Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly Barnhill

by Kelly Barnhill

Kelly Barnhill reminds us that updated fairy tales still have a place in Kelly Barnhillyoung adult literature.  She incorporates a plethora of iconic images and arctypes in forming the story. Stars, the moon, a  dragon, a tower prison, a witch in the forest who eats children, orphans, nuns, a mad women and helpless babies. Even a cloud of doom covering the village harkens back to fairytale imagery. A slight tweek to the iconography was a delightful dragon that didn’t grow up.

As with any good fairy tale or fable sprinkled within the story are words of wisdom such as forgiveness, fear of what others tell you, overprotecting those we love and the power of hope.  “It’s awfull to be cut off from your own memories.” “The answer is too easy, my friend. Look deeper.” I found Barhill’s messages about orphans and adoption, however, somewhat idealized.

Barhill sets the story between a village covered in the cloud of doom around a large bog and a forest. Her travels walking in Costa Rica influenced her choice of location and descriptions.

Kelly Barnhill Wins the 2017 John Newberry Medal

Review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, Kelly BarnhillThe Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
on August 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Middle Grade, Magical Realism
Pages: 388

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule -- but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her -- even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The acclaimed author of The Witch’s Boy has created another epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to become a modern classic.

Book Review, The Other Wind by Ursula LeGuin

An EarthSea Story,

The Other Wind (Earthsea Cycle, #6)

The Earthsea series by Ursula LeGuin enchants many readers with well reason. The addition of TheOtherWind follows suit. This story evolves around Alder, a young sorcerer who dreams of his dead wife. He becomes tempted to breach the wall entrapping her in the world of the dead, but fears the consequences. 

Alder’s dreams of his wife’s ghost persist. He wants to break down the wall between the dimensions, but tearing it down may cause a riff in Earthsea by freeing all dead souls, not only his wife. To find a solution Alder goes on a journey to see Ged, once Archmage of EarthSea. Then he travels to Havnor to find the king who  takes Alder to talk to a dragon in the form of a woman. Only she can mend the riff in the wall caused so many years ago, when dragons and humans parted ways. 


In many of LeGuin’s books, including the EarthSea series, she creates characters with humane issues, then she places them in a strange and wonderful fantasy world. She takes us on journeys where people are tempted, ache to do the right thing, but fear the consequences of their actions. Humane themes drive LeGuin’s stories. In TheOtherWorld she deals with issues of the death of those we love.

The Other Wind stands on its own as a story, although reading earlier books in the series definitely fill in references made in this book. A tale with dragons, wizards, kings and a journey woven within very humane challenges. What more could I ask in a fantasy story?

Ursula LeGuin’s written many short stories and five novels based around her fictional world of EarthSea. Wikipedia lists them all.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book Review

From Annals of the Western Shore,

Gifts by Ursula Le GuinGifts is all about power. Le Guin explores both mental and physical aspects of it. People born with power, the illusion of power and creating the illusion of power where none existed before. She probes how people use power, abuse it and are distracted by it. How people enslave others with it, fool themselves by it and accept or reject power whether in themselves or others.

Le Guin accentuates the effects of powers on society by creating a world where magical powers inherited through one’s blood lines range from killing people to turning rocks to dust.

The powers depicted in Gifts include: ‘wasting people’ so they die within the year; twisting limbs; blinding or making people deaf; taking people’s will; making people follow you or become subservient to you; rendering people brainless idiots and being able to talk to animals. Her main character, Orrec’s, power is ‘undoing’ things or dissolving them. It’s considered one of the most odious powers. Odious enough for Orrec’s father to persuade him to blind himself.

The powers Le Guin portrays in Gifts can apply to power in all societies. Power of influence over others, revenge, holding people in line, submission to power or fear of one’s own power.

Both Sides of the Coin

Relief comes from an outsider who questions everything Orrec believes about the powers that bind his world. The outsider explains incidents that occur as natural, but Orrec can’t see the truth. He remains blind, because he believes the lore he was raised within.

Orrec’s girlfriend, Gry, realizes that power works for good and evil. She refuses to use her gift for the family business of calling wild bore, bear and deer to the hunt. Instead she uses her power to talk to animals,to heal them and to train dogs and horses. She questions whether all powers have good and evil possibilities. She asks Orrec to consider the positive use of his power to ‘undo’ things and suggests the power’s original purpose may have been to heal rather than kill.

Le Guin foreshadows the end early in the story, but it comes with a certain satisfaction as the protagonist finally comes to terms with issues of power in his society, family and in himself.

