Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters on The Run

I realize I neglected my blog for a week (because I was busy, and reading), but I'm back again for another Top Ten Tuesday via The Broke and Bookish

This week's theme is "Top Ten Books Which Feature Characters who/that _________________)" and we are all filling in the blanks with different things. Fun? Fun.

So whether they are fleeing the law, dodging their past, or just constantly hunted by someone, here are some of my favorite books where characters are on the run*:

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

This one probably needs no explanation, but Les Miserables is the epic story of Jean Valjean (Prisoner #24601) who steals a loaf of bread, skips out on parole, and then spends his entire life on the run from Inspector Javert. It is also about so much more: politics and history, mercy, forgiveness, courage, the law, good and evil, rebellion, and ultimately, love. True, there are passages in the center about Parisian sewers and criminals argot, but there are also some of the most beloved characters of all time.

2. Written in Red (Others #1) by Anne Bishop

Don't discount the cover. If I had, I'd never have gotten hooked on a current favorite series!
The plot of this book is too complex to get into now, but in short, Meg Corbyn is on the run from people who have controlled her every move, and kept her in a "gilded cage" so to speak. She has no personal life, no family, and no where to run, until she stumbles into the Others' Courtyard. The Others are the first inhabitants of their world (like a parallel earth),** powerful supernatural creatures who range from the "familiar" vampires to Elementals (embodied elements/natural phenomena), and yet more powerful creatures. Meg herself can see visions whenever she is cut, which puts her in a ton of danger, and makes her valuable to everyone-which gets back to being on the run . . .

3. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

Though the Errol Flynn movie is fun, the book is a lot better.

Captain Blood is basically romantic, fantasized history about pirates. Peter Blood is a physician and former soldier, content with his lot. But when he helps a man wounded in the ill-advised rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth (which was Blood's duty as a doctor!), he is sentenced to slavery in the Caribbean colonies. As a slave, he falls in love with the daughter of his master (never a good idea), befriends his fellow slaves, and then steals a Spanish ship and becomes the most noble and adventurous pirate of them all. If you liked the first Pirates of the Caribbean or any Errol Flynn movie, you should like Captain Blood.

4. Cress (The Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer

These covers are amazing
I love these books. Cyborgs, fairytales, genetically engineered werewolves, robots, space, how could any of that be bad? I am not sure which one is my favorite, but I found Cress to be quite different from the previous two, and in a good way. In Cress, every main character is on the run except spoiler,*** but specifically Cress and the dashing Captain Thorne. Cress has no street smarts, and Thorne is both conceited and jaded, they are both on the run. It is Tangled in space, and you should definitely read the whole series if you haven't already.

5. The Westmark Trilogy  by Lloyd Alexander

I grouped these because:
A. A lot of the characters are either fugitives or on the run at various times, B. Theo, one of the leads, is physically on the run in Westmark and both emotionally/physically "running" in the following two novels.

Theo starts out as just a printer's devil, but printing the wrong pamphlet sets a spiral of terrible events in motion that turn Theo into a fugitive. While running from basically everyone, he teams up with other misfits and they end up saving the kingdom. But then The Kestrel happens. Theo now finds himself embroiled in a terrible war, unable to go home, and the horror changes him. In the third book, The Beggar Queen, Theo and the rest of the cast return to being fugitives, determined to overthrow a dictatorship.

In short, these books are a little Les Mis, a little Tale of Two Cities, with both humor and depth. And a lot of running.

6. The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

This book is one of the spookiest I have ever come across. Set in an alternate Victorian London, it follows Thaniel the wych-hunter (wych is a one-size-fits all term for supernatural monsters here), committed to protecting people from the ever-increasing swarm of monsters that seem to infect London, alongside his mentor Cathaline. When they meet the half-crazed, half-possessed Alaizabel, things rush toward the end of the world at a good clip. Alaizabel isn't just possessed, of course, every creature and monster seems drawn to her, which is why she is on the run in the first place. By the end of the novel, anyone around her is also on the run if they want to live. Creepy, atmospheric, and tense, this is still one of my favorite monster novels.

