Review: The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

Title: The Library of Ever
Author: Zeno Alexander
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: With her parents off traveling the globe, Lenora is bored, bored, bored—until she discovers a secret doorway into the ultimate library. Mazelike and reality-bending, this library contains all of the universe’s wisdom: every book ever written and every fact ever known––and Lenora is now its newly appointed Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian. As she rockets to the stars, travels to a future filled with robots, and faces down a dark nothingness that wants to destroy all knowledge, Lenora will have to test her limits and uncover secrets hidden among its shelves in order to save the library itself.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

Her parents hardly ever brought her here, and Lenora was determined, when she grew up, to go to the library anytime she wanted.

The Library of Ever was cute, but after reading through all of the glowing four and five-star reviews, I’m beginning to think that I was not the target audience for this book. (But I’m okay with that!) With a colorful, eye-catching cover and the word “library” in its title, I was pretty much always going to check out the summary, but reading that it was “an adventure across time and space as a young girl becomes a warrior for the forces of knowledge”? UM YES PLEASE.

At almost 200 pages (of kid-lit sized paper and font), it took me just over an hour to finish—but perhaps that was part of the problem. I approach one-sitting reads much differently than ones which take multiple sessions, and I’m also not used to the pace of kid-lit. A lot of the fiction I read is character driven and, although stuff happens, what I find most interesting is how the characters react to or are changed by those events. Zeno Alexander doesn’t even give his main character Lenora a last name. We know that she’s being babysat by someone she doesn’t particularly like and that she’s annoyed at being told to wait in the car while her babysitter runs into the library, but that’s pretty much it. Her curiosity immediately kick-starts the plot and then the book basically doesn’t stop moving.

For me, this kind of frenetic pace was exhausting. I was in that place while reading where I was really tired but knew that if I just powered through, I could finish––but you can’t read this book and only half pay attention. Alexander so perfectly weaves each chapter with the next that if you’re not careful, you become lost in the maze he’s created. But for others? This kind of story probably feels exciting. Whether Lenora’s adventures are “real” isn’t the point: it’s the confidence she gains, the lessons she learns, the cool and noteworthy facts she uncovers.

Alexander wants his readers to fall in love with books and reading the same way Lenora does, and it saddens me that I wasn’t as wowed by The Library of Ever as other readers. Maybe I’ve let the Forces of Darkness in and lost my kid at heart.

Review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Title: Renegades
Author: Marissa Meyer
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew. Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both.


I have to be honest: I 100% picked up Renegades because of its cover. That muted blue and gray color palette, the minimalist character drawings, the unrecognizable cityscape… I just had to know more. The plot which is your standard good vs. evil revenge tale featuring super-powered individuals feels like it’s been done before, but in Marissa Meyer’s hands, the characters jump off the page and creep into your subconscious and you find yourself reading late into the night because you need answers. Some of the twists were softball throws, detected chapters in advance, but then others were a fastpitch to the stomach, leaving me capslocks-rage-tweeting an hour after I should have been in bed. (It was so good, y’all; I gobbled down 500+ pages in under a week.) Perhaps if I had known that Renegades was merely the first in a planned trilogy, I wouldn’t have read the book so soon after it was published, but now I have not one but TWO sequels to look forward to. (The second book, Archenemies, drops in November.) Meyer is perhaps best known for her young-adult cyborg series the Lunar Chronicles, but even if you’ve never heard of that, Renegades deserves to be read on its own merits.

Review: What Should Be Wild by Julia Fine

Title: What Should Be Wild
Author: Julia Fine
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch, Maisie Cothay has spent her childhood sequestered in her family’s manor at the edge of a mysterious forest. Maisie’s father has warned her not to venture into the wood lest she vanish like her female ancestors – but one day he disappears, and Maisie must venture beyond the walls of her carefully constructed life to find him. Away from her home and the wood for the very first time, she encounters a strange world filled with wonder and deception. Yet the farther she strays, the more the wood calls her home. For only there can Maisie finally reckon with her power and come to understand the wildest parts of herself.


What Should Be Wild is a dark fantasy that explores the lies we tell one another and the ones we tell ourselves, the half-truths that tug at an idea in the back of our mind we refuse to acknowledge, but that end up calling out to us in whispers anyway. The novel – centered on an only-child and her social-anthropologist father –  is told in first-person when Maisie narrates her seventeenth summer and then in third when author Julia Fine focuses on the history of the Blakely women. (Maisie, it should be known, comes from a long line of “cursed” women who inhabit her home, Urizon, and then disappear into the thicket surrounding it.) Fine’s prose is lush with detail, as thick and tangled in places as the forest that encumbers on the estate. The care with which she sets up the novel’s backstory is evident in every chapter; the history of Maisie’s small, sheltered world is permanently etched into the stone and dirt and trees that both protect Urizon and also suffocate it.

I marveled at how timeless the book felt, as if it could have existed alongside the women whose lives it brought into being… perhaps because a part of Maisie exists with all of her ancestors, and they with her. She shares a wild vein that defines all Blakely women – which feels, at times, to physically encircle her ankle and drag her back into the forest. It’s the wildness that defies the Blakely name and its expectations, that marks each one of them as different or even dangerous, that keeps home in the bottom of their gut and dares to ask what if.

