October 08, 2010

Cybils SFF Bookmark: Curses and Reptiles and Cats, Oh My!

Greetings from another year of Cybils reading! I'm pleased with myself this week because I've managed to rewrite the ending to a novel FOUR TIMES and finally am slightly more satisfied and I managed a bit of reading as well. Hopefully over the weekend I can pick up the slack.

The King Commands (Tales of the Borderlands), by Meg Burden: Healer Ellin is still solely focused on making amends for maiming instead of healing with her telepathic Gift, but only makes matters worse as her choice to assist the man who killed his father forces Alaric, first her friend, and now her King, brings her under suspicion of high treason. Alaric is forced to banish her from the kingdom. Sending with her Gareth, the King's youngest brother, lessens the blow, but Ellin, whose hopeful romantic interest in the King has already left her crushed is now heartbroken and furious.

Ellin would never have tried so hard to heal Lev's mind if it weren't for the strange dreams plaguing her sleep, dreams she is sure he is sending. There's a man in a forest, in a clearing. Why does he seem so familiar? And what, if anything, do the dreams have to do with the tension in the Northlands, and the war between the Guardians and the Southlands?
No longer truly of the Southlands or the North, Ellin is lost in her now hostile homeland, and feeling her fledgling gifts turn strange, as her healing skills fade and the strange prophetic dreams continue. When matters force she and her companions to once again join the True Southlanders, it rapidly becomes clear that the greater threat to both the Northlands and the Southlands is the Guardians, whose devious reach spans almost the whole of the Southlands, and strikes deep into the heart of the North.

They must be stopped -- now. For the cost to the South -- and now to the North – has suddenly become much, much too high.

In a richly imagined addition to the Tales of the Borderlands series, the new novel from Meg Burden titled, The King Commands continues the story of the Southland healer and the Northland princes whose lives have intertwined as they battle against years of prejudice that has divided their lands. Burden's deft characterization and meticulous descriptions immediately plunge the reader into a maelstrom of events. It's a brisk gallop to keep up, but the story flows well in the writer’s capable hands; readers will be eagerly turning pages, and looking for more when they’re through.

Copy courtesy of the author.

White Cat, Black Curse, by Holly Black: Cassel would really like to feel like he fits in somewhere, but it's not easy when his whole life is a pretense. His mother is in jail for playing a con on a rich man with her magic skills, and Cassel and his brothers exist in an uneasy truce, waiting for her to be released. Only, Cassel would like to wait and pretend the others don't exist sometimes. He has done something truly terrible, something awful, but the worst thing is, he doesn't remember how he did it -- and can hardly believe he ever could. So, he's a shadow person at the slick boarding school where he attends, listening and learning to fit into the crowd, to make people laugh, and never trusting anyone for anything. In a world where magic workers rule, Cassel has no magic, and is therefore, to his own mind, nothing.

Cassel's life at boarding school is fine until the morning he finds himself on the roof of the school, with no memory of how he got there, and no way to get down. A worrying nightmare has triggered a major somnambulist episode, and Cassel finds himself haunted and confused. Put on a medical suspension until such time as he's deemed safe to return, Cassel has time to poke around in his own shadowy memories and through the detritus of his family home, trying to find proof for the suspicions suddenly crowding his head.

Holly Black has written a twisted, painful, honest fantasy; an edge-of-your seat account of family dysfunction and suspense which ends with a heart-bruising realization - and leaves the reader eager for the next episode, and filled with hope that things will balance out again. A grim, wry, painful book which will easily crossover for adults.

