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Sarah Rees Brennan

Demon’s Lexicon, book 3

Margaret K. McElderry (2011)

ISBN: 9781416963837

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

On Saturday, I read a book. I read, and read. I begged my daughter to let me read instead of being Mission Control to her game of Super Sisters, I did the occasional household chore and then ran back to my book straight after. I ate lunch while reading. I left my family to their own devices, went and lay on my bed and read until I was done.

This, needless to say, is a rare event in our household. Once upon a time, reading all Saturday afternoon was a normal thing for me, but that was before I became a mother of two. My reading is usually snatched in ten minute intervals, between larger and more immediate demands on my time.

But this was The Demon’s Surrender.

When my honey lifted an eyebrow at my complete immersion in the book, I said firmly, “I have been waiting for this book for FOURTEEN MONTHS,” and he nodded gravely and left me to it. Wonderful man.

I review books all the time, and I was expecting to be able to review this one sensibly, but it turns out I have no ability to distance myself enough from my sheer crazy fan love of this series to be thoughtful and articulate. I’m more – “wheeee, all the right people in the tree, K – I – S – S – I – N -G!” because, baby, all my ships came home to roost, every single one of them.

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Kate Gordon

Random House Australia

ISBN: 9781864718812

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Thyla by Kate Gordon is a second novel, though Kate Gordon’s debut was a straight teen friendship story, without specfic elements. This one, however, is paranormal all the way, and interesting to me for several reasons: Kate is a local writer friend, and this story is set in and around areas of Hobart I know very well.

Also … paranormal YA with werethylacines? How could anyone resist?

One of the things I liked most about this book is the way it played with the idea of a truly unreliable narrator. This is a technique I love, which was handled especially well in Holly Black’s White Cat last year. In this case, the heroine is a lost girl found in the wilds of Tasmania (our wilds get pretty wild, and some of them are not that far from suburbia) with most of her memory missing. She knows her name is Tess, but very little else, and she clings to Connolly, the policewoman who found her, and is nursing her own hurt about a daughter who was lost in the same area of bush where Tess was found.

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Ally Carter

Heist Society, book 2

Hyperion Books

ISBN: 9781423147954

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

There are two very important points about heist stories which are reiterated throughout this second volume of the ‘Heist Society’ series. Firstly, heist stories are about family, usually the kind of family which is assembled from a group of misfits rather than actual blood relatives. This allows them to be stories about love and trust, even as the protagonists themselves are deeply untrustworthy. Secondly, heist stories are usually all about the boys.

What I really like about Carter’s books, apart from her being the author of some of the best fun, escapist (and yet smart) YA stories since Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries, is that she takes stories that are normally all about men, and gives them to girls instead. The Gallagher Girls took the world of James Bond, the Bourne Identity, etc. and asked the question, where would those spies send their daughters to school? The Heist Society series likewise asks about the youngest generation of a traditionally male occupation, but this time it’s the con men, jewel thieves and catburglars whose kids are having their own adventures.

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Naomi Novik and Yishan Li

Random House

ISBN: 978-0-345-51656-5

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Naomi Novik has moved into whole new territory with her recent release, Will Supervillains Be on the Final Vol. One. Far from the Napoleonic dragon bromance of Temeraire and his many sequels, this is the first in an American manga series that I really enjoyed. It has the fluffy romance of a Fruits Basket, mixed with a whole lot of US superhero traditions, and is beautifully drawn by Yishan Li.

This first volume introduces nervous student prodigy Leah, who has been allowed into superhero university Liberty Vocational a couple of years early because her immense powers are greatly needed in the war against supervillainy. There’s a whole world lightly sketched here, with hints of far bigger stories in the past and the future. I’m particularly intrigued by the background character of Calvin Washington, once the greatest superhero ever, now a quiet professor who has lost his powers. I also genuinely enjoyed the classroom challenges, and the left-of-centre lessons being thrown at the students. As a sucker for magical school stories, and someone who has been hanging out for a new fluffy manga to fall in love with, I’m signing up for this one!

