Mini Reviews: Gathering Blue, Messenger, & Son by Lois Lowry

The first book of a series is usually the most famous (or infamous) one, and the same can be said for Lois Lowry’s The Giver quartet. Instead of sequels, Lowry calls the next three books “companions”, and that’s how I view them: I can do with or without them, and some of them really enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the world that she’s created, while others are a little too bizarre for my liking.

Gathering Blue
 

 
Gathering Blue is set in a society that does not tolerate physical flaws – with a deformed leg, Kira is the exception to that rule solely because she has the embroidery skills to mend a very important robe. While housed in a nicer place than she’s ever been in before, Kira discovers the secrets that the Council of the village has been hiding from the rest of the people. Like in The Giver, this dystopian world seems normal from the main character’s eyes because it’s the only thing they knew, until they start seeing the cracks and shadows in which secrets are hidden. I thought Gathering Blue was okay because it still had an interesting premise, but it does lack character development and relationship-building. I also thought that it would be connected in some way to the setting and characters from The Giver, and was disappointed when this felt like an entirely new world. It makes more sense after reading all four books, but at this point, I wasn’t too excited after Gathering Blue.

Messenger
 

Title: Messenger
Author: Lois Lowry
Series: The Giver Quartet #3
Publication Date: April 26, 2004
Genre: (Young Adult) Dystopia / Science Fiction

 
Finally, the link between the first two books is made! In Messenger, which is set in the Village that welcomes all rejects from other communities, Matty – Kira’s friend from Gathering Blue – is our protagonist. As the Village starts showing signs of evil (ex. villagers being not as welcoming to new folks and who, for some reason, start becoming less friendly and good in general), Matty plays a key role as a messenger in delivering and retrieving messages from the outside world because he is one of the few people who can go into the woods that surround the Village and not get lost. Characters from The Giver also show up in Messenger, and it’s interesting to see the concept of “magic” come up again. What I didn’t really like is the ending. There’s probably some sort of symbolism in what happened and what Matty and the other characters stood for (ex. good vs. evil, strengths and weaknesses of humanity, etc.), but it requires too much thinking. As a story, it’s abstract, but also somewhat magical – Messenger was also super short, where I would’ve preferred something lengthier with more analyses/reasoning behind certain events.

Son
 

Title: Son
Author: Lois Lowry
Series: The Giver Quartet #4
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Category: (Young Adult) Dystopia / Science Fiction

 
Son is my favorite follow-up/companion story to The Giver. It connects all of the characters and settings in the previous books while also providing new characters and new settings that really complement what Lowry had created previously. In another writer’s hands, this story could’ve definitely become a more modern standalone dystopian piece with full-blown romances and conspiracies and sci-fi/fantasy elements – but in Lowry’s hands, the simplicity and nuances in the imagery and the characters are very characteristic of her writing, and they force the reader to think a lot more (this is a good thing!). Good imagination is key to reading this!

bird

Overall, I think The Giver Quartet is a series that blends science fiction and fantasy in an interesting way. These stories make you think, whether it be analyzing how symbols and motifs play a role or imagining and embellishing the scenery and people in your mind. Lowry provides a simple skeleton on which you can build your own ideas upon, and I think it’s good to have these types of stories once in a while.

Have you read the rest of the Giver quartet?
Have you read any books that combine fantasy and sci-fi elements?

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Mini Reviews: Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher

I thought Codex Alera was going to be like a Tamora Pierce series, BUT IT’S TOTALLY NOTTTTT – it’s WAY scarier and more action-packed, and it’s like the usual hero-discovers-magic-and-grows-up series but on steroids. That certain trope has been done over and over again, but Jim Butcher is a beast and made this series into something beyond my imagination. Just a warning, there are topics in this series that are potentially not suitable for younger readers, such as slavery, sexual/physical abuse, and a lot of gore.

