Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Recommendations Round-up: Revision Season Special – Escapism All Round

As GCSE and A Level students are starting to knuckle down to some serious study, I thought I’d offer you a selection of recommended reads that do not feature school and definitely do not include characters deciding their careers. I’m not promising no-one thinks about the future in any of these, but this is not the place for school-set contemporaries, ok?

These are reads to take you far away from classrooms and exams and the kinds of conversations about the future that you’ve been having or are having regularly at the moment. Just don’t get too carried away and neglect the study, alright? (My best advice – use a timer for both study and relaxation, so you’re fully doing both at different times, and not having to feel guilty about reading when you should be studying or, worse, only half studying because you’re resentful about having no time to yourself).

Fantasy Genre – to really get away from reality

I’ve got quite a lot of good recs here, including YA and adult titles.

Fantasy revision readsOne of the hottest new YA titles around is Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands, which swishes together aspects of the Arabian Nights stories with elements of a good Western for some sharp-shootin’ fun with a fab female lead (who, naturally goes undercover as a fella at first to enter a shooting competition). If a UK setting – however fantasy-enriched – is more your scene, I have two great (and completed) series for you: The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott is the first in her urban fantasy series using Japanese folklore for the fantasy elements. This one all kicks off with her heroine’s (ill-advised, of course) usage of her family’s treasured katana for a fancy dress party. The second UKYA possibility here is Liz de Jager’s fab fae-focused series which opens with Banished, in which Kit, her protagonist, works to protect people from magical and mystical creatures intruding into our world. Naturally, things blow up and Kit finds herself in the middle of epic battles. Another UKYA fantasy tip, a series with two books out and a third to follow next year is The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury. Said daughter was removed from her family to live as a pampered assassin, able to kill with just a touch – her bare skin is lethal to all except the royal family,

Grisha & Throne of GlassFinally on the YA front, if you enjoy high fantasy (stories fully set in another world like Game of Thrones) and you haven’t yet discovered them, two US YA series to immerse yourself in are Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, which opens with Shadow and Bone, and Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass. Both feature a kick-ass teen girl protagonist and offer complex characterisation and richly-imagined worlds. Bardugo’s series is complete as a trilogy, while Maas has 4 novels out and more to come.

For adult fantasy series, I have two quick recommendations for you (note: both have sexual content):

adult fantasy revision reads

  • The Jane True series by Nicole Peeler is a snarky urban fantasy in which Jane discovers that she is part selkie and meets other ‘supes’ (supernatural creatures) and ‘halflings’ like herself. Tempest Rising is the first instalment.
  • Undead and Unwed is the first in MaryJanice Dickinson’s very tongue in cheek series about a vampire. These are very light-hearted and funny books, somewhere between Sex in the City and Twilight.

Crime/Thriller genre – books set in our world but hopefully far from your reality…

crime recs for revision

For a great YA thriller, I recommend Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise. Set in an institution, this tightly-narrated novel offers clear insight into a criminal’s journal. It’s a chilling and absorbing read.

Two recent adult-market crime thrillers that I recommend are In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware and Someone Else’s Skin by Sarah Hilary. They’re quite different, but both superb. In a Dark, Dark Wood is a standalone thriller focusing on a woman who has inexplicably been invited to the hen weekend of an old schoolfriend in a secluded cottage deep in the woods. The novel opens with the woman in hospital, unable to remember what has happened, with police outside her room. Someone Else’s Skin, however, is the first in a police series featuring DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake. Books 2 and 3 are also now out and are equally good. I love this series because it’s gritty, UK-set and you get a good sense of the detective characters as well as a strong mystery/thriller.

Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic

dystopian revision recs

Of course, another way to escape the here and now is to read about other societies, especially those with brutal regimes or those that are falling apart. Here are a few recs for those, all YA, and all UK. Do you fancy a creepy cult masquering as peace-loving earth-worshippers? Try Seed by Lisa Heathfield. Or a terrifying  post-apocalyptic world in which drugged-up supersoldiers have taken over? For that, read The Fearless by Emma Pass. Finally, you might enjoy a trilogy (2 books are out now) featuring a UK split into the pagan Greenworld (living in harmony with the environment) and the Redworld (exploiting the environment and being materialistic). Anna McKerrow’s Crow Moon starts with this premise and spins a magical battle there.

Whatever you choose, don’t forget: work AND rest!

