Children of Blood and Bone

81PwjK8tPCLSometimes everything comes together perfectly. When I first heard about Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi it was still several months from release. The description checked a lot of boxes for me and I was excited to eventually read it, but I wasn’t desperately waiting for its release. Then I saw the cover. And, I mean, look at that cover! I was definitely in. Once I saw Black Panther and – like everyone else – was blown away, I reached a new level of excitement for Adeyemi’s work. A new series about magic, oppression, bigotry, and class set in an isolated West African country? Ummm yes, please. Add in a complex and rich backbone of mythology and I never stood a chance. So when I finally had this book in my hand I was elated, but also wary. Could it possibly live up to the hype? You’ll have to keep reading to find out, but I’m writing about it so you can probably guess…

Children of Blood and Bone is set in the fictional kingdom of Orisha. Power in Orisha was once shared between normal humans and Magi, a subset of society gifted by the gods with powerful supernatural abilities. Years before the novel opens, however, these powers mysteriously disappeared and the ruthless King took advantage of the situation, slaughtering the Magi. The scattered and abandoned children of the Magi are known as Diviners and conspicuously marked by their white hair, but unable to summon any powers. Diviners are treated as the lowest caste at best derided, at worst abused and used as slave labor.  

Zélie is one of these Diviners. Forced to watch the murder of her Magi mother when she was just a child she is angry at the Empire, determined to strike back, and more than a little bit rash. Despite being something of a pariah, Zélie, along with her father and her brother, manages to eke out a modest life trading fish for a living and training for the day when she will have a chance to take her revenge on the King and his followers.

Zélie’s impulsivity, however, throws her life into chaos when she rescues Amari, a princess from the royal line who is on the run from her terrible father. The decision to help Amari sends Zélie and her brother on a perilous journey unsure of who they can trust and what terrible dangers might await them. But Zélie is also running towards something – Amari claims she has a scroll that can restore Magi magic. Zélie hopes that this would give her people have a chance to fight back, restore their dignity, and maybe even begin to restore balance to Orishan society. Yet to reach this future Zélie and her companions must first evade Prince Iman, Amari’s brother and heir to the Orishan throne. For his part, Iman is determined to capture his sister and Zélie not just to end the threat of magic but also to finally prove himself to his cruel and demanding father. Beyond the obvious lethal danger the prince poses Zélie and Iman quickly discover they have a strange and unbreakable connection, one that threatens both of their worlds in opposing but equally devastating ways.

There are a lot of glowing adjectives I could use to describe Children of Blood and Bone, but the one that repeatedly comes to mind is refreshing. I’ve read a lot of wonderful YA novels that move in the worlds of dystopia, fantasy, history and mythology, but the vast majority are based off Western or European traditions. Having this wonderfully rich, exciting series build off of African traditions and get the support it deserves from the publishing industry is as welcome as it is long overdue. In Zélie, Amari, and Iman, Adeyemi has created three compelling and complicated narrators who are both eminently likable and, at times, incredibly frustrating. I’ve read some criticism that Children of Blood and Bone reads like an author’s first novel (probably because it is) and drags at times. I understand where this criticism comes from, but it’s also quite simply a thrilling read with a captivating ending that leaves plenty of juicy questions for the rest of the series to tackle.

Nostalgia and the New Mexican Desert

Enjoy a review from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

ultimaNostalgia is a funny thing. I tend to get swept up in that warm, slow, nap-in-the-afternoon feeling far more than I should, but I can’t help it. Remembering the better days seems to be an involuntary reaction that will inevitably lead to me being a little old lady regaling my grand-nieces and nephews with long stories having no point and no plot—kind of like this sentence.

I recently went back to Phoenix after a year of living in Washington to watch my youngest brother graduate from the high school I attended. I would be seeing family and good friends after more than a year of being away, and there was also the possibility of seeing some of my old high school classmates. (Spoiler Alert: I actually did not see any of my old classmates so they were unable to see how adult and hot I’d become.)

When I was in high school I participated in Academic Decathlon which is basically the Nerd Championships consisting of seven tests (arts, science, music, math…), an interview, a memorized and impromptu speech, and an essay surrounding a particular topic each year. In my sophomore year of high school the topic was Mexico, and the book we had to collectively read was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This is why I have chosen this novel as my “Book I Have Not Read since High School.”

