- Category: Helen
In previous reviews, I compared Rachel Hartman’s first duology - Seraphina and Shadow Scale – to Kristin Cashore’s Graceling. Like Cashore’s Katsa, in Bitterblue, Seraphina is present and integral to plot points and character development in Tess on the Road, but the focus shifts to a younger character, Seraphina’s half-sister. And again, similar to Bitterblue, the book ends as a major sea expedition is setting out, promising wonderful adventure. Like Cashore, Hartman’s writing, world building and narrative are excellent, but there, the similarities end...
We meet Tess as a bossy, scrappy, lippy and generally naughty little girl, evading restrictions enforced against girls and young women. She’s a bad influence on her angelic twin and friends with Pathka - a Quigutl – a small dragon-like creature whose race is tolerated but oppressed in Tess’s regimented society. In adolescence, Tess sneaks to lectures at the university, which leads to a secret romance that destroys her reputation and prospects. Faced with becoming a governess in her sister’s new home or beginning a new life in a nunnery, Tess runs away. On the road, away from other people’s negative expectations, Tess becomes a better self, has fantastic adventures, and together with Pathka tracks down and communes with a mythic creature. The book closes as Tess joins an expedition to track down a second such creature, as governments and dragons begin to compete for control and hegemony of World Serpents.
This book explores, with nuance and clarity, the difference between self-interest and selfishness and what can be the folly of misguided sacrifice for family. I recommend this book to fantasy and science enthusiasts – adults and young adults – to fans of historical and science fiction. I can’t wait for the rest of Tess’s singular adventure.
Young Adult Fiction Hardcover pr1304787
- Category: Helen
The Serpent’s Secret is the first book in the series Kiranamala and the Kingdom Beyond. Aru Shah and the End of Time is the first book in the Pandava series. I received an audio book for one of these novels and about a week later the other I’d reserved at my local library became available. I thought it might be helpful to compare them as they both feature similar, but different, diverse characters and stories.
Although these books are both for ages eight to twelve, The Serpent’s Secret is more appropriate for the younger end of this range. The age and maturity of the protagonist depicts this difference, but equally, this book has fewer characters, a less complicated plot, less terrifying adversaries and less overall danger.
The story begins as our protagonist, Kiran, arrives home to find her parents missing. She’s mulling over a mysterious note from them when a huge, slobbery, monster crashes into her kitchen. It is a rakkhosh, she realizes, from the bedtime folk tales her parents have always told her (Apparently, these folk tales are actually true!). She is immediately saved by two princes on winged horses. Although the monster seems intent on eating the three of them, it is also chanting rhyming threats that are more funny than scary. Our princes are reluctant to kill the monster, and render him unconscious, instead. A quest to find Kiran’s parents ensues into a kingdom in a different dimension...
DasGupta's world building is vivid and imaginative, and peopled with elements from Bengali folk tales. Banter between the princes, Kiran and other characters is often hilarious and always engaging. There are battles and fighting, but rakkhosh rhymes and their copious snot and drool create more slapstick comedy than fear for the reader. The monsters feel harmless rather than menacing. The author also works STEM content into the story, like ideas about dark matter, time, dimensions, etc. Albert Einstein even makes an appearance! An author’s note relates many of the scenes and characters to part of Bengali Folktales she heard as a child. It is her hope that her ideas might encourage young patrons to read more. I’m looking forward to book two!
In Aru Shah and the End of Time, by contrast, there is a lot more at stake. Aru inadvertently releases a malevolent spirit from a lamp when she intentionally disobeys her mother – for a dare. When said spirit is free, everyone around Aru freezes. Her mother is frozen in place, the frenemies who dared her, everyone on the street... She learns that she and Minnie, another tween girl, are Pandava - two reincarnations of five hero brothers born again and again to save the world...
Weighty themes of trust, self-hood and honour define much of the action. The gods of Hindu Mythology are all characters in this story, as well as the mythical creatures they ride. They are extremely interesting and their backstories and interactions enhance the story immensely; but, it is tougher sledding than the world in The Serpent’s Secret. Also, Aru and Minnie are tasked – alone – with completing quests, and eventually confronting the evil spirit before time stops completely and everyone in the world dies.
Rakkhosh demons are among the adversaries confronting Aru and Minnie, but they aren’t funny and they are very scary. Rick Riordon was involved in publishing this book. Readers who enjoy his many series should enjoy this one.
- Category: Helen
Hip the tortoise and Hop the hare both love to write rhymes and then say them to music (the story explains this as rapping). The text in Hip’s speech bubbles are red. The text in Hop’s speech bubbles are green. The author explains that when you see red words you should read slowly and green words should be read quickly. Hip raps so slowly that people lose interest. Hop raps so quickly that no one can follow her. The plot thickens from there, into two stories and one shorter “bonus mini-comic.” The rhymes and comic panels make the pages fly by, in this 80 page book. Children listening to this book with an adult, after some repetitions could transition into reading a few of the rhyming speech bubbles, which would be really fun for the adult and fledgling reader. The two stories are roughly the length of a picture book and quite funny as well. I think this book might engage some young listeners who are otherwise reluctant readers.
Picture Book Hardcover pr2103269