Tag Archives: retelling

And I Darken (The Conquerer’s Saga #1)

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Told from the alternating viewpoints of Lada, Princess of Wallachia, and her younger brother Radu,  And I Darken re-imagines Vlad the Impaler as a girl. With lots and lots and lots of stabbing, both of the physical and the back variety.

Lada Dragwlya is the daughter of the Prince of Wallachia, but he sold her and younger brother Radu to the Ottoman courts to pay a debt and buy favour. Lada turns her feelings of abandonment and loss into aggression, while gentle Radu takes the diplomatic approach, charming and listening and learning about his enemy. She becomes the solider, he becomes the spy.

When lonely young sultan Mehmed enters the picture, everything changes. The heir to the Ottoman empire becomes one of the three, but their loyalty to each other is always tempered by the fact that he will be sultan one day, and the siblings are essentially his property. And both Lada and Radu love and admire him in their own way, which might be the force that tears them all apart.

Lada is an epic anti-heroine. She doesn’t just say she is badass, she is fierce and resilient, and on the surface, perhaps a touch psychotic. But while she is cold and calculating and has no qualms about killing, it is only to serve a deeper purpose. She has her own moral code she lives by and never wavers from, even as it makes little sense to anyone else. As she matures, she begins to recognize what her place is in the world, and not accepting it, must find a way to change her world or herself. She is committed to her kingdom and will defend it at all costs.

Lada fights for everything. She is cunning and aggressive, hot-tempered and intelligent. Dismissed by her father at birth as useless until she proved beautiful enough to marry off, he soon discovered the girl possessed the strength and fierceness he had hoped he would pass on to his son. She looks down on women, having seen her own mother beaten down by her father, and considers them weak. But whereas she begins by denying her own feminity, desperately wanting her father’s approval and seeing his own thirst for power, she learns that power takes many forms, and women have their own source and ways of wielding it.

Lada shares the spotlight with Radu. Unfortunately, not the strong aggressive son that his father wished for, he is graceful and gentle, weak in their father’s eyes, and thus rejected. His sister is both his protector and his nemesis. Their relationship is filled with frustration, jealousy and misunderstanding, underscored with a deep bond. He seeks her approval even as his perceived weaknesses frustrate her, and she feels possessive of him without really understanding why.

But Radu also grows and develops and learns to wield his own influence, a different one than Lada possesses, and maybe ends up the more powerful of the two. He fades into the scenery, listening and sorting through facts and innuendo, and learns controls through subtlety.

OK. Is there a love triangle? Yes and no. There is the unrequited love that Radu has for Mehmed, so strong that Radu leaves rather than be around the one he knows cannot return his desire. And while Mehmed and Lada share a strong attraction, their deepest feelings are truly for their kingdoms and their power.  Wallachia holds Lada’s heart, while Mehmed craves the power of his throne.

Set in Eastern Europe, this is not a fantasy. It is more a historical retelling, a gender-swapping political thriller. It’s about power and the many ways in which it can be used and gained and lost, and fighting to be and get what you want.

This is not a short, quick read. At nearly 500 pages long, there is a LOT of information in it, and as a historical retelling, there is much fact that needs to be sifted from fiction. Author Kiersten White takes the time to develop her characters and follows them through the first decade and a half of their lives, exploring how their worlds intertwine and separate, how power and influence shift and wane and intensify.

If you want something light and fun, this is not for you. If you like a rich history and complex characters and plots that build slowly, this book is the start of a trilogy that will keep you captivated.

And I Darken was published June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Alice in Zombieland (White Rabbit Chronicles #1)

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Full disclosure: I have had this novel sitting on my shelves for at least two or three years, and have been unable to bring myself to open it. I hate zombies. Can’t handle them. Can handle vampires, ghosts, monsters, witches, you name them, I like them.  But zombies?  Just EW.  But it is Hallowe’en month and sacrifices must be made. So I read it. And I regret waiting so long. Because this one is fun.

