Tag Archives: YA Fiction

In Review: Nightshade by Andrea Cremer

Dear Audy,

Nightshade by Andrea Cremer was a book that came into my reading realm purely by chance. I just happened to be the lucky winner of a competition over at Literary Life, before that competition I had never heard of the book nor the author. Being that supernatural YA fiction has long been a favourite genre of mine, I was filled with anticipation about reading it.

Technically, I’m not really a young adult anymore, however that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy some YA fiction! When I was a teenager reading was one of my favourite things to do. Growing older, wiser and capable of comprehending much more complex texts has done little to tarnish the gleam of an easy to read but magical story. The magic has always been a big part of it for me, I love the escape of plunging into a supernatural tale. Thus, in the past couple of decades, I have read a lot of them.

I went through my vampire phase long (and thankfully) before Twilight came along and did its best to ruin the genre. Anne Rice gave us Louis and much more delectably, Lestat – who is truly one of the greatest vampiric characters in creation. I developed a love of kick-ass chicks kicking ass with Christopher Pike’s Sita in his series, The Last Vampire – a great foundation for a later obsession with Buffy The Vampire Slayer. As for the love between an immortal monster and a human, that was pretty much covered for me by Janice Harrell’s Vampire’s Love books.

The supernatural has always been a source of joy and wonder for me and I have loved different interpretations of the same mythology.

Recent writings have consistently paired vampires with werewolves, witches and just about every mythological creature you can think of. Meyer can’t be held solely accountable for this; the mythological mashup is a staple of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series (the basis for the TV show True Blood) and having been watching the show, I can only assume this mashup is also a major feature in L.J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries.

When I delightedly opened the package that arrived at my door containing my book prize, I was keen to discover a new take on the supernatural.

She can control her pack. But not her heart.

The tagline for this book sums up an awful lot in very few words, especially when you consider that it’s YA fiction. Immediately my brain put werewolves as the things that come in packs, so I guessed it was a werewolves book, probably destined to contain a bunch of vampires as well, if recent trend was anything to go by. The second sentence causes my teenage heart to flutter, but my adult eyes to roll a little. My inner teen hoped desperately for an interesting, romantic aspect to the story, whilst the outer me couldn’t help but prepare for a more Jacob-y Twilight.

Thankfully, this repetition of mingling themes was not the case with Nightshade. I began reading, meeting the characters and attempting to build the world of the story in my mind. Andrea Cremer has been careful not to give away much about the supernatural setting in the beginning, dropping just enough crumbs to keep me reading and wanting to find out more.

Her werewolves are not ordinary werewolves. Her world is populated by supernatural creatures, however Cremer has created her own mythology; reasons and purposes for things existing the way that they do. I found the unveiling of this world slow at first, before I realised that I couldn’t stop reading and wanting to know more, which was a good sign that the author was giving enough to keep me interested. I especially enjoyed that it’s not a story I have heard before, no vampires in sight!

The characters are many that we’ve met before, albeit these ones can shift into powerful wolves when needed, to protect….something.

A strong-willed, tomboyish female (Calla); a cocky and arrogant male (Ren); a bookish and unexpectedly strong male (Shay)…all the ingredients needed to stir up a love triangle. The interesting part about Cremer’s love triangle is the archaic traditions that support it. The situation between these characters only exists because Calla is promised to Ren; promised in the sense that they will be married and have no choice in the matter. Calla and Shay are thrown together and naturally, being teenagers and forbidden from such feelings, they fall for one another.

Forbidden love has long captivated audiences, however, I must say that in this novel it felt a little forced. All three characters have likeable traits, but overpowering flaws. Ren is portrayed as a typical, misogynistic jerk, however he is merely behaving in the manner in which he has been raised; a manner drawing heavily from the more strict human patterns of eras past. I found it pretty hard to hate him; one cannot hold the merely ignorant in contempt. Ren might be the enemy of the moment within the love story, however the true enemy in Nightshade is the mysterious one governing their world.

Calla is presented to us as the lovely heroine, however her flaws and betrayal are no more reprehensible than Ren’s public womanising. She is stubborn, gullible, inconsistent in her desires. Physically fascinating and magical, but emotionally, no more developed Miss Teen Average Jane.

In a way, Calla is losing her religion in this tale. Having her whole world rocked and a little rolled. I actually liked that she was always plunging into things, making mistakes and then having to deal with the harsh consequences. I enjoyed the fact that Cremer didn’t create a strong female and then make everything easy for her. Mistakes make a character relatable, I liked the way Calla made her mistakes with as much passion as her victories.

