Tag Archives: fantasy

The Maleficent Seven by Derek Landy

One of the things I love the most about Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant series is the cast of brilliantly named characters.  The series focuses on Skulduggery and Valkyrie as they fight to save the world from the forces of evil, but I’ve often wished that I could see more of particular characters.  I can imagine them getting in to all sorts of trouble when Skulduggery isn’t around.  I’m obviously not the only one who wished for this, as Derek has written a stand-alone book that focuses specifically on Tanith Low, once a hero but now a villain with a Remnant inside her.  Tanith and her gang of evil-doers go up against a group of rogue Sanctuary agents in Derek’s latest book, The Maleficent Seven.

This time, the bad guys take the stage. Tanith Low, now possessed by a remnant, recruits a gang of villains – many of whom will be familiar from previous Skulduggery adventures – in order to track down and steal the four God-Killer level weapons that could hurt Darquesse when she eventually emerges. Also on the trail of the weapons is a secret group of Sanctuary sorcerers, and doing his best to keep up and keep Tanith alive is one Mister Ghastly Bespoke. When the villains around her are lying and scheming and plotting, Tanith needs to stay two steps ahead of her teammates and her enemies. After all, she’s got her own double-crosses to plan – and she’s a villain herself…

There is no Skulduggery or Valkyrie in sight in The Maleficent Seven but I loved it and it’s got everything that makes the Skulduggery books so great.  Some of my favourite minor characters in the series are major players in this book, especially Tanith and Billy-Ray Sanguine. Tanith and Billy-Ray have an unusual relationship – you don’t expect villains to use the word ‘love’ and be cutesy with each other.  There are other characters who have also popped up in the other books in the series that you find out more about too, and not all of them make it to the end of the story (which is pretty normal for a Derek Landy book).  I like that this book focuses mostly on the villains, rather than the heroes.  You don’t often get to see things from their perspective so it makes a nice change.  The major villain is, of course, Tanith Low, who we haven’t seen much of in the last few books, and the whole story centers around her.  As well as the main story of tracking down the God-Killer level weapons, Derek gives us a glimpse of Tanith’s origins.  You see her as pre-Sanctuary Tanith as well as Remnant-host Tanith.

The main reason I love Derek’s writing is because of his wicked sense of humour.  The dialogue is great and his characters have some very entertaining conversations.  There are some hilarious lines in this book and I just have to share a couple.

‘There are plenty of things I’d insult before getting to your intelligence, Johann.  Your beard for one.  It looks like the beards of Fu Manchu and Ming the Merciless mated, and their bizarre offspring crawled on to your face and died on your chin.’

‘”You zapped your own brain?”

“And it didn’t do me any harm apart from the dizziness and the vomiting spells and the weirdly persistent ringing in my ears.  Also the blackouts and the mood swings and the creeping paranoia.  Apart from that, zero side effects, if you don’t count numb fingertips.  Which I don’t.”‘

If you’re a fan of the Skulduggery Pleasant series I’m sure you’ll love The Maleficent Seven as much as I did.   You don’t have to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one, so it would be a great book to hook kids in to the series.

5 out of 5 stars

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Cattra’s Legacy by Anna Mackenzie

Risha is strong and outspoken, and at 16 has developed into a leader of men, a strategic thinker, and a woman — one can imagine — who will assume the legacy left by her mother.

The story begins with 13-year-old Risha living a simple life in the mountains with her father. When her father suddenly dies, Risha is left alone, an outcast of her village. Disguised as a boy, Risha leaves the village with a group of traders, on a quest to find out the truth about her mother and her heritage.

Here begins a grand sweeping adventure as Risha is caught up in dangerous pursuits, intrigue, trickery and betrayal. She is left for dead, confused by the actions of many, and is made to hide from those who wish her harm.

She finds out by chance that she is Cattra’s daughter. Who is Cattra — and why do so many wish Risha harm?