The Reading Teacher: Two Extracts from Recent Teen Fiction to Teach Writing

I have written before about the tension between writing ‘rules’ taught in primary school and advice shared with those who seek publication. Today, I thought rather than rehash that rant, I’d offer something a bit more concrete. So, here are the openings of a couple of recent UKYA novels that classes could explore to discuss some ways in which good writing works.

With less time for ‘reading’ lessons in KS3 and none with older students, it’s a good way to be able to push books in front of them that they might be interested in reading. I’m always happy to make stealth UKYA recommendations to my classes, convinced that this is a much more likely way to gain an extra reader or two than only ever showing them the classics.

I’ve happily used these (and others) with classes from KS3 to A Level. The novels are marketed as Young Adult, but in practice will be read by about 12 to adult (I enjoy them, so I’m not putting an end age, OK?). I’ve chosen a contemporary story and an urban fantasy for today, as I would pair these together in a lesson in order to meet different tastes in reading (and to show that genre writing matters too).

Teaching Dialogue: Emma Hearts LA, Keris Stainton

Orchard Books, 2012

‘Most girls of your ageemma hearts la would jump at the chance to move to California,’ my mum says. She had been standing in front of the fireplace to make the big announcement, but, thanks to my reaction to it, she’s now sitting on the sagging sofa next to me.

I stare at her. ‘You are joking, right?’

‘No. No, I’m not joking,’ she says. ‘I’m sorry, Emma, but this is a great opportunity for me. And it’s a great opportunity for us as a family.’

I glance at my sister, who’s sunk deep in a beanbag in the corner of the room. She’s fiddling with her phone, a half-smile on her face.

‘Bex!’ I say. ‘You can’t be pleased about this! Tell me you’re not pleased about this!’

She glances up at me from under her floppy fringe. ‘I think it’ll be cool to live in Hollywood.’

‘Well, it won’t actually be Hollywood,’ Mum says.

‘Near enough,’ Bex says, grinning. She’s a drama dork, my sister. I bet she thinks she’ll be talent-spotted at the airport and have her own Disney XD show by the end of the year.

‘It’s a new start,’ Mum says.

This extract is brilliant for exploring pacing in dialogue and the technicalities of using dialogue in story writing. Here are a few of the things I’ve had different kinds of students do with this text:

  • Highlight/underline all the actual speech to look at how the author has spread it out, using commentary from the narrator to provide additional information and stretch out the tension.
  • Explore why authors rarely actually vary speech verbs (better to use said/says, which becomes invisible rather than ‘bogging down’ the text; speech can be attributed using other comments e.g. ‘I stare at her’, ‘She glances up…’ in this example).
  • Examine the tone and language of the speech to see how it has been made realistic, perhaps then asking students to rewrite or produce a dialogue-heavy piece of writing of their own.
  • Explore specific features of the dialogue and speech-like aspects of the narration:
    • grammatical: why contractions are mostly used but then not in ‘you are joking?’
    • grammatical: minor and incomplete sentences such as ‘near enough’ and
    • lexical: repetition, discourse markers and recycling/repetition.
  • Discuss the way dialogue and narration are used together to create a voice which speaks to the reader and firmly places us on Emma’s side (e.g. the suggestion of mum’s ‘staging’ of her announcement and the focus on Bex’s unrealistic expectations).

Teaching Atmospheric Writing: The Night Itself, Zoë Marriottthe night itself

Walker Books, 2013

Stealing the sword was a bad idea. I can’t pretend I didn’t realize that at the time. I wasn’t even supposed to know about the thing, let alone sneak up and snaffle it from the attic where it was carefully concealed in the dark, under layers of cobwebs and rotting Christmas decorations. I was fully aware that if my father found out about the sword or about me taking it, he’d pop a blood vessel from sheer fury and kill me. Or die. Maybe both.

If your family’s priceless heirloom is some ugly vase or painting, like on the Antiques Roadshow, the worst thing that can happen if you mess with it is that you’ll smash it or ruin the patina or something. My family’s antique is a different story. Sixty-two centimetres of curved, single-edged steel, designed with a single purpose: to kill. You’d probably call it a samurai sword. But its proper name is katana.

And I needed it for my Christmas party costume.

