Down With Dystopia: The Rise of the Royal Court

When I tried describing a book to someone last week, I realized that I was mixing up characters and plots, pulling from multiple titles I had recently read. Finally setting aside some time, I decided to look into these books a bit more, and then I fell down a rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m not seeing dystopian books a-la Hunger Games and Divergent anymore. Now, books about princesses and kingdoms (and magic – ooo!) have taken the floor and are proudly waltzing by.
dystopia royal court princess

Is anyone else noticing this? Does this mark the end of depressing dystopian worlds? Is historical fiction donning a fancy new Y.A. get-up? We still have strong female characters completely dominating young adult literature; however, rather than the run-of-the-mill dystopia once dominating popular books, our heroines are now featured in the high courts of fantasy realms and fairy tale retellings.

I’m not saying this is a problem, but, does my observation carry greater meaning when I point out that many…most… of these books are written by debut authors?  I get that these things come in waves, but this seems more like a tsunami. Below are a number of recent, and soon-to-be books that include some aspect of royal courts:

  1. Red Queen (et al) – Victoria Aveyard
  2. Shadow & Bone (et al) – Leigh Bardugo
  3. Girl of Fire and Thorns (et al) – Rae Carson
  4. Graceling (et al) – Kristin Cashmore
  5. The Selection (et al) – Kiera Cass
  6. The Healer’s Apprentice (et all) – Melanie Dickerson
  7. The Jewel (et al)- Amy Ewing
  8. Deception’s Princess (et al) – Esther M. Friesner
  9. Princess of the Midnight Ball (et al) – Jessica Day George
  10. Seraphina (et al) – Rachel Hartman
  11. Cruel Beauty (et al)- Rosamund Hodge
  12. Princess of Thorns – Stacey Jay
  13. Stolen Songbird (et al)- Danielle L. Jenson
  14. The Queen of the Tearling (et al) – Erika Johansen
  15. Grave Mercy (et al)- Robin LeFevers
  16. Winterspell (et al)- Claire Legrand
  17. Stitching Snow – R. C. Lewis
  18. Throne of Glass (et al)- Sarah J. Maas
  19. Cinder (et al)- Marissa Meyer
  20. Suspicion – Alexandra Monir
  21. Legendary (et al) – L. H. Nicole
  22. Queen of Hearts: The Crown (et al)  – Colleen Oakes
  23. Snow Like Ashes (et al) – Sara Raasch
  24. Camelot Burning (et al)- Kathryn Rose
  25. Legacy (et al) – Jesikah Sundin
  26. Stray (et al) – Elissa Sussman
  27. A Wicked Thing (et al) – Rhiannon Thomas
  28. Crown of Ice (et al) – Vicki L. Weavil
  29. Storm Siren (et al) – Mary Weber
  30. Illusions of Fate (et al)- Kiersten White

That’s well over a two dozen titles, not including the respective continuations and sequels, e-book prequels or e-book short of some kind. (Those marked by ‘et al’ indicate some continuation in their series or intended series.) Of the authors that I’ve pulled into this list, there are only three that do not explicitly note a continuation of story.  I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll see more than just one entry in these remaining three all the same.

So what’s with this sudden spike in popularity? Here are some observations:

Women authors — At least in this genre, it seems as though unless your name is George R.R. Martin, most fantasy books are being written by women. There are a few men that are writing for young adults: John Green, Rick Yancey, Patrick Ness, Scott Westerfeld, Rick Riordan… but they’re not necessarily explicitly ‘fantasy’ authors. Where is the new blood? Where are the male debut authors? And where are the male debut fantasy authors?

Princesses — I don’t think I need to point out the dream every little girl (and some boys!) have of growing up to be a princess. Rags to riches, coming of age, reluctant hero(ine)… and other themes are common in such princess fantasy stories. Also present are kings, queens, princes, duchies, nobility, lords, ladies, and the like. Everyone loves to play dress up. Everyone also loves coming from modest beginnings,  and not necessarily entitled to the fame and fortune, but, of course, deserving. Humble = likable.

