Happy Labor Day weekend, everyone!
A bit late: 6 TED talks to watch for Book Lovers’ Day
An awesome sci-fi/fantasy book flowchart (via Reddit)
From The New Yorker: Why Teach and Study English?
From NPR: 5 Forgotten Classics Worth Revisiting
Published in: 2010
The protagonist: Nastasya, an Immortal who is over 400 years old but supposedly looks like she’s in her late teens or early twenties. Immortals are everywhere on Earth, mostly living among us, pretending to be mortal and relocating every generation or so and ignoring/failing to cultivate their mild-ish magical powers. “Nasty” is a party girl with no real human connections, and when we meet her she is living in London as a socialite with a particularly reprehensible group of friends.
The gist in 100 words or less: In the opening scene, Nastasya’s most objectionable friend, a male Immortal, brutally injures a cab driver and leaves him to die. Nastasya begins to question her lifestyle and, based on the advice of a woman she met decades ago, flees to River’s Edge, a rehab center for “wayward Immortals” located in New England. As she begins to learn the lessons of this working-farm-and-rehab-center, she meets Reyn, a “Viking god-like”, gruff, distant Immortal that she somewhat recognizes; and Nell, a manipulative go-getter who wants nothing to do with Nastasya.
Great stuff: River’s Edge is a thinly-veiled rehab center, and I really appreciated that residential treatment for “addiction” took such a central role in a popular YA novel. Nastasya reacts to being there as I’m sure many addicts do–denial, wanting to leave, being irritated by everyone, finding reasons to stay, enjoying more of the experience, and continuing to learn why it’s good for her. It’s healthy for kids to read about treatment like this, and River’s Edge is certainly portrayed as a productive, positive, life-altering place.
Meh: The writing…is pretty terrible.
Nastasya is so incredibly annoying, immoral and whiny that I really never cared about her, and coupled with the fact that I struggled mightily with the writing, I had a really hard time pushing through this one. Tiernan (real name Gabrielle Charbonnet) breaks the cardinal rule of show-don’t-tell, and the writing is repetitive, irritating and somewhat insulting to the reader–everything is explained explicitly, and descriptions are repeated ad nauseum (if you thought the 239847298347 references to Edward Cullen’s alabaster skin were annoying, the repetition of the identical phrase “Viking God” will make you physically nauseous).
As we’ve seen in other series of the same genre, Nastasya has apparently learned nothing in over four hundred years of being alive and her maturity reflects her physical age only. This is unrealistic and frustrating.
Best quote: I left the book at camp and have not retrieved it yet.
There is a part early on where River explains to Nastasya why a year seems so much shorter when you are older (because it comprises a much smaller part of your overall life). I hadn’t really ever thought about it, and it was pretty cool.
Parent/teacher alert: Nastasya does a lot of drinking, a fair amount of drugs, tons of casual sex (none of which is really described explicitly) and engages in a party-girl lifestyle that is altogether too prevalent in Hollywood and pop culture today. Yes, the point of the story is that she renounces (or starts renouncing) that lifestyle, but it takes a loooong time and she’s such a ridiculous character that her rejection of her former life is not all that believable.
Read it if you liked: Twilight. Gossip Girl/Pretty Little Liars, maybe.
Not good for: Those who like good writing and solid character development or have just finished reading a book that has either. People who were annoyed by Twilight. People who are annoyed by whiny party girls. People who are easily insulted when the author explains every. little. thing. outright. fourteen. times. People who don’t feel the need to have the same person/thing/feeling described the exact same way every time.
I’ll stop there.
What my students think: The girls love this one. Sigh.
The protagonist: Alina Starkov, an orphan of the everlasting Border Wars, now a teenage cartographer in the First Army defending the (fictional) country of Ravka. As the novel begins, Alina–and the powerful Grisha nobility that rules Ravka–learns that she has an as-yet-undiscovered power that could be the key to saving the country.
The gist in 100 words or less: Ravka is perpetually plagued by the Shadow Fold, a pitch-dark slice of land overrun by man-eating monsters that thrive in darkness. As the First Army attempts to cross the Fold, Alina discovers her own rare power…and all of a sudden, she is Very Important. Alina is torn from Mal and the Army and taken to live and train with the magical, opulent Grisha and serve the Darkling, their brooding, powerful and mysterious leader. As she becomes engulfed by the pretentious Grisha lifestyle, Alina struggles with her new identity, her power and the truth behind the Wars and the Fold.
Great stuff: Ravka is so real and so delightfully dark. Its culture and lore play an important role in the story, and I loved how Bardugo doesn’t really explain any of it–we have to figure out historical and cultural references in context just as Alina would. This also prevents Shadow and Bone from becoming too descriptive and laden with background information, even though it’s set in a Very Different World.
The scenes at Os Alta with the Grisha are terrifically over-the-top and Great Gatsby-esque, and Alina struggles very realistically with the existence of this wealth given her pretty destitute background…and yet is very tempted to give herself over to it.
Also, the Darkling is an excellent character, mysterious and quiet and powerful and quite swoonalicious.
Meh: Alina. She was too typical (“I’m so plain!” “I don’t want this power!”) and pretty whiny. Her power is kick-butt, though, and she ultimately makes the right decisions, but it takes her too long to Get With It.
Also, there is some frustration on Amazon and Goodreads regarding how much research, or lack thereof, Bardugo has done in order to accurately incorporate “Russian” language and culture into the story. Let me be clear: Cultural sensitivity is extremely important despite how flippant we often are about it. But…it’s not actually Russia, and this is a fantasy novel, and a fun, dark, compelling one at that. So…can we just…
Best quote: “The grounds surrounding the Grand Palace had been lit up to showcase tableaus of actors and little troupes of acrobats performing for wandering guests. Masked musicians strolled the paths. A man with a monkey on his shoulder ambled past, and two men covered from head to toe in gold leaf rode by on zebras, throwing jeweled flowers to everyone they passed. Costumed choirs sang in the trees. A trio of redheaded dancers splashed around in the double-eagle fountain, wearing little more than seashells and coral and holding up platters full of oysters to guests.” (211)
Parent/teacher alert: Moderate violence–someone gets magically cut in half, and the Volcra, well…they eat people. There is quite a bit of kissing and the suggestion of More Than Kissing, but not an explicit one. This book is dark–dark places, dark intentions, deception, opulence, oppression, fear, war etc.
Not good for: If you don’t like fantasy and/or don’t like dark stuff, I would avoid this one.
What my students think: I had a couple literacy students pick it up but I’m not sure they finished. I’ll definitely recommend it to my fantasy-lovers much more highly now that I’ve read it, though.