Cattra’s Legacy tells of the journey of Risha, not only across the wild land in which she lives, but from timid young girl to fierce and powerful young woman.  Risha’s world is full of secrets, lies, promises, danger, strategy, rescue missions, and plenty of fighting.  Anna has created Elgard, a world that is both beautiful and harsh, and she takes Risha from one corner of the land to another.  From her rocky mountain home of Torfell where she has grown up, Risha travels through the busy city of Caledon, the Lacstone Marshes and the Citadel at LeMarc.  As you delve further into the story you discover the politics of Elgard, the struggle for power between the various rulers, and the enormity of the task that Risha has ahead of her.  There was one particular part of the story, when Risha and Torfell are going through the marshes, that reminded me of the Swamps of Sadness scene from one of my favourite movies, The Neverending Story.  It’s a heart-breaking part of both the movie and Anna’s book, and I’d love to know if this part of the story is a tribute to that movie or just a coincidence.

Risha is a wonderful character who grows so much throughout the story, and she grew on me more and more as the story progressed.  She starts off as a timid young girl who lives a quiet life with her father in the mountains of Torfell, but the events of the story mean she has to grow up fast.  She grows in to a fierce and powerful young woman, who is very self-assured and you wouldn’t want to cross her.  You know that she is going to become a strong, but kind leader of her people and will do everything in her power to unite the people of Elgard.  One thing I really like about her is that she’s really focused on her duties.  Even though she could have her pick of the males around her, romance isn’t her number one priority.  I’m sure that romance will come in to the other books that are to follow in the series.

Between Cattra’s Legacy and R.L. Stedman’s A Necklace of Souls, there certainly isn’t going to be a shortage of strong female main characters for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards next year.  I can’t wait to read the next book in the series and see how Risha develops even further.  I certainly know that Risha is ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

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The Sleepwalkers by Viviane Schwarz

Do you have a bad dream that will not go away?
Are you afraid to sleep at night?
Call the Sleepwalkers!
Write us a letter, put it under your pillow…and we will come a save you!
Have a good night!

It is almost time for the old and tired Sleepwalkers to return to the waking world. But before they go, they must conjure and train three new replacements. For who else will look after the Sleepwalking House and be there to answer the call of a child frozen stiff with fear, trapped in a nightmare? This is the story of the NEW Sleepwalkers.

I’m a huge fan of Viviane Schwarz’ books (There Are Cats in This Book, Cheese Belongs to You) so you can imagine how excited I was when I read on Twitter that she was working on her very first graphic novel.

The Sleepwalkers is a unique and delightfully strange story about a group of creatures who protect children while they sleep.  The Sleepwalkers are conjured from socks, a bedspread and even a quill and are tasked with saving children from their nightmares and bad dreams.  When they are created, they find themselves in the Safe House, a many-roomed house that exists in the world of dreams.  They leave the Safe House when they are needed and return here after they have completed their mission.  When the Sleepwalkers meet the children they are having a nightmare (being chased by rats or falling from the sky), and it is the job of the Sleepwalkers to help them overcome their fears.  A nightmare about falling from the sky turns into a dream about flying on the backs of dinosaurs.  The story is weird and wonderful, and it’s filled with action and adventure.

Viviane’s style of illustration translates well to this graphic novel format and she lets her imagination run wild in the dream world.  One of the reasons I like her illustrations so much is the wonderful expressions she gives her characters and this really shines through in The Sleepwalkers.  I love Bonifacius, the bear-like character because he’s got such an expressive face.  There are times in the story where doesn’t talk for a page or two and you can tell exactly how he’s feeling because of these expressions.

My favourite thing about The Sleepwalkers (and the thing that makes this graphic novel really special) is the added extras that Viviane has put in the book.  You can learn how to make a sock monkey and a banana milkshake, and she’s drawn a detailed diagram of the Safe House and the Turtlemobile.

If you know a kid that’s looking for a new and exciting comic of graphic novel, with plenty of action, adventure and a little bit of magic, then grab a copy of The Sleepwalkers.

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Fearless by Cornelia Funke

Every time I read a book by Cornelia Funke I’m taken to a magical place filled with all sorts of wonderful creatures and characters.  While her worlds are strange and very different from ours there is also something really comforting about stepping in to them.  With Cornelia Funke you know that you’re going to read a story that will enchant you and I find myself instantly transported there from the first page.  I can still remember the first time I read Inkheart (my favourite children’s book) and feeling like Cornelia had written the book just for me.  Her latest series, starting with Reckless and now Fearless, is aimed at an older audience but filled with all the things I love about her writing.

