Tag Archives: magic

Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It's a keeper!

Where did I get this book? I bought it. It’s a keeper!

Is there anything more bittersweet than the final book in a series you love? I’ve been eagerly anticipating The Raven King, the fourth and final book in the Raven Cycle, but once it was in my hands I had a flash of ambivalence. If I read it, it would be over, and I didn’t want it to be over!

Needless to say, I read it anyway. (Stop here if you haven’t finished the first three books!)

It has been nearly a year since Blue first saw Gansey’s spirit walking on the ley line with all the others destined to die. She and Gansey have kept their relationship a secret from Adam to spare his feelings, and Blue has resisted the temptation for a kiss that could prove fatal to her true love.

Ronan tries to dream something that will save Gansey, with unexpected results. Soon he and the others realize that a sinister darkness is overtaking Cabeswater and infiltrating Ronan’s dreams, a force that’s even capable of possessing Noah. Ronan and Adam, as the Greywaren and Cabeswater’s magician, work together in a dangerous effort to stop the destruction. In the process, Adam learns more about Ronan’s secrets and starts to rethink his own vision of the future.

Gansey places all his hopes in finally finding the tomb of Owen Glendower and using the promised wish to save them. The one person who might be able to provide answers, Blue’s long lost father, Artemus, maintains a frustrating silence on this question, although he must know more than he’s saying. When he does open up to Blue, his revelations help her understand herself and why she’s always felt so out of place.

Maggie Stiefvater’s love for her characters shines through in every page, which only increases the tension as the end approaches. How can this possibly end well for anyone? Rather than spoiling it, I’ll just say that the resolution is satisfying without taking any shortcuts that might feel like cheating after the four-book build-up.

I will really miss these extraordinary characters, the lush atmosphere of magic, the teenage limbo of longing for the future while fearing the loss of everything you cherish in the present. In their own way, these books truly are magical.

Genre: Magical YA that even a jaded middle-aged adult can love.

Read it if: You love stories of transcendent friendships and prophecies fulfilled; you have ever wished you could live inside a tree; you read and loved the first three books (obviously.)

Skip it if: You dislike teenagers, magic, nature, etc.; you haven’t read the first three books.

Movie-worthy: At this point I think it would have to be a TV series rather than a movie. No way could you cram all this into a couple of hours. It certainly has the potential for some gorgeous visuals (and I would love to see opening credits based on the author’s cover art.) Okay, can someone make this happen please?


Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr. NorrellI love nothing more than a story that leaves you feeling like you wandered into a real and complete world, one that existed before you ever turned the first page and will carry on long after you’ve closed the book. In Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke has created an absolutely plausible version of 19th century England, where the dusty study of theoretical magic is all that remains of a once great magical tradition.

When Mr. Norrell makes his public debut, he is the only known practical magician in the land. He works hard to keep it that way, squirrelling away all the books of and about magic, hoarding his knowledge like a miser. When Jonathan Strange appears on the scene, Mr. Norrell agrees to take him on as a student and the two men launch an uneven but mutually beneficial partnership–at least at first.

Clarke presents the magical elements of British history in such a matter-of-fact manner (complete with fictional footnotes!) that it’s sometimes difficult to remember that there never was such a thing as the King in the North, the legendary Raven King John Uskglass who ruled over the fairies before returning to England to claim his birthright and usher in a golden age. It’s easy to imagine Casaubon from Middlemarch studying the key to English magic, or John Childermass wandering into a Dickens novel.

While the tension between careless, impulsive, likable Jonathan Strange and his pitiably paranoid mentor drive the story, memorable secondary characters like the wild street magician Vinculus, the unperturbable Duke of Wellington, and the mad cat lady of Padua enliven even the most minor subplots. And in the end, it’s all tied together so brilliantly that I wanted to give the book a big hug. This novel sat on my shelves a long, long time because it was so daggone big–it turned out to be worth its weight in literary gold.

Genre: 19th century-flavored British realistic fantasy.

Read it if: You love classic British novels and would like them even better if they occasionally included sinister fairies; you loved The Once and Future King by T.H. White; you like your characters with human flaws and your endings with just the right dash of sadness.

Skip it if: You like your books short and sweet; you prefer your wizards with wands and your good versus evil; you are allergic to footnotes.

Movie-worthy: Apparently the BBC plans to debut a series based on the book sometime this year. I had mentally cast Tom Hiddleston as Childermass, but you can’t have everything.


Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream Thieves*Warning: this review contains spoilers for the previous book in this series, The Raven Boys. So if you haven’t read it yet, go read it right now.*

I have to admit I didn’t like Ronan Lynch very much in The Raven Boys. It seemed strange that such an apparently well-adjusted (if magic-dead-king obssessed) guy like Gansey would insist on having such a disagreeable person around, unless it was just for contrast. The Dream Thieves provided some significant back story on Ronan, making him a much more fascinating and sympathetic character, while also advancing the story toward the inevitable (?) fulfillment of Blue’s prophecy and Gansey’s appearance among the soon-to-be dead. To ratchet up the tension even more, The Dream Thieves ends with an unexpected cliffhanger scenario that will make it that much harder to wait for the third book.

