(I originally heard about this at Bookshelves of Doom.)
Strange Chemistry was YA and Exhibit A was crime/mystery. I haven't read anything from either of these imprints, although I have some Strange Chemistry books in my TBR.
Apparently, those titles that were on their publishing schedule and due to be out soon are now in limbo (one example: Eliza Crewe's Crushed, which is Book 2 in a series that sounds interesting enough that I've added it to my TBR). It brings back memories of when Tokyopop went belly up with several series still unfinished and at least a couple that were only a single volume away from being complete. Ouch.
Named after one of the most awe-inspiring pirates, Hanna thinks that there must be something more to her life than being an apprentice to a surly fisherman. Learning some magic, and maybe even be a little good at it doesn't seem like an order too tall anyway. But little does Hanna know that Kolur is not what he seems to be, and what she's in for may be not the simple, tranquil fishing life she's imagined, but one of the biggest adventures in her life yet.
Hanna wants a grand life, the kind of life that her namesake Ananna, the great pirate, has. So when she becomes apprentice to Kolur, the grumpy coot who fishes, she thinks that the only magic she'll be honing will be all about the catch. While I do like Clarke using Hanna's starstruck voice when she talks about Ananna, as she uses the young girl to update readers of the great pirate's adventures, I did feel a bit overloaded with information about Ananna. Don't be mistaken; I love Ananna, and I love Ananna best when she's with Naji, but this one was supposed to be all about Hanna and her unlikely adventure.
Kolur is as vague as all get out when he instructs Hanna whichever way they need to go, so of course Hanna isn't particularly happy with the way things are working out. She's bent on getting back home where things aren't as crazy (or as unpredictable) as this wild ride. To top it all off, there's an insanely beautiful boy named Isolfr in the, err, water. But like Kolur, he can't tell Hanna his purpose either. So Hanna's even more pissed because everyone seems to be in on the big secret, and she's not. (And no, it obviously does not entail a surprise birthday party on an island for Hanna.)
I actually like Isolfr - even when I feel like I'm butchering his name because I can't pronounce it right (I-Sulfur? Isolf with a silent 'r'? Sorry, dude). While his vagueness was maddening, it was endearing watching him interact with the increasingly petulant Hanna. And it was kind of amusing to watch Hanna be all, "ADVENTURE PLEASE!!!" and watching her retreat back with something like a "NO, NO THANKS. I WANNA GO HOME NOW. K."
While the novelty of the mystery was refreshing at first, it soon waned and got me just about as impatient as Hanna. There's still a hint of the same author who penned both The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish, but having The Wizard's Promise follow up a fantastic quest like that made it kind of pale in comparison. It's still enjoyable, I must say, it's just that it felt more like a companion novel, or a novella, as opposed to a spin-off that would be having succeeding titles.
I have discovered another must-read Young Adult author via my hookup and literary dealer *sniff* Strange Chemistry (An Angry Robot imprint). I was laid up with my flesh eating virus. (you know another one of those zombie strains... thank goodness I am an Alaskan and fought it off, though I still like my meat a bit to rare), and saw I received some new books to download for review on Netgalley. Quickly grabbing this and another I set myself out to read away the afternoon...which turned into night and by 2AM I finished both including SOME FINE DAY, today's review...
How the story begins, from one of my favorite recitative hybrid operas, Les Misérables. Hugo wrote many lines which reflect so many ideas and questions about society all within a simple (ok not so simple) performance. This book is not Les Mis, but it is something that questions the simple, complex and the world builds core values and beliefs. It is also on my list for one of my biggest recommended reads coming up in July.
In SOME FINE DAY the world above water has shrunk or become decimated by hypercanes which are now constant and Jansin Nordqvist is doing what every child does in the Transition (the world beneath the earth's crust where every civilized person does), she is towing the party line, so to speak. A place where the world's privileged retreated to when the earth was being flooded ahead of the storms which destroyed everything topside.
As with any dystopia, especially in young-adult books, the children are being controlled, as are the reset of society, but they don't know it. All she knows is her mom is an important botanist/scientist and her father is a high ranking officer. She is in her final training for a black ops team and is in love with the person she is expected to be with, another team leader.
Before graduation Jansin, her family and her boyfriend get to go to the surface for a once in a lifetime vacation, one under the real sun. They are able to track the storms well enough and the only fear are the creatures they call toads.... oh but I won't go much further into that. Let's just say we learn everyone's true colors when the vacation is cut short by a group of top dwellers. Shocked, separated from her family and captured by this group she learns some harsh truths not only about the world but herself.
I wanted to give you some good back-story without spoiling it, I don't like doing this usually but I wanted you to know what I took away from the start of this story. It isn't about the storms, or her military training or even living underground. It is about her core beliefs being questioned and falling apart, about her growing up and seeing the world under a different light, it is about truth and it is about hope. The storms though a serious reality which could even happen in this life time with the way we are so abusive to the planet are a message for sure. But truthfully it was a vehicle to help steer the story along. Her life was a lot like the eye of a storm, perceptively perfect, but in truth could fall apart at any moment.
Oh dear, did I sound like I was preaching...The kind of preaching which I abhor? Nope, I promise I wasn't. The book is obviously researched well. The writing is gripping, solid and clean. The science behind it is true, even MIT says it could happen. It does not stray so far off the path of scientific reality which it cannot be seen as a "what if" scenario. Living below ground has always terrified me, after movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Time Machine, what lurks below both science and creations of science have and still frighten me. It is for me, being out of control in the darkest and most complete sense. Kind of funny since when younger I was someone who loved exploring amateur level caves.
