ya fantasy

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted cover naomi novak“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.”

The Dragon protects the entire valley of villages where Agnieska has lived. It’s always been this way her entire life, the Dragon and the Wood dueling. The Wood sending out waves of corruption that the Dragon stopped. And all he required was a girl from the valley, every ten years, to live in his tall tower.

Agnieska’s best friend Kasia was always meant to be taken. Beautiful, strong, and brave – where Agnieska is bumbling, apt to daydreaming, and wandering farther into the Wood than she ever should. Kasia will be chosen, and Agnieska is afraid. There’s no way for her to save her friend.

But when the Dragon comes to choose, it’s not Kasia he chooses. It’s Agnieska.

I loved Uprooted. It was overwhelming and meandering at times, but beautiful and raw as well, with layer after layer of complexity. The mythos of it had Russian origins, which, as I noted with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, is a refreshing variation.

It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, right down to magical rose bushes. To be shamelessly honest, I was picturing David Tennant as the Dragon and Anne Hathaway as Agnieska. Whoops. I loved the Dragon’s brittle, curmudgeonly personality, and how he bristled at the unrefined ways of Agnieska. Her stumbling, improvising way with magic made me think that would be the way many of us would go about it

I loved the world Novik built, complete with other wizards and witches, beyond the valley. The man vs nature conflict was like a darker Studio Ghibli movie. Remember kiddies, don’t anger nature.

Kasia and Agnieska’s friendship was realistic and fortunately devoid of unnecessary drama or love triangles. The royalty in this world were also rather realistically depicted, in that they were very fleshed out characters. All of the characters were multifaceted, with hidden depths that slowly, organically were revealed, even as they grew. Well, some of them grew.

I absolutely, positively recommend this book to fantasy fans. It was darker than your typical YA fantasy, funny, and emotive. Like so many of my favorites, I miss the characters already.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinder marissa meyerI did it again. I started a series that wasn’t finished. I was hesitant. I mean, how many fairytale retellings does the world need? I’ve read Ella Enchanted and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I’ve watched Once Upon a Time and I’ve played Kingdom Hearts. So when I read the blurb for a book being about a cyborg Cinderella set in futuristic New Beijing, I wasn’t expecting my mind to be totally, completely blown.

Spoiler alert. Mind was blown.

In the world of Cinder, a deadly plague decimates the world’s population, while above the skies, a dangerous race of lunar people watch and wait to take their place as Earth’s rulers. Cinder is a mechanic, a cyborg, and a fifteen-year-old girl. She doesn’t remember her past, just the day-to-day drudgery of dealing with her stepmother’s disdain. But when Prince Kai comes into Cinder’s shop, everything changes. She’s at the crux of an intergalactic crisis, a forbidden crush, oh, and the fate of Earth.

Cinder is a gritty, action girl, generally accompanied by her chipper android sidekick Iko. Cinder’s not your typical fairytale, Disney-fied princess. When she meets the prince, she is grimy, sweaty, and oh yeah: her foot’s been disconnected. But fixing the prince’s broken android becomes the least of her worries when her stepsister contracts the deadly disease, and her stepmother hatred zeroes in on Cinder with a new reverence. Soon Cinder is making choices she never thought she was capable of. Prince Kai doesn’t have it much easier, with the Lunar queen Levana breathing down his neck and demanding a marriage alliance that is sure to bring the moon’s tyranny to earth.

The series grows to encompass quite an ensemble cast, including Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), the dashing Captain Thorne (questionable morals), and Wolf. Prince Kai is a dreamy prince charming, but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders (and a crush on a certain cyborg we love).

The story continues in Scarlet and Cress, and ends in Winter. Winter is the last book in the series, published this past November, and Winter’s story is reminiscent of Snow White. Plus, there are Marissa Meyer’s short stories between each book. Winter was a deeply thrilling conclusion to this amazing series.

For anyone who’s a fan of fairytales, check out the Lunar Chronicles series. Once upon a time starts stories even in the future.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

shadow and bone coverAlina Starkov is just a mapmaker. Not a good mapmaker, mind you. But it’s what the orphaned teen can do for her country as they prepare to cross the Shadow Fold, a land of darkness and monsters that splits Ravka in two. Plus, at least she has her best friend Mal with her, even if the fellow orphan’s too busy chasing other girls to notice her sometimes.

But everything changes when their ships sets upon the Fold and is attacked. In a display of magic that hasn’t been seen in centuries, Alina saves them all. Sun magic. Her new powers catch the eye of the mysterious Darkling, the all-powerful leader of Ravka’s magicians, the Grisha.

