Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:27 AM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

WARNING: Contains spoilers for Rampant, the first book in the Awesome Girls Who Are Also Unicorn Hunters series (my title).

Well, Diana Peterfreund certainly doesn't pull her punches. I picked up this book at a signing at ALA where I actually got to meet her (and be all incoherent in her face, yay!), and she invited me to share what I think.

And I'm still not quite sure.

Life continues to be suckily complicated for Astrid Llewelyn, reluctant unicorn hunter, as we find her still with no solution to the conundrum that unicorns are both a) vicious, man-eating monsters and b) magical, wild animals whose habitat has been decimated. Sure, her cousin Phillippa has become a champion of the unicorn-preservation movement, lobbying for endangered species status and a nature preserve and legislation against hunting and trafficking -- but meanwhile, unicorns are still out there killing people. Which means that Astrid has to go out there and kill the unicorns first.

And she's not sure how much longer she can stand it, especially since it's getting easier to sense the unicorns around her, their desperation and hunger and terror as they die...

Meanwhile, Cory is getting mysteriously sick and things are getting horrendously complicated with Giovanni and Gordian Pharmaceuticals menaces in the background and Astrid's chance of a normal life and medical school and her aspirations to help people seem to be slipping further away every day.

Geeze, Louise.

It is a tribute to Astrid as heroine that I felt compelled to stick with her throughout all this horrible mess, even as she screws up and gets lost and hurts people she cares about -- I just couldn't leave her. Because she was doing the best she could and being strong and smart and funny despite it all and let me tell you that is a kickass heroine.

It's awfully risky to have your main character go through the wringer, mostly because as readers we want to identify with our protagonist and no one likes having Life kick the snot out of them. But Life Happens, and props to Diana Peterfreund for developing this story in the way it should happen even if it means a rougher ride.

Lots of more excellent stuff in this book with the tangled mess of being a powerful, strong woman in a world that favors the 'wilting willow' stereotype; dealing with others' expectations while trying to forge your own identity (a note about Astrid's mother: HOLY HELL WOMAN, GET AWAY); struggling between responsibilities and your own desires (if you can even figure out what they are)....I could write a whole different loving review about this stuff right here. Not to mention the Endangered Species/Vicious Killers problem that the unicorns bring in, along with drug development and animal testing and woah....

But I should stop, because it boils down to this: get this book, and read it. It is a wild ride with our fantastic heroine and moments of pure magic, and believe me you don't want to miss out on that.

P.S. If you're wondering (as I did) about all the amazing unicorn-lore, Diana Peterfreund has an awesome page on her site full of Unicorn Research. LOVE.

White Cat by Holly Black


Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:28 AM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I've heard about Holly Black in terms of awesomeness before, but I've never really gotten into her modern faeire tale series with Valiant, Tithe, and Ironside. It isn't that I doubted the reviews, but each time I picked up one of her books they failed to really grab me...the timing just felt off.

And then I went to the ALA Annual Conference in DC, and saw the lines for White Cat. I decided enough was enough! No more lollygagging! I would enter the world of Holly Black and not look back!

Oh man.

I was so not prepared for the awesome. First off, White Cat is a con man's story, which means it's full of twists and tricks and glorious lies. Second, this is a world of magic, where certain people -- called workers -- have the ability to curse others by touch alone. There is a ban on 'working,' and the government is eager to have mandatory tests to determine who has this ability (which workers are understandably eager to avoid). So everybody wears gloves, just to be safe. Meanwhile, a lot of workers are drawn into a black market world by their talents, recruited - and someones forced - to work for crime syndicates with their mojo.

The main story centers around Cassel, who seems like a decent guy. Okay, so maybe his mother's in jail for scamming rich guys out of their fortunes (with a little help from her emotional 'working' magic), and his brothers might be sort of working the black market with their talents for luck and broken bones, respectively, but Cassel doesn't have the working talent, so he's not in the family business. Instead, he's going to boarding school, becoming an upright young man and keeping out of trouble...except for that little betting pool he's operating on the side. Oh, and that time he murdered a girl in cold blood.

Um, yeah.

It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I was hooked and the con games got going, well -- I finished this one in a day. And kept making these shocked noises that disturbed my fellow passengers on various transports, because by the end my head was spinning off. I mean, I sort of saw one twist, but then there was another, and then I did not see that coming and oh what? -- so I just had to sit back and enjoy the ride.

As a narrator, Cassel was hard to warm to, especially given his habit of envisioning killing his ex-girlfriend as a sort of litmus test for Evil. (Cassel: Hmm, does the thought of strangling this girl fill me with horror? ....Yes...okay, so, still not evil!). But it was through his interactions with his family -- his crazy, criminal, messed-up family, that I really started to sympathize with him. By three-quarters of the way through the story had really kicked into gear and I was with Cassel to the end, whatever that turned out to be.

I'll stop babbling to avoid spoilers, but I can say now with confidence: Holly Black's reputation of awesome is fully justified. And con games + mobsters + prickly, difficult characters + magic = win.
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