Fine’s novel is both the scary story we tell children to teach them fear and also the acceptance and acknowledgment of that fear. It’s a beautiful meditation on societal expectation, familial bond, and the bone-deep, almost physical desires we all have but maybe refuse to acknowledge, intricately woven into the mystery that spurs the plot. And, in a way, the book reminded me of what Grimm’s fairy tales could have been if they’d been more than just preserved medieval folklore. What Should Be Wild succeeds at acknowledging the wildness within its characters, but also letting us decide if that wildness is better left untamed.

What Should Be Wild makes me want to read all of the books set in spooky, scary woods! Here are some I’ve added to my list: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly, The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, and Through the Woods by Emily Carroll.

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Rating: ★★★★½
Summary: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London—dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George—to Red London—where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire—to White London—ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back—and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now. Officially the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, Kell also smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—a feat trickier than they hoped.


I don’t know how A Darker Shade of Magic got on my radar or really what I was expecting, but it honestly was amazing and had me, like, whipping through chapters[i]. Schwab – better known for her young adult fiction written under her given name Victoria – weaves early nineteenth-century England with (hard? high?) fantasy into an engaging and engrossing fast-paced piece of world-building. *Ahem* Kell, our fearless ginger-haired protagonist is an Antari – a powerful Traveler magician capable of mastering all five elements[ii] – who officially travels between Londons[iii] as a diplomat of the Maresh empire of Arnes but also unofficially smuggles artifacts among the three cities until he’s tricked into delivering a letter into Red London (which has an inconspicuous piece of Black London tucked inside (oh hi, plot)). It is here, in a pub in Grey London, with a powerful piece of magic in his shape-shifting coat, that Kell meets our other fearless protagonist: a cross-dressing lady thief named Delilah Bard who is totally kickass and, shall we say, persuades Kell to bring her along with him. Hijinks ensure. (#whew)

A Darker Shade of Magic needs its world-building to succeed: not only because “fantasy [as a genre] tends to live or die on its world-building,” (thank you, Gizmodo) but also because, without it, Schwab’s readers are left scratching their heads in confusion. Why is Kell two-of-a-kind? And why is it so dangerous to have a piece of Black London? And, wait, what’s Black London again? And who is Rhy? And are we supposed to be rooting for Holland or not? And, I’m sorry, but WHAT IS GOING ON??? Schwab writes Lila as both a narrative counterweight to Kell AND a crutch for the reader – she is really freaking successful at building up the foundation that, yes, Magic™ exists but, no, not in the world that also produced the House of Hanover, okay – but it doesn’t feel like we’re being explained to past the first couple of chapters. Magic just is and the Londons just are, and Schwab’s writing is better for it.

The first part in a planned trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic is part whodunit, part swashbuckling caper, and part coming-of-age. It is not, however, a romance – but that’s okay because Schwab writes such fascinating and faceted characters that the googly eyes most opposite-sex-partnerships make in traditional romances feels over-the-top and, frankly, unwarranted within the world she’s created. (But spoilerly thoughts if you want ‘em.[iv])  The action, although well-paced, felt slightly rushed into its resolution; so, either I was expecting a totally different ending or, well, nope – I was expecting a totally different ending. S’okay, though, as soon as I finished the book’s last page, I was still itching to get my grubby hands on its sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. I think that means Schwab’s foray into adult literature was a success.

[i] I would set my alarm for thirty minutes and then, like, blink and the alarm would go off… and I would think, “Has it only been a half hour? Wtf is going on???” And then I would set another thirty-minute alarm until it had been, about, three hours. #truestory

[ii] Bone, earth, fire, water, and wind; Kell also has one completely black eye and this amazing coat that he can turn inside out and outside in to reveal different coats when needed.

[iii] There are four Londons: Black London and White London and Red London (Kell’s London) and then Grey London (our London and the boring one without magic); Magic™ kind of, like, swallowed Black London, though, and nobody goes there anymore or even really mentions it.

[iv] I kept anticipating a kiss between Kell and Lila simply because they were written as vaguely attracted to one another, but every time a Romantic Moment™ would arrive and Kell and Lila didn’t kiss, I cheered. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy romance in stories, but it didn’t really feel like either Kell or Lila were ready to be in a romantic relationship, and it makes me so, so happy that Schwab didn’t push it just because we live in a heteronormative world and a nineteen-year-old girl and a twenty-one-year-old boy are “supposed” to end up together. Four for you, V.E. Schwab.

Five Favorite: Fantasy Novels

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

To me, fantasy novels incorporate something otherworldly or inhuman, but then don’t explain why such elements exist – they just are. And that’s kind of why I love them: fantastical works are exciting! The author dreams up this crazy premise and I buy it, 100%, no questions asked. Here are five of my favorite!

TheBookOfLostThings

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Coraline

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

ADiscoveryOfWitches

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

AGameOfThrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Lumberjanesv1

Lumberjanes, vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson

Have your own five favorite fantasy novels? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!