World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day!
In the UK, as the rest of the world celebrates on April 23.
(It is the first Thursday in March in Scotland, England and Ireland, and not the 23rd April as that is that national saint day of England, St George. April 23 is the death date of many important authors including Shakespeare and Cervantes.)

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Title: Seeker by Arwen Elys Dayton
Publisher Delacorte Press, Random Huse
450 pp
Genre: YA, fantasy, science fiction, modern medieval, series
3.5 to 4(-) Stars ****
Author:
Dayton is the author of Sovereign’s Hold and Resurrection (Amazon best sellers). It was in my TBR pile, requested from Netgalley as it looked fascinating (great cover), is a genre I like (YA, strong female fantasy, while I am waiting for more Cashore or Hartman) and features Scotland! Then I saw the NYTimes advert and advanced it.
Story line:
Teen (distant) cousins Quin Kincaid and Shinobu MacBain, with friend (love interest) John Hart, are undergoing Seeker training in remote Scotland to follow their ancestors in the battle against evil, tales of glory and honor, death to tyranny and the search for truth. (Just a tad melodramatic, perhaps not for older/ teen audience). John fails his test, but Quin and Shinobu are severely traumatized and disillusioned by their first mission. They recognized their fathers as ruthless, rigid Seekers but aren’t prepared for life as an assassin. It will be interesting to see if their world is a better place with that job.
Chapters focus on different characters, with an overall narrator, which gives this story many nuanced layers. There is substantial character growth within this novel. But also bad choices (drugs, guilt). There are sword play/ training (proper Claymores) and prophecy and television. The story, while satisfactory, is incomplete, foreshadowing the next book. I look forword to Maud’s increasing role, the young Dread who is something of a guardian to the Seekers.
The action of this book is focused primarily on remote Scotland, Hong Kong, and London, via time travel, portals using ancient tool the athame (a stone dagger that takes the individual to specific coordinates). To complicate things John wants the athame that was stolen and dishonored his family; he seeks revenge.
This has relevant themes for YA: choices, life in many guises (love, joy, family, deception, tragedy, work), sense of discovery, good role models, confidence, and growing up with all its associated confusion, hormones, polarity. There are also elements of survivalism. I would call this well written (for teens), but it is NOT fast paced fantasy – more of there is a journey that will have adventures and heartbreak, discovery, greed, betrayal, and love, with knowns and unknowns. The slower pace gives some credence to the enormity and complexity of life. There is so much going on, so much unanswered throughout the book. Pay attention to detail. I expect revelations in future books, but even more questions; wait if you need instant gratification. (This is where there might be some valid comparison with GoT. The sequel, Traveler, is expected out Spring 2016.) There are elements of steam punk, fantasy, science fiction, romance and and historical mystery. There are interesting subplots and well developed secondary characters. For research Dayton traveled to ruins and castles in Scotland for a very recognizable feel, and Hong Kong, which contrasts to a futuristic feel.
I am glad I missed the hype on this novel, compared to the Hunger Games and Divergent series. If I had read some of the reviews I might not have started this book, and wonder if we read the same one! (I was surprised my library doesn’t have this author.)
Read on:
Kristin Cashore series, Rachel Hartman Seraphina (soon to be released Shadow Scale!), Samantha Shannon, Bone Season and The Mime Order (older YA)
Laini Taylor Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Quotes:
A “live” fight was no easy task. But if she did well, she was minutes away from her father’s approval, from joining her ancestors in the noble duties of a Seeker.
There was only the fight; consequences didn’t exist.
I want you to be the John I knew before. The one who wanted to do honorable things. To help people.
He was about to tell her things she didn’t want to hear.
We believe the athame ends up with whom it belongs. Do we not?
Great minds are not what’s wanted, only good hearts. Good hearts choose wisely.
You’ve sunk as far low as you can go when a healer wants you gone
.

Read as an ARC from NetGalley

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Time Abroad is Never Wasted

 

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. Given the title and the name of the author I thought “Oh! Another Victorian mystery, but set in Oxford!” As in the gentlemen detective Charles Lennox in 7 erudite mysteries, with the 8th to be published this year The Laws of Murder. This book, however, is contemporary literary fiction, with more than a twist of memoir I suspect. It is also a well written, readable, interesting thought provoking novel. The privileged WASP protagonist is in his mid twenties, somewhat immature, naive and untempered, feeling adrift with the political campaign loss. He decides to take a hiatus/sabbatical (i.e graduate studies in literature) at Oxford. It is an older coming of age story, concerning a contemporary generation and gender I am somewhat removed from. I thought Will was a cad with unusual remarkable American charm, but still a bounder. That you like him and sympathize with his interior life is due primarily to excellent writing, clever plotting and intriguing host of characters which are integral to the story. Certainly an interesting perspective of the younger generation, with literary twists. The atmosphere is spot on, with wonderful descriptions of British academia and Oxford. The title is a relevant, haunting Mathew Arnold quote from his Essays in Criticism (1865): “Oxford whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age . . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!”

Thoughts of this book lingered over several discussions concerning the themes of this book. Who are the speech writers of campaigns, how young is idealism, what differences in American and British universities, cultural differences in generation and privilege (the phrase American pet irks), noting marriage is no longer the next step on graduating (either high school or college), men’s behaviour vs women’s, teenage to adult angst – while I am also hunting for the greater good and personal responsibility. I understand a sense of greater freedom, perhaps more potential, but those aren’t irrevocably lost by aging.

“When you’re finally grown-up, one of the things you find is that there are no grown-ups.”

You will like this if you are a reader (great literary references), an English major (including former degrees!), an expat, anyone who loves the magic of Oxford (as the town plays a central character) or an academic (without having to experience office politics). I am ready to go back to his Victorian era any time too.