Shay’s character is watered down with convenience. As the outsider, it’s his eyes that we must look through in order to understand the world of Nightshade and they are eyes with an ever changing perspective. His character is mysterious, even to himself. He is in a state of flux throughout the story and whilst interesting, his evolution can be frustrating at times. Shay is the nice guy, the boy we are supposed to like, the boy who is supposed to be the opposite of Ren, the boy that Calla truly desires. He is also one of the factors of this story that remains mysterious after the turning of the final page.

This is because Nightshade is not really a novel on its own, it’s the beginning of a series. My biggest gripe with this book is that nowhere on the cover does it indicate being a story that won’t finish within the already bound pages. There is no “part 1” anywhere.

Frankly, I believe that if you are going to write a book with a story that doesn’t exactly finish then you have an obligation to let the reader know that’s the case. Nearing the end of the novel, I was enchanted by the action, the explanations that came slowly but surely, however I could see that there was no way the story would wrap up before the back cover.

The end of a book that is only the beginning of a series is both disappointing and exciting. On one hand the reader is left dangling, on the other hand they have a whole new book to look forward to. I enjoyed Nightshade enough to want to know more, to want its world explained and to pre-order a copy of the sequel/next book in the series, Wolfsbane. I assume that is the intention of an author writing any sort of first-part-of-a-series novel, I would just rather they were upfront about the fact that their book is not a self contained story. Is it just me? Does this sort of thing only bother me?

Nightshade is a book best read with an open and vividly imaginative mind, under the covers with a torch, whilst pretending to be 12 and completely taken with the romance and adventure. Also, without the expectation that all those setups will pay off in the final chapters. It’s amazing how much the lack of an explanative ending can soil the experience of what was otherwise an interesting new perspective on an old mythology.

Love & Awaiting The Sequel,

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  • In Review: Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (2004)

    Dear Audy,

    Set amidst the modern age of man, Dragon Rider tells the story of a young dragon’s quest to find the mystical Rim of Heaven – a secret valley where fabulous creatures can live in peace. Firedrake is one of the last remaining dragons who inhabit a valley that man is insipidly encroaching upon. The only hope for the dragons’ survival and to preserve their secret existence is to find The Rim Of Heaven before man finds them. The big problem is that the dragons Firedrake descended from fled The Rim Of Heaven so many centuries earlier and for reasons blurred by time. Not only is its location long forgotten, very little is known about this ancient land and it is a place commonly thought to not exist at all.

    Firedrake the dragon is not alone in his journey. His good friend Sorrel, a bad-tempered and cynical brownie, accompanies him from the beginning. Their search for clues that might lead them to The Rim Of Heaven takes them precariously into the cities of man, where they serendipitously meet a young, homeless boy named Ben. With no ties to bind him and an instant affinity with the friendly dragon, Ben joins the expedition – in spite of Sorrel’s defensive bickering. Ben’s eyes give the reader a human window through which to view the fantastical world that he finds himself a part of.

    This book was one of those truly remarkable, beautifully written stories that can warm a person from the inside out. Cornelia Funke has a uniquely intriguing manner of taking well-known mythological creatures and giving them interesting twists and traits. Sorrel and her kind are the first brownies that I have read of who look like a cross between a squirrel and a cat and harbour a constant hunger for mushrooms. Funke’s portrayal of Sorrel is engagingly intricate, the brownie’s temper provides shock and amusement and her love for mushrooms is so deeply ingrained in her nature that she even swears in mushroom species. Holy shitake!

    The dragons themselves are of a kind that I have never met before, their only necessary sustenance being moonlight. This critical element of their nature is woven immaculately into the story and develops cleverly as the plot progresses. Along with dragons and brownies, the earth is inhabited by many fabulous creatures, a term that delighted me with every mention. Creatures that are commonly referred to as mythical or magical being labelled fabulous, as their many dazzling traits would dictate, just seems like a perfect fit. The journey of our heroes across the globe sees them encounter many amazing, magical friends, along with some nasty pasties and one particularly terrifying and powerful villain. The many exciting events that form the adventure of Dragon Rider mean there is never a shortage of action and excitement throughout the chapters. I found myself captivated and hurrying to turn every page.

    Although classified as a children’s or young adult novel, Dragon Rider is the kind of soul tickling story that I think would move and delight readers of any age. The language flows descriptively but not excessively and creates an inertia of wonder and suspense that can completely wrap a reader up in its words. At times I felt my eyes sting with tears of pure emotional overload, the good kind of overload, the kind that reminds you that not everything in life is hard or cruel. The world that Funke has created contains so much scope that even the avid guess-ahead reader will surely find themselves enchanted by a few pleasant surprises.

