Category Archives: High Fantasy

High Fantasy is traditional not-of-our-time fantasy, featuring magic. It is never set in present time on present earth.

Tortall and Other Lands (Anthology)

Pierce, Tamora. Tortall and Other Lands (2011). 369 Pages. Random House. $18.99

Tortall and Other Lands CoverI pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard it was being written. Then, the day I got it, I tore through it. Way too much fun to read this particular anthology. It was made even more bittersweet by the fact that it had a teaser for Mastiff in the back.

For Pierce fans, there are a few old, familiar characters. You might remember Aly and Nawat (Trickster’s Choice & Trickster’s Queen) and Daine & Numair (Wild Magic, Wolf Speaker, etc.)*. There are cameos of characters who you might not remember at first, because they weren’t huge, but they were cool.

So, onto brief summaries and story-specific comments. I’ll try to keep them spoiler-free.

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Zombies vs Unicorns (Anthology)

Black, Holly & Justine Larbalestier (ed) Zombies Vs Unicorns (2010). 415 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $16.99

The thing which actually made me want to read this anthology was Diana Peterfreund’s addition “The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn,” which is set in the same universe as Rampant. However, I am glad I took the time to read this, since I enjoyed almost every story in the book (at least on some level.)

The offerings are mixed, but are all labeled as either “Team Zombie” or “Team Unicorn,” with only one (I think) that has both zombies and unicorns. Additionally, the top corners of the pages are also marked by either a Zombie or Unicorn logo, making quick-scans for specific stories easy. A few of them were sweet, one or two romantic, and a couple actually bleak. I’m glad I took the time to read this, though.

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Sorcery & Cecelia

Wrede, Patricia C & Stevermer, Caroline. Sorcery and Cecelia (2003 ed.) 316 Pages. Harcourt. $17.00

The full title is, of course: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: being the correspondence of two Young Ladies of Quality regarding various Magical Scandals in London and the Country, which I absolutely think was a brilliant choice considering their setting, and the tone of the work as a whole.

From the Back Cover

There is a great deal happening in London this Season.

For starters, there’s the witch who tried to poison Kate at the Royal College of Wizards. (Since when does hot chocolate burn a hole straight through one’s dress?!)

Then there’s the strange spell that’s made Dorothea the toast of the town. (Could it possibly have something to do with the charm-bag under Oliver’s bed?)

And speaking of Oliver, just how long can Cecelia and Kate make excuses for him. Ever since he was turned into a tree he hasn’t bothered to tell anyone where he is!

Clearly, magic is a deadly and dangerous business. And the girls might be in fear for their lives.. if only they weren’t having so much fun!

First Lines

8 April 1817

Rushton Manor, Essex

Dearest Kate

It is dreadfully flat here since you have been gone, and it only makes it worse to imagine all the things I shall be missing. I wish Aunt Elizabeth were not so set against my having a Season this year. She is still annoyed about the incident with the goat, and says that to let the pair of us loose on London would ruin us both for good, and spoil Georgy’s chances into the bargain.

Thoughts

Apparently, Wrede and Stevermer decided to play “the Letter Game,” which started out as a bit of fun, and turned into something which could actually qualify as a book. They cleaned it up a bit, fixed up some bad storylines, and bits that led nowhere, and got it published (originally in 1988). Despite its humble origins as a fun writing exercise, it became quite an entertaining mystery.

Cecelia and Kate are fascinating characters, cousins who are very close, and who were upset to learn that they would not be debuting together. Unfortunately, because of the “goat incident,” Cecelia was left behind. (Kate’s younger sister Georgina could not debut before her, so Kate was taken to London.)

There’s a lot going on here; Kate and Cecy have had unfortunate encounters with wicked wizards, and they know that something is afoot, if only they could figure out what. It’s fascinating to watch them work it out, as they drag you further and further into their contemplation of the mess.

