Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Perhaps the most well-known of Diana Wynne Jones's extensive body of work (and not just because of the Hayao Miyazaki film), Howl’s Moving Castle is colourful, imaginative, humorous, mysterious and immensely clever, where nothing — absolutely nothing — is what it seems. Chock-a-block full of vivid characters and a twisty-turny storyline, this is one of those rare books (usually reserved for adult novels) that I can read for the third, fourth, fifth time and still pick up on some new detail that I'd previously missed.
In a sendup of the usual fairytale formula, Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters, and so well aware that she's destined to have no adventures whatsoever in her life — especially with two younger, prettier sisters. Still, she's resigned to working in her late father's hat shop until the day the notorious Witch of the Waste enters and turns he... Read More
Rebecca FisherOn FanLit’s staff since January 2008
REBECCA FISHER earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series.
Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. She’s not a big fan of epic fantasy, simply because they are often stretched out over several (very long) volumes, whereas fantasy books for children/young adults are more concerned with straightforward storytelling than elaborate world-building and long-winded sentences. Plus, the story usually doesn’t last more than three books to reach completion!
Her favourite book of all time is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, but when it comes to fantasy her tastes run toward the likes of Garth Nix, Philip Pullman, Meredith Anne Pierce, Susanna Clarke and Jan Siegel: authors who write within the fantasy genre, but manage to break away from the “simple farm-boy discovers great destiny” clichés and write with creativity, wit, and (most importantly) originality.
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
The Rope Trick by Lloyd Alexander
During his lifetime, Lloyd Alexander was a prolific children's writer, perhaps best known for the wonderful THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN, which is essential reading for any young fantasy fan. The Rope Trick was one of his last books (only two more followed it) and it contains a lot of what his fans have come to expect: a plucky heroine, a twisty plot, nuggets of wisdom, a range of colourful characters (including an enigmatic wise man who always lingers just out of reach) and the familiar theme of it being the journey, not the destination, which really matters.
After her father's death, copper-haired Lidi is determined to become the greatest stage magician of all time. With her clever hands she can perform all sorts of marvellous tricks that keep her audiences enthralled and her belly full with the money it earns her. But the secret to one illusion continues to elude her: the titular rope tri... Read More
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
[In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
Kate Mosse's Labyrinth has one of the best premises for a novel I've heard in a long time: two women, one from the past, one from the present, both caught up in a search for the Holy Grail. The former is entrusted with one of three books leading to the Grail's hiding place, whilst the latter becomes entangled in a conspiracy concerning its rediscovery.
In 2005, Alice Tanner is volunteering at an archaeology dig in the Sabarthes Mountains when she is drawn to a hidden cave in the hills. There in a concealed chamber she finds two skeletons, one of which is clutching a book in a leather bag and a ring with a labyrinth design engraved upon it. Soon... Read More
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making: A unique, bold, intriguing modernist fairytale
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente
Reading through Catherynne Valente's first children's book, I found it increasingly difficult to imagine what my review for it would be like. It almost defies categorization, even as it's hugely reminiscent of various other stories: not only myths and folklore, but also the likes of Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan, as well as authors such as Eva Ibbotson, E. Nesbit and a dash of Read More
The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff
Brenna Yovanoff's first novel The Replacement caught me off-guard; a book that was fascinating not for the story, but for the way in which that story was told. It was the cover art that initially caught my attention: a vintage baby carriage with an array of sharp objects dangling above it from a tree branch. I can easily imagine that image as the poster for a Tim Burton film.
Malcolm "Mackie" Doyle is a teenager living in the small industrial town of Gentry, a place that is clearly harbouring a deep, dark secret. No one says anything openly, but Mackie knows that something is going on — it's in the town's prosperity, in the way children keep disappearing, in the strange rituals and customs that make up life amongst the townsfolk.
And Mackie should know, because he's a part of that secret. For as long as he can remember, he's been struggling with allergies to iron, blood ... Read More
Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
Goliath is the third (and last) book in Scott Westerfeld's steampunk LEVIATHAN trilogy, preceded by Leviathan and Behemoth. It follows two young protagonists (a prince disguised as a commoner and a girl disguised as a boy) through an alternative version of WWI in which the battle-lines are drawn between German Clankers and the Allied Darwinists. Westerfeld has created an elaborate world of opposing technologies and their requisite ideologies, where the Clankers construct large mechanical Walkers and the Darwinists genetically engineer a range of hybrid creatures in order to wage war upon each other. It's an imaginative concept and Westerfeld milks it for all it's worth, with plenty of ingenious creations strewn throughout the narrative. Discovering what clever idea he has next in store for the reader is half the fun.
So far a combination of luck, skill ... Read More
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld
Behemoth, the second book in Scott Westerfeld's steampunk LEVIATHAN trilogy continues his action-packed story of two youngsters caught up in an alternate-world version of World War I in which real figures and events of the period are mingled with Westerfeld's own imaginative ideas.
In his take on 1914 Europe, the Allies and the Central Powers are not only divided by war but by their opposing technologies: the German states are known as Clankers due to their mastery of steam-driven machinery, whilst the Allies follow the teachings of Charles Darwin, who discovered a way to manipulate "the threads of life" and design genetically engineered "fabricated beasts" to function as anything from messengers to living airships.
Behemoth's chapters alternate between the two protagonists: Aleksander, son of the assassinated Archduke of Austria-Hungary, and Deryn Sh... Read More
Trollbridge by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Trollbridge is a quirky collaboration between a mother/son team: author Jane Yolen and musician Adam Stemple.