7. The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman

Shusterman's writing is intense, and his worldbuilding superb, so I can't wait to read more of his work!

Starting with Unwind, this series takes place in a dystopian world where 1. Abortion is illegal, 2. Children can be "unwound" (organs donated/transplanted so life doesn't technically end) between ages of 13 and 18 and 3. Children can be born specifically for unwinding.
I don't want to give too much away, but the three main characters are obviously all candidates for unwinding, which is how they get to be on the run. These books are thought-provoking and chilling, and worth a read!

8. Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next #2) by Jasper Fforde

Another frequent flyer on my blog is Jasper Fforde. English, funny, and quirky as can be, his Thursday Next series features a thirty-something "literary" detective with a dry sense of humor.

In both the second and third installments, Thursday is pursued by the terrible Goliath Corporation who ****spoiler, her well-meaning friends, and the authorities pursuing her father (a man on the run himself). On top of all this, the poor woman is pregnant.

9. Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Another classic novel, in which the young David Balfour is pursued by the authorities and befriended by the roguish rebel Alan Breck. They are on the run for most of the novel, but that doesn't stop them from developing a great camaraderie and rapport. The Scots dialect is pretty darn authentic, but don't let it stop you. This is a great adventure novel with a lot of heart, and running.

10. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell

I know, it's cheating a little bit, as The Most Dangerous Game is actually a short story. However, it is all about the chase/the pursuit/the hunt.

The biggest strength is actually the villain, General Zaroff: a Russian aristocrat who has decided big game hunting isn't extreme enough. Read it, and you'll see inspiration for so many popular books/movies/TV show episodes.

And while it isn't profound, it is pretty thrilling :)

Honorable mentions: Howl's Moving Castle  (trust me, Howl's character is defined by running away), Incarceron, Moby Dick, No Country for Old Men . . . etc.

*Just realized that none of these are actually classic spy/pursuit novels . . . strange. I need to read more classic spy lit.
**Ann Bishop could probably teach a course on world-building. Her landscapes/politics/atmosphere/history/culture richness is staggering.
***Scarlet isn't on the run because she's in a cage! Poor Scarlet.
****They erased her husband from existence. I would be cross too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top 10 Tuesday via Broke and Bookish: Favorite Authors (with gifs)

And it's Tuesday-which means Top 10 Tuesday with the lovely people over at The Broke and the Bookish. Every week, they pick a theme for a top 10 list, and participating bloggers link back. You can find out more here.
This week's top 10-Top 10 Favorite Authors, was excruciating . . .
I know, Emma, I know.
Rather than agonize, grit my teeth, and lament, I decided to list 5 of my favorite "contemporary"* authors and 5 favorite "classic" authors, with two requirements:
  1. I have to have read at least 2 books by them
  2. I have to have reread at least 1 of their books/plays/whatever
Otherwise, this post might have taken me a couple years of re-reading and soul-searching.
But it all seriousness, this is really hard. So no more stalling, here it is:

  1. Classic: J. R. R. Tolkien
  2. Contemporary: Robin McKinley

I put them together because they are two of my earliest reading/writing influences. My dad read The Hobbit to us when we could hardly read ourselves (Thank you Dad!). Though some of the subtleties in Tolkien’s writing certainly escaped me as a kid, the beauty never did. I 100% blame him for my obsession with elves, my fascination with forests, and my dissatisfaction with so much of modernity.

Likewise, when I first read The Hero and the Crown, I was hooked. McKinley’s lovely use of language, her dreamy worlds, and her truly awesome heroines are still my favorite. As a teenager, I felt like her characters “got” me.

