Review: Ferragost

Back in August, I blogged about Melina Marchetta’s short story, Ferragost, a companion to her Lumatere books. As Marchetta explained in a blog post, “Ferragost is a stand alone short story. If you are a reader of the Lumatere Chronicles, you’ll remember that Celie is the daughter of Lord August and Lady Abian and is best friends with the Queen of Lumatere.”

 I recently read Quintana of Charyn, Book Three of the Lumatere Chronicles (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, 2012). Don’t worry, I won’t post my review until the American edition is released by Candlewick. But, while reading Quintana and thinking of that review, I decided to post a short review of the short story, Ferragost.

Ferragost is, of course, a joy for fans of the Lumatere Chronicles, a bonus story of a world we love, despite its harshness and brutality. It could work as an introduction to Lumatere, if a reader wanted to start with something shorter than Finnikin to test the waters, to see if Lumatere is a good fit for them as a reader. It dumps the reader right into the action, into the world, just like other fantasies.

Ferragost is an Agatha Christie type mystery: Lady Celie is visiting the Belegonian spring castle, with only a handful of other people. A dead body is found. Who is it? What happened? With so few people in the castle, Celie is as much a suspect as anyone else. She has to figure out what happened, and who really did it. Twists! Turns! So much so that I hope that Marchetta decides to write a full length mystery one of these days.

Celie is the star of Ferragost; people like Froi and Isaboe and Finnikin are mentioned in passing. I suggest reading Ferragost before Quintana, because there is a bit of a reveal of something in Quintana that I enjoyed discovering on my own in Ferragost. Celie, a supporting (if not minor) character in the other books, takes the lead in Ferragost, so much so that I want to reread Finnikin and Froi, just to read about Celie, now that I know her better. Her character is strong and smart; did I realize it in the other books? Or was I taken in, thinking she was “just” the daughter of a lord?

Ferragost includes what I like best about the other Lumatere books: a fully created world, yes; engaging characters, yes; but also the sadness and tragedy that comes from the real-life world of politics and duty.

Review: The Crown of Embers

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. 2012. Sequel to The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

The Plot: Elisa, 17, is the Queen of Joya d’Arena following the death of her husband, the King. Her stepson, the Prince, is too young to reign.

Being a Queen isn’t easy:  she may bear the Godstone, have access to its power, have led the desert rebels and defeated the armies of the Invierne, but to her Quorum of advisers she is just a young girl, not a ruler. Assassination attempts reveal she has enemies but who are they? The Invierne? Or someone who wants her throne?

Elisa has the Godstone but isn’t quite sure how to use it. When she learns an ancient secret about the Godstone, she decides to risk everything to capture that power to lead her country. What will be the cost?

The Good: First things first: if you haven’t read The Girl of Fire and Thorns, please, do so. It’s necessary to understand where Elisa is now, how she became such a young queen, the different countries, the relationships between the people around her.

For those who have read the first book and are wondering about the second – yes, so good! If the first book was about Elisa growing up and gaining maturity, the second is about Elisa no longer being a girl and becoming a woman and Queen. “Becoming” is the key part; it’s not an easy path. It’s not about age or even about what she’s accomplished. It’s about Elisa taking responsibility: for what she has done and what she has not done, as both a queen and a woman.

Elisa is a queen, first. Carson writes about the reality of ruling, not the fairy tale. Crowns are heavy and uncomfortable. There is little or no overlap between what is best for the country, best for the Queen, and what is best for Elisa. Not only that, but as Elisa observes at one point, “being a queen means being strategic.” Elisa is pretty good at being strategic, but it’s still a learning process for her because there is nothing done without a cost. She may have been able to lead a group of close-knit rebels with one common goal, but ruling a country? With diverse interests? Who don’t know her? Such a different story. What strategies to follow? What is the right step? What is the least wrong step? Who can she trust?

Also: so much action! Assassination attempts and palace intrigue, an adventure in the desert, a ship, romance — well, I won’t give too much away.

One last thing: the last chapter. For what happens, what is revealed, and what is set up for the next book –it’s almost perfect. Why only “almost”? Because of the unbearable pleasure of having to wait for the next book. I particular liked what Carson didn’t tell the reader, what I – like Elisa – figured out on my own.