Now that I’ve finished The Dream Thieves, I love Ronan and feel bad for not appreciating him more throughout the whole first book. He has experienced greater inner torment than anyone should and worse, he seems to think he deserves it. Only if he faces what he is and accepts the true nature of his gift can he stop the nightmares from entering his waking world and taking over. The only other choice is self-destruction.

Meanwhile, Adam’s life has turned inside out since he left his home behind and with it the constant threat of abuse from his father. The consequences of that step are obvious; less clear is what will happen to him because of the sacrificial deal he made with Cabeswater. His pride stands in the way of his friends’ efforts to help him and Blue begins to realize that maybe there is more than one reason she can’t kiss him. Watching Adam misread and misunderstand every glance and comment from the only people who care about him was painful, and completely believable.

From the mysterious and complicated hit man Mr. Gray to the destructive and amoral drag racer Kavinsky, every character in The Dream Thieves is vividly drawn and intriguing. Stiefvater’s writing elevates the book from fun genre fiction to a powerfully affecting coming of age novel with an ensemble cast who just happen to have some really crazy things happening in their lives. I especially loved one scene featuring what may be the most bittersweet first kiss ever. It was beautifully done and like so much of the The Raven Boys story so far, weaves the fantastic and the emotionally true into something unique and memorable.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is: when does the next book come out?

Genre: Dreamy and inventive YA fantasy.

Read it if: You love imaginative, beautifully written YA with a highly original twist on magical themes (but make sure you read The Raven Boys first!)

Skip it if: You are not a big fan of magic, or dreams, or teenagers, or you have issues with the occasional moment of bad language or moral complexity.

Movie-worthy: Absolutely! I would love to see the inside of Ronan’s house, for one thing. And also the cars blowing up.

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Decalino Jr. Review: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer is a book about a girl named Jennifer Strange, who lives in the Ununited Kingdoms. She is the owner of a rare quarkbeast, and she is the manager for Kazam Mystical arts, a refuge of Wizards. Yes, magic exists, and has for thousands of years, but is now fading, and the wizards are having a hard time getting money.

A new boy, Tiger, is sent into Kazam, and after that things start getting weird. A prophecy is told by all the Pre-Cogs (fortune tellers) in the land. It is told that a Dragonslayer will destroy the world’s last dragon, and the only reason they would do that is if the dragon violated the rules set out by the great Shandar, who made peace between the humans and dragons. Rather than worry about this, the people of the Ununited Kingdoms are happy, for they want Dragondeath.

They want it because the dragon owns a huge land, surrounded by a forcefield, that the greedy people of the world want desperately. Once the dragon, whose name is Maltcassion, dies, the force field will go down and the land will be ripe for the claiming. Jennifer suspects she is tied in with the whole problem some how, but her true role is one no one would expect. She is forced to make a decision that could change the world… will she do what’s right?

With Tiger, the Quarkbeast, and the Magicians of Kazam at her side, she chooses to fight for justice, but she doesn’t realize there may be major losses of great friends along the road. The Last Dragonslayer is on of the best books I’ve read, with a very interesting and complex plot, and amazing characters. The book was so extraordinarily funny, it had me laughing every other sentence! It had brilliant twists and turns, and things you would never expect.

Genre: Funny Magic Fantasy

Read it if: You love jokes, dragons, and Quarkbeasts

Skip it if: You like full throttle action with lots of death

Movie-Worthy: Definitely


Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning.” After hearing so many rave reviews from friends, I finally read The Night Circus for book group and it was one of those rare books that not only lives up to the hype, but exceeds it.

Gorgeous, magical, wildly inventive yet fairy-tale familiar, The Night Circus created a fully formed world of the imagination. Like the reveurs, I didn’t want to leave, and closing the book felt like walking out into an empty field where black and white tents had stood the night before.

Celia Bowen, daughter of the cruel and impulsive stage magician Prospero the Enchanter, knows from her earliest days that she is bound to compete in a battle against another student of the art of manipulating the world with your mind. Her father challenged the mysterious Alexander to a duel of sorts, a contest to assess their philosophically opposite teaching methods. Alexander adopts a suitable orphan and introduces him to a scholarly, structured approach to magic.

Le Cirque des Reves comes about solely as a venue for the ensuing contest between Celia, who performs as an illusionist, and Marco, who runs the circus from behind the scenes. Its creation serves the ends of Prospero and Alexander, but its existence fires the imagination of everyone who visits, changing lives in the process. Celia and Marco fill the circus with wonders, but what are the stakes? Can they escape the battle, become more than pawns in an ancient game?

The wonders of each tent in the Cirque des Reves are also the wonders of this book, and books and stories play an essential role in the events described in The Night Circus. Celia and Marco create amazing experiences for visitors to the circus, just as the author has created this amazing experience for the reader. Even their styles might serve as metaphors for the varied approaches to writing: letting it flow onto the page, holding a world in your mind; planning out every last detail and creating maps and models to anchor your story in reality.

Regardless, The Night Circus is a lovely, lingering read, the perfect book for Halloween–and for National Novel Writing Month, which starts today.

Genre: Fiction (that makes you believe magic might be real)

Read it if: you enjoy dreamlike beauty with your suspenseful plot, or you love reading books that take you somewhere you have never been before.

Skip it if: you refuse to suspend your disbelief, even when the author makes it as simple as stepping through the entrance to the Cirque des Reves.

Movie-worthy: Oh, what a gorgeous movie it would be! Assuming it was done properly.

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