Jasin's world is the opposite, at least in so much she and everyone thinks. In a way this is true, however as much research is done for a good book, as this is, no good story teller will let it lie just on the surface, so to speak. After reading into the night I was swept up in the storms above and realized as much as the out of control aspect of the top of the earth is, the true chaos is in the controlled and contained "transition" below, hidden beneath the control of the leaders. Another type of storm breaks Jasin's path and begins her into another one.
I know, I got a bit deep there. You will too when you sit back and ponder. I swear the book is not preachy in anyway, it was pure entertainment, pure enjoyment and heart stopping action. The "cast" is fabulous, the world is exciting and an edge of your seat ride. A bit of young love, a lot of passion (not the romantic kind), and above all for me is the search for the truth. I love stories that are about truth, not honestly but truth. This is one of those stories.
So put your life-jacket on and remember your sun screen, and get ready for July 1st when this book arrives on Amazon!
It kills me to say this, but The Wizard's Promise didn't work for me. I think I can see what the book was attempting to do, but I don't think it did it. The reason I'm so sad I didn't love this is that Cassandra Rose Clarke absolutely slayed me with The Mad Scientist's Daughter, killed me so hard I was willing to follow her into young adult fantasy with her duology The Assassin's Curse/The Pirate's Wish. I was a rut of being sick of young adult fantasy -- all the Chosen Ones and half-assed magical systems, the violet eyes and virgins. The Assassin's Curse duology ended up rewarding my lovesick mooning over Clarke. While it wasn't on the gut-punching level of Mad Scientist's Daughter, the story was active and emotional, with just enough subversion of the tropes to feel fresh in a sometimes moldering genre.
The Wizard's Promise takes place in the same world as the Assassin's Curse books do, a generation later, long enough for the exploits of the pirate Ananna to become something between tall tales and legend. Our main character here is even named after Ananna -- her mother knew her, apparently -- but she goes by Hanna. She lives on one of the north islands, a spare, insular place. She's at that itchy cusp of adulthood, still living with the 'rents, but struggling with what she wants to do with her life in that gauzy, dreamy way of the inexperienced. Maybe I'll become a famous witch after stunning everyone at school!
Hanna is apprenticing with a fisherman of no particular talent named Kolur at the behest of her mom, and the action of the novel begins when what should be an everyday fishing expedition goes pear-shaped. Hanna and Kolur end up well off course, with a mysterious old friend of Kolur's -- a witch of some talent -- along for the ride. Kolur and his witch friend are just obnoxiously withholding about what is going on, and Hanna responds with an equally obnoxious foot-stomping petulance. In the dreary sailing that occurs after they find themselves in the wrong place on the map, Hanna meets a not-quite-human boy named Isolfr, who also is withholding about the shape of things, but less so than the grown ups.
Here is where I want to talk about magic. I generally like the magic in this world, which is both concrete and not over-explained. Hanna's magical talent is wind-magic, the sort of useful calling up the of the elements for fishermen and boats. There's also earth-magic -- something Hanna's mother practices -- and sea-magic. The rules of magic aren't gotten into too closely, which I can appreciate, because practice and theory are well two different things. I had a blacksmith once explain to me that "all the goodness" goes out of iron when its been reheated too often and too hotly, and it doesn't make me a good blacksmith to be able to explain what he means on a molecular level (which I can, but it requires some hand waving and a napkin to write on.)
That doesn't mean that some of the spell-casting didn't frustrate me. Isolfr -- the not-quite-human boy -- casts a spell on Hanna such that the fisherman and the witch she shares a boat with cannot hear anything Hanna says about the boy. This isn't magic so much as narrative convenience, a football-hiding maneuver that serves the storyteller more than the story. And even though we get some reveals about the purposes of the boy and the fisherman, I couldn't even tell you why that information was withheld from the reader or from Hanna. Much of the action is inert, without discernible reason for most of the novel. I felt like luggage, carried along by hands unattached to a more vital body of purpose, and this is no place to be as a reader. Magic shouldn't be convenient; it should be structural.
Which is not to say there weren't things I enjoyed about The Wizard's Promise. The couple who befriends Hanna when she's stuck on some godforsaken rock in the north are wonderfully domestic, with the kind of easy, kindly relationship that's both kinda obtuse and profoundly enviable. I like how Hanna is forced at a point to work diligently towards amassing enough money to buy her way home, and how that really just doesn't work, or doesn't work quickly. She eyes a small jar full of coinage, which fills slowly and then drops as she has to do things like make rent and eat. Not many young adult books -- fantastic or not -- address the hard economic realities of life at a grinding job that doesn't reward one's talents or youth. Like one gets at this age.
It's possible my trouble is the split-novel format -- The Wizard's Promise is the first of another duology -- and maybe this pair is to be back-loaded with all the action and promise not exactly come to fruition in the first. Not even come to the middle, really. I can't really assess this novel on books that haven't been written yet (much as I'd like to, loving Clarke the way I do) so I have to say this is not a success as a standalone novel. I'm on the hook for the next, because my heart, but that's more nostalgia than sensibility. And you all really should read The Mad Scientist's Daughter, kthxbai.