Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix
It's been over ten years since Garth Nix released a book set in the world of the Old Kingdom, where an ancestral line produces individuals who take on the mantle of the Abhorsen, the necromancer responsible for keeping the dead beyond the Gates where they belong.
Set six hundred years before the events of Sabriel, Clariel is a young woman with dreams of becoming a forester, preferring solitude to anything the city can offer. Unfortunately her mother is one of the most sought after goldsmiths in the world, and the family's move to the royal city of Belisaere provides her with more materials for her craft. Clariel hates it, and in the dinner parties and formal lessons that follow, she quietly plots her escape.
An opportunity arises from unexpected quarters. After an "attack" that's so clumsily staged even Clariel realizes it's just for ... 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.
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
After finally seeing the Broadway musical I felt it was well past time to track down Gregory Maguire's Wicked (the inspiration for the musical, which by this stage has probably eclipsed the book in popularity) and read for myself the origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West.
Anyone who comes to the book out of a love for the musical is probably in for a nasty shock. Though the musical had its share of darkness and a bittersweet ending, it was generally a very light and comedic production that focused on the friendship between Elphaba and Glinda. Maguire's novel on the other hand is filled with violence, sex, murder and grotesquery, delving into the question of what makes a human being evil and whether or not they can escape their preordained fate.
Elphaba is born to missionary parents in lower-east Munchkinland, with unexplained green skin and ... Read More
The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy
Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand's most seminal writers, and one of only a few authors to twice-win the Carnegie Medal — first for The Haunting and then for The Changeover. As good as these books are, my personal favourite is The Tricksters, written for a slightly older audience and filled with her trademark New Zealand scenery, supernatural occurrences, family dramas and the awakening of a young person to adulthood. Older readers shouldn't be put off by the claims that this is a "young adult" novel, as any intelligent reader over the age of thirteen will enjoy what is perhaps Mahy's best work.
The Hamilton family gather at their beach house at Carnival's Hide to celebrate Christ... Read More
The Haunting by Margaret Mahy
I first read The Haunting when I was about ten or eleven years old, and now — almost twenty years later — I was stunned by how much I remembered it. Usually good books leave an imprint of enjoyment on your memory, but such is the potency of Margaret Mahy's writing that I recalled almost every beat of her story. At the same time, there were parts of The Haunting that I could appreciate much more as an adult than as a child.
Barney Palmer is a sensitive but ordinary little boy, who is on his way from school one day when "the world tilted and ran downhill in all directions, and he knew he was about to be haunted again." Sure enough, the blurry vision of a ghost appears before him, a curly-haired boy wearing an old-fashioned velvet suit and lace collar, who cries: "Barnaby's dead! Barnaby's dead! And I'm going to be very lonely." Read More
Maddigan’s Fantasia by Margaret Mahy
Early in the 22nd century, the world underwent a vast and radical change, in which the tectonic plates of the Earth shifted and a series of devastating earthquakes changed the face of the planet. As a result of these events — now known as the Great Chaos — the population has severely dropped and most technology has been lost. What remains is a dangerous wilderness where communities are isolated and bandits roam the unmapped highways.
Yet out of the ashes of the old world comes Solis, the shining city. It is here that the circus troupe known as Maddigan's Fantasia spends each winter before heading out every year to explore new lands, collect lost knowledge and spread some colour and joy to those living in a post-apocalyptic world.
But this year things are different. Because Solis is powered by the sun, it is in desperate need of a new solar converter if the... Read More
Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox
This was my first time reading an Elizabeth Knox novel, but I know for certain that it won't be my last. Quite famous in her (and my) country of New Zealand, Knox is best known for her adult novel The Vintner's Luck and her YA duology Dreamhunter and Dreamquake. Mortal Fire is set in the same world as the Dreamhunter books, one that's so similar to our own that only a few name changes and the presence of hidden magic differentiates it.
The story is set in 1950s Southland, a large island republic in the South Pacific, and our protagonist is Canny Mochrie, a sixteen year old math genius, forced to accompany her stepbrother Sholto and his girlfriend Susan on a research project to the town of Massenfer. Sholto has been instructed by his father (a writer and professor) to collect testimo... Read More
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Judging from her review, Kat obviously wasn’t such a big fan of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre! But perhaps her report coloured my own reading of the novel, for though I went in expecting the worst, I instead found myself quite enjoying it.
Sepulchre is the follow-up to Mosse’s best-selling novel Labyrinth, but I found that it was far superior in terms of pacing and plotting. As with Labyrinth, the story is divided into two storylines, one set in 1891, the other in 2007. The chapters alternate between these two periods, following the adventures of Leonie Vernier in the past, and Meredith Martin in the 21st century.
