Three Dark Crowns, by Kendare Blake, was published in 2016 by HarperTeen.
In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions. But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
Three Dark Crowns has an interesting premise: three sisters following an age-old tradition of familial murder (sororicide) in order to be crowned queen. What makes it so interesting is that the three sisters are all the protagonists, which immediately means the reader is thrown into the position of being in the heads of all of them, of relating to all of them, of knowing that no matter what the outcome, one of these viewpoint characters may have to die. I say “may have” because I’m not entirely sure any of the three girls will die, although I’m guessing at least one will. I’m also guessing that there’s going to be an overthrow of the old system before the series is over. There’s already a hint of it in the reveal at the end, that this year, this generation, will be different than the last, and I’m guessing either the sisters will find a way to all survive, or one of them will sacrifice herself to save the others, or something like that.
Books like this really hinge on worldbuilding, and Blake did a decent job of it, though some things could have been smoother. The chapters with Arsinoe and the naturalists were especially choppy, with most of the worldbuilding and background established by throwing names of characters around and expecting the reader to remember them all. There’s never a moment when it feels as if the characters are explaining things that they should already know, but Blake goes a little too far in the other direction, and doesn’t explain things enough.
I think of all the sisters, my favorite is Katherine, if only because she’s not involved in a dumb romantic plot (Mirabella) or hampered by clunky worldbuilding and overshadowed by a more powerful, more memorable character (Arsinoe). I also find weaker protagonists more interesting, and though Katharine also had a romantic plot, hers was far more interesting (especially at the end of the book) and far less infuriating than Mirabella’s.
Let’s talk about that dumb romance for a moment. The main problem with it is that Blake apparently expects us to believe that a relationship founded upon a tryst in the woods where one of the people was suffering from hypothermia, and afterwards the characters spend maybe three hours in each other’s presence total, with the boy realizing that the former relationship he had with another girl, which is founded upon years of friendship, isn’t enough compared to the physical aspect of the relationship of a girl he knows nothing about, is a good and legitimate ground for a “relationship.” Sure. Okay.
Beyond that completely infuriating and meaningless romantic plot, as well as the annoying use of present tense, Three Dark Crowns was interesting enough that I think I will follow up with at least the next book. The reveals at the end have piqued my curiosity, and I’d like to know if my guesses about what will happen are correct.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Nothing explicit, but there’s lots of kissing, lots of mentions of “fire” and “heat” and obvious sexual connotations.
Daughter of the Pirate King, by Tricia Levenseller, was published in 2017 by Feiwel and Friends.
Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship. More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.
Daughter of the Pirate King reminded me of what I hate about certain young adult novels: one-dimensional characters, predictable romance, uninspiring prose, and way too many lingering gazes and “almost but not really” intimate moments.
Let’s start with the main character, Alosa, who’s this “I can take care of myself” female protagonist. And she can, for the most part, at least in the fighting department (which, by the way, when described by Levenseller, never seems as if it should actually work). She’s one of those “super strong, super tough, I can beat up lots of people and kill without thought” female protagonists. Of course, once she runs into her love interest, she meets her match, at least in terms of cleverness if not strength. That’s part of the attraction (of course), although it’s mostly his looks and his sensitivity (of course). But since a perfect protagonist doesn’t really make for a good plot, there are times when Alosa is remarkably dumb and/or rendered incompetent just so that the plot can progress; then, she returns to her normal capability as if nothing odd has happened.
There’s also the “requisite” attempted rape scene, because of course there is. And that’s where the author really runs into a snag because she’s framed Alosa as the type who can take care of herself. So, Alosa does take care of herself because she’s the type who doesn’t need a man to rescue her. However, then she gets angry at Riden for not helping her, despite her repeated insistences that she can take care of herself, and it seems as if Levenseller also wants the reader to get mad at him, too (or not? It’s hard to tell). That’s inconsistent narrative; either 1.) Riden should have helped her because he was right there, and doing nothing was abhorrent or 2.) Alosa doesn’t need a man to rescue her, no matter what’s happening. If you get mad because Riden didn’t help, then you must think it’s all right for men to rescue women (gasp!), and it’s an acknowledgement that Alosa can’t do everything (which is fine).
