The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Title: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek

Nutshell: Daphne is an American in Paris! Specifically a timid, sheltered, American collegiate on a study abroad semester in Paris. Overwhelmed her first night, she takes a walk in the evening and meets a sophisticated woman who invites her to her nightclub and then mysteriously disappears. Days later, accompanied by her bubbly roommate Maddie, she does visit, and meets some very interesting characters. She has a fine time, not aware of the threads of conspiracy woven through the place. She is too busy enjoying Paris, soaking in the art and the atmosphere, and of course struggling with the language. She even begins dating one of her classmates. But she will not be allowed to remain ignorant forever. In the first place, she saw something astonishing in a courtyard garden. In the second place, a stranger with a covered face attempted to kidnap her. Twice. And in the third place, someone needs her help.

Read-alikes: Lots of “intro to how the fantasy world is still with us” books are like this one, although this is a milder-mannered book: City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare and The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. This also reminds me very much of A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. Also, of books I have read recently, Her Royal Spyness is similar in feel, because of how the main character is a sheltered young woman finding her way in a city, although the content is vastly different.Read More »

Randoms

Title: Randoms

Author: David Liss

Nutshell: Zeke Reynolds was standing between the Neko and the advancing army of robots, his Browncoat duster billowing. He only had seconds before the robots attacked, and he couldn’t think of a single pithy quote to shout. Raising his fist, he shouted the only thing that came to mind: “I’m Batman!”

Alright, so that’s not how it happened. But its way closer to the way Earth’s first contact went than anyone would expect. Turns out, being a geek when aliens arrive on earth is a huge bonus, and Zeke is as geeky as they come. Good thing, too, because the aliens take him up to their stellar academy to represent Earth. If he does well, Earth could join the unified sentient races and be granted an end to all disease. If he does badly… his mother could die.

Read-alikes: Alcatraz Versus the Evil LibrariansRead More »

Top Ten: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 

Title: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Author: C. S. Lewis

Series: The Chronicles of Narnia

Nutshell: Edmund and Lucy are English schoolchildren sent to visit their rather horrid cousin Eustace for the summer. Eustace’s main hobbies are pinning bugs to cards for his collection, being a know-it-all, and loudly looking down on everyone. His parents are an early version of the sorts of people that get their knickers in a bunch when other people play “spot the vegan.” Edmund and Lucy are not excited, espcially since Eustace is most likely to tease them about something very dear: a secret, magical world where they once were rulers. Sure enough, Eustace starts in with the mockery right away. When, a minute later, they fall through a painting into the ocean of Narnia, he at first attempts to believe that his cousins have somehow drugged him or tricked him. But, on a sailing ship surrounded by strangely dressed men, under unfamiliar stars, he is convinced: Narnia is real, and he is in it.

As with all good adventures, poor Eustace cannot simply hop back through the painting and go about his life. He must stay, discovering enchanted islands and mystical creatures, being kidnapped by slave traders, and having dinner with stars, until he has learned something about himself, and been changed.

Read-alikes: The Secret Country By Pamela Dean is a slightly more complex secret world series. The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, by Julie Andrews Edwards is somewhat less, but just as delightful. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is odd, but similar. And The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson.

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Top Ten: Dealing with Dragons

Title: Dealing with Dragons

Author: Patricia C. Wrede

Nutshell: Cimorene lives in a very classic kingdom. She and her sisters drink tea, wear lovely dresses, and learn ladylike arts and etiquette — how loudly it is appropriate to scream when being carried off by an ogre, for example, as opposed to a giant. Their father knows that eventually they will all be rescued from monsters or curses by gallant knights and be happily married. Well, perhaps not Cimorene.

Cimorene would rather scream battlecries. Cimorene would rather ply a sword than a needle. Cimorene would rather wear armor. Tea is alright, though. Her parents are nearly despairing of her ever being rescued properly. They try to explain to their daughter how things are. Princesses simply must be captured, by giants or sea monsters or dragons.