Maybe because this is not your typical zombie novel.  Yes, there is fleshing-eating grossness and ooze and snacking on humans.  But there is also a sweet love story and lots of humour that had me giggling throughout.

Alice Bell is a fairly typical teenager, with a few important exceptions. Blond and pretty, she adores her younger sister Emma, and copes with her eccentric parents. Well, not eccentric so much as irrational and deranged. Her father is an out-of-control alcoholic and convinced that monsters are real, even though no one can see them. Alice’s mother loves him and supports his every whim. So at age 16, Alice has never been allowed out of the house after dark, or near a cemetery, or near anyone who would try to convince her leave the house after dark or go near a cemetery, all of which can throw a wrench in any teenager’s life. 

But in one tragic second, she discovers that the alcoholic father she dismissed as insane was not. The monsters are real. And now Alice becomes Ali and fights the undead, the monsters that stole her family.  And along the way, she might get the chance to be a “normal” teenager for the first time.

As a retelling, this one is not close to the original at all, which is fine. There are references to the white rabbit and mad parties and evil grins and of course Alice, but Carroll’s story is more of an inspiration than a framework for this novel.

The zombies in this Alice are not the kind we usually see on TV or read about. Shuffling, decaying, mindless monsters, yes, but these ones exist only in the spirit world, are not visible to all, and must be fought in their realm. They are attracted to fear and death and horror and hurt only those that can see them. These are zombies even I can tolerate. (They are still gross and ooze black gunk, but fine, I don’t have to picture them in a horde chasing me.)

Alice is a strong main character. She is smart, independent, fierce, loyal and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She can also be whiny and self-absorbed. Her  self-worth and sense of humour remain intact even as her world has been destroyed, and she not only has to come to terms with the fact that she had a minor part to play in it but also that she has spent her life looking down on her father and dismissing his beliefs, while all along he adored her and was just looking out for her safety.

Best friend Kat is fun, feisty and a bit wild. But she too knows her own self-worth and doesn’t let anyone – ex-boyfriends and fairweather friends included – tell her who she is. She has her own secrets and isn’t afraid to admit when she is out of her depth, and while I wondered about her motivations at first, it becomes clear through the story that she is who she is, and loyalty is one of her most important qualities.

The boys in the novel are really supporting characters for the cast of bad-ass girls. Tough guy Cole is the typical bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold, but I like him.  OK, the intense violet eyes and love at first sight visions of passion are a *bit* over the top, but I can deal. He has a tough job and he carries it out with purpose and passion, all the while managing to look hot and flirt with Ali. Their dialogue is humorous and they have good chemistry, although perhaps the back-and-forth bantering between them goes on a bit long. What I do like is they are equal. Ali is not mooning around, hoping the sexy tough guy will choose her. And while Cole had the upper hand in knowledge and experience of the world she is about to enter, Ali makes it perfectly clear that she stays on her terms, not his.

Nana and Pops bring Ali home to live with them and there are moments that swing between absolute hilarity and sadness as they try to cope with having a teen in their home again, while also dealing with the loss of family themselves. I cringed alongside Ali as they questioned the boys she brought home, laughed at the slang they picked up in their research of current teenage language and cried at their heartbreak.

There is the violence to be expected from a zombie novel, but the gore factor is pretty mild. This is not the book for you if you want a hard-core zombie apocalypse but definitely is if you enjoy a fun romance with a side of zombie beat-down. Books 2 and 3, Through the Zombie Glass and The Queen of Zombie Hearts, are going on my to-read list.

Alice in Zombieland was published September 25th, 2012 by Harlequin Teen.

Le Fay (series)

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I hate writing negative reviews. I don’t ever want to turn someone off reading a book or series – just because something didn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. This series did not work for me. At all. But I seem to be in the minority. On Goodreads, Henge and Sword get a LOT of love. I must be missing something important.