He whisks Alina away to the Ravkan capital, where he tells her that her magic alone could heal the Shadow Fold and war-ravaged Ravka for good. But it means losing herself in the process, as she is swept into courtly life and the rules of Grisha society. Alina misses Mal, and the Darkling’s attentions are becoming what’s she craved from Mal for so long. Plus her powers are hard to control, and Alina feels the weight of her entire nation on her shoulders.

I love that the setting of the Grisha trilogy is based on 1800s Tsarist Russia. So many fantasy stories are based off of Arthurian legends, or Tolkien imitations, that Ravka and its culture was a breath of fresh air. Russian history is nuanced with so much beauty and chaos, that it was incredible to see reinterpreted with a fantasy scope. There are echoes of Eastern Christianity with the saints and churches. And a sharp contrast between how the upper and lower echelons live. Ravka and its neighbors create an intricate world, but not one bogged down with lengthy descriptions or paragraphs upon paragraphs of unnecessary exposition.

The Grisha are part of an interesting magic system, reminiscent to me of the elemental bending system in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Leigh Bardugo said she was inspired to make the Grisha trilogy a literal fight of light and darkness. The Shadow Fold was inspired by the idea of making darkness and the monsters ‘beneath your bed’ into a literal place. Like on Once Upon a Time, magic sometimes comes with a price, but sometimes that price is something worth paying, even at the risk of hurting yourself.

And Alina herself is a great protagonist. She’s scrappy and snarky, but her insecurities and fears make her human. The ensemble cast of characters that emerges throughout the trilogy are equally fantastic (especially one very moody cat).

Shadow and Bone is an engrossing dark fantasy, full of adventure and twists, people who disappoint and people who surprise, and of course, at the heart of it all, is magic. The story continues in Siege and Storm, and the final book is Ruin and Rising. Leigh Bardugo just came out with another book that takes place in one of Ravka’s neighboring lands, called Six of Crows. It takes a lot to stand out as a YA series these days, but the Grisha trilogy does it.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: Delirium Series by Lauren Oliver

“Love: a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge; a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.”

Lena lives in a world where humanity’s worst disease has finally been eliminated. Amor deliria nervosa, or as previously known, love. Scientists have found the cure love in a mandatory surgical procedure everyone goes upon reaching 18. Lena can’t wait for her procedure so she can erase the ghosts of her past. Then, as her Aunt Carol tells her, everything will be as it should.

That’s the plan… until she meets Adam. But Adam already had his surgery, so she should be safe around him, right? Then why is she falling for him?

I really enjoyed the Delirium series. From page one, we are plunged into a world that Lena desperately wants to fit into. While her best friend Hana is more rebellious, Lena carries the stigma of her parents’ mistakes with her and is afraid of doing anything wrong, like breaking curfew. But as the days tick down to her surgery, she ends up discovering more about Portland, the world, and herself than she’s ever known before.

Pandemonium and Requiem are the second and third pieces of the series. Lauren Oliver’s musings and prose on love, all of its beauty and all of its pain, were like. I loved watching as Lena grew through the series from a girl nearly afraid of her own shadow and even moving an inch off society’s chosen path, to someone with courage, passion, and a real dream all of her own.

Lena’s world also felt very possible, like a future that could actually happen. It hit all of the dystopian tropes that properly creep me out. Zombie-like people acting like sheep, an invasive surgical procedure, and the sense of always being watched, followed. Lena’s family’s love for her felt plastic and surreal. At times, it seemed like the only people who had any real emotions and feelings were the children and teenagers. (Which is also a slightly uncomfortable allegory for actual adulthood, I suppose).

Each chapter begins with a quote from the dystopian society’s “cultural archive:” from edited biblical stories, to songs condemning the disease, to signs of amor deliria nervosa to look out for. It was an interesting way to keep us learning more and more about Lena’s world.

I appreciated that the series didn’t fall into Twilight levels of cheesy, eye-roll inducing, oh-my-god-I-only-exist-to-love-you drivel. Lena has such profound love in her life already, and not just for Adam, but for her dead mother, her shy cousin Grace, and her best friend Hana. If she gets the procedure, those strong feelings will become muted, muddled, and meaningless.

One of the issues I had with the series was that it ended very quickly. A problem I think authors have with dystopian novels is that if your characters overcome the totalitarian regime, it’s still hard to show a happy ending. Realistically, the world doesn’t change overnight. Governments don’t go one day from being evil to rainbows and butterflies the next. I felt like Lauren Oliver decided to end the book very ambiguously and not address what happened to the society Lena lived in.

Beside that, it was still an enjoyable series. I loved being on Lena’s journey and hearing her thoughts on love, passion, and family. I would recommend it being worth a read for dystopian YA lovers. and who knows, maybe we’ll see it get a movie deal soon enough!

