simner crafts complex relationship webs. One particular scene near the end comes to mind when numerous characters clash and everyone fights for their own ideals. Final showdowns aren’t unique in novels, especially not in fantasy, but in most of these climatic scenes there’s a clear line drawn between sides and more often than not we know which side we’re expected to support. In FAERIE WINTER, you can’t draw any clear line down the middle. Each person has loyalties and enemies and values they will die to protect, but I dare you to try to divide all the characters into two simple camps. No matter how you split them up, someone will have a loyalty on the other side or an enemy on their side. That’s what makes this particular scene both so fun and so affecting as each individual tries to protect those they love, destroy those they despise, and drill home why their outlook on the world is the right one.

Friday, December 23, 2011

LOST VOICES


Review of LOST VOICES by SARAH PORTER
(review based on an advance reading copy)

I recently attended a literature conference (Sirens 2011) that focused on female monsters. The conference both deconstructed the concept of a monster and analyzed in what ways women and monsters meld together into one idea. Medusa is a prime example. She’s demonized in mythology as a hideous, malicious beast, but what exactly brought her to such a fate? According to one myth, Poseidon raped Medusa, once a beautiful maiden, in Athena’s temple. Medusa deserved punishment for “allowing” herself to be raped, and in the temple of the virgin goddess no less; therefore, Athena turned her into a gorgon. Sarah Porter’s haunting story takes another feminine demon, the siren-like mermaid, and gives her the depth and layers she deserves.

This story moved me right from the start. Luce has an unusual background and yet she remains relatable. Her mother died when she was young and Luce cannot reconcile her memories of the father she adored with the person people describe as a criminal who kidnapped her. Unfortunately, he, too, dies - in a storm at sea. Now Luce must live with her alcoholic uncle, who dated her mother before her father stole her away, and doesn’t keep his bitterness a secret. Drunken beatings are common for Luce now, but after the abuse escalates she tumbles off a cliff into the sea below. Instead of dying, she becomes a mermaid.

Not anyone can become a mermaid. The book speaks of a “dark shimmering” around not only all mermaids but all humans who have the potential to become a mermaid. I can’t think of one word to describe what this shimmering represents: darkness would be my easy choice, but it’s not always the same kind of darkness. Also, a rich, spoilt girl becomes a mermaid, even though her shimmering is less darkness and more emptiness.

At first Luce seems to have discovered the haven for which she longed. A tribe of mermaids finds her after her transformation and welcomes her into their midst. They explain about the timahk, the rules that govern mermaid tribes, such as the rule that states no mermaid is ever allowed to hurt another mermaid or the one that forbids they interact with humans. Violation of the timahk results in banishment from the tribe, an essential death sentence in a dangerous ocean.  

It doesn’t take Luce long to learn there’s a dark side to being a mermaid. Sometimes her pain rises up inside her, rises up in the form of a song, a song that lures humans to their deaths, lures ships to the rocks. She doesn’t want to murder anyone, but it seems to be part of being a mermaid. Even as she tries to fight it, she yearns to sing and her singing only brings destruction and death.

Men cannot become mermaids. This keeps the focus on the girls and their relationships. I confess that I’m filled with admiration for Porter that she managed to write a young adult story without romance that is no less compelling for the absence of boys and crushes. Friendships are plenty complex and well-written ones like these don’t need a romance subplot to keep the reader’s attention. There are already an abundance of star-crossed romances, but what about star-crossed friendships? Porter captures just that with the relationship between the tribe leader Catarina and Luce. The slang “frenemies” comes to mind, though it sounds like a cheap word for this convoluted, profound bond. Catarina both elevates Luce above the other girls and occasionally treats her with cold disdain. It all comes down to singing in mermaid society. The best singer leads the tribe, and Luce may just rival Catarina’s cruel but beautiful voice. 

Of course, what makes this book especially interesting is how many ways the status quo becomes upended. Luce discovers mermaids breaking the timahk and must decide whether to keep their secrets or reveal all and let them be exiled. New mermaids join the tribe, with their own sad tales, and some upset the order and calm that once existed more than others. The primary conflict, though, (the source of the tension between her and Catarina) remains Luce’s reluctance to come to terms with what she has become. Rather than accept that she’s a monster now, Luce practices her signing in private, hoping that with enough effort she can contort the malicious enchantment that slips from her lips into something good. While a noble and admirable goal, her ambition to change what it means to be a mermaid stirs things up more than she understands or can foresee.

Friday, December 16, 2011

DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD


Review of DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD by ANNE BISHOP
(first in THE BLACK JEWELS trilogy)

First off: I adore this book, this entire trilogy actually. Anne Bishop is now one of my favorite authors and the discovery of this scintillating, addictive series revitalized my love of reading and reminded me why it’s worth devouring book after book in search of the gems like these. Anne Bishop is up there with Laini Taylor on my list of favorite authors (even if it’s off topic, I have to toss in that Tamora Pierce is my first author love). As I’ve mentioned in my reviews Taylor’s work tends to hit my emotional sweet-spot, striking right past my intellect to visceral feelings and reactions. Bishop’s work does make me feel as well; don’t doubt that, because this high conflict series dredges forth every emotion I can imagine and not in small doses. However, THE BLACK JEWELS also engages my mind by presenting countless tantalizing questions about gender, class, power, honor, love, and violence, to name a few. Long after I put down her books, I’m thinking: about the world, the plot, the characters, and the questions it poses about real life.

Bishop has created a complex, intricate society that intertwines gender and power, creating a sharper and often more violent battle between the sexes. The thoughtfully crafted magical system fascinates me with every new detail, not to mention the very structured society in which everyone has a clear place depending on ranks both fiscal and magical, and, of course, depending on gender. I’m reading the trilogy as an omnibus that includes an insightful introduction by the author, wherein she describes a little of the intriguing “what if”s that led to THE BLACK JEWELS. If you don’t have that introduction in your book, it’s worth checking out!

