Tag: Holly Black

The Bronze Key (Magisterium #3)

Cover image for The Bronze Key by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 9780545522311

“He felt as though no matter what he did, he veered closer and closer to Constantine’s life and Constantine’s decisions. It was like being on a collision course with himself.”

Call, Aaron, and Tamara are heroes in the world of mages, having presented the head of Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death, to the Collegium. But it seems that not everyone appreciates their efforts, because on the night of the ceremony acknowledging their service, someone tries to kill Call. Call thought his secret was safe, but why else would someone be trying to kill him? Worse, being caught in the middle costs a fellow student her life.  Not even the Magisterium can protect them, but the teachers have forbidden Call and his friends from trying to catch the killer. But since the Masters don’t know that Call is the reincarnation of Constantine Madden—and he isn’t about to tell them—he is sure that they will never catch the killer without his help.

The Bronze Key is a fast-paced magical adventure laced with the signature humour that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare have brought to the series. But the Magisterium series turns on playing with tropes, using both the magic school setting and the Chosen One narrative to advantage in this regard. In an introduction to The Iron Trial, Black and Clare wrote “we wanted to tell a story about a protagonist who had all the markers of a hero: tragedy and secrets in his past, magic power. We wanted people to believe they knew what kind of story they were in for. And then we wanted them to be surprised…” Readers expecting a simple Harry Potter rehash were met with twists and turns in both The Iron Trial and The Copper Gauntlet.

That said, Black and Clare do not seem to have brought that philosophy fully to bear on the third installment of their series, which marks the mid-point of Magisterium. With the Enemy of Death publicly defeated, Call and Aaron’s Makar powers suddenly look more threatening. What if they become evil, too? There is a spy inside the Magisterium, and a new overseer of the school assigned by the government. Black and Clare typically play their hand late in the book, and this is true again here, with several plot twists and major events coming in the last few pages. But they don’t succeed in subverting the tropes in the same way as in previous installments, and that has been a large part of the allure of this series. As we ramp up into the two final volumes, there may still be room to play with these narrative choices, but it remains a disappointment for this volume.
The Bronze Key does have a good helping of mystery and adventure which will continue to hold many readers who are less interested in playing with convention. In addition to trying to identify Call’s would-be assassin, the trio also faces new magical tests, tensions within the group, and the daunting task of trying to save the Chaos-ridden animals like Havoc from extermination. Tamara is brought face-to-face with the fate of those, like her sister Ravan, who are Devoured by their power, and Aaron’s family secrets come out into the open. However, even those who enjoy the fast-paced plot may find the one-two punch of the cliff-hanger ending overwrought.

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The Darkest Part of the Forest

Cover image for The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black by Holly Black

ISBN 978-0-316-21307-3

Tourists, the locals would say, a sneer in their voices. And they still did. Because everyone believed—everyone had to believe—that tourists did stupid things that got them killed. And if someone from Fairfold very occasionally went missing, too, well they must have been acting like a tourist. They should have known better. The people of Fairfold came to think of the Folk as inevitable, a natural hazard like hailstorms or getting swept out to sea by a riptide. It was a strange kind of double consciousness.”

For as long as the people of Fairfold can remember, the horned boy has slept in a glass coffin, deep in the woods. Nothing anyone says or does can wake him, though bad things are known to happen to those who deface his resting place. As children, siblings Hazel and Ben played around the coffin, making up stories about the prince who lay sleeping inside of it, both half in love with him. Neither ever dreamed for a moment that he could hear them, or that he would ever wake up. The humans of Fairfold, and the Fae who live in the woods around their town have long had an accord, but the strange things that have always happened in Fairfold have begun to be stranger, and more dangerous. Then one morning, the horned boy is gone from his coffin, and the long peace between human and Fae is shattered in an instant. Old promises and debts are called in, stoking simmering feuds and ancient resentments to life. Hazel is recalled to childhood dreams of knighthood, slaying monsters and protecting the weak, while Ben must grapple with the faerie boon his mother accidentally won for him, which has proved as much a curse as a gift. And Jack, the changeling who lives among the people of Fairfold, and Ben’s best friend, finds himself caught between his human life and his Fae heritage.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is an eerie fairy tale that builds on recognizable elements of traditional lore while also incorporating a contemporary setting and modern concerns. Black also has her own unique twists, such as a human woman who demanded the return of her child from the Fae, and then had the temerity to keep the fairy child as well, raising them as twins. Fairfold is, on the surface, a seemingly normal American town with a quaint New England feel, but as the story progresses, its more unusual aspects become ever more prominent. The town has a seductive mythos and a well-developed mood that sends a shiver down the spine.