It’s a fun story, with a hint of Austenesque humor, and a solidly built regency setting. It’s fascinating to see what changes the addition of magic makes to the society of the times.

I was in high school when I first attempted to read this; Sorcery and Cecelia had just been re-released in paperback format, and knowing how much I loved Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles and Caught in Crystal, I opted to pick up this book as well. I wasn’t ready for it then, as I lacked the familiarity with and appreciation for Austen or regency settings. I’ve since discovered a love for both, so I decided that it was high time to try reading this book again. (I’m glad I did.) There were a few times when I was genuinely laughing, moments of true puzzlement, and occasional distress as I wondered what was going to happen next.

This volume gets a 5 of 5, for being clever and fun without being too young, or stupid.

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Trickster’s Queen

Pierce, Tamora. Trickster’s Queen (2004). 444 Pages. Random House. $8.95

Daughter of the Lioness Book 2

I actually own two copies of this book; a hardcover copy, because I could not wait for it to come out in paperback, and a paperback copy, because I hate having part of a series in paperback, and part in hardcover. It has to be all the same, for the sake of my shelving system; hardcovers go on the top shelf, paperbacks go on the lower shelves and series are grouped, so when I have to either put paperbacks on the hardcover shelf, or hardcovers on the paperback shelf, I get a bit grumpy.

Anyway, Trickster’s Queen is a continuation of Trickster’s Choice,which opens in Spring, with Aly and the Balitangs returning to Rajmuat, the capital of the Copper Isles. With the death of Duke Mequen Balitang, as well as King Oron and Prince Bronau at the end of the preceding volume, the political environment of the Copper Isles has been transformed. It is a country on the verge of revolution, or civil war, a country ready for a new queen from an old royal family; Sarai Balitang.

Alianne Cooper, daughter of legends, spymistress for the Balitang household, Duani of the raka revolution has come into her own. She is done living in her parent’s shadow, and has become irreversibly entangled in the conflict in the Copper Isles. This book takes off, with rapid pacing, drama, conflict, surprises, and battle. It is the climax which Trickster’s Choice was building toward, and sets up a very interesting finale.

First Lines

As the ship Gwenna glided through the entrance of Rajmuat harbor, a young woman of seventeen years leaned against the bow rail, taking in her surroundings through green-hazel eyes. Despite her white skin, she was dressed like a native raka in sarong, sash, and wrapped jacket.

Thoughts

In the first volume, each chapter was preceded by an excerpt from things Aly read, or conversations Aly had with family members while growing up. For example, Chapter 10 is prefaced with:

Assassins approach a problem differently from soldiers, you see. They can’t lay siege, they can’t offer an honorable fight. In their trade numbers are dangerous. An assassin’s advantage lies in folk missing him when he’s about. He hits hard and fast, then goes. Once you’ve tried to kill the first time, the target has the wind up. Failure the first time means it’ll be that much harder to get close a second time. – Told to Aly when she was eleven, in a conversation with her father*

These excerpts from Aly’s life made it more acceptable for her to know so much about spy work, because she had been trained from childhood. Having an idea of where she had received her knowledge (from her father, grandfather, mother, etc.) made a difference as well. It was a nice touch, which helped to ground Aly, and round out her story. These bits are lacking from Trickster’s Queen, which is unfortunate, because I really appreciated them.

This volume takes off, picking up speed rapidly, and racing toward the conclusion. Aly has grown up quite a bit since she left Pirate’s Swoop in a huff. She is not alone, others have grown, and are growing up with her, though much of it happens off-page. There is some unexpected character development, and a few unpleasant surprises for Aly. (There are pleasant surprises, too.)

It is almost a pity to leave Aly and the Copper Isles; there is still a lot to be said about the islands and their new queen. (Though it has been said that there will be a set of books dedicated to her, later.) It is also very, very fun to get to read about the children of some old favorites (Daine and Numair’s new baby, for example), and it is clear that Pierce has grown as a story teller since she first put Alanna’s story on paper.

