Book Thoughts

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

Here’s a MG that’s a ton of fun. Ash Mistry visits his uncle in India, and stumbles into an adventure that involves deadly demons and gods. My first impression was WOW this is creepy. It starts out with an almost cobra bite, and then there’s a half-eaten water buffalo on the shore, snakes with baby heads. But if you know me, that’s right up my alley. The prose is quite visceral and toothy. It’s very well written.

Yet it is very much a MG. The kids act like kids and talk like kids. It’s an adventure that starts straight away, without taking its time. Archaeological digs, ancient mysteries, gods and demons. If you liked the Percy Jackson books, I think you’ll like the Ash Mistry ones.

My only disappointment was that, though there was a fierce demon girl who helps Ash, his sister doesn’t get much page time and her main function is ‘damsel in distress’. Hopefully, she gets her time to shine in the later books in the series.

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Book Thoughts

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Rarely have I read a YA fantasy novel with a contemporary setting that evokes such a sense of place. Brooklyn isn’t described so much by its physical landscape, but the way that the people interact with it, how they speak, and inhabit it. ‘Community’ might be a better word for it.

The story follows Sierra, a talented artist, that has to come to terms with a family legacy that no one wants to tell her about, and figuring out both the past that’s come back to haunt them, and how she fits into it for the future.

In the book, magic shaped by creative acts. Painting is the main form, but some people use magic, and her grandfather used stories to control spirits that aren’t so much fearsome but can be used for good or ill by the people that shape them.

And Sierra, she’s not always right, but she’s bold, and when she makes decisions, other people support her even if they don’t quite agree. The story might be about her, but it also wouldn’t be much of a story without the family and friends who are part of it.

Which brings me back to ‘community’. You get a sense of it from the way Sierra knows the domino players down the street, the multi-generations coming and going from her home. There’s a real sense that everyone watches out for one another, that blood or not, they’re family. That’s something I can relate to in my own upbringing.

And, you know, it was so good to read about a young woman who doesn’t hate how she looks, is opinionated, strong willed, and isn’t punished for it by her family or the circumstances of the story. Instead, she’s rewarded for sticking to what she thinks is right. That feels oddly subversive. It shouldn’t be, but it does.

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Book Thoughts

The Wrath and the Dawn & The Rose and the Dagger by Renée Ahdieh

This is a re-imagined tale of Shahrzad, (teller of the Thousand and One Nights), how she fell in love with the king who executed so many women before her (Book 1), and how she defied fate/magic for love while saving save her country (Book 2).

It takes a lot of skill to make a love story that you can root for. Not only do you have to care for the characters, you have to make your readers believe that they are perfect for one another (AND make them perfect for one another). I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can’t even figure out why people are together in real life, much less in fiction. But Ahdieh makes it work.

Sharhzad / Shazi is defiant and strong willed, adept with a bow. She is no mild princess. What she wants, when she volunteers to marry Khalid, knowing that he will have her executed in the morning, is not love, but to kill him in revenge for the murder of her best friend.

We also get Khalid’s point of view, which adds tension to the story, and acts as a much needed foil to Shazi’s impetuous nature. He’s cool, and controlled, and yet matches Shazi for the intensity of his passion and feelings towards everything.

The whole story is so lushly told, I could almost smell, and taste everything in it. My mouth kept watering with its descriptions of food. That is OK BY ME (Seriously, I was craving lamb for days). It had a richness/realness I like in a semi-historical setting (Persia in this case), that balanced nicely with the fantasy elements of the story.

The prose itself sometimes felt simple (it was smooth as butter), but going back over it (I took copious notes) it was clear the feeling was deceptive. There are things I could learn about inserting dialog into action, and minimizing dialog tags, and how to give enough space for events to have emotional impact.

Boy my emotions were up and down, with the characters, but I was completely invested in Shazi and Khalid as a couple.

Honestly, I felt the second book wasn’t long enough. It got straight to the action and the ending with the swift effectiveness that YA fiction is good for. I’m almost feel it needed a third book in between, but this might be because I’ve read more trilogies than duologies, or that threes resonate in a narrative sense. It’s probably just me. I did appreciate that there were no saggy parts to the story . I guess the only fault was that I wanted more – which is no fault at all.

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