Gossip — I really, really don’t want to go there, but there’s also a clear connection between certain elements in this genre (such as spies, assassins, espionage…all of which boil down to gossip, lies, and general underhanded-ness,) that are present in many stories with women characters. Perhaps it’s simply an aspect of the everyday feminine culture that is handled in different ways from book to book, but it is undeniable that gossip is a common thread.

**NOTE: There’s much hesitation, self-awareness, and self-censorship I exercise in writing this entry. I feel like feminist readers of my blog will tear me to pieces… but these aren’t meant to be pokes or jabs at the nature of feminism or female culture. I’m not criticizing these points I bring up, but rather I seek to open a thread of conversation to be had with a purity of motive.**

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At this year’s Horn Book Awards Colloquium, held at Simmons College (Boston, MA), there was an interesting panel held on the diversity of literature for children and young adults. This was headed by individuals in the publishing world, all of whom claim to scour for talent every day trying to find diverse books to publish. Unfortunately, without the talent… there’s nothing to publish.

So much of this time I had been blaming the publishing world. I’d thought, well, of course they are the reason there is not more diversity in books – because they want to take something popular that makes them money and drill as far down into the well as they can… Further illustrated by my list above. Or is it? Are books like these getting published because that’s just what the writing talent is currently producing? Is it because these books are easily marketable to the established audience? Are there writers out there producing diverse literature and the work is just ‘not good enough’ yet to make it to print? I think it’s unfair to place the blame on any one faction of the book world. Everyone simply has to work harder to produce and promote diverse literature.

My final question is this: Does the list above demonstrate the diversity we are all working so hard for?

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Not Quite A Ten

With a hook claiming to be a modern-day Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, I had high hopes for Ten by Gretchen McNeil. Then I realized Gretchen McNeil did the voice of a character on a short-lived but very much-loved (by me) animated show on G4TV called Code Monkeys, a show dripping with raunchy witty humor. I thought this would be brilliant! I first fount this title during my Young Adult literature course (it was on a YALSA list somewhere… or won an award… one of the two), and purchased it through Amazon’s Kindle store for $1.99. Seeing what I paid for it again in print doesn’t make me feel as bad about buying it… But part of me wishes it was only $0.99.

 

ten

 

The structure should already be familiar to anyone who read And Then There Were None, or fans of the movie Clue. The story even starts the same — guests traveling on a ferry-boat to an island in the middle of a storm. Ten introduces us to a cast of high school students, all fraught with ex boyfriends and jocks, the one black guy, an asian girl, and nerds. Okay, I’m thinking, cliché, but let’s see where this leads. The cast is spending the weekend on this island to celebrate graduating. I think. It wasn’t really clear, and didn’t really matter anyway. They make dinner together after awkward interactions, and someone nearly dies from finding nuts in their salad. Ooh, scary nuts! Yes, they were allergic… So I suppose anaphylactic shock would be a little clever way to knock someone out right away… but let’s move on. The kids find a movie and pop it into the DVD player and there’s an odd reel of slashing and scrambly clips and words flashing on the screen and paint slashes on the wall, like a college freshman’s first attempt at a visual arts assignment. The film foreshadows everyone dying, basically.

For anyone wanting to read this, I suppose I’ll leave out the spoilers… but I found the whole story played out like a discount-bin horror flick. I suppose that’s all you really need to know. The story whittled down to somewhat of an anti-bullying story, except the victim was a kook. And I had to recount the number of people who died, because of the ten teenagers… **SPOILER** two survive… meaning only eight died… (Oh, but that’s right, there were two random neighbors’ bodies found in that one scene…but that seems like a cop-out).  I suppose retitling the book to EIGHT wouldn’t have had the same impact… Unfortunately, Ten did not inspire a ten-star ranking.

