Books 2017: Four-Star YA Fantasy

YA Fantasy

Verdigris Deep (Well-Witched) by Frances Hardinge. Synopsis from Goodreads: "Verdigris n. a blue-green rust that tarnishes ageing and forgotten copper coins, altering them entirely . . ."When Ryan and his friends are caught stranded and penniless late one night, they steal some coins from a well for their bus fare home. Soon after, strange things begin to happen. Peculiar marks tingle on Ryan's knuckles, light bulbs mysteriously explode and a terrified Chelle starts speaking words that aren't her own.
Then the well witch appears, with her fountains for eyes and gargled demands. From now on, the friends must serve her . . . and the wishes that lie rotting at the bottom of her well.
In the tradition of truly fantastic storytelling, VERDIGRIS DEEP is darkly witty, utterly unexpected and shiver-down-the-spine sinister.

I maintained my tradition of beginning my reading year with a Frances Hardinge book last January. GodDAMN this chick can write, you guys. When I stumbled on my first of her books, I could hardly believe I had never heard of her before, or that she was still alive and writing - the stories have that ageless feel that mean they could have been written two hundred years ago or yesterday. This book, like most of her others, uses familiar tropes and archetypes, and yet manages to render them new and different, and underneath the suspense and dread beats a heart full of compassion and a fierce tenderness. She's a freaking national treasure (which nation? England, I think), and I don't understand why she isn't more well-known. 

Ready Player One (Ready Player One #1) by Ernest Cline. Synopsis from Goodreads: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape. 

This is my review from when I first read this back in 2011:
Maybe you did have to be a video gamer to fully appreciate this. But I'm a sucker for a little-guy against big-evil-corporate-entity story, AND a shy-guy-learns-how-to-talk-to-girls-through-mediating-force-such-as-avatar-chat story AND near-future dystopic fiction, so I liked it. It dragged a tiny bit through the middle, but mostly I was right on board. Wade and his friends are great characters, the adolescent friendship thread rings true and the world-making is convincing. The eighties pop culture references are fun too.

More recent review:

It's weird and slightly frightening how little of this I remembered - other than the first chapter or so it was like reading a whole new book. I'm not sure why I only gave it three stars the first time (well, I guess the review says it, but it's like a review by a person I barely know), but this time it was pure enjoyment and refuge from a tough week. Looking forward to the movie. 
The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2) by Maggie Stiefvater. Synopsis from Goodreads:
Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

As soon as I read the first book in this series, I bought the next three. For some reason, I didn't devour them all at once, not because I didn't love the second just as much, but I think because I like the feeling of having something dependable to read when I really, really need it. There's all the usual great Stiefvater stuff here - great characters, a feeling of fate and inevitability, witty banter, plus a sleeping Welsh king, ghosts, dreams that become real, a dead-sexy Bad Boy and a host of psychic relatives. It's fun and rewarding. 

Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar. Synopsis from Goodreads: Twin Peaks meets Stars Hollow in this paranormal suspense novel about a boy who can reach inside people and steal their innermost things—fears, memories, scars, even love—and his family’s secret ritual that for centuries has kept the cliff above their small town from collapsing.
Aspen Quick has never really worried about how he’s affecting people when he steals from them. But this summer he’ll discover just how strong the Quick family magic is—and how far they’ll go to keep their secrets safe.
With a smart, arrogant protagonist, a sinister family tradition, and an ending you won’t see coming, this is a fast-paced, twisty story about power, addiction, and deciding what kind of person you want to be, in a family that has the ability to control everything you are.

A solid three and half - maybe three and three-quarters. I love the title so much, and the concept is exceedingly clever. I was torn between thinking I wanted the story to be just a tad meatier, more layered, and thinking it was actually done just right without unnecessary weight, which is why I often love Y.A. so much. Five months or so later I remember most of it, which is often not the case, so I think upon further reflection that it is fine as is. It's a really good illustration of the old 'be careful what you wish for' aphorism.

