Here we have three entries that show just how varied fantasy novels can be. There’s a historical, paranormal fantasy, a fantasy romantic comedy, and a graphic novel that is part steampunk, part epic fantasy. Let’s take a look!
Title: These Vicious Masks
Author: Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Age Group: YA
I’m so glad I read this absorbing paranormal historical story set in Victorian London. If you typically enjoy books placed in this setting, These Vicious Masks will not disappoint. There are all the usual trappings: young heroine who defies Society and its restrictive gender roles, a dashing gentleman (or two), and a paranormal mystery/quest driving its heart. Evelyn is our sassy, independent MC on a quest to save her gentle, kind-hearted sister from the hands of a devious mad scientist bent on using her healing powers for his own ethically dubious ills.
I can forgive the occasional anachronism and flouting of rules without (much) consequence when the story is as entertaining as this one. We have a heart-pounding adventure throughout London as Evelyn struggles to find Rose within the absurd constraints of Victorian England. Evelyn is whip-smart and strong and more than capable of taking on her dangerous enemies.
I felt somewhat frustrated because the villain seemed sort of one-note and like a caricature of the typical “mad scientist.” Also, this has somewhat of a love triangle. There’s some delicious chemistry and banter between Evelyn and the guarded, mysterious Mr. Braddock. The smooth-talking Mr. Kent also desires Evelyn’s amorous affections, though her feelings for him are less certain. Hopefully this is resolved early on in the next installment.
Ultimately, this book gets major props for View Spoiler » letting Rose die. That’s right, our heroine fails in her quest to save her sister. I can think of one famous example, but this really is super rare « Hide Spoiler. I give the authors a lot of credit for going there. While not quite as strong for me as the other Victorian paranormal that comes to mind from this year, The Dark Days Club, this is still a very entertaining addition to the YA paranormal historical market and I recommend it!
Title: My Lady Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, & Jodi Meadows
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Age Group: YA
My word, but this book is basically a non-stop delight. What is left to say about My Lady Jane that hasn’t been covered already? I wouldn’t ever have predicted that a book based on a tragedy could be so full of humor and joy. The true story of England’s Nine-Day-Queen ends with anything other than happiness, but this alternate fantastical romantic comedy version of the story is one you wish could have been the reality.
Abandon all sense of historical accuracies if you wish to enjoy this book. Think of this as taking place in an alternate universe if that helps. One in which the tensions dividing England aren’t of a religious nature, but a magical one. All of the standard historical figures of this period in Tudor history exist. Henry VIII has died leaving behind Edward as his heir along with daughters Mary and Elizabeth. The country is rife with division not between Catholics and Protestants, but between ethians, those folk with the magical ability to take an animal form, and Verities, those who do not possess such an ability.
Edward is dealing with being a 16 year old king and the discovery of his deliberant poisoning. Jane, thrust into an unexpected and unwanted political marriage to Gifford, an ethian, is suddenly entrapped in a web of political machinations. The narration alternates between Jane’s, Gifford’s, and Edward’s POVs as overseen by a cheeky Narrator. Each character brings their own set of fully realized charms and flaws. The supporting characters are also unique and three dimensional. This one is all about characters, their humorous interactions, and the growth they experience as the novel goes on is delightful.
The romance mainly centers on Jane and Gifford (though Edward does get his own). Virtual strangers before their marriage, neither is particularly happy about the arrangement. Its enough to be thrown into a political marriage already without your new husband also being an ethian who unwillingly turns into a horse every day from sun up to sun down. The banter is top-notch and the affection and sincere feelings that develop between the two is tender. For someone like me, who both loves Tudor historical fiction and also loves fantasy romance, this melding of the two genres was an absolute delight. Hilarious, charming, and not only a little bit heartrending in its bittersweet joy, this is one of my favorite reads of the year.
Author: Marjorie M. Liu
Illustrator: Sana Takeda
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Release Date: July 19, 2016
Publisher: Image Comics
Age Group: Adult
This sci-fi/fantasy graphic novel adventure is nothing less than epic and absolutely captivating. I fell so instantly into this world. True story, I ended up being 15 minutes late for work while reading this because I so completely lost track of time. The world of this story is so fully realized, while also gradually unfolding in the details of its complex history.
The monstress of the title is our heroine Maika Halfwolf, a teenager in a world ravaged by war who is battling an actual internal demon. Set in a sort of steampunk, alternate early-20th century Asia, three different species are in seemingly eternal conflict. The Ancients, an immortal group of beings with god-like power who have the appearance of animals, humans, and Arcanics, the hybrid species that arose from the meeting of humans and Ancients. Some Arcanics, like Maika, are more human in appearance, others look more animal. All have their own unique magic or abilities that are coveted by humans. Arcanics and humans have been engaged in a complex war that has devastated the Arcanics. Maika is out for vengeance.
She has little memory of the tragedy in which her mother was murdered and something…was done to her. She can’t recall what this something was, or what it means. All she knows is that there is a voice, a force inside of her that feels powerful, dark, and eternal. How can Maika cope with such a force? What does it mean? What is she to do? Allowing herself to be captured, she places herself purposefully within a human stronghold so she can begin to wreak the havoc brought into her life by humans into theirs.
The cast of characters is strong and well developed. From the driven, conflicted Maika to the well-crafted morally ambiguous human villains. I love stories in which the villains are portrayed as somewhat sympathetic in their motivations. It makes for a much more interesting story for me when things aren’t so black-and-white. And Maika herself might not necessarily be a typical “good guy.” Only time will tell.
This is an adult graphic novel, and an excellent crossover for YA readers. Maika is a teenager, but the graphic violence and nudity depicted places this one out of the YA market. Overall, this is an utterly absorbing story full of magic, vengeance, and kick ass women that I strongly recommend especially for fans of Saga.
So there we have some of my favorite paranormal/fantasy reads of 2016 so far. Are any of these on your TBR? Have you read them? I’d love to know your thoughts!