The only down side is I’m not sure of when the next one is coming out, and whether there is a regular schedule planned or if they’re just putting out one to see how well they sell. Wahhh!

Karen Healey

Allen and Unwin

ISBN: 9781741758818

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey, was one of the most interesting YA debut novels last year, with its mixture of serial killer horror and Maori mythology, featuring contemporary New Zealand teenagers with both snark and substance. I was delighted to receive an early copy of Karen Healey’s follow up novel, The Shattering – so much so that I took it as my inflight entertainment for the Aurealis Awards weekend, at which Guardian of the Dead ended up winning Best Young Adult Novel!

Set in an idyllic New Zealand tourist town, this book has a very simple premise at the heart of it – teenagers uncovering supernatural wrongdoings – but it becomes something far more crunchy and intriguing thanks to the complex, diverse protagonists and Healey’s sensitive handling of some pretty major issues, including teen suicide, grief response, mental health, bullying and coming out to your parents. The absolute heart of the novel is the friendship between the three main characters, who all bond over the shared grief of losing an elder brother to suicide, and decide to investigate whether there is a more sinister reason behind their loss. I loved each of these characters deeply and enjoyed how flawed they are as well as how strong. I also adored the fact that, while there is romance here, the novel took a very pragmatic attitude towards teenage love stories, and that the central triad (two girls and a boy) was about as far from a love triangle as it is possible to get.

Original, fast paced and richly detailed, The Shattering is a powerful second novel from a writer whose narrative choices are never dull.

Penni Russon

Allen and Unwin

ISBN: 9781741750447

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Shifting back and forth between a simple suburban story about a family rocked by sudden grief, and a chilling dystopian fairytale of another world, Russon shows what an excellent writer she is in this slender but powerful YA novel.

Claire’s greatest challenge in her ordinary life is learning to put away childish things – there’s a new baby coming in her family, and it feels time to pass on her old toys, but she can’t help hanging on to the past, and particularly a music box which represents her favourite memory of her childhood. But with one phone call, her family is changed forever, and as her family descends into shock and sadness, she retreats into a world of dreams.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Twelve Planets, Volume 2

Twelfth Planet Press (2011)

ISBN: 978-0-9808-274-4-6

Review by Mitenae

What do you get if you cross a classical historian who did her PhD thesis on Imperial Roman women with a speculative fiction writer? You get Tansy Rayner Roberts and a new subgenre: Romanpunk. When I received this collection of four stories to review, I was absolutely delighted, because I love her work and this volume does not disappoint.

“Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary” (my favourite) tells you all about the Julias and their adventures against lamia, dragons, harpies and griffins. This bestiary is far too much fun. The other three stories are equally good. “Lamia Victoriana” tells the story of Frances Wollstonecraft and her time with her sister Mary and two lamias (an older form of vampire) as they travel through Victorian Europe. In “The Patrician” Clea Majora lives in Nova Ostia, a replica Roman town in New South Wales (Australia) and meets Julius when he comes to deal with the last of the lamias. And in the final story “Last of the Romanpunks”, Sebastian (grandson of Clea Majora) finds himself in a Roman themed zepplin (airship) with his ex-girlfriend, Eloise, who plans on turning everyone she can into a lamia and the others she intends to feed on.

Guest Blog Post by Tansy Rayner Roberts

For all the talk about dystopia being the new paranormal, it’s not like paranormal is going anywhere. Paranormal (whether or not you tag “romance” on to the end of that) goes through periodic waves of resistance, usually by people rolling their eyes at a large number of similar book covers – funnily enough, regular readers of the genre don’t tend to be the ones complaining at how many titles they have to choose from.

But as a writer, I find that even a hugely popular trope tends not to be overly inspiring unless … well, unless it is. If I’m going to do something with vampires or werewolves or ghosts or whatever, it has to have enough of a unique twist on the concept to keep me interested.

I’m not claiming that my work is especially original, or that better-read paranormal readers will automatically think I’m the best thing since sliced bread (don’t you hate authors who promote their book by constantly harping on about how cliched all the other books are?) but my ideas have to feel fresh and new to me when I am writing them, or I can’t sustain my own interest long enough to produce an entire story.

