This eagerly anticipated novel (based on Black’s short story of the same name) bears little relation to the sparkle-infused vampire tales of the last decade.
Ten years ago, a vampire “started romanticizing himself” and went on a rampage, turning people until new vampires were everywhere. As much as possible, they are contained in walled Coldtowns, along with humans who idolize them—or were trapped when the walls went up. Outside, people avoid going out after dark, watch endless feeds from Coldtown parties and idolize vampire hunters. When nihilistic Tana, whose emptiness seems to stem from events surrounding her mother’s infection with vampirism, wakes up in a blood bath to find her ex-boyfriend infected and a terrifying but gorgeous vampire chained beside him, she is determined to make things right. What follows is a journey that takes her into Coldtown and out of the grief that has plagued her for years, with plenty of sharply observed characters and situations that feel absurdly, horribly believable. There’s dry humor and even a relationship (to call it a romance would be too easy; this is something entirely more complex). Perhaps most unexpectedly, there is no happy ending, just a thread of hope in humanity.
You may be ready to put a stake in vampire lit, but read this first: It’s dark and dangerous, bloody and brilliant.
(Horror. 14 & up)
Grief beats at the heart of adolescence in this fantasy version of North America.
For the free women of the forest, death is a complex, dangerous thing: The dead are bound, and some rise again as White Hands, whose touch brings madness and transformation. Bow’s lyrical writing, which beats like the storyteller’s drum Cricket and, later, Orca wield, tells a story both specific and timeless. The conflict between tradition and change, the tensions between mothers and daughters, and the journey west (itself both physical and metaphorical) all play a role. Within the grand thematic scope is a simpler story, reminiscent of the timeless hero’s journey: Otter, the binder’s daughter, untrained and called upon to face great threats, must use the tools of tradition and forbidden knowledge (a secret story echoes throughout the novel) to remake the world. Add to that epic scope two love stories, a genuine portrait of friendship, a nuanced exploration of loss and letting go, and a fine tracery of humor as well as plenty of tears, and you have a winner.
A lovely gem, dark and quiet as the dead but glimmering with life as well. Not to be missed.
(Fantasy. 13 & up)
A disabled teen archaeologist works in fascinating, hazardous conditions on a far-future Earth.
It’s 2789. Humanity lives on numerous planets. Transportation, including between star systems, merely requires stepping into a portal—even schoolchildren do a “mass off-world kiddie commute” daily. But off-world atmospheres are fatal for the rare babies born Handicapped, who are portalled to Earth within minutes and must stay forever. Parents tend to disappear, unwilling to live on Earth just to raise a “throwback.” Earth provides those on its Handicapped wards full care, education and career choice, but Jarra’s bitter that “exos” (non-Handicapped norms) consider her an “ape,” “the garbage of the universe.” Enrolling in a Pre-history course that’s taught on Earth but administered by an off-world university, Jarra plans to quench her thirst for history while teaching some exos a lesson. Terrific nitty-gritty details limn her team’s excavations of a high-risk dig site that was once Manhattan. Although readers won’t see disabilities they recognize, Edwards successfully shows that being physically unable to partake in society’s core structure equals disability. Jarra slides temporarily—implausibly—from matter-of-fact first-person narrator to a character in denial of her reality, but more important are perilous rescues, Jarra’s skills, a solar superstorm that closes portals and endangers hundreds of Military, and some humorous romance with sparkling chemistry.
Action, rich archaeological detail and respectfully levelheaded disability portrayal, refreshingly free from symbolism and magical cures, make this stand out.
(Science fiction. 11-16)
Prequel to Dragonborn (2012), this haunting fable interweaves stories about magic with the magic of stories.
When even the simplest spells turn feral, wizard apprentice Cabbage and his master, Flaxfield, search for the origin of this deadly “wild magic.” Their hunt leads to Bee, an apprentice whose immense potential has been secretly leeched for years by her abusive master, distorting the natural order of magic. When he steals her wizard name, the explosive blowback looses a terrible evil, and it’s up to the pair of apprentices to seal it. Despite the cataclysmic stakes, this is no standard epic adventure, all quests and derring-do. There are dread abominations and ghastly slaughters (all the more nightmarish for their elliptical portrayal), but nothing is more monstrous than human selfishness, cowardice and vanity. Against these, no heroic exploit stands more valiant and glorious than the small acts of kindness, loyalty and trust that take place within a quiet library, a humble inn and a wounded spirit. Lyrical prose of lapidary precision and restraint etches a character-driven narrative of intimate enchantments, evoking terrible beauty from blazing infernos, subtle whimsy from nonsensical banter, bone-chilling horror from slithering beetles, and soul-piercing wonder from a simple “Yes.” Although it stands fully on its own, knowledge of the companion novel will enrich appreciation of this tale, and the revelations here will cast new light upon the former; readers of both will long for the story’s resolution.
