Rapid Fire: YA Fantasy, July 2020

Two series starters that fizzled and two new authors to enjoy.

*Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer. Page Street Kids, 2020. 400 pages.

The first hint (besides the lovely cover) that the book was going to be good: Rosamund Hodge liked it. The second hint: mentioning “spinners of stories” Diana Wynne Jones and Robin McKinley in its dedication. The third hint? I was too busy reading to notice . . .

An absolutely lovely fairytale retelling, Echo North places Joanna Ruth Meyer soundly in story spinner tradition. (Kirkus and Publishers Weekly both gave it a starred review.)

Echos of different fairytales are woven together in a vaguely Russian landscape. Beautiful sentences, memorable characters, and original elements including the powers of stories themselves make this well worth reading for fairytale lovers young and old.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer. Bloomsbury YA, 2020. 512 pages.

A dark, sensual retelling of Beauty and the Beast. While clever in its juxtaposition of the modern world and fairytale, the story is bogged with sensuality and angst, including an almost love triangle and a minor gay love story. The story ends without much hope. Instead of resolution there are enough dangling ends for a sequel —that just arrived, yet not one I plan on reading.

Overall Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3
  • Artistic/literary value: 2

Blood Heir by Amélie Wen Zhao. Delacorte Press, 2019. 464 pages.

Interesting premise, any fantasy with Russian elements is intriguing, but the story is frustrating with jerky action, repetition and hard-to-like characters. The level of violence and gore is high and honestly, rather disturbing, as main characters kill reflexively and their regret feels contrived. Also, the climax does feel rushed, yet not concluded since this is part of a trilogy. Another series I plan not to follow.

Overall Rating: 2 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 2
  • Artistic/literary value: 2

*Thorn by Intisar Khanani. HarperTeen, 2020. 512 pages.

In a vaguely Middle-Eastern setting, a humble princess is picked as a wife for the heir of the wealthy neighboring kingdom. Alyrra is uncertain of her future, and suspects there is more to this engagement than meets the eye. Still, she has no choice but to agree to the betrothal and travel to meet her intended.

Enter a retelling of the Goosegirl that is original and hopeful —yet balanced with justice and a clear-eyed denouncement of corrupt systems. This is not a book for advanced MG readers since it does deal with some harder issues: Alyrra has emotional trauma and at one point must stop unwanted advances —in addition, there is a minor plot line involving rape and justice. While there is faith mentioned, it is a distant kind of faith, more meditation than religion, but the strong moral compass of the books’ characters and its well-told story make for a refreshing, deep, and engaging YA novel.

Overall Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4
  • Artistic/literary value: 5

Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Looking for fantasy that is YA yet targeting boy readers? The Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is excellent. For a more sci-fi bent, Andrew Klavan’s Mindwar trilogy is a good place to start, and The Rithmatist is a great stand-alone.

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Hayley

Born in a library and raised by books, or rather, raised by a book-loving family, Hayley loves talking and writing about books. She lives in the middle of Wisconsin and works with children as well as with coffee.

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