Yes, it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2012, because I just adore Elisa. (Though I have to say, I wish for a different cover. Elisa is brown skinned with brown hair, and I realize the cover is showing Elisa reflected in a gemstone, but, still.) I loved that this is a look at a “real” Queen, not a figure head or a “happy ever after” fairy tale. I loved that it’s about politics and trust as well as adventure and courage. I loved that not only is Elisa smart, but Carson expects me to be smart, also. I loved how this continues to be about Elisa becoming herself, growing into her own power and strength. And I love that I cannot guess where it will go.

Other reviews: Poetry to Prose; Leila Roy at Kirkus; Mimosa Stimulus review.

Review: The Fox Inheritance

The Fox Inheritance. Mary E. Pearson. Henry Holt & Co. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Audiobook from Macmillan Audio. Narrated by Matthew Brown. 2011. Review copy from publisher. Book 2 of the Jenna Fox Chronicles.

The Plot: Jenna. Locke. Kara. Three teenage friends who did everything together. Including died together. Well, at least their bodies died; their minds were saved.

Two hundred sixty years later, Locke and Kara’s stored minds and memories are made part of new, perfect, synthetic bodies. A second life.

Everything and everyone they knew is gone. During those years, Locke and Kara existed, had been aware, been there for each other in the dark void. Now they are in new bodies . . .  a little taller. A little stronger. A little more good looking. A little more perfect.

Can two people who went through what they went through really be the same people? With manufactured bodies and downloaded memories, are they people?

The Good: Locke and Kara have spent a year at the estate of Dr. Gatsbro, the man responsible for their lives and new bodies. He cares for them, has hired people to help him, keeps them safe at his isolated mansion as they learn about this new world. Kara is suspicious of the doctor, and Locke — despite loving her, despite their bond from friendship and hundreds of years shared in the dark — wonders if he can trust Kara, if she’s the same person she was. When it turns out that Kara and Locke are samples to show off to perspective buyers — people seeking immortality by creating ageless, perfect younger versions of themselves to download into before they die — the two run away. Once away from their safe, guarded prison, Kara and Locke realize that Dr. Gatsbro was selective in what he told them about the world.

Locke and Kara go” home” to Boston; but it is not the Boston they knew. Imagine, a person from 1751 waking up in 2011. Imagine them looking for their house, beliveving, somehow, that something of what they knew still exists. That is Kara and Locke. They have something that a person from 1751 wouldn’t have: Jenna. Jenna Fox, the girl who died with them, was reborn like they were — except for Jenna, it happened shortly after the car crash. Instead of centuries in isolation, Jenna has had a life. Kara and Locke get separated, but both seek out Jenna. Locke, because Jenna was his best friend. Kara, for revenge for abandoning them. Locke is in a race, to find Jenna first, to find Kara, as he hopes that Jenna has answers and that Kara remembers the friendship the three once shared. Both also are trying to keep from getting caught by Dr. Gatsbro.

The teenage friendship of these three is depicted as magical; and isn’t that true? The magic of like minds meeting, of finding friends who love you, of sharing life and love and laughs. Friends who bring out the best in each other. Locke flashbacks frequently to their friendship before, so the reader feels the loss as strongly as Locke does and, like Locke, wants the magic back and is angered at all that has been lost.

Oh brave new world; I was fascinated by the future Pearson has created. Shoes that mold to your feet. Free public transportation. A political structure where two separate governments and citizens share the same borders. And, of course, synthetic bodies and standards that struggle to define what it is to be human. All this is shown through Locke’s eyes, so we see what he sees and learns what he learns, all through a perspective of a reluctant teen time travel. For Locke is a teen — mentally he may have lived centuries, but since those centuries were in a dark void with only Kara for company, Locke has had no chance to grow or mature.

This is a sequel to The Adoration of Jenna Fox, the story of Jenna’s days after the car crash. Readers of that book will know more than Kara and Locke about what Jenna did and did not do.

Jenna lives in California, so Locke starts a road trip across the country. What a road trip! Locke’s traveling companions are Miesha, the attendant Dr. Gatsbro hired to look after Locke and Kara who feels guilty for the part she played in his scheme; and Dot. Dot is a fascinating character; one of the most memorable and original people I’ve met in a book in 2011. Dot drives a taxi, and looks human from the waist up. As a robot taxi driver, from the waist down she is part of the car she drives. Yet, Dot is not a robot. When Locke enters her taxi, seeking to run, seeking help, Dot goes against her programming and helps him. Dot yearns to be more than she is, wants to have a story to tell others like herself who are trapped in designs not of their own choosing. The crazy, futuristic road trip these three take is fantastic, fun, and scary.

