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review 2019-03-25 00:14
Sky Without Stars, System Divine #1 by Joanne Rendell & Jessica Brody
Sky Without Stars - Joanne Rendell,Jessica Brody

If you read just one dystopian teen novel based on 'Les Misérables' make sure it's this one. No, but really, this turned out much better than I expected it to. The authors reinvent the core narrative of Hugo's novel into the tribulated teen romance genre and launches what could be a very interesting new series.


The planet Laterre is part of the System Divine, a three-sun solar system surrounded by 12 inhabitable planets. It was discovered and settled by ships that had fled from the First World which had been, or was about to be, made inhabitable. The ships carried with them colonists, technology, supplies and many backwards ideas of how to settle a new planet. Laterre holds the descendants of the French whose leadership set up an Ancien Régime similar to that of France before the Revolution. The First Estate is headed by the Patriarch and his family and live in a grand palace, the Second Estate is made up of fortunate families who live in comfort and ease and support the system by policing or running factories, or exploits. They make up about 5% of the population. The rest, the Third Estate, are downtrodden and forced to live in squalid poverty held in check by the oppressive regime, the hope of their being selected to join the Second estate by lottery, and, of course, the criminal acts of their peers. They don't have any housing at all, the best they can hope for is living in the old berths, staterooms and holds of the rusting freighters that brought their ancestors to the planet 500 years ago.


We hear from three perspectives - Chatine, the daughter of a gangster in the Third Estate who has taken it upon herself to con her way to getting a ticket off-planet, Marcellus, the grandson of the ranking member of the Second Estate and an officer in the regime, and Alouette, a young girl raised in a secret refuge that protects the history of the First World and the chronicles of Laterre. In the centuries since the founding of Laterre, people became so reliant on technology that they forgot how to read. Even the upper classes. Which, OK, sure.


The authors are effective world-builders, and the various elements of their source material are integrated in a plot that keeps up its pace over almost 600 pages. Of course, it's not the whole plot - there will be a sequel. What I'm most interested in though is what classic works they might use to build up the other planets of the system. Hints of the others include a English planet ruled by a mad queen, a German empire and a Frank Lloyd Wright reference (Usonia)? Probably American. I'm hoping for an American planet to involve a gay teen odd-couple signing on to a space-boat where the captain is obsessed with hunting the space-whale that took his leg. 


System Divine


Next: ?

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review 2019-02-09 21:46
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu
Eventown - Corey Ann Haydu

Elodee and Naomi are identical twins and though in many other ways they are very different, they've always been close. A recent tragedy is threatening their relationship, however. Elodee begins to see them drifting farther apart. Its changed her relationship with her parents, too. Something has happened to the family that is so terrible it is left unspoken.


One of the results of this change in their lives is their mother accepting a position in Eventown, an idyllic planned community they visited once on a vacation. Elodee is angry about the change coming, but is angry also at the awkward treatment her family receives in their old community. In the end, they are all looking forward to a fresh start in Eventown.


Eventown is perfect. It is set in pleasant hills, the homes are all large, stone, and covered in roses. There are no cars - everything is in walking distance. While the rest of her family settles in to the new rhythms of life in Eventown, Elodee is uncomfortable. There's something off about the town and its people, and she is scared to see her sister drifting even farther away as she embraces Eventown's way of life.


I'm not familiar with Haydu's other work, but 'Eventown' was interesting. It examines how people experience emotions, good and bad, and how even the worst of experiences can help people come together. Tranquility can be achieved, but at what cost to yourself and others? The novel drifts into magical realism territory and won't hold up to overly serious scrutiny, but for its age level it successfully addresses these issues.

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review 2019-01-26 19:43
The Gift of Dark Hollow, Longburrow #2 by Kieran Larwood
The Gift of Dark Hollow - Kieran Larwood

This was a great follow-up to 'Podkin One-Ear'. In that book it was clear that there were many more adventures to come and, even better, Larwood introduces events into the present timeline that up the stakes considerably. There is no guarantee that these adventures will make a fireside tale. The world of the Longburrow is set in some distant future after humans and not all characters are what they appear to be at first glance.


I failed to mention in my last review that these books are supplemented with great Illustrations from David Wyatt that are at once terribly cute and disturbing. The Gorm is made up of rabbits who have been taken and possessed by a vengeful machine-deity from deep in their past. Ancient evil brought up by those who dug too deep....


