Fantasy

Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

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If you didn’t know, I’m basically in love with Nnedi Okorafor. I want her to tuck me in and tell me stories at night and to be my best friend. You should probably know that before continuing on.

Front Cover

Akata Witch, while featuring Okorafor’s fantastic creativity and wit, is not an adult book. It aims well at the 12-14 range.

The story follows Sunny, a twelve year old living in Nigeria after having spent her first nine years in America. Sunny is often left alone or made fun of because she has albinism, a condition in which the skin lacks melanin, thus appearing white. This has set her apart from her classmates who call her akata, a derogatory word for people from the bush or to mark someone as an outsider unworthy or untrustable.

Sunny’s family is very normal. Highly educated, they spend much of their time teaching their children to behave and ensuring that they’re educated. They are more severe with Sunny who is the only daughter.

But, Sunny is different. Aside from her skin, her friends reveal that she is a Leopard Person, someone with magical powers and the ability to go between the regular and the magical world. Sunny then has to learn what this means, how to be a Leopard Person when the rest of her family was normal, and who she really is. All the while, a serial killer is on the loose.

There’s a lot that this book has to offer. From complex, but approachable and genuine characters to an entertaining and detailed plot, I really thought Okorafor knocked this one out of the park.

I know I like it, but the question is, will a younger reader (the intended audience) like it? I think the answer is yes. Okorafor creates a world that young readers will identify with: a kid who is fairly normal, if on the outside, who is thrust into an adventure that will change the world. Okorafor delves into west African and Nigerian folk-lore without assuming a great amount of knowledge or over explaining. She provides just the right amount of context for a reader, in particular a young reader, without leaving them feeling talked down to. I cannot speak of this highly enough. It leaves you with a sense of understanding and discovery.

What’s great about Akata Witch is that it also offers a wide cast of characters and problems. Okorafor’s story features characters whose lives are different. They have distinct problems, dyslexia, albinism, an estranged family, narcissism. They are different genders and races. They succeed, but not without their own insecurities and challenges to test them. But all of the characters feel complete and their interactions and personalities grow with the story.

Basically, this was a good read. It has it’s cheezy moments, but is a fun adventure with a lot to offer.

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Review: Inked by Eric Smith

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I’m not a big children’s lit reader. There are a variety of reasons why this is, but it largely boils down to them not appealing to me. At this point in my reading, I crave complexity that’s often lacking in children’s literature. So, though I’ll try to make sure to temper that and take this book for what it is, I’m making it known so that you might better contextualize my criticisms.

Inked takes place in a world where your future is tattooed onto your skin in magical ink. You are then bound to a trade assigned to you, largely arbitrarily. Caenum is about to be Inked and to have his future set before him. He’s resentful, scared, and planning to run. An encounter with the Scribes (those who tattoo others) leads Caenum to fun not just because he doesn’t want his future chosen for him, but for his life. With his best friend Dreya and a young would-be Scribe now turned runaway, Caenum must flee to the Village of the Unprinted, all the while struggling with forbidden and extremely rare magical powers that have emerged.

I have the feeling that Caenum is intended to be in his mid- to late teen years, but he reads very much to a younger audience. I initially pinned his age as around ten or 11. His interactions and approaches to problems read young. Caenum does have a “love interest” in his friend Dreya, but their relationship is very G-rated, again, indicating a younger age. It was, in fact, hard to register romantic interest in their relationship overall, with the exception of a few overt attempts to indicate that it exists.

When Caenum and his friends leave, they are pursued by townspeople and the kingdom’s knights. The recently revealed powers of a member of Caenum’s friends have marked them as to-be-hunted. The next third or so of the book follows a series of run-ins, attacks, and escapes through the countryside. Eventually, the group comes to realize that all of them are, in fact, imbued with magic. This, to me, was easily the biggest disappointment in the book. At first, I was excited to see that the magical (read: powerful) character was not the hero. It was exciting because it would have showcased some really great power dynamics and built up relationships, essentially, it would have been a fantasy novel, for kids, from the sidekick’s point of view.

Unfortunately, this did not last.

