For lovers of quirky British comic fantasy and fans of Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde’s new young adult series is a perfect fit. Jennifer Strange lives in the alternate present of the Ununited Kingdom. In her world, magic and sorcerers used to rule, but magic is fading. Now those same sorcerers are pressed to find jobs magically rewiring houses or, worse yet, performing at children’s birthday parties. However, with flares in magic and strange predictions of the death of the final dragon, it feels like the world is on the edge of change.
In an attempt to stop the death of the world’s last dragon, Jennifer finds herself caught in the middle of political and magical upheaval. She struggles to do what is right, but learns that life never goes the way we plan. Fforde creates a compelling story about the dangers of greed and judgmentalism in the midst of truly ridiculous British humor. This is a fun read, but be prepared for British intelligent silliness.
Recommended for ages 12 and up.
Dodger is a tosher, a street urchin who lives by finding ‘treasure’ in the sewers of Victorian England. However, his life begins to change the night he rescues a girl who leaps from a moving carriage. As he tries to protect the girl he calls Miss Simplicity, Dodger comes in contact with historical figures such as Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel. Dodger’s position in society shifts as he gains responsibility and struggles to keep Miss Simplicity safe from her abusive, but high born and powerful European husband.
As usual, Terry Pratchett manages to be humorous and profound while weaving an interesting story. His characters, Dodger especially, are filled with personality and quirky depth. The book is well written, but I enjoyed this more than most, because Pratchett gave a fictional personality to one of my favorite authors. I loved reading about ‘Charlie Dickens’ interacting with the young man he will later use as a pattern for his character Dodger in Oliver Twist. The literary and historical references are fantastic, but it is a fun read even for those who might miss the allusions.
My main complaint about this book is the title and the cover. They make it look like one of the latest and trendiest teen romance novels. However, if you can get past what the book looks like, the actual story is an intriguing, steampunk, alternate history with great allusions to Doctor Jekyl and Mister Hyde. There is a slight romance, but it stays within the appropriate boundaries of Victorian England gentility (one, maybe two kisses). The story and world building are the focus of the novel. In spite of the look of the book, it is a good (and very clean) teen fantasy read.
Finley Jayne (okay, my other complaint is the heroine’s name—great character but trendy and not very Victorian name) knows she has a darker side to her personality. When she is angry or afraid, that personality comes out with its astonishing strength and thirst for danger. However, when Finley fights a young lord who is trying to take advantage of her, she knows her darker side is leading her toward trouble unless she can control it.
Soon after, Finley meets Griffin King, a duke who holds special powers himself. He recognizes Finley’s powers as an asset and promises he can teach her to control them. Griffin and his friends take Finley in and together they work to fight a criminal called the Machinist. Their strange powers may be the only hope against a mad villain working to take over Victorian England.
Recommended for ages—14 and up.
Arianna is a young woman living in sixteenth century Bellezza, an alternate version of Venice, Italy. Her goal in life is to become a mandolier, one who rows the gondolas for the city’s Duchessa. However, no girl has ever been a mandolier and to try and become one she must disguise herself and stay on the island when her presence there is forbidden. As she is in hiding, she sees a boy her age who obviously also does not belong. Lucien fell asleep as a cancer patient in modern London and woke up in ancient Bellezza. It turns out he is unwittingly part of the Stravaganti—a group of people who can travel between places and times.
Arianna and Lucien become friends and Arrianna teaches Lucien about Bellezza. However, when Lucien catches the attention of Rodolpho, the Duchessa’s main advisor, both he and Arianna become involved in a much bigger and more dangerous adventure.
This is Mary Hoffman’s first in a series of novels about the time traveling Stravaganti. The characters are interesting and the story intriguing. This is a good book for most young adult readers and is a fun combination of alternate history and fantasy.