I was excited about this book because AcaDeca (as we called it) holds a lot of good memories for me. Rereading books is an opportunity to recall specific memories as I find that books hold impressions and thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to. Bless Me, Ultima is also a coming-of-age story which perfectly sets the mood.

Antonio Marez is constantly caught in the middle of his parents’ plans. His mother wishes him to become a priest to bring honor to her farming family. His father wishes for Tony to become a vacquero (cowboy) like he himself was long ago, and to live in the Llano (the New Mexican desert). Tony does not know what he wants, but he does know that he loves Ultima. She is a curandera (a person who is a mix between a priest and a witch) who has come to live with Tony’s family and to use her magic to heal the town folk. The intense mix of religious superstition and magic creates an interesting dynamic which fuels much of the story’s conflict.

The entire book teems with magical realism as Tony struggles with his parents’ wishes, with growing up, religion, and navigating the complicated social network that is his circle of friends. Anaya’s cast of colorful characters and detail-oriented descriptions draw you deeply into the story, causing you to feel as Tony feels. He even makes the desert sound like a desirable place to live which (for me) is quite the task.

High school was a difficult time for a lot of people. I got through relatively unscathed (college is another story), and books like Bless Me, Ultima made everything a whole lot easier. While it was true that books were my constant companions, the character study I was able to conduct enriched my life beyond words. I would recommend Bless Me, Ultima to those who want to remember what it was like being a kid — the drama that was real and the drama that was blown out of proportion. As I struggle to be an actual real-life adult, it’s nice to remember that it was hard to be a kid too sometimes, but it was worth it.

Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

warlock holmes a study in brimstone by denning

Oh em gee, this cover is gorgeous! Here’s another straight-up book review all thanks to the power of advance reader copies from our publishers. Thanks, publishers!

Let me just start this review by saying that Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone by G.S. Denning is one of those books that Sherlockians will either love or hate. Spoiler alert: I completely loved it!

Our story begins in a way that will seem familiar to most Sherlock fans: Watson is back in London after being injured during the war in Afghanistan and is desperate to find a place to live. Through a chance meeting with one of his old connections he learns about a man who needs a roommate. His name is Warlock Holmes and he is a consulting detective who sometimes works with Scotland Yard. Thus the literary world is gifted with another first meeting of Watson and Holmes.

Things start out pretty normal for Dr. John Watson. He feels lucky to have landed a roommate who only asks for a one-time payment of just one sovereign for the rent. Things get even better for Watson when Holmes chooses the smaller of the two bedrooms as his own. So now we have a war veteran staying with a successful, if eccentric, consulting detective. Their companionship slowly evolves into a friendship, but even so, Watson is initially clueless as to what he’s gotten himself into by handing over that sovereign.

From the beginning though, it’s clear to the reader that this Holmes is unlike any other Holmes we’ve met before. It’s not just the fact that his name is Warlock and we highly suspect (especially after reading the blurb on the book cover) that magic flows through this Holmes. It’s more like we’re realizing for the first time in literary history that Watson is the one well-versed in deductive reasoning and investigative expertise, especially when it comes to handling evidence correctly at a crime scene. Holmes, on the other hand, seems a bit…distracted. Easily distracted by things that Watson cannot or will not notice, things that seem to have very little if anything to do with the crime being investigated.

Soon enough Watson discovers Holmes’s not-so-well-kept secret: he’s got the magic touch. The spirit of Holmes’s nemesis, Moriarty, is trapped inside his head. And Holmes can command demons to do his bidding. This would normally be a shocking scandal worthy of the penny dreadfuls, but in this Victorian society there are certain creatures that, though not embraced by society, live among them. For example, here’s our cast of characters:

warlock holmes character blurb

Yup! Inspector Lestrade is a vampire, aided by an ogre. Most of Scotland Yard is uncomfortable around Lestrade and Grogsson, if not downright terrified of them. But their record for closing cases (with Holmes’s help, of course) keeps them on the payroll despite others’ misgivings.

I’m laying all this out there to illustrate a point. While this could easily be some weird standalone parody of one of the most famous friendships in literary history, it is instead a faithful retelling of Sherlock Holmes–just a little twisted. And sometimes smoking. Because, ya know, brimstone and stuff.

