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

Revenger (Revenger, #1)

By Alastair Reynolds

Rating: 3 stars

Two sisters run away from home and join the crew of a sunjammer – a solar sail ship that searches the remnants of the solar system looking for locked micro-worlds containing relics and money that can be sold. However, there’s more than treasure out there – not least pirates, including the infamous Bosa Sennen.

Blimey, this book was not what I expected at all. I was thinking I was in for a bit of light adventure in the Congregation that huddles around the Old Sun, which is more or less what I got for the first section, but then it suddenly changes, goes much darker in tone and becomes a revenge story. Fura Ness starts off as a likeable protagonist but she changes, becomes much harder and driven as the story goes on, making difficult choices and, to my mind, becoming much less likeable. I’m not really fan of that sort of revenge story either, so this ended up being a bit of a slog for me.

The worldbuilding in the book is fantastic. I really want to know more about the Congregation, and how they survive as billions of people hanging on in or on millions of tiny worldlets that emerged after the “sundering” of the worlds of the Solar System. The history stretches back ten million years or more, and this is the thirteenth time that the system has been populated (the 13th Occupation) in that time. Much of what is locked in the baubles comes from those older Occupations. That’s a huge amount of history and I’d really love to have seen more of that. But, I suppose there’s only so much that can be drip-fed without it seeming like infodumping.

Apparently this book is YA. That makes me think twice about today’s young adults. I thought it was very dark in places and so wouldn’t have called it that. I know the protagonist is young but beyond that, I couldn’t see anything differentiating this from an “adult” novel. I thought the language wasn’t toned down (apart from the made-up words: lungstuff, squawk etc) and it was very readable.

I think I figured out the whole Bosa Sennen being a really hideous Dread Pirate Roberts fairly early on – and who the current one was. The first encounter with her was really tough on me. We had this crew that I was starting to like and I was expecting to see much more of, and suddenly they’re all dead. In really horrible ways. That being quickly followed by the section back on Mazarile almost made me put down the book.

This would be two stars for me in terms of enjoyment, but I’m giving it the third star for how Reynolds made me feel throughout. That’s a skill and it deserves to be recognised.

Book details

ISBN: 9780575090552
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Year of publication: 2016

Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition, Vol. 2

By Noelle Stevenson

Rating: 4 stars

The second To The Max volume of Lumberjanes is just as pretty as the first, with a lovely hardback cover and gorgeous internal artwork. The story continues to be engaging and fun as well. The first issue within this volume is a standalone story of the various Lumberjanes telling each other ghost stories. After that, we move into a longer story of Molly and Mal getting trapped Somewhere Else (with dinosaurs!) after following the Bear Woman, and then something which fleshes out Rosie’s backstory, gives the Bear Woman a name and introduces a new character with a dangerous obsession.

It took me a wee bit to get back into this; the standalone and somewhat disjointed first story didn’t really help, but once it got going, I very much enjoyed it. The tension between Jo and Barney was interesting and had a lovely payoff at the end. It was also nice to see Rosie’s character fleshed out a bit more, and more beats between the Roanoke gang (especially Mal and Molly and also the friendship between Jo and April).

There’s obviously something going on at the Lumberjanes camp and I look forward to finding out more about what it is, not to mention spending more time with the Lumberjanes themselves.

Book details

ISBN: 9781608868896
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Year of publication: 2015

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 3 stars

September is bored, so when the Green Wind turns up on his Leopard of Little Breezes and offers to take her to Fairyland, she doesn’t hesitate and goes away with him, without even a backward glance. But all isn’t well in Fairyland: wings are in iron chains, rules proliferate and the people fear to speak out. In short, Fairyland needs saving, and September rushes in, where angels fear to tread. But can she save herself, never mind Fairyland?

It took me a while to understand the rhythm of this book. In terms of writing, it’s very Fairy Tale and childlike, but as you continue to read, it deals with concepts and emotions more complex than would initially seem, but in such a subtle way that you almost don’t notice.

September is a likeable heroine who learns more about herself as she progresses through her adventures (as is right and proper for a fairy tale). We learn less of her companions, although I suspect that they may get more screen time in the sequels, especially the Marid, Saturday. The Marquess, when we finally meet her, is also more complex than first appearances suggest, and the final showdown between her and September is particularly satisfying.

There is a prequel short story, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While, about September’s predecessor Mallow available to read for free at which I enjoyed a lot, and sheds more light on some of what takes place here (I’d wait until finishing this one before reading the prequel though, as it’ll make more of a emotional impact that way).

Book details

ISBN: 9781780339818
Publisher: Little, Brown
Year of publication: 2011

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While (Fairyland, #0.5)

By Catherynne M. Valente

Rating: 4 stars

Lovely little prequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, which I just finished earlier today. This tells the story of how Mallow became queen of Fairyland, and gives extra depth to The Girl Who Circumnavigated. It lends another dimension to the novel but also works perfectly well on its own, with a very similar feel to the novel: charming yet with a layer of darkness under the surface.

Book details

Publisher: Tor Book
Year of publication: 2011

I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38)

By Terry Pratchett

Rating: 4 stars

Tiffany Aching is getting on with the job of being the witch of the Chalk, taking the responsibility for bringing people into the world, helping them leave and all the bits in between. For a young woman it’s a heavy load, so she really doesn’t need an ancient malevolent spirit being awoken and coming after her.

I enjoyed this book and feel that I should really have more to say about it, but I can’t really think of an awful lot. There were some small surprises for me, such as the character of the Duchess and how she evolved, along with her daughter, but I didn’t really feel an awful lot of fear for Tiffany herself. She seems to have reached the same sort of stage as Granny Weatherwax, where she’s pretty much indestructible so I felt sure that she’d be able to deal with the Cunning Man.

The Cunning Man, by the way, is a pretty excellent villain. His origin story is marvellously gruesome and the idea of this eyeless creature full of hate and malevolence is very evocative.

The other thing the surprised me was Preston and his story. I was sure that Pratchett was going to take Tiffany along the dutiful, lonely road, so it was a bit of a surprise (a pleasant one, mind) when he and Tiffany did actually sort of get together at the end of the book. It’s nice to get a happy ending for the person who spent her own time ensuring happy endings for others.

The humour in this book was the thoughtful, ‘wry smile’ variety rather than the belly laughs of Pratchett’s early work, although there were still some really laugh out loud moments. These were almost all provided care of the Nac Mac Feegle, who retain all the charm of their early days for me as they enthusiastically fight, steal and generally caper through life, but always protecting their Hag o’ the Hills. They’re a joy to read and, I imagine, to write. I can just imagine Pratchett sitting at his keyboard, chuckling to himself as he wrote them.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552166058
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Year of publication: 2010

Planesrunner: Everness Book 1

By Ian McDonald

Rating: 3 stars

Everett Singh is a young geek whose physicist father is kidnapped before his eyes. But his father has left him something: an app on his tablet that turns out to be a map to the multiverse, something which some people would literally kill to get. A combination of skill and luck gets Everett to one of the parallel Earths where he falls in with the crew of the airship Everness. He must win their trust to help him in finding his father and escaping his enemies.

This was a pacey written book with lots going on to keep the reader interested. Everett is a likeable enough young protagonist and there are stacks of geek and pop culture references interspersed that would probably endear the book to the YA audience that it’s aimed at.

I couldn’t help thinking at times, however, that Everett is a bit too competent and calm under everything that happens. Or maybe that’s just me projecting (I’d fall apart, I suspect).

A decent enough book but not one that made me immediately want to go and find the next in the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781780876672
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2011

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