Public service announcement to authors: Why I will probably reject your review request for your latest YA Dystopian masterpiece:
With The Hunger Games as the trope definer, YA-dystopian books/films/fanfic/you-name-it owns its own genre. Since I’m going to turn down most of your review requests anyway, it might be useful to list a few guidelines that will save time for both of us.
So, dear review-requesters, if your heroine’s actions include three or more of the following (or number 9), I will be sending your book back with a suggestion that there might be other
twelve-year-olds reviewers out there without a life of their own better suited to slogging through the 100-thousand words of your story only to find a f**king cliffhanger at the end reviewing your book. **(Unless I really like it, or it has a cute dog, or were-badgers. Definitely taking all the ones with were-badgers.)
Does your heroine say—
- I’m a completely ordinary looking girl with long straight (probably red) hair, enormous (probably green) eyes, and a slim athletic build but my boobs are too small and my legs are too long and I’m too slender and…where was I? Oh, yeah. Ordinary.
- I have no actual responsible adults in my life, as I am either an orphan or handling all the family duties for my irresponsible parent(s).
- We live simply and humbly next to the wilderness that apparently has no roads or anything in it even though people have lived there ever since the [insert craptastic event] Before Time. But for some completely inexplicable reason, although we hunt with bows, wear anachronistic long tunics and dresses, and get places on horseback, there is fabulous technology that allows the [insert evil Overlord] a terrific internet connection and world dominance and some really awesome costume designers.
- When I reach puberty, I will face [the Test/College entrance exams/sorting hat] which will randomly assign my role in life. Plus maybe a death match or two.
- I am the Chosen One foretold by The Prophecy to take down the Evil Overlord and save the world but I’m conflicted about it. I’d much rather go back to my little family hovel and wear neutral-colored clothing.
- I can’t go back to my little family hovel because I have to rescue my [insert name of loved one/sibling/pet] from the Evil Overlord. To do that I will acquire astonishing mastery of [insert weapon] in an unrealistically short time. (Of course, I will not actually apply the astonishing mastery when it counts, and will probably need to be rescued myself. Lots.) But Loved One’s actual rescue will take several film sequels/book series volumes/TV seasons, and—although eventually successful—will still result in Loved One’s death or severe maiming because that’s irony, baby.
- I have assembled a (snarky, possibly LGBTQ, undoubtedly racially-diverse) posse to help me save the world. Although teenagers, none of us ever thinks about school. Bad news for them, though, is that they’ll probably mostly die.
- Although I’m only a teenager and I’ve only spoken to one boy in my life so far, I’ve found my true love! Actually, I’ve found two of them and they are each incredibly handsome! What are the odds? I can’t believe they would be interested in me because I’m so ordinary. How will I decide which one to spend the rest of my life with once I’m done saving the world? It’s so hard to be ordinary-me.
- I want to make sure that you read the next book in my series, so I will end this one on a cliffhanger.
They need the weapons, they need food and light
I’d like to whine about the things that Youtube’s recommending
But now isn’t the time!
Can’t you see the world is ending?
— Lasers and Feelings, The Doubleclicks, released July 9, 2013
For a look at a YA writer who subverts the usual YA tropes, you might want to check out Argenterra by today’s guest author, Donna Maree Hanson, who dropped by to talk about her writing and her life.
- What was your first car? An old dilapidated Morris Minor. My first new car was a Hyundai Excel Sprint
- Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? All of the above, starts with Star Trek, then Star Wars and then Firefly.
- Worst movie ever? The only movie I think I didn’t finish was Tristian and Isolde.
- Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? Aw gee…that’s hard. Carrie Fisher-she’s awesome and funny
- Best guilty pleasure ever? Spending the week rewatching North and South and ogling Richard Armitage.
- Who would play you in the movie? I always wanted to play Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia’s mother, but my imagined story was a lot different to the movie. My version was much better.
- What is the one thing you can’t live without? I know this is corny but I find it hard to live without the Internet, but in reality peanut chocolate is the thing.