In this world, different jewels represent magical rank. People have their Birthright Jewel, which varies from the lightest - white, yellow, tiger-eye, and rose - to the darkest: red, gray, ebon-gray, and finally black, the strongest and most dangerous jewel. (There’s a nice list of all the different jewels at the start of the book, including the middle ones that I didn’t mention.) Around puberty, individuals can make an offering to the Darkness, a ceremony that will hopefully descend their power to a darker jewel, though one can only descend a maximum of three jewels from their birthright and are not guaranteed to descend even one. Now here’s where Bishop changes up the status quo a little: women tend to be more powerful than men, often outranking them in jewels (magical strength). This society also hands women authority in numerous ways. To name a big example, women rules territories. Always. There isn’t even a question of men ruling in this book, though there are plenty of questions about different, better women ruling. Traditionally, a queen’s court is a positive example of mutual trust and protection. A good queen looks after all those in her court, is in fact fiercely protective of those who serve her. In return, the males protect their queen and other women in the court at times when the females might be more vulnerable. I mentioned that Bishop interlocks power and gender and this next twist is another example: women might be the more powerful gender but they are weaker at two points in their lives - before they lose their virginity and during their periods. In this world, a woman’s first time is less about love and passion and more about trust. A woman who is raped or treated roughly her first time can be “broken.” At the best, that term means the loss of her magic, but at the worst it also means the tortured, inescapable insanity Bishop coins the Twisted Kingdom. After their virgin night, though, women are much more secure in their own power. The only catch remaining is that their magic weakens during their moontime, meaning they must look to others for a web of mutual support. I’ve only described the society as it once was, but now a few malicious queens have contorted a social structure of trust and reciprocated respect into a corrupt, never-ending crusade to ensure males remain the subservient, ever-suffering gender, existing only for the whim of powerful females. Not that all the villains in this story are female. Many males who have been tortured, whether emotionally or physically, by pitiless, vindictive queens for too long (and let me mention that these supernatural “people” lives thousands of years) then look for weaker women on whom they can take out their frustration. For many of these men, it becomes a vengeful sport to “break” as many young women as possible before they can grow into the powerful but heartless queens these men fear.

Buckle up, because I’m not wrapping up yet. That’s only my condensed description of Bishop’s complex, imaged society. I still haven’t even grazed the plot of this specific epic. The story jumps between many different characters, but we have five clear heroes and heroines. Lucivar: an ebon-gray jeweled Eyrien (meaning he’s from a race that has wings) who opens the book but plays a relatively small role in DAUGHTER OF THE BLOOD. Saetan: the demon-dead (kind of like a cross between vampire and zombie stripped of most of the now common stereotypes) black jeweled High Lord of Hell who is both rash and terrifying as well as gentle, sweet, and grandfatherly. Daemon: the only other black jeweled male in this world, a pleasure slave who has a reputation for snapping in a very violent way every now and again when he’s tired of the abuse of his malevolent queen. These men have more in common than they know. All of them are waiting for a savior: Witch. That capitalized “W” counts for a lot! There are plenty of witches in this world, but Witch only comes every few thousand years at times of great need. She is referred to in the singular sense although throughout the years there have been many women who are Witch. (Never more than one at a time, mind you, and always spaced far apart.) Witch is an embodiment of hope, power, and change. She is both an individual woman and a pool of greater wisdom millennia older than herself. All that keeps Lucivar and Daemon from killing themselves to escape this cruel world is the hope that Witch is coming soon, that she will change everything. Daemon takes his longing to a new level, nourishing a fantasy that one day, rather than being an unwilling whore, he will become Witch’s eager and adored lover. Then there’s Surreal: a sly, cynical prostitute turned assassin who, though unapologetic for her flaws or past sins, seems more than a little lost. While the three male leads all share the same grand dream of Witch the savior, Surreal seems more focused on immediate goals and surviving each day in a harsh, lusterless world. Last but certainly not least there’s Jaenelle: Witch.

Let me sidetrack a little now, or rather step back. Daemon’s romantic fantasy surrounding Witch is the one reason some people I know dislike this book. Believe it or not, it’s not the violence; it’s that. Why? Because it turns out Witch is twelve. In Daemon’s defense, he never saw that coming. He assumed she would be a grown woman when he first meets her and this revelation strikes him as a cruel twist on what should be a joyous event. Contrary to some opinions, I don’t label Daemon a pedophile for this development. In fact, it raises a good point. He was never in love with a person; he was in love with an idea. Witch represents everything he wants and so he built her up in his mind exactly as he hoped: a mature, powerful woman who needs him both physically and emotionally. Now the reader has the captivating experience of watching a real relationship develop between Daemon and Jaenelle. Witch doesn’t need a lover at the age of twelve, but she does need a friend. Daemon realizes that, as usual, reality has turned out to be very different from the fantasy, but the fact remains that he wants to serve Witch, even if it isn’t in the manner he originally expected. 

Aside from a fascinating plot and complex characters, Bishop makes some interesting stylistic choices with her writing. One decision that jumped out at me is that there isn’t a single excerpt told from the perspective of Jaenelle, our twelve-year-old Witch. This elevates the sense of mystery surrounding a girl who does things that shouldn’t be possible, who seems lost and isolated in her own power, and who must find a balance between Jaenelle the child and Witch whose wisdom makes her seem older than any other character in the book. I have heard Jaenelle accused of being a Mary Sue, but I argue against that. Many characters do feel strongly towards her, be it adoration or hate (a typical Mary Sue marker), but there’s also a shocking number whose opinion of Jaenelle is, well, apathetic. Much to the anger of Daemon and Saetan who cannot escape their awe of Witch, most people don't recognize her for what she is. Though Jaenelle’s Birthright Jewel is Black (something entirely unheard of), her power is so strong that she struggles controlling it and hasn’t yet figured out how to target her magic to simple, small tasks. When she can’t perform any basic magic, her family assumes she has no power whatsoever, one of the many reasons she is their shameful secret, the black sheep.

The characters in this book sometimes feel like hyperboles of actual people. They are all extremely passionate, and everyone is always furious, despairing, or brimming with hope. Mundane moments or milder feelings are few and far between. Normally, I find this type of exaggeration falls into flat melodrama, but in this case it works. While the characters closely resemble humans, they’re not. They live longer and they feel more intensely. They’re also more animalistic, and Bishop even pulls on terminology from nature to describe traits or tendencies of these fantastical beings. She tosses in words like “growl,” “snarl,” and “hiss” in her dialogue with a frequency that might frustrate me if it didn’t seem so fitting for this society. Increased power comes hand in hand with increased hormones so that the strongest queens and princes can fly into rages at the smallest frustration. “Temperamental” is the diplomatic word Bishop often employs. Also, this is a work of romantic fantasy, and I believe (though I don’t read much in genre so I’m no expert) that impassioned characters are often a staple of the romance genre. It must be said that neither genre suffers for the other’s presence. Bishop manages to meet the usual genre expectations for both the fantasy and the romance elements without sacrificing the content in the other. If you need further proof, she has both devoted fans who read fantasy but rarely romance and ones who read romance but rarely fantasy. Ultimately, we’re all looking for a good story.

