Agnes Cecilia

I vanlig ordning läser jag Maria Gripes Agnes Cecilia under sommaren och i vanlig ordning är den precis lika bra som jag minns den. Historian om den föräldralösa Nora som lever tillsammans med Anders, Karin och Dag i en hemsökt våning får mig alltid varm och trygg. Berättelsen är familjär, inte bara för att jag har läst den så många gånger men kanske mest för att det finns något i Gripes berättelse som väcker något till liv inom mig. Boken handlar om övergivna barn, om vilsna själar och att hitta tillbaka hem. För mig är det lika mycket en bok för ungdomar som för vuxna, inte minst för att Gripes sätt att skriva är uppiggande och trivsamt.

Det finns mycket med den här boken som jag tycker är speciellt, inte minst det klara sättet fjortonåriga Nora ser världen, både nuet, framtiden och, kanske framför allt, det förflutna. Hon är stark och bär historian framåt, även om det ibland kan vara kämpigt. Jag har lätt för att identifiera mig med henne och jag vill tro att andra, kanske framför allt tjejer, också har det. Även nu, när jag läst boken så många gånger, hittar jag fortfarande nya saker att förvånas över, nya sätt att se på berättelsen och detaljer som jag missat tidigare, som låter nytt sken lysa på andra delar av boken. Jag tror aldrig jag kommer tröttna på den här romanen, det är en av mina absoluta favoriter. Det känns tryggt att veta att trots att Maria Gripe är borta så lever hennes arv kvar. Har du inte läst Agnes Cecilia, eller någon annan av Gripes böcker tidigare? Vad väntar du på?

Shadow and Bone

Leigh Bardugo is well-known for her Grisha-series but the first book I read from her was Six of Crows, a novel I loved for many reasons. I was about to start the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, but decided to save it and instead go back to the roots. If you haven’t read anything by Bardugo before then let me explain. There’s the Grisha trilogy, starting with Shadow and Bone, followed by Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising. Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom takes place in the same world but they’re not part of the actual series. Crooked Kingdom is still waiting for me, but I’m so glad I decided to read Shadow and Bone first.

As an orphan, Alina enters the army along with her best friend Mal to help Ravka in the war they’re very much loosing. The two friends are sent to the Shadow Fold but while there their regiment gets attacked and Alina reveals a power that has been dormant inside her for her entire life. Before she really understands what’s happening, she’s whisked away to the royal court to live and train with the Grisha and their leader, the Darkling. Alina must understand her gift and learn to control it so that she can help save Ravka, but she’s away from Mal for the first time in her life and while she’s finally feeling like she’s found her place in the world she’s also alone and confused. The weight of expectations from the entire nation is heavy on her shoulders and her gift is hard to control. Surrounded by beautiful Grisha, Alina learns about history, magic and power and, more than anything, betrayal.

I wouldn’t say that this fantasy is anything out of the ordinary and few plot twists took me by surprise. That being said, it was a wonderful read. One of the best books I’ve read this year, Shadow and Bone was interesting, fast paced, fun and packed with action. The world is explained in detail, enough for you to understand but not so much that the actual plot disappears. You get to see the hard reality of Ravka, the war, the many orphans, the army and the fighting but you also see the beautiful world of the Grisha. It’s colourful next to the world Alina grew up in and it’s easy to see how and why she got swept away by the Darkling, the gorgeous Genya, the power in her own veins. It’s a big contrast and one I think Bardugo explored in a terrific way.

The novel contains romance, of course, but it does so in an interesting way. Alina is in love with her friend from childhood, Mal, but never dares to tell him, afraid of the consequences in their friendship. Once she meets the Darkling, a new connection is made; they’re very much alike since they’re not only Grisha but incredibly powerful as well. A love triangle, you might think. I’m going to say yes and no. It’s not the ordinary story were one girl is torn between two men and the story revolves around her decision on which one to choose. Rather, Mal is a comfort for her because he’s always been there and the love she feels for him is not only real but also very deep. The Darkling, by contrast, is mysterious and such a big part of Alina’s new world among the Grisha. She’s smart and she can take care of herself, but at the same time, she’s young and Bardugo portraits her naivete well by having Alina swept away by the Darkling's power and charisma. Some might find it boring to read yet another love triangle, but for me it’s not so much about which man Alina will choose as it is about her growing up and becoming the woman she’s supposed to be.

The story is both compelling and fun and Bardugo is a great writer. The action scenes are nerve wrecking yet it’s never too heavy. The novel has good pace, interesting characters with their own stories and agendas and the world building is deep and thorough. Like I said, it’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it was a very good read. I’m happy I picked it up and I’m excited to see where the story will lead. 