Le Fay is a modern retelling of the Arthurian legend. Magic is both controlled and mistrusted. The King is served by the best magicians in the Kingdom, as his knights and his advisors.

Morgan le Fay has fire magic. She can create and control fire; in her hands it is both powerful and deadly. She wants to use her abilities for the good of the Kingdom. She has dreamed of being Maven, the right hand of the future king, Arthur, since she was a young child. She competes and is selected to join Arthur’s Round, an elite group of young magic users from which the new Maven will be chosen.

Trained and tested along with the other outstanding magicians of her generation, she is one of the top students. The new Maven will stand at the future King’s side for his entire reign, so while magical power is essential, so is diplomacy and political savvy. Morgan wants to serve, and she wants to see magic returned to its exalted status. But all does not go as planned.

I LOVE the Arthurian legend. LOVE it. So when I heard about this series, I was so excited. There could be so much to love. But no. Just … NO. While the first book was good enough to grab my attention, the second punished me for it.

Morgan, the central figure in the series, was my greatest disappointment. She could have been great. She has so much potential as a character, she is a central figure in the original legend. And while she starts off in the first book as a strong-willed, focused girl, intent on serving the Kingdom, she makes one disastrous decision after another, and none of them make sense. NONE.

Her behaviour with her classmates is erratic. She suspects plots against the Crown, she herself is attacked, but she keeps her mouth shut.

She has a vision about her future, and can make no sense of it. She was warned this would happen, that what the candidates see is not always going to be a clear message for them, and needs to be studied and interpreted. So does she tell the examiners what she sees? Of course not. She tells them of a vision she had as a child.

If you are sworn to protect the King, and you learn of a plot to assassinate him, don’t you at least tell someone? Or do you kidnap him and run away? What personal strength and morality she displays in the first book is completely lost in the second; if she truly wanted to serve the King and Kingdom, she would get off her a** and do it. Instead, she spends the first part of the book pouting, and the rest making horrible choices and refusing to speak up for herself, and there is no reason for it, other than ego.

And the incident with Lancelot near the end of the second book? Shoot me now. Where did that scene come from?!?!?

Arthur is interesting, and in many ways true to the legend (minus the petulant video-game obsessed stage he goes through). He is a tortured, young, unsure of who he is and what he wants. Although he does find himself, the reader is left with the feeling of instability. He equally fears and respects Morgan.

Merlin is also fairly close to the Merlin we know. He is difficult to read, powerful, and political. He kept me on my toes throughout both books, always wondering what side he would take. I found him totally unlikeable, which is fine, at first. But in the second book, his behaviour and interactions with Morgan stop making sense. And it ends with me still unsure of his intentions and loyalties.

All the other characters were unpredictable and I had to keep rereading parts to make sure I had the right person in my mind for various scenes.

The book really fell apart for me with the modern setting, which I initially thought could be fabulous. But it just does not work. The magic and the history and knights and even Camelot itself evoke too many images, and the modern conveniences of texting and trains and cars seemed thrown in and forced, as if the author was not sure how to fit her ideas on the page.

I don’t know if there is going to be a third book, but if there is, I think I’ll pass. But if anyone reads this series and can explain to me what I so obviously missed, I would appreciate it.

Henge was published November 11th, 2014, and Sword on November 10th, 2015.

The Looking Glass Wars (#1)

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So. I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks because I was up north at my cottage, and the wifi was down. Talk about a champagne problem. I had to spend my time watching the kids swim while sitting on the dock, drinking wine and reading. It was tough. But it did give me some time to start working through my TBR pile!

Another retelling, this one of Alice in Wonderland. Full disclosure. I have never been the biggest fan of Lewis Carroll’s novel. It just never really grabbed my attention when I was younger, and I haven’t really felt the urge to revisit it now. So I am looking at Beddor’s story through new eyes. And I think it is the right way to read this novel, the first in a series of three.

