Tag Archives: Fantasy

The Antidote by Shelley Sackier

Fee (Ophelia) lived a charmed life as a child playing with her two favorite people, brothers Prince Rye and Prince Xavi. Then an invasive deadly illness overtakes the kingdom and Rye is shipped off to another land while the new Royal Highness Xavi (set to be coronated once he reaches the age of twenty one) stays behind to learn the ropes assisted by Sir Rollins and the Council. Fee is chosen to learn how to be a healer, studying the flora and mixing various herbal potions to serve the few remaining citizens of Fireli. The rest of the children have been transported to one of the other three realms until the ten year quarantine is lifted. Fee, who must stay hidden from view, only has contact with her best friend, sneaking out at night to spend some precious time away from the scrutiny of the dour Savva who is so critical of her work. Everyone must continue using the antidote to keep them healthy, with a special blend for the two “youngsters”.  Ten years later, Fee, now seventeen, is just biding her time until Rye returns and they can fulfill the marriage contract created by their now deceased parents. Yet the closer they get to the date when they can all reunite, the sicker Xavi becomes, making her fear he won’t make it to his twenty first birthday. Can she use her affinity with the plant world to work her magic and save her best friend? Will Rye forgive her if she fails and his brother dies. Reluctant, but desperate, she asks for help from Savva which leads to a series of unexpected events and secrets which provide answers for questions Fee didn’t know enough to ask.

In The Antidote by Shelley Sackier, the reader is also left in the dark, often not really understanding what is going on or why certain dynamics are important. Slowly they get to understand what is occurring as Fee’s eyes are opened to her destiny. While some of the revelations result in “AHA” moments, Sackier should have given us a bit more background to avoid the confusion. Yes, I appreciate the need for suspense, but if the reader can’t be engaged from the beginning, they just might decide to read a more mentally amenable book. Which would be a shame, because I just loved Fee, Rye, and Xavi, wholesome and well meaning characters whose hearts are in the right place despite their privileged place in society – primitive though it might be (sounding like a tale from the Middle Ages feudal era). Within the pages are lessons on good vs evil and the circumstances which motivate individuals to make questionable choices which benefit themselves to the detriment of others. Moral issues perfect for the YA audience.

However, even upon completing this book, I still had numerous questions about the whys and wherefores which the plot did not fully explain.

Three and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith

Two spoiled teenage kids, sons of the richest men on earth, end up stranded on a luxury liner space vehicle and it looks like they are the last humans alive in the universe, or at least that’s what they think. It’s a world of cyborgs, war, drugs, and a crazy video series featuring Bonk and Mooney in the absurd and at times totally confusing novel Rabbit and Robot by Andrew Smith.

Cager Messer and Billy Hinman have led a sheltered life with carefully selected friends who are interviewed for the position. Basically ostracized from the general world at large, the two boys are usually left to their own devices and watched over by Rowan, Cager’s caretaker since birth. A cynical world is revealed full of curse words, sexual innuendos, bodily functions, and cyborgs who are obsessed with one thing or another unwittingly imparted into their being by disgruntled, happy, or horny workers. While these advancements of technology might be considered useful tools, like a toaster or can opener, their lifelike compositions make them difficult to ignore until, that is, they become infected with a “virus” and begin behaving unlike any modern human being.

Lots of twists and turns, this story is sure to appeal to the gross side of any preteen/teenage boy but might turn off anyone sensitive to antisocial behaviors such as constant swearing, erections, and farting. A “fun” little bit of entertainment with short chapters, lots of sumptuous meals, and some pompous robots who are prone to pontification along with their own fair share of gratuitous violence.

Despite the disgusting details, I’m giving this one four stars with a thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

 

The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

Our story, The Light Between Worlds, begins in London during the Blitz (the bombings of England’s capitol during WWII) where three children huddle together in an Air Raid Shelter waiting for their parents to join them when suddenly they find themselves in the “Woodlands” where the indigenous  creatures give them haven. Promised that they can return home at any time  to their original time and place, they take up residence in a castle, assisting in diplomatic discussions to prevent a war (which eventually breaks out anyway). After six and a half years, the two older siblings, James and Alexandra, decide its time to return home bringing the surprised and reluctant Evelyn with them. 

Back home they never quite readjust, especially Evelyn, who is living between the two worlds, longing for one while trying to find some sort of peace in the other. Six years later, Evelyn and James are both at their respective boarding schools while Alexandra has escaped the trauma of caring for her despondent  little sis by going to college in America. 

Told in two sections, from both Evelyn’s and Alexandra’s point of view, the past is featured in Italics. Most of the text is introspective as both girls reflect on their behaviors and their relationships. Poor James is also lost, not knowing what to do, and their parents are besides themselves, never understanding why their children are emotionally falling apart. When tragedy strikes, nobody is surprised, but there is enough guilt to go around. 

