Author: Joshua Khan
Shadow Magic, vol. 1
My rating: 3 of 5
Thorn just wanted to find his dad and bring him home, but somehow he’s been kidnapped by slavers, bought and made squire by the executioner Tyburn, and dragged off to the shadowy kingdom of Gehenna where the dead are rumored to walk. Meanwhile, Lilith Shadow (Lily to the friends she mostly doesn’t have anymore) has been forced to take up the mantle of leadership over Gehenna following the tragic death of the rest of her family. Political tensions, forbidden magic, loveless engagements, betrayals, and murder run rife as these two teenagers try to find a way through the chaos.
I should point out right from the start that most people seem to like Shadow Magic more than I did–my dad loved it enough to pass it on to me, and the average rating on Goodreads is a 4.14 at the moment. And I did enjoy the story for the most part in the moment, although I also have a number of issues with it. It’s a fast-paced read that never takes a breath–seriously, you’re thrown from one perilous situation to the next the entire time, which does increase the story’s stickiness and engagement factor but isn’t really the best way to go about doing so. And honestly, overall, the story just feels kind of tropey . . . although, maybe that’s not even quite right. It’s perfect, but in a way that feels like the author tried too hard, like it was run through an algorithm of “what should be in a story” and all the major plot points were spit out from there. Which, again, really isn’t fair because I know the author worked hard to be creative and original, but that’s just the feeling I come away with. There were certainly things I liked–the concept of an ancient giant bat, the spitfire princess who breaks the rules, the boy who dares to defy those above him in station and befriend the princess. (But let’s be real, even those are kind of tropey . . . well, except the bat. That’s just plain cool.) Other things like the division of the kingdoms based on traditional elemental classes or the naming of everything in Gehenna based on dark, mythological things that are meaningful to some readers but have no contextual basis in the story world . . . I just don’t love those aspects of the story. As for the big whodunit mystery, it seems pretty obvious, and the red herring thrown into the mix just feels unnecessary. I guess I should remember that this book is written for a middle grade audience and is supposed to be exciting, fast-paced dark fantasy, but I would have still liked to see more real character development, some actual humor, a few moments to just pause and breathe. Not on my top recommendations, although it was an ok read and I think most people would likely enjoy it more than I did.
Author/Illustrator: Keezy Young
My rating: 5 of 5
Being a ghost, Blue had missed human interaction . . . until he found Hamal, a guy who can actually see and talk to ghosts. The two quickly become friends–okay, Blue maybe has fallen a bit in love–and the small gardening shop Hamal works at soon becomes a popular hangout for a number of lonely ghosts. But something dark is creeping into the area, and Hamal seems to be at the center of it all. How far will Blue have to go to protect the guy he cares for and the other ghosts?
Taproot was one of the most charming, refreshing stories I’ve read in a while. Originally a webcomic, it’s now available as an updated single-volume graphic novel. But yes, it has that independent, webcomic sort of feel, which is delightful. The main characters are just absolutely lovable and sweet; like, I wanted things to work out well for them right from the start. And, not to give away too many spoilers, but I promise, they do get their happy ending. The art is really nice–distinctive and attractive. I really love the mix of bright colors with dark, especially the way the panels are overlapped to provide a fade-in at certain points. It’s used well to emphasize the contrast of light and darkness in the plot itself. As for the plot, again, a good mix of feel-good fluff and eeriness that resolves well and left me feeling happy. Taproot is the perfect sort of story for when you need something short to cheer you up and make you believe in hope again.
Author: Lish McBride
Necromancer, vol. 2
My rating: 5 of 5
Considering he’s gone from burger flipper to necromancer in one fell swoop, Sam LaCroix is doing a pretty good job with all the Council duties, lawn-gnome rebellions, were-bear best friend, fey hound/werewolf girlfriend, newly-inherited from his worst enemy house and money, etc. It’s kind of a lot to handle, but he’s dealing–with the support of his friends and the somewhat grudging aid of his house pukis, James. Who used to work for his worst enemy, Douglas Montgomery, until Sam killed Douglas–quite justifiably. All seems challenging but pretty much manageable until the Blackthorn pack’s leader turns up dead . . . and there’s this niggling feeling that maybe Douglas isn’t as dead as everyone thinks.
Necromancing the Stone is a great follow up to McBride’s first book, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. It picks up the story pretty much where the first volume left off, and carries through solidly with a delightful blend of dramatic tension and sardonic humor. Sam and the people close to him have some pretty incredible personalities, and the writing brings them out wonderfully without being overdone. The balance of action, mystery, romance, friendship, and hilarity is nicely done, although some might find it tending a bit too much toward the weirdly silly. But you’re dealing with some pretty intense and deep stuff here, so the tension has to go somewhere–or at least that’s what Sam would say. It kind of makes me frustrated that McBride makes Douglas someone I can’t entirely hate; but she does it so skillfully, making him a complex human being in spite of his general evilness, that I still enjoyed the story. I think my favorite part is her treatment of James: he is an extremely intelligent, sophisticated, and talented individual, but he’s going through all the emotional uproar of the teenage years while at the same time dealing with complicated divided loyalties. He’s kind of incomprehensible sometimes, but I like him all the more for that. Necromancing the Stone comes with high recommendations for anyone upper teens and above who enjoys meaningful but slightly absurd urban fantasy.
Author: Lish McBride
My rating: 5 of 5
Never one to miss a chance to excel, Sam spends his days flipping burgers and manning the cash register with aplomb . . . or maybe something rather more like apathy, to be honest. That is, until his chance encounter with Douglas, a super-scary dude who accuses Sam of being a necromancer and demands that Sam join him as his apprentice. Weird much? Sam is for sure weirded out (read incredibly freaked out), especially when his friend Brooke’s severed head appears in a package on his doorstep–and starts talking to him. Worse, he’s given a week to join Douglas or the same undeadness is promised to start spreading to others he loves.
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer has got to be one of the scariest, weirdest, most amazing books I’ve read in quite a while. Lish McBride takes a theme that’s so classic it’s exhausted (normal kid not only has powers he never imagined, he’s the prophesied redemption of a people he never knew existed, or some such) and blows the doors off of it. Actually, I think she blows the minds of her readers while she’s at it. I love the character portrayals–they’re rich and sarcastic and funny. And the plot, while being stereotypical at its core, is freakishly scary, exciting, and done in a brilliantly unique fashion. I’m definitely looking forward to a sequel (there’d better be one)! I’d highly recommend Hold Me Closer, Necromancer to anyone who likes odd, scary, sarcastically funny, and impossibly fantastic young-adult stories–just beware of sex and language content.