Tag Archives: claire legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

cover of Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand

Sawkill Rock is an island and a world unto itself, but it’s also a place where girls keep disappearing. Marion, Valerie, and Zoey meet on the Rock, each containing her own secrets and desires. But an ancient evil is stalking the girls and they must face the price that stopping it will demand.

I haven’t read all of Claire Legrand’s books by any means, but I find her an interesting author and this title was getting some praise from people I trust, so I decided to give it a try.

Sawkill Girls is an interesting beast of a book. (I mean that fairly literally, as it’s almost 500 pages long.) It clearly has a lot to Say, about the violence and horrors that teenage girls face, the expectations and the boxes they are made to fit themselves into. At the same time, I felt that the book faltered a bit under the weight of that message. Like Legrand’s other 2018 release, Furyborn, it seems like this is trying to be a fiercely feminist book, and there are ways it hits that goal and ways that, at least for me, it falls somewhat short.

Part of it is the question I find myself asking a lot recently: who is this book for? Is it an empowering story for teenage girls? Or is it for adult women who want to read an empowering story about teenage girls? Who would find it resonant and who would find themselves left out? I don’t have clear answers to these questions, partly because neither group is a monolith, but I kept thinking about the ways that many teens are constantly aware of the world they face. Would this story give them strength, or would it point out what they already know?

Sawkill Girls is about three girls: Marion, Zoey, and Val. They are summed up as “the new girl,” “the pariah,” and “the queen bee.” Over the course of the book, we learn their many secrets and these roles become more complicated and fraught. But I struggled with this a bit because I didn’t see them ever become fully fleshed out people. The characterization just felt a bit thin, and although the way the girls inhabit those initial roles is called into question, I still felt that they were limited by them.

I do appreciate that although the Collector is the main antagonist, the Hand of Light–a group of men who uses up girls to fight monsters–also becomes a clear villain. It reminded us that sometimes the greatest danger is from ordinary people who seemingly have good intentions. But I wished that on the converse, we saw the strength of ordinary girls, not simply extraordinary ones.

I also appreciated that we see ways that women participate in harming other women and in some ways this is the most subtle part of the story. I was less entirely convinced by the turnaround we see with one of the characters, and the way the other characters accept her change of heart, but it’s still interesting to see this strand teased out across different characters and generations.

This is certainly a powerful story–it is genuinely creepy and terrifying and I am still thinking about it and arguing with it several days after finishing it. But I can’t help feeling that something about the literal en-monstering of dark violence against girls and the way the characters don’t ever quite shed the types they’ve been cast as doesn’t quite sit well with me.

This may be a result of the expectations the aim of the book sets up, and I may be unfair here. After all, there’s not only one right way to write a feminist story and what doesn’t resonate with me might easily be really important to another reader. And yet, I can’t help thinking that the empowerment shown here is just a little too easy and surface-level. So, I don’t know. Ultimately, I’m very torn on this one!

 

Other reviews of Sawkill Girls:

Ana Grilo at Tor.com

Mavesh Murad also at Tor.com

Faerie on the shelf

 

My previous reviews of Claire Legrand:

Some Kind of Happiness (2016)

Furyborn (2018)

___________-

Previously, on By Singing Light:

The Map of My Dead Pilots by Colleen Mondor (2012)

Bujold Week: Cordelia’s Honor (2014)

Reading Notes: Ivory by Doris Egan (2015)

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (2016)

Favorite adult books of 2016 (2017)

Recovery Reading: Sarah Caudwell (2018)

3 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

Currently reading: 6-13-18


I am actually only actively reading one book at the moment! Claire LeGrand’s latest release, Furyborn. I am sure it’s being marketed as a feminist epic fantasy (ah, yes: “The stunningly original, must-read fantasy of 2018 follows two fiercely independent young women”) and I’m interested in that and how successfully the book fulfills that promise. I’m on page 283 of 494 and I keep waiting for a twist or a moment to coalesce the story and bring the two parts together. I suspect it’s coming soon? Anyway, it’s an interesting take on an YA epic fantasy, although I’m not sure I’m buying “stunningly original”–certainly the world is inventive and fascinating, but I pretty much always prefer a take on books that situates them within their historical context.

I think I’m making it sound like I don’t like Furyborn, which is not true at all! In fact, it’s probably my second-favorite fantasy read of 2018 to date (after Tess of the Road). I’m just always interested in how we market things and how that can strip books of history and context. Bringing me back to Joanna Russ, I suppose, and How to Suppress Women’s Writing--how do we forget the writers who came before, and what does that cost us? Anyway, it’s a thoughtful book, sometimes unexpectedly fun, and a surprisingly quick read despite its heft.

1 Comment

Filed under bookish posts

Out of the woods: books set in forests

I’m not entirely sure why forests are such a powerful setting and symbol in fantasy. Maybe it’s something to do with fairy tales, maybe something to do with how much of the land we now inhabit was once covered with vast acres of trees. Regardless, I love books that have forests as a main setting and I wanted to highlight some of them. They might engage with the mythology of forests in different ways, but they’re all playing with that sense of magic and danger.

out of the woods

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: The forest that Hazel and Ben enter plays a major part in this haunting book.

The Jinx trilogy by Sage Blackwood: The Jinx trilogy is almost entirely set in the Urwald, a magical forest that’s full of danger and secrets.

Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: In Otter’s world any shadow can hold one of the deadly White Hands, and so the forest that surrounds her home is both beautiful and terrifying.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll: Carroll draws on fairy tale influences to weave her extremely creepy story of a girl who goes out into the dark woods.

The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye: The forest in this book is more benign than many of the others I’m featuring here, but it’s extremely delightful.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire LeGrand: Finley’s semi-imagined forest, the Everwood, drives a lot of this book, as well as being the place Finley feels the safest.

In the Forests of Serre (and several others) by Patricia McKillip: McKillip loves to write about forests, and she often does so with a sense of the edges where they turn magical.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne: Like the woods in The Ordinary Princess, The Hundred-Acre Woods are more benign than most of these stories. It’s still a magical and enchanting land.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: A magical forest where the trees speak Latin and time is out of joint should definitely be on this list.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede: I mean, they’re called The Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Also, a wonderful mix of funny and serious.

 

Am I missing a favorite book set in a forest or woods? Let me know! I’d love to read more of them.

 

Save

Save

Save

13 Comments

Filed under book lists, bookish posts