Three YA fantasy roundups: The False Prince, Keeping the Castle, & Cinder

Three YA fantasy books, quick reviews:

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen: first in a trilogy, a group of orphan boys are secretly trained to impersonate the lost prince. I found it totally engaging, the narrator Sage is clever and mischievous, and faced with awful choices if he wishes to survive, for only one boy can claim the throne. Engrosing, went on a bit too long in spots. The climax no surprise. I'd give this one an A-

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl. Kindle has kept this fan waiting 10 years for her next book and this is a Jane Austen homage using a Pride and Prejudice meets Emma as an armature. It is funny, lively, and not very true to the historic period, but hey, it is a fine diversion. I loved the first person narrator Althea who must force herself to marry a wealthy man in order to literally keep the roof over her head. She is in fine form when it comes to manipulating her stingy and heartless step-sisters who jealously hold the purse-strings since they inherited all the wealth. At times the 21st century poked through too much, but it was amusing all the way. I laughed out loud. B+

Cinder by Marissa Meyer. Cyborg Cinderella in a dystopia that faces plague and possible invasion from the nasty folks on the moon. I know it sounds nuts—in a Flash Gordon way—but this is a delightful revamping of the familiar fairy tale. The partially human heroine is a mechanic and must obey the whims of her stepmother in a society that disenfranchises cyborgs (and augmented humans). At times the plot seemed to take too long and some of the secondary characters are under developed. We feel for our plucky self-abasing Cinder. More books to follow and I am hopeful this author will improve, this was fun, original, and I look forward to the next installment. B+

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Thanks to Netgalley, I'm reading pre-release books on my iPad as I commute...

The droll: Our heroine is offered a Hobson's choice, serve out her death sentence in the grueling salt mines or come fight to the finish in a competition to become the world dominating king's new champion. The very same king that destroyed her homeland and family. I enjoyed Throne of Glass, a YA set in a fantasy world with ghosts, demons, the fey, a plucky book-reading heroine with a shady past as an assassin, a flirting prince, one seriously handsome Captain of the Royal Guard, and some reality show style games involving knives, poisons, and wits. The book left me wondering what will come next, it clearly starts a series with the fun to follow Celaena Sardothien alternately delighting in a well cut gown or well honed blade.

The drab: Why do so many quasi-medieval alternate fantasy worlds make the basic mistake of using too much modern stuff? It's one thing to have them speak in English...but watch out for anachronisms... one character described someone as a "psychopath," which immediately threw me out of the story—psychology and Freud in this time of sword wielding dudes? This world has chocolates too? The cast of characters plot and counter-plot in a castle sporting non-bearing walls of glass and I stopped to wonder how this was achieved without modern steel beams—the walls I mean. Why go to all the trouble of inventing ancient religions and bad ass flesh eating frights if you let the modern era creep in?

The verdict:  Derivative world-building, delicious heroine, fun flirting, 4 out of 10 huzzahs.

Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier

A romantic triangle set is set in Istanbul, Bulgaria, and Black Sea during the early Ottoman period. The location flows between the real and other world of fairy. Both worlds are built with conviction. A feisty and scholarly heroine, several delectable heroes, a dangerous magic artifact... fun fun fun. The research adds flavor and never gets in the way of a good adventure quest.

After by Amy Efaw

This book has a great cover, I'll admit this pulled my hand over. A young woman leans against a mirrored wall, in the reflection she is pregnant, in the "reality" she is not. (Expensive, the cover uses metallic and spot varnish too!) From the second paragraph the story had me hooked. The third person narrative reads like first person. Intense, gripping...tragic. A teen in self-denial is pregnant and does something terrible to her unwanted baby. How can I feel anything for such a protagonist? And yet I do. I wanted her to have a second chance.

Although the book is carefully researched the effect is effortless since Efaw uses only what fits the scope of the narrative. My only quibbles, some secondary characters seem to drift away and the main character, Devon, makes leaps of understanding rather too quickly as the last chapter looms. But even so, I couldn't put the book down. Highly recommended.

Viking  /  350 pgs