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Today we review the first books in three new speculative fiction series.
Let’s begin with Charlie Holmberg‘s The Paper Magician series. We review the first, The Paper Magician, Holberg’s debut, published in September. The second in the series, The Glass Magician, is already available. Both are published by Amazon’s fantasy, science fiction and horror imprint, 47North.
Some of you might know Charlie Fletcher from his middle grade Stoneheart trilogy. The Oversight is his first adult novel. It is a terrific readalike for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, with a similar dark London setting. (Bonus–a British friend who knows London well assures me that it’s geographically accurate.) This is darker than The Paper Magician, but still perfectly appropriate for teen readers. The second in the Oversight trilogy, The Paradox, is expected in 2015.
Radiant is another debut, which launches Karina Sumner-Smith‘s Towers Trilogy. It is an interesting mix of fantasy and dystopian science fiction, combining magic and technology. At it’s core is a strong female friendship that grounds the world-building and the action. Next up? Defiant in 2015!
This series opener is tailor-made for teen readers who love Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus (Doubleday, 2011) and the “Harry Potter” books. Ceony is a recent graduate of the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined. Unfortunately for 19-year-old Ceony, she is apprenticed to Emery Thane, a paper magician, after graduation. She is not particularly interested in paper magic, considered to be an irrelevant form by most. She soon finds she has a knack for it and enjoys working with the brilliant but mysterious magician. What begins as an apprenticeship turns into a love story and adventure when Magician Thane is attacked by his ex-wife, an Excisioner who practices dark magic. Ceony must literally enter his heart on a quest to restore it to his body. The romance that develops between Ceony and Emery Thane is extremely chaste—nary a smoldering look passes between them—making The Paper Magician a safe choice for any YA or high school collection. Holmberg borrows heavily from “magic school” books, so the familiar tropes she employs will appeal to younger or reluctant readers. Readers will anxiously await for the next offering to find out what’s next in life, love, and magic for Ceony.–Meghan Cirrito, Brooklyn Public Library, NY
This atmospheric fantasy effectively combines rich world-building, appealing characters, and fast pacing. The Oversight is an ancient order that regulates interactions between humans and the “supranatural.” Members enforce the Law and Lore that prevent the Sluagh and other creatures from preying upon humans. The Oversight have supernatural powers themselves, from communicating with animals to hiding in plain sight. Their ranks of have been diminishing for some time, and they are desperate for new members. When Mr. Sharp rescues Lucy, a nearly feral teenager, from being sold into servitude and brings her to the Oversight safe house in London, Sara Falk and Cook are excited to realize that, like Sara, she is a Glint—she can see into the past by touching an object with her hands. They promise to teach her to control her abilities. But that night Lucy breaks into the Red Library, which holds objects of value to the Oversight. She steps into a mysterious series of mirrored passageways, stumbles, and falls through into a circus tent in northern England. Short chapters follow these and several other characters who work to either forward or thwart a plot to use the Sluagh to dispense with the Oversight once and for all. This first in a trilogy leaves more than one character in deep peril at its conclusion. Recommend to teens who enjoy Neil Gaiman’s books, specifically his Neverwhere (Avon, 1997), which is clearly an inspiration for Fletcher’s Dickensian London and dark magic.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City
In a dystopian world where magic is currency and a status symbol, Xhea has none. What she does have is a strange ability to see ghosts—invisible to magic-wielders—and the tethers that bind them. Xhea uses this ability to make a living, taking control of ghosts for a brief period to give the haunted a respite. When Xhea takes control of Shai’s ghost, the protagonist soon discovers that the young woman is not an ordinary ghost. She was a Radiant, one of the rare people who produces excess magic for the families that control the City’s great Towers. Shai’s home Tower will stop at nothing to regain control of her powers, and as Xhea and Shai struggle to avoid a fate that is literally worse than death, they develop a strong friendship and discover that Xhea’s lack of magic is a strength she’d never imagined. Radiant is fast-paced and very readable. The dichotomy in class between the Towers and the Low City is a new take on a common theme, and the primary characters are well developed and nuanced. The combination of strong female characters, paranormal activity, and dystopia makes this a good choice for fans of Veronica Roth and Cassandra Clare. The plot is very complex, a bit more exposition may have been helpful, and including zombies may have been trend overkill. Overly formal language will occasionally jolt readers out of the story. However, teens will likely respond to this story of friendship and adventure and look forward to the second installment in the trilogy.—Karen Brooks, Pierce County Library System, WA
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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