Book reviews: Superpowered Teenagers edition

Today we have another “themed” reading round-up.  Superpowered teens are close my heart as I have, in the deep dark recesses of my mind, a trilogy of stories about a group of teens with elemental superpowers.  They’ve lived in there since I was in high school, and maybe someday they’ll see the light of day.  In the meantime, here’s some other books to help you get your fix.

 Just as a reminder:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

youngelites The Young Elites (Marie Lu)

 3.5/5 stars

A new series from the author of Legend, and it begins with an origin story…of a kind.  Adelina Amouteru, marked as a survivor of the blood fever, runs away from home and ends up joining a group of other survivors who have also developed special powers; they are called the Young Elites, and they mean to use their powers to change society.

There are a lot of grey characters here, which I loved, but the world-building was not as good/developed as Legend.  The book ends in a way I did not expect, and I felt it like a gut punch.  Looking forward to seeing what comes next in the series.

 

dangerous

Dangerous (Shannon Hale)

4/5 stars

A foray into sci-fi from one of my favorite fairy tale authors.  A group of teenagers led by Maisie “Danger” Brown is gifted with powers by alien technology and must use those powers to stop an alien threat.  It actually reminded me a bit of the Lorien Legacies series (see below), if LL had been better written and all shoved into one book.

I found the characters to be well-developed and quite diverse (the protagonist herself is missing an arm, but uses technology to compensate).  My only downsides were the invading aliens were a little lame, and I could have done with a little less of the teenage romantic drama.  The story does have distinct parts to it, but I’m undecided as to whether it would have been better served by a series instead.  Honestly, it’s kind of a relief to have a stand-alone YA novel!

 

Therevengeofseven

The Revenge of Seven (Pittacus Lore)

3/5 stars

This installment of the Lorien Legacies series raises the stakes for the Garde as their enemy Setrákus Ra reveals himself on Earth.  I have been a little critical of these books, but they are enjoyable in a summer blockbuster/popcorn flick kind of way, and I think they are improving as the plot gets more complex and characters get better development.  I think this was the best so far.

 

the-blood-of-olympus

The Blood of Olympus (Rick Riordan)

3/5 stars

The final book of the Heroes of Olympus series was a nice finale in some ways, but fell short in others.  I did enjoy getting to know Reyna better, but it seems a little late in the game to start the backstory of a “new” character, and as a result “older” characters like Percy and Annabeth felt a bit crowded out.  I very much enjoyed the end (or maybe the beginning?) of Nico and Leo’s stories, though Leo’s was a bit vague.  And I was disappointed in the final 2 battles, which went by much too quickly and without much surprise, unlike the real climax of the battle of New York from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. I enjoyed the series, but I will be glad to see Riordan move on to something new with Norse mythology.

4 Recent YA SciFi/Fantasy Books

After A Dance with Dragons I wanted something lighter to read, so I’ve been catching up with some great YA novels that came out (fairly) recently.  No spoilers here, just brief reviews.  A general guide to ratings:

5/5–I would buy this
4/5–I will re-read this
3/5–I might read this again
2/5–I have no interest in reading this again
1/5–I couldn’t finish this

House of Hades (Rick Riordan) 5/5—  The 4th book in the Heroes of Olympus series featuring the wildly popular Percy Jackson and friends.  This was a great read, though maybe not my favorite book of the series.  Percy and Annabeth’s journey through Tartarus was pretty bleak and uninspiring; it had a lot of descriptions of them being tired and dirty and in pain, but able to carry on because the other is there.  It sounds sweet at first, but gets a little old after the fifth repetition.  However, the character development for Leo, Frank, and in particular Nico is really incredible.  The book does re-introduce a lot of characters from previous books that I didn’t remember all that well.  Just another reason for me to buy the series, so I can read the all again!

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Hero (Alethea Kontis) 4/5— The 2nd book about the Woodcutter family, following Enchanted.  I actually liked this slightly better than the first one–less complex and more focused.  It stars Saturday “Works-hard-for-a-living” Woodcutter, with only minor appearances from Monday and Thursday among the sisters; the streamlined cast is much less confusing.  It’s a fun adventure with some gender-bending motifs along the way.  The ending opens up an overarching plot to lead into the next forthcoming book.

