The Squire, His Knight, & His Lady is basically a retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with the established characters from The Squire’s Tale making appearances (or starring, in the case of Terence). It’s easy to tell, as an adult, how much Morris loves Arthurian legend and especially Gawain. I’ve read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight before, so reading this book was fun because I was able to piece what I remembered of that book with what was happening in this one.
There are more books in this series, but this book really seems like a last hurrah for Terence and Gawain—especially Terence, who accomplishes a lot in this book and ends up in a pretty triumphant place at the end. Though occasionally Terence seems more like an observer, there are plenty of times, especially towards the end, where he is able to step up and shine—and even outshine Gawain.
Morris’s humor is what really steps the book up. There’s an ever-present dry wit running throughout that makes the whole book fun to read. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, perhaps, but the humor keeps the book enjoyable and the characters interesting.
Though not, perhaps, a series I would return to, I enjoyed my foray into Morris’s loving retellings of Arthurian legend. I may continue on with the series, I may not—but I know if I do, I’m bound to have a pretty good time.
This is one of those books where the cover art really doesn’t do the book any justice. In fact, the cover art is downright misleading, in my opinion. The cover suggests some sort of dark, brooding novel with Gothic undertones and maybe some paranormal activity mixed in. And, okay, the book is somewhat like that, but I don’t know…I felt a bit betrayed by the cover.
Chime is a book that certainly isn’t for everyone. It kind of isn’t really for me. The reason is that Billingsley’s prose is so lyrical and descriptive that it either draws people in or alienates them. I’m not a huge fan of prose like this, but I’m not against it, either, so I was really okay with it except in some parts where it got a little too nonsensical and poetic for my tastes.
The biggest selling point of Chime is the plot, really. Briony, convinced she’s a witch and destined to doom everyone around her, angsts and frets her way through most of the book, while falling in love with the town’s newest arrival, Eldric, and having to deal with the Old Ones (i.e., supernatural beings a la animism) in the swamp. Yet Billingsley draws a really nice balance between Briony’s angst and her strength, and the plot itself is really interesting, though perhaps a little too focused on Briony’s past rather than the present. Not everything is really made clear, such as the nature of Rose’s injury and its effect on her, and it gets a little too courtroom-drama-esque at the end, but the majority of it is woven beautifully together.
I’ve actually read this book before, while I was in college (I think), and I remembered it fairly well (though not the prose, strangely). It was not a surprisingly fantastic reread, but neither did it make me change my mind about the book. I enjoyed it when I read it then, and I enjoyed it now. Billingsley’s way of writing is really not my favorite, but the story itself—Briony’s struggles, her realizations about her past, and her relationship with Eldric—is beautifully done.
Wundersmith continues the story of Morrigan Crow as she heads to Nevermoor Hogwarts, the Wundrous Society, and deals with the revelation that she is a Wundersmith, a word synonymous with “evil” in Nevermoor society. Along the way, she learns a little bit about her magic and a lot about friendship and loyalty as people start mysteriously disappearing.
Wundersmith improves on Nevermoor by smoothing out its cartoony, extreme villains (and by “smoothing out,” I mean “got rid of entirely”) and by establishing more of the world. The shining star is, of course, the tone of the whole book, which is witty and charming and enjoyable to read. The plot also gives Morrigan much more to do and learn than in the first book, and expands her circle of friends as well.
One major complaint I have is that I still have no clear idea about what Wunder really is, or how it differs from other people’s knacks and magic. So far, all I know about Wunder is that it’s magical golden threads that float around Morrigan and do…something. Create things? It’s not particularly clear. So all I know is that Morrigan is supposed to be powerful and unique and cool, but I’m not sure why or how.
That being said, I still really enjoyed the book. It’s a fun, lighthearted fantasy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, has a good plot, good characters, and an interesting world. I’ll be looking out for the next (last?) book in the series.
A Dash of Trouble, by Anna Meriano, was published in 2018 by HarperCollins.
I’ve picked up a few baking magic books before and liked them well enough to try another one, this one with a Mexican cultural background. A Dash of Trouble has Leo discover that her mother and sisters are witches (“brujas”) and that the bakery her family owns is used for baking up magic spells, like bread that can help you communicate with the dead or cookies that can fly.
I’m not overly fond of middle grade protagonists who think they have all the answers, but Meriano does a really good job of balancing Leo’s determination to do magic and her desire for success with her failures. I liked that Leo wasn’t perfect, that all the spells she did were just slightly off enough to reflect her inexperience, and that ultimately the book wasn’t about Leo being a Fabulous Witch, but about her relationship with her sisters, her mother, and her magic.