The volume gets a 4.5/5, and the series gets a 5/5. If you are a fan of Tortall, you will most likely enjoy this series.

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* From Trickster’s Choice, Page 232.

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Trickster’s Choice

Pierce, Tamora. Trickster’s Choice (2003). 403 Pages. Random House. $8.95

The Daughter of the Lioness Book 1

I told myself I’d review the Tortall books  in order, but clearly that’s not happening. Alianne Cooper’s books (Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen) are the last books set in “present” Tortall; after this, they revert to Beka’s story, which is the Tortall of the past. The reason? Pierce couldn’t bear to think about a world after Alanna’s generation was gone, or even when they were old. I understand completely. However, if you are thinking of just picking up Tamora Pierce books, these are not the ones to start with; they spoil an awful lot of plot points from earlier sets, because these come much later. If you read Tortall, it is best to start with The Song of the Lioness and move forward from there.

Synopsis

It’s not easy being the daughter of legends; her mother is the Lioness, Champion of Tortall, and her father is The Whisper Man, the Tortallan spy-master. Aly’s twin, Alan, is a knight-in training, her older brother, Thom, is a student mage, her adoptive uncles and aunts are the most powerful, and influential people of their generation. It’s no wonder that Aly feels a little lost, and unsure of what she’s going to do with her life. Frustrated by arguments with her parents, Alianne sets out from Pirate’s Swoop to Port Legann, but she never makes it. She is caught by slavers, and shipped off to the Copper Isles.

Determined to make the best of a bad situation, and survive until she can escape, and get home to her family, Aly endures her time as a slave. When she arrives in the Copper Isles, she is purchased by the Balitang family, and then approached by the Trickster, her father’s patron  god, and the deposed patron of the Copper Isles. He proposes a wager with Aly,  one which will give her a direction, and a goal (at least for the summer), and which will help him. All she has to do is keep the two Balitang daughters alive… how hard could that be?

First Lines

George Cooper, Baron of Pirate’s Swoop, second in command of his realm’s spies, put his documents aside and surveyed his only daughter as sh e paused by his study door. Alianne– known as Aly to her family and friends– posed there, arms raised in a Player’s dramatic flourish. It seemed that she had enjoyed her month’s stay with her Corus relatives.

Thoughts

I remember reading that the reason Tamora Pierce switched from quartets to pairs was that JK Rowling’s Harry Potter had proven that kids will read long books, so rather than having to force Aly’s story into four separate volumes, it could be split into just two. I am eternally grateful for this, though smaller volumes are much easier to carry around in purses or backpacks.

Aly is disappointingly perfect*. Admittedly, most of the Tortallan women are nearly perfect, but Alianne takes it a step further. Even when raised by brilliant, talented, and gifted parents, it is a little much to accept that she could be as brilliant as she is. The girl is basically a walking spy handbook. It doesn’t get any better, but as you get used to it, it’s possible to focus on other things.

Aly’s story, however, and her supporting cast are interesting enough that she can be forgiven for being too perfect. The Balitang family, and their servants, and the relationship the two have with each other is interesting, given that the context of the Copper Isles is that the two groups (the natives and the colonizers) largely hate each other. The raka— the natives– are thought of as lesser, and are largely subordinates to luarin— the colonizers– with very few exceptions. As an outsider, Aly has no attachment to either group, which both weakens and strengthens her position in the country.

When all is said and done, I do like this series (though it isn’t my favorite), and I think it is worth reading. Trickster’s Choice, the first volume, scores a 4/5.

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* I’ve heard people call her a “Mary Sue” and I don’t think I can really argue with that.

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Rose Daughter

McKinley, Robin. Rose Daughter (1998). 287 Pages. Ace. $6.99

Robin McKinley is known for her fairytale retellings; Beauty and Rose Daughter both retell Beauty & the Beast, while Spindle’s End retells Sleeping Beauty, and Deerskin retells Donkey Skin, which is a lesser known tale, I believe. All of her books exist in worlds steeped in magic, full of amazing things, which is part of why they (and the characters who inhabit them) are so very interesting.

