Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Book Report: YA Fantasy

My productivity slowed yesterday, as I found myself a little stuck on what should happen next, so I went back and re-read the previous 100 or so pages and fixed a few things to set up the rest of the story. Now I think I'm poised to rock and roll today. I also made it through the homeowners' association meeting with only one homicidal impulse, which may be a new record (it's amazing how people seem to see that meeting as an opportunity for the Airing of Grievances, even though they can contact the board and the management company at any time to discuss their petty little problems, and it's amazing the things some people seem to see as a priority). I managed to restrain myself from acting on the homicidal impulse, and even with the petty gripe session the meeting ended early, so yay.

I haven't done a book report in a while, so I need to catch up here. A lot of my recent reading has been in young adult fantasy, so here's a rundown:

Flora's Dare by Ysabeau Wilce -- This is the sequel to Flora Segunda, which I read last year. I think this was an even better book with better pacing and more going on. What I've loved most about this series is the world building. It's really rather unique, in a sort of alternate-reality San Francisco that could be considered kind of steampunk -- horses are the main form of transportation, but there are mosh pits at the night clubs where the kids go to hear bands. The world is fully developed, down to a slang lingo among the kids, a fairly complex political situation and an interesting magical system. I'm assuming there will be another book because this one ended with a big twist, and I can't wait to read the next one.

Nation by Terry Pratchett -- I already mentioned this one, and I think it's utterly brilliant, a uniquely Pratchettesque spin on the post-disaster story with plucky kids rebuilding a society. It's funny, suspenseful and manages to be both heartbreaking and hopeful. This is the kind of book that almost makes me want to have kids so I could share it with my kids.

The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones -- I love the concept of this book: A magical world is forced to play host to tour groups wanting to play out the ultimate live-action role-playing game, and the world has to mold itself into fantasy stereotypes to do this. They're getting tired of all this, and when an absent-minded farmer wizard is chosen to play the role of "Dark Lord," it could either mean disaster or the way to end these games once and for all. I was initially expecting this to be a comedy because it does spoof a lot of the fantasy novel tropes, right down to the place names and character types, but it ended up being more of a dark, serious book. Once I got over the "but this isn't that funny" disappointment, I decided that darker tone was actually pretty appropriate because there were real consequences to this world. People did die, everyone had to disrupt their lives, towns were destroyed and the landscape was ruined, all to allow people to play out an epic Lord of the Rings type fantasy game. I'm not really sure why this was classified as young adult (or maybe that's just my library) because the wizard who is one of the main characters is an adult. The other main character is his teenage son, but it seemed like a lot of the threads and themes were more adult in nature -- not "adult" in the sense of sex and violence, but things like taking care of the family, looking after the children, worry about the marriage surviving, etc. You don't usually get a lot of young adult books with significant amounts in the viewpoint of an adult who's worried that his marriage is in trouble.

At any rate, this managed to be a good combination of classic fantasy tropes and new twists, so I definitely got the "same, but different" vibe -- same enough to be comforting, but different enough to be interesting, and the "same" stuff was done with a knowing wink because the whole point of it was that it was what these fantasy fans expected to find in a fantasy world. I seem to have seen something somewhere (how's that for concrete and specific?) indicating that this was the first book in a series. The main plot is wrapped up nicely in this one, so I'm assuming the series is more about the ongoing development of the characters.

Last call for writing post topics. I may have to pull something out of thin air. I'm also in the phase of writing where I feel like an utterly talentless hack, so who am I to tell people how it's done (that happens during every book, when the wonderfully magical things going on in my head don't seem to make it onto the page).

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