Not only are all three of these kids magical in a world where magic is so rare that an eleven year old didn’t know that humans could really have magical powers, they find one another in a remote  rural town. It just was disappointing. That all of them had powers means that the story has little to offer in the way of jealousy over natural ability and skill. Though this isn’t necessarily a theme that Smith has to go for, by forgoing it, the story seems lacking in some ways , namely in a level of complexity that reflects the reality of most students’ lives (be they ten or 25).

The plot itself is fast-paced enough that it would hold the interest of a younger audience, though at times it seems Smith is trailing on tangents or hasn’t really integrated all of the plotlines together in a smooth way.

The characters could have used some development all around. It often seemed that there wasn’t a lot of the underlying frustration and fear that, given their situation, I would expect to be present even during down-times. Dreya in particular was disappointing. She often was a damsel in distress for the boys to save or be frustrated by not being able to save her. She screams. A lot.

Overall, I don’t think I’m in love with the book and I’m a bit doubtful that it will be a book that a 12 year old will read and then reread when he’s 15. But, for a younger-aged audience, I think it’s fun and action-packed. It may be a good starting point into fantasy and an approachable enough read to interest a reluctant reader.

I’m not going to rate this one. I’m not sure I know where it would fit into my scale and I wouldn’t want to be unfair or inaccurate (rating systems  of 5/5 stars aren’t my favorite anyway).

I received this book for free as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Nihal of the Land of the Wind by Licia Troisi

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Title: Nihal of the Land of the Wind*

Author: Licia Troisi

Publication date: 2004 in Italian, 2014 in English

Genre: YA/ Fantasy

This book is originally an Italian novel that has been translated to German and is being released next week in English.

Nihal is a young girl who wants to be a warrior. She’s raised by her father, an armorer who has always let her run wild. She’s a gifted swordsman and has some magic ability. When her town is raided by the Tyrant’s forces, Nihal leaves in defense of the Land of the Wind.

My problems with this book are many, so be warned.

First and foremost, Nihal is a highly capable fighter with great technique and anticipates her opponents well. She’s somehow managed to gain this ability not through rigorous training regiments and practice, but by running amok with village kids and occasionally (but not very frequently) sparring with her father. This was perhaps one of the most bothersome parts of the book. She’s an extraordinary fighter who bests seasoned cadets and mercenaries without any real battle training. This was ridiculously hard to buy.

Her relationship with magic is almost worse. Nihal leaves for her aunt’s home (An aunt she knows nothing about even though she’s less than a day’s walk away and her aunt and father speak frequently). There, Nihal must undergo a test before she can be trained in magic. She’s to go out into the woods alone and commune with nature. Nihal is terrified of the woods and, so, the challenge is supposed to be difficult. But at no point is Nihal ever alone. Her fellow student spends time comforting her and then wood sprites come and hang out. The wood sprites aren’t actually her communing with nature. They’re there to reassure Nihal that nothing is going to harm her in the woods. They then show her how to commune with nature. Yet another ability that Nihal does not need to work towards or fight for.

The only saving grace there is that Nihal is not a great magician. She only bothers to learn healing spells and some attack spells for battle.

Nihal’s relationship with her father was another point of contention. Nihal is thirteen and lives in a world where women are expected to stay home and care for domestic tasks. I can understand a father indulging the dreams of a young daughter and his only child. However, Nihal’s father doesn’t have any problem with her traipsing about in the woods with an older boy. He also doesn’t worry about her running around alone when there are enemy troops about who are known for terrorizing civilians and taking their women.

In a world where women are largely relegated to the home, it surprised me that Nihal’s father would have no concern for his daughter’s well-being or reputation. Let’s face the cold hard facts: Nihal would not be marriagable material and it’s mostly because he’s being permissive. On top of that, he’s risking her safety. He only expresses concern when he decides that he’s feeling lonely. This made absolutely no sense to me.

On the plus side, when Nihal does become a cadet in training to be a knight (after a series of battles to prove herself in which exhaustion and fatigue are not a factor for Nihal), she does get her pride smacked around by her individual trainer. He’s not going to settle for purposeless fighters and has some fairly decent lessons for Nihal to learn. Not that she really gives him the light of day.