I’ve used this extract as an example of a strong opening, creating a sense of both character and of plot. Something exciting is clearly going to happen. Here are a few activities I’ve found useful with various student groups in exploring this text:
  • Highlight/underline the descriptive phrases to explore the balance of description and information. There are some effective descriptive details, but too much at this point would swamp the story and slow it down too much.
  • Printing the extract out with a space after every sentence for the students to write back. This could be a question to the narrator (what sword? why did you steal it?) or their own journal-type musings (hmm, I’m interested now). With some students, making it a live-tweeting-type activity has worked well, with a sentence at a time on a powerpoint and ‘tweets’ written on mini whiteboards to capture their reactions. This leads nicely into a discussion about how the author manages (manipulates is such a harsh word…) reader emotions and expectations, especially if you can save some of those ‘tweets’ for discussion at the end, once the whole has been seen.
  • Examining sentence and paragraph length. Students too often write very long sentences and very long paragraphs. I have made students count words, list the words in each sentence and paragraph and then edit a piece of their own work to these rules:
    • no single paragraph longer than the first paragraph here (in number of words)
    • no single sentence longer than the longest sentence here
    • only one ‘long’ sentences (calculated as mean of three longest sentences here) per paragraph
    • at least one very short sentence per paragraph
  • Discussing tone: highlight/underline parts that fall into these categories, in order to show how more impressive vocabulary is balanced with more colloquial language to avoid an overly distanced or alienating tone. The separation of the final sentence is also worth discussion in terms of its punchline-like effect. With older/more able students, I also discuss how the syntax creates a spoken feel, focusing on:
    • unusual high-register/’fancy’ words
    • unusual colloquial/’slangy’ words
    • sentences that ‘feel’ chatty/casual
  • Exploring how to set up a story without over-explaining. Students list what we learn from this extract about:
    • the narrator
    • her family
    • the plot
  • Examining how the motif of conflict is seeded in this opening, by pulling out all the contrasted ideas and words.

What do you think? If you enjoyed this/found it interesting/useful, please do let me know. I’d love to feature further ‘popular’ fiction extracts that I’ve used in class along with what I’ve done with them.

Speed Reviews (5-star UKYA Fantasy Edition)

Today in my speed reviews series, I’ve got two brilliant UKYA fantasy novels for you. Both are recently published, both open trilogies and, although their plots and characters are quite different, they both exemplify great world-building and plotting. And since I can’t resist it, I’ll also be linking to a couple of other fab UKYA fantasies that I’ve reviewed previously. I rate all books in this post 5 stars on Goodreads (“It was amazing”), as I feel they all represent top-quality examples of their sub-genres.

jkt_9780545810623.pdfThe Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

is one of 2015’s big UKYA novels. A classical high fantasy in many ways, this novel introduces the character of Twylla, who has been taken from her family and installed in the palace as an incarnation of the goddess Daunen. Like all deities, she is treated with a healthy dose of fear, due to her poisonous skin (only those with royal blood can touch her and live). Although the novel is clearly set in a traditional high-fantasy medieval-style society, the writing is very contemporary and the narrative style is very engaging and accessible. This is not a novel that requires a glossary or for you to keep checking who’s who due to all the names being unfamiliar.

Twylla is a well-rounded character, reacting realistically to her bizarre life. I really enjoyed the ending of this one and was not initially sure whether there was going to be a sequel. As regular visitors here will know, I am not a fan of open/cliffhanger endings, and I am pleased to say that this closes like a standalone, but I definitely want to see more of Twylla.

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter is out now from Scholastic.

crow moonCrow Moon by Anna McKerrow

is another of 2015’s big UKYA releases. This is a much more contemporary fantasy, combining dystopian themes with the idea of magic. Protagonist Danny lives in the Greenworld, conceived as a Pagan utopia and consisting of Devon and Cornwall. Everywhere else is the Redworld, where capitalism, individualism and hate seem to be the ruling forces. Initially, Danny is sceptical about all this Pagan stuff, despite his Mum being an important witch, and is focused almost exclusively on chasing girls.

One of the things I love about this novel is Danny. He’s very representative of teen boys in terms of their sex drive, something  you don’t often see in YA novels. At times this tendency to be shallow and self-centred made me frustrated with him, but in a way that enhanced my reading because I was willing him to do better and notice what he needed to. I was certainly highly engaged in reading this book and will absolutely be reading the next in the series.

Crow Moon is out now from Quercus.

