Cybils mega-post

The Cybils winners have been announced! Go check out the list!

Now that the winners are official, I get to post my reviews. (I should make explicit that these are my thoughts, not necessarily those of my committee.) It was rather a violent, f-bomb-ridden set of YA Fantasy & Sci-Fi finalists this year:

AngelfallAngelfall, by Susan Ee:

Immediate post-apocalyptic, angel style. Angels flattened human civilization for reasons the people left can’t begin to understand. When an angel kidnaps Penryn’s sister, Penryn is determined to rescue her. Along the way, she teams up with (of course) a rogue angel with whom she (duh) feels a growing attraction. First in (no way, really?) a trilogy.

Predictability aside, I actually really dug this book. In particular, I loved how careful it is. The author doesn’t drop any threads or leave you to suspend disbelief — everything Penryn or anyone else does is explained, not to death, but just enough so you know that all decisions and consequences have been considered. Because that’s the kind of girl Penryn is — and she’s that kind of girl, not just because it’s convenient for the plot, but because she had years of self-defense and survival training thanks to her paranoid schizophrenic mom. The plot reveals (which reminded me, perhaps inevitably with all the angels/fallen business, of Daughter of Smoke and Bone) kept me guessing but all made sense as they unfolded. There’s some horrifying stuff — her mom, especially, is sometimes over-the-top scary — but probably no worse than Hunger Games. The slowly growing relationship between Penryn and Raffe worked for me; I got why they were attracted to each other, but neither ignored who they were to be together. I’m looking forward to watching that relationship grow in future books.

I could not be more surprised that the e-book-only self-pub turned out to be one of my favorites. I’m dying to know more about the editorial process.

Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake:

Cas is driven to follow in his late father’s footsteps as a ghost hunter. He tracks ghosts who are corporeal enough to kill and sends them out of the world. But he gets more than he bargained for with Anna, who is saner than most ghosts and far, far more dangerous.

Oh, man. I could not deal with the writing in this book. Guess what? Her name is Anna, and she’s dressed in blood! Know how I know that? ‘Cause it says so on the cover, and also in every other paragraph. Cas also “knows things instantly” a lot for no good reason, which is a kind of storytelling laziness that drives me up a wall. The whole thing regularly sounded like a bad detective novel. Paranormal romance fans who also like a lot of blood & gore might be into this? I guess?

Blood Red RoadBlood Red Road, by Moira Young:

After her beloved brother Lugh is taken by a scary group of men on horseback, Saba cares about nothing but getting him back. More or less the same premise as Angelfall, except in a more generic Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic wasteland, and with a younger sister to look after as well.

Our winner! It’s exciting and action-packed, no doubt, if sometimes predictably so. I had a hard time putting it down. Fans of Hunger Games, etc. I found the love story unbearably cheesy and forced, but not everyone agrees with me about this. Team Gale will probably love it. I did appreciate some unusual touches, especially Saba’s initial cruelty to her younger sister. I do love an unlikeable protagonist who convinces me to root for her anyway. The world was fun and fairly well-thought-out, in an utterly horrifying drenched in violence sort of way. If it’s successful, it will be a movie, and probably an enjoyable one — I could practically see the scenes as I was reading.

Misfit, by Jon Skovron:

Jael knows she’s half-demon, and that her father moves her around frequently to avoid the demons who want to destroy them. But when her father gives her a gift from her long-dead demon mother, Jael learns that being half-and-half comes with amazing powers.

Meh. I liked love interest Rob well enough, but most characters were pretty flat. And for heaven’s sake, why was she even friends with her “best friend” anyway? They had nothing in common and the girl was awful. The Gaimanesque “old gods = demons” theology seemed scattered and poorly researched, but what do I know? My biggest irritation was that Jael gets awfully good with her magic awfully quickly — there’s almost no learning curve. She’s just powerful, period. Excuse me — she’s powerful as soon as she believes in herself.

Red Glove, by Holly Black:

In this sequel to White Cat (which I haven’t read), curse worker Cassel, who can transform anything by touching it, tries desperately to have a normal life despite the pressures from his crime family, who wants to use his ability.