I found this series a while back when I was looking for authors similar to Tamora Pierce (because frankly, I have an obsession with her books), and Jim Butcher showed up on the literature map. And because JB writes paranormal stuff too, that’s how I got into paranormal. (And eventually into paranormal romance… are you counting the degrees of separation yet?) Pretty sure that was how I found new books/genres to read before Goodreads and book blogging community came on my radar! Anyway, okay, the books

Furies of Calderon

Alerans have created a special bond with classic elementals (earth, fire, water, air, and metal), called furies, and fifteen-year-old Tavi seems to be the only person in Alera who can’t furycraft. When Alera starts being torn apart due to political conspiracies and the savage Marat tribes are found in the Calderon Valley where Tavi lives, he becomes a surprisingly key player in the chaos. Tavi is the underdog of underdogs, because in this world, him not being able to connect with furies is the equivalent of missing a limb or having a disability. It makes it easy to root for him through this story and onwards, because he just keeps growing! I really liked the different narratives, since it makes me more involved and committed to the political scene and learn how this world works from different POVs, even when it’s from the “bad” guys. The worldbuilding is magnificent, and the action scenes just suck me in.

Academ's Fury

Title: Academ’s Fury
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: Codex Alera #2
Publication Date: July 5, 2005
Genre: (Adult Fiction) Fantasy / Magic / Adventure

After Tavi’s help in the turmoil in the first book, Gaius Sextus – the First Lord of Alera – pays for Tavi’s schooling at the Academy, since going to school was something Tavi had always dreamed of. Him being furyless results in bullying from students (which is why I was reminded of Tamora Pierce books, because there’s always bullying!), but the Tavi we’re presented with has gained a lot of confidence and intellect since we last saw him two years ago (in book years). There’s a new enemy in town – who was actually cleverly introduced in the first book – that is totally creepy and gross because they’re BUGS. 🐜 The Vord is the one prevailing enemy throughout the rest of the series, and I won’t tell you how they attack because you should just go read it and be terrified. (I don’t want to deprive you of the feels!)That, along with the failing health of Gaius Sextus, leads to what seems to be the climax of the series in the next book – war!

Cursor's Fury

Title: Cursor’s Fury
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: Codex Alera #3
Publication Date: December 5, 2006
Genre: (Adult Fiction) Fantasy / Magic / Adventure

If I had to choose a favorite book from this series, THIS ONE is it! Again, two years after the last book, Tavi is a much-improved version of himself. A rebellion is now “officially” happening, and the civil war is on. The head of the rebellion has allied himself with the Canim, another terrifying species that decimates Aleran legions with ease. The First Lord has placed Tavi in one of these legions, and in a way that brings back good memories of Kel in Lady Knight, Tavi starts to show and develop his leadership skills. Throughout this book and the previous ones, other key characters (such as one of the First Lord’s cursors/messengers/spies, Amara, and Tavi’s aunt, Lisana) are brought in with their own narratives, which allows me to see the war from all across Alera.

Nasaug, the Canim warrior leader, via sandara.

Captain's Fury

Title: Captain’s Fury
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: Codex Alera #4
Publication Date: December 4, 2007
Genre: (Adult Fiction) Fantasy / Magic / Adventure

You know what else I like about this series? It’s funny. War-ridden, epic fantasy stories deserve some humor, between all the deaths and gory details. Here’s the opening line for Captain’s Fury:

“My ass hurts,” said Antillar Maximus, Tribune Auxiliarus of the First Aleran.

“My ass hurts, sir,” Tavi corrected him.

This story feels like a brand new adventure, and I think this story arc is a wonderful and exciting extension of the original storyline. The overarching goal and enemy remain the same, but there are issues that Tavi and co. face in a new land, with new languages and cultures. Again, excellent worldbuilding – I see no end of the brilliance that is Codex Alera.

Princep's Fury

Uhhh, EVERYONE DIES. Does this count as a spoiler if I don’t tell you who? I mean, it’s a war, so people will die, right?? 👀 This book, in particular, reminds me of The Game of Thrones, but much easier to digest!

First Lord's Fury

FINALLY, the end is in sight! Unlike some series that fade away in terms of plotlines and character development throughout the course of multiple books, First Lord’s Fury still retains the vigor and the anticipation that’s seen in the very first book in the series. At this point, it is purely a story of Good Versus Evil, and Evil just gets more twisted and disturbing as the story goes on. Like in all the other books, Tavi is only one of several major characters, and we get to follow each of those characters in their final adventures.