While I’m on the subject of 5-star UKYA fantasy, here are a couple more recommendations for you. Both of these are also trilogy-openers, and in both cases the second book is also now out (and equally good).

the night itselfThe Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

is an urban fantasy combining elements of Japanese folklore into a contemporary London setting. Her characters, plot and settings all contribute to a greater diversity in YA novels, and if any of the following appeal, you should definitely give this a go: a mysterious inherited sword, huge good-versus-evil battles, gorgeous toying-with-reader-emotions romance, fabulous fox spirits. Check my original review for more info.

banishedBanished by Liz de Jager

kicks off her urban fantasy trilogy focusing on a fae world. Her hero, Kit, is easily one of the most compelling YA protagonists I’ve read, and the world-building and use of folklore are superb. Read this one for lots of action, brilliantly-realised characters, a healthy dollop of snark and cynicism and (yes, I’m saying it) hot boys. Check my original review for more info.

UKYA Review: The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce

weight-of-souls-bryony-pearceThe Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce is YA urban fantasy with a brilliantly original premise and a very cool, outsider-type hero. It’s also great to see a main character of Asian origin.

Taylor Oh, aged 16, bears a curse passed to her from her mother. If the ghost of a murder victim touches her, she gets a black mark on her hand which gradually darkens while she finds their murderer to pass on the mark. If she fails, she will be dragged into the Darkness in their place. The novel follows her on the mission to find out who killed Justin, one of the ‘cool kids’ (who bully her) from school. And as if that weren’t twisty enough, she is lead into various dangers as she seeks out a mysterious society with plenty of conspiracy, as well as dealing with her feelings about Justin and his allies.

I really enjoyed this, particularly for its strong MC and its usage of Egyptian mythology, which makes a nice change. It is also unusual to see parental involvement – although her mother is dead, her father is actively involved in the story as an interesting counterpoint: he does not believe in the curse and focuses on the appearance of the dark marks as a physical disease. This adds yet another conflict for poor Taylor to deal with, as well as a dash of realism (surely if you could see ghosts, people around you would struggle to believe you?)

All in all, this is a book which is definitely worth picking up. It’s a solid UK urban fantasy (strong MC, great premise, twisty plot) which combines various unusual aspects (Asian MC, Egyptian mythology, conspiracy theories, parental involvement) with strong writing.

Bryony Pearce has another novel coming out soon (around Easter 2015): Phoenix Rising, which sounds really interesting (text from author’s website) If this book is anything to go by, Phoneix Rising is sure to deliver!:

After the fuel crisis the world changed and became filled with unusable junk; technological relics of a world long dead.

Toby is the son of a pirate Captain and he has spent his life on a converted cargo ship.

The Phoenix travels a sea clogged with rubbish in search of a mysterious island. Said to have risen from the ocean following a volcanic eruption it has enough natural resources to keep the crew in comfort for the rest of their lives. The ship is chased by Governments desperate for his father’s inventive mind and rival pirates, keen to strip the Phoenix of everything useful.

When The Phoenix is attacked by a rival ship and forced into port, Toby has to grow up, and fast.

Speed reviews (4-Star YA Sequels Edition): Chasing Stars, Crushed, Witch Hunt

 

I’m going to be featuring a few of these speed review posts over the next few weeks, as I catch up with things. As always, I only review books that I enjoyed, so you can always take a review on here as a recommendation. I’ll be theming these speed review posts and taking 2-4 books at a time.

Today, I’ve got three lovely YA sequels for you. All three of these books were 4-star Goodreads ratings (really liked it) for me, and all have some SFF elements: sci-fi (time travel), urban fantasy or historical fantasy.

chasing starsChasing Stars by Helen Douglas is the second and final part of the story from After Eden. In this instalment, Eden travels to Ryan’s time, where he is in big trouble for the events of the first book. I really enjoyed getting to see Helen Douglas’s version of the future, and seeing how both Eden and Ryan develop. The new characters introduced – Ryan’s friends, family and other key players in the future – were also interesting and varied. I found the ending a little too open for my taste, but it does wrap up the main threads, I’d just like to know what happens to them next!

After Eden and Chasing Stars are out now from Bloomsbury.

crushedCrushed by Eliza Crewe is the sequel to Cracked, and this one I enjoyed even more than the first. The main character here is Meda, who eats souls, and the main narrative thrust is her developing morality and humanity. In this book, we learn much more of where Meda comes from and what makes her so uniquely poised between the dark and the light. The characters and the voice are the main strengths of this, particularly the contrast between snarky, kick-ass Meda and the wonderfully earnest Jo. If you like unusual, action-packed urban fantasy, you should definitely check out this series.

