Posts Tagged young adult (YA)
Rysa Walker’s Chronos Files have quickly become one of the best-known young adult (YA) sagas around, and it’s easy to see why. With crisp dialogue, excellent characterization and an intriguing premise, the story of Kate Pierce-Keller and the people who surround her is engrossing and thought-provoking. I reviewed the first book of the Chronos Files, TIMEBOUND, here. (If you haven’t read that review, go do so now, or what I’m about to say will make little sense.)
Chronologically, TIME’S ECHO is a novella that explains just who Kiernan is — the mysterious, dark-haired stranger who seemingly popped up every time Kate was in trouble during TIMEBOUND has an interesting backstory of his own. Kiernan, you see, is from the early 20th Century, and like Kate, is able to use a Chronos device in order to travel through time. Not being limited to the world he grew up in, Kiernan has been to the 21st Century, 22nd Century, even the 23rd Century…but his heart belongs to Kate.
However, the Kate he knew — a nineteen-year-old, rather feisty Kate who’d entered into something akin to a common-law marriage with him — is not the Kate we got to know in TIMEBOUND. You see, the same bad actors who were causing trouble in TIMEBOUND have already caused trouble for Kiernan and Kate…and the history and life experiences that created his version of Kate Pierce-Keller are so altered that the Kate who now stands is not only younger than the one he knew, but no longer recognizes him.
See, this is where I have to describe some of the doings of the bad actors (stuff I decided to gloss over in my previous review). They are known as Cyrists, and they’ve created a new religion that dates back to roughly the 15th Century. The founder of this religion, Saul, is actually Kate’s grandfather — and like Katherine, Kate’s grandmother, is from the 23rd Century. Saul and Katherine had a huge blow-up, because Katherine believed that timelines should be preserved — what she’d been taught all her life — while Saul believed that time-traveling historians (like himself and Katherine) should be able to alter time any way they wanted. (You can see where this would be a huge problem, yes?)
Anyway, Katherine didn’t know it, but she was already pregnant by Saul when she became marooned in the 20th Century. She married, had twins — one being Kate’s mother, the other being Kate’s long-missing and presumed dead aunt, Prudence — and settled into a new life as a historian and teacher. She no longer can time-travel due to the actions of Saul, and Saul cannot time-travel either — but their descendants can, at least some of them. (Prudence can, for example, while Kate’s mother cannot. And those who can’t time-travel mostly disbelieve those who can. Keep that in mind.)
So in TIME’S ECHO, we actually get to see a little bit of nineteen-year-old Kate. She’s deeply in love with Kiernan. They have built a life that’s unconventional in that they both time-travel at will, but it works for them. And so long as they both maintain their Chronos devices (an amulet that glows a different color for each time-traveler, but looks like a dull metal to non-time-travelers), they will continue to be in the same timeline and be able to stay together.
Then disaster strikes. The Cyrists decide that nineteen-year-old Kate is too meddlesome, so they figure out a way to remove her as a threat to them by some adroit shifting of the timeline. This also takes nineteen-year-old Kate away from Kiernan, who pretends he doesn’t know who she is when asked by Prudence, Kate’s aunt. But in reality, he is steamed, and vows to find out just what happened to Kate.
That’s why Kiernan shows up to protect Kate so often in TIMEBOUND. She’s not the Kate he knew, no. She’s younger, more innocent, hasn’t had the same experiences, and is in love with another young man, Trey. But she’s still Kate, and he still loves her.
TIME’S EDGE goes back to the Kate we know. She’s working with Kiernan and her aunt, Katherine, to retrieve as many Chronos devices as she can in order to keep them out of the hands of Saul and his Cyrists. Working with a man who’s in love with you when you’re in love with someone else is not easy…but Kiernan has vowed to help bring down the Cyrists, and Kate needs his help, so they’re doing the best they can.
As for Trey, he’s learning to love Kate all over again, but their relationship isn’t quite the same as before. (This is because the original relationship Kate built with Trey was wiped out by a time-shift. Note the parallels here between what happened to Kiernan’s Kate, and Kate’s Trey.) But they’re working at it, and Trey still does feel something for Kate…Kate has hopes that eventually, their love relationship will be as strong as it was before.