- As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up? At first an astronaut, then a movie director, scientist…and I think I’d still like to make a movie.
- Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? Except for Oakheart, which sort of encourages you to think of strong, sure and true the other names got changed. The original female names were said to sound like lesbian unicorns and laughed at by writer friends and Dellbright’s original name sort of gave the game away. So I changed those.
- What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? The biggest challenge is going for something original. For example, in an epic fantasy a lot of the setting is going to sound/look/feel like other epic fantasies because there is joy in the familiar, but then I like to bring something new, something fresh.
- What are you working on right now? I’m currently working on the sequels to Argenterra so I can get the series out this year.
Donna Maree Hanson is a Canberrabased
writer of fantasy, science fiction, horror, and under the pseudonym (Dani Kristoff) paranormal romance. Her dark fantasy series (which some reviewers have called ‘grim dark’), Dragon Wine, is published by Momentum Books (Pan Macmillan digital imprint). In April 2015, she was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Australian Science Fiction’ for her work in running science fiction conventions, publishing and broader SF community contribution. Donna also writes young adult science fiction, with Rayessa and the Space Pirates and Rae and Essa’s Space Adventures out with Escape Publishing. In 2016, Donna commenced her PhD candidature researching Feminism in Popular Romance. Her first Indie published book, Argenterra, was publishing in late April 2016. Argenterra is the first
in an epic fantasy series (the Silverlands) suitable for adult and young adult readers.
BLURB: Argentera (Silverlands Book 1) by Donna Maree Hanson
Every one hundred years a woman comes to Argenterra through the Crystal Tree Woods. This time two women came…
While on a ghost tour in Castle Crioch, Sophy and her best friend and foster sister, Aria, are sucked into the world of Argenterra, where they encounter a strange Crystal Tree. Two leaves fall from it, one of which Aria catches and the other mysteriously delves into Sophy’s chest.
Met by Dellbright, the prince of Valley Keep, and Oakheart, the high king’s ambassador, the girls learn they are expected. Aria has beauty and talent with the given, the land’s native magic. She finds a home and a husband in Prince Dellbright and is revered as the legendary Gift of Crystal Tree Woods.
Sophy is out of place as anything made with the given makes her ill.
Sophy accompanies Oakheart to the capital to find out why the crystal leaf is in her chest. A sinister force is tracking her—trying to snatch her away or kill her. Only Oakheart suspects her importance: she is the talisman that can cause great harm to the world of Argenterra if she falls into the wrong hands.
The Silverlands Series Overview
In a land where oaths can’t be broken be careful what promises you make.
To break the binding oath is to risk the very magic of Argenterra.
Vorn and the first comers fleeing death and destruction came to Argenterra through the Crystal Gate. On arrival, they made a binding oath to not kill and in return the land gave them the given, a native magic. For over a thousand years they have prospered but now the ancient evil seeks Vorn’s descendants and reaches a hand into the land.
Oaths are bound with the given and every promise must be kept or the land’s magic will compel completion of the oath or prevent its breaking. Only a murder can sunder the binding oath. In his later years, Vorn prophesied that a time would come when the land would be ungiven. That time is near.
My Review: 3.5 stars out of 5
Dystopian worlds from Star Wars to Hunger Games and beyond have given us a defined group of tropes. There will be a Chosen One, a prophecy, a love triangle, a quest. But what happens when the Chosen One is supposed to arrive but two girls show up? That’s the question asked in the YA fantasy Argenterra.
When Sophy and her foster sister Aria, two young girls on a castle tour, stumble through a portal to another world, neither they nor the ones on the other side get anything they could have expected. Prince Dellbright and High King’s Ambassador Oakheart are expecting the “Gift of the Crystal Tree”, a woman sent as part of the promise of land magic known as the Given.
Sophy, who has always been considered the more beautiful of the two, finds her appearance dulled and plain in the new world. Even worse, because the inhabitants can’t see their land magic, the Given, in her, they fear and distrust her. Her friend Aria, however, is radiantly beautiful in the new world, plus she has a definite flair for using the Given.