Say Her Name by James Dawson. Synopsis from Goodreads: Roberta 'Bobbie' Rowe is not the kind of person who believes in ghosts. A Halloween dare at her ridiculously spooky boarding school is no big deal, especially when her best friend Naya and cute local boy Caine agree to join in too. They are ordered to summon the legendary ghost of 'Bloody Mary': say her name five times in front of a candlelit mirror, and she shall appear... But, surprise surprise, nothing happens. Or does it?
Next morning, Bobbie finds a message on her bathroom mirror... five days... but what does it mean? And who left it there? Things get increasingly weird and more terrifying for Bobbie and Naya, until it becomes all too clear that Bloody Mary was indeed called from the afterlife that night, and she is definitely not a friendly ghost. Bobbie, Naya and Caine are now in a race against time before their five days are up and Mary comes for them, as she has come for countless others before... A truly spine-chilling yet witty horror from shortlisted 'Queen of Teen' author James Dawson.

Very, very good, in its own right but particularly for teen-targeted horror. Great characters, some nice coming-of-age stuff, realistic dialogue, and the story is fleshed out really convincingly. I'm sort of a sucker for urban legend retellings, and this is definitely one of the better ones.
A Curious Tale of the In-Between by Laura DeStefano. Synopsis from Goodreads: Pram Bellamy is special--she can talk to ghosts. She doesn't have too many friends amongst the living, but that's all right. She has her books, she has her aunts, and she has her best friend, the ghostly Felix.
Then Pram meets Clarence, a boy from school who has also lost a parent and is looking for answers. Together they arrive at the door of the mysterious Lady Savant, who promises to help. But this spiritualist knows the true nature of Pram's power, and what she has planned is more terrifying than any ghost.

This is probably more accurately a children's book, but it is so, so lovely. Reminded me of Liesl and Po. Loved it. 

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Synopsis from Goodreads: Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

I seem to remember that the first time I read a Holly Black book, I didn't like it that much. This seems inconceivable to me now. This one was just wonderful. Magical realism in perfect balance, wonderful characters, great story. The brother-sister relationship is a nice change from the typical isolated heroine thing, and the parallel romances are extremely smile-inducing. Extremely satisfying.

Read first time in February 2016. Started reread on 2017 camping trip after my daughter read it, finished at home next day.
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne-Jones. Synopsis from Goodreads: Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl's castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there's far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

Diana Wynne Jones is a phenomenal story-teller (I realize this is not a secret). I love how the three sisters are all beautiful and not in competition with each other. I love how there's a stepmother but she's lovely and treats the stepchildren the same as her own child. I love how Sophie just gets on with it despite being cursed. I love how a man cold is nothing compared to a wizard cold.

Hunted by Meaghan Spooner. Synopsis from Goodreads: Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 
So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 
Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?

Absolutely fantastic Beauty and the Beast re-telling in a very distinctive voice. Yeva is a wonderful character, and the story is much more about her yearning for independence and freedom than about any kind of conventional romance. There is snow, and cold, and hunting, a lot of hunting, and family, and the beast is very much a beast. Really, really good. 

Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor. Synopsis from Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.
What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?
The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

I had mixed feelings when I saw this coming out - excitement at a new Laini Taylor book and trepidation because the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy was a near-perfect reading experience for me, with that perfect storm of world-building, characters and flat-out splendid storytelling coming together just right. I loved this almost as much, though. Taylor has a gift for setting up conflicts in a way that makes it understandable how people who consider themselves good can end up doing horrible things. She weaves the most beautiful love stories and kills off characters like a psychopath. And her world-building is beyond reproach. 


StephLove said…
Well, now I just want to read all of these. Even though the pile on my bedside table is so tall it's in danger of falling over (and still includes some books I got for Christmas 2016).

I've read a bit of Holly Black, mostly middle grade books but one YA book and I thought she handled both quite well. Haven't read this one, though.

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