7-year-old Alyss Heart, the heir to the throne of Wonderland, has just celebrated her birthday and is learning to control her powerful imagination. Full of mischief and fun, she uses her powers for amusement, dreading the day she will become Queen, and have to do all the boring stuff that goes with the wearing the Crown. But her peaceful life is disrupted violently when her estranged Aunt Redd and her Cat assassin attacks the Crystal Palace and destroys her future. Hatter Madigan, trusted Royal guardian and advisor, escapes through the Pool of Tears with Alyss to save her, but loses her in the time stream. After emerging through street puddle into Victorian London, Alyss fears she will never find her way back.

Purists will probably hate this book, but I didn’t. Beddor definitely takes liberties with the original (he starts by stating the Carroll got it all wrong) and adds a fantastical sci-fi element that held my attention.

The characters were good, if a bit underdeveloped. Although as this is the first book in the series, there is always room for that to change as the story progresses. The exception is Alyss. The story begins with her at age 7, but she seems to be written older, which was confusing at first. That problem is ironed out, and her true age matches up much more smoothly with her actions. The story takes place over more than a dozen years, with Alyss going through many changes beyond her control. Beddor handles the different transitions well, and Alyss’ final identity is strong and the natural conclusion to her difficult growth.

Hatter, the Cat, Dodge Anders, Bibwit Harte, are all recognizable characters, even as they take on fantastical new roles. I think Beddor assumed a bit too much for their background because they all appear fully formed, but they seamlessly fit into the story.

The political struggle and resulting war in Wonderland are just dressing for the main storyline. They are well done. But the main plot line, that of Alyss searching for herself and validation of her life will resonate with most readers. She fights a constant battle to remember who she is in the face of others denying her story, and she struggles to hold on to her history. Her loss of self hinders her ability to help her people win the war; the rebuilding of her identity is the lynchpin to the entire story.

What I think is absolutely outstanding is Beddor’s world-building. Our world is somewhat behind Wonderland in technology and unknowingly relies on the fantasy world for our innovation and progress. Driven by the power of imagination, Wonderlanders imagine everything from gas lamps and hot air balloons to internal combustion engines that are then transferred to our world through a series of crystals, where someone here “invents” them. Incredible!

This is a successful retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Again, not for the purists, but if you are looking for an action-packed, often gory look at the adventures, this is a good book for you. I am hoping the that few issues I found with the first book are ironed out with the next two.

The Looking Glass Wars was published September 26th, 2006 by Dial Books.

Ash

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A good re-telling honours the original, while adding something new and unexpected. Enter Ash, a light new look at Cinderella, with an LGBT twist.

Ash just lost her mother, a greenwitch in a kingdom that no longer believes in magic. Her father tries to comfort Ash and thinks a new mother will help. He remarries Lady Isobel then mysteriously falls ill and dies, leaving Ash to the mercy of her stepmother. Lady Isobel moves the family back to her own estate, takes advantage of Ash’s orphaned state and puts her to work.

Ash takes solace in a book of fairy tales that was a gift from her father, reading them nightly by the warm kitchen hearth. She dreams of the day that fairies will take her away, hoping the stories are more than just tales told to children. And they are real. Sidhean, an old and powerful fairy, stakes a claim for Ash, watches out for her and protects her.

On a day in the woods, escaping her stepmother for a brief period, Ash meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa. And Ash begins to see that her heart did not die with her mother. But she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love. She must choose between Sidhean and oblivion, and Kaisa and life.

I’m a bit torn about this story. On one hand, what a lovely new way to write Cinderella. On the other, I am not sure if the fairy tale is needed for the story.

So, the good:

Ash is a lovely character. She is romantic and heartbroken, she believes in the old ways of magic and feels her mother’s spirit around her. She cannot move on from her grief because she is unsure whether her mother is resting in peace. Sidhean becomes a powerful addiction for her, even as she becomes the same for him. He can offer her oblivion and maybe a chance to reunite with her mother.

