Fantasy

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

Note: spoilers for The Girl From Everywhere

This is the fifth book I needed to complete a bingo for #AsianLitBingo, for the Mixed Asian MC square.

Nix Song, the main character, is a Hapa (a Hawaiian term for someone with mixed heritage) teen unlike any other – that is, she was raised at sea outside of her native time as the first mate on Temptation. Her father is a Navigator, able to travel to any land, imaginary or real, at any time – as long as he has the right map. Nix had never known her mother, who died giving birth to her, and all of her life the only father she’s known is one consumed with grief. The Ship Beyond Time is the second book in a duology; in the first book, Nix’s father is obsessed with finding the right map that would bring him to a moment before her mother dies, so that he could save her. Nix fears that the act of saving her mother would erase her from existence, and braces herself for it – but when they do find a way to 1884 Honolulu, Nix’s mother have disappeared, and the crew of Temptation ends up getting mixed up in a plot that would be a prelude to the American’s conquest of Hawaii. Continue reading “The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig”

Fantasy

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Hattori Mariko was on the way to meet her betrothed when her carriage was attacked, leaving her the lone survivor thanks to a servant shielding her. Knowing that it was likely that she was the target, she disguised herself as a boy and tracked down the Black Clan, the group she suspected was responsible for the attack. She wanted to find out why someone would want to kill her, as well as exact her revenge. When she found herself one of them, however, she began to wonder if they were really the ones responsible for the attack. In the meantime, her twin brother Kenshin is convinced that she’s still alive, and is doing his best to find her.

I have to admit that this book isn’t as fantastical as I was led to believe. I wanted a magical feudal Japan, and I got… mentions of yokai and a little magic at the end. The scene with a Jubokko was great, but it happened halfway into the book – I stopped at said to my friend Kit (this was during lunch) “finally some yokai!” and she replied, “halfway through the book?” Continue reading “Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh”

Fantasy

Huntress by Malinda Lo

I have to confess that while I remember enjoying Malinda Lo’s Ash, I remember so little of it now that it’s as if I’ve never read it. Because I remember enjoying it, I had included Huntress in my TBR, and because I couldn’t remember it, Huntress lingered in my stack… for a very long time. Until now, because (1) it’s about time I read it! and (2) it’s perfect for my Queer Asian MC square in the #AsianLitBingo, being one of the first YA books I encountered that featured characters that were both Asian and queer, with a story that didn’t revolve around either of these identities. That alone made this book quite an achievement, but I liked it for other reasons too.

Set a few hundred years before Ash, there isn’t much to connect the two other than the fact that they’re both stories from the same universe, where fairies and humans co-exist. After a war that happened long before the beginning of Huntress, humans and fairies had made a treaty and stuck mainly within their own borders. But strange, dark things are occurring on the human side, and when the king received an invitation to visit the Fairy Queen, the humans took it as a chance to save their world. Continue reading “Huntress by Malinda Lo”

Fantasy · thinking out loud

Conrad’s Fate and The Pinhoe Egg

Since this may be my last #MarchMagics related post, I’m going to smush the Conrad’s Fate and Pinhoe Egg questions here. I haven’t got to either books in my reread project, so I don’t remember them as well as I do the others. All I remember is: Conrad’s Fate is about a young Christopher, when Gabriel de Witt was still Chrestomanci. It had more bad parents/guardians and like The Lives of Christopher Chant,  it’s told from the point of view of a kid who doesn’t have access to the right information, or is being manipulated, by the adults around him. I don’t remember much else, having read it only once before. I can’t wait to reread it now!

The Conrad’s Fate question is: If you were to discover a family secret, would you rather it be: a noble title, money, or magic? Continue reading “Conrad’s Fate and The Pinhoe Egg”

DWJ ReRead · Fantasy

The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones

The first time I read it my brain was in this fuzz, right after The Spellcoats, because I got the omnibus editions which are always a bad idea (for me). Not that I had any other choice back then. I rushed through the book, thought it was nice enough, and forgot all about it.