The author, Laura Weymouth, is from Western New York, my general location, and I was rooting for her debut novel to succeed. Unfortunately, C S Lewis did it so much better, so I recommend the YA population read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to see how it should be done. I don’t understand why Weymouth would write a book which has so many parallels to the classic The Chronicles of Narnia series. Perhaps this could be forgiven if the text were dynamic, but there is too much lamenting and not enough action. I would have liked to read  a lot more about The Woodlands so I could perhaps understand the attraction. To top it all off, at times I found the narrative confusing. Sorry, it just didn’t come together.

Two stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review,  This review also appears on Goodreads.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

I must say, Octavia Butler immediately captures the reader’s attention on the very first page of her novel, Kindred (think instant amputation). Our current day heroine, Dana, an author, unexpectedly finds herself traveling back in time to rescue her ancestor from his numerous bouts with almost certain death. Unfortunately, the date is 1815 on a plantation in Maryland and Dana is African American – not a good fit for the Antebellum South. Via this vehicle, Butler is able to explore the terror of “Southern hospitality” where black slaves were considered property and treated as such, including whippings for infractions as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Due to her unusual garb, her ability to read, and her twentieth century attitudes, Dana is considered uppity by both races. In spite of her “connection” with the slave owner’s son Rufus, she suffers some of the same fates others of her color experienced in their daily lives. Using the time travel device, Butler is able to make plain the nitty gritty of slavery and the cruelty which maintained the system showing that even with her modern day knowledge, Dana’s treatment by the masters led to more than a taste of the brainwashing which kept the slaves in their place, ultimately perpetuating the system. Along the way, Butler discretely points out some similarities between past and present including the concept of interracial marriage which, although legal in the mid 1970’s (Dana’s husband was white), wasn’t socially acceptable.

As a child, Octavia Butler found solace in the pages of a book, noticing that there were few African American authors and not many people of color in the novels she picked up to read, especially in the field of Science Fiction. Butler remedied this situation and became known for her contribution to this genre, although she did not consider Kindred an SF book and on many levels it is easy to agree with her assessment. In retrospect, this book, published in 1976, is more like the magical realism found in 2016 award winning Underground Railroad, although Colson’s book takes an even more gruesome look at the treatment of slaves mixing written facts which he supplemented with some fictionalized details such as an actual railroad which escapees could ride to “freedom”. Butler’s work takes a more realistic approach basing her details on the actual memoirs of various slaves with a touch of fantasy utilizing the time travel theme. In this way her book combines both the aspects of an historical novel and a fantasy. Her talent is helping the reader feel the desperation of the slave who watches those they hold near and dear being beaten, physically molested, and even sold off. When Dana goes back in time, we go there with her and existentially experience the trepidation of those days for anyone born black – whether slave or free.

Even though it has been over forty years since Kindred’s publication, it is still a powerful novel. Luckily, since the seventies, there are now many more renowned black authors, but a black literary hero in mainstream literature is still something to be celebrated (illustrated by the success of the DC character Black Panther).

Four stars.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

The Next Person You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

In today’s paper there is an article about a young couple who were recently married and killed in a freak roll over car accident on their way to their honeymoon. While there are many such incidents throughout the United States, what makes this one especially tragic is that these were two young people at the pinnacle of their happiness. Nothing is as sacrosanct as a bride and groom. I am silently sending my condolences to their families in this most grievous loss of life.

Perhaps that’s why Mitch Albom used a wedding to start off his newest novel, The Next Person You Meet in Heaven, a sequel to a book by a similar title published in 2003. My first reaction was “Oh, no! Not on their wedding day!” since obviously in order to have a tete a tete in heaven, you must be recently deceased. Albom takes us through that happy time and the series of events which followed sending both lovebirds to the hospital where extraordinary measures are necessary to perhaps preserve a life or two.

Then we are in heaven as the former spouse, sans honeymoon, meets the five individuals who most strongly influenced their past. Through the details revealed in their interchanges we get the backstory which led to this fateful day. Back in real time, we discover what happened to those impacted by the couple whose lives had taken such a tragic turn.

I have a copy of The Five People You Meet in Heaven sitting unread on my bookshelf (my brother gave it to me as a Christmas present, at my request, shortly after it was published). While it was obvious that this book was a sequel, with some common characters to both novels, you don’t need to read the first to understand the second. The language is simple, slowly revealing some reinterpretations of an earthly past which changes the viewpoints of everybody involved, including the reader. While one person might personally take offense at actions (or inactions) from various situations, when secrets are shared both discover that there are perfectly plausible explanations for everything. As understanding dawns, peace can be found, and what better place than heaven to achieve this “life” changing miracle. As the song says “Was blind, but now I see!”.

While Albom shares the Grace of God through his words, the story, almost a fairy tale, seems contrived. At times I want to shake the characters in frustration at their stupidity, or I wonder at the dynamics of some of the situations – “Now, really?” I also felt like Albom was being condescending, forcing us to learn a lesson which we might not want to hear. Yet, there were some interesting aspects to the story with several outlooks we might not have considered on our own. Ultimately, I anticipated the outcome and was grateful I guessed correctly since, despite the tragedy, I was able to leave with a good feeling deep in my soul. What more could you ask about a book with the word “heaven” in the title?

