Monday, 18 April 2011

City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare

It seems that everything has just gone right in the world of Shadowhunters, demons and magical beings, but, in reality, the great triumph for the Shadowhunters against Valentine has opened up a world of even greater evil…
When Valentine was killed, the Downworlders given a place among the Clave and Clary Fray and Jace Lightwood finally got together, everything seemed to turn back to normal. Simon Lewis, however, is feeling anything but normal. His vampire compulsions are getting stronger and his unusual condition forces him into the world of vampire politics, a place he never wanted to be. His two girlfriends and new werewolf friend aren’t helping. Jace is acting very strange and his relationship with Clary is getting dark and noticeably tense. An old girlfriend of Magnus Bane’s pops up and there’s something scary going on with human babies not far away...Can Jace and Clary work out what’s going on with Jace? Will Simon discover and take the right path for his new, vampiric self? Can the whole group stop the evil lurking in all their lives before a new horror arises?
Cassandra Clare has been welcomed lovingly into the arms of the young adult fiction fan base, her Mortal Instruments series thrilling, delighting and ensnaring many young-ish readers. The latest instalment to this series, City of Fallen Angels, was highly anticipated by these readers and is something that I couldn’t wait for!
I wasn’t sure whether I liked C.O.F.A. or not. On the one hand, it was just as exciting as ever and still closely linked to the plot of the previous three books in the series, which I wasn’t expecting- where I thought that the old problem would die down and something new would come up elsewhere, a stronger, more disturbing issue has risen from the ashes of Valentine’s failure and Clary’s mistakes. On the other hand, there is an immense contrast between C.O.F.A. and the first half of the series- the quality of Clare’s characters has been lost, for the best in everyone except Jace. Jace’s problem has robbed him of his wit, sarcastic humour and self-centred attitude. The Mortal Instruments series just seems so much emptier without the humour that Clare had no way to pair with the darkness of her themes.
I think that the book being predominantly in Simon’s point of view was a good thing. Simon has grown as a character and his story is one of the most interesting by far, because he is so unsure of what he’s going to do about almost everything! It was good to wonder what side he would take in the vampire’s political troubles, which girl did he like the most out of the two he was dating and how was he going to cope with the struggles of his bloodlust. People that I spoke to before reading C.O.F.A. were pretty negative about Simon’s point of view and I am happy that they were more or less wrong in their presumptions.
This was a sufficiently exciting story with a strong plot and a good link to the first half of the series. Upset though I was with the absence of Jace’s usual character traits, I am intrigued by the rest of the story and cannot wait until the next book comes out. I recommend this to any teenager seeking an adventurous, action-packed, dark read with watered-down horror (very watered-down, or I wouldn’t have been able to read it).
My Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Wings/Spells by Aprilynne Pike

In a small California town, fifteen-year-old Laurel is sent from a sheltered life of home-schooling into a normal high school when her family move house. Already nervous about school and settling in cautiously, there is more stress and tension added to her life when a giant white flower- shaped like a pair of wings- grows out of her back. On a trip back to her old home, which her parents are trying to sell to someone that gives Laurel the creeps, Laurel meets Tamani, someone who tells her that she's a Fall faerie and...something else. Laurel is sucked into the magical world where she belongs, battling trolls and her inexperience to claim ownership of her old house for the good of the faeries.

The story continues in Spells, where Laurel finds herself off to Avalon to finally learn the ways of the Fall faeires. Her new-found knowledge is put to the test upon her return home to her well-informed human parents and she still hasn't completely won the battle against the trolls...and now, she has to worry about the mysterious humans that have been taking too much of an interest in Laurel's safety. Also, Tamani and Laurel's human boyfriend David are getting jealous of each other and Laurel can't decide who she wants to be with more!

The first two books in this series were a little different to anything I'd ever read. Aprilynne Pike's version of faeries is the most original take on them that I know of. The plot...not so much. It's pretty Twilight-ish, except that it has less focus on romance and more on the weirdness of Laurel's species and how she adjusts to it.

Laurel was a Mary Sue in my opinion- she was quiet, smart, unsociable, too nice and unwittingly caused romantic turmoil. She's one of those people that look nice in the background and is highly reminiscent of Bella Swan. I felt that, as a main character in a book series that was showing some promise in every other area, she could have had some other, more realistic qualities- a genuine bad side, something that made her only human, in every sense that can be applied to her. Somethings that I would have liked to see is vanity, being self-assured and assertive and getting really angry. Main characters need something that makes them stand out- Laurel lacked that.

Tamani and David are a lot better. Tamani's very clever and confident, with a very supportive attitude to the faerie hierarchy system and, from his description, he is very hot. David is perfect boyfriend/best friend material- he's supportive, eager to help out, sweet, smart and, most importantly, he's funny. Both of their relationships with Laurel, however, are not what they could be.

I also feel that the climaxes weren't incredibly interesting, although the idea of trolls isn't something used a lot in YA. A lack of adrenaline coming frfom Laurel was mostly to blame, but the situations themselves were fairly boring as well.

The chronological, third person writing style that Pike adopted in this series made the story easy to follow and understand.

