Welcome to the first Monday in May - time again for Wicked Cool Overlooked Books.
As always, these books are not necessarily overlooked by the whole world - just me - and I'm excited to find them and celebrate them, occasionally along with Colleen, and an assortment of other people.
Anyone who's ever read anything I've written, from grad school on, knows I'm fascinated by family dynamics, and I'm a sucker for families that stick together through adversity. One of my favorite YA series was Cynthia Voight's Dicey's Song, the story of the Tillerman kids who were basically abandoned, and Dicey kept the family together. They managed to snag Tyne Daly as their grandmother, though, which meant they lived Happily Ever After. Kinda. At least in the Lifetime Movie.
I kind of fell in love with Alex and Nicky in The Demon's Lexicon. Nicky was not exactly endearing, but the force of the love his brother had for him just blew me away. So, it was a real treat to find Rob Thurman's Nightlife.
There are definite similarities to the two stories - both brother tales, both BIG PROBLEMS with the little brother -- but there the similarities fade. Cal is 17 and is mostly being raised by his older brother, Niko, who is perfect in every way, much to Cal's disgust. (Cal calls Niko Cyrano, since aside from being tall with waist-length blonde hair, his rather imposing nose is his only flaw.) Unlike our first pair of brothers, Niko is definitely the better at doing the heavy lifting -- he's bossy, makes Cal work out and pick up his share of the chores, and he has a sword and a number of black belts to back him up. Cal is all little brother -- sarcastic, annoying, and very amusing -- all of which is a cover for a lot of fear. His brother is all the family he really has, since his mother loathes him -- and makes sure Cal knows it, every chance she gets. Cal's father was only on scene long enough to impart his DNA, which is a big part of his mother's resentment. Oh, and Mom says Dad's a monster -- making Cal a half-monster.
Cal's whole name is Caliban. Mom knows her classics... and hates her son. The depth of his older brother's love for him is shown in the simple fact that Niko refuses to call Caliban anything but Cal. He refuses to believe his brother is a monster.
Which brings us back to Niko's sword.
Weird things happen around Cal. "Weird things" like monsters with teeth and claws. When they were younger, they started calling the "weird things" Grendels... like in Beowulf. The Grendels, which are actually Auphe, or what humans think of as elves, are always after Cal, and Niko is determined to protect him. They move a lot. They keep a low profile. Niko, a highly respected martial artist, runs Cal through his paces daily. But one night, a creature with teeth and claws knocks at Cal's window. It's his monstrous DNA donor .. and there's no escape. The Grendel wants his son.
“One hand was splayed on the glass with long thin fingers and skin as pale as the moon. A narrow, pointed face grinned at me with a thousand needle teeth and the predatory cheer of a fox in the henhouse. Slanted almond-shaped eyes glowed with sullen reds, scarlet as blood.”
These aren't your pretty monsters, by any means.
He's only gone for two days, by Niko's count. But when Cal gets back, two years have passed. None of his clothes fit, and he is gaunt and battered and can barely recall how to speak. Cal remembers nothing of the harrowing time away, least of all how he got back, or why his father wanted him. But it's soon clear his father didn't let him go. The Grendels are after them again, and their backs are to the wall.
It looks like there's no choice but to come out fighting.
This book, which came out in 2006, wasn't marketed specifically to young adults, but I very much think it would appeal. Anyone who likes a slightly edgy, slightly scary paranormal SF set in a big city with a lot of action will find this enjoyable. From the troll that lives under the Brooklyn Bridge to the Central Park Boggle to the used-car salesman Rob Fellows who is actually Robin Goodfellow, and really obsessed with his clothes - the cast of characters is bizarre and colorful and add a little bit of comic relief when things get tense. Niko and Cal depict a realistic sibling closeness - which means they periodically knock each other over, but all in the most loving fashion. Rob Thurman - whose whole name is Robyn - is an awesome writer, and this is an enjoyably fast-moving roller coaster of a novel which will whet your appetite for the rest of the series. I highly recommend it.
On Rob Thurman's site, the cover illustrations for the Japanese language version of the novel are really cute. The U.S. covers are illustrated by Chris McGrath.
You'll find Nightlife, and Moonshine, as well as Madhouse, Deathwish,and Roadkill from an independent bookstore near you!