I haven’t read Philip Pullman’s bestselling His Dark Materials YA trilogy, nor have I seen the film adaptation of The Golden Compass, so when I cracked open Pullman’s newest, La Belle Sauvage, it was with fresh, unknowing eyes. La Belle Sauvage, the first volume in The Book of Dust trilogy, is actually a precursor to The Golden Compass and is set 10 years before the plot lines at the start of that series take place.
This first book follows eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, the son of Oxford innkeepers, and his daemon Asta, on various adventures as he attempts to parse good from evil in the complex world around him, all the while shielding an orphaned infant, a baby named Lyra, from harm with the help of a girl named Alice.
While I was entertained by La Belle Sauvage and enjoyed reading it, I couldn’t help feeling that, from page one, I’d been dropped into this world, this Pullman universe, without a guide map. Perhaps all the big world building took place in His Dark Materials. Perhaps my view of this world, so like our own but also different, was small because I saw it solely through the eyes of the young protagonist and have no vision for what comes after. The story was interesting, engaging even, but felt slightly limited in scope. Also, while clearly setting the scene for the next book, the ending felt very rushed and haphazard, a sloppily tied bow at the end of a finely-plotted book.
Crooked Kingdom, follow-up to Six of Crows, is the fast-paced and entertaining second book in Leigh Bardugo’s YA duology featuring teenage criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker and his motley crew of miscreants.
If you haven’t read Six of Crows, I won’t give too much away here about the sequel, only that Bardugo crafts unique, idiosyncratic characters who carry the story from start to finish and engineers fantastic plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing until the very end.
And, yes, there’s MAGIC.
I discovered Leigh Bardugo’s YA fantasy Six of Crows on Goodreads (V.E. Schwab, author of the Shades of Magic series, rated it 5 stars), and the cover pops up constantly on bookish Instagram feeds.
It took a few chapters for the plot and the characters to capture my imagination, but once they did I was hooked and stayed up reading 350+ pages, bingeing on Bardugo’s well-crafted fantasy world and her diverse ensemble of outcasts until midnight.
The plot centers on a heist led by a ruthless, cane-wielding criminal mastermind, the 17-year-old orphan Kaz Brekker. Brekker and his motley crew of miscreants voyage to the impenetrable Ice Court, which houses both a palace and a prison, to kidnap the creator of a drug that threatens to wreak havoc on the magical world they inhabit. The team is fueled by a large monetary reward, and the plan is swiftly put into action and summarily complicated by the conflicts that arise within the ranks. A wholly entertaining and delightful read… And I’m looking forward to escaping into the second in the duology, Crooked Kingdom.
When I was chatting with my friend Noelle’s husband about fantasy/sci-fi books (they’re his jam), he recommended I read Ursula Le Guin. A few days later I went to the bookstore and picked up the first in Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle trilogy, A Wizard of Earthsea. I think that had I been a 15 year-old boy and not a woman of 38, I would have connected with this book more than I did; Le Guin wrote it for a teenage audience and it does read like a YA book.
It’s the story of a young magician who, in an attempt to best his rival at magician school, unleashes a fearsome shadow into the world. In an attempt to escape the shadow he has called forth, he hones his powers, fights dragons, escapes the dangerous clutches of a beautiful queen, and embarks on an epic sea journey to the end of the world.
Though I didn’t love A Wizard of Earthsea, I’m interested in reading more Le Guin so I’m putting the next two Earthsea books and The Left Hand of Darkness on my to-read list.