3. Classic: William Shakespeare
4. Contemporary: Neil Gaiman

Ah, Shakespeare; love him or hate him, or doubt he wrote his plays: I don’t care. He is hailed as the greatest writer in the English language for a reason. From made up words, to memorable characters, to owning tropes, Shakespeare was/is one of my biggest influences and rereads. “Good Lord, for alliance! Thus goes every one to the world but I, and I am sunburnt; I may sit in a corner and cry heigh-ho for a husband!” **

Neil Gaiman is properly paired with the Bard, because he is also a brilliant wordsmith and Master of Stories. I can’t exactly remember which book of his I read first, or when I first picked it up, because his characters and worlds have been a part of my reading life for so long. His ability to render character, atmosphere, and worlds with deft, spare prose, has this Dickensian girl gritting her teeth with writer-envy.

5. Classic: Jane Austen
6. Contemporary: Megan Whalen Turner

What can I say about Jane that hasn’t been said? If you don’t think Pride and Prejudice is funny, then read it again. I was a classic tomboy, but Jane had me on pins and needles as I wondered if Darcy and Elizabeth would ever do things right, or if Wentworth would realize he was misjudging Anne, or if Catherine Moreland’s gothic novel fantasies would ruin her shot with Henry. Not only was Jane brilliant and witty, but she made you care about her characters and their relationships. My anti-romance sentiments were forgotten every time I picked up one of her novels.
Austen tip #1: When flummoxed in front of someone you like, ask after their parents.
Megan Whalen Turner, if you don’t know, wrote The Queen’s Thief series. Eugenides, thief extraordinaire, and Irene, the strong and grim queen of Attolia, are two of my favorite characters (and couples) in all literature. The push/pull of their relationship, the scheming and court intrigue, the daring thefts, and the real consequences in these books made them impossible to put down. If I dare to skim for a favorite passage, I am always sucked into reading the whole book again. Now that, Ms. Turner, is a gift.

7. Classic: C. S. Lewis
8. Contemporary: Diana Wynne Jones

I actually prefer Lewis’s nonfiction (philosophy and theology) to his fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Chronicles, and they are an integral part of my reading identity. But if I am naming off my favorites, The Four Loves and Till We Have Faces immediately spring to mind. The latter is fiction, being a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, but the former is a slim volume packed with wit and insight on every kind of love. They actually go together quite well. Lewis’ wit, command of both history and mythology, and his affable professor writing voice, are at their best when he is writing about tough subjects like love and pain. In Till We Have Faces, he proved that he could write “serious” fantasy, and with a strong heroine, no less.

Diana Wynne Jones’ books are funny, smart, exciting, and so very English. Howl’s Moving Castle is one of my all-time favorites, and I pick it up whenever I need a good laugh. Sophie is another character I’ve always identified with. Her cleaning mania is pretty unique in YA fiction, I think. Another hilarious (but slightly darker) Jones novel, Dark Lord of Derkholm, is one of the better fantasy parodies out there. And she didn’t just write funny books, as the truly creepy Fire and Hemlock proved.

9. Classic: The Brontés
10. Current: Garth Nix

I am cheating and putting the Bronté sisters together. Not because they are all alike, but because I read their novels around the same time. Wuthering Heights made me furious at half the characters, but the novel is a masterpiece, nonetheless. Jane Eyre, likewise, deserves its place in the pantheon of English literature. Mr. Rochester frustrated me too, but Jane’s spirit and strength of character makes her one of my favorite heroines. And of course, the oft-forgotten Anne Bronté wrote too! The Tenant of Wildfell Hall does not get as much credit as it deserves.

Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series is one of my all-time favorites. Sabriel is one of the coolest heroes ever, and the idea of anti-necromancers was brilliant. I love everything about Sabriel, from Sabriel’s no-nonsense attitude, to the use of bells to command the dead, to the world, to funny, bitter Touchstone and aggravating Mogget. Like every author on this list, Nix has a way with language that pulls you write into his worlds. From the first scene, where Sabriel brings back a pet rabbit from death, I can never put this one down once I start reading.

This is where it got hard: Terry Pratchett, Elizabeth Marie Pope, Edgar Allen Poe, Patricia C. Wrede, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, Erik Larson, Matthew Pearl, The Brothers Grimm, Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, D. M. Cornish, Jonathan Maberry, Patricia McKillip and more kept intruding. I could do this list indefinitely . . .

