A Conjuring of Light: A Review

*A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.*

“Life isn’t made of choices. It’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.”

“We don’t choose what we are, but we choose what we do.”

Once there were four Londons. Black London was consumed by magic a long time ago. White London will die without more magic. Grey London never had any magic. Then there’s Red London, the jewel of the Maresh Empire and a shining beacon of magic across its world. That magic is what makes Red London so beautiful; it’s what is threatening to destroy it as well.

An interloper from Black London is tearing its way through Red London leaving destruction and death in its wake. Kell is used to being alone and to thinking of himself as isolated thanks to his Antari blood but all of that changes when the only home he’s ever had and the only family that matters is threatened. But Kell can’t fight this battle alone. Not if he wants to win.

Lila has thrived in Red London leaving behind her life as a thief to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. She made it through the magical competition of the Essen Tasch but not she has to learn to control her magic before it begins to control her.

Kell and Lila will have to use every spell and trick they know to face a new threat from Black London. Along the way they’ll rely on old friends like Kell’s brother Prince Rhy and uneasy allies like the mysterious Captain Alucard Emery. Even old enemies may become allies before the battle is over. To survive, to win, will take everything the Antari have to give and maybe even more in A Conjuring of Light (2017) by V. E. Schwab.

A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.

A Conjuring of Light picks up shortly after book two. Everyone is in peril and trouble is brewing. The tension does not let up from there. At more than six hundred pages you would thing this book would feel bloated of slow. It doesn’t. Schwab’s story is perfectly paced to give this series the conclusion it deserves.

Written in third person this novel alternates perspective to follow all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love over the course of this series. Rhy is still struggling with what it means to be a prince without magic while also processing the way his life is now tied to Kell’s. Alucard is haunted by his past and not sure he can ever be free of it. Lila still has so much to learn about being an Antari and letting people love her instead of running away. Kell, similarly, is still struggling to define what family means for a man with no memory of his past. Does a past he can’t remember mean anything compared to the family he has known for most of his life?

Then, of course, there’s Holland. Before A Conjuring of Light it’s easy to say Holland is the villain of this story and stop there. Schwab’s deliberate and complex characterization, however, slowly reveals that there is much more to this oldest and most experienced Antari. This story is also peppered with flashbacks for all of the characters though most notably for Holland.

It’s a rare epic fantasy that can be grim and tense and also make you laugh out loud. Schwab makes it look effortless here. A Conjuring Light is a perfect conclusion to a truly original series filled with memorable characters, adventure, and one of the most stunning redemption ever.

A Conjuring of Light is a story of uneasy alliances, fierce bonds, and at its center three powerful magicians whose lives are inextricably linked–whether or not they want to be. This series is a must read for all fantasy enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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Daughter of the Pirate King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia LevensellerAlosa is one of the most ruthless pirates sailing with a crew that has as much cunning as it does intelligence. Alosa is also the seventeen-year-old daughter of the feared Pirate King.

When the Pirate King needs to steal an ancient piece of a  treasure map from a rival pirate lord, Alosa knows she is the best candidate for the job. Leaving behind her ship and her talented (mostly female) crew is a trial and allowing herself to be bested and abducted by her targets is humiliating. But Alosa is willing to do whatever it takes to complete her mission and steal the map.

What Alosa doesn’t count on is the ships first mate. Riden is smarter than he lets on and tasked with uncovering all of Alosa’s secrets. Locked in a battle of wits with this formidable foe, Alosa will have to watch her back (and her heart) if she wants to get the map and escape before anyone is the wiser in Daughter of the Pirate King (2017) by Tricia Levenseller.

Daughter of the Pirate King is Levenseller’s debut novel.

This book is a lot of fun–something readers can expect from the very first page when the book opens with a quote from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How you feel about that movie will also quickly determine how you feel about the rest of the book.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fantasy filled with seemingly anachronistic phrases that begin to appear almost as soon as the novel starts. Most of the action plays out against the small backdrop of the ship where Alosa is being held captive leaving larger details of the world to remain blurry at best.

