Book Review: The Apple Throne, by Tessa Gratton

June 4, 2015 at 12:28 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

There’s only one person in the whole world who remembers the famous prophet Astrid Glyn: The Berserker Soren Bearstar.

Ever since Astrid agreed to give up her life, her name, and her prophetic dreams to become Idun the Young, who protects the apples of immortality in a secret mountain orchard, she’s been forgotten by everyone. Everyone except Soren.

For the last two years, he’s faithfully visited her every three months. Then one day he doesn’t come. Though forbidden to leave the orchard, Astrid defies the gods to find Soren. But ancient creatures are moving beneath the country. Astrid’s quest might be the key they need to leave the shadows behind forever.

Not-quite-a-goddess, but no longer only a girl, Astrid finds herself in a situation here fate–and not just her own—lies in the balance. Is there a way to save herself and those she loves, or will this choice unravel the ancient magic holding the nine worlds together?

(from back of book)

The Apple Throne

This is the fourth and final installment in The United States of Asgard, following The Lost Sun, The Strange Maid, and the novella collection The Weight of Stars. In a United States where the new world was settled was settled by the Norse and their gods, berserkers form packs to serve Odin Allfather, the army looks to Thor Thunderer, and the seething dances of Freya’s prophets pluck the strings of fate for answers and possibilities. It is our world but not, familiar and known but woven through with new vitality.

I adored The Lost Sun. It’s where we meet Astrid and Soren, a famous prophetess and a berserker who would really like to NOT be a berserker, as they search for the god Baldur, who didn’t wake up from death quite where he was supposed to. It’s a fantastically rich world with strong, vibrant characters, and if you don’t come out of it with a puppy love crush on Soren, there might be something wrong with you. Despite fears to the contrary, because middle books usually bore me, The Strange Maid was EVEN BETTER. Signy Valborn, who’s been promised to the Allfather as a Valkyrie since she was a child, has a riddle to solve before she can take her place. I love Signy. Fierce, prickly, angry, unapologetic, half-mad Signy, who doesn’t care if she’s liked so long as she can serve, and whose heart’s desire may be the thing that destroys her. I was looking forward to the conclusion like woah.

And then Random House cancelled the series.

It happens sometimes, and it pretty much always sucks, but what we as readers tend to forget is that publishing is a business. Sometimes businesses make decisions that their consumers don’t like, but it protects their bottom line so we just have to deal with it. So, when Tessa said she was self-publishing the novellas and the conclusion, I was thrilled. Self-publishing to create a good product is not easy, quick, or cheap. There is a great deal more involved in the process than most people give credit for. What came out was a beautiful package, a well-crafted product, and an amazing conclusion.

If Soren’s journey was about accepting himself, and Signy’s about anchoring herself, then Astrid’s journey is about making herself. Massively oversimplified, of course, but still true. What she has been all her life is gone, lost by her choice to join the gods, and yet her godly identity is neither truly her nor truly godly. The prophet who once danced the webs of fate and plucked the strings to see possibilities is now outside the binds of fate altogether, able to influence but not to be seen. Her journey may start by looking for Soren, but along the way she finds a great deal of herself, finding the places Astrid and Idun intersect.

There is so much to love in this book, but I think one of my favorite elements may be the introduction of characters from the novellas. Amon Thorson is a bastard son of Thor trading items pretty comfortably on the wrong side of illegal. But then, when your step-mother is the goddess of marriage, your life starts out awkward and just goes downhill from there. Unless you’re Amon’s sister Gunn-Elin, who dedicates herself to her step-mother’s priesthood and finds purpose within the ossuary.

Then there’s Thor’s best hunter, Sune Rask, who has a complicated history with Amon, and there’s Signy. Signy with her abruptness and her consuming fury and sorry and complete lack of shame for any of it. You don’t have to have read the novellas to understand the new characters, but there’s definitely some virtue is doing so. As people previously unknown to Astrid, or known only through rumor or story, they help her define the changes in herself the way more familiar characters wouldn’t be able to.