Rating: 2.5

* This book was recieved as an eARC via Netgalley.com

Review: A Red Tale by Nicola Mar

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Title: A Red Tale

Author: Nicola Mar

Publication Date: March 20, 2014

Genre: Fantasy/Urban Fantasy/YA

Overview: Stasia goes home to St. Michael after spending the last few years studying Watyrs, the water dragons that are rumored to be encroaching on Earth. St. Michael is not the way it was when Stasia is a child. Normally the Carribean island would be beautiful and warm, but now it’s cold and covered in snow. The whole world is becoming cold.

On the island, Stasia is reunited with Amelie, a childhood friend, and the two start getting into mischief. Amelie convinces Stasia to let her conduct hypnotherapy in order to bring back childhood memories. Stasia then discovers that not only are the Watyrs real, but she was one of them.

For Fans Of: Fairytales, Melissa Meyer

World-Building: I was disappointed in this book’s world construction. There were so many elements to the world that (1) were simply accepted for being there and got no explanations; and (2) were wholly unbelievable. It’s a world with dragons and magic portals, fine, but then on top of it there’s a bunch of humans accidentally killing the diamonds that make the portals work and global cooling (which is treated like something we haven’t considered possible–for reference, we thought that was a concern in the 1970s) AND shaky concepts of therapeutic hypnosis AND an approach to it that pretends there aren’t serious methodological problems. On top of all of that, Mar uses reincarnation. But I guess at this point, why not? A set of two or three of these things may be believable, but all of them together are a bit grating.

There isn’t really a clear and thorough description of Surritz, the world that the Watyrs live in, despite many opportunities for it. Mar describes it as an inverted island without a clear explanation of what that means. The water is supposed to be all around –above and to the sides of people walking around, but there’s no real explanation, then, of how a human would breathe. It’s also supposed to only be accessible to specific humans, but that doesn’t really seem to hold weight–Stasia’s friends pretty much all can get access.

This all being said, there are some well written descriptions of St. Michael’s.

Character Development: I don’t have any real problems with the characters. Stasia was fine. Amelie at least had some overarching motivation throughout.

There wasn’t really any need for Stasia to fight to gain back her memories, or any knowledge of the Watyrs.

Plot: The plot lacked a lot of foreshadowing and moved too quickly from one even to the next, often without tying them together or really dwelling on events’ implications.

Rating: 2.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/search?keywords=9780991518913&index=books&linkCode=qs&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20

Book Depository Link: NA

Note: This book was recieved as an eARC via NetGalley

Review: Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper (Wild Hunt Quartet #1)

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Title: Songs of the Earth (Wild Hunt Quartet #1)

Author: Elspeth Cooper

Publication Date: 2011 (MMP2012)

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: Gair was a knight for the Church until he is accused and found guilty of witchcraft. He’s branded and outcast, left to die. His only hope is a mysterious old man named Alderan. They depart for Alderan’s home, where people who can hear the Songs of the earth are trained to control their powers. There he learns that a force much greater than the Church is about to wreak havoc on the world, a force that comes from his own kind.

For Fans Of: George RR Martin

World-Building: This book is mostly set up for the rest of the quartet. In it, we learn all about the general set up of the world: its government, magic, threats, and general history. The descriptions of these are thorough, if not always riveting. Overall, Cooper makes it enjoyable, but it at times feels like the book is all world building and no plot.

Character Development: The main character, Gair, is interesting. He doesn’t really grow too much throughout this book, but I suspect that has much to do with the first book setting the background for the next three. What we do learn about him is interesting, he has a conflicted past, some self-doubt, and a great deal of inner strength –not to mention power. I thought the most interesting part about him is his history with the church. As a former novice, later cast out by the church, he has a lot of continued faith, calling for help from the Goddess whose people so violently rejected him. I suspect this will be one very interesting thread later in the series.

Plot: As I said before, this is really just the layout and set up for later plots. As far as the plots in this book itself go, it is very slow. I think it will pick up a lot in pacing and interest in later installations. The bits of plot that have formed and will be carried out are very promising. I’m interested to see how Cooper contrasts Gair with Savin and to see how the Church plays into the plot later on.

Rating: 3.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Earth-Wild-Elspeth-Cooper/dp/0765368501/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397503030&sr=1-3&keywords=elspeth+cooper

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Songs-Earth-Elspeth-Cooper/9780575096165