I saw a tweet a couple of weeks ago, wondering why the media was continuing to focus on men and their idea about the 2020 election when the real story was how angry women are. How done we are with all this bullshit, the casual harassment, the serial rapist that’s in the White House, every story that has come out from #MeToo. (Because y’all of course: #MeToo.)
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo takes all of that anger – presumably her anger – and puts it into Alex Stern. She is a former teenaged drug addict who is found surrounded by a few people, mostly men, who had been brutally murdered. She had no blood on her, but she was so high that she was never a suspect. Oh, and she can see ghosts. The plot starts when, in the aftermath, Yale decides it needs her to keep their secret societies in check. The eight main societies each specialize in a particular type of magic, and a ninth house keeps an eye on each of them to make sure nothing gets out of hand or the students in them don’t get too greedy. Alex wants to be good, wants to fit in, but things keep happening. Eventually, her anger proves to be a very useful tool solving the central mystery.
It is scary and good and depicts rape, sexual assualt, and college students being the assholes that college students can be. Especially when alcohol is involved. It also features them occasionally being hit over the head with blunt objects when that happens.
But mostly, Ninth House wants to remind you how good and productive anger can be. I am here for it. You should be too.
King of Scars is the highly anticipated (by me, anyway) next book that takes place in the Grisha universe that Leigh Bardugo has so beautifully created. She writes YA fantasy novels that take place in a fictionalized Russia and beyond where some people are magical and those people are called Grisha. (This is a terrible explanation, I know. But it gets the point across.)
There’s a secondary character in those books, Nikolai Lantsov, who the author, much of the fanbase, and me finds very glamorous and charming. King of Scars is the book she finally wrote about him.
It was never going to live up to the hype in my own head – because glamour depends on mystery and writing a book about a glamorous character necessarily means explaining that character, and will ergo make him less glamorous and more mundane. That is not my quibble with the book. She navigates that tightrope as well as can be expected and certainly better than I could have done.
No, my quibble is with the second half of the book where Nikolai and two of his partners in crime are suddenly thrown into a magical netherworld. Everyone else is dealing with the fact that these three people are suddenly gone.
Look, it’s YA fantasy and the author has explained the world in the following way: Grisha are people who interact with natural forces in a way others can’t. This ability gives them rejuvenating energy when they practice it, so they live longer than non-Grisha. This is all basically world building along the lines of: it’s the real world, but with a few tweaks. The previous five books in this world have confirmed and deepened this understanding.
This whole other netherworld thing feels very out of left field and much more fantastical than the rest. Like, this is a nice little bungalow house you have here, where does this door go to, oh look it’s an olympic sized swimming pool that dwarfs the rest of the house. It was jarring.
That said, I enjoy her books and I entrust her world-building and story-telling. King of Scars is part one of two and I’m definitely going to give her the benefit of the doubt and keep going. Besides, Nikolai is still awesome. I want to find out how this ends.
The Language of Thorns is a lovely little piece of world building. Leigh Bardugo writes young adult books that take place in Ravka, her made-up pseudo-Russia and Kerch, a proto-Amsterdam; they are full of magicians called Grisha. The Language of Thorns are fairy tales from this world.
The most important world-building tale is The Too-Clever Fox, because it was inspired by one of the side characters (who I am a big fan of) who is getting his own two-book series next year. Yes, I was looking for clues for how the next series is going to go.
My favorite of the stories is a tie between the first one, Ayama and the Thorn Wood, which had the great line “They prey that their children… will tell the true stories instead of the easy ones,” and the last story When Water Sang Fire, which was inspired by Ursula from The Little Mermaid.
This fills the gap whilst waiting for the next series to come along.
Smart, competent girls yay!
Honestly? Plot? A young woman, Alia, gets in a shipwreck. Diana saves her. It turns out there’s a conspiracy around her, blah blah blah, Diana saves the day. You know the plot – no wheels are being reinvented here.
So what’s the point? The point is: smart competent girls get it done despite incompetent and sometimes outright evil dudes. Warbringer is a fun read and will make you proud to have two X chromosomes. Recommended.
Six of Crows was surprisingly fun. It’s not particularly original – six mismatched almost-adults are thrown together to break into an un-break-in-able prison. Will they make it? How will they do it? Who will pair up?
But it’s a good world – there’s a previous trilogy I’m going to go hunt down to learn more about the various lands and their people and exactly who has magical powers and how they got them.
Also: Two strong female characters. Adventure! Excitement! Cunning and derring-do! Escaping an impossible situation or two!
This has summer read written all over it.