 

If you love Norse mythology or alternate history, if you love journeys of discovery, if you love witty banter and irreverent bobble-heads, definitely check out this book. But, make sure you read the first two. The novellas add without detracting, but the histories of Soren, Astrid, and Signy are definite must-reads, not simply because they’re awesome but because they build directly into our understanding of how these people grow and change. These books will be on my re-read list again and again and again in the years to come.

 

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2014 in Books

December 31, 2014 at 6:57 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

You know, I’ll be honest, 2014 is the year I’d like to kill with fire, if that were at all possible. There were a staggering number of reasons for this year to suck, and it fully inhabited ALL OF THEM.

One of the consequences of that is that I didn’t read nearly as much as I usually do, and read barely anything new. That’s one of the signs that my stress level is too high. I love rereading books, but when I actually CAN’T read new books? The inability to focus on or absorb new information is one of my biggest signals that my stress is soaring, so I end up mostly re-reading or plowing through fanfic.

That being said, I still read this year, because I’m still breathing, and because I love to blab about books, here are some that I really noticed.

Prince of Shadows by Rachel Caine
I haven’t read any of Rachel’s other books (I strongly suspect a serious case of vampire fatigue still lingering from six years ago), but then I heard that there was something completely different coming out, and it was Shakespeare (cue the fainting couch and smelling salts because SHAKESPEARE). Then I heard it was off of Romeo and Juliet and I was pearl-clutching for a different reason, because while R&J has some undeniably beautiful language, I really hate the play. I do. Reading or watching R&J makes me want to kill All The People. Then Tessa Gratton was raving in a good way about it, so I settled down with it, and HOLY HELL.
I don’t know how she managed it, I really don’t, but she managed to make me invested and passionate about freaking Romeo and Juliet! Except, not them, really, because they’re just the twits causing problems for the people she REALLY made us care about. Benvolio and Rosaline step away from their more famous cousins here, dropping prop-status and becoming dynamic, interesting people with a whole lot more going on that their cousins ever realized. Family! Politics! Curses! Clever Thieves! Smart Ladies! (I am a total sucker for Clever Thieves and Smart Ladies) I was absolutely blown away by this book, and am already itching to re-read it.

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Not a YA book (I know, weird, right?) but probably the single most personal book of my year. This book is essentially a biography of cancer, with the more humanistic elements interspersed through history. Technically it was research for a project that may or may not ever see the light of day, but it became an anchor of sorts. For anyone slammed with cancer, either in their bodies or in those they love, there’s this overwhelming and ultimately futile rage: why don’t we know more about this? Doctor Mukherjee balances the science (some of it, admittedly, a little dense, and took more than one reading) with the human, and delivers a rounded, sympathetic, and ultimately uplifting progress report. We’ve come a lot further than we realize, and if some cancers are much further along towards successful and humane treatments, well, some cancers are more common than others. Even for those without an intensely personal interest in the subject, it is well worth a read.

The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton
Months after reading it for the first time, I am still unable to talk intelligently about this book. THIS BOOK BROKE MY ABILITY TO BRAIN. It is just so freaking good! I was already in love with The United States of Asgard because of The Lost Sun (Soren! Astrid! Baldur! VIDER!), and I knew Strange Maid was going to be a middle book, and I frequently find middle books problematic but OH MY GODS! Signy is compelling and repelling and complicated and simple, all the contradictions and madness and focus that makes up who she is and who and what she wants to be. I love that she is so unapologetically unstable, and that her obsession with death is not against life, but rather part of it. She is one of the most fascinating, complex, and RELATABLE characters I’ve ever come up against, and her blood-soaked, passion-driven, fierce, defiant story is an amazing journey.
This year we also got to see a collection of three USAsgard novellas (VIDER!!!!), and words cannot express how excited I am for April’s The Apple Throne.

Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian
I’m not usually one for contemporary, but Carrie definitely proves an exception. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was exceptional and well-lauded, and PGWB is a strong successor. One of the things I love about this book is that while there is conflict, and there are goals, and there’s definitely a journey, there’s not precisely a plot, as such. It’s a slice of life, wonderful and messy and bewildering and painful, full of drugs, booze, bodily fluids, and a sort of relentless optimism wrapped in cynicism. It’s very, very real, pointy sucky bits included. Rather than pushing indiscriminately towards a conclusion, it takes the time to look around, see everything that’s there, not just what’s directly connected to THE PLOT. It’s messy characters and difficult things and it’s amazing.
Also, you should definitely follow Carrie on twitter, because in between thrifting and The Reedus and the renovation that may never be complete, she drops a lot of big truths and smart things.

The Story of Owen by Emily Kate Johnston
Another Lab Rat, but I’m not biased, I swear, they’re just REALLY GOOD BOOKS. Owen is symphonies and trumpets and dragons and driver’s ed and soccer, and it’s a storyteller and a storyteller’s bias and a bouncy Chesterfield couch. It’s a lot of really amazing elements that come together into this astonishing, touching, painfully funny story, and it’s forthcoming sequel, Prairie Fire is absofreakinglutely fanstastic. Siobhan, our intrepid bard, isn’t telling us THE story- she’s telling us A story, and storytellers, of course, lie. Or at least tell carefully edited versions of the truth. Whether we can believe it or not, whether we trust it or not, Siobhan tells an astonishing, captivating story.
Really just anything Emily Kate writes. I got to read the first third or so of her project for Disney Hyperion and now I am CONSTANTLY DISTRACTED BECAUSE IT’S SO FREAKING GOOD AND I DON’T HAVE THE REST OF IT TO READ! Also a very good one to follow on twitter or tumblr, because if you are even peripherally interested in any of the numerous fandoms to which she’s devoted, she finds some amazing stuff.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Actually, this whole trilogy, continuing into The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom. This set was a re-read, and it’s the first time I’ve read them all together, going straight from one book into the next, and they were just as fantastic as I remembered them being. Elisa is one of my absolute favorite heroines of all time. Her journey through politics and magic and adventure is huge and wonderful and riveting, but what really makes this so unique and awesome is her more personal journey. Elisa starts this series as someone convinced of her own complete and utter lack of worth, and she GROWS. She learns and decides and it’s not ever that she becomes someone else, but that she becomes more and more herself, sloughing off all those things she and others have put on her over the years.
Probably my favorite moment is (and I’m paraphrasing here, because I don’t have access to the books at the moment) is when she’s getting ready for something, and she says “I look beautiful to the one who matters most”, and the person helping her is all “Yes! He’ll be blown away by the sight of you!” and she says “I meant me.”
THAT journey, even as just a part of many larger ones weaving together, is perfect.

What were some of your favorite reads (or re-reads) through this year?

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The Art/Artist Divide

November 6, 2013 at 8:40 pm (Book to Movie, General) (, , , , )

Art, in any of its myriad mediums, has a schism most people don’t even realize exists. It’s a difficult idea, an oversight that’s somehow ingrained in our cultural consciousness. It’s surprisingly simple, too, when we look at it flat on a page.

The artist is not his or her art.

It seems obvious, right? Of course there’s a divide there, of course the artist is completely separate from the art he or she produces. Only, that’s not how we tend to think, or react. We walk out on this invisible bridge and never notice the transition from artist to art.

How we regard an artist very frequently colors how we look at his or her work. We make assumptions about people based on their performances or creations, but conversely, we also make assumptions about the work based on what we know of the artist.

Have you ever learned something totally awful about an actor, and when you go back to watch one of your favorite movies they happen to be in, you’re totally bummed because instead of enjoying the movie, all you can think about is how this really hot guy you previously admired as an actor just got arrested for drunk driving and smacking around his girlfriend?

Have you ever watched an interview with an actress that was so incredibly funny, where she came off as so real and down to earth and AWESOME that even though you didn’t like her movies much, you’ll still watch them, just because she’s cool?

We do it with books, too, which may seem odd to some. I mean, actors, they’re out there celebrities, right? They have no private lives because they belong to their audiences? Authors are more private, we think. Actors create art using their bodies, their voices, every part of them as the medium. Authors, we think, create something completely separate from them.

