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Tag Archives: folklore

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingI have to come clean – when I read the first book in this series, The Magicians, I had very mixed feelings about it.  The writing was excellent, no doubt about it, and I read through the book very quickly.  But at the end, when I put it down, I couldn’t tell if I had liked it or not.

The problem is: Grossman takes fantasy worlds similar to Harry Potter, Narnia, and others, and brings them into a very modern setting.  Young magicians are given an entrance exam to see if they will be accepted into the magical college of Brakebills.  A fantasy world from a series of children’s books, known as Fillory, turns out to be real.  And the magicians must learn their own powers to navigate in this magical world.  Except along the way they get lost a lot, and there is quite a bit college-age experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sex.  The characters make an unending list of pop culture references.  Their adventures seem to meander around with no clear objective.  This is not how I expect my fantasy novels to play out.

I like Harry Potter because none of the wizards uses a cell phone, even outside of Hogwarts.  They don’t use magic to throw crazy parties fueled by controlled substances.  There’s a timelessness about the Harry Potter books, and the Narnia books, that is quaint and comfortable.  Is it more realistic that young people would misbehave a bit when learning to harness great powers?  Sure.  But that’s not what I’m used to finding in my fantasy novels.

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Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Zombies vs. Unicorns

Much as I love short story anthologies, I tend to find them lying around half-finished, simply because it is so easy to put them down at the end of a story and get sidetracked by some other shiny book.  So although I bought this book and started reading it back in September when it was first released, it was only recently that I picked it up again and realized I had a couple stories left to go.

The premise of this anthology is an argument started via blog between YA authors Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black about the relative merits of these mythological creatures.  The stories alternate between zombies and unicorns, with a few combining the two.  The editors provide introductions to each story, arguing the virtues of Team Zombie (Larbalestier) and Team Unicorn (Black).  Many big-name YA authors have contributed, including Meg Cabot, Garth Nix, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, and Scott Westerfeld.  The bickering between the editors feels, at times, a bit contrived, but the stories deliver in fun and exciting ways.

Personally, I was firmly on Team Unicorn when I picked this book up.  In a revelation that is sure to send shock waves through the book blogosphere, I must admit: I am not a fan of zombie literature.  I know it has been very popular of late, with World War Z and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hitting bestseller lists everywhere.  But I just do not see the appeal of shuffling, leaking, previously-dead people trying to eat your brain.  Unicorns, on the other hand, have a complex and contradictory mythology.  They have healing powers and a sense of purity about them, and yet they can also be deadly.  They have an air of mystery about them.  They glow.  And they don’t leak body fluids.

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Hell’s Bells by John Connolly

Hell's Bells by John ConnollyFirst a quick note: John Connolly’s latest book was released yesterday in the UK with the title Hell’s Bells.  In the US, it will be released in October under a different title: The Infernals.  Who can wait another 5 months, though?  I recommend ordering a copy from the UK today, although this should in no way interfere with your plans to buy the US edition in October.  You can thank me later.

Connolly is best known for his crime fiction series (starring PI Charlie Parker) and the previously-reviewed The Book of Lost Things.  The Samuel Johnson books, however, are more humorous and adventuresome and generally not as dark.  Read these with tongue fully in cheek!

Hell’s Bells is a sequel to The Gates, featuring a boy named Samuel Johnson and his trustworthy dachshund, Boswell.  In The Gates, the Great Malevolence and his minions tried to invade Earth, but found themselves thwarted by young Samuel, the ever-loyal Boswell, and a very minor demon called Nurd.  Hell’s Bells sees Samuel and Boswell lose the home court advantage as they are transported to Hell by a demon who has fallen out of favor after the failed invasion. Along for the ride are a group of notorious dwarfs, a couple of policemen, and an ice cream truck.  Throughout, Samuel’s ordinary life problems (divorced parents, unattainable girls, and the like) are superseded by the demons he encounters and the battles he witnesses.  His perseverance and continued good humor keep these books light, despite heavy subject matter.

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The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

The Grimm Legacy

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman

The Grimm Legacy begins as a tale of an ordinary life: Elizabeth Rew is adjusting to her mother’s death, her father’s remarriage, and switching to public school so her father can help pay tuition for her two new stepsisters.  She has nobody to sit with at lunch time and feels lonely and virtually invisible.  After writing her term paper on the Grimm brothers, her friendly (if eccentric) history teacher offers her an after school job, which she accepts gratefully.

Elizabeth soon learns, however, that this is no ordinary job.  She has been hired as a page at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, a sort of library for objects.  The repository stores and lends out everything from china tea sets to Marie Antoinette’s wig.  But what really surprises our fair heroine is when she learns that the basement of the repository houses the Grimm Collection – magical objects bequeathed to the repository straight out of fairy tales and folklore.

I love this premise for a young adult title, because not only does it make the mundane magical (how many high school students wish their after school job was a bit more glamorous?), it also takes the enchanted and makes it ordinary.  Though apprehensive of these items at first, by the end of the book all the young repository pages have used magical objects in their everyday lives, with varying degrees of success and many unforeseen consequences.

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Of Things Lost and Found

The Book of Lost Things

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

My colleague and partner in crime posted some of her favorite books this evening, including The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.  Since this is one of my all-time favorite books, too, I thought I should elaborate.

A short synopsis, first: David, a young boy growing up in London during WWII, loses his mother and turns to books of fairy tales and mythology for solace.  He soon begins hearing the books whispering to him and catches glimpses of things which don’t belong in his world.  He is eventually transported to a world woven from these stories – but never in quite the way you would expect.

On the surface, this book could be unremarkable.  It’s been done before, many times, this coming of age tale in a fantasy world.  The Book of Lost Things, however, has enough unique and imaginative characters and plot twists to make revisiting the form more than worthwhile.  It is all around well-conceived, well-structured, and well-written.  My kind of book!

In the end, all you really need to know about the book is this: I made the mistake of starting to read it during lunch one day.  My copy still has a large stain on page 6, by which point I was so engrossed that I missed my mouth and dropped a piece of pineapple on it.  If you haven’t had the pleasure yet, drop what you are doing (or eating) and get yourself a copy.  You can thank me later.

 

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