Despite main character issues, I found these books interesting and unique. If I can get my hands on the third book, Illusions, I will continue reading the series, to see how Laurel resolves her issues with the trolls and her boy troubles, as well as to find out if the series will get anymore exciting.

My rating- 3/5
 Meanwhile, Disney has recently claimed the rights to the film of Wings and are already starting on it. Miley Cyrus has been tipped to play Laurel, although I'm not entirely sure how that will work out.


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Beastly by Alex Flinn
Beastly, a novel written by Alex Flinn is a modern take on the classic fairytale, Beauty and the Beast. It takes the story and tells it to us in a way that most people our age can relate to…except this time, we hear the story from the Beast.
Handsome, popular Kyle Kingsbury angers a witch named Kendra with a tasteless practical joke, causing her to turn him into a beast. The only way he can turn back into himself is if he falls in love with a girl who can love him back despite his ugliness and only if they kiss within two years of the casting of Kyle’s curse. When Kyle, secluded and lonely, is given the opportunity to fall in love with Lindy, who’s father tried to rob Kyle’s house and made a deal with Kyle (he would give Kyle Lindy if Kyle didn’t call the police), Kyle finds himself falling in love and desperately tries to get Lindy to reciprocate the feelings before the two years are up.
This story was one of the most romantic things I’ve ever read. The thoughts of the main character- which are portrayed beautifully by the first person point of view- are sweet and often had me squealing in enchantment. I took delight in the darkness of the depths of Kyle’s mind. The writing style and language used were very relatable for teenagers. I found nothing wrong with it, unless you can count the devastatingly short time it took to read it.
A wonderful story where the prince must earn his princess and where romance is so thick it almost rolls off the page in smoky fumes, I recommend this to any girl over the age of thirteen- there are some adult references in the book and this really is a girls’ book. I enjoyed it immensely and cannot remember ever being more hyped for the main character to get their dream kiss in my life. I’m sure most people will enjoy Beastly.
My rating: 4.5/5

With a Sword in my Hand by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem and Pat van Biers
 Set in the 14th century, this is the exciting and romantic adventure tale that describes the life of Marguerite van Male, a young Flemish countess who is the only child of a man who wants a son. Told through Marguerite’s own perspective, we hear about her childhood in the castle of Flanders where she lives, her dealings with men and boys and her various rebellious deviations from the path that her father had chosen for her. Marguerite begins the tale by recounting the story of her own birth. We next hear of her mother’s insanitation and of how she is sent to stay with monks. Afterwards, Marguerite begins to grow up. She takes it upon herself to secretly learn swordplay and horseback-riding, skills that only boys were allowed to learn.  She also runs around with the young squires of the castle, and teases her governess constantly. Then, when she is fourteen, her father chose to marry her off to an English prince, Edmund. Marguerite desperately tries to put an end to the marriage, eventually succeeding. The pestilence is brought to Flanders and death and disease is suddenly everywhere. Marguerite eventually marries Philip, a rich young Frenchman. They live in his own castle until he dies, prompting Marguerite to leave her life as she knew it for a life in a convent. Right at the end, her father tries to steal her away from the convent again and engages her in a sword fight. It is during this fight that he finally shows a good nature.
Marguerite Van Male is a strong character, based loosely on a real woman of the same name. She has great qualities, like determination, courage and pride. She doesn’t let anyone push her around, regardless of age or gender, unless she has something to benefit from it. She always has her own best interests at heart. She has a bad relationship with her father, full of hatred, and has a stronger father-bond with the man that teaches her swordplay, a cynical Italian. She loves her governess as a mother figure, despite her teasing. She despises Edmund and likes Philip. She gives her affection to those who are good to her and dislikes anyone who treats her unkindly.
The antagonist in this story is Marguerite’s father, the Count of Flanders. He tries constantly to put an end to her fiery spirit and bull-headed ways with threats. He craves a son and resents Marguerite for being his only child, calling her a cruel joke and saying that she is “the gods laughing at me”. You feel very badly about him, right until the end, when he finally shows some good qualities.
The authors of this book use a very simple format. It is perfectly chronological, with a first person point of view (Marguerite) and conservative language. There isn’t any Elizabethan language, such as “thy” or “doth” but simply an older way of putting words together, using “I am” instead of “I’m” and not contracting many words at all. They’ve played with the genres of adventure, historical and romance, blending them together very well. They focus on themes of strength and determination, leaving us with the message that we can only get what we truly want if we are willing to fight and fight hard for it. We are also told that friendship can only happen if both friends are going to keep it up. There is only one real climax in this book- the fight at the end of book between Marguerite and her father. However, this did not make reading it very dull, because I was always eager to learn of what would happen to Marguerite in her next small adventure.

This book was enjoyable and a quick, easy read. It was perfectly understandable and contained great content. I thought it was an excellent example of medieval feminism, a theme which I enjoyed immensely. With its happy yet realistic ending, I was thoroughly satisfied. I’d recommend this to anyone older than twelve years of age as a brief time-filling read.
My rating- 3.5/5