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Fall of Five (Pittacus Lore) 3/5–The 4th book in the Lorien Legacies series.  After their defeat by Setrákus Ra at the end of The Rise of Nine, the Garde survivors have regrouped in Chicago, and are heartened by contact with their last member, Number Five.  But do the Garde know who they can trust?  They discover they may have allies on the other side, as well as traitors in their midst.  As with the previous books, it’s fairly light on characterization and heavy on action; it switches between 3 narrators, who can be difficult to distinguish.  There are some good plot twists, and although you’ll see some coming, it’s generally a good ride (however I preferred Rise of Nine).  There’s also a whole mass of short stories that go with this series which could be fun to read.

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Divergent (Veronica Roth) 3/5–I wanted to read this before the movie comes out later this month.  There are some issues with the premise of this dystopian society, but if you can get past that, the book has some really nice ideas about human nature, the nature of fear, and the intersection of attributes such as honesty, selflessness, and courage.  The prose is average and the characters were not super compelling for me: Tris is a nice narrator, but so unlike me I couldn’t really relate, and Four is definitely not my type.  Where the book really shines is the emotional core; if this book doesn’t make you feel something, I think you might be dead inside.  Bonus: no love triangle!!

Narration styles

Last week, I happened to read two YA fantasy novels that I enjoyed very much: A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis (in the Chronicles of Narnia) and The Rise of Nine by “Pittacus Lore” (in the Lorien Legaices series).  But after finishing them in succession I was struck by how different their narrative styles are.

A Horse and His Boy is my favorite of the Narnia books (it is currently #3 in order).  I have read it literally dozens of times.  Most people tend to overlook it in the series because it does not fit directly in the over-arching plotline of the English characters; some have also accused it of racism.  I think the book has any number of great elements–exotic locations and culture, a strong female character in Aravis, talking horses, intrigue, fanciful language, a little action and just a hint of romance.  It also has a wonderful narrator.

The narrator is not one of the protagonists of the story; possibly he is the author, as he mentions another book in the series by name.  He tells the story in 3rd person past tense, but often makes asides directly to the reader that greatly enhance the entertainment value of the book.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one.  For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing.  The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays. –Chapter 2

During his reign, and to his face, he was called Rabadash the Peacemaker, but after his death and behind his back he was called Rabadash the Ridiculous, and if you look him up in a good History of Calormen (try the local library) you will find him under that name.  And to this day in Calormene schools, if you do anything unusually stupid, you are very likely to be called “a second Rabadash.” –Chapter 15

I think the narration works for several reasons.  Because the timeline of the series spans many years (centuries in Narnian time!) it is helpful to have a narrator outside the story to provide continuity.  Also, the style of the narration is reminiscent of an adult telling a bedtime story to a child (think Princess Bride).  Because the target audience of these books is fairly young, mainly elementary and middle schoolers, readers would respond well to this familiar style.

The Rise of Nine, on the other hand, is written in the currently-trendy 1st person present tense, like Hunger Games and many others.  Personally, I am not a fan of this trend and will probably never be able to write in this tense.  It can be confusing to the reader if done badly, but I think it is done pretty well in Rise of Nine.  This book is for older, teenaged readers, and I think they appreciate the immediacy of this narration.  Teenagers are nothing if not dramatic–everything is happening RIGHT NOW and it is LIFE OR DEATH–so I think that 1st person present tense really helps them get into the book because it feels very real to them.

This installation is split between 3 narrators, Numbers Four (John Smith), Six, and Seven (Marina).  My main problem with this was that I was frequently unable to tell who was speaking until I read at least a page; I was especially unable to differentiate between the girls.  The name is not listed at the start of the chapter a la “A Song of Ice and Fire;” you have to tell who’s speaking based on the font.  I found the Six and Seven fonts hard to distinguish, and the characters were often in the same place together so the context was similar.  Ironically, their personalities are radically different, so the fact that I had a hard time telling them apart does not speak well for the quality of writing/character development.

I think Rise of Nine is a nice addition to the Lorien Legacies series, fleshing out some of the new Garde characters and giving plenty of action (although there is virtually no falling action after the climactic battle).  I am looking forward to continuing the series–hopefully the next one will have more of Sam and less of Sarah.