The Shadow Queen

I took a break from reading in July, hoping that the interest would return after a few weeks away from it. C.J Redwine’s The Shadow Queen has been in my TBR-pile for some time now and I choose it in the hopes that it would bring me out of my slump. It’s a fairy tale retelling of Snow White and a young adult fantasy, so I thought it would be a fun and light read. However, it took me several weeks of reading before I finally finished it and came to the sad conclusion that this book is neither fun nor a light read.

Lorelai is the crown princess of Ravenspire but after her mother dies, her father marries her aunt and said aunt kills the king, Lorelai is left to flee the castle along with her younger brother and a palace guard named Gabril. For nine years, Lorelai lives as a fugitive, training her magical abilities in the hopes of one day being stronger than her powerful aunt and reclaim her throne. The road back to the capital and the throne is long and Lorelai has a perfect plan in place. However, in a neighbouring country, the king, queen and crown prince of Eldr dies only for the younger prince Kol to take the throne. Eldr is attacked by ogres and the only way for Kol to save his country is to seek help in Ravenspire and their queen. She can stop the ogres with her magic and she only askes for one thing in return. For Kol to find the long-lost princess and kill her.

This is your typical young adult fantasy. You’ve got the warrior heroine in Lorelai, who is equally smart and strong, both with her magic and as a fighter. She is, of course, beautiful as well. Kol lives in the shadow of his older brother and acts out in a way to get attention. Despite this he is smart and capable and shoulders the responsibility of being king and doing everything he needs to save his country. He is, of course, very handsome as well. Irina, Lorelai’s aunt, is evil, smart and full of vengeance. A ruthless killer, yet she has a lover to show that she, too, has a softer side. Leo is Lorelai’s younger brother; intelligent, light-hearted and funny which makes him the perfect comical side-kick. Gabril the palace guard is naturally a father figure for both Lorelai and Leo, strong and hard, but wise and kind as well. Kol have two close friends and a sister, all of which plays very minor roles in the story.

This all sounds very much like about a dozen YA fantasy novels I’ve read before, if you swap out some names. The story itself isn’t much more original either. Lorelai is praised for being strategical and a real tactic and plans every move she makes with outmost care. Kol is desperate, left an orphan (as is Lorelai, these poor YA-fantasy parents never seem to stand a chance!) and the evil villain is, well, evil. After a somewhat fun, but ultimately annoying beginning, a very important yet unnecessary death happens and I’m left wondering, how is it possible that Lorelai could lose both her parents to Irina and plan to take her down for nine years yet it isn’t until this death that she truly seems to realize how awful Irina is? This death only served to fuel Lorelai forward but in my world, she shouldn’t need it since Irina already killed most of her family, stole her throne, her country and her home and tried to kill Lorelai as well. Do you really need one more reason before getting really angry? Do you?

There is, of course, a love story brewing between Lorelai and Kol but thankfully it’s somewhat slow. It did speed up in the end but at that point I was already so done with the novel that I hardly cared. I feel like there was a lot more the author could’ve done with the romance, but at the same time, that’s what I felt about the rest of the novel as well. The story follows a path I’ve travelled before and offers no surprises at all. The magic is rather boring, with Lorelai yelling a bunch of strange words and having limited options in how to wield her magic. The fights with Irina got boring and I got lost in all the weird things that happened since the author, in my opinion, did a poor job with describing it. The final fight was borderline dull and the epilogue seemed so rushed I couldn’t help to question if even the author was tired of the book at that point. But worst of all was the constant repeating. Every other page I was told what Lorelai was going to do and why. Execute this plan and take down the queen. Do this and fight Irina. Go there and do that and then get to the capital to take back the throne. Like, yes, thank you, I get it. You don’t have to tell me all the time because last time I checked, taking down the queen was the entire plot of the novel. But no, it had to be told again and again because apparently I, as the read, was inclined to forget it between one page and another. If there’s one thing I truly dislike in a novel then it’s when the author constantly repeats something and this book was like a broken record.

The only good thing was that, unlike many novels, that death in the beginning which seemed so unnecessary to me, wasn’t forgotten as the novel moved on. Lorelai kept thinking back on it during the entire story and I liked that. In many books, when a character dies early it’s later forgotten completely, no matter how important said character was to the main character. Not in this case, though, and that’s the only good thing I found in this novel. The romance was lukewarm, Lorelai, despite being praised for being so tactical, rushed into some very important situations without really thinking things through. The characters were weak, the villain boring, the worldbuilding basically nonexciting. All in all, not a very good novel. There are a lot more YA fantasy out there better than The Shadow Queen. Read them instead.