Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson

Sorcery of Thorns was my second favourite of the Cybils YA Spec Fic shortlist, and that's saying a lot. I gobbled this one up, didn't want to put it down, and am rushing to the library to get Rogerson's first book. (She writes stand-alones: how refreshingly wonderful!)

I'm pretty sure Rogerson sifted through my brain for all of my reading pleasure centres and concocted a novel using every last one of them. Magical library full of magical books: check. Orphan brought up in the library with a special relationship to the books: check. Sorcerer who seems arrogant because he's so competent (also he is actually pretty arrogant and needs a heroine who can take him down a peg or two): check. Sparks flying and witty banter as the two leads are forced to work together: check. Guy falls in love with girl's bravery and competence: check. Plot based on consistent magical rules with consistent consequences: check. Turns out the truth is more nuanced than the two opposing groups say it is: check.

I loved that the grimoires weren't inherently evil, no matter what knowledge they contained, but could be turned evil or used for evil. I loved that the librarians and the sorcerers had really good reasons to be suspicious of each other. I loved Rogerson's particular take on the sorceror-demon relationship. Loved Silas.

Sorcery of Thorns reminded me of so many of my favourite books: Howl's Moving Castle, Sabriel, Sorcerer to the Crown, The Invisible Library. Rogerson takes familiar, beloved elements from the fantasy canon and crafts her own version while paying loving homage. It helps that the writing is beautiful. Also very, very funny. (I love Nathaniel!) And she's one of those authors who can write wise things that are so supported by the story they don't sound trite.
For these were not ordinary books the libraries kept. They were knowledge, given life. Wisdom, given voice. They sang when starlight streamed through the library's windows. They felt pain and suffered heartbreak. Sometimes they were sinister, grotesque- but so was the world outside. And that made the world no less worth fighting for, because wherever there was darkness, there was also so much light.
“Why are you looking at me like that?" he inquired.
"You used a demonic incantation to pack my stockings!"
He raised an eyebrow. "You're right, that doesn't sound like something a proper evil sorcerer would do. Next time, I won't fold them.”
Lots of fun, characters I can get behind, intelligent romance, cool, believable magic ... I think I want to read it again!

Banana bundt cake: dark and dense and sweet and nourishing.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Cybils winner: Fireborne, by Rosaria Munda

We had a fantastic slate of books to choose from this year, but it turned out to be an easy choice, because every judge loved Fireborne. Tense, gripping and thoughtful, with a fascinating premise and heart-grabbing characters, this debut novel blew us all away with its excellent writing and important themes.

I'm so happy this book won, because it hasn't gotten a lot of notice, and it's really, really good.

I don't know about the books they're comparing it to: doesn't seem remotely like Game of Thrones to me (thank goodness!). Seraphina I can maybe see a little. I think the best description of it is Plato's Republic meets the French Revolution, but with dragons. It's very political, but what I loved is that all the political issues are brought to life with characters and their personal dilemmas, and there's no simplistic good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy.

The revolution succeeded—we defeated the unjust, power-hungry aristocracy—but at what cost? And is the new meritocracy we created better enough to justify what we did to achieve it? Questioning the reality behind the rhetoric is a desperately important skill these days, and I love the way this book deals with truth, lies, propaganda—fake news. Then there's blind devotion to a cause, versus finding out your heroes aren't what you thought they were. Really meaty stuff!

I'm all about characters, always, and I loved Lee/Leo and Annie. He's the son of an aristocrat who watched his family get brutally executed. She's a peasant whose family was burned to death by an aristocrat's dragonfire. The story of their friendship is compelling. Their unacknowledged feelings for each other combined with the truths of their past make the tension of their competition to become lead dragonrider riveting!

Loyalty is one of my favourite themes, and I loved watching all the characters navigate through the conflicting pulls of family, friends, mentors, duty, morality. YA books live for impossible choices: what I loved about Fireborne is that none of the agonizing dilemmas felt contrived in any way. I completely believed in, and ached for, all the choices Lee and Annie and their friends had to make.

If I had to say anything negative about this book, it would be that I wished there was more about the dragons and their connections to their riders. But really, there was hardly time, with all the plot twists and action!

The writing was assured and quite lovely. I particularly enjoyed her use of epic poetry (adapted from The Aeneid, apparently) to give heft to emotional beats.

The second book in what looks like a trilogy won't be out until 2021, alas. There was a nice conclusion to this novel but the story continues, and I will be there for it!

Roasted winter vegetables with herbs and lemon (I can't get enough of roasted vegetables lately: the sweetness, the heartiness) and a rotisserie chicken. So satisfying!