While my brain has been very slowly regenerating from the puddle of goo into which it dissolved at the end of February, I’ve been alternating my reading between romance novels and Young Adult books. (I’m not quite prepared to tackle anything that demands to be appreciated from several intellectual angles, rather than merely inviting one to do so.) Some of the YA novels are absolutely amazing, even with my presently-limited capacity.
Black Dove, White Raven, the latest novel by Elizabeth Wein, is less emotionally wrenching than either Code Name Verity or Rose Under Fire. But it is no less compelling. In similar fashion to Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, Black Dove, White Raven is told through letters, diary entries, and personal essays. It’s the story of the friendship between Emily, the white daughter of an Italian father and an American mother, and Teo, the black son of an Ethiopian father and an American mother, from their American childhood as the children of inseparable barnstormer pilots Delia and Rhoda through their adolescence in Ethiopia after Delia’s death, and on into the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Wein’s love of piloting shines through the pages, as does her care to portray Ethiopia in all its complexity, and to indicate the constraints—of gender, race, nationality and social class—which her protagonists must navigate, especially after the outbreak of war. Although it’s not a SFFnal novel in any shape or form, I think it might well appeal to readers of this column: it’s interestingly crunchy.
Another novel that’s not SFFnal but which I think will appeal: Stacey Lee’s Under A Painted Sky. In 1849 Missouri, Samantha hopes to one day return to New York and become a professional musician—a difficult thing for a young woman to accomplish, and even more so for a Chinese one. But when her father dies in a fire and she kills the man who tries to rape her in the aftermath, she’s forced to flee west with the help of Annamae, an escaped slave of her own age. Annamae wants to search for her brother; Samantha wants to find a business associate of her father’s. They disguise themselves as young men, and find themselves half-adopted by a trio of cowboys who’re also heading west. Adventures on the plains! Stampedes! Cholera! Trouble with the law! Friendship! It’s a solid, entertaining read, and one I enjoyed.
I’m not sure whether or not I enjoyed Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Crime, the second volume in a trilogy that began with The Winner’s Curse, but I certainly found it compelling. To discuss it in too much detail would spoil the first volume for readers who have not yet read that, but suffice to say the main characters have an interesting tightrope to walk. Kestrel’s loyalties in particular continue to be badly torn. The Winner’s Crime concludes, as second volumes in trilogies so often do, with the characters in even more trouble than they were at the end of the first volume: I really have to wonder how Rutkoski is going to manage to resolve things next…
The last book I want to bring to your attention is Kate Elliott’s first YA novel, Court of Fives, which won’t be published until this autumn. People: make your orders now. Elliott is well-regarded as a writer of epic fantasy, but in terms of effortless readability and sheer compelling fun? Court of Fives is a step up. The main character is a young woman of precarious social status, caught between two cultures and properly belonging to neither. The death of her father’s patron—and a chance brush with a young nobleman who has royal connections—finds her entangled in politics that might see her mother and sisters dead. Competitive sport, friendship, rivalry, intrigue and imperialism combine in a setting that brings to mind Hellenistic Alexandria—but with more magic and TOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMBS.
I like tombs. I like competitive sport. (I like Hellenistic Alexandria and things that bear traces of its influence.) I like Court of Fives. A lot. Probably more than is really healthy. (Set your calendars. Seriously.)
So, what have you all been reading lately?