To wrap things up: The idea was there, the creativity was sorta there, the execution was a bit lacking. The book would have been a bit more enjoyable if it had been shortened. In defense, I think it’s a bit difficult to compose a mystery like And Then There Were None without duplicating it. Sadly, I think the blurbs you read about this book may provoke a more imaginative story in your  own imagination than reading the full story.

Now if only I could slash this title off my list with a swatch of red paint just like in the book. That would be satisfying.

Mid-year Appraisal

Six months ago I posted an entry detailing my method of selecting the order of what books to read next for this year. Now that it’s June, I thought I would do a quick tally of what I’ve read so far of that list, and what’s in progress. Again, strikethroughs represent finished entries, bold represents currently in progress, and asterisks* represent e-books.

  1. Reached
  2. Insurgent
  3. Cujo
  4. Dogs of Babel
  5. Hero
  6. Ten*
  7. The Brothers Bishop
  8. A Year in Provence
  9. Rebel Heart
  10. Beautiful Darkness
  11. Will Grayson, Will Grayson
  12. In The Line of Beauty
  13. Misery
  14. Better Nate Than Ever*
  15. PTown
  16. Little Children

I’ve tried to keep things in order, but after reading Cujo, reading another book about a dog turned me off a bit. I got about 30 pages into Dogs of Babel and had to switch over to Danielle Paige’s No Place Like Oz and Dorothy Must Die. (Those will have their own blog post!) Now I split my time between Ten, since I can now read in bed at night, thanks to my Kindle Paperwhite, and Dogs of Babel. Admittedly, looking back along this list, I believe all of the books I’ve finished were in audio format… which could explain why it’s taking me so long to get through Dogs of Babel. Try as I might to get a hold of the audiobook copy, the only one in my library system I could find was at a school for the blind, and my librarian said they couldn’t request it. (Why not?? Ugh…) There is a rhythm to Dogs of Babel’s chapter structure that I am finally getting in to, and I am really surprised by how much I appreciate Parkhurst’s writing style. Her dialog between characters seems so natural and ‘real-worldy’ that I am easily able to imagine illustrious scenes as I work my way through the narrative. That’s the whole point of story-telling anyway, right?

On the other hand, Ten is not as exciting as I hoped it would be… I had high hopes, but I suppose there really is little sense in recreating Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Why bother sticking modern day teens on an island and have a power outage? There hasn’t been a desperate attachment to technology that has been built upon to make the power outage worth sending the cast into a frenzy over. I’m about a third of my way into it and nothing is blowing me away… But I’ll save the rest of my judgement until I finish. Every time I sit down to read it, I’m compelled to go ‘home’ on my Kindle to try and read something else, like The Madman’s Daughter or Better Nate Than Ever, but so far, my willpower has been steadfast. Not all hope is lost… yet!

 

Besides this list, I’ve made my way through many other books, all listed on the Unmentioned page, which has just been updated. With all of the new ARCs from BEA this year, I’ll have to take another stab at that separate page… I may just combine them all together  and use a different symbol to differentiate them, similar to the e-books. Oh, I can’t wait to read those!

 

As always, stay tuned! Thanks for reading!

Where You Belong

Veering slightly off the track of my trajectory of books for the year, I couldn’t help but read No Place Like Oz, the prequel e-novella by Danielle Paige, as soon as I caught wind of it. I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of meeting her and listening to her talk about her (now New York Bestselling) book Dorothy Must Die at my local bookstore, The Odyssey.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of one of my favorite franchises of all time. I mean favorite. I’m talking: I had a Wizard of Oz birthday cake, y’all. FAV. Over the years, Baum’s books have been adapted countless times, and I would say that this newest addition to the world does not disappoint. Thankfully, I can launch myself directly in to Dorothy Must Die without having to wait. Though I haven’t finished many  of the original Baum books, I have completed the more popular of the stories, which is where Paige’s books draw their inspiration.