This is my second time experiencing The Crown of Dalemark, this time on audio, forcing me to take my time instead of rushing, and I am so in love with this whole quartet. WHY DID I NOT SEE THE BRILLIANCE OF THIS QUARTET BEFORE.

The book starts with Mitt, who’s in North Dalemark after the events in Drowned Ammet. He had been training to be a hearthman when he was tasked to murder Noreth Onesdaughter, who claimed to be the true Queen of Dalemark and wanted to reunite the lands. But then, it changes perspective to 200 years in the future, where a girl named Maewen meets an Undying who sends her back to the past (Mitt’s present) to take Noreth’s place, as the real Noreth had disappeared, and Maewen looked exactly like her. Continue reading “The Crown of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones”

DWJ ReRead · Fantasy

That time I read A Sudden Wild Magic

suddenwildmagicThere are multiverses, and this never seemed to matter very much, until a mage who is also very good at computers discovers that all – well, many – of the bad things that happened in our world, from the world wars to the great depression and even global warming, were a result of our world being toyed around with by wizards in another universe. Basically, the mages of Arth put us into situations where we would have to invent things or solve certain problems, after which they would steal the ideas for their own world.

Mark, the mage who discovers all this, went to Gladys, the wisest (and kookiest) witch he knew. And somehow this all led to a group of witches being sent to Arth and sabotage the evil otherworld mages with, among other things, kamikaze sex.

Er… maybe I should back up a bit.

This is a Diana Wynne Jones novel, yes, but this is not a children’s or YA fantasy.

After Changeover (the debut novel I probably won’t ever get to read), all of the published DWJs were for children/teens… until 1992, when A Sudden Wild Magic was published. Of course, even before I started this book, I thought of DWJ’s essay “Two Kinds of Writing?” in which she wrote about some unspoken assumptions about grown-up vs. children’s/teen fiction:

I found myself thinking as I wrote, “These poor adults are never going to understand this; I must explain it to them twice more and then remind them again later in different terms.” Now this is something I never have to think when I write for younger readers.

Starting on the first chapter, this was what I noticed the most – longer explanations about everything. I showed the first page to Kit, whose desk is next to mine at work, and she said it gave her a headache. I found A Sudden Wild Magic to be a bit weird, but still somehow, very Diana Wynne Jones. There’s the protagonist that doesn’t seem to have a high opinion of themselves, but everyone who knew them seem to admire, until they slowly become aware of their own inner strength. There’s the mention of bad, horrible parents, and in this book, on how that could go on to influence the kind of adult you became. There’s the wordplay and sly jokes and things that are fun buy may not make much sense in terms of the plot until you get to the end and all the pieces just fit together perfectly. I also thought that this particular novel reminded me a lot of Doctor Who, a feeling that I didn’t get with her other novels. And when I reread “Two Kinds of Writing?”, I saw that DWJ mentioned that “anyone who can follow Dr. Who can follow this in their sleep.”

So. This book has “sex, violence, politics, and the arcane skulduggery of science or magecraft”, which, as mentioned in her essay, were also apparent in DWJ’s children’s books, only not spelled out loud with 100% more explanation and more Doctor Who vibes. All of which spells “perfectly good read” to me, even if it won’t be in my top ten favourite DWJs. I dragged out my reading for as long as I could, gleefully savouring the feeling of reading a “brand new” Diana Wynne Jones, and finished it with the sober realisation that this was the last novel in my “reread” list that I had to read for the first time. I could always reread it, of course, and the whole point of my DWJ reread is that every read brings out something new, but still. Not counting Changeover, there are no new worlds from her for me to discover. That made me sad, and I kind of dread reaching Chaldea in my rereads, even though I know that after that, I could always start all over again.

(Happy Friday the 13th! Also, Zillah Green is probably in my list of top ten favourite DWJ characters. But I’ll write more on that one day, when I reread this book.)