After saving his brother, Jacob Reckless faces death from the fairy’s curse burning in his heart. In search of a cure he returns to the Mirrorworld, where he is reunited with Fox, a beautiful shape-shifting girl. He has one more chance: a golden crossbow, with the power to both save and destroy life, buried in a dead king’s tomb beneath an invisible palace. Jacob must cross continents, face monsters and men – including a dangerous rival – and learn what it means to stay alive.

Fearless picks up where Reckless left off and takes us back in to the Mirrorworld.  We join Jacob and Fox on a kind of ‘Amazing Race’ through the Mirrorworld to find the head, hand and heart of Guismond the Witch Slayer, which will lead them to the crossbow.  On the opposing team is Nerron the Goyl, a treasure hunter like Jacob, prince Louis and his entourage.  Each wants the crossbow for their own means and they’re incredibly determined to get to it first.

Cornelia’s remarkable characters and creatures fill the pages of this book, from the stone-skinned Goyl and the slimy Waterman, to the mysterious Mr Earlking and the sinister Bluebeard.  Some of the creatures are all her own creation, whereas others, like the Trolls, Giants and Dijin you will have met before in other stories.  I love the way that Cornelia weaves fairy tales in to the story too.  As Jacob is a treasure hunter he often gets sent to retrieve magical items for important people, like Cinderella’s glass slipper or the goose that lays the golden eggs.  You never follow Jacob on any of these quests though, you only hear about them in passing when he’s recounting the tales with his mentor Chanute or Valiant the Dwarf.  The character in Fearless that I found most intriguing was the Bluebeard, a sinister character who appears charming, but hides his true nature behind his clean-shaven face.  Watch out for this guy because he’s really creepy.

Fearless (and Reckless) are certainly darker and grittier than Cornelia’s Inkheart series, but fans of that series will love this one.  It’s like Cornelia has instilled the essence of the original fairy tales into her stories.  I really hope that there are more books to come in the Mirrorworld series, as it feels like Cornelia has just scratched the surface of this world and has plenty more to reveal about her characters.

5 0ut of 5 stars

Win a copy of Reckless and Fearless

I have a copy of both Fearless and the first book in the series, Reckless to give away.  To get in the draw all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Tuesday 9 April (NZ only).

 

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Guest Author: Barbara Else on The Queen and the Nobody Boy

I’m very lucky today to be joined by New Zealand author Barbara Else.  As well as writing novels for adults and editing several short story collections for children, Barbara is the author of the magical adventure stories set in the land of Fontania, The Traveling Restaurant and The Queen and the Nobody Boy.  Barbara has written a wonderful post all about The Queen and the Nobody Boy and her wonderful new character, Hodie.

 

When you start work on a new story, usually you decide on the main character at once. But sometimes you might find your first choice isn’t the right one. It’s perfectly ok to change your mind.

This happened to me with my latest novel the second tale of Fontania, The Queen and the Nobody Boy. The obvious choice for main character was the Queen.  In the first tale, her brother has a series of adventures when he turns twelve. I thought that when she turned twelve, little Sibilla would have adventures of her own.  Because I didn’t want to simply repeat the same sort of story, I came up with the ‘nobody boy’ Hodie, who is the odd-job boy at the Grand Palace. I thought that I would use him as the main character for some sections and Sibilla in others.  The technical way to put this is, I would use two point of view characters.

Being a queen, Sibilla has some big problems – people gossip about her and keep expecting her to do great things. That can be very hard for a person to cope with. But when I wrote about her in her point of view she sometimes sounded too sugary (argh!). Sometimes she sounded like a spoiled brat (double argh!). I also worried that because she’s already a queen, readers might have thought, What does she have to complain about? Did I think she was sugary or a spoiled brat? Definitely not. But writing from her point of view didn’t show her in the right way.