Soon Aria is in love with and married to Prince Dellbright. But Sophy can’t seem to find her place within the restrictive medieval confines of Argenterra, and is sent away with the reluctant Oakheart. Something malevolent is stalking Sophy, and her life is threatened on several occasions. As her assigned protector, Oakheart struggles to balance his instinctive distrust with his chivalrous duty.
While Sophy and Oakheart slowly learn to look past their physical appearances, Aria is doing the same as her fairy tale prince, Dellbright, is not living up to the Disney happily-ever-after scenario. With a baby’s life in the balance, the question of which woman is the true Gift of the Crystal Woods remains unclear.
There were so many things I liked about this book. The medieval-type world of Argenterra is beautifully constructed and easy to picture. The writing is descriptive and the pace builds steadily.
But I have some issues as well. Sophy and Aria were supposed to be eighteen, but somehow they seemed much older. I would have loved to see them think and behave like teenagers, and then see their characters and emotions mature. Also, they are both products of a much more modern era, but each young woman (Aria in particular) seems perfectly willing to surrender her concept of a woman’s rights and independence. In particular, I found it troubling that Aria sees herself as completely in love with her husband, despite his behavior which includes claiming control over her thoughts and friendships, and even his right to rape or assault her. Frankly, I couldn’t see much point in having modern young women show up in a medieval society if they then don’t assert their more modern thoughts or behavior, if only to recognize internally when something has gone very wrong.
And then there’s that cliffhanger. Now, I like a good series as much as anyone else. It’s fun to get to know the characters and setting, and to see the story develop. BUT…each book in the series needs to have it’s own story arc that gets resolved. Sure Voldemort is still out there. Luke still has those Daddy-Darth issues to resolve. But each book or movie resolves its main storyline each time. Leaving every member of the cast in fairly dire peril is just annoying. And unnecessary.
Overall, Argenterra is still a book I’d recommend. I like the way the usual tropes are turned on their side. The ‘ordinary-looking’ heroine is used to being considered the pretty one in her own world. The ‘love triangle’ includes a being capable of manipulating feelings and emotions. And the ‘Chosen One’ might be two—or neither. Plus the writing is descriptive and colorful, and the world of Argenterra is beautifully built and cohesive. If you like portal SciFi fantasy with plenty of action and light romance, you might enjoy Argenterra.
***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***
Book Title: Argenterra
Author: Donna Maree Hanson
Genre: YA Epic Fantasy
Length: 427 pages
Release Date: Amazon (April 28, 2016)
Contact and Buy Links:
Excerpt (from Chapter One)
They entered a glade. In the centre, Sophy saw a beautiful, silver-barked tree. Sunlight reflected off its prism-like leaves and the air shimmered with colour, shifting and fading as the wind tugged lightly at the branches. Sophy’s heart lurched as she tried to get her brain to understand what it was that she was seeing.
Aria gasped. “Look at that!”
“Yes, odd,” she agreed. Her gaze roamed about the clearing, trying to put a frame of reference on what they were seeing and experiencing. “Is it real?”
“Beautiful…” Aria said in an awed whisper.
The crystal-clear, almost-silver leaves were vaguely oval shaped with protrusions that made them appear like small, solid stars. They looked as if they could fit into the palm of her hand. Was it a construction of some kind? Was it safe?
Aria reached out and touched one of the leaves.
Too late. The leaves began to play music. The sound reverberated around the clearing, like little bells tinkling. The melody amplified as it bounced off the forest, flowing back upon itself, deepening the song with multi-layers of notes.
“Listen to that,” Aria’s expression was full of rapture.
Sophy tried to block out the discordant sound. Even with her ears covered, the nerve-twisting feeling managed to snake up through her jaw into her eyes. Glancing upwards, Sophy spotted two silver leaves floating ever so slowly down. They mesmerised her, fluttering and skipping before her eyes. She couldn’t dodge out of their way. One landed on her chest, right below her collarbone. Disappearing through her clothes, it seared her skin. Pulling at the neck of her t-shirt, she tried to get rid of it, but she couldn’t see it, only feel it delving into her flesh.