I want to go on. I warned you in my first paragraph that this is a series that starts my brain turning and I have yet to find an end to the list of questions THE BLACK JEWELS forces me to consider. If people can only increase their magical power so much from their Birthright Jewel, does that mean we cannot run far from whatever status we’re born into? Do women lead and men serve in this society because it’s in the very nature of these semi-human supernatural beings…or have they been socially trained from birth to believe this is the norm? Does violence beget more violence; are victims doomed to become abusers? Where’s the line between love and obsession? Does power always come with loneliness? Is it ever impossible for one to shake off the traumas of their past? Are the best epic stories those that follow a single, absurdly powerful individual or those wherein even the strongest can’t overcome evil without help? Okay, okay, I’ll stop listing questions, though that hardly means I’ll stop thinking of new ones.

Friday, December 9, 2011

DREAMDARK: SILKSINGER


Review of DREAMDARK: SILKSINGER by LAINI TAYLOR
(second in the DREAMDARK series)

You don't need to read BLACKBRINGER to read the second book of the DREAMDARK series: SILKSINGER. In BLACKBRINGER, Taylor nicely wrapped up the story so the book functions well both as a standalone and as part of a greater story. While set in the same world with characters and conflicts readers will recognize, SILKSINGER is an entirely fresh tale with an even more ominous threat.  

It’s no secret by now that I think Taylor writes memorable characters. Magpie, her silly crow brothers, and Talon feature prominently in SILKSINGER, but the new additions to the cast are equally compelling. Whisper actually reminds me of Taylor's own short story in LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES in which the woman’s voice will kill all who hear it, so she remains always silent. Whisper is a muted version of this same concept. Her fairy clan, the Silksingers, have magical voices, a gift she can’t always control. Thus she keeps her voice at a low whisper to avoid accidental magic. This soft-spoken nature causes many to underestimate her, but she will prove her bravery and determination more than once before the end of this book.

The romance between Talon and Magpie was so subtle in the first book as to be practically nonexistent. They are essentially pre-teen fairies; Talon is clearly attracted to Magpie but is too young to even recognize what he’s feeling. Magpie on the other hand is only barely pulling out of the “Boys? Ew!” stage. However, a second budding romance plus a dash of jealousy bring forward these relationships more than in the first book. On this subject, I’m impressed with how Taylor handles the gender roles in romance. A lot of rescuing occurs in these pages, but girls do the rescuing as much as they are the ones being rescued. The ultimate sense is that both are drawn to protect the other and neither could accomplish as much without that kind of support. I’m a cynical romance reader, but that’s a concept that wins me over.

As with BLACKBRINGER, significant loses occur within these pages. Taylor doesn’t go around killing off too many characters, but she’s not afraid to strike down favorites. Actually, deaths aren’t nearly as frequent as death scares. Numerous times a main character appears close to death only to be saved by a cohort at the last moment. However, what makes me still hold my breath every time is that real, irreversible deaths do occur, so you can’t always trust conveniently timed rescues. The writing and characters really suck me into these moments and I experienced, at different points, both elation that someone made it through against all odds and crushing disappointment when I realized the author wasn’t holding her punch this time. At least Magpie can still visit those who died. In the last book, she learned to slip into the Moonlit Gardens, the afterlife for fairies and other magical creatures, and she utilizes this skill for many different purposes throughout the story. Perhaps most touching, though, is when she comes to see someone she lost. Anyone who has lost someone beloved will envy her this power, but, whatever closure it might bring, it doesn’t erase her pain; she still yearns for them to return to the world of the living and mourns the years lost to an untimely death.

I have mixed feelings about the bad guy in this story, but I’m going to shy away from saying too much, since most of my comments give away important details. The short version is that I predicted something significant about the villain. Yet, even if that may have diminished my surprise, it didn’t lessen the threat or the tension. Not to mention that there are so many layers that it’s impossible to predict everything!

The saddest part of this book, though, doesn’t lie in the story, but outside in the real world. While BLACKBRINGER tied up all its ends, SILKSINGER trails off almost unfinished. Unfortunately, the publisher decided not to follow through with this series, so until the author finds another home for Magpie and Whisper and the others, we will be left to wonder for a while. Taylor’s blog says she has five books planned for the series and I for one hope they find a new home soon.

Friday, December 2, 2011

SONG OF THE WANDERER


Review of SONG OF THE WANDERER by BRUCE COVILLE
(second in THE UNICORN CHRONICLES)

There’s a lot of exposition in the first few chapters of SONG OF THE WANDERER, but Coville slips in details from the last book with admirable ease. Though experienced readers and writers will recognize the intent, the story never reads as an information dump. However, the first part of book moves rather slowly, suffering a little from what bibliophiles term "middle book syndrome." Before the story and action begins, there’s a long, relatively uneventful journey.

Of course, this is a short book (although it’s twice as long as its predecessor!), so even the slow bits are fairly fast reading. Besides, it’s well worth trudging along with Cara and her crew during the quieter portion of the journey, because when the pace picks up, oh boy does it pick up! The tension just keeps riser higher and higher near the end as the conflict escalates and unexpected surprises pile on.

I certainly don't mean to imply that the first half of the book is boring, either. As with many great series, we learn more about beloved characters from the previous book along with meeting plenty of new ones. Medafil the gryphon now joins the Squijum on my list of favorite UNICORN CHROINCLES characters. And, of course, our young but brave protagonist Cara deserves a spot up there herself.

SONG OF THE WANDERER might take a while to hit the same fast pace as INTO THE LAND OF THE UNICORNS, but once it starts moving it doesn’t slow. The end is stuffed with intriguing confrontations and revelations that promise much more excitement in future books.

Friday, November 25, 2011

THE GOLDEN COMPASS


Review of THE GOLDEN COMPASS by PHILIP PULLMAN
(first in HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy)

This is truly a work worthy of exuberant admiration. In HIS DARK MATERIALS, Pullman creates a vivid, detailed world with a grand, epic plot, complicated politics, and a varied assortment of memorable characters and relationships.

The book is fast-paced. Near the very start Lyra, our eleven-year-old protagonist, prevents an attempted murder and, through spying, learns of a mysterious substance called Dust, the mention of which seems to rile and rankle the adults around her. From there, it’s one climatic event after another as Lyra finds herself swept up in an intricate journey. She moves from one clear goal to the next, but throughout the book the sense builds that Lyra has a greater purpose, one she doesn’t know about yet and probably wouldn’t even understand if she did.

