Books in brief: Hartman, Smith, Lidell, Malan

Rachel Hartman, Seraphina. Corgi, 2013.

So Foz Meadows praised this and Aliette de Bodard criticised it. It sounded interesting. It turns out that me, I think it’s pretty bland, a fluffy faux-medieval arabesque that soft-pedals its more difficult questions and ultimately favours the conventional over the provocative. (In the thought-provoking or any other sense.) Enjoyable YA, but it doesn’t live up to its praise, and the specialness of its protagonist is rather irritatingly predictable. (Magical half-breeds, sigh.)

Sherri L. Smith, Orleans. Putnam, 2013.

This, on the other hand, is a book I really enjoyed. YA, playing with a similar sense of mood and character to The Hunger Games, although the secondary protagonist is a little too much cipher, a little too little person (a consequence, I feel, of privileging aesthetic over consistency, which all YA does at times). Its worldbuilding feels vivid, if not always entirely solid, and the emotional tones and driving desires of our protagonist Fen are very well-sketched. Good pacing, and good writing: Smith deploys dialect in narrative with a sure-handed deftness.

The conclusion leaves something to be desired as a conclusion, but since I’ve no idea whether or not there’s to be a sequel, I’ll place my money on a continuance. This is the kind of book that makes me eager to see a) what else the author’s written, and b) what she may write next.

Alex Lidell, The Cadet of Tildor. Penguin Dial, 2013.

Another YA, and one which I fear I may be too generous towards, for it reminds me of much that is good in both Sherwood Smith and Tamora Pierce. (Such things I am inclined to enjoy.) Lidell is a debut author, possessed of one of those gender-neutral names. The author bio claimed for her a female pronoun, up to which point I had been rather uncertain – but Cadet Renee de Winter is too much an adolescent girl to have been written by someone who wasn’t intimately familiar with having been one.

A bunch of the worldbuilding and details annoyed my suspension of disbelief. On the whole I’m inclined to give benefit of the doubt, and call it worthwhile and entertaining, though.

Violette Malan, Path of the Sun. DAW, 2010. Copy courtesy of DAW.

I really, really like Malan’s Dhulyn and Parno novels. They’re just fun, in a sword-and-sorcery, epic-ish fantasy sort of way: implausibly competent, decent heroes Thwart Bad People and Have Excellent Fights. (If this is not a genre, it ought to be one.)