We think that, anyway. Truth is, what we think of an author REALLY colors our perception of the work.

My friend Shae has talked from time to time about author behavior and how authors behaving well can make her interested in a book she might otherwise not read. It’s a bottom line sort of thing–authors who behave well are more likely to get her money, whereas authors behaving badly–being nasty, arguing over reviews, attacking bloggers, etc–are very UNlikely to get her money.

I certainly think there’s something to that. When an author throws a public hissy fit pissing and moaning over a criticism someone dared to give their precious book-baby, it’s hard to take him or her seriously as an author. Rather than regarding him or her as an artist with a completely separate work of art, we think of a child throwing a tantrum. There’s nothing worthwhile in that. There’s nothing in that behavior worth investing in.

In some respects, it’s easy enough to separate. Author A is an ass, so we don’t read Author A. I’ll be honest, there are some people I do this with. I’ve never had a particular interest in reading Nicolas Sparks. What he writes isn’t really in my areas of interest. I’ve read the synopses and some of the major-publication reviews for his books (I work in a bookstore, so when he has a new release coming up, people ask me what it’s about), and I personally get bored with relaying the plots, because there’s a level of sameness to them that turns me off. Whatever. No author is going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

What I find personally repellent, though, and the reason I will probably never read a Nicolas Sparks book and will certainly never buy one, is his attitude, his unflagging belief that only men can write anything of true legitimacy and we poor women simply lack the emotional and intellectual depth to rise above mere chicklit. I’m not a huge fan of the term chick-lit, and to his partial credit, neither does Nicolas Sparks seem to be, though his distaste is usually in regards to the term being applied to his writing. But, for the sake of general perception, we’ll let the term go in favor of getting to the deeper reality: Nicolas Sparks is the king of chicklit.

Seriously.

His books are out-of-the-box bestsellers, he has movie deals panting on the heels of contract announcements, and the overwhelming majority of his readership is female. His books are love stories. Sometimes bittersweet, sometimes shadowed by Issues, but they’re enthusiastically devoured by women.

But Nicolas Sparks says his books aren’t chicklit. He says they’re “love tragedy”. (Anyone who can tell wtf love tragedy is as a genre is a much smarter person that I am)

Through interviews over the course of years, he’s expressed abhorrence at the thought of being grouped with writers such as Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Piccoult, or Sophie Kinsella- in other words, female authors who are generally dismissed as writing chicklit. Or for the slightly more PC term, women’s fiction, which is really just as limiting and only slightly less derogatory.

Reading his interviews any time he’s asked about genre or similar writers leaves me genuinely angry, because I come away feeling like if I were one of his readers, he’d be insulting me for giving him my money.

Now, I really don’t know anything about Nicolas Sparks beyond those interviews. Well, much of anything, and scuttlebutt from booksellers who’ve worked his signings probably doesn’t count to a holistic view of a person. He may be a really good person, a great husband, a great father, a genuine guy who most people would personally admire. I have no idea. But when I’m being honest with myself, which I try to be, I can admit that I generally assume him to be kind of a douchecanoe. And that is based purely off the public perception I have through his interviews and question/answer periods at signings.

Having never had a particular interest in his books anyway, my assumptions about him don’t particularly bother me as a consumer. I’m not torn by the divide between the artist and his art because I’m not interested in either.

But sometimes, it is so much harder.

Tessa Gratton already talked about this more eloquently than I ever could, but if you’re any kind of sci-fi nerd (or even if you’re not, and just pay a smidgeon of attention to the internet at large), then you’re aware that there’s a huge kerfuffle in the fandom of “Ender’s Game”.

It’s a cult book. It’s hard to take someone seriously as a sci-fi nerd if they haven’t read this book. Fans have been waiting for the movie for two decades.

But the author is, in a very public way, someone who devotes great time and energy to hating significant portions of the population. He is someone who actively pursues not just the limitation of certain rights that should be seen as innate, but actually wishes harm on those people and those who support them. It’s not just time and energy he puts to these endeavors, either–he also puts his money to it, money he earns through the sale of books like “Ender’s Game”.