Le Guin: Master Story Teller

I find myself returning to Ursula Le Guin’s books for a thought-provoking-science-fiction story that doesn’t rely on mega battles. She incorporates humane themes within unusual circumstances and environments. The combination equates to a good read.

For those interested in writing: Ursula Le Guin writes Gifts in 1st person POV. Notice how carefully she uses the pronoun ‘I’, so it isn’t overused.  A master storyteller with many awards, Le Guin balances backstory, action scenes and dialogue with the narrators thoughts, emotions  and telling of the story.

You may find more information about Ursula Le Guin at the Nebula Awards website.

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin Book ReviewGifts (Annals of the Western Shore, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin
Series: Annals of the Western Shore #1
Published by Harcourt on April 1st 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 286

Scattered among poor, desolate farms, the clans of the Uplands possess gifts. Wondrous gifts: the ability--with a glance, a gesture, a word--to summon animals, bring forth fire, move the land. Fearsome gifts: They can twist a limb, chain a mind, inflict a wasting illness. The Uplanders live in constant fear that one family might unleash its gift against another. Two young people, friends since childhood, decide not to use their gifts. One, a girl, refuses to bring animals to their death in the hunt. The other, a boy, wears a blindfold lest his eyes and his anger kill.
In this beautifully crafted story, Ursula K. Le Guin writes of the proud cruelty of power, of how hard it is to grow up, and of how much harder still it is to find, in the world's darkness, gifts of light.
Includes a reader's guide and a sample chapter from the companion title Voices.

The Goose Girl, a retelling by Shannon Hale

Redd Becker Book Review

Goose GirlGoose Girl retells the fairy tale of a princess done wrong, who struggles to regain her rightful place on the throne. Her mother, the queen, exiles her daughter to another country in an arranged marriage. This remains one of my least favored plot lines, but this retelling enchanted me.

Hale tells the story in a style I refer to as literary light. Her use of language to create the princess’s world demonstrates empathy with all facets of the story. Scrumptious descriptions of landscapes, ancient cities, village life, woodlands, palaces and markets fill every scene, but the descriptions don’t over power the story or characters.

At a time when movies, TV shows and novels maximize action, conflict, fear and dark imagery, Goose Girl provided relief. Struggles were clear, but not harsh. They entertained without causing angst.

Goose Girl as Fairy Tale and Fantasy

Technically Goose Girl fits the fantasy genre, because the princess possesses the ability to talk to animals and manipulate the wind.  Hale so adeptly integrates these qualities that the magic appears naturally human in the characters.

Subplots lace the main story line and Hale takes care to develop them. Many of her characters grow and change, as they encounter new circumstances. A fun band of helpers who tend animals for the palace gather around the princess.

Wikipedia provides a nice synopsis of the original German fairy tale.

Hale’s rendition of Goose Girl gained much recognition including: A New York Public Library ‘100 Titles for Reading and Sharing’ Book; A Josette Frank Award Winner; A Texas Lone Star Reading List Book; A Utah State Book Award Winner (YA); and A Utah Speculative Fiction Award Winner.

The Goose Girl, a retelling by  Shannon HaleThe Goose Girl (The Books of Bayern, #1) by Shannon Hale
Series: The Books of Bayern #1
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 383

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt's guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani's journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her.
Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny. Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can become queen of the people she has made her own.


The Young Elites by Marie Lu

Redd Becker Book Review

The Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1) byI thought The Young Elites was going to be a typical rags to riches adventure, with a prince challenged to take his rightful place on the throne. Although it is a story of both a prince and princess vying for power, I was pleasantly surprised.

The protagonist, Adelina, was not the good girl I expected and yet my empathy was with her all the way. The circumstances of her love interest was more convoluted and obscured then expected.

Lu writes in third person close. Most chapters are in the protagonist’s POV, which helps to build empathy toward her, however, the perspective changes in some chapter provided information and subplots from various angles.

Snippets of literature from their world start each chapter. These provide insights to their world’s culture and an idea of where the chapter is heading. I liked the snippets better than similar headings in some stories.

The Young Elites’ Plot

Children altered by a sickness leaves them with physical defects and sometimes special powers. The king of Kenettra persecutes those effected, the malfettos. His queen decides to take over the throne and kill them. Adelina’s brother, Enzo, the rightful heir to the throne has been exiled as a malfetto. He enlists other malfettos to form the Young Elites in order to overthrow the throne and take his place as the rightful heir.

Adelina’s powers are slow to show, but when she kills her cruel father she is enlisted by Enzo, who saves her from death and enlists her help. Complications arise when Adelina’s sister is taken by the Queens’s assistant as hostage.