There are more time-traveling adventures, this time to the 1930s, the 1960s, and of course a bit back to the early 1900s (Kiernan’s original time). These are all well-written and engrossing, and show the problems of several other stranded time-travelers, including an interracial married couple who unfortunately got stranded in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s. (It was still illegal for white women and black men to be together, much less sleep with one another, at that time.)
Throughout TIME’S EDGE, there is a palpable sense of danger. Kate has already been targeted by the Cyrists before, and they’ve missed twice. How long can she keep going before they kill her and wipe away all memory of her from the timeline? And what will happen to the other time-traveling historians in the wake of the Cyrists’ new religion?
All of these questions will be answered, but in turn will raise even more questions — which is the main reason why I can’t wait to read TIME’S DIVIDE (book three in the Chronos Files)…but I digress.
These are excellent stories, full of action, great characterization, witty dialogue, and fine romance. Despite the apocalyptic nature of the Cyrists and all of their menacing power, there’s somehow a sense that Kate, Trey, Kiernan, and Katherine can prevail. This hopefulness suffuses the entirety of the Chronos Files series, and is the main reason I find these stories to be so addictive.
Bottom line: Read Rysa Walker’s Chronos Files, or you’re missing something extraordinary.
Grades: TIME’S ECHO — A
TIME’S EDGE — A-plus
–reviewed by Barb
This week, it’s time to take on Cedar Sanderson’s short debut novel, VULCAN’S KITTENS. A take on the whole “normal kid finds out she’s part-immortal” theme most recently popularized by Rick Riordan, VULCAN’S KITTENS stars Linnaea (Linn) Vulkane, granddaughter of Haephestus (Heff) — otherwise known as the Greek god, Vulcan. A war between the gods is brewing, and nothing is exactly as it seems. But at the start of this book, Linn has absolutely no idea that she is related to any immortals, much less that she might have some otherworldly powers herself. (Of course, if Linn had known all this at her young age of fourteen, I’d have been incredibly surprised. But I digress.)
Anyway, the kittens come into play because Heff’s good friend Bast, an Egyptian goddess, has had kittens recently, and is staying in Heff’s house out in rural Montana. Linn’s visiting her elderly grandfather, and since she’s there, she helps take care of the kittens. Like kittens anywhere, they’re small, cute and defenseless. And even though Linn finds out the kittens are the scions of two immortals, not just one, that certainly doesn’t mean they came into this world knowing everything they need to know.
Linn has a huge heart, so even before she realizes she might have some additional powers beyond her own essential goodness, she decides she’s going to protect those kittens. It doesn’t matter to her that other gods are trying to harm the kittens (who can’t be killed, exactly, but can definitely be seriously harmed); that may make her task more difficult down the line, but she will deal with that as it comes. And as the kits like Linn quite a bit, Bast decides to leave them in Linn’s competent hands as she must try to head off some of the opposing vengeful gods at the pass.
Despite the soon-to-be-war, for a little while — a time that seems almost dreamlike — Linn’s existence is what you’d expect of any city kid thrust into the countryside. In addition to playing with the kittens and taking care of their needs, she learns all sorts of things about milking goats, skinning small animals like squirrels and rabbits (as Grampa Heff is a big believer in hunting), and a number of camp chores. But because Heff knows that the war between the various gods is imminent, Linn also learns how to protect herself in both hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship.
Wisely, Linn learns these things in a realistic, piece by piece fashion, the way any kid learns. She’s not an immediate expert, something I appreciated mightily. And because Heff sees Linn as a bright and compassionate young woman rather than “just a kid,” Linn actually is better prepared to face the worst than she might’ve been if she’d been immediately dismissed in the way many teens tend to be, in and out of fantasy books.
Anyway, Linn ends up on the run with the kittens, as the war between the gods erupts in earnest. She’s not sure what she’s going to do, much less where she’s going to go, but she does know one thing: she will protect those kittens, or die trying. (Because as a kid who’s only half-immortal, Linn can indeed be damaged, and perhaps even killed.)
The rest of the plotline is for you to read, but if you enjoy young adult books that read well and quickly — and who doesn’t? — you will enjoy the ins and outs of VULCAN’S KITTENS.