I’m not sure if that was understandable; I just thought it was interesting how Levenseller has a woman rescue herself from a situation, like people love to promote, then describes the woman getting mad at a man for not helping, when people usually decry scenarios when women need rescuing by men.
Or maybe we need to start acknowledging the fact that helping people, regardless of their gender or their ability to take care of themselves, is something that’s morally good and that we should actively strive to do.
Anyway, moving on to the plot: it’s fairly interesting if you remove the romance, though Alosa does absolutely nothing to further her goal once she’s on the ship and simply has flirty exchanges with Riden. There’s a reveal at the end that’s a bit obvious, and other than that it’s fairly straightforward and predictable. There’s attempts at humor, mostly in Alosa’s continuous “witty repartee” and, of course, the dreaded romance, which I really don’t want to talk about because it’s so unoriginal.
Daughter of the Pirate King was a book that I started out hoping I would enjoy, only to get more and more annoyed with each page. I almost stopped reading it halfway through, but I need to have some low ratings on this blog, after all.
Keeping the Castle, by Patrice Kindl, was published in 1978 by Dutton.
Seventeen-year-old Althea bears a heavy burden on her slender shoulders. She must support her widowed mother, young brother, and two stepsisters who plead poverty—and she must maintain Crawley Castle, a tumbledown folly designed and built by her great-grandfather. Althea, in short, must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors—or suitors of any kind—their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then Lord Boring comes to stay with his aunt and uncle. Althea immediately starts a clever, stealthy campaign to become Lady boring. There’s only one problem; his cousin and business manager, Mr. Fredericks, keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans…
Keeping the Castle is a fun, sweet, short historical romance akin to Jane Austen (though only in plot, not substance) or Georgette Heyer. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is, but I didn’t find myself caring in the least bit—I had a smile on my face the entire time. It’s cute, it’s indulgent, it’s funny—a lot like Blackmoore or Edenbrooke in terms of how I felt about it, but better written then those two books, I thought.
The book does have a very Austenian plot, a little bit of a mix between Pride & Prejudice and Emma. There’s a lot of focus on money and class, and the tension between the “Old Money” and the “New Money” classes is very clear (Althea is horrified at Lord Boring’s shop-owning cousin, Mr. Fredericks, and his bumbling, rude ways). There’s nothing surprising about the plot in terms of romance, though there are one or two interesting things that happen along the way that are slightly unexpected.
I feel like Kindl had a great time writing this book; it’s very tongue-in-cheek (Lord “Boring,” Dr. Haxhamptonshire (pronounced “Hamster”), etc.) and really it feels like Kindl wanted to capture a lot of Austen charm without the more advanced language and with a bit of a modern touch (in terms of writing, not in terms of setting).
Keeping the Castle was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed myself immensely. I love books like these, especially ones that are written to be funny, as opposed to those which are meant to be serious but wind up being humorous because they’re trying too hard. It was a great relaxing, de-stressing book, and I want to read all of Kindl’s other novels now.
Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. She knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. But Yeva’s grown up far from her father’s old lodge, raised to be part of the city’s highest caste of aristocrats. Still, she’s never forgotten the feel of a bow in her hands, and she’s spent a lifetime longing for the freedom of the hunt. So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortunes may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s heard about only in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin—or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast?
It’s nice to have some fodder for my Fairy Tale Fridays again! Hunted is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in Russia, complete with Russian fairytales. Yeva, the daughter of a merchant who recently lost his wealth, has to go after her father when he doesn’t return from hunting one day. In the woods she encounters a Beast who takes her back to his ruined castle when she becomes injured.
