July 3, 2010

Banshees, Changelings, and Time-Travelers

So it's been a little while since my last review, and in order to make up for it this post will have three! I may not have been blogging so faithfully but I have indeed kept up with my reading.

1.) Heir to Sevenwaters - Juliet Marillier (Adult)

I hadn't realized there was a fourth book in this series; I had read the first two years and years ago, and had heard the third wasn't very good so I hadn't bothered to continue (I did mostly enjoy the first one, and found the second one interesting, albeit a bit weird and complicated.) Still, I decided to try out her most recent one as the premise sounded intriguing, and I am most certainly glad I did! This may be my favorite of the three I have read, in fact.

The family tree of Sevenwaters is extremely complex, so to keep matters simple, all you really need to know is that the protagonist Clodagh is the daughter of Lord Sean of Sevenwaters. Her mother gives birth to the long-desired male heir to the estate towards the beginning of the novel, but things go terribly wrong when the boy is switched for an Otherworld changeling while in Clodagh's care. Clodagh is blamed, and the situation worsens when she realizes that she is the only one who sees the changeling for what he really is - to the rest of her family he appears as only sticks and stones. Deemed a liar, Clodagh flees with the changeling to search for an entrance to the Otherworld in a bid to get her brother back. She almost immediately bumps into Cathal, a man talented at fighting and seeing the future, who proves to be an immense help along the way. Together they batter their way through countless obstacles, and Clodagh's affection for both the changeling she has named Becan, and the steadfastedly loyal yet infuriatingly mysterious Cathal, deepens. But when she finally comes face-to-face with the faerie lord who has stolen her brother, a secret she never expected threatens to destroy any future she could possibly have with the man she's given her heart to.

Juliet Marillier's quality of writing is excellent as always, and although some references to events in previous novels were lost on me, the story can easily be enjoyed by someone unfamiliar with the rest of the series. I particularly liked seeing the love Clodagh develops for Becan, the changeling who is a) a constant reminder that her brother has been kidnapped, and b) a being that resembles a tree more than a human. Cathal was also an appealing character, although occasionally his refusal to open up and explain things to Clodagh became irritating (especially when it was clear that if he'd shared a bit more information, they might avoid some of the messes they get into entirely). Still, his taciturn nature was compensated by his devotion to protecting Clodagh no matter what the cost. Honorable mention goes to the faerie Lord of the Oak, who was one of those villains we love to hate.

Once Clodagh's journey began, the plot was perfectly paced, with the right amount of exciting near-death moments and character-building scenes to give the reader a sense of the danger Clodagh and Cathal were facing while allowing for a romance to develop. Perhaps the beginning chapters were a bit slow-moving, but it was needed given that this is the fourth in a series, and the history between Clodagh and Cathal needed to be set. Overall, a fantastic journey right to the very end!

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

2.) My Soul to Take - Rachel Vincent

I honestly wasn't expecting all that much from this book - it looked mildly interesting but I thought it would be a typical teen paranormal romance. However, I was happy to be wrong! Sure, the plot isn't terribly intricate, but I really liked the premise: Kaylee Cavanaugh is a bean sidhe, or banshee, who can't help but scream whenever someone is about to die. Although she is naive to her true nature, the death of three young girls in her town in three days strikes her as alarming, and she sets out to unravel what she believes is murder.

This was an easy book to breeze through, but it held my attention (I never found myself really skimming) and I thought that Vincent implemented the idea of banshees in a modern-day setting very artfully. Unlike the myriad of vampire, angel, and ghost books floating around the YA universe, the topic of banshees is a new one. Also, Nash was a wonderful romantic interest, and although he was considered the "hottest guy in school" it wasn't a stretch of the imagination that he would fall for Kaylee, since they are both banshees (you learn this fairly early on so it's not really a spoiler!)

My Soul to Take is followed by two more sequels (and there may be more planned, I don't know), and I am looking forward to reading them. For one thing, I want to know more about Tod and his past, and also his relationship with Nash. And...I can't tell at this point, but do I sense a love triangle in the making???

Excellent start to a fresh paranormal YA series. 4 out of 5 shooting stars.

3.) The Hourglass Door - Lisa Mangum (this review may be somewhat SPOILER-ish)

I can't quite decide how I feel about this one. It was a little bit different than most of the YA I read, and while I liked the uniqueness of how Mangum tackles the concept of time travel, some of it felt a bit flat to me. The story in a nutshell:

Abby's life is going along just fine when a mysterious new guy named Dante shakes everything up. Time seems to freeze when she's with him, and then she starts getting glimpses of the future... Despite everything that's warning her that Dante is more than just an Italian student on exchange, Abby can't resist the almost magnetic pull he's exerting on her. But Dante's secret is so dangerous it could threaten her life as well.

The good things:

I really couldn't quite figure out exactly what Dante's mystery was for the longest time. I knew it had something to do with time, but the prologue had been dramatically obscure and though I'm sure I guessed 'time travel' at some point, I really didn't understand all the ins and outs of how it worked and why it caused certain things to happen. However, this was actually really great because it kept me guessing and wanting to read more.

The metaphor of the river and the bank was philosophical, and yet it was actually steeped in concrete reality (with an actual 'river' of glass and a bank). I enjoyed this interpretation of how someone might feel 'in' and 'out' of the flow of time, and why Dante was bound to keep flitting between the two.

The villains were well written - I liked that they weren't so much pure evil as just totally selfish (and I empathized with them a bit too, because they really did want to go home and felt trapped in Abby's time). I also thought the way they channeled their emotions into their music so that their audience was also affected was quite ingenious... This really emphasizes how much music can move us in real life, and the emotional kind of reactions we can have to it.

The bad things:

I didn't really buy the romance between Dante and Abby that much. Or maybe it was just that Dante's character didn't come off as feeling that realistic. It may have just been that Mangum wanted to illustrate how young men from 16th-century Italy behaved, and remain true to the language and social conventions from back then, but he seemed a little too perfect. Also, while I could understand Abby's interest in Dante ("mysterious good-looking guy with a secret"), Dante's feelings for her seem to come a bit out of the blue. Perhaps this will be explained in the sequel but in this book at least there was no explanation for why he chose her (and yet he significantly calls her his "Beatrice" so it's pretty obvious he thinks they're destined for each other).

I wanted the metaphor of the river/bank to be more thoroughly explained. Time travel can get very sticky, it's true, but the idea of the "balance" was just a little too vague. I think it's a great idea, but I couldn't picture it very clearly in my mind as I read. (And since a major problem revolves around upsetting the "balance" it would be nice to have a better sense of exactly what that entails.)

Also, we never got to find out why Abby started seeing the future. However, this may well be elucidated in the sequel so I will wait and see.

Overall, I enjoyed the execution of the mystery surrounding time travel, but the character portrayal and development was somewhat lacking. I'll read the sequel at some point, but I'm not on pins-and-needles waiting for its release.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 shooting stars.

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