Tuesday, April 20, 2010
When I pick up ARCs, it really is a digging process. But when I saw "For fans of Kristin Cashore...Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner," I had to grab the book. Megan Whalen Turner?! I thought. She's bloody brilliant! But then I started thinking more rationally. While I might put Pierce and Cashore or Pierce and Turner together, I don't rank Cashore anywhere near as high as Turner (this is not to say that I think Cashore, if she mixes up her plot a bit more, could produce something truly good, just that she hasn't done it yet). After reading Mistwood, by Leah Cypess (out in May), I think the Cashore comparison is a good one. Full of princes, ill-gotten thrones, almost-human creatures of astounding beauty, and a pretty nest of plotters, Mistwood is very similar to Cashore's Fire, though Cashore does it better. Okay, Mistwood does not have quite as obvious an outcome as Fire, but the journey and development of Cashore's characters is much stronger than Cypess. I think one of her key problems is that the main character, the Shifter (in the guise of a human female through most of the book), doesn't know who she is. As the book is very much about her discovering who she is, it is strange to feel disconnected from her, it is almost as if she gets lost in the larger plot. Perhaps it is partially that the book is in the third person, a first person narration might have helped readers follow the Shifter's personal journey. The book isn't entirely bad, and people who like Cashore may enjoy the read, though I suggest grabbing Juliet Marillier's teen novels or Tamora Pierce's work if you haven't yet. As this is Cypess' first novel, I look forward to seeing what she may produce in the future- time and work may create something deserving of being compared to Tamora Pierce.
I read an ARC of Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling a number of months ago and absolutely adored it. But today, when I went to post on the audio book version, I discovered my total failure to post my adoration here. Incorrigible Children stars Miss Penelope Lumley, a 15 year old from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females. Penelope is educated, well-mannered, and purposeful. When she discovers the children she has been hired to care for were raised by wolves, she takes it in stride. Despite the low expectations of the foundling's parents, Miss Lumley soon has them learning manners, Latin, and how to refrain from chasing squirrels.
It is Miss Lumley's strong character and the wonderfully Gothic voice that pulled me in. The story is dark and mysterious, but also, let's face it, silly. People have been comparing it to Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and this book deserves to be compared to Snicket. The tone and length of Incorrigible Children is very similar to Snicket's, as is the middle-reader audience suggestion. And it manages to be just as dark and strange and wonderful. But don't think this is a knock-off, the adventure goes very much in it's own direction and Wood possesses a strong voice all her own. I also think the 15 year-old age of Miss Lumley, and the amount of time the reader shares with her, may also recommend the book to a slightly older (and perhaps reluctant) readership.
Now the audio book. Katherine Kellgren did the audio books for the Enola Holmes series, which I adored. Her beautifully expressive voice and accent are perfect for books written to sound like British children's classics. If I had been asked to choose the reader for Incorrigible Children, it would have been Kellgren, and we are so lucky to have her vocal skills for this audio book (now I just need to get my hands on a copy).
And now for more Maryrose Wood! While picking through an avalanche of ARCs, I came across The Poison Diaries, due out in August. It wasn't until I read the author's bio that I even realized the author was Wood (I'm sorry. I know I should remember these things, but most of the time it's the cover image that stays with me; I am an illustrator after all).
The tone of The Poison Diaries is not as much fun as Incorrigible Children, but I think that is due to the difference in audience (teen versus middle reader). While I prefer the narration in Incorrigible Children, The Poison Diaries is good. Allow me to elaborate; there is a lot of rubbish being published today as publishers look for the next big teen or crossover phenomenon. But there are gems in the rubbish heap, it just takes a lot of digging. As romantic Teen novels go, The Poison Diaries is a good one.
The book is told in the first person, and we begin listening to the narration of Jessamine, the daughter of a herbalist with a special garden devoted to poisonous plants. Jessamine is not allowed in the poison garden, despite the fact that she is no longer a child, something that grates on her nerves. But Jessamine's life is changed by the arrival of very strange young man called Weed, who, according to the keeper of a madhouse, can cure the mad and make the sane sick. Weed, Jessamine's father is assured, is mad, but her father is also certain that Weed possesses a vast knowledge of plants that should not be kept secret. But through Weed's own voice (he narrates a few of his own chapters) and Jessamine's discussions with him, we learn that Weed's skill comes from his ability to talk to plants.
The tale, based on a concept by the Duchess of Northumberland, is dark and intreguing, with a cliff-hanger of an ending indicating sequels to come. Readers will enjoy Weed's growth (it has to be a pun, horrible though it may be) and the budding relationship (ditto) between him and Jessamine. And when you throw some poison on that lot, the intrigue only increases.