Book Review: Give The Dark My Love

give the dark my loveGive The Dark My Love
by Beth Revis
Young Adult/Fantasy
351 pages
Published September 2018

Yet another lady necromancer book! I do really love this topic. It’s also really interesting to see the different flavors various authors can give it. Sometimes it’s binding wandering spirits into physical objects, or bringing spirits back from the Shadowlands to live in our world as normal people, or being a warden against great undead beasts, or, in this case, trying to stop a cursed plague that might have necromantic origins.

There are a lot of commonalities, though, even with how different these ladies’ reasons are. There’s always some line, usually the line into “true” necromancy, that she shouldn’t cross, and which she normally does. There’s always a loved one who ultimately supports her even if they’re not sure she’s doing the right thing. There’s always a sense of desperation driving her to what she sees as the only solution.

What’s amazing is that given that framework, these books continue to surprise and delight me. Each one is still such a unique take on the “dark art” of necromancy. These ladies aren’t evil. Nedra, here, is trying to save her family and her people from a plague that evades any kind of scientific explanation. They have no idea how it spreads. It usually starts in the extremities, and if you cut off the infected limb, sometimes that stops it. But sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it starts over the heart, or right in the brain. Some people simply seem to be immune. Nedra works with the sick for months and never gets it, but some people come down with it without having any contact with a sick person. Her teacher at school finally confesses that he thinks it might be necromantic in origin, and things begin to cascade from that point.

There is a romance in the book, though it’s definitely a side plot. Nedra’s studies and work on the plague is the main focus. We have a bisexual character in Nedra’s twin sister, but again, she’s really just a side note. The book ended on a bit of a cliff hanger, and the second book doesn’t have a title or a release date yet, unfortunately. “Sometime in 2019” is all we’ve got, which is quite disappointing because I need it NOW!

While Give The Dark My Love wasn’t the best of the lady necromancer books I’ve read recently, it was still pretty great. I am eager for news of the sequel!

From the cover of Give The Dark My Love:

Seventeen-year-old Nedra Brysstain leaves her home in the rural, northern territories of Lunar Island to attend the prestigious Yügen Academy with only one goal in mind: master the trade of medicinal alchemy. A scholarship student matriculating with the children of Lunar Island’s wealthiest and most powerful families, Nedra doesn’t quite fit in with the other kids at Yügen.

Until she meets Greggori “Grey” Astor. Grey is immediately taken by the brilliant and stubborn Nedra, who, he notices, is especially invested in her studies. And that’s for a good reason: a deadly plague has been sweeping through the north, and it’s making its way toward the cities. With her family’s lives – and the  lives of all of Lunar Island’s citizens – on the line, Nedra is determined to find a cure for the plague.

Grey and Nedra grow close, but as the sickness spreads and the body count rises, Nedra becomes desperate to find a cure. Soon, she finds herself diving into alchemy’s most dangerous practices. And when she turns to the most forbidden practice of all, necromancy, even Grey might not be able to pull her from the darkness.

Book Review: Damsel

damselDamsel
by Elana K. Arnold
Fantasy/Young Adult?!
309 pages
Published October 2018

Before I even get into this review.

CONTENT WARNING. DOMESTIC ABUSE. SEXUAL ASSAULT. ANIMAL ABUSE. GASLIGHTING. 

For all that, though, I loved this book. The protagonist suffers through all of that and perseveres. But it’s important to expect those things going into this book, because the central plot of the book is our protagonist being severely gaslit, with the rest of the abuse being in support of that. I agree with other Goodreads reviewers that it’s surprising it’s being marketed as a Young Adult book because these themes are VERY adult.

So. With those caveats, this book was outstanding. The book opens on Prince Emory riding his horse towards the castle of the dragon, intending to slay it and rescue his future wife, as his tradition in his kingdom. Emory seems to be your typical prince, accomplished, at ease with his sword, his horse, and himself, yet there is the occasional part of his inner narration that comes off…oddly. He enters the dragon’s castle, defeats the dragon, and leaves with his prize, a damsel who can remember nothing about herself or her past. A blank slate. Perfect for a queen-to-be.

