I didn’t want to leave this post unfinished, so here comes part two (out of three) of a short-ish wrap-up of the English (or available in English) books I managed to read last year:
After I read Cuckoo Song I was so intrigued with Frances Hardinge that I immediately started to read her most known book, Fly by Night, about twelve-year-old orphan Mosca who is terribly underappreciated after her father has died and her only friend is Saracen, the murderous goose of her home village. Her father taught her to read in a world where being able to read is not expected of you, especially not if you’re a girl. Mosca has a great hunger for words and when Eponymous Clent comes to the village and verbally seduces everyone only to be thrust into prison when the people become disenchanted with him Mosca makes the decision to save him and follow him on his journey to the city of Mandelion, where intrigues and a revolution is on the way.
I LOVED this book. Such wonderful, lovely characters and conversations and and words (‘chirfuggin’) you can’t get enough of. I also loved how the world Hardinge creates here is inspired by the British 18th century in many aspects. I wish I had the book here so I could shower you with quotes but both my copies are on loan to family and friends, alas…
This takes me to the second book, Twilight Robbery which is a follow-up on Mosca’s, Eponymous’ and Saracen’s adventures. After everything they’ve been through, the three of them come to the city of Toll, with it’s own kind of hierarchical system. Everyone in Mosca’s world is named after the particular godess or god that their birthday belongs too. (Some examples of these wonderful deities are Goodlady Emberleather, She Who Prevents the Meat from Becoming Chewy and Unwholesome or Goodman Boniface, He Who Dries the Dew and Guides the Sun’s Golden Chariot). In Toll the town has been divided into to two different places altogether, one during the day, and one during the night. Toll-by-Day is a safe, prosperous town but Toll-by-Night is grim and full of fear. The deities that people are classified after have been sorted into “day-gods” and “night-gods”. When Mosca and Eponymous arrive they are registered into a guest-book and classified as either belonging to Toll-by-Day or Toll-by-Night. As visitors both are to stay in Toll-by-Day, but if they don’t leave the town by the third day both of them will have to stay in the part they belong to according to their names. As Mosca is being named after the god Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns she is deemed to belong to Toll-by-Night, but Eponymous who is named after Goodman Phangavotte, He Who Silvers the Tongue of the Teller of Heroic Tales is deemed to belong to Toll-by-Day. Their visiting days run out and Mosca has to stay in Toll-by-Night, meeting new friends and having to try to find a way out of Toll-by-Night to reunite with Eponymous but without having to leave her new friends behind.
As you can see my description of this book is substantially longer than the previous one (and I have left out several great things), but it’s such a great book and the whole world in it is such a very clever criticism of hierarchical systems. Because, needless to say, there is no real logic behind the hierarchy in Toll, there are no set rules on why one godess or god is considered light and therefore belonging to the day, and the other dark and belonging to the night. These deities also become reclassified at times, when rulers realize that they were “wrong” about a deity previously considered a day-deity and is turned into a night-deity (with people named after them forced to live in Toll-by-Night from then on).
After reading it I’ve had a hard time deiciding if I liked Twilight Robbery even more than Fly by Night, but both are wonderful and have plenty of charm, warmth, humor and societal criticism.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman got on my radar (as so many other books) when Ana at Things mean a lot reviewed it. Dragons are an old and fond passion of mine that started when I read Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon Trilogy as an 11-year-old and became completely obsessed, drawing, dreaming and reading about dragons for a long time to come. This passion subsided later but I felt it stir again when I discovered Seraphina (I mean, look at the cover art!). When I read the first sentences in the Amazon preview I realized that I have to have this book. So I bought it and it became one of the many books I read in the summer break. And that first impression from the preview more than lived up to its promise; the world of Seraphina, court musician in a time where there is fragile peace between humans and dragons, is so rich, so immersive, so realistic and just wonderful. For many years there were viscious wars between dragons and humans, but for 80 years now there has been a peace, and dragons now take human form to show respect. But when one member of the royal family is found killed in a draconian fashion (decapitated) the situation gets tense, and Seraphina who has been raised her whole life to stay out of things by an anxious father is soon swept up in the middle of it all.