It’s always hard to know what to say about fairytale retellings; everyone knows the basic story, the beginning, and the end. Beauty is taken from her family, and eventually she falls in love with the Beast. It’s that middle part, the part that can vary, the way they get from A to B that really makes the story unique.

Rose Daughter is about Beauty, Jeweltongue, and Lionheart, three sisters who were not very close while they lived in the city– there were too many other things to do. Each girl comes into her own when they move out to Longchance– and Rose Cottage. Jeweltongue learns to sew, and make beautiful clothing, Lionheart disguises herself as a boy and tends to horses, and Beauty gardens. When their father gets a message saying that one of his long lost ships has arrived, he departs, and it is upon his return that he encounters the Beast.

Beauty’s time at the castle is special, and a bit unique. Every day when she wakes up, there are more animals, moving back in thanks to her. There is a mystery– revolving around cheese, though it is not a silly mystery as that statement makes it sound– and some danger. The Beast has hidden depths, and ultimately, Beauty must make a very important choice which changes the course of their life together.

First Lines:

Her earliest memory was of waking up from the dram. It was also her only clear memory of her mother. Her mother was beautiful, dashing, the toast of the town. Her youngest daughter remembered the blur of activity, friends and hangers-on, soothsayers, and staff, the bad-tempered pet dragon on a leash– bad tempered on account of the ocarunda leaves in his food … — the constant glamour and motion which was her mother and her mother’s world.

Thoughts

Rose Daughter may be another Beauty & the Beast retelling, but it is very different from Beauty, this story’s predecessor.

Beauty is, in fact, a beautiful girl, whose talents are mostly of the quiet variety; she is good with plants, roses will grow for her, and she seems to radiate calm and peace, helping her entire family stay together through the worst of it all. Her sisters are flashier, and more vibrant; Jeweltongue is known for her wit and cleverness, Lionheart for her temper and bravery (though each discover more traits which lead to greater happiness), but without Beauty, they would have been lost. Even Beauty’s father discovers a quieter sort of happiness, and his own talent.

The time Beauty spends at the castle is interesting; she is overwhelmed by the silence of the place, and tries to understand (at least a little) the magic which keeps the place running. Her relationship with the Beast is complicated from the start, which somehow makes it easier to accept her feelings for him; she sees early on that there is some humanity in him. Even more interesting is the idea that the Beast is not a Beast because of an enchantress’s curse, but rather because of something else.

Most of the book is very good; we get a lot about Beauty and her family, which makes them feel real. We get less about the Beast, but we still get a fair amount of his story. We lack a lot about the residents of Longchance, which is mostly ok, because the story isn’t about them, but they do play a major role in plot development. There is a difference in chronology between the Beast’s castle and the mundane world, and it is never questioned or explained, just allowed to be. There are a few more things which could have strengthened the story, but it is not bad because they are lacking.

Despite its flaws, it is a good book with a solid story, and is well worth reading. (It also stands up to multiple reads, which is important, as I am known to re-read favorites.) It gets a 4/5.

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Starcrossed

Bunce, Elizabeth C. Starcrossed (2010). 351 Pages. Scholastic.$17.99

I’ve been eying Starcrossed since I read A Curse Dark as Gold, and an opportunity to read it finally presented itself. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of starting this book in the evening, and I could not bring myself to put it down. It was 5am when I finally went to sleep. It’s a wonderful adventure story for fans of fantasy and political intrigue.

Synopsis

In a world with seven moons, there are seven gods who each have their roles, and who were once worshiped equally. Eighteen years before the novel starts, everything changed. The followers of Celys– the Great Mother goddess– declared war against the followers of Sar– the patroness of magic– and by extension all other gods. To be a magic user or a Sarist is to be a treasonous heretic, which is punishable by gruesome death. In this dark, unbalanced world, a cruel king rules, aided by Lord High Inquisitor Werne the bloodletter. The only hope for the common people is the hope that King Bardolph will name Prince Wierolf as heir, rather than Prince Astilan (who is known to be as cruel as his uncle.)