As far as the writing goes, everything was pretty basic and the plot was straightforward and simple. I’m not a fan of poetic or flowery language, but I’ve read so many books lately that have some form of descriptive language that this book felt a bit dry and bare-bones in lots of places. It made for a pretty quick read, though, and I didn’t notice any obvious signs of telling rather than showing, though there was lots of melodrama.
I’m not sure if I enjoyed A Dash of Trouble enough to pick up any more in the series, but I did find it pleasantly well-crafted and balanced. There also wasn’t any obvious agenda that the author was trying to push, so that’s a plus. You never can tell with MG these days.
Magical Mischief, by Anna Dale, was published in 2010 by Bloomsbury.
If I had a favorite realistic fantasy trope, it would have to be something of the sort found in Magical Mischief: rogue magic inhabiting some place and the people who live/work there having to find a way to deal with it. In this book, the magic is in a bookshop, and the events that happen as Mr. Hardbattle (the owner) and his friends try and relocate the magic before he goes out of business are as wild as the magic itself.
The one major flaw in this otherwise charming book is that it was simply too long, and after a time the characters and the plot started to grate on me, especially Miss Quint and the sideplot (but then actually the main plot?) of characters from books being wished into existence and the wreaking havoc in the real world. That plot went on forever, and Miss Quint, who is an adult, refusing to come clean and telling lie after lie to cover up her tracks got more and more annoying. There was also some pretty inconceivable events that happened and altogether I thought that plotline really dampened my enjoyment of the book.
I did like Susan’s plotline, though, and that was tied up with the annoying plotline, so I suppose it wasn’t all bad. I just wish the book had maybe been about fifty pages shorter, and hadn’t had that wild burglary angle complete with kidnapping and car chase because that’s when things really started getting unbelievable.
Basically, I really liked the first half of Magical Mischief, but the second half was a bit of a chore to read, so I finished the book with more of a negative feeling than a positive.
The Squire’s Tale, by Gerald Morris, was published in 1998 by Houghton Mifflin.
I’ve never really enjoyed books about Arthurian legend—I think the only exception was a trilogy I read when I was younger that I still remember today—but The Squire’s Tale was surprisingly enjoyable. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, or even really witty, but there is an amusing side to it that I really enjoyed. Perhaps that why I enjoyed it—Morris didn’t try to take himself or the legends too seriously, but related them in a way that was both fun and respectful to the origin.
He also managed to weave together some of the more ridiculous things that happen in Arthurian tales, and medieval literature in general, into something that was actually believable, fairies and enchanters aside. The plot is fairly basic, but so much is crammed into it that the reader tends to forget that. Plus, there is a sort of overarching character arc in both Gawain and Terence that weaves all their adventure together.
One criticism is that Morris didn’t do a really good job of explaining the villain, and when that character is revealed, everything happens very quickly so it’s a little bit anticlimactic. However, there are four or five books in this series, and when a book is as short as this one, some things fall through the cracks to be (hopefully) caught up by the next book.
The Squire’s Tale made me actually enjoy medieval literature, so that’s a huge point in its favor, and overall the book is charming, fun, and decently plotted. The character interaction, especially between Gawain and Terence, is great, and Terence is a good protagonist, though perhaps a little too much of a passive observer in the beginning (though it makes for good development to have him become more and more active throughout the book). I’d read the next books in the series, that’s for sure.
Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, was published in 2017 by Little, Brown, and Company.
To my pleasant surprise, I found The Trials of Morrigan Crow to be a fun, witty fantasy with lots of charm and a decent plot. I’ve been so picky about the books I’ve been reading lately that I never can tell anymore what I’ll like or not—thankfully, I liked this.
That’s not to say I didn’t find flaws in it. There were plenty: the unclear nature of the magic of the world, and especially of Morrigan’s, the heavy-handed, distracting villainy of the police officer, whose every appearance ruined the atmosphere, and several worldbuilding elements, like why in the world Christmas is still called “Christmas” in a fantasy world devoid of religion.
However, annoying police officer and bratty bully girls aside, I really enjoyed the characters, and the book has that slight touch of wacky fun that I really like to see in fantasies if it’s done right. Jupiter North is great, and the cast of side characters are varied and interesting. The villain is all right—at least that character is not as distracting and jarring as the police officer, who is apparently there just to be some sort of strawman and say the word “filthy” a lot—though his plans for Morrigan are predictable, and overall the plot as a whole was twisty and tricky and surprising in good ways.
I hope my interest for this series doesn’t wane as it did for similar fantasies, like The Bronze Key. However, Townsend seems to have a knack for cleverness, which is always interesting to me, so I hope she continues that in the next books.