The Darkest Part of the Forest benefits from a deep back-story, the flash-backs to which only occasionally cause the pacing to lag (indeed the acknowledgements hint that Black struggled with how to make this complex plotting work). Layers of supressed memories and half-forgotten promises litter Ben and Hazel’s less-than-idyllic childhood, and their habit of keeping secrets and trying to protect one another serves them ill when they most need to be a team. Things that have long gone unspoken between them begin tumbling out into the open at inopportune moments, forcing them to reckon with what has driven them apart. Their complex relationship is one of the strongest aspects of the story.

Thematically, Black examines dreams and the bargains we make to achieve them, and the ills we are willing to overlook in the trade. The people of Fairfold have long tried to pretend that their unusual home is normal, and that they are safe if they just obey the rules. But in many ways they are not safe so much as they are habituated to the danger, and they rationalize their own safety by finding fault with the victims that are taken in their stead. The awakening of the horned boy forces them to reckon, however reluctantly, with the drawbacks inherent in the bargain they have made by living in a magical place. For Hazel and Ben, their fictional prince from stories spun in childhood becomes overlaid with the all too real and possibly dangerous supernatural being that awakens from his resting place.

As with Black’s previous book, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, The Darkest Part of the Forest stands strongly alone, a well-developed fantasy in a sea of series.

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The Copper Gauntlet (Magisterium #2)

Cover image for The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare  by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 978-0-545-52228-1

“He knew that having the rare devotion of a Chaos-ridden beast counted for a lot of Evil Overlord Points, but he couldn’t regret keeping him. Of course, that was probably a problem with being an Evil Overlord. You didn’t regret the right things.”

Despite his father’s wishes, Callum Hunt is determined to return to the Magisterium and continue his magical education, along with his friends Aaron and Tamara. But when he discovers a hidden room in their basement, he realizes his father may be more determined to prevent this from happening than Call ever would have expected. Worse, it seems that Alastair may suspect Call’s true identity as the reincarnation of Constantine Madden, the Enemy of Death. Call runs away before his father can execute his plan, taking his Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc, with him. Back in the world of mages, he learns that a powerful magical artifact, the Alkahest, has been stolen, and that the Assembly suspects the allies of the Enemy of Death have taken it to use against Aaron, the new Makar. Along with his friends, Call sets out to recover the Alkahest, all while trying to conceal the fact that he suspects that his father has stolen it to use against him, not Aaron.

The Copper Gauntlet picks up shortly after the events of The Iron Trial, and follows Call as he tries to do the right thing while living under the weight of a terrible secret. His relationship with his father is strained by the fact that he knows that he is not just Alastair’s titular son, but also the murderer of his real son, even though he remembers nothing of that life. His every action feels weighted with undue significance, as he struggles with whether or not it is inevitable that he become evil like Constantine Madden was. However, it is his secretiveness—rather than his secret itself—which begins to threaten his closest friendships, as Tamara and Aaron begin to suspect that something is amiss. Aaron is preoccupied with the burdens of his own destiny, but Tamara won’t take no for answer.

“Magisterium” is a series about playing with tropes; the main thrust of this is Call’s discovery that he is not, as we might have expected, the Makar, but rather the one Aaron is destined to fight. However, also central to this volume is pulling in Jasper de Winter, the classmate who seems poised to be their at-school nemesis, and instead turning him into a reluctant ally in their latest adventure. When Jasper catches the trio trying to sneak out of school to go after the Alkahest, the friends decide he can’t be trusted not to tell, and take him along instead. Jasper is eager to be friends with Makar, but the realities of that friendship might turn out to be more than he bargained for.

The long build-up to the twist-ending in the first volume had many readers worried that “Magisterium” was nothing more than a tired “Harry Potter” rehash. Though certain similarities remain—and indeed seem to be essential to setting up and then dashing expectations—with the big secret finally out in the open, Black and Clare are free to really begin developing their world’s unique qualities. The character are growing, the stakes are rising, and “Magisterium” seems poised to stand on its own.

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Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2014

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2014. Click the title for links to the full reviews. Check back on Friday for my top non-fiction reads of the year.

All I Love and Know 

ISBN 9780062302878

Cover image for All I Love and Know by Judith FrankDaniel and his partner Matt live a peaceful life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Their quiet existence is torn apart when Daniel’s twin brother Joel, and his wife, Ilana, are killed by a suicide bomber in a Jersalem cafe, leaving behind two young children. Both Joel’s parents and Ilana’s assume they will raise Gal and Noam, but neither set of grandparents knows about the promise Daniel made Joel and Ilana on his last visit to Israel.  Author Judith Frank lived in Israel for several years as a teenager, and her own twin sister still lives their with her husband. All I Love and Know is a complex and challenging novel that deals with not one but two important contemporary issues–gay parenting and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–wrapped in a love story about a couple struggling to find their way back to one another after a devastating loss.