I don’t really do mob stories, so this was not my thing. As that stuff goes, though, it was engaging — I liked Cassel and his friends and worried about what was going to happen to them. I liked the tension between loving his family and knowing they don’t actually want what’s best for him. It did not hold up on its own, though. I eventually more or less figured out what was going on, but there was a lot of confusion for awhile. I was so busy trying to figure out the world that I was less absorbed in what was at stake. I also suspect there are some magical plot holes (if Cassel’s a transformation worker, why can’t he just transform a chair into a pile of money and be done with it? Or does it only work on people?), but those might have been clearer if I’d read the first book. Mostly I thought the world creation was neat and original.

Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson:

Elisa was born with a Godstone, meaning she’s Chosen for greatness, but she has no idea how to fulfill that promise. When she is married off to a neighboring king, she doesn’t know what to do with herself — how can she make a life for herself in this distant unfamiliar land? But after she is kidnapped by a group of desert revolutionaries, she begins to come into her own and figure out how to use her gifts, Godstone or no.

Oh, this book. I am so conflicted. I loved that Elisa was Chosen, but had to figure out what that meant — it didn’t actually mean she had special powers, really; everything she did, she had to figure out or achieve on her own. I liked the overtly religious tone, just because that’s fairly unusual, and the idea that Elisa could fulfill God’s plan for her without even knowing it and while feeling like a failure. It’s not a worldview I subscribe to, but it was well-developed in this book without attaching to a particular religion. I found her husband’s character fascinating — the idea of a “good man but a weak king” is one that’s not explored very often in YA fantasy. This book was about Elisa’s growing strength and competence, and I want to love it and recommend it wholeheartedly to Graceling fans.

So I HATE the stupid fat metaphor. In this book, fat = lazy, self-absorbed, gluttonous, depressed; as Elisa stopped being those things, she ate less and lost weight. ARGH NO. It makes me even sadder because apparently Carson thought she was doing the opposite. (I was also hoping for a more Hilari Bell “we have to understand the people we think are our enemies” resolution, but nope — the enemies really were just pure evil. Something about the setting, maybe, reminded me very much of Farsala, so maybe I was in a Hilari Bell frame of mind.)

The Shattering, by Karen Healey:

I already reviewed this one.

I’ll be honest: while I enjoyed the process of reading a couple of them, at least, I didn’t love any of them except The Shattering, and that was more of an in-the-moment love than an enduring one. This was a bit of a bummer slate for me. (If I can’t be Debbie Downer on my blog, where can I be?)

But I did love getting to be on this awesome committee again. I feel like we had especially good discussions this time around. Thanks, Anne, Aurora, Kimberly, and Julie!

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7 Responses to Cybils mega-post

  1. Greg says:

    Really? In 2012 schools are still censoring books over language issues? Why not just burn them all now?

    “We don’t believe simple Anglo-Saxon monosyllables will either sear your eyeballs or warp the moral fiber of the young. ” – Geoff Pullum

    • Sam says:

      Greg, there’s a big difference between censorship and choosing books that are appropriate for your audience. The f-word and abundant violence are just a couple of markers that indicate a book might not be ideal for 11-year-olds — and the 11-year-olds know it, too. I regularly talk to younger kids about a high school book they picked up, and they uncomfortably say, “I didn’t like that book; it had some inappropriate stuff in it.”

  2. Jan says:

    “It was rather a violent, f-bomb-ridden set of YA Fantasy & Sci-Fi finalists this year”

    Which has made this a difficult year year for those of use who love these books but can’t include them in middle schools. I know it’s not correct to say so, but do these authors realize how this limits their purchases in school?

    • Sam says:

      These books were published for high school, not middle school, and some very much for older high school. Blood Red Road could work for the middle schoolers who were fine with Hunger Games. Girl of Fire and Thorns would be fine for middle school, as would Misfit. The Shattering could work for some more mature middle schoolers, but they’ll miss a lot of the subtlety. The rest are definitely high school books, I think. If you want some safer middle school lists, try the Middle Grade F&SF and Middle Grade Fiction finalists.

    • Sam says:

      Love your site, by the way, Jan! All the different layouts are fun to play with.

  3. Sam says:

    Oh, definitely a popular view. That’s a minor problem with the book, I’d say. The angels have the same names as your standard Christian host, but she’s added layers of theology that I think are new (angels have a forbidden but undeniable predilection for human women, for instance). Plus, of course, they’ve destroyed human civilization for some elaborate unknown political reason (I assume this will become clear in future books), which is not part of your standard theology. The apocalypse is definitely not set up to be a canonical Christian one.

  4. Greg says:

    Just curious: does Angelfall attempt to be “theologically accurate” (there’s an oxymoron) or is it more a popular view on angels?

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