But as Ama, so named by Emory, learns more about her new kingdom and future husband, and what her place will be, she realizes this is not what she wants. The more Emory tries to convince her that it IS what she wants, the more we get into the abuse factor of the book.

It’s very well done. It’s a dark fairy tale, it’s a consistent metaphor for – well, humanity’s treatment of women, really. Sit down, shut up, look pretty, and birth the next generation. You are important because only you can do that, but don’t let it give you uppity ideas. All that kind of patronizing misogyny.

I really loved this book, but it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and the triggers might be too much for some of the people who WOULD otherwise like it. So know that going in.

From the cover of Damsel:

THE RITE HAS EXISTED FOR AS LONG AS ANYONE CAN REMEMBER

When the king dies, his son the prince must venture out into the gray lands, slay a fierce dragon, and rescue a damsel to be his bride. This is the way things have always been.

When Ama wakes in the arms of Prince Emory, she knows none of this. She has no memory of what came before she was captured by the dragon or what horrors she faced in its lair. She knows only this handsome young man, the story he tells of her rescue, and her destiny of sitting on a throne beside him. It’s all like a dream, like something from a fairy tale.

As Ama follows Emory to the kingdom of Harding, however, she discovers that not all is as it seems. There is more to the legends of the dragons and the damsels than anyone knows, and the greatest threats may not be behind her but around her, now, and closing in.

Elana K. Arnold, author of the National Book Award finalist What Girls Are Made Of, has written a twisted and unforgettable fairy tale, one that is set at the incendiary point where power, oppression, and choice meet.

Book Review: The Good Demon

the good demonThe Good Demon
by Jimmy Cajoleas
Contemporary Fiction/YA?
306 pages
Published September 2018

The Good Demon is marked Young Adult, and the protagonist is fifteen or sixteen (I don’t remember if the book actually says which) but the subject manner is…surprisingly adult. It’s a very Southern Gothic book.

Clare, our protagonist, had a demon inside her just prior to the opening of the book. She’d had it since she was very young – in one of the many flashbacks we see their meeting. But just prior to the start of the book, the demon was cast out by a local reverend and his son. Clare is lost without Her (the only name she’s had for the demon – Her) and reacts much as an addict would when going cold turkey. And then she discovers clues left by the demon, and resolves to solve the mystery and get her demon back.

Sprinkled throughout Clare’s investigation are flashbacks to when she was possessed, and we learn what the demon really means to Clare. The demon has saved her life multiple times, and seems to truly care about her. But in poking around her town, Clare uncovers some disturbing relics and characters. She learns there might be a way to get her demon back, but the cost might be higher than she wants to pay. (It’s also a bit predictable, but the slow-creeping horror of knowing what’s about to happen is part of what makes this book amazing.) In the meantime, she’s falling in love with the reverend’s son, and their relationship only complicates matters.

The atmosphere of the book is perfect Southern Gothic – from Clare playing in the swampy woods as a little girl, to the one mysteriously wealthy family that controls far too much of the sleepy town, to the small-town feel and the enigmatic hermit off the highway. The broken families and alcoholics and domestic violence all hidden beneath a veneer of sociability – it’s one of the best Southern Gothics I’ve read in a very long time.

The writing is just amazing – evocative and entrancing and – I just loved this book, okay? I’d heard it had mixed reviews, so I was a bit wary of the book, but the premise was so interesting – and then I fell in love with it. I think this is one of my favorite books this year.

From the cover of The Good Demon:

“She was my Only.”

It wasn’t technically an exorcism, what they did to Clare. When the reverend and his son ripped her demon from her, they called it a “deliverance.” But they didn’t understand that Clare and her demon – known simply as Her – were like sisters. She comforted Clare, made her feel brave, helped to ease her loneliness. They were each other’s Only.

Now, Clare’s only comforts are the three clues that She left behind:

Be nice to him

June 20

Remember the stories

Clare will do anything to get Her back, even if it means teaming up with the reverend’s son and scouring every inch of her small, Southern town for answers. But if she sacrifices everything to bring back her demon, what will be left of Clare?