Cracked and Crushed are both available at Amazon.

witch huntRuth Warburton’s Witch Hunt is the follow-up to Witch Finder, and completes Rosa and Luke’s story. A marvellous historical fantasy featuring a society of witchfinders and a council of witches (both of which also feature in Ruth’s contemporary witchy series, A Witch in Winter), this episode sees absolutely everyone chasing poor Luke and Rosa. I really enjoyed how these characters developed, despite everything thrown at them and would definitely recommend it to lovers of witchy and/or historical reads. Again, I found the ending a little more open than I would have liked, and was surprised when I first read it, but on thinking about it, it makes more sense than the alternatives and is entirely true to the characters.

Witch Finder and Witch Hunt are out now from Hodder.

Review: Darkness Hidden by Zoe Marriott

Initial reaction:

Can’t wait for book 3. This instalment of Mio’s quest is pacy, tense and heartbreaking by turns. One of my favourite things about this brilliant novel is that it progresses Mio’s big story but also absolutely wraps up its own story. I loved seeing more of the Kitsune, and learning more of Mio’s family’s story, in amongst all the danger and action.

darkness hidden raag

If you haven’t read the first in the series, don’t read on here – it’ll only spoil it. Instead, have a look at my review for The Night Itself.

This series is fantastic in every darkness hiddensense. It’s a kick-ass urban fantasy with plenty of pace and action, combined with emotional depth and satisfying character development. As much as I felt Zoe Marriott had put me through the wringer in the first book in The Night Itself, she outdid herself here.

Mio’s development as a hero figure and her relationships with those around her are stretched and tested in this novel. I loved Jack especially in the first book, and also Shinobu (of course!), so I was keen to see how things could play out next. I could never have predicted what would happen, but it was absolutely perfect, if heart-wrenching.

One of the book’s strengths is in how it works as book 2 of a trilogy. There’s always the possibility for book 2 to be either a bit limp or to not conclude  – no such problems here. The action and pace are strong, there is clear character development and the main plot threads introduced in this instalment are concluded. Yes, there is an ending that leaves you desperate for the next book, but not because it’s unsatisfying or unfinished. I also really appreciated the “story so far” summary provided at the front of the book, to refresh our memories of book 1 – very useful when the action of book 2 follows on almost immediately. I’d love to see this more often (publishers, take note!)

Overall, I’m strongly recommending this sequel and am waiting for announcements on book 3. Thank you Walker for allowing me a review copy.

Darkness Hidden is out now from Walker. More info from Goodreads here.

Review: Banished by Liz de Jager

Initial reaction:

I enjoyed every minute of this (and am desperate to read the rest of the series now – if only it were out already). A very well-constructed urban fantasy in the quest tradition which draws on a ton of faery lore and mythology. Highly recommended.

Banished raag

This is UKYA faery-focused fantasy at its best. Particular strengths of this book (for me) are: the structure and world-building, the central character of Kit and the adaptation of folklore.banished

Opening in the middle of a mission allows us to see Kit’s work as a Blackhart, and to get caught up in some action immediately. We quickly learn that her family’s destined role is to keep order and banish any fae who step out of line by harming humans/causing trouble in our world. Kit’s relationship to that calling (she wasn’t raised with it from birth) is something that is revealed further through the course of the novel.

I hope it doesn’t sound too stupid to say this, but I particularly enjoyed the realistic way that her developing abilities, and her feelings about her calling, are presented. Obviously the use of magic is a fantasy element in the novel, but it is presented realistically, I feel. It rings true to me that it would be a physically difficult thing, especially at first. This, and many other details which root the story in concrete reality, raise this novel in my opinion to make it not just another ‘destiny girl’ book. Details are not taken for granted, but are deftly woven into the story to create a convincing whole.

Written in the present tense, the prose has an immediacy and vibrancy that demands attention. This lively storytelling is interspersed with extracts from documents such as Blackhart family papers which offer further insight into the family’s role and the world they inhabit. This adds a further dimension to the novel and prevents information from clogging up the pacey narrative.

I love Kit (as, I think, do most of her readers). Her voice is compelling and she is easy to empathise with. She faces some difficult decisions in the story, but approaches everything in a matter-of-fact way. I hope we see more of her family in the remaining two books, as they are an intriguing bunch.