This novel is narrated by Alosa who while entertaining remains a bit too fastidious (particularly when it comes to cleanliness) to make an entirely convincing pirate. Some narrators are capable and clever, some narrators talk about being capable and clever. Alosa is largely the latter as she tries to convince readers that she is in fact a cunning pirate captain far superior to those around her instead of a reckless one who only barely manages to keep a grasp of her mission.

For all intents and purposes the pirates here are exactly what you would expect from eighteenth century pirates with the added technicolor touches of a good pirate movie including witty repartee, dashing clothes, and high octane sword fights. The pirates in Daughter of the Pirate King are, however, completely divorced from any historical context and left to flounder in an imagined world that feels flimsy by comparison. The addition of true fantasy elements come too late in the story to redeem the lackluster beginning.

Daughter of the Pirate King is an entertaining, swashbuckling adventure. Recommended for readers who enjoy pirate stories but can take or leave historical accuracy. Ideal for anyone looking for a light adventure with romance and banter.

Possible Pairings: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Reader by Traci Chee, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Never Never: A Review

Never Never by Brianna R. ShrumJames Hook is a boy who is desperate to grow up.

It is only in his sleep, and the brief moments when he forgets himself, that James indulges his childish dreams of captaining the fierce pirate ship The Spanish Main.The rest of the time, James eagerly looks forward to the day he will be a man and all of the new responsibilities it will involve.

When he meets a strange boy named Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, James wonders if perhaps he should spend more time as a child. So strong is Peter’s pull that James agrees to go with Peter to Neverland–at least until the end of his holiday when he will return to London and his future at Eton.

Neverland is not what James imagined, filled with all manner of strange and horrible things from the dreams of other Lost Boys. Worse, Peter refuses to bring James home.

Disillusioned and alone, James Hook soon grows up. He knows who he might have been in London, but when that path is lost to him, he chooses to make himself into the feared pirate captain of his dreams–the pirate who might be able to exact revenge against the Pan in Never Never (2015) by Brianna Shrum.

Never Never is Shrum’s first novel. It is also a standalone retelling of Peter Pan that begins with Hook’s arrival in Neverland as a Lost Boy.

The thing to remember about Peter Pan, in any form, is that the story is incredibly problematic when viewed through a modern lens. Peter is as vicious as he is careless. Tiger Lily and her tribe make no sense in the context of Neverland being used to meet the whims of both Peter and Barrie. The Indians in Neverland are also portrayed badly with tired and often inaccurate stereotypes about Indians. The issues surrounding Wendy are numerous as well although less relevant in the context of this novel.

The most interesting part of Never Never is, unsurprisingly, Hook himself. The interplay between who Hook is for most of the story (a good young man dealt a very bad hand) and who he chooses to present to Neverland (a villainous pirate) is an interesting one. This duality also leads to some thoughtful meditations on what it means when childhood fantasies are too gruesome–or too grim–to survive into adulthood. The idea of Hook getting older in Neverland without any of the inherent growth and development is also an interesting one. Although James Hook becomes a man called Captain Hook by the end of the novel, he is still very much an angry boy looking for his own version of justice.

Never Never is very character driven with most of the novel being very introspective as James makes sense of various catastrophes and slights. This focus works well set against the dreamlike and often sinister Neverland that Shrum has created. It also makes the pacing of the novel quite slow.

Tiger Lily is always a troublesome part of Peter Pan. That is especially true in Never Never where she is the girl who has James Hook’s heart despite belonging to Peter Pan. The awkward love triangle is made worse by the fact that Tiger Lily remains little more than an exotic temptress. She is further diminished by her complete lack of agency throughout the novel as she is constantly reacting to either James or Peter. (Even Tiger Lily’s choice to grow up is predicated on making herself closer to James’ age.)