Let me backtrack and describe this world a little bit. Lyra lives at Jordan College in what seems an alternate universe to our own rather than a completely fictional construction. The geography is very similar, but history is quite different. What strikes me as the most obvious difference, however, is the dæmons. Every person is mystically linked to an animal, their dæmon, essentially a physical manifestation of their soul. Children’s dæmons can shapeshift into any creature, often symbolic of the human’s emotions, but during puberty the dæmon starts to remain in one form more than others until by adulthood it never changes from that form again. Do I need to mention the incredible metaphorical power of Pullman’s premise? And I’m only giving you a concise summary of an elaborate society. Pullman has carefully considered his imagined universe and understands how dæmons fit into this world. For example, when two people interact, so will their dæmons; however, the relationship between the latter is often all the more telling. Another intriguing fact is that humans, while they frequently touch their own dæmons, will never lay hands on another’s. As Lyra informs us, no one ever told her not to touch another person’s dæmon and yet she instinctually knows it’s forbidden, not by law but nature: it’s an unspoken rule.

Lyra is awesome. This story wouldn’t be half as incredible without her as the lead. She’s a spunky, fierce, brave, arrogant, funny, outspoken child who causes all kinds of mischief both mundane and heroic. Nor is she the only likable character. I personally adore books with a huge cast. I’ve met many people who don’t, because they say it becomes tricky to keep track of everyone, but I feel books overstuffed with characters both major and minor are far more realistic. Also, some authors (yes, Pullman) can pull it off and not once did I find myself mixing up characters or forgetting who someone was. Pullman shows us at least a little of everyone’s mind. Though there are lots of characters I adored, they never feel like cookie cutter heroes; each individual has their own morals, opinion, and vibrant personality. The villains are easy to pick out, but most of them believe they are doing right, not just for them but for the world. 

You will find every kind of emotion you can imagine in these pages from Lyra’s comedic, childish tomfoolery to the complicated adult romances she can’t yet comprehend to tragic losses that strike the reader with real grief. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: this is a beautiful, allegorical story about growing up both as an individual and as one tiny part of a huge, complex world.

Friday, November 18, 2011

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK


Review of THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by NEIL GAIMAN

An easy, quick read, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK possesses Gaiman’s distinct tone: deceptively formulaic enough to trick you into thinking you know what’s going to happen but then original enough to continually surprise you. In retrospect, the arch is clean and easy to map, but that doesn’t mean you see it coming when you’re reading. The book opens with a grisly start: a mysterious murderer dispatches an entire family…except the surprisingly competent baby who escapes to a nearby graveyard where the ghosts decide to raise and protect him.

From the very first scene, it’s clear that the story is building towards the principal confrontation at the end. That sometimes makes the rest of the book feel like filler until that moment, but Gaiman packs it full of enough interesting events along the way to distract the reader from the impending conflict. Also, the book has a very natural flow that tugs the reader along from one page until the next.

The writing takes a somewhat distanced approach to the characters, but I found myself nonetheless eagerly snatching up whatever small lines I could about each individual to piece together as much about them as possible. Sadly, the only one who didn’t win me over was Bod, our protagonist. His nickname is short for Nobody, what the ghosts named him once they decided to adopt him. It may very well be the author’s intent (and I’m still pondering Bod’s character), but sometimes Nobody did feel a little like a nobody. He has a few defining moments, but for the most part he feels underdeveloped and a little hollow. One might attribute his rather bland personality to the fact that he has been trapped in a graveyard all his life with mostly only dead company, but I would expect a mixed bag of ghosts from different centuries and backgrounds serving as family to make a person more interesting, not less.

This is a book that raises as many or more questions than it answers, but satisfies by covering all the major ones. Even if Nobody Owens didn’t captive me, his surrounding cast did and my mind toyed with the characters after the book ended, imagining what’s next for my favorites.

Friday, November 11, 2011

DREAMDARK: BLACKBRINGER


Review of DREAMDARK: BLACKBRINGER by LAINI TAYLOR
(first in the DREAMDARK series) 

I want to start by describing Taylor's fairies and the words tiny, whimsical, and fierce immediately leap to mind. Now that could be because I'm subconsciously stealing from the quote on the cover by Holly Black: "Laini Taylor's faeries are whimsical and tiny, but fierce" or that those adjectives are simply spot-on. In some ways, these seem like your typical fairies. Typical might seem vague now that are so many stories about fairies of all types, but I'm referring to the small ones about the size of a palm that seem quaint by their size alone. However, there's an edge to Taylor's fairies. The one this story follows, named Magpie, spends her days hunting down demons.

I liked the magic system in this world, a funny combination of vague and specific that functions quite well. The role of humans also seems standard for a fey story. We're the foolish ones who keep screwing with the world's order in ways that we're too stupid to comprehend. In this case, a long time ago there was a great war between fairies and demons. For reasons that are explained later, it's always better to capture and imprison a demon than to kill it and so the fairies managed to lock away all the demons, mostly in ordinary bottles. An obvious Pandora's box metaphor, humans see a strange, corked bottle and they want to know what's inside. So the humans go around opening these bottles and releasing demons into the world while fairies like Magpie and her parents clean up the mess.

Most of the demons are crude, brutish things with more brawn than brain. As long as Magpie keeps clear of whatever fangs or claws each one possesses, she can usually dispatch them without too much difficulty. However, an even worse kind of demon has been released, one that Magpie's not sure she knows how to handle.

In earlier reviews, I've professed my adoration of all books by Laini Taylor and this one is no exception. The story held me beginning to end, and any loss or failure on the part of the characters struck me with a strong emotional "Nooo!" and sometimes even a desperate "Maybe if I go back and read it again, it won't happen that way this time!" Also, Magpie is a very relatable protagonist. She's a rare combination of youthful and wise, something that seems entirely believable for her character. She's probably a pre-teen by fairy standards, but given that they live much longer than us, you would expect a pre-teen fairy to have more life experience than a pre-teen human.

The writing flourishes with Taylor's distinct style and she builds a story with such natural ease that you can forget about the writer and immerse yourself in the world.