True to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original format, Warlock Holmes: a Study in Brimstone is composed of several short stories. The first is the longest by far, but it kind of needs to be since it’s setting up the world and the characters. Despite the length, that story flew by for me, as did the others. I actually pouted when I was finished, and was a little bummed out to leave that world behind. Luckily for me this is just the first book in what I hope is a very long series, with Warlock Holmes: the Battle of Baskerville Hall  heading our way in May 2017.

So take a chance on something new! Let me know if you want to read this or not, and definitely get back to me if you end up actually reading the whole thing. I am desperate for people to talk to about this book that will be published May 17th.

Not Just a Pretty Face

The Magicians coverLike a literary magpie, I am drawn to pretty, shiny, exciting things. I often enter the library without a clue about what I want to read. I wander and browse until something jumps out at me – a cool spine design, a flashy cover, a witty title. It doesn’t take much.

I judge books by their covers.

Sometimes this approach backfires, but more often than not, I find that I like the book if I like the way the author has chosen to decorate it. It could be dumb luck, or perhaps the author and I agree on some deep, mystical, aesthetic level. Either way, I’ve been happy with my track record, and I’d like to share some of my favorite ‘window shopping’ finds:

Dreams and Shadows coverDreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill. This book will appeal to anyone who is into folklore, mythical creatures, and generally wizardy stuff. Cargill’s style of writing was right up my alley – a little bit edgy, but sprinkled with humor and an occasional academic interlude to fill in more information about some of the supernatural beings that are involved in his story. I feel this book was left open-ended enough that it could be turned into the first of a series, or it could remain as a good stand-alone work. Those who liked American Gods may be into this.

Utopian Man coverUtopian Man by Lisa Lang. This was a really lovely read from start to finish. I enjoyed getting lost in the world that Edward William Cole, our Utopian Man, was trying to create with his glorious Arcade. Setting the story in 19th-Century Melbourne made the book all the more fascinating, as it’s a time and place that is very unknown and exotic to me. I think the author brings this feeling of newness and excitement across very well to the reader. This is a light read full of beautiful imagery, a little bit of conflict, and a lot of imagination.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. I’ve already raved about this book in another post, so I’ll get to the important part. This book jacket GLOWS IN THE DARK! Aside from it being a great book, what more do you need to know?

Deathless coverDeathless by Catherynne Valente. 2/3 Russian fairy tale, 1/3 history of Russia from the death of the Tsar through the Siege of Leningrad. It took me a couple of chapters to warm up to this book, mainly because I didn’t know what it was I was getting into: fantasy, a dream sequence, a paranoid delusion, or allegory. Once I figured out how I related to the book, I was drawn in. Deathless reads primarily like a folktale, punctuated with passages full of beauty, mystery, hardship, poetry, mythology, joy, and melancholy. While the library doesn’t own Deathless, I was able to get it through Interlibrary Loan. EPL does have many of Valente’s other titles on shelf.

Age of Wonder coverThe Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. I picked this one up shortly after I finished grad school. I found a note I’d written about it on GoodReads while I was reading the book that made me chuckle: “Interesting subject matter, but perhaps a bit more dense than my poor brain wants to deal with so soon after graduating. Recovery is a long, hard road. I’m sticking it out though, for the greater good.” I am happy to report that it was worth it, and that I learned a lot about science in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. As grueling as I made it sound, the book was quite a pleasure to read.

Super Sad True Love Story coverSuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. SSTLS is kind of an odd book for me. Generally when I love a book, I love it from the beginning. With this story, my feelings sometimes bordered on hate, and for the most part, hovered in the area of disinterest. Then a funny thing happened: I finished the story and let it marinate in my brain for a while. Soon enough, ideas from SSTLS started popping up in conversations with friends and they would immediately jump in saying that they’d read the same book and completely agreed. Similar to the movie Idiocracy, SSTLS delivers a darkly humorous appraisal of the future of mankind that occasionally seems prophetic when watching the news.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Kind of like Harry Potter, but for grown folks. I went on to read the sequel, The Magician King, and enjoyed it just as much. I would recommend Grossman for anyone who likes a little humor and sarcasm to go along with their fantasy reads.

Travels in Siberia coverTravels in Siberia by Ian Frazier. Before I knew that Ian Frazier was awesome, I stumbled upon his cover for Travels in Siberia. I thought it was lovely and that combined with my odd fascination with all things Russian was enough to get me to put it on hold. I was not disappointed. I think those who enjoy the kind of travel writing one gets from Paul Theroux or Bill Bryson would really connect with this author.

Lisa