Tag Archives: books I am completely irrational about

A Tale of Two Castles

Levine, Gail Carson. A Tale of Two Castles (2011).336 Pages. Harper Collins. $16.99*

This review is pre-release: It comes out May 10, 2011

Ella Enchanted was one of my favorite childhood books. My mom gave it to me for Christmas in 1998– she’s big on writing dates in books which are gifts– and I’ve read it so many times that a few pages are loose, the spine is falling to pieces, and it’s stained all over. I’ve got an abiding love for Gail Carson Levine, in part because of Ella Enchanted, and in part because she’s got a knack for writing magical stories which children are guaranteed to love.

Synopsis

Twelve year-old Elodie has just set out on her first adventure, and her first step toward adulthood. It is time for her to head to Two Castles and become an apprentice, though she cannot afford a short apprenticeship, so she must commit to the 10-year “free” term. Despite her parent’s wishes– that she apprentice to a weaver, Elodie seeks out an apprenticeship with the Two Castles mansioners.

Things don’t go according to plan, and Elodie soon finds herself working for the dragon Meenore and brushing up on her skills of “deduction, induction, and common sense.” But something is wrong in Two Castles, and Elodie’s job will not be as easy as it first seemed.

First Lines

Mother wiped her eyes on her sleeve and held me tight. I wept onto her shoulder. She released me while I went on weeping. A tear slipped into the strait through a crack in the wooden dock. Salt water to salt water, a drop of me in the brine that would separate me from home.

Father’s eyes were red. He pulled me into a hug, too. Albin stood to the side a few feet and blew his nose with a honk. He could blow his nose a dozen ways. A hong was the saddest.

Continue reading

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Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales Retold, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mystery & Suspense, Young Adult Fiction

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

The Blue Sword

McKinley, Robin. The Blue Sword (2000 ed.) 272 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Harry Crewe knew from the beginning that when her parents died, she would be thrust upon the mercy of her brother Richard. (Not an entirely bad fate, as she knew her brother was a good, and dutiful man.) What Harry did not know was that when this fate eventually caught up with her, she would end up in Damar, a Homelander Colony.

When Corlath, king of the Free Hillfolk comes to warn the Homelanders of an impending war, he does not expect Harry. Despite being a girl from across the sea, something about her is unique, and it is clear that her fate lies in the Damarian Hills. Like Aerin before her, Harry has the outsider’s ability to save Damar.

First Lines:

She scowled at her glass of orange juice. To think that she had been delighted when she first arrived here– was it only three months ago?– with the prospect of fresh orange juice every day. But she had been eager to be delighted; this was to be her home, and she wanted badly to like it, to be grateful for it– to behave well, to make her brother proud of her and Sir Charles and Lady Amelia pleased with their generosity.

Thoughts:

I think part of why I love Harry so much is because she has always reminded me of my best friend. A tall blonde, determined to be optimistic, and stubborn. As I read Harry’s story, I picture Novia, staring down desert men, wielding a sword, riding beautiful horses.

Harry’s story is an adventure of epic proportions, and she learns to love Damar with the reader. The customs are strange, the world unique, and we get to experience them through the eyes of an outsider, coming to terms with her connection to the country.

As I said when talking about The Hero and the Crown, I will not pretend to be reasonable about this book. It got me through some rough times, and was with me through some good times. It was beautiful and enthralling and no matter what mood I am in when I pick it up, I am transported to Damar, and it feels like everything will be alright.

This book gets a 5/5 and a very strong insistence that you read it.

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Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance

The Hero and the Crown

McKinley, Robin. The Hero and the Crown (2000 ed.) 246 Pages. Puffin. $5.99

Aerin is a king’s daughter, a first-sol, and an outsider in her own country. Her mother was a Northerner, a mysterious woman who many said bewitched the king. Having always been hyper-aware of her tenuous position in her father’s kingdom, Aerin has allowed herself to be pushed aside, and overlooked.

When she comes across a recipe for kenet- which promises fireproofing, even from dragons- Aerin finds a purpose. She gains a reputation for dragonslaying, but this is only the beginning of a fate which is much greater than anyone could have guessed.

First Lines:

She could not remember a time when she had not know the story; she had grown up knowing it. She supposed someone must have told her it, sometime, but she could not remember the telling. She was beyond having to blink back tears when she thought of those things the story explained, but when she was feeling smaller and shabbier than usual in the large vivid City high in the Damarian Hills she still found herself brooding about them; and brooding sometimes brought on a tight headachy feeling around her temples, a feeling like suppressed tears.

Thoughts:

This is one of those books which I have quite literally loved to pieces. I first found The Hero and the Crown during a hard time in my life– mom and I were living with a crazy landlady, and we both needed our escapes. Perhaps it is because of those memories that this book will always have a special place for me. I am completely and utterly in love with Damar, and the stories set there.

Despite the fact that The Blue Sword was written first, I always start with The Hero and the Crown, because it comes first in Damarian chronology. I love reading about Aerin* and everything she does. She might be one of my favorite heroines ever* and her story is fantastic.

I am not going to pretend to be reasonable about my love of this book, because after so long, nothing reasonable remains. As far as I am concerned, it is a brilliant story with brilliant writing and brilliant characters. If I had to complain about something, it would be that McKinley has said that there may be more Damar books but she has not written them yet.

This book gets a 5/5 and the unwavering insistence that if you like Fantasy, you should read this book.

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* I swear, it’s not because her name is so similar to mine.

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Filed under Adult Fiction, Book Review, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction