Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Book review: "The Magic Thief" by Sarah Prineas

Title: The Magic Thief
Author: Sarah Prineas
Publisher: HarperTrophy (an imprint of HarperCollins), 2008

This is a fun fantasy for younger readers, around middle grade and possibly a bit younger, as well as of course anyone else who likes MG fantasy. It's the story of Connwaer, a gutter thief who lives in the Twilight (a rough part of the city of Wellmet). He tries to steal a wizard's locus magicalicus, which is basically like a wand but in the form of a stone, and that's where the adventure starts. He ends up the wizard's apprentice, sort of by accident, and ends up trying to save the city from losing all of its magic, as well as its lifeblood.

I really enjoyed this first book in the series. Conn is a great character, tricky and thieving when he needs to be, but loyal and truthful down to his core. Nevery, the wizard, is a grump, but a grump with a heart of gold. And the secondary characters are just as enjoyable.

The story is fun, too, though this first adventure is really just a gateway into the rest of Conn's apprenticeship in my opinion. Here, characters are established, Conn's ability is revealed, and an open ending leaves the return of villains an almost certainty.

I look forward to the next books in the series. I'd recommend this to fans of the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud and Megan Whelan Turner's books.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book review: 2013 Printz Award Winner "In Darkness" by Nick Lake

Title: In Darkness
Author: Nick Lake
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's, 2012 

In this powerful story, we learn how circumstances can shape who a person becomes. This is the story of a teenage gang member stuck under the rubble after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 told in tandem with the story of Toussaint L'Ouvreture, the man that freed Haiti's slaves. Shorty, a 15-year-old gangster in the most dangerous part of Haiti, finds himself trapped beneath tons of rubble after the earthquake of 2010, with nothing but darkness and death surrounding him. He begins to tell us, who he calls the "voices in the darkness," his history. We also read, through third-person narration, the story of the slave Toussaint, who led his people to freedom and their own government.

It is clear why this was the winner of the 2013 Printz Award. The story is compelling, both of them together; Shorty has grown up in terrible poverty, surrounded by gang violence and political unrest. He has seen family members, friends, and neighbors killed, to the point where it is almost normal. And so, he falls in with the gang of his neighborhood, because he believes that way he will get his abducted sister back and get his revenge.

Meanwhile, we're learning how Toussaint was successful in some things, but not in others. It's history, so it's not a spoiler, but we are living the revolution along with him. What really made this fictionalized history stand out was Toussaint's spirit connection with Shorty and the Haiti of 2010. In visions, he sees Haiti through Shorty's eyes, and knows what he dreams is possible, though perhaps not as peaceful as he hopes.

The writing is superb, though it helps if you know a little bit of French or Creole. There is a lot of vernacular throughout Shorty's sections, and you can see what most of it means in the context of how it's used, but it makes for a more challenging reading experience.

What really got me with this title is the characters. It was hard to read about how violent they all are, and the evil acts they all do, but I have to say Lake wrote them in such a way that I understood why they became what they did, and still see their humanity. I could see why Shorty fell in with the Route 9 gangsters. There was one scene I couldn't stop thinking about where Biggie talks to his mother on the phone, and I cried.

If you're up for the challenge of the dark content and the difficult language, this is a book not to be missed.

Disclosure: I got this book from the library.
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