    This story will have you cheering and, in usual Funke fashion, entranced in excitement and wonder right up until the end. It’s mentioned in the author’s notes that Dragon Rider began with the intention of creating a cartoon series, but that it developed such a life of its own that Funke eventually decided that she didn’t want Firedrake’s story told as a cartoon show.

    “Only by writing such a big book did I learn that your characters can develop a life of their own – and that a truly adventurous writer lets them show you the way.” – Cornelia Funke

    In a consumer driven world, so many ideas are sold down the franchise river and slowly destroyed by endless marketing. Stories can lose a little bit of their magic when mixed with other mediums. I think the fact that this story was written for the simple love of writing shows through. Read it now, in case they make a movie… this tale is one best digested with its full sparkle.

    Love & Magic,

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  • In Review: The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

    Dear Audy,

    Silly virus and its silly making me coughy and grouchy! I have done nothing of interest this week, unless you count laying on the couch and look pathetic. Rather than blog about the crappiness of illness, I thought I’d try my hand at a book review, having gotten a taste for writing down my review-like thoughts after seeing Tomorrow When The War Began. It’s fun to write about the stories that have been inspiring me!

    Oh, how I love a good story! For a long time, I felt that, as an adult, I should be reading adult books. The truth is, however, that I’ve never really gotten over my love of children’s and young adult novels. There is just a certain magic and simplicity in these texts that doesn’t quite make it into most works aimed at adults.

    I have just finished reading The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. Although critically acclaimed, I had never heard of this book until I read the Inkheart trilogy and fell in love with the author. If I remember correctly, I was looking for something that would entertain and enthrall as Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story does, so naturally I was looking at other German fantasy authors. I’m really not sure if that is racist or clever (is it still racism when you are being complementary?), but it worked!

    The Thief Lord is set in Venice – a super attractive setting for the inner romantic. Two young brothers, Prosper and Bo have been orphaned in Hamburg. Their fairy-taley standard nasty aunt only wants to adopt Bo, she has been unable to have her own children and only wants the younger boy, content to split the boys up and leave Prosper to the fate of an orphanage. Prosper isn’t having a bar of that. He gathers his younger brother and they steal away to Venice, a city their mother had long told them tales about being filled with magic and wonder.

    On the run from their aunt and her hired detective, the boys befriend a young girl on the streets of Venice, named Hornet, and find shelter with a gang of homeless children, who are living in an abandoned cinema and surviving on profits obtained by their mysterious, often masked “Thief Lord”. A modern day Robin Hood, the Thief Lord steals from the rich and pawns his takings to earn money for his friends in poverty.

    Victor, the detective hired by Prosper and Bo’s aunt, gets very close to catching the boys and in doing so, throws the lives of the homeless children into chaos, exposes secrets about their mysterious leader and has them running scared through the City of Canals. This uprooting leads to an adventure of the wonderful kind; intriguing, scary, exciting and most pleasantly, magical.

    The Thief Lord manages to be both simplistic and highly entertaining. Funke uses a lot of fairytale cliches, orphaned children, nasty adults, a little bit of magic and a fable-like warning or two. The characters are hardly original: a proper and responsible boy; a recklessly ignorant young child; a tomboy with a flair for the dramatic; a couple of kids roughened by years on the streets; a loner, slightly dodgy detective and even an eccentric old lady, thrown in to bring about explanation and inspiration for the magical events that control the plot in the second half of the story.

    In spite of the cliches that Funke uses to tell this tale, she weaves a beautifully original story that surprises right up until the last page. The cliches almost serve as a means to build up the element of surprise as the final chapters take the story to places beyond the usual ‘return to happy normal’ of a children’s story. I was so amazed at some of the aspects of this that I was almost horrified and then slowly impressed with how Funke eased this feeling into an ending that I could smile about. Had the story simply followed Prosper and Bo through a standard running away and attempting to avoid capture, it would have fallen into boringdom, however Funke prevents this by weaving in a supernatural, secondary plot that would just about make a story on its own. I am currently having a love affair with her imagination, next up on my Funke pile is Dragon Rider, although I should possibly finish the other two books that I am half way through before I get excited about the next one!

    Ah, the pile. What reader doesn’t have a pile of ‘to be read’ books that always seems to grow more quickly than they can be consumed? Funke is about to release a new, collaborative series, I’m pretty sure this will end up right on that pile long before the pile starts to look puny!

    Love & Magic,

    P.S. This was fun! Reviewing what I’ve just finished reading is a good chance to sit and ponder it in greater depth than I would be otherwise likely to do. Personal blogging is the best, I can just decide to write on a new topic and away I go…thanks, internet!

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