Am I combining these three book reviews because I am a) woefully behind on my ARC reviews b) attempting to do a themed friday thingy c) feeling lazy or d) all of the above?
If you selected d, then congrats!
So what do these three books have in common besides being speculative fiction young adult releases?
That’s pretty much it, although how they deal with death is a different matter, as we shall see.
Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix
In the Old Kingdom, where the roam and the country disintegrates into chaos, Terciel serves his aunt as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, one of two necromancers whose purpose is to keep the dead in Death. Across the wall in nearby Ancelstierre, Elinor lives a life of boredom: pretending to be an actor or circus performer while her mother nears ever closer to death. But sometimes the wind comes down from the north, and strange things are brought in…and when two teenagers meet they will encounter danger and destiny unlike anything they had ever imagined.
A Catalogue of the Library of the Abhorsens Saving Those Too Secret to Mention and Sundry Others Excluded for Important Reasons.
I dunno. I really enjoyed this in terms of knowing more about the backstory of the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, but was left wanting to know more about these two kingdoms instead of the brief glimpse I had through Elinor’s eyes (she who was cooped up in Coldhallow House knowing absolutely nothing about anything except how to act and put on plays…the fighting comes in handy though) and the briefest of glimpses through Terciel’s POV that is mainly the walk from Wall to House and then the house itself (always fascinating). And I enjoyed having more time spent in Abhorsen House, particularly with the Sendings because they have always fascinated me.
Elinor and Terciel meet briefly in the beginning, then are separated for the majority of the book until the end. Their chemistry is more thrust-together than not, although they do have an immediate attraction.
Overall, not too much happens over the course of 560 pages (if you’ve read Sabriel, you already know what happens to the Big Bad), and unlike the usual frantic chase scenes leading to a rough climax and quick finish I’ve gotten to expect from the Abhorsen series, this was more a slow build in establishing characters (particularly Elinor’s, Terciel was just kinda whiny and studying all the time), and really delving into the world of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom, and laying down why Wyverly College, of all places.
But now, what I’d really like to see is an adult fantasy that is not adult-fantasy-pegged-as-YA-because-that’s-what-the-others-were about Terzinael and her life, because that sounds absolutely fascinating. Or the life of Mirelle, one of the Ranger Clayr.
Or I’d even love the years Terciel and Elinor had together before the birth of Sabriel. Because this story was long and yet not enough. But at least I got some glimpses of Mogget in all his petulant glory.
“That ring is a cruel and entirely unnecessary accessory to my already vile captivity,” said a voice from under the table. Moregrim’s voice. “The Abhorsen who made the rings was a greater monster than anything he ever sent back into Death.”
“Who was it?” asked Terciel.
“I can’t remember.”
TW: death, graphic murder
Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson
Artemesia is training to be a Grey Sister, one of the nuns who take care of the dead and allow them to pass onto a peaceful existence instead of arising. That is, until her convent is attacked, she becomes possessed by the most dangerous of spirits, and stumbles into a plot to doom what’s left of her country. Without allies or anyone she can trust, chased by both the enemy undead and the priesthood, Artemesia must turn to the one person she literally can’t get away from: the revenant inside her head. Because she has to save the world. And she needs its help.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about humans, it’s that your kind loves to gossip. Nuns are no exception, by the way. The ancient and terrible knowledge I harbor about Sister Prunelle’s buinons would make even you beg for mercy.”
This had everything I ever would want in a book, and yet the worldbuilding killed me.
I loved how intricate it was, how detailed and involved, but there was something incomplete I just can’t quite place (something something heavy influence of the past interfering with the present and haphazardly explained to really make that plot point hit home), and the vibes between Artemisia and a certain someone were just not working for me.
It felt like a mix between Sabriel, Crown Duel and Angel Mage, and had all of the faults of the latter with few of the joys of the former, although I loved that there was female friendship and a sincere apology from female enemies mixed in this one.
The revenant thoughtfully watched her go. “Well, it appears we have no choice. We’re going to have to torture the location of my reliquary out of her, then kill her.”
Regardless, the revenant was the best character in this book, with Artimisia herself coming a close third to Mother Dolours (the unsung hero of the book and who, alongside Capt E, really needed more page time instead of served-no-purpose-Charles).
Overall, kinda a mess, with worldbuilding headscratchers and plotholes abounding, which I suppose will be resolved in book 2 but won’t be sticking around to find out because slogging through 400 pages of the first book was more than enough. But hey, I got fun quips from the revenant, who was literally the only character with a personality in the entire book, so that’s something.
Being trapped inside your body isn’t the panoply of delights you might imagine. Oh, pardon me, you’re a nun. Silly of me to suggest that you’ve ever imagined a single delightful experience in the entire span of your dull, miserable, hateful nun existence.
TW: child abuse, child neglect, murder, death
Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson
Paige Miller is determined to bring her basketball team to greatness—but falls ill just before things start heating up. When she wakes alone in her bed, empty bags daisy-chained in an IV to her arm, she realizes that something has gone horribly wrong. It gets worse. The illness that failed to kill her killed her entire family, leaving her alone in the world. Alone, with only her neighbor’s dog as a companion, Paige sets off to find out if there are other survives in this strange new world…and discovers something even worse than she could have ever imagined.
“I wanted to do something important like that. Something that would change the world for everyone who came after me.”
So apparently I saved absolutely no quotes from this book (the quote above is from Goodreads), probably because I devoured this thing so fast. I read it in under 24 hours, absolutely sucked in by Carson’s clear prose and Paige’s straight-laced personality (she’s a character with strong convictions and a practical head on her shoulders, which I enjoyed).
I’m not going to spoil too much about the main plot other than it does begin with the whole “waking up in a bed to discover everyone is dead” trope (mild spoiler: no zombies this time), but the survival aspects felt so real and carefully thought out, right down to what would happen if the world suddenly stopped. Like the sewer systems.
Plotwise, it was very similar in vibes to The Last 8 (mild spoiler, sorry), but I enjoyed this one a whole lot more.
Better chemistry between characters, better characterization of characters who felt real (and less tokenization of marginalized personalities?), higher tension, and believable abilities and coping methods (there is no magical, untrained piloting of an F-15, for example).
I devoured this all in one go, and now I don’t want to venture outside at night with the sky all lit up weird (light pollution, but still).
Definitely a good one to read, although the plague aspect was a bit too on the nose for right now (bad timing), and probably for the next five-ten years…which is one of the reasons I suspect this has a current 3.68 rating on Goodreads. The other reason is probably because is not really anything like what Carson has written for young adults before, and tonally, is more in line with her adult short story, “Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse.”
TW: pandemic, suicide, on-page death