BooksOfTheMoon

Nation

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

In my head, this and Dodger are sort of a set, since they were written at roughly the same time and are both YA books. But while I read the latter years ago, I’ve never quite got around to Nation, until now. But goodness me, I’m glad I did! Mau is on his way back from the Boys’ Island, having completed the task that will make him a man, when a tidal wave destroys his island Nation and everyone he knew, leaving him alone. But it also wrecked a ship, leaving a single survivor: a teenage girl who was voyaging to join her father who is governor of a British colony in the “Great Southern Pegalic Ocean”. Together, they welcome other survivors from the seas and try to build something good.

There’s a lot to unpack in this novel, and I think it will need reread at some point. At this point in his life, Pratchett had a lot on his mind, and some of those themes find their way into the book: what it feels like when your expected future has been taken away from you; religion and its purpose in the world; what it means to be a nation. Mau and Daphne are great protagonists, very different from each other, but complementary to what the other needs at this moment. I am reminded of Granny and Tiffany in Daphne, while Mau has shades of Vimes’ anger and determination.

The book is set in a sort of alt-hist Victorian era, with a British Empire, but other aspects of the world are different. And the shades of the past elders talk (although whether they have anything worth listening to is another matter).

Sometimes there’s not a huge amount of subtlety in the metaphors, such as when the British mutineers show up. They’re there pretty much to bang you over the head with the idea that that “civilised” and “savage” are defined by actions, not in dress or technology.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and appreciated a lot of its themes. While I wasn’t hugely fond of most of the Discworld novels written in his later life, between this, Dodger, and the Tiffany Aching books, his YA work sparkled.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552557795
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2009

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 6

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The sixth volume of the rather marvellous Lumberjanes starts with Molly feeling like she wants the summer to last longer. So much so that she makes a deal with a mysterious voice in a waterfall. Inevitably, it goes horribly wrong and the Roanoke girls end up in the thick of it, ably assisted by councillor Jen and the usual supporting cast. Although is nobody going to say anything about what happened when Rosie got magically aged up?

I feel really sorry for Molly, she seems so happy at camp, but her home life is obviously difficult. I expect we’ll be seeing more of that, as well as whatever seems to live in the waterfall and has it in for the Lumberjanes.

The second arc in the book consists of the Roanoke girls in a bit of a funk after their last adventure and Jen leading them on a search for the mythical jackalope. They encounter a traveller with her own set of fantastic beasts, and learn about her her history. Emmy seems like a fun character and I hope we meet her again. The final story in the volume is a single issue story of Zodiac cabin starting up a camp newsletter and the trouble caused by people reading their horoscopes. It’s a light, fun little story to round off the volume.

I think this is a well-balanced volume, with the quieter, more character-focused back half balancing out the action-heavy first arc. I love all the characters by now and I look forward to see where the story goes. At some point, I’m going to need to binge-read the story-so-far in order to remind myself of the wider goings-on though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684154944

Hexwood

By Diana Wynne Jones

Rating: 3 stars

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Diana Wynne Jones book, and I’d forgotten how convoluted that her plots could get. This one involves an interstellar empire, a powerful machine called the Bannus, hidden on Earth and turned on when it shouldn’t have been, that draws a web of intrigue around itself, leaving Ann, Mordion and Hume to try and sort it out.

I had to read the first few pages of part two several times over to try and make sense of how it followed on from what had come before. That was what reminded me of Jones’ twisty plots. This one’s quite timey-wimey as well, with time being all over the place, as a side-effect of the field that Bannus creates, meaning that it’s not a book that you can read thoughtlessly. Don’t let the relatively straightforward language, and the youthful protagonist fool you, it might be YA, but you need to keep your wits about you.

I confess that there were bits that did pass me by. I think the book could do with a reread soon after the first read, while it’s still fresh in my mind, but I also don’t think I’ll do that. It might gain from it, but I don’t care enough to go to the effort.

It’s an enjoyable book, as long as you concentrate, with some interesting twists and turns. There is enough of the wider worldbuilding to keep me interested (and wish for more) while the main story is quite tight. Importantly for me, while Jones isn’t always great at endings, this one comes together well at the end.

Book details

ISBN: 9780749718480
Publisher: Mammoth
Year of publication: 1994

Star Daughter

By Shveta Thakrar

Rating: 4 stars

This was a fun coming of age story, which I enjoyed quite a lot. Sheetal Mistry is the daughter of a mortal man and a living star, who came to earth for a while, fell in love, had a child and then left again. Sheetal has grown up having to hide her silvery, glowing hair and her heritage, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she finds her powers harder and harder to control, until she accidentally seriously burns her father, and has to go on a quest to the immortal realm and find her mother to save him.

