Black Bottle Man

Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell has some incredibly intriguing elements. The magical aspects are different from typical paranormal fiction for teens and I found that refreshing. The hobo signs with power feel so natural within Russell’s world that I want to do some research and see if such things are explored more in folklore. I liked the premise of having to move on every twelve days and how that would influence the development of a young man.

I was somewhat disappointed with the chapter where the deal is made with the black bottle man. The deal is incredibly important to the plot and character development but it’s skirted around. The way the story unfolds isn’t linear, and that’s ok for most of the book I felt like the deal that has such an impact on the protagonist Rembrandt’s life should have had a more prominent part in the novel by being told in a more direct fashion. The motivation for the original deal is infertility and I’m not sure this is a subject that many teen readers will be able to relate to.

I would recommend this to teens who like an old fashioned supernatural adventure. The pace is slower than many popular teen novels, and the way it jumps around would be difficult for reluctant readers but I enjoyed it and I know some teens who would too.

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The Shadow’s Curse

Amy McCulloch’s sequel to The Oathbreaker’s Shadow had many of the elements I loved in the first installment. The unique ways she incorporates magic into her fantasy world continue to impress me. There remains something profound about being literally bound by your word and being haunted by broken promises. She takes this further in the sequel, with pieces of the ones who break the oath going to comfort and protect the jilted party. It recognizes that there are layers in people, and that a part of someone didn’t want to break their promise and would do anything not to hurt the one they have hurt. Beautiful metaphors all over this text.

I found the nomadic people’s view of the city dwellers and farmers interesting. The idea that they had captured and enslaved the land in an unnatural way makes the reader think about modern life from a new perspective.

Many of the characters are misguided and make foolish, selfish or reckless decisions. It’s didactic in the way they recognize their mistakes and in many cases atone for them. However, it’s written in such a way that it is not a boring lesson on keeping your word, or being careful who you offer your loyalty to. There are moments of suspense and exciting action.

I think this would make an excellent role playing video game. There would be shadows and consequences based on the player’s choices within the game. The setting would be beautiful and the fight scenes or sage tricks would be challenging.

I think with some editing this duology could have been one great novel. I’m not convinced it needed to be two and would strongly have preferred they work better independently if there had to be more than one book.

Unicorn hunters in nun outfits

Ascendent by Diana Peterfreund is the sequel to Rampant so if you haven’t read that go check out that review.

It’s pretty rare that a sequel is better than the original book (although sometimes they are easier to get into because you know the characters) but I loved Ascendent.

cover artAstrid spends much of the novel conflicted about her duties, which I enjoyed because slaughtering unicorn babies is quite different than protecting someone from a giant unicorn about to crush or poison them. I think if Astrid wasn’t torn about how she should use her powers or if she wanted this life I wouldn’t have liked her. Phil manages to play both sides of the unicorn hunting debate with grace, leading the protests about eliminating an endangered species and simultaneously leading the hunters that are doing the killing. She refuses to play the victim after being raped and remains one of the strongest characters.

There are lots of ridiculous jokes about virginity because it’s a requirement for the unicorn magic and “getting out of the business” of unicorn hunting is a euphemism that get’s overused a bit. The thing is that it works for the book, because Peterfreund pokes fun at the purity requirement. She has Astrid’s band of unicorn huntresses be pressured into wearing nun habits as hunting uniforms because the church that sponsors them thinks they are showing too much skin and should be representing themselves in a more civilized manner. The resulting camouflage habits covered in blood create a both hilarious and disturbing image, that plays on the ironies of the “innocent” warrior.

Both Giovonni and Brandt fell short for me in the romance department. Not the most attractive love interests if you ask me, Astrid could do better. I think the lesbian couple were the cutest together.

The roles of the media and the pharmaceutical company are really interesting and I wish there would have been more details about them both.

The section of the book after Astrid is injured in battle is my favourite part, but alas I will avoid spoilers….

 

 

Red Glove

*I received this ARC from Simon & Schuster Canada

* If you haven’t read White Cat, there are spoilers here, so go read that first.

Holly Black is one of the few authors who can make me fall in love with a killer. This book had a fast pace, characters with depth, a plot with surprising twists and all around awesome writing.

Red Glove picks up not too long after White Cat left off, and Cassel is still trying to wrap his head around everything that happened. He was betrayed and used by his brothers, the girl he loves was cursed to love him so he can’t in good conscience be with her, and he discovered he has a rare power that will make everyone want to use or kill him. That’s a lot to swallow, so even if he was only trying to survive school I would feel for him. Of course it’s not that easy; he is approached by federal agents and pressured into helping solve murders and disappearances he suspects he knows too much about.

This is a book that will appeal to both boys and girls. The paranormal mob families make for an interesting backdrop, and the plot is a mystery with lots of twists.

What I really love about this book:

  • The little things about Cassel that make him seem so real!
    • When people ask him how he is he automatically says “good” because that’s the response strangers and acquaintances normally expect. He doesn’t think about how he really feels before responding, but feels guilty when he realizes this is a funeral and he shouldn’t be good.
    • When he naps or sleeps late the way Black describes his sluggishness is dead on
    • he’s afraid of what his nightmares say about him
    • The way he feels in rich people’s houses rings true. Class divide is always awkward when visiting friends.
  • His extreme temptation to be with Lila despite her curse, and all the conflicting feelings of guilt and longing are convincing. The sexual tension and chemistry between them is phenomenally written.
  • The funny moments. When the fire alarm goes off and Sam’s reaction is “The Playstation!” unhooking it while everyone else scrambles out… I laughed so hard, because my boyfriend would do the same.
  • The worker rights movement, and the paranoia of the public. The thing is, at least this is a prejudice I can somewhat understand, people having powers that could hurt you. I’d be on the worker rights side of the debate, but I get where the other side is coming from. People in our society flip out over differences like sexual orientation and race, so I don’t think Black is being unrealistic about the mistreatment of the workers. If anything I think they’d probably be treated worse.
  • The pressures of joining the family business (crime)

I’ve never been disappointed by Holly Black’s writing, I always fly through her books and want more. Red Glove never dragged for me, I had to force myself to put it down, and it surprised me at a few points. I can’t wait for Black Heart!