She tried to warn Aria, but pain overwhelmed her and a strange sense of dislocation coursed within her body. Falling backwards into scattered leaf mulch, she heard Aria say, just before she lost consciousness, “Do you hear that? Feel that? Delightful…magic.”
Next thing she knew, Aria was leaning over her and shaking her by the shoulder. Sophy’s mouth opened, guppy-like, but no sound came out.
“Wake up! Did you faint?” Aria asked, cradling one of the crystal leaves in her hand.
“I’m okay,” Sophy finally managed to say in a croaky voice.
“That’s good. You know, Sophy, this tree, it’s not normal. Now I’m certain that—”
Sophy sat up and saw movement at the edge clearing. “Sssh”
“What is it?” Aria asked. “Do you hurt somewhere?”
“There’s someone there.” She pointed to the woods behind Aria.
Two archers crept out of the woods behind a man, who slowly approached them. He was young looking, maybe twenty-something, and wore coffee-coloured hose and a brown and green leather jerkin. Sophy was hoping that they were caught up in some kind of medieval re-enactment. Her gaze flicked to the tree, and she quickly squashed that train of thought.
“Lord.” Aria gasped and absent-mindedly dropped her leaf.
“Run! Get away,” Sophy said, keeping the man in her line of sight.
“It’s all right. He means us no harm.”
“Are you nuts?” More archers, with arrows nocked, emerged from the cover of the trees. Their chance of escape evaporated.
Aria turned to her. “They glow with a golden light and mean us no harm.”
“But they have arrows pointed at us.” Sophy climbed to her feet and tried to position herself in front of Aria. Obviously, Aria was affected by their fall.
The stranger approached them, hands held out from his sides. He was tanned and well built. Sophy could also see his clothing in more detail. The collar of his white undershirt, embroidered and elegant, kissed the edge of his clean-shaven, squarish chin. At first he bowed from the waist, left hand sweeping before him and then he looked quizidly at them both. In a smooth and rich voice, he said, “Please move away from the Crystal Tree.”
Aria gaped. “I’m not getting that.” She turned to Sophy and raised her eyebrows.
Sophy had understood him and that made her frown. “He said to move away from the tree.”
Holding on to Sophy’s arm, Aria took a step in the direction the man indicated. Aria whispered, “How can you understand him?”
“Don’t know, but perhaps we should do as he says before they decide to let those arrows fly.” Sophy took another step away from the tree, bringing Aria with her. Angling her head over her shoulder, she checked the position of the archers. Arranged in a rough semi-circle, they had bland expressions, but there was no mistaking the tension in their hands as they held the arrows on the strings.
“What language is he speaking? It sounds familiar, but I can’t seem to grasp it,” Aria said.
Frowning, the young man kept his gaze on Aria’s dropped leaf, glinting in the afternoon sun. He bent to pick it up, took a long step in their direction and placed it gently into Aria’s hand. She didn’t flinch or edge away and appeared quite comfortable with the stranger getting close to her. The men surrounding them shared looks and murmured. Sophy couldn’t quite catch what they were saying.
“The Crystal Tree has gifted you with a leaf, my lady,” he said, his gaze lingering on Aria.
“This?” Aria said, holding the delicate crystal leaf. “It’s very beautiful.” She smiled, then looked over her shoulder at Sophy. “I can understand him now.” She lifted the leaf. “I was right. It’s magical.”
“Sure it is. Why are they pointing arrows at us?” Sophy glowered at the man. When his gaze met hers, his mouth tensed. She tried to fix her hair by hooking the loose strands behind her ears and refrained from scratching her neck. It didn’t seem to help.
“Forgive me,” he began, facing Aria. “My name is Dellbright. The Crystal Tree Woods are in my care, and the tree itself is sacred to us. It does not give gifts lightly.”
“We didn’t harm the tree,” Aria said, smiling shyly. “I think it sang to us.”
He nodded. “We heard. We do not often meet travellers in these woods. Have you travelled far?”