An amalgamation of the fairytales "Three Billy Goats Gruff" and "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (with a bit of Scandinavian folklore thrown in for good measure), it involves chapters that alternate between driven music protégée Moira Darr and trio of brothers Galen, Jakob and Erik Griffson, a burgeoning boy-band who have managed to wrangle a weekend away from their stage-managing parents. At different points each group arrives at a bridge in the small Minnesotan town of Vanderby: first Moira, who is among the annual Dairy Princesses chosen to have their likenesses carved into butter sculptures (a real Minnesota tradition) and then the Griffson brothers, enjoying the freedom from their overbearing father.
... Read More
Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
It seems like ages since I’ve been able to sit down and really let myself get lost in a good book, and Days of Blood & Starlight certainly kept me riveted over four consecutive nights. What with its extensive world-building, tightly plotted story and immersive poetic-prose, Laini Taylor’s Paradise Lost meets Romeo and Juliet story is shaping up to be an unforgettable trilogy of redemption, sacrifice, love, war, hope and death. I’m already anticipating the final instalment.
Keep in mind that this is the second book in a trilogy, and you don’t want to embark on Days of Blood & Starlight without first reading its predecessor, Daughter of Smoke & Bone Read More
The Mirror of Fate: Another solid (if a bit superfluous) entry into the saga of Merlin’s young years
The Mirror of Fate by T.A. Barron
The Mirror of Fate is the fourth book in T.A. Barron's THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN saga, chronicling the adventures and experiences of Merlin as a young man, long before Arthur's birth and Camelot's creation. Having discovered his true parentage and voyaged to his birthplace, the magical island of Fincayra, Merlin is now practicing and improving his magical abilities, helped along by several friends and family members.
Although Barron has by now established quite a large cast of characters, it's whittled down to Merlin and Hallia — a girl who can shapeshift into a deer — for the duration of The Mirror of Fate, at least to start with. The two friends are practicing spells together when Merlin accidentally teleports them to the edge of the Haunted Marshes, a dangerous place where the trees seems to groan in fear ... Read More
Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor
I was introduced to Laini Taylor through her three-story anthology Lips Touch: Three Times and was completely entranced by her imagery, ideas and use of language. When I spotted Daughter of Smoke & Bone at the bookshop, I therefore snapped it up without even reading the blurb. Some writers are just that appealing, and my faith was rewarded as I got exactly what I expected: four nights of intoxicating reading.
Seventeen year old Karou is an art-student in Prague who leaves a double-life. On the one hand she attends class, hangs out with her best friend, and tries to avoid the attention of an irritating ex-boyfriend; on the other, she’s an errand girl to a strange creature who collects teeth. Brimstone – who has a ram’s head, man’s torso, reptile’s fee... Read More
The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip
I'm a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's work, but it's taken me a while to get my hands on The Changeling Sea, and once read I found that it was a rather unique addition to her body of work. One of her earliest books (published back in 1988), and possibly her only work that was written specifically with a young audience in mind, The Changeling Sea is a slender novel with an extremely simple plot.
After her father's death at sea, Peri (short for Periwinkle) and her mother become estranged. Peri takes up residence at the abandoned shack on the seashore, spending her days working at the inn and her nights staring at the sea. Finally frustrated into action, Peri calls upon what little magic she has and casts several hexes into the sea. Her actions are to have far-reaching consequences, for this charm calls into her life two pr... Read More
The Silver Wolf by Alice Borchardt
It actually wasn't until I finished The Silver Wolf that I learnt that author Alice Borchardt was the sister of vampire novelist Anne Rice (that explains why her endorsement is on the title page) but I doubt that this knowledge would have affected my reading experience. In hindsight, Borchardt follows in her sister's footsteps by writing about a supernatural creature in an historical context, but that's where the similarities end.
Set in the Roman Empire during its waning years, The Silver Wolf is the story of Regeane, a young woman with a dark secret. In the dubious care of her uncle and cousin, Regeane struggles to keep her inner wolf hidden from the rest of the world, knowing that it would mean death if she was ever discovered. Her remaining family has th... Read More
The Last Hunt by Bruce Coville
The fourth and final book in Bruce Coville’s THE UNICORN CHRONICLES was published nearly twenty years after the first came out, and it appears that Coville sought to make up for this delay by making The Last Hunt more than six times thicker than Into the Land of Unicorns.
It’s impossible to start The Last Hunt without having the first three already read, as the story dives straight into the action with no preamble. At the end of Dark Whispers the world of Luster was torn asunder in order to provide passage for Beloved, a woman kept alive by the shard of unicorn horn in her heart who is determined to destroy all the creatures that she believes are responsible for her prolonged (and painful) existence. She arrives in Luster with an army of Hunters and a collecti... Read More
Dark Whispers by Bruce Coville
The third book in THE UNICORN CHRONICLES by Bruce Coville continues Cara Hunter’s journey through the land of Luster as she attempts to find a way to defend the unicorn population from an ancient feud involving her own family members. After discovering her heritage as the descendant of a woman who is cursed with eternal life due to the unicorn horn trapped within her heart (and therefore determined to drive them to extinction), Cara agrees to a mission given to her by the Queen of the Unicorns. In the Unicorn Chronicles there is a prophecy that states: “In the darkest hour, of their darkest day, the unicorns must face, their own darkness,” as well as a few veiled clues to something called the Whisperer. Cara’s task is to seek out the centaur king in the hopes that he has more information about what all this means.
There are other subplots going on at the same... Read More