Friday, November 4, 2011

LIAR

Review of LIAR by JUSTINE LARBALESTIER

Wow, do I ever admire Larbalestier for this book. It's tempting to play it safe as a writer - go with characters, settings, plot formulas that consistently do well - but I will always respect those who don't, who try something that hasn't been tested yet or that doesn't always succeed. In this case, LIAR has an unreliable narrator, something that can make a book soar high or flop hard and definitely a description that can turn off a potential reader. Why should I read a book where I can't trust anything the narrator says to be true? Because Larbalestier pulls it off; that's why.

I'll admit the style is the slightest bit confusing at first. If you read the back of the book, like I did, you know going in that Micah is unreliable: a liar. So I was immediately on guard not to believe a word from the start and that made for an unusual reading experience. Additionally, this book isn't sorted into standard chapters. Rather it's divided into short sections (less than a page to a few pages), some of which are entitled "before" and some "after." Before and after what? you may wonder. Right near the start we learn that Micah's boyfriend has died, possible been murdered. That’s the event around which this story centers.

The reason that this unreliable narrator works is because she's a real, likable teenager. Micah won me over and I wanted to keep reading whether she was lying to me or not. Also, there’s more to the plot than a girl who lies all the time. Or there isn't, depending on what you believe and what you don't! I at least believe that Micah's boyfriend really did die, and that there was some kind of foul play. Their realistic relationship also grounded the story, since it’s a dynamic I don't see too much of in YA fiction despite seeing a lot of it in real life.

Some of Micah's lies are easy to see coming when she confesses later. Some of them really sneak up on you! While Larbalestier does an amazing job with an unreliable narrator, the readers still need to resign themselves to an ending open to interpretation. Really, an entire book open to interpretation. One could spend hours arguing over the lies and the truths. Yes, Micah does claim to tell you the real truth in the end, but there's plenty of reason to still believe otherwise.

I want to believe Micah's last version of her story, implausible as it is, but that might be naive. While I admit that not knowing for certain did occasionally drive me crazy, I still took away from this book two points Micah made about lying that really resonated with me. The first: that lying is easier than one might imagine, because the victim wants to believe the lie. If they don't, they feel negative emotions such as anger and humiliation that someone would try to deceive them and that they almost bought it. So many hop along with the lies rather than play the guessing game of "is she/isn't she telling me the truth?" That may very well explain why I choose to believe Micah’s latest version of the story rather than wonder if this entire book masks yet another truth.

Whether or not Micah's final tale is the truth I still cling to the second, more personal, point she made about lying: that she lies to cover up the real truth, because it’s so convoluted and outrageous that no one would believe it. She would rather have people disbelieving her lies than her truth. If I trust nothing else that Micah said, I believe that.

Friday, October 28, 2011

LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES

Review of LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES by LAINI TAYLOR


Anyone who read my zealous review of Laini Taylor’s most recent book DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE might not be surprised to learn that she’s making her way up the ranks of my favorite authors. Since I enjoyed DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE so much, I have been reading her older works. I’m loving everything. I finished LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES, a collection of three stories, in one day.


Taylor’s writing is spectacular. With all her books and stories, I find myself pausing to admire utterly unique turns of phrase, many of which so concisely capture the current emotions or situation that you wonder how you’ve never read or heard this combination of words before. Now it’s time for some honesty: as a writer working towards publishing my own books, sometimes admiration for brilliant authors can be tainted with a little of that ugly sentiment: jealously. Somehow Taylor’s writing, stunning as it is, doesn’t stir up any envy. It inspires. When I read writing like this, I remember why I love to read, why I love to write, why my life is practically devoted to these two activities. Taylor’s writing is entirely her own, a goal to which most authors aspire, and it shoves its way past your mind towards those emotion-laden concepts: your heart and your soul.


All three of these dark stories tantalize and linger. Both fresh and familiar, they tap into folklore and fairy tale elements, but the emotions make them relevant to today and any day. The title of the book makes more sense once you read the stories; all three of them utilize kissing as a key component. In fact, the pronounced overarching theme of the collection echoes off the page: love and wanting.


For the first story I want to share an excerpt from the brief prologue, which succinctly captures the premise and tone of the tale:


There is a certain kind of girl that the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.


Them.


The second story has a slight ELLA ENCHANTED feel with magic that binds one’s will until overwhelming helplessness makes them feel trapped in their own body. Due to one strange woman’s peculiar relationship with a demon, the innocent victim Anamique is cursed as a baby: if she ever utters a single sound every person in the room will die. Unlike ELLA ENCHANTED in which the protagonist knows without a doubt that her curse is real because it affects her every day, Anamique constantly battles doubt. What if the real curse is that some cruel person has convinced her of this mad, fictional spell? What if she’s silencing herself for no good reason? Of course, testing the curse would be a dangerous game. As usual, Taylor plays well with her setup and this story, if it didn’t break my heart, still fractured it again and again.


The third and last story is the darkest and most mature, closer to the type of fairy tales for which the Grimm brothers are famous rather than the happily-ever-after, mellowed-down-villain versions in abundance today. For this one, I fear telling you too much will ruin the experience, so suffice it to say that this story plays with folklore about the more sinister fascinations that fey folk have with mortals.


I loved every story in LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES too much to rank or compare them. Each is its own unique and beautiful tale. And Laini Taylor is definitely an author to watch!

Friday, October 21, 2011

WHO FEARS DEATH

Review of WHO FEARS DEATH by NNEDI OKORAFOR


This is an ominous tale worthy of shudders, not due to any fantastical beasts but because the story is filled with the dark side of humanity that, sadly, doesn’t feel at all unrealistic or exaggerated. The redemptions here are plenty: strong writing, haunting characters, stirring relationships, and politics both familiar and magical. Despite the book’s virtues, it wasn’t easy to stomach the violence and cruelty that’s almost mundane in Onyesonwu’s life. This is a beautiful, terrible book and I’m grateful that it was difficult to read.


Onyesonwu has been dealt a painfully inequitable burden in life: she is a child of rape and her lighter skin marks her as such. Those who don’t think she should be killed still hardly consider her an equal. Right near the start of the book the war rape of Onyesonwu’s mother, along with many other women, is described in vivid, excruciating detail. I have read my share of violence, including a lot of rape, but this particular scene skyrocketed to the most agonizing that I have ever read. I was quite seriously tempted to toss the book to the floor and bolt to the bathroom. My stomach rebelled not so much at the level of violence but at just how real it felt. Honestly, though, I think that’s good. There’s something irresponsible about rape scenes that are easy to read. I’m not against violence in books but I do find myself worked up when it’s clearly thrown in there for “spice.” If I’m going to read a rape scene, I want it to make my skin crawl like this one did. I want to be reminded that this really happens - this part isn’t fantasy - and that the emotional consequences last far longer than the actual rape.