For me, the passion and grip of story come from the troubled heart of the character. In his sections of the story Hodie was working well as a character in this way. So I rewrote the whole story in his point of view, in his thoughts, in the way he sees everything (even though it is 3rd person). Through his eyes, Sibilla began to shine. She became more interesting and much braver.  She became more vulnerable and charming in her own often very funny way. The whole story raced on much more smoothly.  That’s part of the fun of writing – gradually figuring the best way to tell your stories.

You can read my review of The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

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A Necklace of Souls by R.L. Steadman

Thanks to the various book prizes that are awarded both here in New Zealand and overseas there have been some fantastic new authors for children and young adults discovered.  Some of my favourite authors have won the Text Prize in the last few years, including Richard Newsome and Leanne Hall, which has started them on their writing career.  The Tessa Duder Award is a relatively new award in New Zealand and it is given annually to the unpublished author of a work of fiction for young adults aged 13 and above.  Last year’s very deserving winner was Rachel Stedman.  I’m extremely glad she won because her book, A Necklace of Souls is a brilliant fantasy that left me awestruck.  It has just been published in New Zealand, just in time for NZ Book Month.

In the hidden Kingdom of the Rose a Guardian protects her people with the help of a magical necklace. But evil forces are also seeking the necklace, and as the Guardian grows weaker these forces threaten to destroy the Kingdom. Dana, the rightful heir, must claim the necklace and save her people. Her duty is clear: to protect her homeland she must submit to the power of the necklace. But all power comes at a price – a price that Dana may not be willing to pay.

A Necklace of Souls is gripping, dark fantasy that sweeps you up takes you on a wild ride.  It has reignited my love of fantasy stories.  R.L. Steadman transported me to a medieval world similar to ours, where illness and war has ripped through the world leaving death in its wake.  The one place that is safe, clean and peaceful is the Kingdom of the Rose, a magical, legendary place that is protected by a guardian.  We’re introduced to the two characters who are central to the story – Will and Dana.  Will lives outside the walls of the kingdom with a loving family, until the plague reaches his town and he is one of the only survivors.  Luckily for Will, his Auntie and Uncle provide safe passage for him into the Kingdom, where he becomes an apprentice.  It is inside the walls of the Kingdom that he meets Dana, the princess with a very important role to play.

I found the story absolutely fascinating.  Rachel draws you in with the mystery surrounding the Kingdom, the necklace and its Guardian, Dana’s strange gift of true dreaming, and the threat from an army from a far off land.  You know that all these pieces of the puzzle fit together somehow and you don’t want to stop reading until you find out how.  N’tombe was one of the characters that intrigued me the most because her past was so shadowy.  One of the things I liked most about the story was that, even when you got to the very last page, there is still a sense of mystery to the characters.

The story initially alternates between Will and Dana, but focuses more on Dana as the story progresses.  I found it interesting that Dana’s story was narrated by her, but Will’s story was told in the third person.  This seemed to fit the story though and I really enjoyed switching between the two.  Dana and Will are both wonderful characters but Dana stood out more for me.  She’s definitely not your average princess!  She’s not afraid to get dirty, she’s a skilled fighter, and she’s not interested in being the center of attention or attending to her royal duties.  She’s the complete opposite of her mother, who is incredibly vain and more interested in her face creams than the welfare of her people.  Dana’s journey through the course of the story and the burden she has to carry has a huge effect on her.

A Necklace of Souls is a story that will stay with me for a long time and I hope that there is more of Dana and Will’s story to come.  I think that A Necklace of Souls can stand proudly beside the likes of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina as a great fantasy story for teens and adults alike.  Everybody should go out and buy a copy for NZ Book Month and support this wonderful New Zealand author.

5 out of 5 stars

 

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Cover Reveal – The Extraordinaires: The Subterranean Stratagem

The theatre can wait. First there’s a mystery to solve, not to mention a world to save . . .

Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens are the Extraordinaires and they should be the toast of the town – but their juggling and escapology act is failing, and Kingsley is to blame. His wolfish side is breaking free, ruining performances and endangering those around him. The secret to controlling this wildness lies in his mysterious past. Was he really raised by wolves? Who were his parents? What happened to them?

The discovery of Kingsley’s father’s journal promises answers, but when it is stolen the Extraordinaires uncover ancient magic, a malign conspiracy, and a macabre plot to enslave all humanity. What begins as a quest to restore Kingsley’s past becomes an adventure that pits the Extraordinaires against forces that could shatter the minds and souls of millions.