Sixteen year-old Digger is not concerned with politics or religion, she is merely concerned with surviving. (Something which was much easier before she and Tegen were ambushed by Greenmen.) Now Digger is on the run, alone, and unable to trust anyone. When a group of drunk nobles offer her a chance to escape Gerse, she takes it. Soon, Digger is disguised as Celyn Contrare, safely hidden in the snow-bound, remote Bryn Shaer, working as lady’s maid to Lady Merista Nemair. What was looking to be a quiet winter in the castle, waiting for spring, is quickly turning into the most dangerous situation Digger has ever been involved in.

First Lines

I couldn’t think. My chest hurt from running, and I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place. Tegen had given my directions to a tavern on the river– was this where he’d told me to go, if things went wrong?

It didn’t matter. I had to get off the streets. Behind me, the Oss splashed moonslight over a row or fiverside storefronts, bright enough for me to make out the sign of a blue wine bottle and the short flight of stairs down into the alley. Down was shadows and safety. I took it.

Thoughts

I was entranced from the first, unable to stop reading for fear that I might miss something.* The world is unique, the characters strong and dynamic, the writing effective and descriptive without meandering. All told, it’s a very well-done book which I truly enjoyed reading.

Digger is a fascinating character; a runaway with a mysterious past whose only goal until recently has been to survive. She’s a clever girl who uses her wits and some thieving skills to get by** and until recently has been under the radar. We meet Digger as she realizes that Tegan has died– a death she spends most of the book getting over; he was her lover as well as her partner– and that she must get out of the city. Things don’t ever seem to get easier, but her determination keeps her going. It is perhaps the fact that she keeps going, rather than lapsing into self-pity that makes her so very interesting. She is a strong character, a girl who can (and does) kick butt.

Surrounding Digger is an equally as interesting and important supporting cast; Meri most especially, but also the others stuck at Bryn Shaer. There is a mystery surrounding the place and the people, a mystery which Digger uncovers. There is a lot more going on in this novel than can be resolved in 351 pages; there is at least one more volume (Liar’s Moon) coming.

As a whole, I thought the book was well-done and very, very interesting. It moves along much more quickly than A Curse Dark as Gold did, which makes it more appealing to people who need faster pacing. This story gets a 5/5, and if you like fantasy with political intrigue at all, I would strongly suggest reading it.

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* When I’m reading, I’m not seeing words on the page, rather, it’s like my own mental cinema. I sometimes forget that I can “pause” by closing the book.

** Character-wise, Digger reminds me of Tamora Pierce’s Aliane Cooper. Setting-wise, she reminds me of Beka Cooper. However, Digger’s story is unique enough that the similarities are not a bad thing.

The story continues in Liar’s Moon, release date TBD

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Sunshine

McKinley, Robin. Sunshine (2010 ed). 405 Pages. Speak. $8.99

Sunshine is not a vampire story the way Pegasus is not about winged horses. Sunshine is about Rae Seddon– commonly called Sunshine– a young woman whose life is forever altered by her choice to go out to the local lake, alone, and at night. It is there that she is grabbed by Others and dragged to a remote, abandoned house.

At first Sunshine is confused, because she isn’t dead yet, and Vampires don’t usually play with their food for long. However, she is not alone in the abandoned mansion; she is to be dinner for Con, a vampire no freer than she is.

To get out of this alive, Sunshine needs his help, and strangely enough, he needs hers.

First Lines

It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. There hadn’t been any trouble out at the lake in years. And it was so exquisitely far from the rest of my life.