However, if you think you’re through the worst of it after reading that scene, think again. Before I even had a chance to compose myself, I stumbled into the circumcision scene. The sting of this one doesn’t lie so much in violence, but more in how it’s drawn out. It’s clear that Onyesonwu can leave at any point, but she has a desperate hope that her peers will accept her if she goes through the same eleventh year rite as all the other girls. I won’t revel whether or not she goes through with the circumcision, but it’s a long scene that actually roused my adrenaline as I mentally begged Onyesonwu to leave while she still could. Okorafor describes each minute in detail, reminding the reader that Onyesonwu’s opportunity to back out is ticking away.


Horror and hope are well-balanced in this world, even though there’s such a heavy dose of horror. Onyesonwu’s magic, in a sense, stems from pain, something she struggles with daily. She’s not a pure storybook victim who takes the beatings from fate without doling out anything herself. She can be rash and commits some terrible actions, but I could always understand her motivations and how her traumatic past has filled her with so much anger.


A small, bright light of comfort can be found in Onyesonwu’s friendships. Friends are few and not easy to find for her, but circumstance brings her a handful that prove touchingly loyal, even if their fear of her still shines through on occasion. The romantic relationship that she enters into is also full of such depth that I will probably only undermine it if I attempt to summarize.


One last quirk that I want to mention is the connection to ZAHRAH THE WINDSEEKER. Those who have read the book or my review might as surprised as I was to learn there’s a link between such vastly different books. Well, it’s extremely subtle. Really, just one line, one little detail, that doesn’t play a significant role in this story at all, but will leave readers familiar with both books pondering for long after.


WHO FEARS DEATH is a rough, emotional read. I cringe at telling anyone not to read an amazing book, but this is definitely one that will always come along with a cautionary disclaimer after any gushing. I am filled with admiration for how Okorafor handles such disturbing subject matter, but I admit to still feeling a little traumatized every time I even think about this book. Again, in an odd way, that’s a good thing. I prefer my trauma in books than in real life, because it can be a safe way to learn more about the world without needing to have the same horrific experiences as, say, Onyesonwu. Still, fictional trauma, when done well, drags along the reminder that this is a reality for someone. Those reminders, which can be life altering, are one of the primary reasons I read.

Friday, October 14, 2011

TRIS & IZZIE

Review of TRIS & IZZIE by METTE IVIE HARRISON

(Review based on an advance reading copy)


TRIS & IZZIE transfers the story of Tristan and Isolde to a high school setting. Izzie, our protagonist, has the perfect life until she makes the mistake of fiddling around with magic. Though Izzie has a wonderful relationship with her boyfriend Mark, she senses that her best friend Branna might be a little lonely for a romance of her own. Since Izzie’s mother is a witch, her mind jumps to the easy solution and she tries to use a love philtre on Branna and the odd-but-handsome new guy Tristan. Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan, and Izzie accidentally drinks the philtre herself.


It took me three to five pages to go along with the tone of the book. The description of Tristan and Isolde transferred to a high school setting might have set me up with the wrong expectations at first. The book, while still a delightful read, is more whimsical than realistic, more humorous than tragic. A lot of the dialogue felt slightly more plot-serving than something I can imagine teenagers actually saying and the characters seem more like people from a fairy tale than a real high school campus. While it took me a few pages to accept the atmosphere, it all works well for the story.


The book doesn’t waste any time. We meet Izzie and Mark and see a brief glimpse of their relationship in line one and we have conflict between Izzie and her best friend Branna on page two. The story line isn’t an exact parallel to the Tristan and Isolde tale, so readers can expect some surprises.


A woman torn between two wonderful men, trying to have them both. That sets the writer a challenge to make her likable, and Harrison jumps over this hurdle: Izzie is very likable. She walked into this situation by messing with magic, but it’s debatable whether her feelings for Tristan are her own or entirely forced from the love philtre. Her eagerness to help her friend early on won me over. In fact, most of the characters demonstrate remarkable maturity throughout in their desire for others’ happiness. Definitely a book that inspires faith in humanity.


The role of will in love is perhaps the most prominent theme. Izzie is perfectly happy with Mark until a love philtre makes her fall for Tristan instead. Does that mean her feelings for Tristan aren’t real? Or is the philtre merely an excuse? I saw parallels to alcohol with this, especially in the sense that the substance can be used as a social crutch. “It wasn’t me; it was the alcohol.”


TRIS & IZZIE is a fun read, especially since Harrison makes the story her own. Its greatest strength, in my opinion, is the characters. For all their complications and flaws, all the main characters are good people and their self-sacrifices and loyalty make this book a refreshing alternative to the abundance of dark, dreary stories out there.

Friday, October 7, 2011

RAMPANT

Review of RAMPANT by DIANA PETERFREUND


At first, RAMPANT seems like a twist on unicorn mythology; in Peterfreund’s portrayal unicorns are violent, aggressive, and deadly. However, as the author herself points out, her version of the unicorn is actually the more historically accurate one. Astrid, our protagonist, discovers that she descends from a long line of unicorn hunters and a reemergence of the bloodthirsty beasts forces her into a lifestyle that she can’t even comprehend.


I wanted to like this book more than I did. I’ve heard only good things, but for some reason it fell a little flat for me. All of my criticisms are specific, petty complaints that individually can’t ruin a book for me, but together kept me from being enveloped into this imagined world. After some thought, I realized all the little details that distracted me can be summarized into two main points: the story often felt both unbelievable and contrived. However, because the book raises such imperative topics with an incredible candor I still consider it a worthwhile read.


The fact that I found a book about killer unicorns unbelievable deserves a mental chuckle, but fellow readers, especially fantasy readers, know what I mean. I have read many books with preposterous, ridiculous, or plain silly premises that somehow suspend any skepticism and unfold a “what if” in your mind like it really could be an alternate universe just out of our reach. I wanted RAMPANT to be one of those books where each character, setting, conversation, and action comes with a clear mental picture that will forever live on in my mind, but I found myself constantly distracted by little things. In particular I wanted to picture these unicorns, since they clearly differ from standard depictions, but descriptions sometimes clashed and I could never form a mental image. The chaotic action scenes also left me confused and I often had to re-read passages multiple times. Astrid’s voice never clicked into place; she always felt more like a character than a person and for that matter a character trying a little too hard to be a teenager. I often struggled to follow her sudden mood or opinion changes and couldn’t understand the logic behind her actions and decisions. Other characters suffered similar fallbacks. Caricatures is too harsh an assessment since all of them are so close to feeling realistic, but some tiny detail in each made them fall short of convincing me.