Hunted plays out very much like the familiar Beauty and the Beast fairytale, though there is some added lore with the Russian fairytales, and hunting is a predominant theme. Spooner really amps up the idea that Yeva/Beauty is the one saving the Beast, but it’s not as annoying as this sort of reversed trope can be. The added lore helps flesh out the retelling, though it does get confusing at the end, and adds even more magic to the original. My favorite “Beauty and the Beast” retelling will always and forever be Robin McKinley’s (for nostalgia purposes, mainly), but Hunted is, in my opinion, quite unique in the way it transforms and adds to the original.
I had to chuckle at the nod to Stockholm Syndrome that Spooner makes in this book. It’s a great moment because Spooner herself has to avoid the same complaints people make about “Beauty and the Beast” while retelling the fairytale. I actually don’t know how successful she is, personally, as I’ve never really had a problem with that aspect of the fairytale, but having that time where Yeva didn’t realize that her friend was the Beast helped, as it more fully illustrated the human/beast divide that is central to the book. It also made Yeva’s falling in love with the Beast more realistic, as she had those moments of humanity to fall back on.
The one part that really bothered me was the epilogue. That’s when Spooner’s modernist interpretation came roaring to the front, even more so than in Yeva’s clichéd retreat from married life and “boring” conventions of the time. To be honest, the entire end of the book unraveled my enjoyment of it, as that’s when it started to get the most loose in terms of plot and pacing. I suppose I shouldn’t have forgotten that Spooner is also the co-author of a book that I despised for its presentation of a romance relationship, but I guess I’m eternally hopeful that relationships will be portrayed in actually healthy ways as opposed to what society thinks is the best way to show them.
Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her. But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity. Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?
All my worries about a potential sequel to Walk on Earth a Stranger, a book that stood alone with little to carry into another book, came to fruition in Like a River Glorious, which is ultimately a pointless sequel that tells the same story as the first book, only without the going west part.
The only character change in this book is that Leah’s gold-seeking changes in depth and power. Otherwise, the characters are the same: Hiram is flatly evil, and little is revealed about his relationship to Leah’s parents or why he killed them (specifically, why he killed Leah’s mother, since it seems pointless to have done so. Carson reiterates over and over that women are powerless in the eyes of the law, so there’s really no reason for Hiram to have killed Leah’s mother. Rage, perhaps, at her apparent betrayal?). Jefferson is typical Love Interest Boy, meaning he’s uninteresting, and Leah spends most of the book being criticized for what other people are doing.
Speaking of the latter, Carson uses this book as a mouthpiece for her modernistic ideas of 1849, and spends the majority of the events making sure the reader knows exactly how Leah is responsible for the abuse of Native Americans and how she should feel terrible about it, and how people should feel guilty for owning land and never own land because it all belongs to the Native Americans.
By the way, Carson, I hope you’re practicing what you preach and don’t own any land yourself.
Also, wow, does she take some liberties with history. Some of it is explained away at the end in an author’s note (mostly consisting of “I wanted to bring this to light earlier than when it actually happened so it would fit my narrative”), but Carson conveniently left out the fact that women could actually own property at that time, despite the many, many times it’s stated to the contrary in the novel.
Highlighting the abuses of the time isn’t a bad thing, but filtering it through modernistic views is problematic. And regardless of accuracy of depiction, Carson’s constant preaching and guilt-tripping only caused me to want to never pick up the last book in the trilogy. I also can’t see what would be in a third book, since once again, everything is wrapped up neatly in this book.
Like a River Glorious reminded me of what I hate about young adult literature: the constant authorial preaching, the filtering of events through modern lenses, pointless romance, and the manipulation of historical data to fit one’s particular narrative. I have no desire to pick up the last novel in the trilogy, or read anything by Carson ever again.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Slow down,” I tell Olive. “You have to let the gold settle. Do you see it?”
“Where?” she asks.
All I mean to do is point, but it seems as though the flake lifts out of the water and sticks to my finger, just as if I called it. It’s the strangest feeling, like a static shock when it touches my skin.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon, was published in 2003 by Doubleday.
Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, Christopher is autistic. Everyday interactions and admonishments have little meaning for him. Routine, order, and predictability shelter him from the messy wider world. Then, at fifteen, Christopher’s carefully constructed world falls apart when he finds his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, impaled on a garden fork, and he is initially blamed for the killing. Christopher decides that he will track down the real killer and turns to his favorite fictional character, the impeccably logical Sherlock Holmes, for inspiration. But the investigation leads him down some unexpected paths and ultimately brings him face to face with the dissolution of his parents’ marriage. As he tries to deal with the crisis within his own family, we are drawn into the workings of Christopher’s mind.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a superbly written book that shines a light on the inner workings of an autistic mind. Despite the fact that Christopher cannot comprehend human emotion, the reader can, and so the reader experiences the emotions that Christopher struggles with—the desperation of his father, the annoyance of the police, the at-times-rude-but-at-times-caring strangers.
Haddon’s style of writing perfectly matches Christopher’s personality. We get the matter-of-fact, the confusion, and the excitement communicated through sentence structure and style. It’s rather fabulous, really.
Basically, the book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, The mystery is well-done and realistic, Christopher’s confusion and desperation at the end of the novel are incredibly well communicated, as are the emotions of his father, and it’s hard to put this book down. My only squabble with the book is that I could have done with less swearing and I thoroughly disagreed with Christopher on many things.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Young Adult
He said, “I have spoken to your father and he says that you didn’t mean to hit the policeman.”
I didn’t say anything because this wasn’t a question.
He said, “Did you mean to hit the policeman?”
I said, “Yes.”
He squeezed his face and said, “But you didn’t mean to hurt the policeman?”
I thought about this and said, “No. I didn’t mean to hurt the policeman. I just wanted him to stop touching me.”
Walk on Earth a Stranger, by Rae Carson, was published in 2015 by Greenwillow.
Lee Westfall has a strong, loving family. She has a home she loves and a loyal steed. She has a best friend—who might want to be something more. She also has a secret. Lee can sense gold in the world around her. Veins deep in the earth. Small nuggets in a stream. Even gold dust caught underneath a fingernail. She has kept her family safe and able to buy provisions, even through the harshest winters. But what would someone do to control a girl with that kind of power? A person might murder for it. When everything Lee holds dear is ripped away, she flees west to California—where gold has just been discovered. Perhaps this will be the one place a magical girl can be herself. If she survives the journey.
Some of my least favorite tropes (and probably everyone else’s favorite tropes) are present in Walk on Earth a Stranger: a girl who dresses up as a boy, a girl who doesn’t follow historical/traditional female roles, and enough modern-day social justice to satisfy the people who want modern thought imposed on their historical fiction.
Leah is not my favorite type of protagonist, but Carson is a good enough writer that I didn’t immediately dislike her despite the presence of tropes I dislike. I did find her overbearing, patronizing, and at times almost narrow-minded. Someone so compassionate about slaves while growing up in the South is also completely dispassionate in terms of religion and traditional female roles. The former could have to do with Carson’s portrayal of Reverend Lowrey, which was almost laughable in its extremes and stereotypes. As for the latter, well, Leah herself seemed to hold contradicting points: at one point, she decried anything that would make her beholden to a man and then the next minute, she was thinking about her relationship with Jefferson and wanting to marry him.
But perhaps I’m being too harsh. I did enjoy the book, though I can’t imagine how Carson is going to make a trilogy out of it. In my mind, the book could have been a stand-alone (with some slight changes, of course). I suppose there’s a little bit to explore in sequels: the mystery of Leah’s parents’ past and the presence of Uncle Hiram. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a trilogy without a love triangle, so I’m fully expecting some new character to come in and sweep Leah off her feet before she realizes in the third book that Jefferson is The One.
I do love Oregon Trail stories, though, and this one is a good one—lots of danger, realistic scenarios, and compelling enough characters to carry the plot through when it could have slowed down.
Walk on Earth a Stranger is full of tropes I don’t like, but despite all that, I ended up enjoying this Oregon Trail/Gold Rush adventure. I’m hoping Carson doesn’t fall prey to more overused tropes in the next two books, and also that Leah becomes a character that I can actually relate to, but at least I’m intrigued enough to see what happens next.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“I have a gold half eagle in one hand. Which is it?” There’s a twinkle in his eye that reminds me so much of Daddy that my chest hurts.