Kaisa represents something more powerful than death. She is love and all the joy and agony that goes with it. She is kindhearted and compassionate and patient and recognizes Ash’s need to come to terms with her feelings more slowly.

The relationship between the two girls is natural and heartwarming. The initial meeting, the casual time spent getting to know one another, the bond that they form even when Ash cannot put a name to it, is beautifully written. I love that two women forming a relationship is not unusual or shocking.

And the world-building is fabulous. The magic of the Woods is clear and lyrical, and author Malinda Lo paints gorgeous pictures with her prose. As Ash wanders through the pathways, the reader can see the sun playing through the trees and sparkling off the stream, hearing the silence.

The not-quite-as-good (but not bad):

The plot moves very slowly, and it took awhile to grab me. The first half of the book is a cycle of sadness and escaping into the Wood, and even though there are many plot points that emerge during this time, it isn’t until the latter half of the story that they become clear, and the pacing picks up.

Sidhean. Unfortunately, I never really care about him, or his motivations, because I don’t find his character fully developed. With the choice Ash is facing, he should be a stronger presence. On the other hand, it was nice that his near invisibility gave more importance and weight to Kaisa and Ash’s relationship, even as I wondered who she would choose.

Speaking of irrelevant. The Prince. This is where the Cinderella story as a basis for the novel stumbles. He didn’t add to the story at all. Ash is never choosing between the Huntress and the Prince – she is oblivious to him. The masque ball at the end of the book feels a bit tacked on, as if to make the story fit better.

A few other factors make the Cinderella story feel a bit forced in places. Ash is in tune with the magic of the Woods and manages to find her way home through them in less than a day – a trip that took her a week on the road with her stepmother. And Sidhean finds her and takes her back to her stepmother’s house. But she was raised and loved in her Village – someone would have sheltered her, and she could have escaped her drudgery. So in order for Cinderella to work, Ash must return. But doing so didn’t really fit with her personality.

So. While I have listed a number of elements that don’t work for me in the story, I also cannot praise the book enough. My criticisms aside, it is a beautifully written debut novel, with lyrical prose and wonderful imagery. And I love that Ash does not rely on a prince for her happiness, but finds it herself, and shares it with a woman. It is a hard book to put down.

Ash was published September 1st, 2009 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (series)

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The gorgeous covers of these books are reason enough to read the series. But thankfully, the story inside more than lives up to them. The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica is a complex and gripping seven book series that will immerse you in worlds you only dreamt of until now. Oh, and dragons. LOTS of dragons.

On a rainy night in London in 1917,  John, Jack, and Charles are brought together by the death of Professor Sigurdsson. He was the Caretaker of the Imaginarium Geographica, the atlas of every mythological and legendary land known. A strange little man named Bert, a traveler, tells the three that the Professor’s work is now passed onto them. He tells them of the mythical lands that exist in the Archipelago of Dreams that can only be reached by the Caretakers, aboard a Dragonship.

But now that they have accepted the role of Caretakers, John, Jack, and Charles learn that the Archipelago is in danger, and they must defeat the forces that threaten their worlds, both real and imaginary. And there will be a price.

The characters in this series are incredible. For a reason. Many of them are based in reality, and to come across Houdini and Twain and Poe and Conan Doyle alongside Mordred and Calypso and a talking badger will spin your brain. Pleasantly.

The mythology is layered and woven in such a way that the legends and stories that are so familiar become new and rich and surprising. There are nods to Greek and Celtic lore alongside references to American and British classics. Author James Owens borrows from these stories and creates a new saga wherein it makes perfect sense for King Arthur to meet Captain Nemo, and Circe to advise Tolkein.  Everything connects; the original texts are treated respectfully while adding new layers to allow the characters to fulfill their roles. Just as I think I can predict where the story will take me, Owens throws in a new twist and I am transported somewhere unexpected.

