The Scorpion Rules
2015 • 384 pages • Margaret K. McElderry Books
If you’ve been a reader for long, you may know that I have a soft spot for young royal women with steel in their eyes and the world on their shoulders. This stems from being reared on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, wherein that incarnation of the eponymous princess sacrifices seven years of her life and, perhaps, the player protagonist to save her kingdom. It’s a soft spot that goes often unsatisfied, because grim-eyed shield maidens have strangely not become a popular archetype in fantasy. But when it’s satisfied, it’s often satisfied well, as in the case of both Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue and Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules.
by Holly Black
2013 • 256 pages • Margaret K. McElderry Books
After adoring her The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Ana’s amazing review of Holly Black’s Doll Bones made the next logical step for exploring Black’s back catalog obvious. I always had books at the bookstore that I would shelve and whisper “soon” to (oh, like you don’t talk to yourself in public), and Doll Bones was one.
I am kind of tempted to point you to Ana’s review and hand you off, because she, as ever, gets to the marrow of the matter. Doll Bones is the story of three friends who have played, essentially, a homemade version of Dungeons and Dragons since they were little—Alice, Zach, and their game master, Poppy. Now in middle school, Zach is starting to feel self-conscious about his best friends being girls and playing pretend so much. When his dad throws out his figurines, he, although enraged, takes it as the easy way out of the game. But Poppy is not to be deterred, and she demands that all three go on a quest to bury the creepy, antique doll that represents the Queen in their game world because it’s supposedly haunting her. As Ana beautifully writes, it’s about growing up into a strict gender binary being enforced by the various adults around them and how all three negotiate that. While Zach, a basketball player, and Alice, a theater kid, have access to prefabricated narratives that supposedly mesh with their interests, Poppy, who describes herself as the actually weird one, doesn’t.
So instead of retreading the ground that Ana covered first (and better), I wanted to focus on Poppy. Continue reading
Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst
I’d never heard of Sarah Beth Durst before Michael Ann Dobbs reviewed her latest novel, Vessel, for io9. While I do end up reading a lot of young adult fiction, I don’t especially pay attention to that market, electing instead to float around speculative fiction spaces and fellow omnivorous book bloggers online, so something like Drink Slay Love was way off my radar. But Dobbs’ review made me immediately add it to the spreadsheet—not so much because of glowing praise, but because of that premise. Somewhere in time, child Clare is throwing a tantrum and claiming that Durst stole her idea (from an awful fantasy manuscript squirreled away on a long-dead computer? Shut up, child Clare). I, as an adult and actual person, merely appreciate what Durst did with a concept I’ve always found intriguing.