Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Sapphique by Catherine Fisher


Finn has escaped from the terrible living Prison of Incarceron, but its memory torments him, because his brother Keiro is still inside.

Outside, Claudia insists he must be king, but Finn doubts even his own identity. Is he the lost prince Giles? Or are his memories no more than another construct of his imprisonment?

And can you be free if your friends are still captive? Can you be free if your world is frozen in time? Can you be free if you don't even know who you are?

Inside Incarceron, has the crazy sorcerer Rix really found the Glove of Sapphique, the only man the Prison ever loved. Sapphique, whose image fires Incarceron with the desire to escape its own nature. If Keiro steals the glove, will he bring destruction to the world?

Inside. Outside. All seeking freedom. Like Sapphique.

*

This is the sequal to Incarceron, which I loved - but then, I love most things Catherine Fisher writes, so that's no big surprise. This is a true 'can't put down' put, with a plot so engrossing and intricate I still felt surprised the second time I read it. The world she's created is detailed and beautifully described. Nothing is quite what it seems, and that includes the characters. As always with Catherine Fisher, even the good guys are deeply flawed and approaching ambiguous. But that's why I love them.

Finn was my favourite, with his mix of morality and deceptiveness. He cared deeply for Keiro, and possibly Claudia, but didn't let that stand in his way from trying to manipulate the two of them. Claudia was ambitious and cunning, plotting and scheming, but redeemed by the love she had for her tutor, and by the fact that her plots served others as much as herself. Keiro spent most of the book believing he'd been betrayed, but even so, I never felt sure how much of his hurt came from the betrayal of a friend, and how much came from jealousy of someone who'd 'escaped' while he remained trapped.

I couldn't honestly see how she would be able to end this happily, and while the ending probably couldn't be described as happy, it wrapped up the plot in a way that felt believable and hopeful (and in a way that satisfied my socialist tendencies).

This is serious fantasy, exciting and original, and unafraid to shine a light on the darker side of human nature. Catherine Fisher is possibly my favourite ya fantasy author, and Incarceron and Sapphique just cements that position.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Graceling by Kristin Cashore


In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punnishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behavior of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the seven kingdoms, and each of them is ruled its own king with his own personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Liend's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates . . . and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to saftey? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one eyed king . . .

*

First things first: I love Katsa. Seriously, she’s going straight down on my list of all-time favourite heroines. She’s violent and ruthless, but cares deeply about others. She struggles to understand other people, and never wants to marry or have kids – and she refuses to let anyone tell her that she should think differently. She's struggling to find her place in the world, has issues with her self-esteem, and still manages to be so strong and determined and just generally kick-ass. I loved her strength and her super-girl powers, but her personality most of all.

The other characters were also good, especially Po and Bitterblue. I liked that Po wasn’t threatened by Katsa. He respected her strength, and, in turn, made it possible for her to trust him. Normally when a child appears I get nervous, but I loved Bitterblue as well. It would have been nice to have gotten a bit more about the main baddie. He’s obviously some kind of psychopath, but I can’t remember any real mention of why he ended up that way.

It wasn't all perfect. I think the twist was quite easy to work out, and the first few chapters suffered from infodump. But the story was fast moving and exciting, and the writing very good. But what really makes this shine for me is Katsa. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a strong, well-rounded, feminist heroine - if there are any Tamora Pierce fans out there, you should definitely pick this up!