Monday evening is our movie evening because we are celebrating having lived through another week. Sunday night we lock up at eleven or midnight and crawl home to die, and Monday (barring a few national holidays) is our day off. Ruby comes in on Mondays with her warrior cohort and attacks the coffeehouse with an assortment of high-tech blasting gear that would whack Godzilla into submission: those single-track military minds never think to ask their cleaning staff for help in  giant lethal marauding creature matters.

Thoughts

While Sunshine’s world is similar to ours, it is not ours. It is a sort of parallel dystopia, in which the Voodoo Wars– a battle between the Humans and the Others– have left humanity struggling to rebuild in a wasteland. This world is simultaneously eerily similar to, and startlingly different from our own*. There is a lot going on here; the human population has been decimated, Others are discriminated against, part-bloods held responsible for their heritage, cities are slowly growing, around the “bad spots,” and places like Charlie’s Coffeehouse are small havens from the insanity.

I think the world-building may be my favorite part of this book, actually. The characters come second to the world for me. I wanted more about the world, more about the why, the what, the how. Things are hinted at, bits are mentioned, there are “bad spots” where humans dare not go, left-overs of powerful magic. But why are they there? My curiosity was not completely satisfied, which was a little frustrating, because I’m usually quite content with her worlds.

I do like Sunshine, but she is not the strongest female McKinley has ever written, and I have an affinity for the strong girls. At first, Sunshine is rather inactive, she is victimized, and spends a lot of time recovering from the trauma. She struggles with her sense of self, with needing support and being afraid to reach for it, with the ramifications of what exactly she has done, and with her bond.

Something which is particularly problematic to me are the relationships in this book. Sunshine is dating Mel**, but they seem stuck in a sort of loose dating, where they’re together when it’s convenient. Sunshine never seems to talk about things to him, and though he could be there for her if she just asked, she doesn’t. There are hints about her heritage, things which her mother may have been hiding, but it is never verified, it remains Sunshine’s theory, and is never really tested. She’s surrounded by family and friends and people who care about her, and some of them are powerful enough in their own right that they could protect her, but she doesn’t turn to any of them. She instead relies upon a Vampire who she has only known for a brief amount of time.

When I first read this book, I remember really liking it. I was on a vampire kick, and I was reading everything I could. This was not a YA book then, but that didn’t stop me. Looking at it, and having read it, I wonder if it is a YA book now. There is a fairly explicit scene around page 250 which left me wondering if it should be called YA. I don’t necessarily feel that teens need to be protected from everything sexual, but I felt a little awkward reading this scene, and I’m an adult. I imagine most teens would either be titillated or would feel as awkward as I did.

It is sad, knowing that I will never know more. McKinley doesn’t write sequels. She may eventually venture back into the same world, if her muses drag her there, but this is the only guaranteed book in this setting. It’s a pity, because there is so much you can do with a post-apocalyptic world. There are options, and ideas, and worldwide locations.

Anyway, this volume gets a 4/5. There is a lot more that could have been done with Sunshine, and I wasn’t wholly satisfied (and not just because I wanted more, which is a good sort of unsatisfied.) It is worth reading, because it is enthralling, and it’s very different from what you expect, if you’ve been told it’s a vampire book, because it’s not. There are vampires, but ultimately, this book is about Sunshine.

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* It left me thinking of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan world, actually.

** I like Mel, a lot. He’s got magical tattoos, which remind me of Pritkin’s tattoos from Karen Chance’s books.

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The Outlaws of Sherwood

McKinley, Robin. The Outlaws of Sherwood (2003 ed.). 342 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

From the Back Cover

He never meant to be an outlaw. But a split second changed everything.

In the days of King Richard the Lionheart, a young forester named Robin sets out one morning for the Nottingham Fair, but he never arrives. By the end of the day a man lies dead in the King’s Forest, and Robin is an outlaw with a price on his head.

From then on, Robin is on the run, hiding deep in Sherwood Forest– but he is not alone. First joined by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of outlaws in a forest who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice. As he does, he gains a new name: Robin Hood.