Whenever I use “contrived” to describe a book, I mean that I’m too aware of the author. The story wasn’t quite fleshed out enough and I often saw major events as mere plot devices, which detracted from any emotional impact. I can’t explain why, but I foresaw Astrid’s cousin Philippa’s latter role in the story as soon as she was introduced. I also wanted to know more about how magic works, why unicorns behave the way they do, and why only certain families can hunt them. It really bothered me that Astrid and the others simply go along with murdering unicorns, because people tell them they must do so without any additional explanation. It’s only at the end of the book that Astrid and her fellow unicorn hunters begin asking questions I feel they should have asked before they ever picked up a weapon.


I still think this book is worth reading! Despite the fact that I never fell in love with the story the way I anticipated, I found it enjoyable throughout. Yet even that isn’t why I consider this book worth reviewing and recommending. RAMPANT contains some primal themes and the nature of its premise allows for a much franker discussion of sensitive topics than teenagers, or adults for that matter, are likely to find many other places. The subjects I want to mention are sex (which is really an umbrella label for a LOT of different discussions) and endangered species.


One part of unicorn mythology that stays fairly consistent is the creature’s fascination with female virgins. In RAMPANT and countless tales before, virgin girls pacify the wild, hostile unicorns and, thus, are often used as hunting tools: the bait to lure the prey. The nature of this mythology already creates a preoccupation with purity and virginity that cannot be untangled from the rest of the story and pushed aside. Astrid’s mother desperately urges her daughter to preserve her virginity, but less for the usual reasons and more because if Astrid is no longer a virgin she cannot be a unicorn hunter. At times Astrid is even tempted to sleep with someone merely to escape a path she feels forced into by her mother. This metaphorically addresses how many teenagers (and, yes, adults as well) sleep with people for the wrong reasons. The book also tackles rape with a rare openness. In particular, RAMPANT forces readers to acknowledge exactly what can be considered rape. There are many different kinds, but women whose experience doesn’t fall under extremely violent penile penetration by a stranger are often even more likely to keep their mouths shut. The experience is humiliating enough without explaining the details to everyone.


Another forefront theme is unicorns as an endangered species. In fact, those who know of these creatures’ existence already believed them to be extinct, but unicorns are reemerging. Part of why I couldn’t invest in this story fully is also why I think it’s important discussion fodder. Astrid and her fellow unicorn hunters are told very little: unicorns are evil monsters and the teenagers must kill these beasts. I was deeply bothered that none of these girls demanded more information before they followed orders and slay, by gruesome means, what seemed to be more like animals acting on instinct. Humans, along with other creatures, have a widely acknowledged fear of the unknown. Oftentimes, what scares us or differs from us we would like to see erased from the world. Though my opinion did alter a little as the story unfolded, at first I saw unicorns more like sharks or crocodiles: predators but not evil and certainly not deserving of intentional, violent extinction.


While I regret that the story didn’t wrap around me as I had hoped, I still find myself pondering the candid discussions to which it leads the reader. The metaphorical but frank discussion of sex doesn’t impose any opinions, but rather poses question after question to be collected and considered. The theme of endangered species also branches out into other serious topics about killing and fear of the unknown. Whether or not you can jump into Astrid’s world, you will find an abundance of relevant, noteworthy issues stuffed into these pages.

Friday, September 30, 2011

WARRIOR

Review of WARRIOR by MARIE BRENNAN

(first in the DOPPELGANGER duology)


The premise of this book can be reduced to a concise hook: Miryo is a witch in training. Mirage is a bounty hunter. Miryo learns she cannot use her magic until she kills the doppelganger she never knew she had: Mirage. Remember, Mirage is a ruthless, expertly trained bounty hunter, so this isn’t exactly going to be easy.


By the nature of both Mirage’s career path and her impending confrontation with Miryo, intense action scenes find their way into almost every chapter. I’m not normally inclined toward action heavy books; I often find myself skimming the fight or flee scenes for the end result. Yet Brennan writes these scuffles with such urgency and clarity that each moment held my attention…even though I’m not familiar with all the terminology for specific kicks and strategies!


I don’t want to make it sound as though action is all this book has to offer. There are a lot of politics and well-paced mysteries as both Miryo and Mirage work to understand a world that defies their previous assumptions. I can be a very skeptical reader and there were many times when I braced myself for a contrived, cheesy, or cliché resolution to a problem. For inevitable events, such as when Miryo and Mirage finally meet or the many smaller stepping stones of necessary revelations, the author has her work cut out for her. The reader expects a reasonable amount of emotion and dramatics for an event of that magnitude not to mention understandable actions and conversations from the characters. Oh, and it still has to be interesting. I approached each of these critical moments with wariness, but Brennan pulled them off every time.


The magic in this world seems well-developed with its own checks and balances as well as cans and cannots. While the reader isn’t attacked with exposition about how magic works, what can be gathered from statements or conversations pieces together without any noticeable logic lapses.


The premise raises a lot of imperative questions about survival and killing. Though filtered down to a one on one situation, it’s easy to see parallels to war. Experienced witches have warned Miryo that if she doesn’t kill her doppelganger, her magic will spiral out of control, killing her and most likely many other innocent people. The only way Miryo can even contemplate this violent task is by thinking of Mirage as “it.” She pushes away her objections to murdering a human being and tries instead to stuff the action into the mental category of survival versus an inhuman threat. Convincing herself that this act is necessary is the only way she can live with it.


Though part of a duology, the book reads as a stand alone novel and ends without any vital plot threads left dangling. The end, as with the other crucial moments of the book, impressed me. Brennan sometimes backs her characters into such tricky corners that I don’t see how they’re going to find their way out without a painfully flimsy explanation. The end was a little like that and as the story drew down to its final pages, I feared a brisk wrap-up, but once again Brennan took me pleasantly by surprise.

Friday, September 23, 2011

JANNI LEE SIMNER

Interview with JANNI LEE SIMNER

Janni Lee Simner is the author of the post-apocalyptic YA faerie tales BONES OF FAERIE and FAERIE WINTER, as well as of the Icelandic-saga based THIEF EYES. She's also published four books for younger readers and more than 30 short stories, including one in the WELCOME TO BORDERTOWN anthology. BONES OF FAERIE received the 2010 Judy Goddard/Libraries Ltd. Young Adult Author Award.

