Monday, March 30, 2009

Princess of the Midnight Ball

By Jessica Day George.

This is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses: their dancing slippers are in shreds every morning despite being replaced every day, and eventually the king decides to offer a reward to whoever can discover the cause. Wikipedia has more.

What I liked: I'm not sure. I think this novel hit the sweet spot with its mixture of charm and humor, although it may have fallen short on suspense. Despite being familiar with the general plot (I've read Robin McKinley's short story from The Door in the Hedge, Wildwood Dancing, and most recently The Phoenix Dance), this book didn't disappoint. I also liked the atmosphere and (pseudo-) historical detail: the book takes place in an almost-Europe, complete with a Roman church.

What I didn't like: Despite the "distinguishing" characteristics, only about half the princesses stood out as individuals. (The author stated in an interview that she came up with one distinguishing characteristic for each in order to set them apart. Hyacinth, for example, is religious.) Also, although the church wasn't portrayed in an entirely negative light, I had to wonder: the characters openly believe in God, but he seems to have no bearing on the mess of curses and spells they find themselves in. Galen relies on his own wits and the advice of his friends, and the princesses themselves are disappointingly passive (although witty), perhaps due to the spell.

Overall? I recommend this as a strong retelling, fleshed out with a lot of detail and the charm that made me like (I want to say love, but I haven't reread it yet) Dragon Slippers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

By Carrie Ryan.

I've been trying to avoid reviewing books that I don't like, but I dislike this one in such specific ways that I think it might be worth it.

The premise: Mary is in a village surrounded by a fence surrounded by zombies, many years after the so-called Return. Mary does not want to be there but she doesn't realize it yet.

What I liked: Clever naming (Mary and Gabrielle; also Mary's dog Argos). Strong descriptions. The characters also stand out as individuals but I only really liked Gabrielle. At least a mention of both sides of some issues but see below.

What I disliked: Zombies, lack of humor, and, crucially, the main character, Mary. She angsts about marriage and death and who she should marry and whether zombies feel anything and who she loves. Notice anything repetitive about that list? The official position of the village leadership is that marriage is about commitment, not love; Mary says it should be about love and then worries about who she actually loves. (In the end, the answer seems to be "herself.") I don't have a lot of sympathy for her position in that regard, believing that if she started with commitment she would grow into love. Oh, well; at least the other side is mentioned.

As mentioned, there is precious little humor in this book (or I missed it) and there are also zombies. I found them creepy but I don't really enjoy being creeped out so I don't think that's a good thing.

Bottom line? You will probably like this book if you like zombies or possibly post-apocalyptic fiction. I probably won't bother with a sequel, if there is one (the ending is wide open), though.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Bones of Faerie

By Janni Lee Simner.

Quick summary: When Liza's sister dies and her mother disappears, she sets out on a quest to find her in a world devastated 20 years ago by a war with Faerie.

What I liked: This book has noticeably tight prose. (It might not be a good thing that it stood out so strongly to me, but surely tight prose is good?) The idea is original (at least it's not nuclear winter, again) and the characterization of the main three characters is pretty good.

What I disliked: The world seems very shallow, as though Liza's town and the towns around it are all that's left. Surely at least one metropolis and some infrastructure (power, water, communications) must have survived? Also, the book seems short and really only deals with Liza's problems. Some of the world details aren't very convincing (they feel out of place or inconsistent with the rest of the world, e.g., the episode with the Mississippi) and a couple characters seem to act strangely for the sake of plot. (Their actions may be in line with their characters but I don't feel like I saw enough of their characters to feel that way.)

Overall: Short, enjoyable read, but it could be better.