The Runaway Princess, by Kate Coombs, was published in 2006 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
The Runaway Princess reminded me a lot of E. D. Baker’sbooks. It’s a non-serious fantasy about a rebellious princess (*shudder*) who, knowing better than all the adults around her (of course), sets off to complete the quest her father put in place for eligible suitors, thereby “winning her own hand” a la Merida from Brave.
It’s a good thing I recognized this as non-serious,
fun fantasy early on, otherwise I would’ve spent the whole book wondering how
the logistics of everything worked out. There’s no sense of scale, politics, or
even world mechanics, and everything that happens just seems a little too
unbelievable to be convincing that it would actually happen. It really starts
to delve into melodramatic territory with the “angry parents” side plot.
I can see why a lot of people like this book. Meg is a
rebellious, unconventional princess (a very popular trope) who goes against the
status quo, befriends the lower class, and somehow knows a ton about the
workings of society outside the castle despite never going out much. She’s oh-so
understanding and friendly and remarkably capable despite, again, lack of
knowledge and training. She knows better than anyone else what the correct way
of things should be. Unluckily for me, I absolutely hate that type of
character, especially combined with the overused rebellious princess trope.
For non-serious fantasy directed at a middle-grade
audience, I suppose it’s a fine book. Again, many people would probably applaud
the protagonist (especially considering the audience and everyone’s constant
wish for strong female leads [or, at least, what they think a strong female
lead should be]). Yet I found the whole book unbelievable, Meg annoying, and
the jokes not funny. Coombs took one step too far and turned her non-serious
novel into camp.
I’ve discovered why I’ve struggled to get through
these books—there’s very little action. Perhaps that’s why The Crow, the book with the most action, was my favorite. The Singing is, as all the books are,
far too long, and there’s too much talking and introspection and not enough
danger and suspense. Even the final “showdown” at the end with Sharma was
Maerad also develops far too much power too quickly.
There is not a very good balance to her growth in magic; she goes from somehow
defeating a giant Elemental (within the range of what we know about her
strength) to a glowing person who leaks magic and can destroy bad guys with a
single breath, after merely sitting for ten minutes and thinking—or something.
I’m not sure what was happening because my eyes were glazing over.
I honestly think if the books were much shorter, and
if there were only three books instead of four, the whole effect would have
been much better. But there are whole chapters of this book that are
unnecessary, or scenes that go on for far too long, and after a while Croggon’s
writing style really starts grating. And it’s clear she doesn’t know how to
write action, so she limits it as much as she can, which is why so much of the
final confrontation is inward rather than outward—but because everything is
delivered in the same exact tone, there’s no suspense or tension to the scene.
There’s practically no struggle, either.
Hem remains the only interesting character; Maerad is
too flat and boring, especially in this book. The problem with making your
character super-powerful is that it also makes them super-boring without
conflict or struggle to make them interesting. Hem, who was more normal, seemed
more alive than Maerad, who spent most of the last half of the book in a daze that
wasn’t really all that important to developing any part of her character.
Singing, and the Pellinor series in general, tries so hard to
deliver on epic fantasy, but falls short in terms of pacing, action,
characterization, and intrigue. There’s no politics, barely any struggle, and
there wasn’t enough editing done to help mitigate that. I’m a bit sorry I spent
so much time on these books, honestly, but what’s done is done, and now I know
that I can’t stand them (except for The
Crow. That one was okay).
Wing is the last book in the Claidi Journals series, but it
feels like it didn’t need to be. In fact, the only thing it contributes, beyond
love angst and Girl Power, is resolution about what’s been going on in the
House for the past three books.
It’s not that I didn’t dislike the book. I liked it fine. Claidi has as unique and funny a
voice as always, and the addition of Thu made for some great fun. We also learn
a lot of things about Claidi that are kinda neat, in a “that wasn’t really
necessary, but all right, that’s cool” kind of way. And she and Argul finally
get married (and then only exchange about ten words to each other, it seems
like) and have their happy ending, so there’s that.
However, the whole book just…isn’t that necessary.
There are a lot of characters brought back, and a lot of resolution for them,
but that all happens very quickly. The majority of the book is Claidi wandering
through Ustareth’s created continent by herself, feeling lonely and jealous—or
at least that’s what it felt like. Even before that, Claidi was alone, despite
marrying Argul. And Lee throws so much stuff at the reader in the end that the
whole pace of the book is thrown off. Nothing that was revealed in this book
really changes anything from the first three, and it mostly just seems that Lee
really wanted Claidi to be someone special, so she wrote a whole book about it.
I can’t say that Wolf Wing is bad, as
I did enjoy it. But I found it, ultimately, underwhelming and unnecessary.