I’m a huge fan of Michael Pryor.  His Laws of Magic series was brilliant and his latest series, The Extraordinaires is set to be even better.  I reviewed the first book in the series, The Extinction Gambit here on the blog and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the second book.

The Subterranean Stratagem is out 2 April from Random House Australia.

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2012 Cybils Book Awards Finalists

I mentioned a couple of months ago about how I had been selected as a round 2 judge for the Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy Category of the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Awards, or the Cybils.  The finalists have been announced today and now my work begins.  Here are the finalists in my category:

The only one I’ve already read (and totally love!) is Every Day by David Levithan, so I’m really looking forward to losing myself in the new worlds of these books over the next month.  The winner of each category will be announced on 14 February.

You can find out about the finalists in each category on the Cybils website, cybils.com.  I was pleased to see some of my other favourite books of 2012 as finalists, including The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Fantasy and Science Fiction – Middle Grade/Elementary) and Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Middle Grade Fiction).

Have you read any of the YA Fantasy and Science Fiction finalists? What are your favourite finalists?

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Wings & Co: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

I’ve been a huge fan of Sally Gardner ever since I first read I, Coriander.  Sally is one of those brilliant authors whose stories are always original and you never know quite what to expect when you start reading them.  She’s also incredibly versatile, as she writes for all ages, from preschoolers, to middle grade, and right up to teens and beyond.  Her latest book, Operation Bunny, is the first in a new series for younger readers, called Wings & Co.

Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life. It is up to Emily to reopen the shop, and recall the fairies to duty. Together they must embark on their first mystery and do battle with their great fairy-snatching enemy, Harpella.

Operation Bunny is a magical story, filled with a cast of wonderful characters, plenty of mystery, and a sprinkling of humour.  It’s the sort of book that you sit down to read a few chapters and end up gobbling up the whole book because you’re enchanted by Sally’s storytelling and David Roberts hilarious illustrations.

I fell in love with the characters straight away and I wanted to be friends with Miss String and Fidget the talking cat.  Emily is a Cinderella-type character because she gets locked away and made to do all the housework for her horrible adopted parents.  Not only are they horrible, they’re also quite stupid.  Emily’s adopted mother lets a strange lady into their house who turns her triplets into zombies, and Emily’s adopted father is a slimy wee man who’s hiding a secret and always calls his wife ‘Smoochikins.’ However, Emily is much smarter and braver than these horrible people give her credit for, and with the help of her rather unusual neighbours she escapes and starts her new life as a detective.  Fidget is my favourite character because he is always happy to help and he has the best lines (which usually involve fish of some sort), like ‘Search my sardine tin, I don’t know,’ and ‘Twiddle my whiskers and call me tuna.’  I love the way that Fidget calls Emily ‘my little ducks’ too.  Even though she doesn’t have parents that love her, she has a giant talking cat that is looking out for her always.    There are lots of other interesting characters in the story, including a mischievous bunch of keys, zombie babies, a fairy policeman, a shop with legs, a magic lamp that talks, and lots and lots of bunnies.

David Roberts illustrations are wonderful as always and help set the tone of the story.  They’re both hilarious and a little dark, and they bring Sally’s characters alive.  I especially like the personalities that David has given each of the rabbits and the suave, charming look that he’s given Fidget.

Operation Bunny is perfect for reading aloud (to 7 years and up) or find yourself a comfy spot and disappear into this magical story. I’m so pleased that we have more adventures with Emily, Fidget and the Fairy Detective Agency, Wings & Co. to look forward to.  I can’t wait to read the next book, The Three Pickled Herrings (coming in February 2013).

5 out of 5 stars

 

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The Peculiar book trailer

The Peculiar is a wonderful new fantasy story, by debut author Stefan Bachman.  I haven’t read a good fantasy in a while and this is making me fall in love with the genre all over again.  The faery have crossed over into Britain and it’s now populated by humans, the faery and halflings.  I’ll post my review of The Peculiar here on the blog next week and you’ll have a chance to win a copy.

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachman is out now from HarperCollins NZ.

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