So it leaves his fans with a choice: get more of the books they genuinely love, because whatever his personality and outlook, he’s a hell of a writer, or stand on principle and refuse to buy his products, thus reducing the amount of money he has to put into disenfranchisement and hate.

And it’s HARD, when you really love the work. I remember the first time I read “Ender’s Game”. I’d previously read “Enchantment”, and loved it, but then the summer between high school and college, I was working at a Boy Scout camp, and my friend Casey loaned me a stack of books to get me through the summer. I think they lasted me about a week. This stack included “Ender’s Game”, “Ender’s Shadow”, “Children of the Mind”, “Speaker for the Dead”, and “Xenocide.” I really liked Game. I LOVED Shadow. Children, Speaker, and Xeno gave me my first appreciation for what books could look like when they ran amuck from the author. (Honestly, I kind of thought the trilogy was a hot mess) But I reread Game and Shadow a lot, and the idea of a well-done movie was terribly appealing.

And from what I’ve seen of the movie publicity, it looks like this production might be just that: well-done.

And a movie isn’t a book. Yes, an author flourishes when a movie does well, but it’s a different creative vehicle. The movie belongs to the director, to the producers, to the screenwriters, to the actors, to all the crew and everyone who works on the film. Is it really fair to punish all of them because you dislike the author of the original text?

But if you’re contributing to the general well-being of someone whose views you find abhorrent, aren’t you helping to spread those views, albeit unintentionally?

I don’t know the answer. I know a lot of people have chosen to boycott the movie, boycott the books. Those fans who agree with Card’s views are likely, for equally passionate reasons, to see the movie multiple times, buy multiple copies of the books to balance out. But I also know I haven’t been able to read Game or Shadow since I learned of Card’s outspoken views. I’ve tried, because I genuinely do love those two books, but I find myself looking for his views in the text. It’s hard to separate what he wrote from what he professes.

I know I wouldn’t want anyone to blur that line in my own stories, in my book. I know I wouldn’t want anyone to look at Ophelia’s passive acceptance of a number of abuses and wrongs and think I in any way believe that to be how things should be. We create worlds separate from ourselves. We invest ourselves in them, certainly, but they’re not our manifestos. It’s easy to argue that we our book should buy judgments of us only as writers.

Easy to argue–a lot harder to live by.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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So What Did You Think of the Cover?

February 17, 2013 at 11:02 am (A Wounded Name) (, , , , , )

In case you missed my semi-incoherent flailing on Friday, A Wounded Name officially has a cover- and it’s been unveiled!

The cover and flap copy are over at Shelvers Anonymous, and a HUGE thank you to Shelver for hosting me.

The full jacket, a clip of my editor reading from Hamlet, and an AWESOME giveaway with every debut novel the Lab has published (guys, the Lab puts out some pretty awesome books, you REALLY want to enter this!) is over at the Carolrhoda Lab blog, so definitely check that out, because guys, seriously, LOTS OF AWESOME BOOKS.

But just in case you don’t have time to link away, I’ve got the cover down below the break.

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And COVER!

CoverProofAWN

Let’s all take a moment to bask, shall we?

Because in all seriousness, I LOVE this cover. And not just because it’s gorgeous (though it is) but because it perfectly encapsulates Ophelia and her story. Ophelia has become this kind of iconic image in our societal language- we automatically think of Waterhouse paintings and contentedly drowning girls with flowers in their hands and hair, and to us, that defines Ophelia as much as black clothes and a skull define Hamlet.

But there was a moment before that.

And that’s the story in A Wounded Name, the story of a moment of endless potiential where Ophelia could avoid the water entirely, could jump in and fall, or- for a single, paralyzing breath- there’s the possibility that she could step out onto the surface of the water- and walk.

Or dance, or run, or whatever. In the moment before something happens, the possibilities are endless.

And that’s exactly what this cover shows.