Terrifying, moving, inspiring and enthralling.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)
An art project, a rebellion and a sacrifice make up this nuanced, original cyberpunk adventure.
June, 17, remembers the last sacrifice of the Summer King, nine years before. In a future Brazil, after climate change, wars, natural disasters and plague have devastated the world, Palmares Três is a peaceful and just city, technologically supported with holos, nanohooks and bots. Beneath the city's glittering facade, however, there's another reality. Youth is stifled while the governing Aunties keep Palmares Três static in a class-stratified society centuries behind the rest of the developed world. June and best friend Gil, both relatively privileged artists, happily spend their spring dancing, creating public art and voting for the newest Summer King to be sacrificed for the city's prosperity after a year. When gorgeous, dark-skinned Enki is elected, both June and Gil fall for him—but it's Gil he takes as a lover, and June he takes as an artistic collaborator. Their love triangle, in a city with no gender-based limitations on romantic or sexual partnerships, is multifaceted, not the usual heroine-chooses-between-two-boys dynamic. As the trio dances—often literally—around one another, June must negotiate between the extremes of stasis and post-humanism, learn to see beyond herself, discover the meaning of integrity, and maybe even save her rotten-at-the-core and best-beloved city.
Kincaid’s sequel to Insignia (2012) moves beyond derivative fun to real depth.
Ever-rebellious Tom Raines has advanced with his pals Vik and Wyatt to Middle Company at the Pentagonal Spire. They’ve reached the level where they need to cultivate corporate sponsors in order to join the elite virtual warriors who conduct the ongoing space-based war between the Russo-Chinese and Indo-American alliances for control of the moon. Tom may be preternaturally great at virtual-war skillz, but he is horrible at sucking up and almost immediately alienates every single multinational corporate head he needs to impress. Meanwhile, Tom continues to pursue his odd but intense secret relationship with crack Russo-Chinese combatant Medusa and begins to suspect that Yuri, their Russian friend at the Spire, whom Wyatt “unscrambled” in the first book, may not be as innocent as they had thought. Kincaid lays a lot down, twining her increasingly complex plot and characterizations with Tom’s growing awareness of the poisonous “military-industrial-media complex.” As Eisenhower feared, it has made war a way of life that enriches a very few and impoverishes the many—one corporate head has bought Yosemite as his own private playground, one of many unsubtle but all-too-plausible symbols Tom contemplates. Action fans, fear not: For all the deep thinking Tom and readers undertake, pace, adventure and fun are not compromised one whit.
A surprisingly and satisfyingly rich middle volume in a trilogy that exceeds popcorn expectations. (Science fiction. 13-16)
This exhilarating finale to the dystopian Legend trilogy delivers on the promises of the genre without ever being predictable about details.
June and Day are finally on the right side of the law, but nothing’s gotten any easier. June, the former soldier, is now one of three Princeps-Elect, next in line to lead the Senate. Day, “most-wanted-criminal-turned-national-hero,” is now the face of popular support for the young Elector. The future’s dazzlingly bright, right? In fact, from their high perches, June and Day can see everything about to go horrifyingly wrong. The Elector knows the Colonies are about to invade, and he thinks a plague cure will save the day—a cure he’s convinced they’ll discover by experimenting on Day’s brother, Eden. Day will never let the Republic have his brother again; he barely got Eden back alive after the first time they took him for medical experiments. On the other hand, since Day is dying, it’s not clear what he can do for Eden or the Republic. Brief international travel expands the worldbuilding of this universe: June and Day had encountered the capitalist dystopia of the Colonies in Prodigy (2012), while June here encounters the seemingly more idyllic society-as-game of Ross City, Antarctica. A civilization run as if it were “The Sims” is intriguing, and it’s disappointing that June spends little time there, but there’s plenty of betrayal and action to resolve back in the Republic.
Ever respectful of the capacity of its readers, this series offers a satisfying conclusion of potential rather than a neatly wrapped denouement
. (Science fiction. 13-16)
Fans of Finnikin of the Rock (2010) and Froi of the Exiles (2012) will find deep satisfaction in this finale to the Lumatere Chronicles. This trilogy, taken as a whole, is stronger than each of its distinct parts.