Leonie knows that something is wrong when her brother Anatole insists on secrecy in planning thei... Read More
The Dragon of Avalon by T.A. Barron
Recent republications of The Dragon of Avalon number it as the sixth instalment in T.A. Barron's MERLIN series. To be more accurate, it was published *after* the five-part LOST YEARS OF MERLIN and THE GREAT TREE OF AVALON trilogy, but is placed between them in the chronology of events. Confusing, right?
Although reading this in the newly designated order certainly doesn't give away any spoilers, there's a definite sense that Barron expects you to have some awareness of the Great Tree of Avalon (it's kind of like reading The Magician's Nephew before The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the NARNIA books -- though it's a prequel, it'... Read More
The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man by Lloyd Alexander
No one does it better than Lloyd Alexander. One of his early children’s chapter books, The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man contains all of his trademark wit, wisdom and warmth, as well as a valuable lesson and plenty of delightful characters.
After giving his cat the gift of speech, the magician Stephanus is now harangued by requests to turn him into a man. Lionel is desperately curious about the world of mankind, despite his master’s low opinion of the folk who live in the nearby town of Brightford -- according to him he once built a bridge for the whole townsfolk to share, only for the Mayor to seize control of it and place a toll over it. Stephanus left in disgust after that, and hasn’t returned since.
But Lionel won’t be deterred, and Stephanus grudgingly grants him his wish. Soon enough a tawny-haired, green-eyed you... Read More
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse
First of all, it’s important to note that Kate Mosse’s The Winter Ghosts is nowhere near the same length as her other works, particularly her best-known books Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel. It’s best described as a novella, one which can probably be read in one sitting (it took me two). Your enjoyment will probably hinge on knowing beforehand that this isn’t a dense holiday read, but a thinly-plotted though atmospheric story about a man’s brush with the supernatural, told predomi... Read More
A Wizard’s Wings by T.A. Barron
This is the fifth and final book of T.A. Barron’s THE LOST YEARS OF MERLIN cycle, one of the earliest literary explorations of the famous wizard’s childhood. Since then there have been a number of books (and one television show) about what this enigmatic sorcerer was like as a young boy, well before his mentoring of the famed King Arthur, but Barron’s take on the subject matter remains one of the most popular.
So popular that it’s warranted a recent re-publication, with new cover art and tweaked titles. What was originally published as The Wings of Merlin is now called A Wizard’s Wings and the entire MERLIN collection — including its two spin-off series — has been repackaged as a twelve-book series. Read More
The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
As I've mentioned in some of my other reviews, I have an odd relationship with Robin McKinley's novels. It's not exactly a "love/hate" kind of thing, more like... well, have you ever been in writing class and one of your peers reads out a passage from their novel and the rest of the class gasps and applauds and you're just sitting there thinking..."really?"
It's not that I don't recognize that McKinley is talented writer: her characterization is solid, her plots are carefully constructed (though a bit too predictable in some cases) and she knows how to spin a nice turn-of-phrase. Everyone else raves about her, she's won a number of awards and she's well-respected within the writing community. But for whatever reason, her novels just don't resonate with me on an emotional level. I ... Read More
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente
I was already a fan of Catherynne Valente thanks to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland books and THE ORPHAN’S TALES duology, though I'll admit to being a bit taken aback on learning the premise of Palimpsest. The title refers to a city that's only accessible through dreams — but more specifically, by first sleeping with someone who's already been there. As I'm not a fan of erotica, I was a little unsure what to expect from this story, but as it turns out, the sexual content makes up a very small part of the book's length.
Palimpsest is a city filled with ghostly trains, bizarre restaurants, sentient tree houses, and a population comprised of half-human, half-animal war veterans (among plenty of other wonders). It's as strange as it is beautiful, and only accessible from our world by having sex with someone that's already been there, resulting in a visitation... Read More
Tale of a Tail by Margaret Mahy
Margaret Mahy was one of New Zealand’s most beloved writers, the author of forty novels, over one hundred picture books, and a twice-winner of the Carnegie Medal. She passed away in 2012, and I’ll admit that I got a little tearful when I heard that there was still one last story of hers to be published posthumously.
As a final coda to Mahy’s prolific writing career, Tale of a Tail is a funny, magical little story about a boy called Tom who lives with his mother on Prodigy Street. Everything is ordinary enough until another Tom moves into the house at the end of the road. Tomasz Mirabilis is a strange-looking man with an even more extraordinary dog called Najki. Whenever Tom offers to take Najki out for a walk he finds that he has to be careful not to make any careless wishes, for with a wag of his tale, Najki has the... Read More
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente
How do you even begin to describe this book? I was familiar with Catherynne Valente through reading her charming The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland series, all of which are targeted at a much younger audience than this. Yet even with those books, there was a certain amount of darkness underlying the whimsical elements, just as there are hefty themes and frightening ideas in the likes of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Read More