For those who like to write: The Young Elites is a wonderful example of subplots, over subplots.

You may want to check out Marie Lu’s final book in this series, The Midnight Star. Or another review of the popular Young Elite’s series at ReadLove.

The Young Elites by Marie LuThe Young Elites (The Young Elites, #1) by Marie Lu
Series: The Young Elites #1
on October 7th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 355

I am tired of being used, hurt, and cast aside.
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.


The Naming by Alison Croggon

Redd Becker Book Review

The Naming (The Books of Pellinor, #1) byCroggon creates a rich magical world gone awry in The Naming. Wonderful adventures maintain momentum throughout the story. Croggon pays attention to details. It’s easy to ride with her main character, Maerad, as she travels through lush or desolate landscapes and into ornate magic schools or simple villages. If you like world building to it’s fullest, this is a wonderful adventure.

In some places the detail became too much for me, but that didn’t distract from my enjoyment of the story. It’s just my personal preference.

Characters in ‘The Naming’

The main characters, Maerad and her mentor, Cadvan, are accessible and engaging. We follow Maerad from slavery to self discovery, as her mentor falters under the weight of protecting her. It’s fun to get into Maerad’s mind as she confronts her inexperience. Their adversaries are no less appealing; ranging from village thugs to  masters of dark magic. Although some characters are stereotypical, they are minor characters and fill their functions in the story well.

This is my second read of the novel and the world was just as compelling the first time. No wonder Alison Croggon followed up the series with five more novels. 

For those who enjoy writing: ‘The Naming’ is a wonderful example of world building. Croggon also enjoys language. She slips wonderful words in throughout the story.

My Rating five-stars

For another reviewer’s perspective check out TeenReads.

The Naming by Alison CroggonThe Naming (The Books of Pellinor, #1) by Alison Croggon
Series: Pellinor #1
Published by Candlewick Press on March 14th 2006
Genres: Fantasy, Magical Realism, Young Adult
Pages: 492

Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child after her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true heritage and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her new teacher must survive a journey through a time and place where the forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.
Alison Croggon’s epic fantasy, the first in the Books of Pellinor quartet, is a glittering saga steeped in the rich and complex landscape of Annar, a legendary world ripe for discovery.

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks; a saga where color is magic

Redd Becker Book Review

Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks uses color as the source of magic in The Broken Eye. Humanoids with special powers to manipulate color, called Chromeria, dominate in their world. Chromeria can manipulate color to form things, change the weather and even render themselves invisible. Guilds formed by those who wield the power of their color work together or against other color guilds The most powerful Chromeria of them all utilizes the full spectrum of colors and is designated the Prism, an honorary figure in their society and highest ruler. Plots run through family conflicts, guilds, renegades to the rulers and court intrigues.

Weeks deftly captures reader’s empathy for his characters, than turns the character around to reveal their more wicked motives. Just as likely, Weeks justifies his villain’s motives. There are plenty of characters for readers to project themselves into, bond with, and analyze, as well as male and females characters who are fully empowered in their rolls.

Brent Weeks writes a saga

The Broken Eye is a long novel. If you are daunted at almost eight hundred pages, this plot-driven story makes it a worthwhile adventure. Chapters jump between characters and locations. At first it’s hard to keep the threads and characters straight, but Weeks never drops the intensity or conflict. Scenes are enticing. They each drive the overall storyline, as well as subplots, forward. There is lots of dialogue and action with just enough description to bring the world and backstory to life. 

It’s difficult to maintain momentum in a long book, especially in the mid sections, but, with the mix of characters, locations and complexity of plot, Weeks maintained my interest.

The book is completed with maps, character list and an extensive glossary.

My Rating five-stars

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks; a saga where color is magicThe Broken Eye (Lightbringer, #3) by Brent Weeks
Series: Lightbringer #3
Published by Orbit on August 26th 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 757

As the old gods awaken, the Chromeria is in a race to find its lost Prism, the only man who may be able to stop catastrophe, Gavin Guile. But Gavin's enslaved on a galley, and when he finally escapes, he finds himself in less than friendly hands. Without the ability to draft which has defined him . . .
Meanwhile, the Color Prince's army continues its inexorable advance, having swallowed two of the seven satrapies, they now invade the Blood Forest. Andross Guile, thinking his son Gavin lost, tasks his two grandsons with stopping the advance. Kip and his psychopathic half-brother Zymun will compete for the ultimate prize: who will become the next Prism.