October 22, 2010

CYBILS SFF BOOKMARK: Not Entirely Unexpected

Claire de Lune, by Christine Johnson: It's rare in the process of wading through novels about vampires, werewolves, and zombies to find anything unexpected, but I found a sliver of unusual in Christine Johnson's Claire de Lune. Claire turns sixteen on a miserably hot day, and while her pool party is considered a roaring success, and the boy she's liked since forever makes small talk and says he'll call her, nothing can balance the horror of finding out that night that the rash that's been blooming on her arms, hands, and ears is the beginning of her change into a werewolf.

In Johnson's version of the lore, there are no male werewolves (sorry Jacob), which is a totally unexpected twist, and pregnancies which result in male children inevitably spontaneously miscarry. The weres have a matriarchal society, which brings up issues for Claire, since her famous photographer mother is often out of town, and tends to be cryptic, elusive, and cold. There's a lot for Claire to get used to, and the fact that a murdering werewolf is marauding through their county doesn't help.

I wanted to like this book a whole lot more. Claire is a bit shy, uncomfortable with herself, and poignantly vulnerable at her own birthday party, which is filled with strangers sucking up to the rich girl, and then the whole thing is ruined by the announcement of a werewolf sighting nearby, and everyone runs out in a panic. However, while Claire's likability lasts until the end, the unexceptional villain is sadly obvious and easily spotted, and MAN, do I hate spending time in villains heads. It never adds interest to the plot for me. Claire's risk-taking later in the book seems out of character. Readers might find themselves saying the inevitable, "No, don't go into the woods on a dark night, stupid!" sort of thing to her. Claire's eventual romance has a hint of the forbidden in it, which may appeal to some, but the emotion remains elusive. I was especially dismayed at the stilted relationship between Claire and her mother - it felt like there was a lot to make up for there, in terms of her mother both lying to her and ignoring her for years, yet everything was tied up in a convenient bow by the end with lots of hugs and understanding. An interesting concept and a sympathetic character, however, may make up for a lack of surprises.

The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting: There are some books which lend themselves easily to the phrase "mass market publication." They have a sort of universal supermarket-thriller appeal, and seem like something easily made into a Lifetime Movie of the Week. And yet, they also have this sort of ...attractive and addictive pulp fiction-y goodness. Like, I don't know, roasted pumpkin seeds. The Body Finder is a lot like that. You can easily imagine picking it up at your local grocery store, and paging through it in the check-out line.

The title makes it clear: someone finds bodies. The someone in question is Victoria Ambrose, whose claim to quiet fame, at least in her family, is that she found her human first corpse when she was a wee tiny girl. What's a bit unexpected is that there's no attempt at an explanation for why she feels the draw of the dead -- and why her morbid little habit of digging around in the woods to find dead animals and give them a proper burial didn't freak her parents, aunt and uncle, and best friend, Jay, right out -- but everyone is calm about it. (It's just one of those Victoria things, apparently.) Her uncle is the police chief, and he gladly uses her rather bizarre skill-set to give grieving families peace.

All would be well, except for two things: one, there's a serial killer on the loose, preying on young girls. And two -- well, Jay's gotten kind of hot over the summer.

Hard to line up those two facts, isn't it? And yet, the novel attempts to give them both equal weight. We spend chapters in the killer's mind - always my favorite place to be - and spend pages with her obsessing over Jay, and a third of the way through the novel, it's thoroughly obvious and inevitable that a.) the serial killer will be caught, and b.) Jay Heaton will turn out to be the love of Victoria's life. It seems that's only obvious to the reader though. You may find yourself continuing to read along at a galloping pace, at least until Jay and Victoria figure things out, and until the Evil Guy figures out that he's a goner... which happens conveniently near the very end of the book.

I'm not sure how a sequel is planned for this novel, but there's one in the works. My only hope is that the writer will delve a little more into the WHY of this psychic phenomenon and maybe allow Victoria to figure out a way to let it go so she can live a normal life? Or, not. Whatever.

Spells, by Aprilynne Pike: Previously a flower bloomed on Laurel's back and she discovered that she's a fae, and had a previous life in Avalon, one that she has entirely forgotten. Spells picks up the summer following Wings, as Laurel goes to "summer school" in Avalon to learn the spells and potions which will enable her as a Autumn Faerie to protect her human family and the property she inherited in which lies the gate to Avalon.

In many ways, the narrative is fairly unexceptional -- Laurel has to study hard to remember everything she had to forget so she wouldn't give it away to the humans, she wears flowy, flower faerie clothes, she interacts again with Tam, the Spring Fae boy who has been watching out for her since she was planted within her human family, and she is tugged back and forth between her feelings for him, and her feelings for her human boyfriend, David.

What's unexpected in this is that the rare YA novel that deals with class distinctions! Among the fey, Winter and Autumn faeries are so rare that they are treated with utmost respect, and are essentially the aristocracy. The Summer faeries are the entertainers, and the numerous Springs are the workers - jacks of all trades. They're at the beck and call of Autumn and Winter fae, they walk a half step behind anyone two steps higher up in rank, they don't meet their eyes, they bow... and it's absolutely skeevy to Laurel, as it should be.

The fae see the humans as animals - and refer to them as such, and Laurel is confused by this, and accidentally does harm to her father with something she expected to only harm animals of the four-footed kind. Her girlfriends in the school don't see why Tam comes to visit - and why she bothers speaking to him, since he's a lowly Spring. Laurel is very conscious that something is wrong with all of this, but she seems unable articulate a strong argument of what is wrong with it, and why. Sustained attention to anything seems impossible for her, even the constant reminders to not go out after dark float easily from her mind, and she tangles with trolls again. She seems very young and unformed for her alleged sixteen years.

Readers may be relieved that Laurel finally is called on her selfishness in trying to have two boyfriends at once, and is determined to simply return to the human world. This is where the book ends - but there's a tiny cliffhanger; things are definitely not over.

Other books with not quite unexpected plotlines more ably reviewed elsewhere are:
Mistwood reviewed @ Angieville,
My Soul to Save @ A Journey of Books, and
Wolves of Mercy Falls, 2 @ Katie's Book Blog.

For books that read like familiar tales you've known for years, check out CLAIRE DE LUNE, the Lifetime-a-licious THE BODY FINDER, and SPELLS from an independent bookstore near you!

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