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Urban-Fantasy

REVIEW:  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

REVIEW: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Note: I’m attempting to be vague on plot details to avoid spoilers for both this book and The Raven Boys, however I strongly recommend they be read in order.

Dear Ms. Stiefvater:

Those who have read the young adult urban fantasy The Raven Boys, know that it ends on a line from Ronan which is… not exactly a cliffhanger, but more of a promise, a promise of something arcane in store. That promise is fulfilled in The Dream Thieves.

dreamRonan Lynch is one of the three Aglionby prep school boys who, along with a local girl, have joined their friend Gansey on his quest to find the burial spot of the ancient Welsh king Glendower. But that quest is no longer central in this book. Adam is struggling with three jobs to pay for his education, while also trying to figure out the meaning of his cataclysmic actions at the end of The Raven Boys. Noah is barely clinging to existence. Blue, the daughter of a family of psychics, is troubled by knowing that her kiss is prophesied to mean the death of her true love, and by her increasing fear about who her true love will turn out to be. And as always, Gansey is trying to keep all of his friends safe, and discovering the limits of his astonishing wealth and privilege when it comes to dealing with their problems.

And after having lost his beloved father Niall, the hostile, defiant, but strangely honorable Ronan learns he inherited the secret dream power that caused Niall’s death. A secret that now makes him a target.

Secrets are the theme of this book — secrets, and lies, and confronting what lives inside of you. Ronan makes a point of being utterly honest, but he’s full of secrets, and as he discovers, “There was not much difference between a lie and a secret.”
[spoiler]Although it isn’t a major plot element, the information slowly creeps in that Ronan’s most deeply suppressed secret is that he’s gay. Although it’s irksome that the only one of the four Raven Boys who isn’t in love with Blue turns out to be gay, it’s kind of a beautiful story arc. I loved the way Ronan’s feelings for Gansey are described — sex doesn’t enter into it and doesn’t need to enter into it; the brotherhood he gets from Gansey is everything in itself.[/spoiler]

 

As someone who loved the first book and these characters, I found this story went to some upsetting places — not just because Ronan is in danger (and by extension, so are his family and friends) but because the tight friendships are fragmenting. The complicated differences between have-not Adam and have-everything Gansey begin to seriously stress their relationship. Gansey is also challenged by Ronan’s anger, constantly trying to hold on to the memory of the person he was before his father’s death and reassuring himself that, “Ronan was broken, Ronan was fixable, Ronan had a soul.” Blue is full of complex jealousies and a yearning for more than what being a poor girl in a small town can bring her — meanwhile, her mother is drawn to a dangerous stranger. And Ronan’s reckless thrill-seeking, as well as his need to explore what’s  happened to him, take him into squirm-inducing experiments with danger.

But once again, except for a true cliffhanger ending this time, it all comes together; the fantastical elements of the story thematically link to the character arcs for a surprising and satisfying resolution.

I love the way this series is written — so evocative, in a tart, sassy, sometimes biting way. Here’s a typical description of Gansey:

He stood in the sun-soaked driveway of the Ganseys’ Washington, D.C. mansion, wearing a furiously red tie and a suit made of tasteful pinstripe and regal swagger.

What more do you need to know? Well, quite a lot actually, because there’s so much more to Gansey than his family’s money and power. But it remains an integral part of his personality.

Here’s a stranger’s view of Ronan:

…there was a carefully cultivated sense of danger to this Lynch brother. This was not a rattlesnake hidden in the grass, but a deadly coral snake striped with warning colors. Everything about him was a warning: If this snake bit you, you had no one to blame but yourself.

And a characteristic interaction between Blue and her mother:

It had been a lot easier when Adam, the poorest of the lot, had seemed more like her. Now she felt as if she had something to prove. The others were Team Power, and she was supposed to be Team Ingenuity, or something.

Her mother waved a card at her in farewell. “Bye. Will you be home for dinner? I’m making midlife crisis.”

“Oh,” Blue said, “I guess I’ll have a slice. If you’re making it already.”

Still, this is not the complete masterpiece its predecessor is. Plotwise, it feels more like a television show than a novel: the introduction of new villains, and characters that were supposedly there all along, gives it a “Monster of the Week”  feeling, which is very antithetical to the atmosphere created by the first book.

