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2009-06-08 08:37 pm

The God Box by Alex Sanchez


High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school, and they're good together. They have a lot of the same interests, like singing in their church choir and being active in Bible club. But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed. Manuel's outspokenness triggers dramatic consequences at school, culminating in a terrifying situation that leads Paul to take a stand.

*

This is the third book I've read by Alex Sanchez. I already own Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High, and enjoyed them both. The God Box is, in some ways, fairly similar. All are about gay teenagers either coming to accept their identities or struggling against homophobia. In The God Box, however, there's an added religious element.

This is essentially a romance, so I'll focus on that first. I enjoyed the developing relationship between  Paul and Manuel: there were no big flashy moments of epiphany, just Paul's initial denial then slow realisation that, actually, he was gay. It was slow and sweet, and I found it very believable. There might have been attraction at first sight, but it wasn't love. Both of them were struggling with their own issues (Paul moreso than Manuel) which got in the way of them getting together. In the end, it took a suitably dramatic event for Paul to let go of everything he'd believed growing up - and snog Manuel!

The religious element also played a large role. Here I should probably point out that I'm not religious, my family isn't religious, and I don't live in an overly religious society (unless you count the football!). So I did struggle with the idea that teenagers - popular teenagers, even jocks - would go to a Bible club and discuss scripture. But I'll trust Alex Sanchez if he says that they do. Sometimes, I found it dragged a little. The problem was that I'd heard all these interpretations of the Bible before - both the homophobic and non-homophobic ones, so there was a lot of dialogue where characters were repeating what I already knew. But if you've not read much about the Bible and homosexuality, you'll doubtless find it more interesting. Paul's religion meant a lot to him on a personal level, and I think it's nice that Sanchez showed the positive side of religion as well as the negative - the friendly minister as well as the homophobic one, the support Paul's dad recieved.

As you may have guessed, this isn't a book that shys away from tackling homophobic. It's realistic about it, as well. There's no happy sparkly moment where everyone realises how wrong they were and that gay people are actually beautiful. They keep on hating.

But there were also characters, and not just Manuel, prepared to stand up against it, something I liked. Manuel himself sometimes seemed a little too good - he always had a perfect response, stayed brave, and forgave his enemies. I found Paul more realistic, struggling with his beliefs and his fears. I did like Manuel, however, simply because I sometimes wish I could be like that!

I'd recommend The God Box to anyone interested in the issues mentioned - or anyone who simply wants a YA gay romance with some deeper issues thrown in!
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2009-06-05 02:45 pm

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan


Nick's been on the run his whole life, ever since his mother stole a charm from the most feared magician of them all, and the only person he trusts is his brother Alan. Alan's just been marked by a demon. Only Nick can save him, but to do so he must face the magicians - and kill them. The hunt is on, and Nick's going to discover things he never dreamed were out there...

*

This is Sarah Rees Brennan's debut novel. I think that does show, as some of the writing is a little awkward at first. It smooths out once the story gets going, however, and this is a fantastic story. The plot is fast-paced with plenty of twists and turns, and the ending cleverly pulls together hints I hadn't even noticed SRB dropping. It was one of those surprises that made me feel like I should have guessed what was coming.

The narrator, Nick, is a fascinating character, and I loved him right from the beginning - although I realise I might be in a minority here! It maybe says bad things about me that I felt like I understood him, but I did - his incomprehension of social rules, his frustration with the emotions of those around him, how he was incapable of empathy and yet, in his own screwed-up way, deeply loved his brother Alan. He was violent and ruthless, but could still feel hurt and pain. I was left desperate to know how he'll handle what happened at the end of this book (which is the first part of a trilogy).

Alan obviously cared deeply for Nick, and came across as patient and loving. However, his desire for a normal life, and his many lies, saved him from being too good. The other two main characters were Mae and Jamie, sister and brother. At first I shared Nick's frustration with Mae, but as she grew on him she grew on me too. Initially some of Jamie's wisecracks felt a little forced, but as the character developed he became much more interesting. And it's brilliant to see a gay character for whom being gay is not a huge part of the plot - there's no drama over his sexuality, it's just accepted.

I also liked the world SRB created, and I'd like to see more of it. She's got a new take on the idea of the Goblin Market - after finishing I rushed to look it up, as I couldn't remember what I'd read of it before. In Christina Rossetti's poem, the Goblin Market was the work of the Unseelie Court, and involves the taboo of eating fairy food leading to death. In The Demon's Lexicon, the Goblin Market is a human invention, where those who aren't magicians trade magical items and summon demons through dance. So, very different! I hope it's something we get to see more of. I loved the imagery and descriptions, and the acknowledgement that even when opposing evil, people are going to try and make a profit. There were a few great cameo characters as well - I hope Sin reappears in later books.

Overall, I loved this book, and cannot wait for next summer, when the next is due to be published. I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark urban fantasy and ambiguous characters.
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2009-06-04 08:51 pm

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.
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2009-05-12 03:53 pm

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!