Categories: LGBT

A Thousand Pieces of You

ISBN 9780062278968

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayMarguerite is an artist, but she is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird, a groundbreaking device that enables inter-dimensional travel. When one of her parents’ graduate assistants murders her father and escapes by stealing a Firebird and jumping into another dimension, Marguerite teams up with another graduate student, and gives chase. Her mission: KILL PAUL MARKOV. With a twist on the idea of multiple universes, Claudia Gray invents a device that projects the consciousness of the user into the body of their alternate selves in other dimensions. While this eliminates the usual trope of accidentally encountering other selves, it creates its own set of moral and ethical quandaries when characters hijack the lives and choices of their counterparts. As Marguerite pursues her father’s killer through multiple dimensions, Gray has a forum to show off her talent with multiple genres, from science fiction, to contemporary, to historical in this fast-paced adventure.

Categories: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I’ll Give You the Sun

ISBN 9780803734968

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonThirteen-year-old Jude and Noah are twins, but also polar opposites. Jude is popular, outgoing and adventurous, where Noah is shy, introverted, and deeply weird . He is also in the closet. But despite their differences they are like two halves of the same person, both smart and creative. Three years later, the twins are unrecognizable. Noah is normal and socially competent, and Jude has withdrawn into herself, dressing in baggy clothes and shunning social interaction. They are also barely speaking to one another. Told in alternating perspectives, Jude and Noah relate how their family and their bond broke, and the secrets they are keeping from one another that prevent them from repairing their relationship. Poet Jandy Nelson has a beautiful way with words that translates into fluid prose and striking imagery. I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling, exuberant work of fiction full of art and passion, jealousy and loss.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

ISBN 9781250037756

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanWhen the recession shuts down his San Francisco start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at a peculiar 24-hour bookstore. Not only are customers few and far between on the night shift, but they come in not to buy books, but to borrow them, from a special collection Clay is forbidden to read, but must carefully track in a log book. When Clay tries to digitize the process, he  accidentally cracks a centuries old code with his computer and a sense of humour. With the help of a couple of techie friends, Clay turns the power of the digital age on the mystery behind the secret code hoping to succeed where others have failed. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is  humourous mystery with something for both book-lovers and tech geeks alike. Robin Sloan has written a novel that both embodies the anxieties of the digital age, and shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another.

Categories: Mystery, Humour

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ISBN 9780316213103

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackA raging epidemic of vampirism has swept across the world like wildfire, contained only by the invention of Coldtowns, government-run ghettos that are home to vampires and infected humans alike. Anyone can go into a Coldtown, but it is almost impossible to get back out. Inside Coldtowns, the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars, streaming a facade of decadence to the world that draws in human acolytes and misfits. The reality is much darker, as Tana finds out for herself when she and her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, are potentially infected at a party, and she turns them both in. Holly Black tackles the vampire novel with dark humour and a willingness to skewer tropes at every turn, while also acknowledging her debt to her forerunners. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is both a reimagining of the vampire novel, and a tribute to the classics of the genre.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads of 2014?

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween fellow book lovers! For the last couple years, my book’o’lanterns have been based on current reads, but this year I went classic with a tribute to Sherlock Holmes:

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Last year I featured a carving inspired by Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys:

the-raven-boys-pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my inaugural book’o’lantern was based on the paperback cover of  The Night Circus  by Erin Morgenstern:

pumpkin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some spooky and supernatural reads for the season:

Hansel and Gretel by Neil Gaiman

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Dead Set by Richard Kadrey

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

 

 

The Iron Trial (Magisterium #1)

Cover image for The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clareby Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“They all yelled in excitement. Tamara yelled because she was happy. Aaron yelled because he liked it when other people were happy, and Call yelled because he was sure they were going to die.” 

Callum Hunt has been raised by a single father, who has taught him to fear and avoid magic, which took his mother’s life in the last mage war. But as the son two legacy students of the Magisterium, he must attend the Iron Trial, and do his best to fail the admissions test. If he passes, he will face a terrible choice between becoming a servant of the Magisterium, or having his magic bound, and his memory erased. But despite Call’s best efforts to fail the Iron Trial, one of the Masters sees something in him, and chooses him as an apprentice. If he can survive his Iron Year at the Magisterium, he will have learned enough to control his magic, and leave the school forever. But the Magisterium knows how to bind its apprentices tight, and in a year, Call may not want to leave after all, whatever his father has taught him.

Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) and Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) team up for The Iron Trial, the first in a planned series of five books about a magical world haunted by its war-torn past. Given Clare’s background as a writer of fan fiction, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable, and certainly there are parallels beyond the magic school setting. Call’s mother died saving him from The Enemy of Death, a Voldemort-like figure who defected from the Magisterium. Once at school, he becomes friends with Aaron and Tamara, forming a familiar trifecta consisting of two boys and a girl. However, those who dismiss The Iron Trial as a Harry Potter rehash may not have read all the way to the end.