*I am defining Contemporary as "actively writing from 1980's and on :)"
** Beatrice, we have all been single at a wedding (I think), made some witty, sarcastic aside, and been taken seriously. Beatrice is my spirit animal.

So, did I pick any of your favorites? Tell me in the comments :)

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's Monday!: What Are You Reading? (feature from Book Journey)

Happy Monday!

It is foggy and rainy in Michigan (and a little colder than the past few weeks). But there is no April snow, so it's all good.

Monday's meme is from Sheila over at Book Journey, and here's her write up:

"Welcome to It’s Monday What Are You Reading?  The meme that we use to share what we read this past week and what our plans are for the upcoming week.  It’s a great way to see what others are reading and add to your own To Be Read list. :D  You never know where that next great read may come from!"

(quote from Sheila's meme post here)

So I've started a lot of books in the past few weeks. I'm not sure if all of them will be worth finishing, it's too early to tell.

Most Recent: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Here's the Goodreads excerpt:“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.” (Goodreads)

I just started this, so I have no impressions other than about the cover. IT'S GORGEOUS. Also, I'm kind of scared to start it, as the Goodreads reviews compare it to some of my all-time favorite novels. I don't want to get my hopes up, you know? And yet, I can't help being excited . . .

Next up is Ross Poldark (Poldark #1) by Winston Graham

I'd be lying if I pretended I'd heard much about this series before the BBC rebooted it for Masterpiece with Aidan Turner as Ross. In fact, I've been deriving an enormous amount of hilarity from the drippy posts and memes BBC has been posting on Facebook. The blurb on Goodreads didn't really grab me either:

"Ross Poldark returns to Cornwall from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his family and his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers that his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth, having believed Ross dead, is now engaged to his cousin. Ross must start over, building a completely new path for his life, one that takes him in exciting and unexpected directions" (Goodreads)

 Sounds boring, honestly. But I was inundated by Poldark, and I finally decided to give it a shot. It's pretty typical historical epic: wronged hero who is noble but makes some bad decisions (obnoxious, bad decisions), brooding (much brooding), a sort-of love triangle (square?), sweeping moors, a privileged upper class, and the downtrodden. In other words, I'm enjoying it so far.
    So, thanks, BBC, even if you insinuate that this is the only reason we should notice Poldark:

Bitter Greens, by Kate Forsyth

I promise I picked this up for more than the cover:

Anyhow, it seems a little romantic for my tastes, but I love fairytales and historical fiction, so I'm giving it a chance. Here's a Goodreads blurb:
 "Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman."

Sounds pretty good, right? We shall see.

So that's it for this week. Did you start (or finish) any interesting books today? I'm still plowing through the wonderful (but long) The Greatest Knight, which is about the fascinating life of William Marshall. It's a little hard to read in the tiny snatches of time I have, so I don't know how long it will take me . . .


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Happy Thursday :)

As I happened to finish a few books this week (which felt awesome!), it's about time I reviewed at least one of them. So here we go:

I really, really, wanted to love The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman. It's all the Gothic high melodrama and fairytale eeriness that I love. And yet, it was too filmy and insubstantial to leave much of an impression.

In The Glass Casket, Rowan Rose keeps busy by translating ancient texts along with her scholarly father. They live in Nag's End (which is a village on the edge of nowhere-exactly what it sounds like), surrounded by "superstitious" villagers with layered traditions. Though her mother died when she was young, Rowan has a good relationship with her father and a strong friendship with fellow villager, Tom. However, everything changes when the kings' men come to town and are horribly killed, and Rowan's mysterious cousin, Fiona shows up in their wake. The Elders warn of hungry wolves, but Rowan begins to suspect that it is something, much, much darker, and not easily explained away by logic and science.

So, it's basically the child of The Village, The Brothers Grimm, and Hot Topic.