First Lines

A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course– just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark.

Robin sighed and dropped his bow. There were some people, he thought, who not only could shoot accurately– if the breeze hadn’t disturbed it, that last arrow would have flown true– but seemed to know when and where to expect small vagrant breezes, and to allow for them. He was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father’s only child.

Thoughts

Robin Hood is a legend who changes with every telling. Every version has its own agenda, its own twists, and its own characterization. Some even throw in their own characters, to spice things up, and make it novel again. McKinley’s Robin Hood is a different sort; an unwilling champion, who becomes infamous simply by surviving, and becomes a legend by accident. He inherits an agenda from the beliefs of his fans, and this is what makes him so different.

Robin and Marian may be one of my earliest ships. It started with Disney’s Robin Hood, when you knew they were destined for each other, because they were both foxes, and continued through every version I’ve read since. Robin loves Marian, though he never says as much to anyone, and wants her to stay safe, even if it means staying away. Marian loves Robin, and persists with her visits because she cannot help herself, because she knows she is needed, and because she longs for the freedom the forest offers.

Perhaps my favorite plot which is unique to this version is that of Cecil– a boy who refuses to be stopped by anything. He becomes Little John’s protégé, dogging his mentor’s footsteps, and learning about survival. Cecil and Little John become very important toward the end of the book, when they are the only members of Robin’s band to attend the fateful tournament for the golden arrow. Every version does this scene differently, and it’s the sort of constant which allows comparisons between interpretations. This particular tournament is done well, and serves as a sort of climax to the novel.

All-in-all, I really like this version. I have not re-read it many times, because I read it very slowly. I am not sure why it takes me so much longer, but it is worth the time it takes. It gets a 4/5.

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Spindle’s End

McKinley, Robin. Spindle’s End (2000). 422 Pages. Firebird. $6.99

Princess Briar-Rose would have been special even had her parents not been barren for so long before her birth. She was a Crown-Princess, to become the first queen in nearly 400 years. However, the evil fairy Pernicia has been waiting for a queen for a very long time. On the princess’s name-day, Pernicia takes the opportunity to curse the child; she will prick her finger and die on her 21st birthday.

Shocked, and a bit overwhelmed, nobody reacts but the fairy Katriona, a young woman from far away Foggy Bottom. With the help of another fairy, Katriona whisks the princess away, hoping to hide her, and protect her with “ordinariness.” This gives Rosie the time to grow up, into a strong young woman who has a chance against the dark fate she faces.

First Lines

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water.

Thoughts:

Everyone knows Sleeping Beauty. The infant princess, cursed by an evil fairy, saved by a good one. Doomed to prick her finger and die, but not truly. Spindle’s End is simultaneously Sleeping Beauty, and its own tale, and that is what makes it so wonderful. Rosie is anything but the weak-willed, doomed princess who is so often present in this tale. Katriona is far from the silly fairies of Disney fame. The two of them transform the story from a classic into something new, and a bit exciting.

One of the more interesting themes in this book is family, and how everything is about love, rather than blood. Katriona loves Rosie as her own, wanting nothing more than to keep Rosie forever, instead of having to give her back to the royal family, or lose her to the curse. Rosie feels loved, and accepted, but just a little different, a little outside of her family. And the royal family, as distant as they are, clearly love Rosie, too. Peony and Rosie are closer than sisters, the sort of friends who are together through everything.

There are many supporting characters who play a major role in either world-building, or plot-moving. There are very few characters who do not make multiple appearances, and every single character serves a purpose, which can be difficult when writing about an entire kingdom.

I find myself re-reading Spindle’s End periodically, enjoying it in a slightly different way each time. There are a few surprises, the first time, a few details you may have missed in the second read, a few more in the third, and each time, it becomes a richer experience as you get the chance to savor favorite scenes. It’s an enduring favorite, which of course gets a 5/5.

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Filed under Book Review, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction