Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: YA Fantasy/Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 stars
Call number: Y Taylor
Book released September, 2011

“Wishes are not for foolery, child.”
“Well, what do you use them for?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I do not wish.”
What?” It had astonished her. “Never?” All that magic at his fingertips! “But you could have anything you wanted—“
“Not anything. There are things bigger than any wish.”
“Like what?”
“Most things that matter.”

Summary: Karou has always been aware of the power of wishes, growing up as she did in the Wishmonger Brimstone’s shop, learning his trade: the bartering of teeth – all kinds of teeth, from all manner of creatures – for wishes. Brimstone is a chimaera, what humans would call a monster, a devil, but to Karou he and his associates — Issa, Yasri, Twiga, and Kishmish — are her only family; he raised her after finding her abandoned as a baby. Now a talented art student in Prague and living in her own apartment, Karou’s had a ready supply of small wishes at her disposal since childhood, wishes she’s used to give herself blue hair and tattoos, erase pimples, and take small but hilarious revenge on a cheating ex-boyfriend. To earn her wishes, Karou runs errands for Brimstone, using the door in his shop, which exists Elsewhere and can open all around the world, to visit tooth traders: poachers, grave robbers, murderers, and worse. No one knows better than she the terrible, desperate things people will do for their heart’s desire. Even though Brimstone is always trying to impress upon Karou the importance of using her wishes for good, not on petty or frivolous matters, she finds his concerns unfounded, since the people he trades with are the dregs of humanity. Of course she is better than them. What she doesn’t know is what the teeth are for, and how they power the wishes she takes for granted. Still, she’s been raised to this mysterious, magical life, and she’ll fight to protect it when mysterious black hand-prints begin appearing on the human side of all of Brimstone’s doors, left there by creatures even Brimstone seems to fear: angels. Her first meeting with the angel Akiva doesn’t go well – he tries to kill her, and she reciprocates, with swords – but they eventually acknowledge their mutual intense curiosity about each other and begin to perceive each other as something other than Enemy.

My thoughts under the cut

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The Dark Deeps (Hunchback Assignments, Book Two), by Arthur Slade

Author: Arthur Slade
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy/Steampunk
Pages: 320
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Slade

First line: The boy hadn’t always been yellow.

Summary (taken from Goodreads): Transforming his appearance and stealing secret documents from the French is all in a day’s work for fourteen-year-old Modo, a British secret agent. But his latest mission—to uncover the underwater mystery of something called the Ictíneo—seems impossible. There are rumors of a sea monster and a fish as big as a ship. French spies are after it, and Mr. Socrates, Modo’s master, wants to find it first. Modo and his fellow secret agent, Octavia, begin their mission in New York City, then take a steamship across the North Atlantic. During the voyage, Modo uncovers an astounding secret. The Dark Deeps, the second book in Arthur Slade’s Hunchback Assignments series, is set in a fascinating Steampunk Victorian world. Modo’s underwater adventures and his encounters with the young French spy Colette Brunet, the fearless Captain Monturiol, and the dreaded Clockwork Guild guarantee a gripping read filled with danger, suspense, and brilliant inventions.

What I thought: I’d be hard-pressed to say whether this one exceeds the first or comes dead even. It’s always nice when a series keeps its momentum, both in terms of action and character development. Modo goes from hopping across the rooftops of London to being (albeit cordially) imprisoned on the tricked-out submarine Ictineo after he falls overboard during an attack on their steamship, leaving Octavia behind to relay the news of Modo’s possible death to Mr. Socrates. While the crew and captain of the Ictineo are zealots, with a one-sided focus on using pure science to advance an utopist agenda, their hidden underwater city near Iceland is both a marvel of technology and of tolerance, which pulls at Modo’s heartstrings as well as his intellect. Meanwhile, Hakkandottir and the Clockwork Guild are up to more of their nefarious plans, and they’ve sent after Modo a truly difficult enemy: Griff, the invisible boy.

Modo is in a difficult place in this book, even more so in the first. Managing his appearance is harder, since he is stuck in close quarters on a submarine, and he never fully manages to hide behind masks or his shape-changing ability effectively. This takes a physical toll, obviously, but an emotional one as well, since Modo is constantly on edge that someone will see his true appearance. Also, his desire to please Mr. Socrates by bringing home Captain Monturiol’s technology – thereby aiding the British Empire and sticking it to the French – is in direct contrast with his empathy for the Captain’s true intentions. She only wants to create a society where all people are equal and valued, and Modo, who looks like a monster, shares in that vision. All he wants is a place where he can show his true face without fear, where he can belong.

Of course, this book isn’t short on fascinating steampunk inventions or thrilling chases, escapes, and battles, but what I love about the series is that there’s much more than cool gadgetry and action scenes. This may prompt me to finally go out and get Slade’s other books to read while I’m waiting for the next installment.

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare

Author: Cassandra Clare
Genre: YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Pages: 476
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Clare

Summary: Cassandra Clare’s prequel to The Mortal Instruments series takes place in Victorian England but concerns the same hidden world of Shadowhunters (demon hunters with special powers) and Downworlders (supernatural folk like warlocks and vampires). Sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray sails from New York to London to join her older brother, Nathaniel, after the death of her caretaker, but when she arrives, she’s greeted by a strange duo called the Dark Sisters instead. Claiming to have Nathaniel captive somewhere, the Dark Sisters force Tessa to develop her previously unknown powers — the ability to shape-shift into any person, as long as she’s holding an item belonging to her target. She is eventually rescued by Will Herondale, a beautiful, arrogant Shadowhunter with a dark secret, and takes refuge at the London Institute. The other Shadowhunters, including the kind but sickly Jem and the princess-y Jessamine, promise to help her find her brother, but in the meantime, Tessa is drawn into their attempts to uncover and stop a dangerous plot that puts them all at risk. This is the first in Clare’s prequel series, The Infernal Devices. The next one will be Clockwork Prince. She is also continuing her Mortal Instruments series with a fourth book set for Spring 2011, City of Fallen Angels.

Mostly spoiler-free review under the cut

Brightly Woven, by Alexandra Bracken

Author: Alexandra Bracken
Genre: YA Fantasy Romance
Pages: 368
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Bracken

Goodreads summary: Sydelle Mirabil is living proof that, with a single drop of rain, a life can be changed forever. Tucked away in the farthest reaches of the kingdom, her dusty village has suffered under the weight of a strangely persistent drought. That is, of course, until a wizard wanders into town and brings the rain with him.

In return for this gift, Wayland North is offered any reward he desires—and no one is more surprised than Sydelle when, without any explanation, he chooses her. Taken from her home, Sydelle hardly needs encouragement to find reasons to dislike North. He drinks too much and bathes too little, and if that isn’t enough to drive her to madness, North rarely even uses the magic he takes such pride in possessing. Yet, it’s not long before she realizes there’s something strange about the wizard, who is as fiercely protective of her as he is secretive about a curse that turns his limbs a sinister shade of black and leaves him breathless with agony. Unfortunately, there is never a chance for her to seek answers.

Along with the strangely powerful quakes and storms that trace their path across the kingdom, other wizards begin to take an inexplicable interest in her as well, resulting in a series of deadly duels. Against a backdrop of war and uncertainty, Sydelle is faced with the growing awareness that these events aren’t as random as she had believed—that no curse, not even that of Wayland North, is quite as terrible as the one she herself may carry.

Reviews within, no spoilers

Other, by Karen Kincy

Author: Karen Kincy
Publisher: Flux
Genre: YA Paranormal Mystery/Romance
Call number: YPB Kincy (this book will be published in July, so look out for it soon!)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (really liked it)

The appealing characters and genre blending won me over in this debut teen novel. Other takes place in a slightly different modern world, in which Others (supernatural creatures) have come out of the closet, so to speak, and are living publicly among normals. Gwen, the protagonist, lives in a Washington backwater where the locals view Others with suspicion and fear, so she hides her identity as half-pooka (a Welsh shapeshifting spirit – Gwen can become a horse, cat, owl, and other animals), even from her uber-Christian boyfriend Zach. Then Others around town and in surrounding areas like Seattle start being murdered, including a close friend of Gwen’s, so this coming-of-age novel turns into a serial killer mystery. Romance develops between Gwen and a cute boy named Tavian, who happens to be a kitsune (Japanese fox spirit), after Zach flips out when Gwen tells him the truth about her being half-pooka.

Very minor spoilers

Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor

Author: Laini Taylor
Illustrator: Jim Di Bartolo
Genre: YA Fantasy / Short stories
Call number: Y Taylor
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (really liked it)

This collection of three illustrated dark fairy tales makes for beautiful reading. All three stories — “Goblin Fruit”; “Spicy Little Curses Such as These”; and “Hatchling” — revolve around a magical, life-altering (perhaps soul-altering?) kiss, but none have the uncomplicated, “happily-ever-after” ending that I worried they might have before I opened the book.

First, let me say that it was the illustrations that drew me to this book. They are incredibly eye-catching, detailed, and delicate. I think they are a mix of pen and ink drawings with watercolor washes and possibly more media as well (it’s so hard to tell these days, and I can’t find a place where he details how he created the artwork on his web site). What I love about them are the monochromatic washes and pale colors mixed with one or two super bright images, like the red lips and ice blue eyes on the cover, for example. Each story is preceded by a set of images that intrigued me — how will these images play out in the story to follow? what do they mean? — and once I finished a story, I was inspired to pore back over the images with that knowledge. The romantic, moody artwork is a perfect compliment to the stories.

The stories themselves are written in sumptuous prose (I don’t get to say that all too often), as delicious and fulfilling as your best meal ever, prose that is elaborate when it needs to be and simple when it doesn’t. The stories have a cadence to them that I only ever associate with tales spoken aloud. They also don’t all go in the direction you initially expect, so they have some surprises.

Readers who loved The Hollow Kingdom by Clare Dunkel (and if you haven’t read that and you love strong heroines in dark fairy tales, go find it now) will be sucked into this collection, and I’m sure there are other excellent read-alike story collections, too, like Troll’s Eye View, by the estimable Datlow and Windling, a collection of fairy tale re-tellings from the POV of the villains.

No spoilers

Book News: Cassandra Clare’s new series

Here at EW’s Shelf Life, they have the first look at the cover for Clockwork Angel, the first book in Cassandra Clare’s new series, Infernal Devices. This is the companion series to her Mortal Instruments series, a hugely popular urban fantasy series about a group of demon hunters, called Shadowhunters, living secretly in New York City. (If you haven’t read this action-packed, romantic series, starting with City of Bones, give it a try. A fourth book in the series, City of Fallen Angels, will be out next spring.)

Here’s what EW has to say about the new series:

“In the new series, Clare brings us back to this Shadowhunter-Downworlder universe—and back in time to Victorian-era England. Infernal Devices revolves around Tessa Gray, an orphan who heads to London in search of her disappeared brother and, like Clary, falls deeper and deeper into an alternate magical reality. Along the way she finds two good friends in Jem and Will (who graces the new cover), and also crosses paths with some familiar names and faces from the Mortal Instruments saga.”