Son of a Trickster

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Last year, I read only one magical realism novel and I lamented the fact that I hadn’t found more. This year, I’m starting with one in the hopes that it will bring more my way! Wishful thinking, maybe, but it certainly can’t hurt.

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First, much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for giving me the chance to read this fantastic book pre-publication!

Son of a Trickster will be published on February 7th, and it certainly fits the bleak tone of the month. Jared, the main character, is a teen with a damn hard life. With a grandmother who thinks he’s a trickster in disguise and a mom bouncing around with a drug-dealing boyfriend, things are certainly not rainbows and roses.

Here’s the thing though: it works. It works so incredibly well. This is the most realistic magical realism novel I’ve ever read. The characters seem like they could have walked out of any small town, and the stoner community and mindset were super accurate. People sometimes have hard lives. That’s just the way it is. It was a great change to read about such a realistic teen who is also such a good person.

I think it’s also worth noting that Jared is Native American, as are most of the characters in the book. So is the author herself – which makes this an #ownvoices read that I was happy to pick up. I rarely get to read YA with Native protagonists, which is really a shame.

Characters were complex and believable. Everyone is dealing with their own issues and they often complicate each other’s lives without even trying. Jared’s mom has a mantra that is often repeated throughout – and rings both true and false.

“The world is hard. You have to be harder.”

I’ll say right out that this isn’t the book for you if you take a critical view of underage swearing, drinking, drug use or sex. Maybe you should reconsider what you know of teenagers if you think their lives don’t include those things though.

I was interested to see how the magic would function as I expected it to stem from Indigenous beliefs, and I was pretty mesmerised by what was included. (Those otters, though. For real.) I’m really eager for more! The small hints of the fantastic are included from the very start, but they never overwhelm the narrative. The clear existence of a mystical world just sitting alongside our own was pretty shocking, but in the best possible way.

(Also – Jared’s reaction to weird shit (read: magic) was always spot on. A+ to that.)

Though there was a focus on the ‘realism’ aspect of this book, it was still steeped in magic, even when the characters were blitzed out of their minds. Despite their utter strangeness, the magical aspects of the book were totally believable. They were perhaps more believable because the reader is left to focus on the aspects themselves rather than the ‘why’ behind them.

The strange short interludes in italics were an interesting addition to the book, and a welcome one.

I was ultimately satisfied with the ending of the book when I took some time to mull it over. I learned that this is the first in a series, which means that the elements of magic that were briefly touched on may get more screen time in the next book.

I can’t wait to read more from Eden Robinson, and considering this book, I know that she won’t disappoint!

Can you recommend any great magical realism? Have you read any of Eden Robinson’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!

Maresi

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Reading has occupied a lot of my time lately, but I haven’t been able to post reviews as the titles aren’t out for a few months yet. Expect a lot of advance reviews in the new year. In any case, I was excited to read a title that will be published on January 3rd of the new year!

Maresi first caught my eye on NetGalley because of its striking cover. That imagery though. Take your time admiring it, I’ll wait.

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Translated from Swedish, Maresi is the tale of a thirteen-year-old novice in the Red Abbey. A haven for women and girls, they’re taken in, educated, and stay on as Sisters or go out into the world with the skills they’ve learned. Men aren’t allowed on the isle, fisherman docking to trade and never setting foot on land.

As I’m all for female empowerment, the concept of this novel really appealed to me.

I’m always a little wary of translated works, as there’s really no way to know if the translation does the original justice. In this case, the writing was simple but lovely, evoking a fairy-tale feel that never wavered.

I loved the concept for this story, but it was definitely a simplistic one. The mythos of the world was very straightforward, and incorporated a few elements from modern-day pagan beliefs (or rather, old pagan beliefs). The Goddess as a triple incarnation of Maiden, Mother, Crone was the most obvious of these.

I found the characters believable and their interactions with each other seemed realistic. Women and girls of various ethnicities were represented here, though obviously they were purported to be from fictional places. Still, I thought that it was well done, especially the mention of Maresi having to learn a new language when she came to the Abbey. I really liked Dori and Bird, and I would have liked to see more of them and of the other secondary characters.

Even the most important of secondary characters were never really fleshed out. The reader only knows the most basic things about them and their personalities. Still, considering the story is being told in first person from Maresi’s point of view it was understandable that we didn’t know more. It also fits in well with the fairy tale feel of the book.

Despite that, Maresi and Jai’s friendship grew beautifully as the story went on. Similarly, we got to see more of the friendship between the girls and the Sisters as the book progresses. The actions of the First Mother, and of the Rose were particularly telling of the strong bonds created in the Abbey.

