Gaiman has always been hit or miss for me. Some of his books I love, some I don’t care for, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Neverwhere, outside of the fact that there’s something deeply satisfying about holding the illustrated version—something about thick little hardcovers is just the best feeling. Anyway, Neverwhere is a not subtle in its message: the homeless are invisible to those who want to pretend the “problem” doesn’t exist—but make it magic that has a very Tim Burton feel, because this is Gaiman, after all. When Richard sees one of those who have fallen through the cracks—a citizen of London Below—and proceeds to help her, it sets off a chain of events that plunges him into London Below and makes him just as invisible to London Above, and his old life, as the rest of the characters in this novel. In which there a lot, all of which are unique and magical and so beautifully distinct from each other. I even loved Mr Vandemar and Mr Croup who are unequivocally terrible people, but they are written in such a creative way that I couldn’t help but love them just as much as Richard and our heroine Door, with her opal-colored eyes.
Any Alice in Wonderland fans who like the concept of retellings, but still want something wholly unique? “Labyrinth Lost” is that in spades! Meet Alex, a girl who believes magic is a curse and will do anything to avoid her Deathday and deny the magic in her blood. And, because this is a YA fantasy after all, her desire backfires when she takes steps to strip her magic away and instead banishes her family to a place of nightmares; where bruja’s and brujo’s are sent to be punished. Desperate to save her family, Alex ventures to Los Lagos to free them, meeting strange, nightmarish creatures, and those disguised only to appear like nightmares, on the journey. And, again because it’s YA, learning about herself, her magic, and the idea of family being home all at once. While this book has some mixed reviews, I have to say, I really, really enjoyed Cordova’s interpretation of witches, magic, and the ceremonies and gods that inhabit this world.
“Screamcatcher” is a young adult, fantasy adventure that centers on young Jorlene Pike, left alone at 17 when both of her parents die in a tragic accident. Jorlene—Jory—now helps her grandfather run their family curiosity shop that specializes heavily in Chippewa items and lore. Jory doesn’t necessarily put much stock into her heritage, until one night when she is having a sleepover with three of her other friends. The nightmares of her friends, as well as Jory, overload the old dream catcher in her apartment, they are then sucked into an alternate reality steeped heavily in Chippewa Indian folktale and lore. But as only Jory knows anything about what may be happening, and the strange alternate reality full of terrors they suddenly find themselves in, it’s up to her to navigate the twisting web and lead her friends to safety before they get stuck in the dream catcher forever—or until the nightmares kill them. This quick-paced adventure is nonstop action! Literally! The action almost never stops and features so many different native legends and harrowing survival scenarios, but the quick pace does mean this ended up being mainly a story focused on plot, and little character development.
“The Spec Set” is a little piece of neurodivergent lit that is part superhero adventure, part spy thriller, part alien encounter, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of coming-of-age drama for our MC, Emile. Emile has always taken care of his little brother Max; making sure he gets around, that he’s safe, that he has what he needs. But Emile knows that Max is brilliant, that he is capable of more, even though he doesn’t talk, if only their over protective father would stop coddling the kid. Then Max finds a therapist whose young daughter (Lily) not only helps Max, but introduces Emile to a whole new world, one where he can play a part—as long as he, too, can see his little brother for who, and what, he truly is. I really loved the narrative voice of this novel from the onset, it’s fun and just my kind of sarcastic. I also really loved how Emile views Max early on; as someone with a neurodivergent brother, I related to being a sibling’s keeper, and feeling like they were playing the system more than necessary. But there was also a lot happening in this short read, and I often felt like chunks were missing from the story.
If you’ve read or heard or even watched anything even remotely centered around Alice in Wonderland, then you’ll understand “Queen of Hearts” which is a Wonderland retelling, but focused on the future Queen of Hearts, and without an Alice. The twist the author gives her version of Wonderland is truly stunning, it sounds like a beautiful and terrifying land all at once. I also really enjoyed the twist she gave to familiar elements of Wonderland: The Cards aren’t actual cards, but different ranks and classifications for soldiers. Cheshire is a conniving, manipulative advisor to the King instead of a cat, the Mad Hatter is the main character’s (Dinah) troubled brother who does love making some pretty lovely hats, and while there is no white rabbit, we all know Dinah’s tutor is the little rabbit always afraid of being late. Unfortunately, that about sums up the things I really liked about this novel.
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