There are a few minuses, however, that have to be discussed. As this is a first edition of a first novel, there are a number of typographical errors, a few grammatical errors, and some outright oddities (like a margin shift on the first page) to deal with. These are issues like “naiad” being spelled in one place as “niaid” or Linnaea’s full name being spelled wrong once or twice, and are all minor. But enough of them exist to cause this book to look less professional than it should.
In other words, the writing is professional. Linn’s coming of age story is a particularly nice young adult read that I enjoyed quite a bit. But the editing is not up to the same standard.
Were the editing up to snuff, this would be an A-minus read. But since it’s not, VULCAN’S KITTENS stands as a B-minus.
Young adults of all ages should definitely enjoy VULCAN’S KITTENS, as it’s a fun, fast read from start to finish.
— reviewed by Barb
Arcanum 101: Welcome New Students by Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill is about Tomas Torres, a fifteen-year-old from the barrio. Tomas saves himself and his younger sister, Rosalita, from a nasty encounter due to his previously unknown talent for pyrokinesis — fire-starting, but with the additional ability of being able to move the fires he calls about. But in doing so, he calls attention to himself and ends up working for the local padrone — a very dangerous man — until he quickly ends up behind bars.
Fortunately for Tomas, he’s sent away to St. Rhiannon’s School for Gifted and Exceptional Students (“St. Rhia’s” for short) in upstate New York for three years of probation rather than hard time for arson. St. Rhia’s is a place where psionics like Tomas, or magicians, like his friend and love interest Valeria Victrix Langenfeld (always called “VeeVee”), get trained. Because they’re in the middle of nowhere, that limits the damage these untrained kids can do; it also allows these kids to fight against some really noxious magical things without anyone in authority getting wind of it.
Of course, Torres doesn’t believe in magic, much. Nor does he believe in anything beyond what he can do himself. This is something that needs to get knocked out of him, fast. And as Tomas has adventure after adventure (some with VeeVee, some not), he starts to realize that the world as he knew it is a whole lot bigger — and a whole lot deadlier — than he’d ever imagined.
Fortunately for Tomas, he has experienced help at the ready, as Arcanum 101 is an offshoot of the “Bedlam’s Bard” universe. That means such well-known characters as Eric Banyon, Kayla Smith, and Hosea Songmaker either teach at St. Rhia’s, or are counselors, and can help as needed. The reason for these characters to help at a school like this is simple; none of them want these kids to have the types of growing pains they did. And while none of the teachers overtly state this, the point still came across. (Loudly and clearly, too.)
So there’s a rationale for the school. And there’s a rationale for why these kids are better off at this school than they would be if they were simply left on their own. Which is why Tomas, once he settles into it, decides he rather likes St. Rhia’s, even if it is rather far from civilization. And his liking is not simply due to “get on the bandwagon” psychology, either — instead, it’s actual fellowship, which is hard to write well. (Lackey and Edghill not only wrote it well, but got me to believe that Tomas indeed wanted this sense of fellowship, even when he didn’t know what it was. And writing inchoate longing is even harder than writing about the sense of fellowship without it turning to treacle. Full marks for the pair of them!)
At any rate, Tomas’s and VeeVee are good characters and I enjoyed reading about their adventures. Better yet, I believed in their nascent romance, complete with ups and downs — some of which will be familiar to every teen whether they have Gifts or not — and believed it added greatly to the book as a whole.
Bottom line: Arcanum 101 has magic, teens, a boarding school that’s nothing like the “Harry Potter” series, adventure, a believable, PG-rated romance . . . in other words, this is a winning effort, Young Adult-style, from the gifted duo of Lackey and Edghill.
The only minor drawback is that this is a short novel, somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 words. But as it’s obviously meant to be the start of a whole new crop of adventurers in the “Bedlam’s Bard” universe — complete with Elves, Guardians, and bad guys galore — it works out just fine.
So what are you waiting for? Go grab the e-book today! (Then do as I did, and devour it in a few hours, cold. Then enjoy the re-reads.)