The author’s knowledge and love of folklore and the fae tradition really shine out, and this is above all a great re-imagining of some classic folklore tropes, dragged into our 21st century reality. The clash between worlds is a joy to observe and, again, I feel there is realism in the way the interaction between the fae realm and contemporary Britain is presented.

vowedOverall, I am highly recommending this book. If you enjoy urban fantasy, the odd spark of romance and a generous sprinkling of fae lore, you must read this.

The sequel, Vowed, has an equally beautiful cover and is due out in November, so you won’t have long to wait.

Banished is out now from Tor. See Goodreads for more info.

Mothers in Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess – guest post from Katy Moran

Today, Katy Moran, author of Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess, is here to talk about mothers in YA novels and specifically in her Hidden duo. If you haven’t read these novels, I would definitely recommend them.

Mothers are often necessarily absent from YA fiction. Usually, you can’t get your heroine or hero into the truly epic amount of trouble that makes a good story with their mum in the

Hidden Princessbackground cooking tea and asking if they have done their homework. Connie has grown from being a vulnerable little sister in Hidden Among Us to a spiky heroine in her own right in The Hidden Princess, and whilst Miriam might be a bit emotionally distant with her, there is no way Connie could have planned an illegal rave with her mum on the doorstep. It’s the second party in my Hidden books to which the fae Hiddhidden among usen arrive as uninvited guests, with awful and far- reaching consequences each time around. Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mothers for these horrendous screw-ups to occur, and to give your teenage leads the chance to emerge (or not) from disaster without any adult help.

On the other hand, it’s definitely not common in YA to actually hear a mother’s side of the story. After all, these novels are about the young, the cool and the desperate, not about their mums. But in Hidden Among Us, the first of my Hidden books, when Connie is still just a little girl, I decided to narrate a few chapters from the perspective of Miriam. To really understand why she is such a different mother to each of her three children, we need to hear her side of the story and how she was led into the terrible position of getting too close to these dangerous fae creatures, and subsequently having to make a choice between Lissy, Connie and Rafe. Writing from Miriam’s perspective in flashbacks to her own teenage years and early twenties made her a more well-rounded character. I think she’d be just a textbook over-protective mum, otherwise.

The Hidden books aren’t just about the loss of children, though. The death of Larkspur’s mother sparks a revenge plot that forces all my characters into intolerable situations and leads them into situations where they are forced to make impossible choices. My fear is that I should have explored Larkspur’s mother more deeply as a character. I worry that I fridged her – that she falls into the category of the cardboard cut-out dead female who exists only to generate a revenge plot for male characters. I wish I’d been able to round her out a little more without compromising on pace.

Writing novels is a good way for authors to explore their own worst fears. The mothers in The Hidden Princess and Hidden Among Us were born from my own worst fears as a mum, not from my actual mother, who couldn’t be more different to Miriam. That desperation to protect all her children comes from a very deep and instinctive source inside me, and the fact that she can’t protect all of them is what drives the drama – a theme which re-emerges in The Hidden Princess when we learn how Lissy’s Hidden friend Iris lost her own baby son.

I do owe a little of these books to my own mum, though – well, perhaps more to my grandma. I’m not sure if Mum will thank me for sharing this, but lots of babies present a slightly odd and squashy appearance at birth, and Mum was born with both ears squashed flat to the sides of her head.

What did the midwife say to my grandma when she saw the pointed ears?

“It’s a changeling!”

Now there’s an idea…

Wow – I certainly didn’t experience Larkspur’s mother as a flat stereotype, largely because there is so much action in the novel, which would have suffered if her character were more developed. 

Thank you so much to Katy for visiting the Hearthfire today, and for giving us a peek into her thinking process. Mums in YA (and many children’s books) do tend to be absent or deficient, perhaps even more now as parents are less and less able to give their children enough freedom to have adventures. Gone are the halcyon days of the Famous Five, when kids could just roam around the countryside without anyone batting an eyelid!

Review: The Hidden Princess by Katy Moran

 

 

Hidden Princess

For five years, the Gateway has been closed and Hidden and mortals kept apart. For five years, Connie has believed her older sister dead. And for five years, Lissy has been the Swan King’s captive. But every day the Swan King’s power grows stronger and his thirst for vengeance greater. If Lissy is to keep the people she loves safe, she must risk everything by facing up to her birthright and fulfilling her hidden destiny… A fast-paced, atmospheric and chillingly beautiful novel about love, family and loyalty. (Text from Goodreads)

This is the second in a series. If you haven’t read Hidden Among Us, that’s the place to start. This review may contain spoilers for the first book. Katy Moran will also be visiting this blog on Friday, so do check back to read her thoughts on mothers in YA books, and in this series in particular.