Marchetta, known for her mastery of character, shows herself here to have conquered the intricacies of plot, worldbuilding and theme. All three books demonstrate both the heights and depths of human nature. If the first two books depict two young men with depth and reality, this third applauds the growth and courage of Princess (or Queen, depending on who’s talking) Quintana—who is not immediately likable but becomes more admirable as the narrative progresses. Omniscient narration alternates three major stories: of Froi, who searches for Quintana in Charyn, of the residents of Lumatere, and of Quintana, who is in hiding to protect the life of her child. Peppering the tale are details of Quintana's thoughts and longings, which broaden understanding of her personality. A multitude of plot twists and surprises bring together events that seemed complete in the first two books and emphasize the importance of Quintana's story.
Readers will have a hard time forgetting the complex, deeply human characters that populate this multifaceted narrative.
(Fantasy. 14 & up)
Another one of a kind from the inimitable Moriarty, this time, a barely epistolary fantasy series opener unlike anything else out there.
Fourteen-year-old Madeleine lives in Cambridge, England, with her zany mother in uncertain circumstances, having run away from their fabulously privileged international existence. Meanwhile, Elliot lives in Bonfire, The Farms, Cello, a parallel reality that might be the real fairyland (although that’s never explicitly stated, and this version seems utterly unlike most versions of fairyland). Through a crack between their worlds, they begin exchanging letters, although more of the novel is about one or the other of these two appealing characters than about their moments of intersection. Elliot wants to find his father, who disappeared mysteriously, while Madeleine wants to be found by hers and is also navigating friendship and her mother’s deteriorating health. Moriarty’s trademark wit and whimsy are on full display, with zingy dialogue that feels right if not entirely realistic and bizarre characters living unexpected lives that manage to be mundane and delightful at the same time. By the end, Madeleine’s story feels somewhat resolved, but Elliot’s has turned an unexpected corner that will bring their worlds much closer and bring readers more mystery and humor in the next volume.
Quirky, charming, funny, sad: another winner from this always-surprising author.
(Fantasy. 12 & up)
The second installment of Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle is as mind-blowingly spectacular as the first.
Now that the ley line near Henrietta, Va., has been woken, strange currents race through the town. There’s too much electricity—or none at all. The four Raven Boys—Gansey, Adam, long-dead Noah and Ronan—continue to search for the grave of the Welsh king Glendower, but now Ronan is starting to pull objects out of his dreams. Small ones, like the keys to Gansey’s Camaro, and larger, lethal nightmare creatures. But his greatest nightmare can’t be grasped—how do you hold onto home? Not-quite-psychic Blue Sargent realizes that Gansey might really be her true love—and if she kisses him, he’ll die—and meanwhile, her wholly psychic mother is dating the hit man come to steal Ronan. Stiefvater’s careful exploration of class and wealth and their limitations and opportunities astounds with its sensitivity and sophistication. The pace is electric, the prose marvelously sure-footed and strong, but it’s the complicated characters—particularly Ronan, violent, drunk, tender and tough—that meld magic and reality into an engrossing, believable whole. Remember this: Ronan never lies.
Narrator Em and her boyfriend, Finn, escape from their totalitarian future, time traveling back four years to commit a heart-wrenching assassination of a loved one in order to prevent time travel from being invented and the future from turning so wrong. The future’s hinted-at horrors are threatening but expertly backgrounded, avoiding dystopia-fatigue. The clever, accessible time-space treatment isn’t weighed down by jargon. Em and Finn’s proactive mission means the characters are the hunters instead of the frequently seen on-the-run teen protagonists. The other side of the storyline, taking place in the past that Em and Finn travel to and starring their past selves, is narrated by Marina (Em, in this timeline) and involves her brilliant yet interpersonally challenged best friend (and crush) James and his friend Finn, who annoys Marina, as they deal with a tragedy in James’ family. The believable, complex relationships among the three characters of each respective time and in the blended area of shared time add a surprise: A plot ostensibly about assassination is rooted firmly in different shades of love. Perhaps richest is the affection Em feels for Marina—a standout compared to the truckloads of books about girls who only learn to appreciate themselves through their love interests’ eyes.
Powerful emotional relationships and tight plotting in this debut mark Terrill as an author to watch.
(Science fiction. 12 & up)