Library copy

The Reckoning (Darkest Powers, Book 3), by Kelly Armstrong: Following the abduction and incarceration in a "special" school for students with problems with authority (covered in Books 1 & 2), budding necromancer Chloe Saunders is on the run from the Edison Group - power-wielding adults who have no problem with "studying" and using the genetically modified skills of the children they run across. With Simon, Derek and Tori still in an uneasy truce, the group tries to find Simon's father, or Chloe's aunt -- and some kind of safety in a world full of lying adults and tricky, unspoken agendas. In Book 3, they finally find a safe house, and there is time for the group to bond - including Chloe spending time with the gorgeous Simon. However, Chloe fears for her loyal friend Derek, whose werewolf nature is emerging. He's by turns moody and intense and outright scary. And ...just a little possessive? Simon is so much easier to deal with -- and Tori is turning into someone who might just be a friend - if they can all survive the suddenly unsafe safehouse.

The stakes are higher in this book, the pacing is fast, but there's more romance drama than anything else in this one. If you've not read the first two books in this series, Book 3 will make about zero sense, so back up and get the goods on the whole thing!

Library copy.

Toads & Diamonds, by Heather Tomlinson: The ways of the gods are truly beyond us, and the goddess Naghali-ji's gift is more baffling than most. Stepsisters Diribani and Tana are at the end of their rope when they are both blessed and cursed by the goddess for their care for what seems to be a poor, thirsting elderly woman near the well. Diribani chokes on fragrant blossoms and pearls and practically chips her teeth against rubies when she speaks. While she is indeed taken up by the occupying warlord prince of their land, it is not a blessing to be removed from her sister and family, and required to behave as a foreign princess, she who was born a peasant girl and a believer in her goddess. Soon Diribani is embroiled in castle politics, and worries of her own, as religious persecution arises from the prince's rule. Does the interest she sense from the prince stem from her jewels, or her self? Is she really doing the best she can for her village by living in the castle? And where is her sister?

Tana, at her stepmother's urging, seeks the blessing of the goddess as well -- but her gift, though meaningful to her people who have an understanding of their goddess, it is abhorrent and terrifying to the new overlords. Snakes? Toads? Soldiers try to kill all that fall from her lips -- and their true aim is to kill Tana herself and to eradicate the worship of the goddess from their small corner of this imagined India. Tana, whose quiet, orderly life is disrupted, must flee - not only from her mother and village, but from the affection of a quiet merchant man with whom she was only just becoming better acquainted. There is a time to speak, and a time for silence. In a surprising plot twist, Tana risks the displeasure of the goddess and doesn't use her gift for a time - and manages to have a hand in saving them all. While the ending may be a bit sweet for some, this is a retelling of a tale already well told, so "happily ever after" is a guarantee, after all. The realism - the feel of choking on jewels and burping up frogs is both amusing and disturbing; the glimpse of pre-Colonial India is well imagined.

Publisher's copy from ALA Convention, totally stolen from borrowed from Charlotte Taylor.

You'll find White Cat, as well as Toads & Diamonds, the romantic drama of The Reckoning, and The King Commands, all at an independent bookstore near you!


aquafortis said...

Oh, you beat me to reviewing Toads & Diamonds! That was going to be in my next batch of reviews. Instead, I'll just add my 2 cents here and say I really enjoyed that one, and was happy to see a fantasy that takes place in a non-Western-style setting.

Can't wait to read the new Meg Burden & Holly Black.

Charlotte said...

I just was reading through the YA nominees, and chuckled over one that wasn't eligbile, and was "moved to YA sff due to lycanthropes." It sounds like a nasty type of pox...

All the YA sff books (like King Commands and White Cat) that I really enjoyed have been nominated by others...I should have been faster off the mark!

I remember the ending of Toads and Diamonds completely differently, as no ending at all, just the gifts going away and there they were, and so not sweet at all and forcing the reader to make up what happens next, and me being very undertain what the point was. But it was a while ago that I read it.

(and actually, just in case the publisher is wondering why they gave me a copy--they didn't -- it was alibrary book. Not that it really matters, but still....)

aquafortis said...

If I remember right, at the end of T&D [SPOILERS!!!]]]
the goddess came back and Tana had another chance to redeem herself, making the right choice and saving both of the sisters. Basically. :)