What does it mean to be human? Is Jenna more human than Locke and Kara? Are Lock and Kara human? What about Dot?

Review: Eona

Eona: The Last Dragoneye, The Sequel to Eon by Alison Goodman. Penguin Books. 2011. Performed by Nancy Wu. Brilliance Audio 2011.

The Plot: Eona takes up where Eon left off (so, if you haven’t read Eon yet, spoilers!):  High Lord Sethon has declared himself Emperor and his nephew, Kygo, the rightful Pearl Emperor, is missing. Eona no longer disguises herself as a boy, and is openly Eona, the Mirror Dragoneye. Lord Ido, the only living Dragoneye, has been jailed by Sethon because he murdered the other Dragoneyes in a failed bid to seize power for himself. Eona, along with her trusted friends Ryko and Lady Dela, is with the rebels fighting against Sethon and for Kygo, wherever he may be.

The problem is, some people cannot trust Eona after the whole “lying about being a boy” thing.  And since Eona cannot control her power, and causes damage because of that — well, again, people aren’t trusting her. Her idea to free Lord Ido from Sethon’s jail so he can teach her how to use her dragon power is met with skepticism by all. The thing is, are people right not to trust Eona? Where do her loyalties lie? Is she on the side of Kygo and the rebels? Is she only interested in her own power as Mirror Dragoneye? Or is there something else she’s fighting for?

The Good: I’m trying not to give away all the twists and turns and reveals of Eona, but wowza! Goodman does some masterful plotting and fancy footwork, with just the right mix of being able to surprise me but when I look back at earlier chapters, I nod, seeing clues to what will come. Eon had a few twists — Eon’s a girl, the long-lost Mirror Dragon, returns, and it turns out that dragon is a female which explains its bonding with Eona. Comparing the turns and surprises in Eon to those in Eona is like comparing the rides at the local boardwalk to those at DisneyWorld. The boardwalk is fun and has the ocean, but DisneyWorld, is, well, DisneyWorld. Eona has twists and plot developments that made me sit up and go “woah.” I don’t want to say too much about them, because since I enjoyed the roller coast ride of Eona largely unspoiled, I want to preserve that for other readers.

What can I say?

Ido is an interesting villian; when I listened to the audio, Ido sounded like Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Ido is power hungry, has killed (or arranged the killings of) many, tormented his apprentice to madness, yet, somehow, there is something bad-boy-appealling about him. What appealls is not that Ido has done bad, bad things; it’s that Ido is honest about his own intentions and priorities. He wants power, period. And, in a way, how can one condemn Ido when the background story is a power struggle between Sethon and Kygo? Why is it better for Kygo to want power? Is it really alright to say or believe, it’s OK for Kygo to want to be Emperor because of birth but it’s not OK for Ido to want it because he’s not of noble birth?

The issue of power is one that Goodman paints in shades of gray. Eona wants Ido to teach her how to control her power, and he tempts her with the possibilities of what she can do with her power. While Eona wonders whether she should be selfish and pursue her power for individual gain, or be unselfish and dedicate herself and her power to the Empire (as represented by Kygo), the reader wonders at who in Eona’s world has power, who does not, and what it means. As Emperor, Kygo cannot be physically touched by such people as the doctor who seeks to heal him. Such a touch could result in a death sentence for the healer! Decorum dictates who bows to whom, how low to bow — and all these things, all this showing of respect, all this manifestations of power are not directly questioned (this is not a “and then there was a revolution for Democracy” book, but then, fantasy kingdom stories rarely end that way) but they are questioned in how Eona interacts with her own power, the power of a Dragoneye. Eona’s power — like Kygo’s — is a mixture of heritage and chance.

Speaking of Kygo, I should point out that three is an interesting number: Ido, Eona, Kygo. Eona has complex, mature feelings for both; she is attracted to things about both men, and the tension between the three of them is delightful. Eona’s relationship with Ido is tied to issues of power, of control, of knowledge, and it’s not so much that she wants him as she wants to know more about the things he knows. Kygo observes this and sees it as Eona wanting Ido, and I was entertained at the young Emperor, who can have anything (well, except his Empire because of his evil uncle), being jealous of Ido and Eona’s relationship.

One last thing about how powerful Eona is; I’ve written this much, yet there is still so much more I could write about it.The gender politics, for instance, could be an entire post, with Lady Dela as a contraire (a
“twin soul,” with the body of a man and the spirit of a woman), Eona’s masquerade as a man,the eunochs at court, the “blossom women” (geishas).