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Read These: Heroines in Disguise

There’s something so intriguing about the idea of hiding ones’ identity. It’s endlessly popular in fiction—think of all the masquerades, superhero dual identities, and royalty pretending to be paupers. One of my favorite tropes is when a girl goes undercover as a boy to go on an adventure and prove her worth.

Usually these books take place either in historical settings or fantasy settings with strict gender rules. The girl, frustrated by misogyny and the lack of opportunities in her life, takes matters into her own hands.

The reveal is always astounding to those around the girl. They can’t possibly believe that she duped them all along! One of my favorite examples, where the audience itself was tricked, is in the 1986 video game Metroid. During the game, your protagonist is a hulking red-armored soldier wielding a ray-gun. It’s not until the end that the armor is removed, revealing the blonde woman Samus.

Luckily for us readers, there are plenty of books like Metroid where we can satiate our own need for adventure and a little disguise (and rebelling against the patriarchy!).

songofthelioness Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce
Alanna of Trebond is about to be shipped off to a convent to learn the ways of noble ladies. That doesn’t fly with the ten-year-old, who dreams of adventuring and gallant deeds. She convinces her twin brother to trade places with her, so that they can both do what they want–him, study sorcery, and her, train as a knight and one day, become a warrior maiden. Alanna is spunky, brave, and headstrong. She is a far cry from the girls swanning over boys. 

Hana Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo
This manga series is about a high-school high-jumper who disguises herself as a boy so that she can go to the same all-boys school as her idol. Hijinks ensue when she ends up as his roommate. Now Mizuki must find a way to keep her secret around Izumi not just in the classroom, but their dorm room too.  

levithan Leviathan series by Scott Westerfield
This series follows a steampunk, fantastical pre-World War I setting, where the hated heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne crosses paths with the brilliant British airman, Deryn Sharp. Although Deryn’s commoner status is enough to raise eyebrows for Prince Aleksander’s association, there’s a bigger secret Deryn has. She’s a girl. 

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Shipwrecked and mourning her brother, Viola assumes his identity. She ends up in the service of the duke Orsino, and a messy predicament as she finds herself with feelings for him. To complicate matters, Orsino is besotted with Olivia. But Olivia falls for the disguised-Viola. Of course, it gets even more twisted when Viola’s actual brother still shows up, alive and well, and with no idea of Viola’s deception! (As I mentioned in my adaptation post, She’s the Man is a great modern remake of this play!) 

Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
A Discworld novel, Terry Pratchett again decides to make fun of common tropes, by making fun of this one. Polly Perks joins the army disguised as a boy so that she can search for her brother. She soon discovers that she’s not the only one pretending to be the opposite sex… far from it! 

eondragon Eon: DragonEye Reborn by Alison Goodman
Eon has been training for years to be chosen as a Dragoneye, an apprentice to one of the 12 energy dragons of good fortune. But Dragon Magic is forbidden to females, and there lies Eon’s secret. Eon is actually Eona, a 16-year-old girl. If her secret is discovered, then her life is forfeit. If she’s found out, she’s going to use everything she’s learned about magic and swordplay to protect herself and still go after her dreams. 

There are plenty of other character examples in fiction that I’ve left out, because they are not the subject of the book. Arya Stark, in A Song of Ice and Fire, disguises herself as a boy to escape enemies looking for her. Eowyn, in Lord of the Rings, wears armor and pretends to be a man so that she may ride into battle and escape the trappings of becoming a domesticated noble lady. And can any of us raised on Disney forget Mulan?

Have you ever come across this trope in a story? What do you think?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Life in a YA Novel

I’m in my twenties and I read a lot of YA fiction.

A lot.

But in its defense, YA is grippingly honest, genuine, and open. The protagonists are going through the process of growing up, and that’s something we can all relate to. Because we never stop growing up. We are constantly in metamorphosis, reinventing ourselves all through the phases of our lives. Still, we can all remember that first coming-of-age, the one that YA literature deals with. Whether it’s realistic, fantasy, or another genre, the emotions are the same.

Of course, there are certain tropes that persevere in YA fiction. So, I present “what life would be like in a generic YA novel.” Both the good and the bad. Let’s see if our lives would be better or worse.