Sometimes it feels like you don’t realise how important that representation in media is until, after a decades long drought, you start to see yourself. In the last few years, we’ve had a slow drip of south Asian characters appear in our stories (I’m a big fan of Yaz from Doctor Who), but characters living in the West, with a Hindu upbringing are still pretty rare. That was a lot of what I loved about this book, seeing the foods of my childhood, and recognisable archetypes of my family and others while growing up.

And speaking of representation, Sheetal’s best friend, Minal, is gay, which is something that is also rarely (ever?) seen in the media. Being gay in south Asian culture is still a bit of a big deal, so it’s good to see this treated like the normal, non-event that it is (and the relationship that Minal forms with Padmini, a member of the court, is very sweet).

This is a YA book and Sheetal’s emotions are writ large, with everything feeling like the most important thing in the world (although, I mean, in her case she does literally have her father’s life hanging on the line). At that age, things do feel like that, but her reaction to finding out her boyfriend’s secret and the lack of willingness to communicate with him did frustrate me.

The immortal realm that Thakrar imagines is both a magical, ethereal place, and a very “human”, for want of a better word, place, full of intrigue, politics and back-stabbing, with her own family at the heart of it. She has to discover and come to terms with a family she has never met, and at the same time, worry about their motives.

One thing that I did grumble about was the political organisation of the heavens. As I grow older, despite what people say, I seem to be turning into more of a grumpy old lefty, and the idea of “a few royal houses govern[ing] the masses” makes me unreasonably annoyed. A society as long-lived and slowly changing as the stellar court would be pretty conservative, but it seems to me that they could learn a thing or two from the humans they constantly claim to inspire.

A fun book that may have made a greater emotional impact if I’d read it 25 years ago but which is still an enjoyable read.

Book details

ISBN: 9780062894625

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow

Rating: 3 stars

I’m sort of struggling to write a review for this one, because it doesn’t seem to have made me feel as much as I think it should. It had so much that I enjoy in a book: a feisty heroine, a book-within-a-book, it’s a book about books and storytelling, but somehow, it hasn’t left as much of an impression as I thought it would.

January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, whose father is his employee, scouring the world for rare and beautiful objects for Locke’s collection. When January finds a strange book, her world changes entirely.

There’s a lot to this book, with race and racism being pretty high up the list. January is the “Coloured” ward of a rich white man in early 20th century America, and we see early on how his influence protects her, and what happens when that protection is withdrawn. Race is very much on our minds now, in mid-2020, with the Black Lives Matter movement still strong after the death of George Floyd, and this book has a strong treatment of the various characters who are treated badly because of their race, and also their class. In particular the power disparity of those who have money and those who don’t. Locke’s New England Archaeological Society is full of the rich and powerful and they take pride in making it clear just how wide that gap is.

This is also a book about change, and travel. In the book, the Doors are a means of change, of new ideas travelling between worlds, and there are attempts to close the Doors, to prevent change and impose a strict order on the world. On my less good days, I feel that those forces are winning. While I wouldn’t describe the early 21st century as “orderly”, it does feel like moneyed interests (such as those in the book) are very much on top. But as the book reminds us, it isn’t forever. Change is inevitable, and those who try to stop it are eventually washed away.

One final thing, something I discovered quite by accident: the book is Augmented Reality-enabled. If you point Google Lens at the front cover, you get a beautiful little animation, and if you point it at the back, you get a little talk from the author about the book. I really like that, and I hope more publishers start doing something similar.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512464

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 5

By Shannon Watters

Rating: 4 stars

The first story in this collection moves away from Roanoke cabin to Zodiac, as Barney settles in with their cabin-mates following their move to the Lumberjanes camp last volume (incidentally, there was a nice little introduction to the idea of people’s pronouns here, which wasn’t too thickly laid on, but a good way to show it handled well). Diane has been allowed to stay, and she takes them off on a treasure hunt for magic. After this, we’re back with Roanoke, as we move into a sports-based storyline involving roller ball. I’m not a huge sports fan, but there’s enough fun in this (especially given who the opposing team are) that it keeps my attention.

The second arc sees Parents’ Day, where the various parents come to visit. This revisits previous hints that Molly’s family life isn’t happy. Seeing her watching, smiling slightly sadly, as the others make happy reunions with their families is a little heartbreaking. This seems to be something that the authors are going to leave simmering and come back to in future.

The artists change between the arcs in the volume. While I enjoyed the Carolyn Nowak’s art on the first story, Ayme Sotuyo’s work on the second felt “more Lumberjanes” to me. Both are very good and fit the type of storytelling going on here, but the second just spoke to me more. As always, everything to do with art is subjective, and YMMV.