I don’t really know what more I can say without spoiling too much other than this is a wonderful book with fully fleshed characters, an interesting and engaging protagonist, fantastic world-building that leaves you craving more and possibly one of the sweetest romances *sigh*.
I don’t usually review books at Goodreads, mostly because I just use the site as a (very satisfying) catalogue for books read and books to be read, but these two books are the exceptions and that’s why I’m going to direct anyone who’s interested to my review of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Fire there. In short, I had very high hopes for these books and although lot of the messages they conveyed resonated with me and I appreciated what they tried to do I was ultimately a bit disappointed and not as taken with them as I wanted to be. I haven’t yet read the third book Bitterblue, but I might still give it a chance since I’m interested in the story of the title character.
After the mild disappointment I experienced with Cashore’s books I wanted to read something I most certainly would like so i decided it was time for another book by Frances Hardinge, namely Gullstruck Island. It is about two sister, Hathin and Arilou, one of them who has always been celebrated and unique, the other one living in the shadow of the former. The island they live on is carefully watched over and managed by the Lost, people with the ability to leave their bodies and let their minds travel and see far-away things. Arilou has been praised for showing signs of these abilities since being a young child and Hathin has been her translator for long, since Lost children are known for being hard to reach before they have mustered their skills. But Arilou is unique in another way too, she’s the first one of her people to show Lost capabilities her people being the Smiling people, a minority that is viewed with hostility and suspicion on the island. When catastrophe strucks Hathin and Arilou have to leave their home and find a way to uncover the truth behind everything that is happening.
With this book Frances Hardinge’s writing has definitely and permanently carved out a place of it’s own in my heart. I don’t know why I fell so hard for this book (if I would have to grade my favourites among her books this one would probably be in top). I don’t know if it was the narrative of the forgotten sibling, the sibling in the shadow that touched me, or the way the book portrayed themes like colonialism and genocide. Or the magical volcano-filled world of the island, the need for folklore, how people through history have been trying to cope with tragedies and when old stories and superstition has become just that and it is time to move on to something new. Me being in awe of the volcano-landscapes that were described I think is one of the reasons this book gripped me so much. I love when a book manages to do that, describing something new, something I’ve never experienced before and making it real, filling me with awe. It’s a moment where your inner world becomes a bit bigger, a bit richer and those moments in books always make me immensely happy.
That’s my love letter to Gullstruck Island, this wonderful book. I recommend it to everyone.
I probably wouldn’t have come across We Were Liars if it weren’t for Ana’s review (sorry for beginning to sound like an obessive admirer, I do read other book blogs, but her blog is really a huge inspiration and her recommendations make up easily a majority of my TBR-pile). Ever since Cady Sinclair can remember she has spent her childhood summers at the island her mother’s family own alongside with her cousins. Things start to change the summer Gat, a nephew of an aunt’s boyfriend, joins the cousins. As the years go by he is the first one to start to question their privileged existence. He is mostly not listened too, but as Cady starts to like him more and more and consider the things he says their whole existence start to become increasingly intolerable.
My main feeling about this book is possibly spoilerish so you’ll be only able to read it if you mark the space that comes under the spoiler tag. My not spoilerish reaction to this book is that it is incredibly well-written, with characters you start to feel and care for, and with a priviliged life I would love to read more books questioning and exploring in the way that it is done here.
****SPOILERS AHEAD ****
So, if you’ve read about this book you will soon find out that there is a Plot Twist. And this twist utterly crushed my heart into tiny morsels and pieces and I was so devastated that it greatly dominated my reading experience. Ana makes a great point in her review I linked earlier, on how focusing on the twist in a book might overshadow it’s other qualities and I agree with her that the twist is not necessiraly the main interesting thing to discuss in the book, as there is so much in here about class, privilege, adolescence, the need to change things and how this sometimes can result in terrible catastrophes. With that being said the twist simply crushed my heart and I still can’t think about this book without remembering that shock and what a bittersweet, painful experience the whole book became because of that. *sob*