So, Cimorene packs a bag and visits the dragons. Once she has convinced one to let her stay in exchange for cooking for parties and organizing the back storage caves, she settles in happily. Knights come by every week or so, which is a nuisance, but she sends them down the cliff to try rescuing the next princess over. Dragons do take a lot of feeding, especially at parties, but Cimorene does have a Cauldron of Plenty to help her with the task. And she’s alphabetized half the magical ingredients.

If only someone would do something about the wizards that seem to be hatching a villainous plot.

The job falls to Cimorene, so, armed with a bucket of washwater and a thriving common sense, she takes on the Wizards, with the help of some quirky dragons, a properly kidnapped princess, a witch with far too many cats, and one prince, as long as he is well-behaved and doesn’t try much rescuing.

Read-alikes: E.D. Baker’s Frog Princess Series, Once Upon a Marigold, Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

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Top Ten: The Princess and the Goblin

Title: The Princess and the Goblin

Author: George MacDonald

Nutshell: Irene is a princess in a long-ago kingdom. Her doting father keeps her in a fine house in the mountains, while she is too young to be at court. She has every good thing and is well cared for.

And there is a magical room at the top of her staircase.

Inside the room is her many-times-great-grandmother, who spins spiderweb and sees pictures in the firelight and keeps pigeons. She is Wise, in the tradition of the old, great Wise women, tending to the patch of world around her with gentle urging here, a warning word there. She gives Irene a gift: a magical ring that always leads her home.

Also in the mountains around the princess’s house is a mine, and so there are miners. Curdie is one young miner with a quick mind. And beyond the mines, and below them, in the depths of the mountain, there are goblins, cowardly but wicked. They are hatching vicious plots in their dark caverns. Before the end of it, Curdie and Irene will both need rescuing.

Read-alikes: I’m having trouble with this. George MacDonald stories are not like other stories. They are very like fairytales in construction, but there is an element of reality to them that most fairytales lack. The Narnia books are like them, of course. I also have an old book called Ernest and the Golden Thread, which may or may not be available, but is rather like.Read More »

Top Ten: The Codex Alera

Title: Furies of Calderon

Author: Jim Butcher

Nutshell: Alera is a gorgeous land, filled with civilization a la Ancient Rome. Men and women work the land to produce a living, aided by the furies. Not the claw-handed furies of Greece, but elemental spirits that live in every facet of the world. Tavi, however, is the only person in the entire country to be completely without furycraft. He lives, of course, in the Calderon valley, the roughest frontier of Alera, where only furycraft keeps the residents alive. Tavi gets by mostly on determination, nurtured by his aunt and uncle, hoping someday to enroll in the Academy in the capital. But as he and his uncle go out tending sheep, they are attacked by a Marat, a barbarian from beyond the mountains. In trying to warn the garrison guarding the path, Tavi unearths a twisted plot to overthrow the First Lord of Alera.

Read-alikes: The Legend of Eli Monpress reminds me of this one, though it’s a bit lighter overall. Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive is similar in style of writing and theme, and although the world is very different, the concept of everything having some kind of soul is the same,if carried much further. I don’t think I’ve read any Rome-based fantasy worlds other than this one, but Patrick Rothfuss can match him for richness and diversity of civilization.Read More »

Top Ten: The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Nutshell: Kote is just a quiet innkeeper. That’s all. His apprentice is just a young man from the village. That’s all. The village is a quiet, ordinary village where nothing happens. Ever.

The village is not being attacked by mysterious spidery creatures that the priest calls demons and Kote calls something else. The apprentice does not have goat’s legs and eyes with no whites. The innkeeper is not the famous Kvothe, called Kingslayer and a hundred other things in a hundred and more tales. He does not have a cloak of no particular color, or a thrice-locked chest of unburning wood.

He does not know the name of the wind.

Of course not.

But he will tell you a story.

Read-alikes: This is both very like almost all epic fantasy, and very unlike.

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