Three stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Rovina Cai

First, imagine you are a whale, but not the whales in our oceans. You are the whales in a fantasy world who have developed the technology to breathe underwater, build ships, wear armor, and carry and shoot harpoons. Whales who can speak to humans. Whales who think and plan and hunt man. The same men who also hunt whales. It is war but the true enemy, for both man and whales, is Toby Wick, and it is Bathsheba’s destiny to confront this beast as a part of a great pod destined to meet and defeat this mythical devil.

While this adventure plays out the reader must imagine an upside down world where up is down and down is up. The sky is the abyss or the bottom of the world with the whales traveling up into the bottom of the sea where ships ride on the ocean upside down. For someone who is already directionally challenged, I felt a sense of vertigo throughout the tale, despite the numerous and enchanting illustrations by Rovina Cai

And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness is a futuristic fairy tale depicting an alternative universe which barely resembles anything familiar to our everyday world. While I appreciate the creativity demonstrated by Ness, this tale is a little too bloody for my taste. Despite the descriptive language, I never became fully engaged, although I kept on reading in order to make some sense of the bizarre details. In addition, I had a difficult time connecting with the any of the “characters”, even Bathsheba, the cetacean narrator. Ultimately, there is only so much you can do with the inky sea and a pod of whales, either literally or graphically, although the drawings do give some clues to help decipher the storyline. Despite its short length, Ness seems to take forever to get to the point.

Sorry, this one was not for me. Two and a half stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Traitor’s Game (The Traitor’s Game, Book 1) by Jennifer A Neilson

The Kingdom of Antora has been taken over by Lord Endrick, a self proclaimed king, Lord of the Dominion, who leads with an iron fist with the magic stolen from the Endorians who he conquered (along with the Halderians) in the war which won him the throne. The Dallisors, the rightful rulers, bow down to the power of their Lord, with Henry Dallisor, Endrick’s enforcer, responsible for much of the devastation placed upon the people of the kingdom who are now basically slaves to the whims of this evil overlord. Anyone who dares to complain is swiftly “taken care of” since the common townsfolk are considered expendable often rounded up with the rebels and executed for crimes they did not commit. The Coracks are waiting in the wings, ready for their chance to overthrow the government and the Halderons are keeping their heads down trying to stay out of trouble, although a few have their eye on the prize. The various factions distrust one another and it’s every man for himself. Unfortunately, all the Endorians have been wiped out by Lord Endrick, but if any were still left their lives would be in danger since their kind are hated by everyone for the evilness inherent in their magical powers.

Enter Kestra, daughter of Henry Dallisor, who has been sequestered for three years in Lava Fields after an unsuccessful kidnapping attempt by the Halderians. The event, however, has left her scarred, so her protector, Darrow, has taught her some battle moves, including how to wield a knife. When out of the blue her father sends the Dominion Soldiers to bring her home, Kestra is able to use her survival skills when her carriage is waylaid by the Coracks, but she is forced to give herself up in order to save the lives of Darrow and her lady’s maid, Celia.

Grey Tenger, the leader of Corack rebels, has a task in mind that Kestra is uniquely able to accomplish – finding the Olden Blade, the only weapon which can destroy the immortal king. This mythical object is supposedly hidden in her castle home and she has four days to find it or forfeit the lives of her “friends”. Accompanied by Simon and Trina, disguised as her protector and lady’s maid, they are there to make sure the job gets done. Yet when she arrives “home” she discovers her father has plans for her which threaten to interfere with her stated mission. Lord Endrick also plays a role in determining her future, although from the looks of things she, too, has become expendable in the vast intrigue of palace politics.

The plot of The Traitor’s Game is a YA Fantasy which advances via the points of view of both Krestrel and Simon. The two teenagers have somewhat of a past, since Simon. served as one of her slaves when they were young, but through a series of unpleasant events, he was able to gain his freedom. Their parting left an unpleasant taste in both their mouths, but their close proximity in some fretful situations has softened their mutual feelings of hatred leading to some romantic interludes as their mission progresses. Kestrel is headstrong, acting out without thought to the consequences which sometimes are quite swift and severe. Simon is conflicted, trying to remain loyal to the cause but questioning how he can protect Kestra while staying true to his oath of fealty. Trina, also a teen, is thoughtless and careless, but her determination to succeed at any cost makes her a worthy adversary. All three have daddy issues and each has their own agenda resulting in twists and turns as they move towards their mutual goal.

I thought this was, for the most part, a fast paced story with lots of action and unexpected detours. I didn’t mind the romance (a few kisses) since the two seventeen year olds were in a life and death situation which heightened their emotions, plus they were probably hormonal. The author, Jennifer A Neilson, took her time getting to the climax and, with only thirty pages left, I was afraid there would be no resolution at all, just a cliff hanger to be taken up in book two of the Traitor’s Game series (aptly named because everyone seems to turn on each other whenever it seems expedient). However, there was a somewhat satisfying ending which, although a little rushed and a bit confusing, was mostly unexpected.

I liked it! Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.