I read John Scalzi’s blog but he’s not an author whose books I clamour for on the day of release. This week, though I felt an urge for his non-bloggish writing and got a bunch of books from the library. First up, the YA novel set in the Old Man’s War universe called Zoe’s Tale.
This book is about Zoe, the teenage daughter to two war-heroes turned colonists. She’s got a special relationship with an alien race and is kind of bored with her life on Huckleberry (though there’s a lot of exciting backstory to her life you can read in the other Old Man’s War books about her parents). She and her parents and her alien bodyguards head off to start a new colony. Zoe makes friends, deals with relationship issues and gets embroiled in interstellar politics.
It’s a really interesting book because of what it leaves out. It takes place at the same time as The Last Colony so you read this knowing that yeah you’re missing stuff, or having it summarized because Zoe heard about it secondhand. It had a different feel because of it. You really felt like Zoe was dealing with a world and events out of her control. I liked it a lot.
I was also reading this to see if I could suggest it as a standalone YA novel (I’ve only read the first book in the series and that was a few years ago). I think I can. It doesn’t hit quite the same beats as usual, but it’s different in a good way, and Zoe’s got a good voice and feels funny and real.
Mercury is a comic by Hope Larson that takes place in Nova Scotia in two timelines. In 2009, Tara is new to Grade 10 in the town she grew up in. Her mother is off in Alberta working in the tar sands. She meets a boy who looks just like her and they go looking for buried treasure. In 1859 Josie’s farming family (Tara’s ancestors) take in a young prospector who Josie’s mother thinks is shady and up to no good. The intersection between the stories comes in the form of a quicksilver filled pendant.
It’s a very cleanly drawn book and the similarity in appearance between Tara and Ben works well. I liked the jumps between the timelines, but on the whole it felt like the story needed something more. It wasn’t quite understated enough to play that as a strength but not enough happened. I do feel we got to know Tara well, but Josie much less so.
But yeah. It wasn’t bad. Good Canadian content and all, but nothing I’d be rushing to put in people’s hands.
Bryan Lee O’Malley (best known for Scott Pilgrim) drew and wrote a high school road-trip book called Lost at Sea, and it’s fucking excellent.
The story is about four young people heading back to Canada from northern California. The viewpoint character is a quiet girl who doesn’t quite fit in, and she narrates how the difference is that she has no soul. I loved the inconsequential and the really important dialogue, the out-of-the-blue things that happen that follow the kind of road trip logic you abandon yourself to. It’s a different feel from Scott Pilgrim, much more realistic. And I love that the story ends before the road-trip is over. It just ends when the important stuff is over, and all the rest is what turns into road-trip inside jokes.
I think the thing I really appreciate about this is how so many road stories seem to be about guys going off to find something in themselves, but girl road-trips seem a bit rarer. In any case, this is a definite YA recommendation.
Monsters of Men is the concluding book in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness. This trilogy was less like three separate books than one story separated into three volumes, which is part of why I preferred this book to the middle book. It actually had an ending.
[Spoilers to follow.]
In this concluding section Todd and Viola have to try and unite humanity against the overwhelming opposition of the aliens they thought they’d killed in the war (before Todd was born). They’re trying to create a peace and Todd is becoming more like the Mayor because he’s learning so much. There’s a lot of Star Wars-esque father issues going on. Viola is hiding her distrust of the new Todd and they’re all growing up and she lets the war get personal while she’s trying to broker a peace. It’s all very dramatic, with one excellent return of a character from early on in the story that I didn’t see coming. And it ends really well.
There’s a new viewpoint character, one of the aliens, which I quite enjoyed. One of the issues with the series is that the first book is told completely from Todd’s perspective, and Viola doesn’t even have a voice for a good chunk of it. In the second book she becomes a viewpoint character. But if a young woman starts the first book, there’s not a lot for her right off the hop. And explaining that Viola is there and everything Todd thinks at first is wrong kind of defeats the purpose of how that book is set up. I don’t know if it’s a huge problem, but the fact that it takes so long to get a kickass female protagonist might turn off some female readers. Just a caution.
The Wee Free Men isn’t the best title for Terry Pratchett’s excellent book about a girl, Tiffany Aching, who becomes a witch-hero.
Like The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents this is an excellent younger readers-focused book set in the Discworld but kind of off to the side somewhere. It has less to do with storybook tropes, and more with analysis of what a witch actually does.
Basically Tiffany Aching is a ten-year-old badass through her careful paying of attention to things and when her little brother (who she doesn’t really like) is kidnapped by otherworldly creatures she goes off to save him because who can wait for the “real witches” to show up? She’s got help from a toad (a bit) and the titular Wee Free Men, who are pictsies that fight and steal and cuss. They’re kind of awesome and stuff, but it bugs me that the book is named after the assistants, rather than the hero. I guess there are a lot of them, and they may have intimidated Sir Pratchett.
Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman was an interesting choice for our time-travel unit in my SFF course. Joss, the main character, is a first year cadet at a time-travel school who gets paired with the first alien to attend the school in a cultural exchange, but time-travel only features in the very last 20% of the book. Even then it’s the kind of time travel that’s just to sneakily grab some information before it was destroyed. Oh, um, spoiler alert?
Joss is a tough 17-year-old female protagonist (who’s been kicked out of a dozen schools), and her toughness comes through pretty well, but I kept on feeling she was written more as a precocious fourteen year old than someone actually in university. I probably just have a distorted view of it all.
The story’s pretty good, and isn’t as straight forward as it seemed at first glance (the time travel helped). It wasn’t amazing, but I’d be able to recommend it to certain types of readers. Readers of The Hunger Games would probably find this a bit fluffy.