While reading, I thought that this would be a great book for middle grade readers. It was a tale of growing up, of sisterhood, and of learning what it means to be a part of something greater than yourself.

I was surprised to encounter sexual violence in this book, but I thought the non-explicit way it was written, and the way in which it was handled was well done. I think that all young people should learn about sexual violence and its repercussions, and this book would be a good vehicle to get the topic on the table in order to talk to them about it in a calm manner.

The magic elements in this book weren’t as pervasive as I expected at the beginning, but blew me away at the end. The author definitely has developed good ideas that I hope to see more of in her work. As it is, the symbolism and simple magic system worked incredibly well with the story. The Goddess worship tied in perfectly and was interesting as well, and it was cool to see it being validated rather than a myth believed only on the island.

Overall, I think this is a great choice for younger readers, or for older ones seeking a simple tale to sink into. It’s a slow paced and deliberate book reminiscent of a folktale. I look forward to reading the prequel, Naondel, and learning more about the founding of the Abbey.

For now, look out for Maresi at bookstores near you in the new year!

Can you recommend any books with a fairy tale feel? Let me know in the comments below!

The Blackbird Singularity

 

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In my last review, I touched a little bit on book covers and how they can influence my choice of reads. When I have the freedom to choose a book without paying for it, I’m more likely to step outside my comfort zone. I might choose a book based solely on a cool cover or title, as well as abandon my favourite genres in search of something different.

That’s how I came to choose The Blackbird Singularity as my next read on NetGalley.

Cool cover? Interesting title? Non-genre fiction? Yes to all of the above.

And it turned out well, as I ended up really enjoying it.

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Vince and Lyd are expecting a baby. Thus, Vince who is often fog-headed due to his medication, decides to stop his medication in order to be a better provider and a better partner and father.

This book’s account of stress-induced bi-polar disorder was incredibly well done. Every decision made by Vince seems entirely justifiable in his own head. Yes, he deliberately stops his lithium. Yes, this is clearly not a good idea. The decisions he makes as his disorder rears its head are strange at times, and inadvisable at best at others. He’s definitely an unreliable narrator of the best kind – he believes everything he sees is actually happening, and as the reader I couldn’t help but be drawn in.

Struggling with the loss of a child, lack of employment and creative fuel, and in-laws who think he’s completely useless, Vince certainly doesn’t have things easy. His relationship with Lyd was horribly strained, and I felt for them both. Trying to rebuild what they had seemed nigh on impossible, and they simply didn’t know how to communicate with each other.

The oddities of Vince’s mother and her new family, as well as the Serge and Gloria disaster were interesting, as was Jamal’s character. I thought it was telling that Vince seemed to have no problem identifying messed up lives and emotions in other people’s lives, but not in his own. I thought it really helped showcase how insidious bi-polar disorder can be.

Vince’s fixation on the blackbirds in his back garden was really compelling, and I continued reading to see if it would evolve into mania or change in some way. I thought the book being separated into trimesters was well-done, and I liked the excerpts of text at the beginning of each chapter.

As the book wound up to its (seemingly inevitable) end, I was on the edge of my seat.

I think Wilven did a great job of portraying mental illness without patronizing or romanticising, while still giving the reader a story they’ll want to finish. If you’re looking for a read that explores relationships, loss, and the attempt to get your life together while it seems to be falling apart, this is the book for you.

Savant

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I’m back with another review of a NetGalley find, this time a science fiction novel due to hit shelves in early October.

Savant is a book centered around an ‘Active’, an outlying individual who helps power the Shield that protects the Earth from unwanted prying eyes. When Active Tobe is caught in a probability loop it affects the well-being of the Shield, and thus, the entire world.

While I’m happy to report that I enjoyed this book, it wasn’t quite what I expected.

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Cease & Desist

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I received an e-book ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

While this is my first review of a novel that is yet to be released, it will certainly not be my last. When I discovered that NetGalley existed I felt supremely lucky to be able to read and review books that haven’t yet hit the shelves.

I decided to stick with some comfortable territory and check out a Young Adult title that looked promising.

Cease de Menich is a rising star, whose fame has arisen due to a gene that has been passed on to her from generations of ancestors. She discovers this truth as she is cast in a ‘reality-drama’ in which she plays Jeanne D’Arc. As events in the show begin to reflect those hidden in her family history, Cease must decide what to do with her budding fame.

Claiming to be a ‘dark contemporary thriller with a supernatural twist’, I was excited to read something with a potentially unreliable narrator.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t live up to its description.

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Continue reading Cease & Desist