When I wrote Siren Beat, I was deliberately trying to write urban fantasy without vampires and werewolves because it was intended for an anthology, and I thought my best chance of making it to the top of the pile was to do something a little left of centre, rather than compete with everyone else’s sexy dead lords and dog boys. (hence: one kraken and one sexy sea pony)

With Love and Romanpunk, I wanted to create a universe where the kinds of monsters you find in historical bestiaries roam the earth – so manticores and basilisks were the order of the day. I didn’t have vampires as such but I built on the Roman concept of the ‘lamia’ (a very similar species though one largely made up of slinky women drinking the blood of boys) and in one story let it collide sharply with the traditional Byronic legend of the vampire.

Still, the book was mostly about manticores.

The truth is, when working on both of those universes, I wasn’t working against the weight of vampire fiction so much as I was working against myself, because I already had a fictional universe that was all about vampires … right?

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Edited by Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab

Allen and Unwin (2011)

ISBN: 9781742374406

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

It’s lovely to see a project like this coming out of Australian publishing: the first of a two-volume series of anthologies of retold fairytales by some of our most beloved and important YA authors. Retelling fairytales is nothing new of course, but is a theme that benefits from revisitation, as each generation (and indeed, each writer) provides something new. I’m also very much enjoying what seems to be a current trend towards shorter anthologies – in this case only six stories per book which allows for longer stories, but demands a high level of quality for each. I really appreciated the substantial author’s notes on each story, which showed the process they took and introduces the fairytale they started with, for readers who might be unfamiliar with them.

The first story, “Catastrophic Disruption of the Head” by Margo Lanagan, is the most powerful of the set, and indeed one of the most gutting and thought provoking of Lanagan’s recent work, which is saying something. Lanagan is no stranger to fairytale retellings, and in this instance has taken The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Anderson and fleshed it out into a story which puts us inside the mind of a soldier so damaged by his wartime experience that he finds himself lashing out in despicable ways. Lanagan is renowned for quite raw, sometimes painful-to-read stories, and this one is definitely among that group, containing themes which might be confronting or triggering for some readers – in particular, by putting us inside the mind of a rapist. But her work as ever is as deft as it is brutal, and I found myself wanting to reread it to figure out all the clever things that she was doing.

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Mira Grant

Book 1, Newsflesh

Orbit

ISBN: 978-1-84149-898-0

Reviewed by Tansy Roberts

When I finished reading Feed, by Mira Grant (who also writes urban fantasy as Seanan McGuire) I felt like I’d been bludgeoned about the head.

I put off reading this one longer than I should, because it looked awfully grim and dark, and I didn’t feel like spending any more time this year with zombies. I was very pleased to discover that Feed isn’t really a zombie novel at all – it’s a hard-edged SF political thriller which deals with the future of communications and the media, and happens to have zombies in it.

Well, okay. The zombies don’t just happen to be there. They are essential to the worldbuilding as well as the plot. But this is the story of what the world is like twenty years after the zombie uprising, one of many elements that lifts this story above and beyond its overworked source material.

We all know what a zombie uprising looks like, right? Grant doesn’t waste much time going into that – except to say it was pretty much like all the movies said it was going to be (and, ironically, it was caused by a side effect of scientists curing cancer and the common cold). Feed subscribes to the postmodern school of zombie stories which are set in a world where people have seen zombie movies before and have a cultural frame of reference for what they are, and how to fight them. Most recently this was very well done in Amelia Beamer’s The Loving Dead and Simon Pegg’s brilliant comedy Shaun of the Dead. Just in the last few weeks I’ve heard people complaining about the lack of zombie knowledge in the protagonists of the Resident Evil films, and the refusal to admit the word “zombie” exists, in current TV series The Walking Dead. It may have become a cliche in itself since Scream to have horror protagonists refer to the culture of the genre they’re now part of, but it is a lot harder to believe in an alternate reality where such books and movies don’t exist – and it saves narrative time, too!

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