The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik

I am so loving this series. Which is making my resolution to wait until the paperback of the third book comes out very hard to stick to. If I didn’t have a ton of other stuff to read, I’m sure I would have run out and bought the hardcover already.

El’s a senior now, and after the first semester, the rest of the year is devoted to practicing their escape run through the Scholomance’s graduation hall. The first book sets up the Scholomance pretty well – you know why the wizard kids are stuck in what might seem like a hellhole. This book brings things one step further. It’s pretty clear that no one is going to be able to escape without El and Orion’s help, and it’s also pretty clear that the school itself is pushing them towards something.

The motivations of the school are not so surprising in hindsight, but what the seniors decide to do with that knowledge is amazing. And the ending! Gah! Like I said, it’s going to be hard to wait for the paperback.


Powers – Ursula K. Le Guin

Leave it to Le Guin to write a young adult book that’s a really moving story of slavery and freedom.

This book is the story of Gavir, a slave in one of the households in the city of Etra, part of a confederation of cities that constantly seem to be at war with each other, always shifting alliances. In many ways, Gavir is very lucky – his sister is with him, and he’s being educated by the current teacher (also a slave) to educate both the children of the house, and the other slaves. It seems like a happy life, where slavery is almost an afterthought.

Of course, it’s not an afterthought. Life goes on, and childhood idylls end. After an unspeakable tragedy, Gavir ends up going on a journey, and finds himself, and a new view of the world, along the way.

I actually find it hard to say more about this book – half of the experience is being in the story, and seeing Gavir grow as he encounters new places, ideas, or people. It’s an amazing book, which considering the author, should come as no surprise.

Briarheart – Mercedes Lackey

This is a sweet take on Sleeping Beauty. Miriam is the king’s stepdaughter, the only child of the King’s Champion, who tragically died in battle. After this, his widow marries the king. (Don’t worry- it’s not an evil step parent situation – the king is very fond of Miriam, and treats her like his own daughter.) So when the king and queen have their own child, Miriam is just as besotted with little princess Aurora as everyone else.

The kingdom is well familiar with planning christenings and other important events for their royal family. It’s very important to invite all the local Dark Fae so they have no excuse to curse anyone. Aurora’s christening is going along swimmingly until a Dark Fae woman no one recognizes shows up, and attempts to curse the little princess. Until Miriam stands in the way, and manages to kill the Dark Fae woman.

Turns out Miriam’s father may have had Fae blood, and she’s got some touch of Fae magic. So she decides to train to be her sister’s protector. This story takes place entirely while Aurora is still a baby, so it’s really about Miriam, and growing up, and learning to make good decisions. I really enjoyed it.

Disenchanted – Brianna Sugalski

Lilac is the heir to the throne of Brittany, in the Middle Ages. She has one big problem – she has the ability to speak the Darkling tongue, and so can communicate with all the creatures in the Broceliande forest. All the regular people, her rather unpleasant fiancé included, don’t like that ability, so she’s been hidden away in the castle, awaiting the day she’s crowned queen. When a message comes from a witch, claiming she can take away the Darkling tongue, Lilac jumps at the chance, and runs away into the forest, where she meets a charming man who turns out to be a vampire.

I did enjoy this story, but I really wish it wasn’t set in the Broceliande forest. There are connotations there with Arthurian legend, and the book is blurbed in such a way that you want a historical book. But Lilac is way too modern for that. It’s a fun, modern, fairy tale that I would have enjoyed more if I hadn’t expected something a bit different.

Keturah and Lord Death – Martine Leavitt

This is a sweet little story – Keturah charms her way to live another day by telling Lord Death a story, and those extra days are spent in her town, among the people she’s grown up with. It’s a very generic medieval type town, with fun little characters to meet along the way. I think this is really pressing it as a YA book – it’s a very simple story, but if you want a good, escapist fairy tale, it fits that bill.

The Theft of Sunlight – Intisar Khanani

In this second book of this series, the focus shifts a bit from Princess Alyrra, to her attendant, Rae. Rae ended up in the capital city to see her cousin through her pregnancy, but her cousin and cousin’s husband quickly realize that Rae would make an excellent attendant to the new Princess.

The princess ends up bringing Rae into her confidence about the problem of the children disappearing from Menaiya. Rae’s eager to help – her best friend’s sister was recently snatched. She ends up being Alyrra’s eyes in the city, which brings her into contact with the thieves’ groups, and helps her realize that this kidnapping ring is bigger than anyone could have possibly imaged.

It ends on quite the cliffhanger – good thing the next book is coming out soon. I’ve really enjoyed the story so far.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Mona is a 14-year old baker, who happens to have a magic gift with bread.

This is a story about how even what seems like small magic can save the world, and also that being a hero can really suck. (With a healthy dose of adults may not always be in the position to do the right thing, and that doesn’t make them a bad person.) I’m adding this to my comfort reading virtual stack – it was definitely the uplifting kind of read I’ve been looking for lately, with a nice dose of reality blended in.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

Loved this book.

Galadriel is at an international boarding school for young wizards. They’re basically trapped there for four years, and constantly under threat from a whole bunch of nasty, evil beasties, but everyone keeps coming because it’s safer than being out in the real world at that age. Graduation is when you fight your way out of the school at the end of your senior year. Not everyone survives. El’s Dad didn’t – he died to save her mother, and the baby they had just realized they would be having.

Speaking of El’s mother, she’s good. You never actually meet her, but her personality just shines through El’s narrative. You see, El was basically born to be as evil as they come – everyone naturally avoids her. Except her mother. Who through sheer force of personality has raised El to be a good person, against some pretty stacked odds.

The story is basically about the end of El’s junior year, and I think it’s better read than described. I can’t wait to read the next book. I may actually buy a physical copy.

Daughter of the Moon Goodess – Sue Lynn Tan

This book is the story of Xingyin, the forbidden daughter of the moon goddess. She’s only starting to learn of her history when she’s forced to flee the moon to keep her mother safe. She ends up at the Celestial Emperor’s court, companion to the son of the very man that keeps her mother imprisoned on the moon.

This is an interesting story – Xingyin’s mother was mortal, and the teasing out of that history is interesting. There is a love story (a triangle even), which I thought was handled well. What’s interesting is that there is another book coming, but this book is wrapped up in such a way that you could assume that the triangle is fully resolved, but I assume that’ll be touched on in the next book. I am interested enough to read that next book, but I’m finding it a bit refreshing to know that I actually don’t have to if I don’t want to.

Sorcery of Thorns – Margaret Rogerson

The Great Libraries store the grimoires of Austermeer’s sorcerers. It’s an interesting dynamic – the librarians fear the power of the sorcerers, but everyone knows that it’s the sorcerers’ magic that keeps their country safe from enemies.

Only orphans are recruited to be librarians, but even they usually only enter the service of the Libraries as teenagers. Elisabeth Scrivener is different – she was left at the Summershall Library as a baby, and has grown up around the living books of the library. One day, a young sorcerer comes to the library, and Elisabeth is shocked to find that he’s not the monster his kind has been portrayed to be. Which is fortunate for her, because she makes an impression on Nathaniel Thorn, and when she is falsely accused of murder, he remembers her, and helps her in the quest to clear her name. They end up finding themselves in a plot larger than they could have imagined, where only a sorcerer and librarian working together will be able to save their country.

I really liked the world building in this – the system of magic is really interesting. (There’s a third important character I haven’t mentioned for spoilery reasons.) I also really liked that it’s a standalone story. I have so much respect for the author being able to wrap this up in one book – I feel like that never happens anymore, and I’ve missed being able to set something down and enjoy that complete feeling.