Massive congratulations and much gratitude to jacket designer Emily Harris, photographer Brooke Shaden, and model Katie Johnson for such an incredible photo.

But there’s something else, too, something that the cover image alone doesn’t show, that can be a little hard to read on the full jacket display.

And that’s blurbs.

Having Editor Andrew tell me the book was going out for blurbs was one of the more terrifying moments of my life. Until that point, I still felt very sheltered and protected. For some reason, having it to go out to editors for submission was less frightening. Seriously. I think- and this is just a theory- that it has something to do with fangirl awe. If all goes well, we don’t really see the editor in the final product (unless you’ve read everything that editor has ever touched and recognize the fingerprints, but that’s a different matter). A good editor brings the author’s voice into full strength, so when we read a really good book, we tend to only think about the author, not all the other people who went into making it something extraordinary (this is not discounting the author, but it is definitely a collaborative effort; anyone who tells you otherwise is either deluding his/herself or just plain clueless). Editors are people who are supposed to see the not-as-polished-as-it-can-be product. We send them our best, and they help us make it better.

But other authors…when you’ve read and LOVED books by the authors who are going to be reading your book and deciding whether or not to say something about it, it’s terrifying. It’s the ultimate fangirl freak-out of OMIGOD WHAT DO I DO when you get to meet your heroes.

What came out of that process was amazing.

Tessa Gratton, author of Blood Magic, Blood Keeper, the forthcoming United States of Asgard series, and contributor to The Curiosities, had this to say:

“Madness, passion, gorgeous word-play, and the inexorable spiral into tragedy; A Wounded Name embodies everything I love from Hamlet.”

And Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch, The Archived, and the forthcoming Vicious said this:

“At once strange and wonderful, sensual and gripping, A Wounded Name invades the mind like madness. Hutchison’s lush, atmospheric prose and taut storytelling breathe new life into this classic play.”

These blurbs were gifts, truly (in fact, Victoria’s arrived at about one o’clock Christmas morning. Try sleeping after that, right?). Most writers are neurotic creatures, and even when we try really, really hard not to be needy, validation in the form of someone loving what we create is amazing.

So, what do you think?

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Book Review: Blood Magic, by Tessa Gratton

June 9, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Silla Kennicott changed when her parents died, when she knelt bathed in their blood and the senseless violence. Now she’s received a book that speaks of magic and blood, that makes grand promises that should feel unnatural and superstitious and ridiculous. Instead, it feels right. The book isn’t the only thing that’s new and right- there’s also her neighbor Nick, a city boy transplanted to her small town, a boy with buried memories trying to claw their way to the surface. But magic always has a price, sometimes not easily paid by nicking a finger or slashing a palm. For some magics, everything is required.
And there are some people more than willing to make others pay that price for them.

Maybe it makes me morbid but I love this entire premise, the idea of magic based in blood. It forces a heavy scale of consequence for power, requires that there be severe limitations. I love it. With any magical system, it’s tempting to let it run free without any price being paid to harness that power. That’s not how it is here. The greater the magic, the higher the cost, not just in a literal quantity of blood but also in moral questions. If you need more blood than you can sensibly provide, what do you do? Not perform the spell? Pool your resources with other people? Find another source? For every piece of a thing, there’s a price, and for every price there’s a question.

It renders everything in shades of grey. There’s really nothing black and white here, not in the history that’s brought them all to this point, not in the decisions and actions currently unfolding, not in what lies ahead. What seems clear and unquestionable- such as how Silla’s parents died- isn’t. What seems like the right thing to do may not be, or it might be the wrong thing for the right reasons. It lets us question everything that’s going on right along with the characters. Those questions never pull us out of what’s going on, never make us close the book to think through all the ramifications, but they filter through the words and the actions until the question and the fact are inescapably intertwined. Occasionally horrific things sometimes have genuinely good motivations until it’s impossible to separate out the different threads and label them good and evil, right and wrong. It’s hard to praise something good without also realizing there’s a certain repugnance to the acts that brought it about.