While Never Never is a promising debut, it fails to add anything new to the world of Peter Pan instead sticking very close to the source material despite being written from Hook’s perspective. Being a story about a villain, it’s easy to guess how Never Never will end. Given the amount of time readers spend with Captain James Hook it is also easy to guess that this ending will be largely unsatisfying for many readers.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Wendy Darling: Stars by Colleen Oakes, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Everland by Wendy Spinale

Tiger Lily: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love  story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In some places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn AndersonNeverland is a beautiful, dangerous place. It’s an island where aging can be contagious, mermaids can drown you, and pirates terrorize the Lost Boys who are so savage they might eat you–boys who, according to rumors, might even fly. There are also the Cliff Dwellers and the Bog Dwellers. And somewhere between the two, the Sky Eaters, who remember every sunset they see and fear the wrath of their gods as much as the dreaded aging sickness.

For a place that is so small and hidden away, Neverland can be a very large place. Especially for a fairy. Fairies are mute, unable to speak but also empathic and tuned to everything around them. Before she was called Tinker Bell, she knew Tiger Lily and her history–part of the Sky Eaters but also half feral and hungry for more–as much an outsider in her tribe as one stubborn fairy.

Like everyone else, Tiger Lily (and Tink too) know to stay away from the Lost Boys and the fierce boy named Pan who leads them.

But when Tiger Lily saves one life it sets her on a path that will lead her directly to Peter Pan and threaten everything she holds dear as one small fairy tells the story of a love that might always have been doomed and her own small role in Tiger Lily (2012) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

If you haven’t guessed already, Tiger Lily is a retelling of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This version, however, focuses on what happens before Wendy ever arrives in Neverland. It is also narrated by my favorite character, Tinker Bell.

While it seems strange, giving a mute character the chance to narrate a story, it works well in Tiger Lily. Able to observe many things and intuit emotions, Tinker Bell is almost an omniscient narrator who often fades away until something important must be told.

Tiger Lily builds Neverland into a place that is both marvelous and monstrous as Tiger Lily and Tink explore all of its dangers and beauties. Part-retelling, part love story,this novel is also a complex examination of how colonization and industrialization changed the world.

Anderson expertly separates Tiger Lily from its source material to make Tiger Lily a complicated, flawed character who finally has her own voice. Tinker Bell is equally well-realized as the novel focuses not just on Tiger Lily and Peter’s difficult romance but also Tink’s evolving relationship with the characters. Tiger Lily is an unconventional, satisfying story that starts with Peter Pan but becomes much more before its conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Pirates at the Plate: A Picture Book Review

Baseball games can get heated at the best of times. But when pirates and cowboys face off anything can happen. With famous figures like Long John Silver at bat while Wild Bill Hickok pitches under the direction of coach Bat Masterson, this game is sure to be one for the ages.

The bases are loaded and relations between the teams are getting heated when the game reaches an unexpected conclusion in Pirates at the Plate (2012) by Aaron Frisch and Mark Summers.

With only thirty-two pages, it’s sometimes difficult for picture books to have any real twists or surprises–unexpected outcomes that are a shock even to older readers.Frisch and Summers have created one such book in Pirates at the Plate.

With eye-catching illustrations that look like retro television footage complete with lines through the images, Summers’ artwork bring this epic baseball battle vividly to life. Frisch’s text leaves plenty of room for wordplay as the Cowboy bullpen is filled with bulls and a Pirate steals a base only to literally steal it in his loot sack.

When the game goes in an expected direction courtesy of one very imaginative boy, the story is nicely tied up–at least until the next day’s game. Pirates at the Plate is truly clever and sure to garner a few laughs. However, it is also filled with baseball terminology that may not translate well for non-sports fans making this a must-read for baseball fans but a harder sell for readers who are in it for the cowboys (or the pirates).

Possible Pairings: Half-Pint Pete the Pirate by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Geraldo Valerio, Shark Vs. Train by Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld, Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs and Paul O. Zelinsky, Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, How I Became a Pirate by David Shannon, Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer and Christopher Bing, Bad Day at River Bend by Christopher Van Allsburg