What I liked/What worked:

1. Templeman's mastery of tone and mood was great from the get-go. There was a timelessness to her atmosphere and descriptions which reminded me of The Village (in a good way)

2. The merging of Snow White, Snow White and Rose Red, and Little Red Riding Hood (with just a touch of The Demon Bridegroom legend). This was cleverly done, and it worked well with her story.

3. Templeman's prose and use of description (see #1) were lovely, and I could easily visualize the characters and action.

4. There is a guy named Jude. I really think we should revive that name. It has a sort of Clint Eastwood character swagger and charm.

5. Rowan was a scholar. She triumphs through loyalty, love, and knowledge. I liked that she had an inquiring mind, yet she didn't accept either her father's logical, scholarly beliefs, or those of the villagers, without question.

What I didn't like/What didn't work:

1. Uneven use of language. This is a pet peeve of mine, and there are so many books that do this, YA and Adult alike. Using modern slang terms like "Okay," when you are distinctly going for a medieval meets Victorian vibe is jarring and it snaps me out of the story. This is almost more of an editorial complaint-I know I've made that mistake myself, it's really easy to do! But that's why you want test readers.

2. The characters were flat (like in most fairytales), and we were just supposed to accept their insta-loves and their dramatic changes of heart. For example, Rowan starts out with a good relationship with her dad, whom she loves dearly. Later in the book, after all of the killings and danger, he decides she needs to be married off for her safety. Naturally, she is angry. However, she then decides that she hates him completely, even though he is trying to (misguidedly) protect her.* She has every right to be angry, but to utterly loathe the one person who has really loved you and guided you? That just didn't strike me as realistic. And it's only one example. There was also the creepy relationship of Fiona and her stepdad,** and her good relationship with her stepmother. Both of these were just dropped into the narrative, instead of developed through character.

3. There was too much going on, and not enough plot exploration. It felt like huge chunks of the story were missing (character development, plot development, worldbuilding, etc . . .). We were given some backstory on the types of witches in the world, but this didn't have much to do with the story until the end. We know city people are smart and logical, and that Nag's End is full of "backwards" old-fashioned types. We know there is a whole mythology and culture, but it is never really explored. You were given types and cues so you could fill in these blanks, with nothing to hold them up.***

4. The first two thirds of the book were basically a set up for the stronger last third. I felt like Templeman hit her stride toward the rising action, and that the plot became more cohesive. It was frustrating.

5. The world. This is related to all of the above. I felt like Templeman had a really fascinating world in her head, but it didn't quite translate to the page. It was like looking at beautiful pictures with no continuity, as if Hot Topic did a fairytale-themed Vogue section.

Overall: 2.5 stars for the book, but 4 stars for the idea.

For a similar feeling book that turns an old story upside down, try My Swordhand is Singing. It's creepy, yet poignant, and beautifully written.


* This phenomenon seems to be everywhere in YA books. Just because young people are more emotionally volatile doesn't mean they're all Gollum/Smeagol crazy.
** Don't get me wrong, I didn't really want to know more about that creep, but I just thought it was one more random infodump, more than character development.
*** I am a worldbuilding fiend. The richer and more detailed the world, the better. I had very similar problems with The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I disliked for many of the same reasons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Where are They Now? Fictional Character Edition

Over at The Broke and the Bookish they have a fun feature called Top Ten Tuesday where they invite other bloggers to participate in lists (I love lists). This week's topic is "Where Are They Now?" (Not your high school friends or your childhood neighbor: fictional characters). Have you ever finished a book, found out there was no sequel, and then been tormented about the characters future or fate? No? Yes? I have, and without further ado, my list:
 (all links/pictures are from Goodreads)

*I tried to avoid spoilers, but be careful, all the same*

1. Aerin from Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown
First, if you haven't read it, you should. This book influenced me as both a reader and a writer. But it does not have a satisfying resolution is so many ways! (That's not a bad thing, and it works for the story)

According to McKinleys blog, Aerin did go back to Luthe eventually, but what happened? When? How? I need answers. And I'm not alone, apparently McKinley gets these questions a lot!*

2.  Everyone Tolkien ever wrote about (I'm kind of serious).

What happens after the Undying Lands? Will Arwen or Luthien ever see their fathers again (or their mothers????) What were Faramir and Eowyn's lives like? What ever did happen to the Entwives? Where are the Blue Wizards? Did Legolas have a mother, or was he adopted? How did Dis feel about losing her husband, brother, and sons, and what did she do about it? I could go on for this entire blog post, but I'll spare you the questions.