The themes of friendship to the max, and found families persist in this volume, as the girls grow ever-closer, and the camp becomes ever-weirder. Lovely stuff.

Book details

ISBN: 9781684153121
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2019

Travel Light

By Naomi Mitchison

Rating: 4 stars

Baby Halla’s stepmother, the new queen, wants her gotten rid of. Her nurse takes a bear’s form and escapes to the forest with her, where young Halla is first raised by bears and later by dragons. When she loses her dragon benefactor she must choose between dragon-ish hoarding and travelling light. She makes her choice and travels to human lands where she has many adventures.

I’ve not read much Naomi Mitchison, although I very much enjoyed her Memoirs of a Spacewoman. This is a very different book, but it has the same somewhat gentle, and slow-paced feel to it. I enjoyed it quite a lot reading it now, I think I would have enjoyed it more reading it in my youth, and I think I would enjoy it even more if I were a young woman.

Despite the suggested interference in her fate by the Norns and by the All-Father, Halla is still a spirited young woman who is active in controlling her own life. This is a lovely, if short, fantasy novel, with an active female protagonist that deserves to be better-known.

Book details

ISBN: 9781931520140
Publisher: Peapod Classics
Year of publication: 2005

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland, #3)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 3 stars

The third volume of September’s adventures sees her return to Fairyland, this time with the help, for want of a better word, of the Blue wind. She travels to the moon, finds her friends, A-Through-L and Saturday and has to try and save the moon from the terrible yeti, Ciderskin.

Although still enjoyable, I didn’t find this book as compelling as The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I didn’t really find September’s adventures that interesting, and her feelings towards Saturday are starting to turn into quite dull teenage romantic angst. The new characters that we meet along the way didn’t seem as interesting as others that we’ve met before, although Abecedaria, the periwig librarian was fun.

I’m sure there are Metaphors here, about growing up, things that need to be cast aside or held on to, but neither they, nor the story, really grabbed me. I didn’t dislike them, I just wasn’t completely absorbed by them. I’ll still look out for the next couple of books though.

Book details

ISBN: 9781250050618
Publisher: Square Fish
Year of publication: 2013

Defy the Stars (Constellation, #1)

By Claudia Gray

Rating: 4 stars

While I’m a fan of space opera, I tend not to read much in the way of YA or romance novels, so this was a bit of a leap for me. I’m glad I took it though, as I enjoyed it a lot. Noemi is a young fighter pilot, fighting to protect her planet from invasion by Earth. Abel is the most advanced mech ever built by Earth. When the two of them find each other on an abandoned spacecraft, they realise they need each other as they embark on a voyage through the known universe to try and protect Noemi’s home.

As I say, I don’t read a lot of YA stories, and for the first few chapters of this book, the style and tone felt a little jarring, but once I adapted to the flow of the story, I got on fine with it. Both Noemi and Abel are engaging protagonists, and the alternating POV per chapter means we get inside both their heads and get to experience both sides of the war (although, of course, it’s no spoiler to say that their differing attitudes start to converge as they spend more time with each other).

There are interesting moral questions in the background too – does Genesis have the absolute right to secede from Earth, if it means trapping millions of people in squalor? What rights does a artificial creature have, even a sentient one?

So an interesting story and a fun one. I’ll probably end up picking up the sequel to see where it ends up going.

Book details

ISBN: 9781471406362
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Year of publication: 2017

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland, #2)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

September returns to Fairyland after a year away to find it changed. But it’s not just it that has changed, she too has changed. As part of growing up, she has gained a young heart, and is no longer the heartless girl who left Nebraska without a backwards glance, and she now has to face the joys that a heart can bring, and also learn that it can be broken.

This book takes us to Fairyland-Below, where September must try to fix something that broke because of her actions, even if it wasn’t her fault. There she has new adventures, meets new friends as well as old ones (sort of) and learns that even if you destroy the signs, rules can’t be broken that easily.

I liked this book a lot, moreso than The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. I don’t know if that was because I was more familiar with the tone and rhythm and knew what to expect. I also liked September more this time round too, as she is starting to grow up and learn about consequences. We see different sides to both A-Through-L and Saturday, and, despite being named for one of the more deplorable vegetables, I adored Aubergine, the Night-Dodo, and would love to see more of her.

After finishing the first book I was tepid on picking up the next one. After this one, I’m very much more looking forward to reading more of September’s adventures.

Book details

ISBN: 9781472108104
Publisher: Constable & Robinson
Year of publication: 2012

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