03 September 2012

Last Escape-reads of Summer

Here in my neck of the woods, today is the last day of summer vacation - tomorrow, kids start back to school, parents breathe a sigh of relief, and teachers embark upon the next round of brain-filling.  May I suggest spending the day with one of these tales?  All published since May, all fantastic reads (with awesome cover art to boot), and all a chance for one final imaginary trip.

A Confusion of Princes - Garth Nix

I'm the first to admit that science fiction is generally not my thing; I can count on one hand the number of space operas I've read.  But I've really enjoyed Nix's previous books so I figured, eh, why not?  Glad I did, because this is one amazing ride.  Prince Khemri has been raised in luxury, knowing he is being groomed as a successor to the Emperor - of, you know, the whole damn universe.  What he doesn't realize is that he's only one of about ten million princes vying for that honour - oh, and most of them will try to kill each other at the drop of a hat.  The world building is excellent, the journey (both physical and emotional) that Khemri goes on is completely believable, and I for one am kind of annoyed that the ending left little to no room for a sequel.

Widdershins - Ari Marmell

Okay, technically the first one came out in February, but the second hit shelves in June, so I'm going with it.  If you like your fantasy with a side of smartarse, you'll love Widdershins, a thief with a complicated backstory (you get most of it by the end of the first book) who, erm, kind of has a pet god. Set in a quasi-French society (definitely pre-Revolution) where the gods are demonstrably real, but there are a set number of them in the Pact - and Olgun, Widdershin's god, is definitely not among them.  His only remaining worshipper after a horrific massacre two years before the opening of the first book, Widdershins calls on his powers to help her evade capture on her thieving expeditions after he essentially crawls into her head.  Since she's suspected of having committed that aforementioned massacre, she's on the run with a new name (she's got about four, so make sure you keep up).  The satire sometimes goes a LITTLE over the top, but once again the world-building is extremely thorough and believable.  Plus my roommate keeps borrowing them, so they must be good.

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

At the age of 17, Celaena Sardothien was the most feared assassin in the country - until she was captured and sentenced to the salt mines as punishment for her crimes.  When the crown prince rescues her a year later with the idea of making her his champion in a contest to appoint a new royal assassin, she gets out of the mines and into the palace, which is half glass and hiding some secrets of its own.  With her identity hidden behind a false name, she begins training hard again in secret while outwardly presenting as a noblewoman; befriends a prince, a princess, and a guardsman; and stirs up some long-buried secrets on her way to her ultimate goal.  This one does look like becoming a series, and I'll definitely be reading whatever comes next!

Shadow and Bone - Leigh Bardugo

If the acknowledgments are any indication, Maas and Bardugo are friends, which gives me a good feeling about all our multiple Burrow-y endeavours.  Anyway, this time we're in a quasi-Russian landscape, in a world where a giant swath of darkness spreads across the country from north to south, cutting off most of the country from its port cities.  The Shadow Fold (as it's known) can be crossed, but as it's pitch black and filled with murderous beasts, it's not always easy - and when Alina, panicking over the death of one friend and the threatening of another during the crossing, suddenly and spontaneously emits a strong light which drives off the dark-loving predators, she is immediately taken to the Darkling, who works out a plan to spirit her away for training. You can think of him like a very powerful wizard, but he's also a descendant of the Darkling who created the Fold in the first place.  Loving this so far (yeah, just started it, oh well, it's GOOD, so it goes on here).

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

Okay, this one is seriously my new favourite book.  It's got music, it's got dragons, the dragons all seem to be Aspies, and it is BRILLIANT.  I devoured this one, have been recommending it right and left all summer, and will be super happy if everyone who reads this goes and buys a copy so the author is properly motivated to crank out the sequel.  Seraphina Dombegh is an excellent musician, which has already won her a job at the age of 16.  Her stepmother is pleased enough to get her out of the house; she studies with her uncle, her deceased mother's brother, and as that backstory comes out you just want to shout "Well played!" at the author.  Throw in the community of dragons, who can take human form; the forty-year peace between dragons and humans which is threatening to unravel; and a collection of odd people who live mainly in her own head, and what you have is an immensely satisfying read which is a hell of a fabulous escape.

Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore

This long-awaited sequel to Graceling finally arrived back in May, and what a pleasure it was to dive back into this world.  Katsa and Po reappear, but the focus this go-round is on 18-year-old Queen Bitterblue, an ordinary girl in a world of people with extraordinary talents (the Graced, marked by heterochromia) who is trying to rebuild her country after the ravages perpetrated by her mad and evil father.  When she sneaks out of the palace and walks the streets anonymously, she discovers that her advisors have been hiding the truth of how bad things are and is determined to do something about it, so with the help of old friends and new she embarks on a coming of age adventure for both herself and her country.  The ending ties to Fire, and leaves things open for more tales from this world, which I will await just as eagerly as I did this one.

I think that's enough to choose from for this one last summer day, so what are you waiting for?  Grab one and go for it!

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