3. Finn, Jared, Claudia, Keiro, Attia, what happened to you guys? (From Incarceron and Sapphique)

I was one of those people who loved these books. I even kind of loved how frustrating they were. The characters aren't really likable, and you never get to deep into their heads or motives, which somehow made them more fascinating. Keiro is my favorite (horrible, but so funny). BUT WHAT HAPPENED? There is no third book, most of the plot threads are only mildly dealt with. There is so much I want to know. Were they ever able to pick up the pieces after the ending? What about the other prisoners? Does Finn ever become king, or do they do away with the monarchy altogether? Again, I could go on, but you get the picture.

4. Richard Mayhew from Neverwhere

And Door, and the Marquis, while I'm at it. Richard's choice at the end of the novel is very interesting. How do things pan out for him? Does he choose the right thing? I wish I knew. 5.This is another novel that needs to be read (if you haven't already)**

5. Theo, Mickle, Florian, and everyone else from the Westmark Trilogy

This is another classic series that I read as a teenager. They are a bit like Les Miserables meets The Queen's Thief series, but a lot lighter. The characters have complete arcs over the series, but I'd love to check in on them later on in their lives. (And while we're at it, whatever happened to Vesper Holly?)

6. And speaking of The Queen's Thief series . . .

I know that we hear a bit about Irene and Gen after The King of Attolia, but that just wasn't enough to satisfy me. Do they ever become parents, because that would be a riot.

7. Jonathan (and Arabella) Strange, and Mr. Norrell from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Susanna Clarke's magnificent historical fantasy is another book you love, or hate (or don't finish). It's one of my favorites from the last ten years, and I'd love to hear more about the characters.

8. Rhett and Scarlett from Gone With the Wind

This book was so full of ups and downs, and at times, I despised ever character. However, wouldn't we all like to know what happened to these two, and where they ended up?

9. The son from The Road

Did he survive? Was there any thing to really survive for? Obviously, these questions had nothing to do with the book, but that doesn't stop me from wondering . . .

10. The Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist

I doubt I was the only person who wanted to hear his side of the story. I have been wondering about this guy since I was eight years old, and I will probably never stop. Who exactly is the Artful Dodger, how did he come to be, and where did he really end up? I need that book.

So there (late, late, late) are my top ten :) anyone else have these?

*Honestly, Robin McKinley is a repeat offender on the "I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED THAT IS THE END OF THE BOOK WHO ARE YOU KIDDING LIST" Look at Rae/Sunshine in Sunshine . . . WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
** Check out the excellent dramatized version starring James McAvoy (who would be an awesome movie/show Richard. Now I need to see that too)

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#TBT-Book Review: The Blue Sword

So, continuing on with book reviews, I decided to do a review of one of my all-time favorite books, The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley.

Sometimes I reread a book I read as a kid/teenager and reevaluate it. Sometimes this turns out to be a mistake, but never when I read Robin McKinley.

My first experience with her books was when I was around eleven, and probably too young to really grasp all the nuances and complexities of her writing. I read The Hero and the Crown because the cover had a red-haired girl* wielding a sword, on a horse, facing a dragon. To a Lord of the Rings and Star Wars girl, this was all the incentive I needed to pick it up. I was drawn in by Robin McKinley's lyrical prose and her fascinating fantasy landscape. Naturally, after Hero, I picked up The Blue Sword, which gets me to today's review:

This is the cover of my copy. It is one of the better fantasy covers out there, in my opinion
In The Blue Sword, the recently orphaned Harry Crew arrives in the mysterious desert land of Damar to live on the generosity of her brother's friends. Awkward, too tall, and not really proficient at anything, Harry is restless and drawn to the strangeness of the desert around her. Her people (the Homelanders-very much like the English in Imperial India), have an uneasy hold on the wild territory around them, and an innate suspicion of their close neighbors, the Free Hillfolk (they resemble Bedouins, with magic powers, and they are awesome).
  When the king of the Free Hillfolk, Corlath, comes to ask the Homelanders for help again their mutual enemy, the Northerners, it sets things in motion that neither Homelanders or Hillfolk could imagine.