The coin sings to me clear as spring runoff from his left fist. I point to the right.
He smiles. “You can’t keep secrets from me, Leah.”
I sigh and point to the left.
“That’s my girl.” He opens his fist, and there it is, shining yellow-bright.
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, was published in 1954 by Faber and Faber.
At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This farm from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued…
Despite Lord of the Flies being one of the more popular books to assign in high school, I never actually read it until now. Of course, I knew what it was about—a group of boys are abandoned on an island and end up killing each other. But knowing about something and reading it, experiencing it, are two completely different things. I also read this book right when it was announced that there’s apparently going to be a female version of Lord of the Flies developed as a film. More on that in a minute.
I can’t say that I liked Lord of the Flies. Can anyone really enjoy reading a book about young boys resorting to savagery and vicious murder, simply because of the loss of authority and civilization? But I did like the way Golding used all of the symbolism, some subtle, most overt, to point out this descent. The decaying pig head, Piggy’s glasses, the conch shell, the fire…they’re perhaps too obvious, but perhaps that’s best in a book aimed at high-schoolers, who are still learning to decipher figurative language and symbolism.
The descent of the boys into violence is really well-done, creepy in all the right places and in all the right tones (the killing of the sow is especially cloaked in terms that could easily apply to something else, which makes the whole scene even darker). And the killing of the sow is only the beginning, as the boys give in to their bloodlust to commit even more vile acts. Even Ralph, the symbol of leadership and authority in the novel, falls prey to the mob—only Piggy (the intellect) and Simon (not sure what he is supposed to symbolize, to be honest—some suggest he is the opposite of the Lord of the Flies/Beelzebub/Satan, which would make him a Christ figure) resist.
Then, of course, there’s the ending, which demonstrates, again, Golding’s point that a loss of authority and intellect leads to barbarism, a “devolution” if you will. And he’s not wrong, to an extent, though I would like to think that some people would rise to the occasion and resist—though, I suppose, Ralph, Piggy, and Simon do resist.
After reading this book, I now think a Lord of the Flies with all females would not work at all. Let’s face it—women react differently than men. Girls in a situation like what the boys faced would react differently. You can’t make a female Lord of the Flies like the book at all. It would be something completely different. And maybe that’s what the movie will be—since it was just announced, I obviously have no idea. But trying to force it into a carbon copy of the book would not work at all.
Lord of the Flies is an excellent case study of what the lack of authority and rules can bring. The subtle increase and inclination towards violence is portrayed nicely through the use of symbolism, and gets increasingly creepy and dark as the novel goes on. I can’t say I liked it, or enjoyed it, but I can see why it’s assigned reading in many (most?) schools.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Violence, some graphic descriptions, swearing.
Genre: Young Adult, Realistic
“We used his specs,” said Simon, smearing a black cheek with his forearm. “He helped that way.”
“I got the conch,” said Piggy indignantly. “You let me speak!”
“The conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain,” said Jack, “so you shut up.”
“I got the conch in my hand.”
“Put on green branches,” said Maurice. “That’s the best way to make smoke.”
Dragon’s Blood, by Jane Yolen, was published in 1982 by Delacorte.
Jakkin is fifteen and a bond servant, which is little better than a slave. He labors for Master Sarkkhan in the dragon barns, tending to the beautiful beasts who are raised to fight in the pits. Jakkin’s only hope of freedom is to steal a hatchling, secretly train it as a fighter, and win gold enough to pay his way out of bondage. But does he know enough to train his dragon to become a true champion?
Clearly influenced by Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, Dragon’s Blood is a science-fiction/fantasy that didn’t turn out to be anything I was expecting when I picked it up. I thought it would be a fun dragon book (How to Train Your Dragon still makes me squeal in excitement); I was not expecting something akin to McCaffrey’s works. I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing—it just caught me off guard.