In the introduction to the Advance Readers Edition of The Iron Trial, Black and Clare write, “We wanted to tell a story about a protagonist who had all the markers of a hero: tragedy and secrets in his past, magic power. We wanted people to believe they knew what kind of story they were in for. And then we wanted them to be surprised…” However, the first major reversal doesn’t come until about 200 pages in; subverting tropes means setting up expectations beforehand, and the first two-thirds of the book are heavy on world-building. Anyone who quit before that point could be forgiven for thinking they had been reading an unremarkable addition to the magic school genre. However, the book really comes together in the final 100 pages, where we see Black and Clare making good on their promise to surprise readers that “are familiar with the tropes of fantasy.” The Iron Trial clearly acknowledges its debt to Harry Potter, and other magic school books that have gone before, while paving its own way forward. This is a series to watch.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Blackby Holly Black

ISBN 978-0-316-21310-3

“We all wind up drawn to what we’re afraid of, drawn to try to find a way to make ourselves safe from a thing by crawling inside of it, by loving it, by becoming it.”

Vampirism is a terrible reality in Tana’s world, a raging epidemic that took her mother, and almost cost her her own life. Vampires who choose to feed on but not kill their victims have spread the infection like wildfire, and the government has responded by sequestering vampires and their victims alike into Coldtowns across the country. Once you go into a Coldtown, you almost never come back out. When Tana wakes up in a bathtub after spending a party hiding from her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, she expects to find the usual morning-after chaos. Instead the house is deathly quiet, probably because all of the partygoers have been slaughtered by vampires. But in one of the bedrooms Tana finds Aidan tied to the bed covered in vampire bites, and a vampire named Gavriel shackled to the bedframe. Horribly familiar with the risks of infection—going Cold—thanks to the death of her mother, Tana sets out for the nearest Coldtown to turn the lot of them in. The Coldtowns are a mix of decadence and squalor, plotting and trading, where the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars. The glamour lures people into coming voluntarily to the Coldtowns with the promise of vampirism and immortality, but once inside, humans become an invaluable food source, rarely achieving their dreams of eternal life. Tana is willing to go into the Coldtown, but she’s also determined to hold onto her humanity and find her way back out.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown opens with a chapter that is completely gripping despite only covering the events described on the jacket copy. Instead of simply saving herself, Tana rescues Aidan and Gavriel, and puts herself at risk of going Cold in the process. As a heroine, Tana had me right from this exchange with Gavriel:

She took a deep breath. “Last chance. Are you in need of rescuing?

His expression turned very strange, almost as if she’d struck him. “Yes,” he said finally.

Maybe it was that nearly everyone else was dead and she felt a little bit dead, too, but she figured that even a vampire deserved to be saved. Maybe she ought to leave him, but she wasn’t going to.

I was really hooked by Holly Black’s sense of humour, and her willingness consciously skewer stereotypes and tropes, in this case, the damsel in distress. Instead of assuming Gavriel wants her help, Tana asks him, and then she helps him in spite of the fact that doing so puts her in very real danger. This is just the first of many scenes showcasing the great character dynamics and that make this book so enjoyable. Tana and Aidan have a troubled history, and things only get more combative when Aidan goes Cold and starts hankering for her blood. The romance between them is dead, but their interactions are still fraught.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is full of wonderful secondary characters. In case a road trip to the end of the line with your ex-boyfriend and a vampire isn’t tense enough, along the way Tana picks up Midnight and Winter, a pair of fraternal twins running away to Coldtown. They’ve pledged to have “no more birthdays,” and with funding from Midnight’s blog readers, they plan to establish themselves in Coldtown and become vampires. Once inside Coldtown, we also meet Jameson, a human boy tied to the Coldtown by his connection to a vampire woman, and Valentina, a trans girl who went to Coldtown because she couldn’t afford gender reassignment surgery. Everyone follows their own road to Coldtown, but very few of them get what they want from the bargain, and Black shows a variety of characters coping with this reality.

There are a lot of vampire books out there, making it challenging to breathe new life into the genre. Holly Black makes the vampire narrative fresh with unique rules for her world, and unusual social consequences. At the same time, this novel was clearly written by someone with a deep love of the classics of vampire literature, and she also takes the genre back to its roots. The present narrative cut off at crucial moments with flashbacks to Gavriel’s past, which would be right at home in an Anne Rice novel. This kind of toggling can sometimes be more annoying than suspenseful, but the changes in perspective kept me doubly hooked, and I literally finished this book in a single sitting. As much as I long for this to be a series, and to spend more time in this world, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown makes a fantastic and highly recommended  stand-alone narrative; this is the perfect blend of reimagination and classic vampire tale.

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