  Corlath (and some of the Hillfolk) have a sort of innate magic, or kelar, which grows stronger with emotion. As the heroine and protagonist, Harry also has this kelar, and finding out the how and why is part of the plot, so I won't spoil it. Suffice it to say that Corlath's kelar often "demands" he do strange or rash things: in this case, it tells him he needs to take Harry for the Hills. Harry's destiny is tied to both Homelanders and Hillfolk, and ultimately she must reconcile both those sides of herself, and bridge the way for others if they are to defeat the Northern hordes. If she becomes an awesome, legendary-sword wielding hero while still retaining her personality and identity, then you know you are reading a Robin McKinley novel.

What works/what I liked:

1. Harry. I can relate to her, you can relate to her, and she's authentic (minus the kelar, of course). She is a strong female character who is defined by her own personality, and acts like a real person.**
2, Robin McKinley's style and sly humor. Her use of language is lovely and easy to read. She is neither flowery or bare with her description. She never writes down to her readers, and there is no instant gratification. Her books are not typical YA.
3. Hillfolk culture. They are warriors, they use swords, they are proud and honorable, they have a wonderful relationship with their horses and other animals, and I could go on. I only wish there was more.
4. True Hero Fantasy. The Blue Sword is the real deal. Hero fantasy, as a genre, follows a young hero/chosen one from their usually unremarkable start, follows their training for greatness, and then establishes them by testing their skills/powers/heart, etc. Sometimes is is refreshing to read a book that isn't trying to be too clever.
5. Harry and Corlath's relationship. From prisoner/guest and reluctant kidnapper, to rider and king, to *spoiler* couple, they are one of my favorite fictional pairs. They manage to be equals (though Corlath is a king and Harry has the disadvantage), have disagreements, and be friends in a way that sold me. I am not a romance person, and honestly, The Blue Sword  has very little romance, but I found their relationship both compelling and believable.

What didn't work/what I didn't like:

This is harder, like critiquing your friend, but here goes:

1. (See #3 above) I wanted more Hillfolk. More culture, more history, more character development outside of the main ones. I could probably read a whole book about Damar's history and not be bored.
2. (See #4) Like most hero fantasy, Harry gains a lot of her powers/abilities through it being her destiny to have them. I know I said this was one of the best parts above, but it is also one of the things I don't like as much. Harry's time training and developing her powers is not long enough, and I would have liked to see it be harder. (It's not easy, per se, but, well . . .)
3. More Aerin. I know this is why you read Hero, but in my opinion, both books could use more of that legendary figure :) After all, Hero ends with the beginning of her legendary period.
4. More Corlath. Obviously, this is Harry's story, but I love Corlath, and I would have liked to know more about him. We know the essentials (like Harry does), but he is funny and grim, and fascinating, and a great character in his own right.
5. The Northerners. They are bad, mysterious, and witchy, and they want to destroy everything, but we really don't know much more. I know this is explored elsewhere, but I would have liked to know more about them.

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars-It isn't as good as Hero, but it is still one of my favorite books ever!

This was actually kind of hard!


*I love red hair. Always have. And sometimes cover art is accurate.
**I do not like heroines who become strong by basically acting like a man. I also don't like period piece heroines who internally rant about the unfairness of their period-correct pastimes/clothing/mores in a modern fashion. It isn't realistic, and it isn't fair to the many strong women who have lived and died in the past. That's all.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to add books you reevaluated from childhood in the comments.