— reviewed by Barb
Tonight, Lauren Oliver’s two YA dystopian romances are on the table. These, of course, are the critically-acclaimed DELIRIUM and its immediate sequel, PANDEMONIUM. Both feature Lena Haloway, a teenage girl from a troubled background who lives with her aunt and uncle in Portland, Maine, as her mother is unavailable. (At first, Lena believes her mother is dead, but later finds out that isn’t so.) And both feature a world that’s nearly entirely unrecognizable due to one thing: love has been outlawed, and anyone who dares to love despite societal prohibitions ends up shunned at best, incarcerated or killed at worst. This is because love is now called a disease, and goes by the name of amor deliria nervosa; it is not considered to be a benign ailment, which is why society continues to incarcerate and kill people who dare to love.
Worse yet, the world, or at least the United States, has become extremely regimented. Your mate is picked for you (obviously, if you try to pick your own mate instead, you’ve shown that you’ve contracted the “disease” and must be removed from society). Your choice of career is picked for you. Your behavior is monitored, your associations (friends, family members, etc.) are not always freely chosen, either (though friendship still exists, true, deep, lasting friendships are quite rare), and everyone in polite society wishes for one thing: the Cure, otherwise known as unnecessary brain surgery that’s equivalent to a lobotomy. A whole religion has grown up around this, and no one questions it because the older religions have all been swept away. (This is a bit of a plot problem, but I’ll get into it later.)
So, for nearly seventy years, the U.S. has existed in a twilight state. Anyone who loves is declared a criminal; the lucky ones manage to get away into “the Wilds,” areas around big cities that have been cleared of permanent habitation, while the unlucky ones get placed into mental institutions or are killed outright in the attempt to escape their terrible fate of an unnecessary lobotomy.
All of this is necessary in order to understand Lena’s problems in DELIRIUM, as she starts out knowing that her mother was not able to be Cured despite several procedures. At first, Lena doesn’t question authority or orthodoxy, which made me want to scream and throw things; ultimately, she falls in love with a guy named Alex, who tells her many things she needs, but doesn’t want, to hear. (Such as the fact that there are a number of resistance fighters out in the woods — excuse me, the Wilds — and that there are many people who disagree with the government’s official stance that everyone needs a lobotomy to protect them from themselves. At this point, I muttered, “Thank God,” and kept turning the pages.)
One of the highlights of DELIRIUM is Lena’s true and strong friendship with a young woman named Hana. These two met because they’re both runners; because their social standings are wildly different (Hana’s family is wealthy, which in this society means her TV actually gets seven channels), once they’re both Cured, they probably won’t have anything to do with one another. Yet as they’re still in high school at the beginning of this book — and as neither of them has been Cured — they still care deeply about one another and want each other to be happy.
Hana, you see, is one of those people who rebel, but only within limits. She will have a comfortable life if she submits to it, which she knows. But she still doesn’t like the idea of that comfortable life; she just doesn’t have the inner fortitude to escape considering the massive problems escaping from their dystopian society will engender.
Yet Hana has lit a fire under Lena, and that fire can only be quenched by two things: freedom, and Alex. And for the most part, I bought it, as Ms. Oliver’s storytelling ability is quite good.
But one thing really bothered me: because this is a young adult dystopia, much emphasis is placed on Lena getting to know Alex body to body, even though they do not, technically speaking, have sex. (In this society, touching one another and kissing deeply seems more illicit than merely having sex, which is something all of these societally approved couples must get around to now and again even considering they’ve all been effectively lobotomized for their own protection.) Lena, of course, goes into raptures at Alex’s physical attributes (the broadness of his manly chest, how his muscles catch the light of the sun, even musings about Alex’s shoulder blades, for pity’s sake), and of course Alex is also stricken dumb by Lena’s physical beauty even though she’s 5′ 2″ and from her own musings isn’t considered to be a raving beauty by any standard.
All of that lavish bodily description was excessive. It detracted and distracted from the main plotline, which of course is this: how do these two young lovers successfully escape their dreadful society? Or is that even possible?
Yet the road into the Wilds is perilous; will they make it out alive? (Hint, hint: at least one of them does, otherwise the second novel under review, PANDEMONIUM, wouldn’t have been written.) Even if they do, will their relationship grow, change, or . . . die?