With Oxford Univeristy as the touchpoint, the Caretakers travel through time and space, and worlds overlap and change and move around, through mists and oceans and eons and dreams.

Instead of a map, The Chronicles is filled with illustrations scattered throughout the seven books that are detailed to the point of each being worth well more than a thousand words.

The Chronicles are truly pure fantasy, with adventure and dragons and magic and elves and trolls and knights and kings and goddesses and good and evil and wonderful imagination. And the plot is exceptional. Even though the places and images and storylines are familiar, there are unexpected adventures and connections that keep the reader off balance. The ending to the first book alone serves to emphasize the brilliance of the series.

This stunning series is an homage to the remarkable fantasy writers of our time, and those that came before. Filled with complex images and language, it can be read by any age. It may be intimidating for the younger reader, but as a read-along with mom or dad, they will be exposed to a wonderful world of dragons and magic and literature. I do think it isn’t the type of series you will want to binge-read, you need breaks in between books to really absorb the stories.

Here, There be DragonsThe Search for the Red DragonThe Indigo KingThe Shadow Dragons, The Dragon’s ApprenticeThe Dragons of Winter, and The First Dragon are all published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Airships of Camelot: The Rise of Arthur (#1)

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A post-apocalyptic steampunk wild west retelling of the Arthurian legend. That should get your attention, am I right?  There is a LOT going on in this novel. And I’m on the fence about how well it works.

To escape the Spanish flu epidemic after the Great War, U.S. Navy officers took to their airships in search of isolated places to hide their families and make a new life. But instead of banding together and saving their country, only three generations later there is an uneasy alliance between the now divided territories, each controlled by an Admiral. And that Admiral must negotiate with the Texans who control the helium reserves, or the airships don’t fly.

18-year-old Arthur is heir to one of the territories, Camelot. But although it is a peaceful land, his father’s mistress Morgan and bastard son Mordred scheme for power. Arthur’s ship spends weeks at a time raiding the various settlements his crew comes across for plunder. The Camelot residents see the inhabitants as savages, potantially infected with the Spain. Any goods they might have are ripe for the taking. But during a risky raid, Arther is stranded on the ground and he begins to see his life and land a bit differently.

This is one of those books that started out very slowly. It didn’t grab me by the throat and refuse to let me go, but I still read it cover to cover in one sitting.

There is good character development. Familiar names pop up throughout the story, and the instinct is to immediately connect them to the original myth. But author Robson Wells doesn’t make it that easy. Instead, he takes their personalities and builds new characters from the legendary ones. He succeeds fairly well. And Excalibur itself gets a new backstory and a steampunk makeover.

Wells does a marvelous job of world building. Recognizable landmarks in the southwestern US are given a bit of a twist to adapt them to the new world order, and they truly add to the atmosphere of the story.

The plot is slow at first. The history of the conflict, the epidemic, the way of life in the post-war society, the personalities involved, all take quite a bit of time to properly set up. But once Arthur is on the ground, the pace picks up along with the action.

There is a lack of information about the technology and steampunk aspect in the post-war world. Technology should be front and centre in steampunk, but it takes a bit of a back seat in this novel. Not enough is made of it; mechanical lungs, metal arms, juggernauts, etc., do not seem to be completely commonplace, yet there is neither an aversion or intense curiosity about the technology. It just is. And I want my steampunk to be very steampunk-y.

I’m not sure how much I would really label this story a retelling of Arthur. While there is acknowledgement of the legend and vague links to the original characters and storyline, without the title of the series the connection is not too obvious.

SO. I didn’t love this book, but would definitely finish the series. It is a fun nod in the direction of the Arthurian legend, with a tenuous link to the original story. But it has all the elements needed for a good tale, and with sequels, there is the potential to ramp it up a notch or two. It is good, not great, but can be read by anyone who likes an adventure.

The Rise of Arthur was published October 15th, 2015 by Franklin Shepherd.