Overall, Codex Alera is an awesome, action-packed fantasy series that paints a vivid picture of magic, different species, and an empire in the midst of war. One important part of the series that I didn’t get to mention above is that there’s a lot of great relationships that are developed, between parent and child, subordinate and superior, lovers, strangers, enemies. The stress and desperation in a war-like state makes these relationships invaluable, and I really did cherish those interactions.

 

Have you read Codex Alera?
I don’t know what else to say except AHHHHH GO READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T.

Mini Reviews: The Books of Bayern Series by Shannon Hale

THESE are the types of Shannon Hale books that I like! (I had a bad experience with her recent one, bah.) Fairy tale retellings that allow us to connect with the young protagonists, with a mix of magic and adventure that feels very natural. However, I feel that the first book is still the best, and the ones that follow are not as engrossing.

The Goose Girl

 
Hale’s The Goose Girl follows the classic Grimm version of the goose girl story fairly closely, except for the magic (which is actually the part that I liked most!). Ani, our goose girl, learns to speak with animals at a very young age, and it’s interesting to see that her magic is part of a bigger system of magic that becomes more clear throughout this story, along with the sequels. Overall, solid retelling, and I liked how it both followed and deviated from the classic version.

Enna Burning

Title: Enna Burning
Author: Shannon Hale
Series: The Books of Bayern #2
Publication Date: September 15, 2004
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
Another aspect of this series that I enjoyed was that supporting characters get a chance to play a lead role in later books. In Enna Burning, Enna – who appears in The Goose Girl – gets some magic of her own. I didn’t like this book as much as the first one, maybe because it is no longer a retelling; the magic from the first book is now the centerpiece for the rest of the series, and I find the magic in the book not as appealing as that of the previous one. There’s only so much you can do with fire (versus speaking to animals!), and the story veers off to a more romance- and politics-based plotline that I couldn’t really get into.

River Secrets

Title: River Secrets
Author: Shannon Hale
Series: The Books of Bayern #3
Publication Date: January 1, 2006
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
River Secrets is essentially the same as Enna Burning, except with a more entertaining protagonist. Razo is like the third wheel in all the stories so far, so it’s nice to see through his eyes in this story and understand that although he thinks of himself as average or unskilled, that’s not how others see him. There are a couple more twists and turns in this story compared to the other ones, so there is hope for the finale yet!
Forest Born

Title: Forest Born
Author: Shannon Hale
Series: The Books of Bayern #4
Publication Date: September 15, 2009
Genre: (Young Adult) Fantasy

 
I love how all the old characters keep coming back again and again, and it’s nice to see that they’re doing well throughout the series! Out of all the characters, Rin is the one that I can relate to the most. She’s a quieter and more sensitive protagonist than the others, who seemed more determined to get things done. Rin, on the other hand, has vague feelings of “wrongness” and very unclear motives. Her story is actually a really fascinating ending to the series, as it brings together several aspects of the previous books that I really liked – the magic, the relationships, and self-discovery.

The Books of Bayern series starts off as a classic fairy tale retelling, and cleverly spins off into a tale of its own. I really enjoyed the magic, as well as following protagonists who take the time to examine their own thoughts and identity. Although I didn’t like the second book as much as the others, I still think this is a solid fantasy series and a fun read. 🌼

Have you read the Books of Bayern?
Do you keep reading a series if you run into a book you didn’t like?

Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The City of EmberThe City of Ember is like a more intricate version of Lois Lowry’s The Giver – more characters, more depth, and more potential. However, there are some similarities that I’d rather not have, such as detached characters and somewhat juvenile problems (but this is middle grade, so…). This dystopian story has an interesting premise (imagine having a limited amount of lightbulbs in a world without sunlight!) and it’s really only the beginning of a very long adventure of revelations and betrayals, I’m sure. It got me hooked from this first book though, so I’m excited to keep reading!Read More »