“Home isn’t where you’re born — it’s where you belong” 

No  Place Like Oz

 

This prequel brings us back into Dorothy’s life a few months following her return to Kansas. Though she’s been happy to get home after all of her adventures, she has gotten a bit stir-crazy knowing that there’s a whole world out there beyond dusty old farmlands. On her sixteenth birthday she receives a mysterious package containing fancy red heels that end up transporting not just her, but also Uncle Henry and Aunt Em to Oz. Once there, she resolves to never return to Kansas, despite her family’s protests, and to reunite with her old friends. Instead, she ends up spending much of her time at the Emerald City and becomes the acquaintance of the new ruler, Ozma…. And I won’t spoil anything else — but it’s good!

Reading through Paige’s text feels so familiar. Whether it’s the subject of Oz or perhaps her style of writing, I breezed through this novella in just a few hours. One thing I always appreciated about Baum’s original Oz stories is his ability to describe characters and scenarios in such a way that is brief, yet provides just enough detail  to allow your mind to spin these marvelous images. I find Paige achieves this in very much a similar way. Her prose is contemporary, yet not too “current-dated,” by which I mean, it does not fall into today’s vernacular common place in other young adult works. That said, it does still feel very Y.A.. (I’ll have to re-read some of Baum’s books to get a sense of how they match up.)

In this little novella, we see quite a development in the character of Dorothy, from a very familiar “oh-fiddle-dee-dee” corn-fed girl to… well… I won’t ruin it… But trust me on this: it’s worth the read. This, so far, seems like the perfect primer for the full-length Dorothy Must Die, and at a very reasonable $1.99 from Amazon’s Kindle Store, it’s worth the buy. You can bet I’ll be writing about Dorothy Must Die when I finish that, too.

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Special shout out — Hey Ma, if I wasn’t clear in the rest of this entry…

GO READ THIS! 

Audiobibliophile

Since obtaining my library card just over two weeks ago, I have “read” three books and I find myself ravenously scouring Overdrive to find more and more. Never had I considered audiobooks as valuable as I do now.

Previously, I had looked at audiobooks and scoffed, mainly at the price. Why purchase 6 – 8 discs of audio for upwards of $30 or $40 when I could purchase the physical copy of the same book for less than $15 (in most cases)?  I simply regarded the products as premium editions that I chose not to afford. With my history of reading books no more than once, I knew I would get more for my money by simply buying more physical books than audio books. 

After my move, I now have a 30 minute drive to and from work, giving me an hour of prime listening time — what a fool I’ve been! Now I look forward to driving so I can get through as many chapters tracks as I can. Audiobooks have certainly changed the way I read, and I’m taking this knowledge and using it as a strong medicine to help knock out much of this booksickness. 

I’ve listened to audiobooks in the past and remember experiencing a very similar feeling. Shelf-reading during my college years working in the library is how I was able to get through most of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, as well as The Stand… But at that time, I checked out audiobooks, ripped the MP3 tracks to my computer, and then returned the discs the following day. I still don’t quite understand what my rush was. Perhaps a sense that I still needed to HAVE something in my possession, similar to collecting my books, is what drove me to saving the audiobooks to my computer. In any case, though I may be one of the last out of the tunnel, I have seen the light. I hear the heavenly chorus of narrators and their words, like hymns, take me to my own realm of euphoria.

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I still stand by what I’ve always advocated in the past, and I make a point to bring up to booksellers and librarians alike: publishers should produce an edition of the printed book that also contains its audiobook and ebook counterparts. Perhaps as codes to be redeemed through apps such as iTunes or Overdrive. In any case, I think that prospect would go over quite well. 

Since I’ve been trucking through these titles rather quickly, please pardon the slightly out of date Book List page. I’ve placed holds on the audiobook versions of the books I am currently reading… at least the ones I could find. This Sickness may shrink drastically if I keep up this dosage!