Book Review: Analee, In Real Life

annalee in real lifeAnalee, In Real Life
by Janelle Milanes
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
400 pages
Published September 2018

I picked this one up because of the mention of the online roleplaying game. Somewhat disappointingly, the book spends almost no time actually in the game. We’re told that Analee used to escape into the game all the time, but in the book itself we see her putting aside the game for “real life”, over and over again. I was expecting her to be more reluctant to leave it.

That aside, this is a great YA book about adjusting to changes in family life and social pressures at school. The clique and rumor mill and popular kids are all there, with Analee on the outside – until she agrees to fake-date Seb. We watch as she goes from being invisible to being known at school, and how that affects her.

Analee’s also dealing with the impending wedding of her dad and his girlfriend, two years after Analee’s mother died, and all the emotions that brings up.

It’s a cute YA book, with a lot of character development, but the part of it that drew me didn’t get as much screen-time as I was expecting, so it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.

From the cover of Analee, In Real Life:

Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.

Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything that real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner in crime, Xolkar – aka a teen boy named Harris, whom Analee has never actually met in person.

So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.

But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

ps i still love youP.S. I Still Love You
by Jenny Han
Young Adult/Romance
339 pages
Published 2015

PS I Still Love You is a continuation of Lara Jean’s story from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. It really is a seamless continuation – it picks up almost immediately where the first ends, in the holidays, with Lara Jean pining over Peter.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first – the sisters are still here, but Lara Jean doesn’t spend as much time worrying over her dynamic with her sisters as she did in the first book. This second book is all about Peter, his ex, and what’s going on at school. That’s fine – obviously the story needs to evolve and move, but the sisters were such a huge part of the charm of the first book that I really miss them in this one.

A second boy is introduced in this book – John – and to be honest, I like him more than Peter. I know Peter and Lara Jean are really set up as THE couple in this series, but – John’s so nice. And Peter’s so oblivious.

There’s one more book – Always and Forever, Lara Jean – and while I’m sure it won’t happen, I’m holding out hope that John will come back in book #3 and win Lara Jean over. I really, really liked him.

From the cover of P.S. I Still Love You:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one.

But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.

Book Review: For A Muse Of Fire

for a muse of fireFor A Muse Of Fire
by Heidi Heilig
Young Adult/Fantasy
494 pages
Published September 2018

I’m starting to realize I might have a thing for lady necromancers. They’re the right kind of dark, badass, I’m-going-to-do-the-right-thing-even-if-you-don’t-understand-it amazing women that I love. From Tea in The Bone Witch trilogy to Odessa in Reign of the Fallen to Jetta in this book, these women are amazing. I have one more lady necromancer book out from the library right now, Give The Dark My Love, and I hope it lives up to the rest of these women!

So in For A Muse of Fire, we have Jetta, with amazing powers but also with what she refers to as her malheur – she’s bipolar. She and her parents are traveling to another country to seek a cure for it, but in their journeys they wind up in the middle of a rebellion. Her powers let her see wandering spirits, bind them to physical objects, and command them. In this way, she’s made shadow puppets that don’t require strings or sticks, and her family has a small amount of fame as the best shadow puppeteers in the region.

We learn secrets about Jetta’s family, ancestry, and just how far her powers can go, while she fights off army deserters, generals, smugglers, and ghosts. She imbues unexpected objects with unexpected spirits (one such instance being the best scene in the book, in my opinion).

I can’t wait for the next book. Jetta is maturing into her powers and deciding what to do with them, and once she makes up her mind the world is going to shudder at her feet.

From the cover of For A Muse Of Fire:

Never show. Never tell.

Jetta’s secret has kept her family from starving. It has made them the most famed troupe of shadow players in Chakrana. With Jetta behind the scrim, their puppets move without stick or string.

Never show. Never tell.

With a drop of blood, Jetta can bind wandering spirits to the silk or wood or leather of the puppets and bring them to life. But the old ways are forbidden. If anyone discovered her ability, Jetta could be thrown in prison and left to rot – or worse.

Never show. Never tell.

As rebellion swells and desperation builds, Jetta’s power becomes harder and harder to hide. Especially from Leo, the young smuggler with sharp eyes and secrets of his own. When he and Jetta capture the notice of both the army and the rebels, she may be the spark that lights the rebellion . . . if she isn’t consumed by the flame first.