Next, we move on to PANDEMONIUM, where Lena is now in the Wilds. Alex is not with her, so Lena has to endure the Wilds on her own. She meets up with a resistance group led by a tough young woman, Raven, and several tough young men, including Tack, who seems to be Raven’s boyfriend though this is never really explored.
After a number of travails (mostly having to do with the lack of electricity, food, and medical supplies), Lena ends up relocated to a different city and becomes involved with the influential DFA group — DFA standing for “Deliria Free America” — as Raven and Tack have come along to pretend that they’re Lena’s relations. (There’s no way Raven and Tack would be old enough to be Lena’s parents, so they’re posing instead as her Aunt and Uncle.)
Of course, there’s yet another handsome young man in Lena’s future, with this young man being the son of the head of the DFA, Julian Fineman. Julian has had seizures his entire life, and believes that if he’s allowed to have the Cure (he’s had many operations, as he’s also been stricken with some form of brain cancer), he may truly end up medically cured. Or he’ll end up dead, which to him is an acceptable risk — and because he’s a politician’s son, Julian’s been groomed to tell everyone in this overly polite society that he’s willing to die for the Cure, which of course is a strong societal message.
Then, as the plot progresses, Lena and Julian end up getting kidnapped by a hostile bunch of thugs called the Scavengers. These aren’t like the freedom fighters, who just want to live in peace and love whomever they want; instead, the Scavengers are anarchists, who glorify violence in the name of upsetting the current “natural order of things” in the U.S. Lena ends up confessing to Julian that she’s not really Cured as he thinks she is; instead, she’s part of the resistance, what Julian thinks of as “Invalids” (this concept, of course, has been done before by movies such as Gattaca), with the normal run of zombie-like sheep — er, Cured human beings — being the Valid citizens. And eventually, she manages to get the two of them free of their nasty captors, oddly enough without a single seizure from Julian to gum up the works.
But of course that’s not the end; along the way, Julian falls in love with Lena, while Lena slowly grows to like touching Julian the same way she touched Alex in the past. (Once again, there is no sex going on; the closest these two get to intimacy is when they kiss, or one of them sees the other half-naked.) Lena convinces herself that she must be in love with Julian — after all, he’s a good guy, has stood by her throughout all their trials and tribulations, so what’s not to like about that? — because she does, after all, like touching him. That she doesn’t seem to realize that touching someone and truly loving someone are not the same seems oddly naïve.
Anyway, just as Lena and Julian think they’ve gotten away scot-free into the Wilds, they end up getting recaptured. But Lena doesn’t end up incarcerated; instead, a member of the resistance gets Lena away. This member of the resistance acts oddly, too, in a way reminiscent of Lena’s long-lost mother (hint, hint), but Lena has no time for it as she must get Julian free as he’s about to be put to death. The fact that he’s a politician’s son doesn’t save him under the circumstances, nor does the fact that he and Lena nearly died several times in their escape from the brutal thugs because this is an extremely inflexible, unforgiving society. Because Lena knows that, her focus shifts toward getting Julian away; anything else will just have to wait.
So, the cliffhanger here is, does Lena save Julian, or not? And if she does, will she realize that she doesn’t really love Julian (instead, she just likes him and likes how it feels when he touches her)? And note, while one of these two questions is resolved by the end of PANDEMONIUM, there’s still a great deal left outstanding — which probably is why the third book of this trilogy, REQUIEM, is due out in 2013.
While there are many things to like about both of Oliver’s books, there are some major problems here.
- First, the “new,” zombie-like society that the DFA-types have created has only been in existence for about seventy years, which isn’t long enough to have expunged every trace of any other religion besides the state-sponsored one.
- Second, there’s way too much time spent on how gorgeous these people are; even when Lena characterizes herself in a deprecating fashion, somehow it comes off a bit overdone.
- Third, while I believed Alex was truly in love with Lena, I was never sure if Lena loved Alex or loved the idea of being in love with him; this went double for Lena’s odd relationship with Julian.
- Fourth, I do not buy that a young man like Julian, who’s had seizures all his life, can be beaten and nearly killed yet not have one, single seizure while doing his level best to escape. (Or afterward.)