I’m not a huge fan of science fiction, especially this kind, where strange terms and words are introduced and everything is described in detail—but sometimes not until midway through the book, where it seems strange. So I didn’t love Dragon’s Blood. I have nothing against Yolen’s worldbuilding or plot; there was some neat stuff at the end and as a whole the world made sense and the plot was pretty strong, though perhaps a bit rushed at the end. I simply don’t really like science fiction.
I can’t even say I dislike Dragon’s Blood for being such an obvious tribute/imitation of McCaffrey. I have read some of McCaffrey and liked it, but I had the same problems with it as I do with Dragon’s Blood. I like my dragons in fantasy, not science fiction. I like my worlds less meticulously and strangely described, or perhaps at least more smooth integrations of infodumping. This is a genre issue, not a particular issue with characters, world, etc. In fact, I didn’t even really dislike Dragon’s Blood at all—I just didn’t really love it.
Science fiction. It’s just not my thing.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Some innuendo, breeding terminology.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
All dragons, he reminded himself with the conventional trainer’s wisdom, all dragons are feral, even though they have been domesticated for over two centuries. And especially dragons like Blood Brother.
As if hearing his name, Brother jerked his head up. Deep inside the black eyes there was an iridescent flicker, the sign of a fighter. Involuntarily Slakk stepped back. Errikkin stood his ground. Only Jakkin went forward, holding out a hand.
“Hush, hush, beauty,” he crooned, letting Brother sniff his hand. “It’s the baths for you.”
Black Dove White Raven, by Elizabeth Wein, was published in 2015 by Hyperion.
Emilia’s and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt-pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adopted son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and to each other be their downfall…or their salvation?
At first I didn’t think I would like Black Dove White Raven. The beginning starts abruptly, in media res, and it took me a moment to get my bearings straight. I also didn’t know how to feel about the craziness of Rhoda/Momma’s backstory, and the odd marriage-but-non-marriage she has. But Emilia and Teo gradually won me over—mostly Emilia.
The novel takes place before and during the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s. It’s funny—I’m not used to reading a book set in the 1930s that doesn’t also mention the Great Depression. But, of course, since the novel is set in Ethiopia, there wouldn’t be mention of it, regardless of the characters’ prior years in the States. What’s more, since Rhoda came from a Quaker family, it’s likely life during the Depression was not too different than life before, which is why it wasn’t mentioned. Wein has an extensive author’s note in the back of the book where she details what is historical and what is poetic license, but the whole thing melds together so well that in the midst of the book you don’t care what things are made up and what aren’t. Everything makes sense, even the crazy stuff that happens at the end, and it’s grounded in the reality of Ethiopia’s history.
I mostly liked the book throughout, but towards the end I started really loving it. I loved Emilia’s adventures at the end; I loved how we didn’t get an adventure from Teo’s more competent and certain point of view but from Emilia’s uneasy, less adept point of view. The only thing I didn’t love about the ending was the lack of resolution we got regarding Emilia’s future.
Black Dove White Raven started out a little shaky for me, but towards the end really solidified into a gripping, exciting read. Emilia is a female character that I actually enjoy; Teo had his moments, too, though I liked him less (too perfect). Rhoda was a bit wild, but I suppose it fit her established character. I learned a lot about the Italo-Ethopian War, as well as about Ethiopia and that time period in general. Overall, I thought Black Dove White Raven was a solid book and I will seek out more Wein books to read.
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
“Teo’s not here to learn to fly,” Momma said flatly.
There was an awkward silence.
But Colonel Augustus didn’t give up easily. “Teodros Gedeyon was born to be a pilot! Wasn’t his mother one of the earliest licensed fliers of her sex and race in the world? Wasn’t his father one of the earliest African men to take to the skies before his untimely death far from home—?”
(He really did talk like that.)
“—And does the new emperor not dream of an Imperial Air Force of young Ethiopian men born to the skies? The Black Dove’s son is destined to follow his mother into the air and fly for Ethiopia!”