Hidden Princess raag

Set five years after the events of Hidden Among Us, this brilliant sequel continues the story of Lissy, the Hidden and her mortal family. Again making excellent use of multiple narrators, Katy Moran has produced another lyrical and yet starkly written tale of the clash between humans and the fae in their original folkloric form as glamorous, unsettling and unearthly.

The main narrators for this novel are Connie (now aged 14) Lissy and Joe, but just like in the first book, there are also occasional chapters in other voices, offering a range of perspectives. I really like the multiple voices, which provide us a clear 360 degree view of the plot angles – not to mention dragging our sympathies in every direction! For me, it really is the best of all worlds – the close-up intimacy of first person, but also the overview and ‘we know something you don’t know’ element that is the main advantage of third person.

In terms of plot, the novel is tightly wound and skilfully controlled. I’m not going into specific plot details here – this blog is spoiler-free – but the events of the text lead us on a tense ride, which ratchets up the stakes with pitch perfect control. I must also comment on the ending, as my pet hate at the moment is endings that leave me feeling cheated. It’s the kind of ending that you couldn’t necessarily predict, but which is obviously ‘just-so’ once you’ve finished.

I must also comment on world-building, as these novels shine in that regard also. Thanks to the long lifespan of the Hidden, we get to see our world both now and in the past, both of which are richly evoked, while also experiencing (enjoying is definitely the wrong word!) the Halls of the Hidden in full technicolour.

All in all, I absolutely recommend this pair of novels as a great example of well-written fantasy, strong use of multiple narrators and excellent adaptation of faery lore.

The Hidden Princess is out now from Walker Books. Don’t forget to visit again on Friday to read Katy Moran’s guest post on mothers in the Hidden series.

Review: Cracked by Eliza Crewe

Cracked-144dpiMeet Meda. She eats people.

Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it. She can’t help being a bad guy. Besides, what else can she do? Her mother was killed and it’s not like there are any other “soul-eaters” around to show her how to be different. That is, until the three men in suits show up.

They can do what she can do. They’re like her. Meda might finally have a chance to figure out what she is. The problem? They kind of want to kill her. Before they get the chance Meda is rescued by crusaders, members of an elite group dedicated to wiping out Meda’s kind. This is her chance! Play along with the “good guys” and she’ll finally figure out what, exactly, her ‘kind’ is.

Be careful what you wish for. Playing capture the flag with her mortal enemies, babysitting a teenage boy with a hero complex, and trying to keep one step ahead of a too-clever girl are bad enough. But the Hunger is gaining on her.

The more she learns, the worse it gets. And when Meda uncovers a shocking secret about her mother, her past, and her destiny… she may finally give into it.

(Text from publisher’s website)

Cracked review aagLike the sound of that blurb? I did and I was not disappointed. This book is for you if you like your urban fantasy sassy and somewhat dark.  I whipped through this novel, alternately gasping in shock and laughing out loud at Meda’s observations on the journey of discovery she finds herself on. Meda is a fabulous creation: definitely no ‘cleaner than clean’ hero protagonist, she is complicated, intriguing and more than a little scary, although she does of course have morals about whose soul she will eat.

There is some gory description in the book, so it’s not for the very young or faint-hearted, but I wouldn’t classify it as a horror as it isn’t written to scare. Being presented from Meda’s often rather inhuman point of view results in some original descriptions and commentary on events, as well as allowing us close access to her thoughts and feelings as she spends time with the crusaders to try to learn more about her kind.

The awkward situation of Meda’s infiltration of the very group who will happily wipe out her kind is exploited brilliantly – both for dramatic/emotional tension and for laughs. For all its mayhem and action, this is a very funny book and I would readily recommend it to fans of smart-talking urban fantasy. I’m sticking to the UF description as, although some of it does take place in an alternative society, it’s definitely a contemporary setting in our world (rather than a completely invented world or the eternal medieval society of some high fantasy).

Episode two in the series, Crushed, will be out in August. I’m keen to read it and see what Meda will do next.

Thanks to Strange Chemistry for providing a review copy via Netgalley.