- And fifth, it’s nearly impossible to imagine how any form of a society could function when everyone in polite society, effectively, has been lobotomized in order to “take the Cure for their own protection.”
So despite Oliver’s excellent storytelling abilities, the foundation on which these stories stands is a bit rocky. That’s why despite two decent YA romances set amidst a convincingly grim milieu (the back story is weaker than I’d prefer, but the ambience is superb), the better of these novels rated a B.
Bottom line: the ambience is excellent. The milieu is distasteful, appropriately dystopian. The romances work to a degree, at least considering very young, untried people are involved. But the back story did not convince.
Because of this, while I’ll still do my best to read REQUIEM when it comes out next year, it’s not likely to be at the top of my list. (Sorry.)
Grades: DELIRIUM — B, mostly because of the Lena-Hana relationship, along with the convincing Alex-Lena romance.
PANDEMONIUM — C-plus, mostly because Lena doesn’t seem to realize Julian’s just a guy — albeit a hot-looking one — and that being willing to touch someone does not necessarily mean that you love him. Not even in this society.
— reviewed by Barb
Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill’s new cross-genre novel is DEAD RECKONING. It’s a zombie steampunk Western set in 1867 that features a trio of intriguing characters, Jett Gallatin (a seventeen-year-old “male” gunslinger), Honoria Gibbons (called “Gibbons” — she’s an inventor, a genius, and is slightly older than Jett), and White Fox (male, about the same age as the other two, raised from birth with the Sac and Fox tribe but most likely 100% Anglo by blood; he’s a scout). All three are intelligent and spirited misfits, which gives them a quick way to bond while keeping the plotline from getting complacent.
DEAD RECKONING opens with Jett stopping off at a saloon in what seems like the middle of nowhere (but is actually west Texas). She’s looking for information about her brother, Phillip, who enlisted in the Confederate Army years ago and hasn’t been seen since. But instead of finding anything out about her brother, she ends up running for her life after zombies — yes, zombies! — attack.
Jett’s a skeptic, so this attack deeply unsettles her worldview. But more unsettling things are on the way once she meets up with Gibbons and Fox, as these two know from the start that Jett is female (a closely-guarded secret) due to Jett needing immediate medical attention. More to the point, due to Gibbons’ skill as an inventor (she has a steam coach she calls an “Auto-Tachypode” that usually cruises at a steady 10 mph), Jett realizes she’s not the only non-traditional female out there.
Gibbons, being if anything even more skeptical than Jett, is leery of the zombie explanation, which is why all three youngsters end up going back to the little hole-in-the-wall town Jett started in to look for clues. Once there, Gibbons attempts several experiments, which lead her to believe that Jett was, indeed, telling the truth. (Which is lucky for us, or there’d be no story.)
Worse yet, Gibbons and the others quickly realize there’s a corrupt “Man of God” involved, a man known as “Brother Shepherd.” Shepherd has a way to “bring the dead back to life,” but it’s not a resurrection — instead, he’s actually bringing these people back as undead zombies. Due to this seemingly miraculous power, a cult of rather gullible people have formed around Shepherd (many of them women); the few men “in the know” are with Shepherd because Shepherd pays very, very well. (Which admittedly isn’t hard to do if you’re able to loot towns with impunity due to a semi-controlled horde of zombies.)
When Jett is captured while attempting to gain information from the enemy, Gibbons and Fox quickly decide to rescue her. But will the zombies manage to get to Jett first, especially as Shepherd does seem to have some sort of weird control over them? And even if the zombies don’t get to Jett right off, will Gibbons figure out how to undo whatever it is Shepherd’s done, as that’s the only long-term way to save Jett or anyone else?
All of this action-adventure is stimulating, interesting, and very fun to read. But perhaps the best reason to read DEAD RECKONING is how faithful Lackey and Edghill are to the Western milieu, yet how easily they manage to fit both steampunk and zombies into the story without missing a beat.
Bottom line? DEAD RECKONING is an excellent stand-alone, action-adventure novel. So if you like Westerns, zombies, steampunk, or better yet, all three, go grab a copy of DEAD RECKONING once it becomes available on June 5, 2012. You’ll be glad you did.
— reviewed by Barb