Give me magic, gadgets, monsters, zombies, everything that seems impossible, and throw in some tough chicks with swords. That's the stuff.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Reviews: YA

Here are four YA reads that are on the darker side. I'd group them in with the older YA books. There's a killer nun, an ancient conspiracy, a plague-fueled dystopian, and a bloody ghost story.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin bk 1) by Robin LaFevers

A YA Fantasy-Romance for older readers with an intriguing mythology and interesting characters.

Set in a medieval Brittany where the old gods are called Saints yet still worshipped, a daughter of Mortain (the god of Death) finds a new purpose and political intrigue while nobles and other countries vie for power and the hand of the young Duchess.

Ismae has known mostly cruelty her entire short life, first from her father, then from her husband on the day of her wedding. She is rescued from a certain witch burning and taken to the convent of Saint Mortain, where she learns of her unique legacy and is given a chance at a new life. This new life includes weapons training, poison, and lessons in womanly arts all in preparation for her service as an assassin. This is not your conventional convent. During the course of her assignments, Ismae crosses paths with the mysterious Duval and ends up posing as his mistress to try to uncover a hidden spy in the Brittany court. Lots of intrigue, some good action, interesting side characters and a discovery of what it really means to be a "daughter of Mortain" carry us through to the ending. It is an ending, of a sort, but there is definitely more to the story. I'll be reading the next one.

There is a lot of blood and violence, which is why I'd put it in an older YA category. Nothing too explicit, but there is a dark tone. The characters live in dangerous times.

I thought that the world-building was very well done and the characters were believable. It was a fast-paced book that kept my attention. I liked Ismae's attitude. It felt realistic. I also liked that she had a mind of her own. I understoond her inner conflict and thought it done well. There is no love triangle and the characters don't fall in love at first sight. Nor is the romance driving everything. It is more of a Fantasy with Romance.

I'd recommend for YA readers who want something out of the high school setting, with some level of the paranormal but not really magic driven.

[I received an Advance Readers Copy to review for Amazon Vine.]

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wassserman

Kind of like a Da Vinci code with teens, except that it deals with alchemy, old letters written in Latin, and high school/college students versus religious conspiracies and famous artwork. It starts with Nora, a high school senior who is a research assistant translating old letters written in Latin. It seems like a boring assignment, with the only upside being the relationship she starts with fellow researcher Max. Soon, though, she stumbles into a centuries old conspiracy, her best friend is murdered, her boyfriend is the likely suspect, and there is much shadowy goings on. Throw in two warring secret societies with long reaches, betrayals, and teens on the run in Prague and you have a very intriguing action-packed read.

I'm stopping here with any plot details. To go over too much would just take the fun out of the ride.

This book really drew me in. Easy to read and fast paced. You need to suspend some disbelief (OK maybe a lot), but I had fun with it. I think this is a great summer read.

[I won an ARC from a blog contest.]

Masque of the Red Death (bk 1) by Bethany Griffen

A plague has ravaged the city, maybe the world. No one really knows what's outside the city, so its hard to say. The rich live in towers, wear masks to filter the poisonous air, and try to mentally escape through alcohol, drugs and partying at places like the Debauchery Club. It's the end of the world and if you have the means, you party til you drop (literally). If you're poor, then you try to save enough to get a mask for someone in your family, or you wait for the plague to make its way through your loved ones. Lording over it all is Prince Prospero who rules through fear and violence.

Araby lives a life of seeming leisure, going with her friend April to the Club, numbing her pain and guilt over living while her twin brother died. Her father is a brilliant scientist responsible for creating the masks that allow people to venture outside. Her mother was a pianist and Araby harbors a grudge against her mother for being absent for much of her childhood. Everyone in her family is mostly shut off from each other. Then Araby is saved by the Club's bouncer Will, April disappears, Araby meets April's brother Elliot, she gets involved with a resistance group, and she finally starts acting instead of floating through life.

This doesn't mean that Araby makes the right decisions, of course, but then she didn’t exactly start the book making well thought out plans either. She is a character in progress.

This isn’t the happiest of books – everything is pretty bleak. I also can’t say that I really “like” Araby. I can understand why she is the way she is. I can even understand a lot of the decisions she makes and the hope she starts to have. There is potential here.

If you need to like the main character, you might have issues. If you need a really tough, kick-butt heroine, you won't find that either. Also, if you draw a line at your MC taking drugs or drinking, this could be a stopper for you too. There is a bit of a triangle here, although it didn’t bug me as some do. Also, the story is definitely not over. There is a lot left hanging.

That said, I did like the world and the political situation. I liked discovering all of the things around Araby that she was missing out on. Most of all, I liked the setup and where I think this might be going. I will be reading the next one.

[I received an Advance Readers Copy to review for Amazon Vine.]

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

First, what I loved: Anna. She is pretty damn awesome. Tragic, scary, strong. Sympathetic, yet you also wouldn't really want her hanging around. She ain't Caspar the Friendly Ghost. I loved all of the ghost story aspects, every scene she was in, her relationship with Cas and her uneasy relationship with everyone else.

In the middle: Cas, the narrator. I got Cas, his drive, what keeps him going. I also get why he is so enthralled with Anna. There were lots of times I wanted a bit more on why he is the way he is and why his mom/adult figures let him do what he wants, which brings me to:

What didn't work for me: basically every adult except for Morfran. I don't get the mom. She is just barely there until the end, yet she willingly uproots them and moves wherever Cas wants to fight ghosts without argument. I mean, if she had been more forceful, like a really violent stage mom, that would have made more sense ("You WILL be the best Chosen One ever! Go practice stabbing stuff.").

If I was a teen reading this, the adults lack of involvement (from parents to teachers to police) probably wouldn't have bothered me as much. That said, it still drew me in and I had to finish it, so I will be looking for the next book from this author.


  1. I sampled the Anna's (although I'll be honest--the title and the cover put me off from even sampling for a long time. I was desperate for something to read and it was on sale so I sampled.)

    I thought the writing and scenes were strong, but Cas didn't particularly grab me. He was just okay. The intro scene was good, but the cat and the mom ... empty. Needed some sort of ... something to grab and reel me in. For now it's a pass and some of that is still the cover and title. They're just lack...taste? Class?? I guess they're too much.

    1. Anna harkens back to the bloody ghost stories you scare your friends (and self) with at slumber parties and summer camp. I like the cover in that you pretty much know what you are going to get by looking at it. There's a lot of "dead-looking girl in a pretty dress" covers - this one IS a dead girl in what was once a pretty dress. :) It's different from a lot of the other paranormal YAs out there. Not for everyone, but I liked it.

  2. I think I'll take that as a warning that it will be too dark for me. After reading the sample, I thought it could go either way, but the cover led me to believe staying away was the right move.