It’s a few weeks until Halloween, but here are some of the RIP-themed books I’ve read lately.
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland:
I loved this book by Justina Ireland; it’s one of the rare YA fantasy novels that felt really thoughtful and raised interesting issues, at the same time providing an exciting and very creepy story.
Dread Nation is the first in a series that takes place in an alternative history where the Civil War was interrupted by a zombie outbreak. The country is still divided on the issue of slavery, with groups advocating to return America to its “better days”. While slavery doesn’t exist any more, African Americans have been routed into zombie combat “schools” instead. Jane McKeene is a student in a Baltimore combat school. She’s the daughter of a wealthy white woman in Kentucky, and she’s anxious to return home. When her friend’s sister disappears, she becomes involved in a dark conspiracy involving missing families and the walking dead.
As I mentioned to one reader recently, this book is terrifying in parts, but it’s the humans that are far more frightening than the zombies. This book may be fantasy but the situations Jane finds herself in were pretty real, including forced labor, physical abuse and near starvation.
Not only is this one of the more original fantasy novels I’ve read, Ireland develops great characters in Jane and her friends. None of them felt one-dimensional or too-perfect. The book is well written, with good dialogue and a great story, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one.
Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
I read the first one and loved its beautiful and disturbing illustrations, even though I didn’t fully understand the story. In this second volume, Maika, Kippa and Ren are on a journey to learn more about Maika’s mother and her history. I was hoping in this volume I’d come to understand a lot of the things I didn’t fully absorb in the first one – but that wasn’t the case. As the story grew more complicated, I found myself pretty lost, and ultimately decided this wasn’t the graphic novel series for me. Maybe it was the cryptic dialogue or the characters within characters, or maybe I just didn’t invest the time and concentration to understand the world-building. I’m definitely in the minority in not loving this series. The illustrations are stunning and at the same time even more disturbing than in the first volume. This is a novel where every visual element matters, from the colors of the word bubbles to the age of Maika (and whether she has both arms or not). It’s a beautiful book and I’m sure it’s a powerful story if you’re paying attention. But it felt like a bit too much work for me.
Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova:
This is the second in the Brooklyn Brujas series which began with Labyrinth Lost. I enjoyed both but liked this one more because the main character Lula was well-developed and it built nicely on the events of the first novel. It felt more adult, which is appropriate since it’s about Alex’s older sister (the next one I’m guessing will be about the younger sister). Labyrinth Lost was a journey novel, likened by some readers to Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz. It had an interesting fantasy world but the relationships between the characters were too simplified and the story fairly predictable (as journey novels tend to be).
Bruja begins with Lula dealing with events that occurred in the first book, with some serious facial scars and internal ones as well. She’s the sister that’s always had it all together, and now she’s not. While she’s trying to deal, a tragedy occurs, and she uses her powers to do something that has major consequences.
There are zombie-like creatures in this book, but it’s not a scary read, more an interesting one. As with most the-world-is-ending fantasy novels there’s not a ton of suspense because you pretty much know the world won’t end. What happens to the zombies, however, is a whole other question.
This is a fun, dark, fast-paced book. It’s not heavy on character development, but I really liked Lula and her relationships with her family and her sort-of-ex boyfriend. What I liked most was the focus on Latina culture and mythology. It’s great to read about deities and myths we know little about, and I found the world Cordoba builds fascinating.
Those are my Halloween (RIP XIII) reads. I’m hoping to put away one or two more before the end of the month, including Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and the Murderbot series by Martha Wells.
What books are you reading to celebrate the season?