What are you reading right now?

SILENCE by Michelle Sagara, which is due out next year. I love her adult SUN SWORD novels (written as Michelle West), so I'm really excited about this book, which is her first YA.

Books already out that I've loved the past few months include Karen Healey's THE SHATTERING, Megan Crewe's GIVE UP THE GHOST, Sarah Rees Brennan's THE DEMON’S LEXICON, Roseanne Parry's SECOND FIDDLE (not a fantasy, but very much about the importance of art in our lives), and Malinda Lo's HUNTRESS.

What first sparked your interest in writing?

So many things! I was the sort of kid who was always telling herself stories, so in a sense I was always a writer. I also immersed myself deeply in playing pretend games, long past the age when anyone admits to still playing them, and that was a part of becoming a writer, too. And of course, I've always been a reader. Sometimes, if you don't find that book you want to read, you have to go out and write it!

What do you love the most about writing? The least?

I most love the moments when I'm deeply immersed in the story, and the words are flowing, and the characters seem just a little bit real. I also love the revision process, taking the rough words already on the page and turning them into an actual story.

I probably least love all the waiting involved in being a writer: waiting to finish writing a book, waiting to sell it, waiting for it to come out … being a writer has forced me to learn patience, something that doesn't come to me naturally!

Do you have a writing process?

My writing process is as much a rewriting as a writing process. I don't outline ahead of time (unless I need an outline as a sales tool), and I do go through at least five drafts to get a completed book.

- The first draft is the one where I pretty much tell the wrong story. By writing the wrong story--and seeing why it's the wrong story-- I learn things I need to know about the right story.

- The second draft is the one that's sort of kind of is somewhere in the neighborhood of the right story.

- The third draft is the one where I tell the right story, but use all the wrong words.

- The fourth draft is the one where I begin finding the right words, and along the way straightening out muddled character and story arcs.

- The fifth draft is the one where I smooth out all the things that are almost there, and polish the prose more deeply as well.

On top of that, I usually do a bunch more rewrites to get the ending to click into place.

I sort of think of myself as honing in on the story as I go. With each new draft, layers get added to the story, and so every draft has a role to play in making the final book as strong as it can be.

What are your passions?

I'm a serial hobbyist, so what I'm passionate about changes over time. A few things have remained constant through the years, though: a love of writing, an interest in doing volunteer work with kids, and a love of hiking and camping and the outdoors.

What inspires you?

I draw a lot of inspiration from natural world and various places I've visited. Wherever I go, I want to understand the land I'm walking on (whether I'm in a wilderness area or in a city where that land is more hidden beneath all the layers of buildings and people who live there) and how it shapes the people who live there. I've had several books (published and to be written) begin with a landscape.

Why fantasy?

I've always read fantasy, so it never really occurred to me to write anything else! I love magic, in our world and in other worlds, for its own sake and for the things it teaches us about what it means to be human and to live and survive in our non-magical world.

I love what Jane Yolen says about fantasy in her collection of essays, TOUCH MAGIC, which I think gets to the heart of one of the things fantasy is all about:

"And for adults, the world of fantasy books returns us to the great words of power which, in order to be tamed, we have excised from our adult vocabularies. These words are the pornography of innocence, words which adults no longer use with other adults, and so we laugh at them and consign them to the nursery, fear masking as cynicism. These are the words that were forged in the earth, air, fire, and water of human existence, and the words are:
                Love. Hate. Good. Evil. Courage. Honor. Truth."

I have that posted above my desk.

Why young adult?

I've always loved coming of age stories, so I've always tended to write stories with teen protagonists who are living right on the edge of that time when everything begins to change.

It took me a while to realize those stories were YA, though--I started off assuming I was writing for adults, just with younger characters. Then I noticed how much more enthusiastic the rejection letters I was receiving from YA editors were than those I was getting from adult editors, I took another look at both my work and at the books I loved to read, and I began more consciously calling what I wrote YA.

I also have written books for younger children, along with the occasional short story for adults.

How was BONES OF FAERIE born?

BONES OF FAERIE began with an opening scene that wouldn’t let me go. I don't know where that scene came from. I do know that once I wrote it, I had to tell the rest of the story. Only I didn't know how to--I didn't know what happened next, and I also just wasn't yet a good enough writer to tell the story well. So I went off and wrote some other things, but every few years I came back to BONES OF FAERIE’s opening, until I was ready to write the book that went with it.

All told it took me 12 years from writing that opening to finish the book!

How much do the fey and magic in BONES OF FAERIE pull from folklore and how much is your own invention?

It's a mix. Ballads and stories and bits of folklore did contribute to the book, but the elements drawn from them were in many ways transformed when seen through the lens of the book's post-apocalyptic war between faeries and humans. Glamour, for instance, became much harsher in FAERIE WINTER (BONES OF FAERIE’s sequel) than in the stories where I'd seen it used, because the world in which I was using it was harsh, too. And there are other elements that are entirely my own, including the quia trees that once grew only in Faerie, and that become increasingly important with each Faerie book.

A book in which I stuck a little more closely to existing canon than in the Faerie books was THIEF EYES, which is based on my reading of the Icelandic sagas. I think how close one sticks to the known folklore depends a lot on the story being told.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Be stubborn! Stubborn enough to keep learning, keep revising, and keep becoming a better writer; and also stubborn enough to keep submitting your work. Just because you don't sell quickly doesn't mean you won't sell. The authors who break in quickly and spectacularly are the most noticeable, but that's only one way to build a career. This is a paced game--more of a marathon than a sprint--and it's worth being in it for the long haul.

Learn the business, but keep as much focus as you can on the craft and the process of writing. That's where the joy comes from, and that's where you'll find the things to sustain you over that long haul.

Ignore any writing advice you hear that doesn't work for you, even mine. There are many ways to write, and no one way works for everyone. Try everything, keep the advice that works for you, and ditch the rest. Ultimately, you're trying to find your own way and your own processes.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I like gelato. I don't like chocolate. I think the Star Wars movies should have stopped with the original trilogy, and I try to pretend the later movies never happened. I used to love unicorns, and then I hated them, but now I love them again.

I've just turned in the third and final Faerie book (from Liza's point of view, anyway) to my editor. So many years after writing BONES OF FAERIE’s opening scene, it feels like Liza and I have traveled a long way together, and I'm going to miss her.