DWJ REREAD no. 43 | A Sudden Wild Magic (1992)
previous read: “A Slice of Life”
next read: Yes, Dear

DWJ ReRead · Fantasy · Horror

Black Maria by Diana Wynne Jones

“And I won’t bother with breakfast, now Lavinia’s not here to bring it me in bed, dear,” was Aunt Maria’s final demand. Mum promised to bring her breakfast on a tray at eight-thirty sharp. It’s a very useful way of bullying people. – Black Maria, Diana Wynne Jones

blackmariaMy current copy of Black Maria is also my first copy, which is kind of rare when it comes to my DWJ books – but then again, I don’t think I’ve ever lent it out before. I received my copy from a classmate back in high school. Even now, I wonder about it – we weren’t close, and it wasn’t a special occasion, but one day she presented me with the book with a note saying she knew I loved Diana Wynne Jones. (As a result, she is one of the very few classmates I still remember now.) Anyway, the first time I read it, I thought – how gloomy. Diana Wynne Jones’ books aren’t exactly all cheery, and books like Homeward Bounders are pretty dark, but the gloominess of Black Maria struck me deeper, probably because it was a gloominess I knew all too well from my own childhood.

Another thing about Black Maria is that even though it was first published in 1991, it was really written before The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988). Since I’m reading in published order, I figure I may as well make a note of that here. In “A Whirlwind Tour of Australia” (published in Reflections), Diana Wynne Jones wrote that unlike some of her other books that were published long after they were written, Black Maria was suppressed by her. The reason? It was too frightening. To me, it isn’t a direct sort of horror – it is that utter gloominess, a claustrophobic sort of dread and resignation that comes with having to live with someone like Aunt Maria.

Mig Laker and her brother Chris had never met their father’s Aunt Maria, not until his sudden death. Then, after a series of phone calls from poor, frail Aunt Maria who reminds them that they were her only family left, their mother takes them to Aunt Maria’s for a holiday.

It didn’t take long for the Lakers to realise that Aunt Maria – who appears to be so cozy and cuddly – rules the village of Cranbury-on-Sea. She’s the queen bee, flanked by the twelve women who live down the street. All the men might as well have been zombies in suits. And all the other children seem like clones, even if they don’t resemble one another physically. On top of that, there’s a ghost haunting Chris’ room, and a cat that looks uncannily like one of Aunt Maria’s previous servants.

For most of the book, you get the feeling that something is off, and that it was more than Aunt Maria’s pretense at frailty to manipulate everyone around her, and more than the enforced gender stereotypes that made all the women tending to Aunt Maria and the men “away” all the time. Mig played along at first, letting her brother take the active role (as a boy, he was encouraged to be outdoors while Mig had to help her mother look after Aunt Maria). But as Chris’ attitude towards Aunt Maria gets more and more rude – providing for some of the best laughs in the book – and Aunt Maria gets more awful but in this unbearably SWEET way until she finally does something to get Chris out of her way for good. This forces Mig to take the lead, to uncover the truth about the people of Cranbury-on-Sea so that she could find a way to get her brother back.

The whole story is written from Mig’s point of view, so it is only from here onwards that we truly see beyond the tea parties and coziness to all of the darkness running underneath. I love that Mig’s adventure recalls some of my favourite fairy tale tropes but of course, this being a Diana Wynne Jones book, everything is flipped over and nothing is what it seems. I had remembered this book as a horror, and in my reread I realised that it’s not REALLY horror, but it’s got elements of horror. And it has SF elements but it’s more of a fantasy – reading it, I remembered DWJ’s mentions of not wanting to be boxed in by genre in Reflections. I guess it gets claustrophobic, just like the villagers of Cranbury-on-Sea being forced into specific male/female stereotypes. I really hate the whole “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” mentality, and loved the way it’s treated in this book. In the end a person is a person, and a good book is a good book, and Black Maria makes a great Halloween reread.

* published as Aunt Maria in the US. Sadly, both US and UK versions are out-of-print now.
**reread earlier in the year, but reread again for the RIP Challenge.

Other Reviews:
Iris, Books & More | Shelf LoveThings Mean A Lot | We Be ReadingThe World Crafter


DWJ RE-READ no.41 | Black Maria (1991)
previous read | Castle in the Air
next read | “A Slice of Life”