[spoiler]I particularly disliked how Ronan’s younger brother, barely mentioned in the first book, conveniently appears here as someone he cares about, to be used as a weapon against him.[/spoiler]

 

We also don’t see enough of Blue, who was previously an important person in her own right. When we do see her, it feels like she’s struggling not to fade into another cliched teenage girl bone between two dogs, but doesn’t succeed. The continued formation of a love triangle between Blue, Gansey and Adam, which felt organic in The Raven Boys, starts to feel more obligatory here, though the actual depiction of romantic feelings is bone-melting in its subtle way.

It’s disappointing to not have my socks completely knocked off a second time. But even with its flaws, I’d say this story at least unrolled them. B.

Sincerely,

willaful

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REVIEW:  Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

REVIEW: Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews

Dear Ms. Andrews:

I have to confess: I have copies of the entire Kate Daniels series in both ebook and paperback form, just so I can read them anytime if I want to. For me, they are total comfort reads. To me, they write the perfect combination of urban fantasy, emotional realism and humor.

So as you can expect, I’ve been looking forward to the next installment of this series, and after reading it, I am pleased to say that I can definitely recommend it.

Magic Rises Ilona AndrewsKate and Curran are pulled out of their Atlanta home territory and into the muck of European shapeshifter politics. Desandra Kral is the only daughter of one of the most powerful alphas in Europe, and carrying the twins of two other high ranking alphas in Europe (each a child of different fathers). Since her firstborn will inherit an important strategic pass, the three European packs call for Curran to come as an impartial mediator and guard. Dangled before the Consort and Beast Lord is a European medicine that drastically reduces the chances of shapeshifter children completely losing their humanity and needing to be destroyed, which unfortunately happens to most shapeshifter children. It’s an offer that neither Kate nor Curran can refuse. Though the pair head overseas expecting a trap, it turns out that neither are truly prepared for the real reasons they are wanted in Europe.

One of the things I love about this series is that supernatural creatures aren’t just limited to garden variety werewolves. We have Babylonian lamassu, Greek shapeshifting dolphins and ochokochi of Colchis. Moreover I like that there is definitely a shapeshifter culture that informs their actions and personalities, rather than them just being humans who happen to don furry coats every once in awhile. When Kate arrives, she’s attacked by a mysterious winged, scaled feline creature that turns out to be an unknown shapeshifter, or so the other packs claim. Delving deeply into myths of scaled felines in various cultures lead them to the Babylonian lamassu, which everyone claims is ridiculous until it’s not.

Typically this series draws upon the myths and stories from various cultures which makes for more inclusive and realistic worldbuilding. I find that this series is one of the few that does diversity well without beating the reader over the head with a diversity bat. However, this book generally drew upon European mythologies, like Greek and Slavonic, which I suppose makes sense, since they are in Europe. But the Europe they portray reminds me a little more of a medieval wilderness than the modernly diverse Europe I’ve traveled. Still, if America is diverse, I didn’t see any reason why this area of Europe wouldn’t be as well.

While Kate investigates, shapeshifter princess of the U.S’s other most powerful pack is busy sniffing around Curran. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of the jealousy-between-paired-lovers / why-aren’t-we-married storyline. I think it worked a little better here because she wasn’t instantly jealous. Kate mostly tried to give Curran the benefit of the doubt until she couldn’t anymore. But on the other hand, the previous books emphasized how shapeshifter mating practices were not like humans and that “to mate” meant a shapeshifter marriage. It seemed odd to me that the human version of the marriage would now be important other than as another way to turn up the tension.

Maybe because it felt like a trope, I felt that the emotional tension and issues between Kate and Curran was just not as strong in comparison to the other conflicts in the book. In fact, I thought there was more interesting stuff going on between Kate and the main enemy in this book. As a long time reader I thought that Kate learning more about the death of her adoptive father and the evolution of her feelings toward who he had been had more resonance. It was more interesting to see Kate’s evolving sense of who she is and coming to terms with living the life she had always been warned not to live. Still, Kate and Curran’s relationship development and resolution was definitely satisfying from a romance reader perspective.

I always felt that secondary characterization was one of the stronger aspects of this series. The interaction of various unique personalities not only makes for great humor, but really made each character stand out. For instance, the introduction to the mistreated Desandra paired nicely with the later revelation that she was actually an intelligent figure and also made her emotional journey come together nicely. In addition, the ultimate fates of some other long-running characters became some of the more emotionally vivid and visceral parts of the novel.

Reading this made me want to go back and reread the previous books because there were certain things that I had just forgotten. I think there’s enough here for the first time reader to get into the world, but this is definitely a must for Kate Daniels fans. As an urban fantasy, I think the story deserves an A- but if you’re reading primarily for the romance, I would say B+. I still can’t wait for the next one.

A-/B+

~Amy

 

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