The good:

– You usually end up meeting a cute boy (or girl) who bucks the status quo and has either really brilliant eyes or maybe a random freckle above his eyebrow, and just totally gets you

– Superpowers. If it’s a fantasy YA book, you’re going to have some superpowers

– (Or, if you’re lucky, you find out you’re the crown princess to the Genovian throne)

– A real classy or alternative taste in music. Protagonists of YA all seem to be into either classical, super cool indie music, or angsty 80s/90s punk music. Way better than the top 40

– You either look entirely ordinary as a stand-in for the audience to relate to you, or you’re a super special snowflake and you have something like heterochromia or an inability to gain weight

– Your friends are equally quirky oddballs, but are great for their deadpan one-liners and shenanigans

– If it’s a fantasy novel, you’re likely on some sort of noble quest, where only you can save the kingdom or world or family pig farm

– Everything generally wraps up in a tidy way. You’ve grown, even if it’s just a bit. You’ve loved, you’ve lost, you’ve loved again. You’ve learned some things you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life, and maybe, just maybe you have a happy ending.


The bad:

– Usually you have some sort of tragedy in your past haunting you, whether it’s a dead family member, mental illness, sexual trauma, etc

– Love triangles. I feel like applauding authors who avoid this cliché, but it’s common enough that you’re likely going to wind up in one as a YA protagonist

– If your best friend is a guy, he’s probably going to be in that love triangle, either as your soulmate or a jilted suitor

– If your parents aren’t either dead or abusive, they tend to be pretty clueless and no help to your struggle whatsoever. This also expands to your teachers and adults in general

– You’re not popular. Sorry. In fact, you’re probably an outsider or regarded as a loner, or offbeat, or just ignored mostly

– Actually, you might be pretty insufferable too. YA protagonists can be whiney, moody, sulky, and spend entire chapters pouting and moaning, without actually doing anything. Sometimes over a love interest, which is the worst

– Or you’re a ‘Mary Sue’, meaning you’re absolutely perfect and everyone adores you. Which… isn’t a con for you, but it makes the rest of us kind of hate you. Just a little bit

So, what do you think? Would you take your chances with life in a YA novel? Or maybe your adolescence already did resemble one! Or maybe these tropes are best left to fiction, and you’re quite happy to leave them on the pages of a book.

[Editor’s Note: I’m so glad Gaby decided to write up this fun post! It made me chuckle. And as a writer myself, it made me think quite a bit about what’s been done before, how the scene can be freshened up, and what my target audience likes to read. Do you have any tropes to add to the list?]

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Review: The Hybrid Chronicles by Kat Zhang

whatsleftEveryone is born with two souls inside of them – a twin, your sister or brother. The two of you share your body, taking turns controlling your movements, and sharing secret thoughts no one else can here. But by the time you’re a preteen, the other soul is supposed to have faded away. Died, really. But what happens when the recessive soul doesn’t vanish?

In Kat Zhang’s series the Hybrid Chronicles, Eva and Addie began like everyone else, two twins residing in the same body. But even as Eva weakened and lost control of her mobility, the ability to talk, or smile, she never fully faded away. Addie kept her a secret, the two of them trying to be normal in a society that considers those who are “Hybrids” dangerous, perverse, and menaces to society. Anyone found to be hybrid is locked away in ‘facilities’ designed to cure them.

But one day, they stumble upon someone who can tell they’re hybrid. They’re offered the chance so that Eva can move again. If they’re caught, the consequences are irreversible. But Eva will risk anything to be able to live again.

oncewewere2Kat Zhang is a young writer with a unique concept. She started writing What’s Left of Me during her senior year of high school, and this year, as she graduated college, she finished the trilogy. I love the premise of this story: the idea of a world where we are all born with a twin in our own body.

And I love Addie and Eva too. Although Eva is the recessive soul, she is fiercer and often more courageous than the quiet, introverted Addie. They are both passionate about their families, even as they hide their secret. The trilogy has action, suspense, and even romance, which you’re going to definitely wonder how a hybrid could possibly make that work.

The world Addie and Eva live in is a dystopian United States, where there is extreme xenophobia following the ‘Great Wars’. Propaganda is rampant. There is no communication with other nations, the population is nearly homogeneous, and people are taught to be scared of the corrupt outside world that allows hybrids to exist in society.

echoes3Throughout the story, Addie and Eva deal with the emotional struggle of worrying if they’re bad as the government says. They’ve been taught all their lives that to be Hybrid is to be wrong. But they love each other – they’re sisters, how can they want one of them to disappear forever, and then the remaining twin live in their body all alone?

The story is well-paced and irresistible to put down. After the first book, you absolutely need the second, which is Once We Were, and the final installment is Echoes of Us. I appreciated how the trilogy ends – I felt it was a realistic ending in terms of how it was achieved, but I thought the final chapters wrapped up far too quickly. I suspect that may have been an editing decision. Still, it’s been a series that I continue to think about, even after the books have been closed and returned to their shelves.

I recommend the Hybrid Chronicles for anyone who enjoys dystopian YA novels, for a story that is a fresh concept, with passionate, well-rounded characters, and incredible stakes and relationships.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.