As I said, this goes into 'present-day' events, where the elderly storyteller from Podkin sets out with a new apprentice to the gathering of bards. There is some trouble hanging over his head and I'll leave his identity for readers to find out. 


In the past, Podkin and his family have found a safe haven in Dark Hollow, but Gorm patrols still pass nearby. The greater problem of how to defeat the Gorm is still in front of them, but an ancient clue offers a solution, but also leads Podkin, Paz and Pook into danger again. 




Next: 'The Beasts of Grimheart' (UK only, for now)


Previous: 'Podkin One-Ear'

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review 2019-01-11 18:40
Podkin One-Ear, Longburrow # 1 by Kieran Larwood
Podkin One-Ear (Longburrow) - Kieran Larwood,David Wyatt

I had to look back over the past year's books to confirm this, but I think this was the most pleasant surprise of 2018. 'Podkin One-Ear' is the first book in the Longburrow series (known as Five Realms in the U.K.) which brings us to an Earth of the distant future where the dominant species are rabbits that have evolved into an intelligent, bipedal, medievalesque society. Which I love so much more than the usual this is a land of talking critters. I love you 'Redwall' but, yeah.


The story is framed so that the events of young Podkin's life are set in the past, some two or three generations ago, and are being told to young rabbits on the eve of a winter festival. It involves a time when the land was invaded by a terrifying force, known as the Gorm, that corrupted warrens and destroyed many lives. Podkin, a chieftain's son prone to slacking, is left homeless and on the run with his brave sister Paz and infant brother Pook. Together they have to make it through the cold winter, find shelter and warn others of the danger behind them. Their only weapon is a magic ancestral sword given into their safekeeping and the Gorm will stop at nothing to take it from them.


This is a story of family and friendship, of learning from one's mistakes, and finding the courage to do what's necessary. 'Podkin' delivers on adventure and some very real scares. This is writing that is appropriate for younger readers, ages 9-12 depending on their level, but it doesn't pander to them. I often find myself qualifying middle grade novels because I shouldn't expect storytelling savvy, epic world-building, and strong characters in a children's book, but Kieran Larwood meets a standard equal to other greats in young people's fantasy from Diana Wynne Jones to Lloyd Alexander




Next: 'The Gift of Dark Hollow

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review 2018-11-12 15:17
A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Time Quintet #3 by Madeleine L'Engle
A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle

Years have passed since 'A Wind in the Door'. Charles Wallace is a teenager and Meg Murry is the pregnant wife of Calvin O'Keefe. Dramatic changes in her protagonists seems to be one of L'Engle's hallmarks, and with a little research, I see she can go back and forth on a character's age. Much like Gaudior, L'Engle sometimes finds moving through time easier than space.


It is Thanksgiving and the family is gathered together, except for Calvin who is away on business. Calvin' mother, Mrs. O'Keefe, however, is at dinner and a little out of place. During dinner Meg's father receives a phone call from the President saying that nuclear war is imminent based on the threats of a South American dictator. Mrs. O'Keefe responds to this news with a "rune" calling upon heaven's aid to help them in this dark time. Charles Wallace feels the importance of this, and resolves to use the rune to prevent the war.


I may be pushing against the tide here, but this was the most enjoyable one yet. I really struggled with the flatness of 'A Wrinkle in Time'. This novel has some problematic elements, especially with its romancing of Native American culture and its lack of dynamic female characters. For the first charge there is only the defense that L'Engle's People of the Winds were one tribe only, she doesn't say that all Native Americans were "pre-fall" innocents. In the universe of these books, she would have represented all humans, Native American or not, as being that innocent before the Echthroi's corrupting influence touched them. Not the most satisfactory defense, but it works for me.


The second charge against female characters I can say much less about. In this book they are all tools for breeding and marrying except Mrs. O'Keefe providing some critical plot assistance before shuffling off, and Meg Murry providing some kythe-aid while pregnant and in bed. There's not much defensible in that, but I feel Meg has deserved some time with her feet up so it didn't bother my reading.


Anyway, this was entertaining from start to finish, something I couldn't say about the previous two.


Time Quintet


Next: 'Many Waters'


Previous: 'A Wind in the Door'

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