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.
I love books that don’t take themselves too seriously, and from the title alone, I knew “Hold Me Closer, Necromancer” was one of those books. Add in chapter titles all based on classic rock lyrics? I’m in! Plus, after Gideon the Ninth, I was kind of itching for more necromancer-like fantasy reads. This particular NA fantasy follows Sam, plus a lot of other POV characters but mostly Sam, who is nothing special. He’s a college dropout working at a fast-food restaurant with his best friend, just kind of meandering through life without purpose or direction—we’ve all been there. Sam is an incredibly relatable character and the sarcastic 1st person narrative the author gives him really sells Sam as a character and makes you feel for him. Then, one day (as it always happens), Sam’s life is changed when he accidentally puts himself in the path of the most powerful necromancer in Seattle. Then, surprise! Sam learns the family secret that was kept from him pretty much since birth: Sam is also a necromancer. What follows is the traditional race to unlock his power and save his friends, and himself, before Douglas decides Sam is no longer worth the effort. Everything about this book sounds fun and has a cool twist on urban fantasy, and yet I never fell as hard for this story as I wanted.
“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 Last Witch” follows Lilly Hooper as she steps into a new world—out of her uncle’s basement and into a mansion with other witches. Told she is a monster all her life, beaten and abused in quite literally every way imaginable, Lilly is discovering that the magic in her veins is limitless, and she hasn’t even learned all the powers there are yet. But with great power come lots of men who want to use that power—and her—in order to further their own goals: one wants to return magic to the world while the other wants to eradicate it completely and destroy those who would have magic if it did return in force—and neither is the good guy. Caught between these opposing sides, Lilly also finds love and friendship, and even has her very first Christmas that she can remember. Which all sounds great, honestly! So, what was my problem with this book when the premise sounds so promising? The stereotypical shallowness of the characters, and the overly gratuitous nature of the violence, to be frank.
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