Maybe it’s because I’m a theatre junkie, but I adore Silla’s way of looking at the world. The way she chooses a mask for each circumstance, building an expression and attitude off a physical basis, is gorgeous. I used to have porcelain masks hung over my room, painted and eyeless, beautiful works of art but ultimately smooth and expressionless and soulless. She has dozens of masks all over her walls and she can use the reminder of them to get through difficult things, to keep a bland face in the midst of turmoil, to find a smile to reassure concerned friends. The expressions aren’t real but they suit people who can’t look beneath the surface to see what’s really going on, the people who are willing to accept what seems a clear truth when the real truth is anything but. Silla’s broken before we even meet her and at first the masks are meant to hide that. Slowly, though, the masks become more. They’re a part of her, they’ll always be a part of her- that’s part of what being an actress is- but they gradually become genuine, a way to remind herself of the real emotions they represent when she’s cut herself off from everything. Her separation, the sudden changes she’s gone through before we join the story, weave through every other piece but it never falls flat, never feels forced. At the moments when we most need people, we have a way of drifting apart, and because they don’t understand, because they get weirded out in spite of best intentions, they let us move apart.

Nick is adorable. He’s a slick city boy stuck in a small town with a father who still spends most of the week in the city and a step-mother he calls Lilith. We don’t even find out her real name until well over halfway through. (I’ve had a step-mother I gave a significantly less flattering name to- I thoroughly sympathize). And, let’s face, Lilith is uber-creepy, and I sincerely hope we get to find out more about that in the future. She’s always this slightly menacing presence, always has a hidden motivation for what she says or does, and it is just so creepy. I love it. The way Nick gets drawn into the story is an interesting one, filtered through with half-forgotten memories that twine through things he’s wanted to forget but couldn’t. We never actually meet her- not really- but his mother is such a strong presence in what he does and how he views things. It tugs him back and forth, wanting to believe his mother was only crazy but then gradually, sometimes grudgingly, having to accept that there was truth mixed in through the instability. His support for Silla, especially early on, builds from everything he went through with his mother.

There’s an ambiguity to many of the characters. It’s not a sense that we don’t know them, because they all come off as distinct and real, but that there’s always a shred of uncertainty lurking through. Everyone has secrets, everything has things to hide, and no one’s motivations are quite as transparent as we’d maybe hope. Even the people we want to trust present us with the potential for danger and betrayal, especially as we learn more about the nature of the magic and what it can do.

On a slightly more technical aspect, I love how Josephine’s diary is woven through the alternating narratives of Silla and Nick. All three voices are separate and distinct, but it takes a long time to learn why Josephine’s voice is present. As the reader, we get to learn things about the magic that Silla and Nick don’t know yet, and we get to feel a more deep-seated dread as events in the past unfold and we just know that this is going to echo through into the future, but once it does, it’s still astonishing. We know they have to be connected but it’s still such a shocking twist when it actually happens that I actually started laughing simply because I was so delighted by it. I can usually guess what’s happening with books because there are patterns we naturally tend towards, but I was honestly surprised, and I loved it.

This isn’t an easy book, and certainly not one for the squeamish or faint of heart. The magic has a price, and the grander the act, the higher the price. It slices through the easy questions just as the magicians cut their skin, cleanly and with a sharp divide. People can look at the same spells, the same instructions and lists of ingredients, and do completely different things with them, do them for different reasons. We see what happens when someone uses the power for selfish reasons, but we also see what happens when someone uses the power to help others. We also see how astonishingly similar the consequences of both actions can be. It isn’t easy, it isn’t simple, but it’s gorgeous.

This was a book I savored; I’m beyond grateful that I picked it up on a day when I didn’t have to work or do anything else to a timetable, because once I started I didn’t want to close the cover for anything until it was done. I’m curious to see the direction the sequel takes- we know the physcial sense of direction, but there are so many possibile avenues. The ending wraps up this story, or rather this part of it, but it also leaves a lot of mystery wrapped through what’s already occurred. The fact that I’m going to have to wait a year to find out where it’s going is kind of maddening.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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