Tag Archives: maggie stiefvater

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.






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Recent Reading: Stiefvater, White, Barnes, Carlson

blue lilyBlue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: I have finally figured out that this series starts off slowly and then hits a point of no return and is full speed ahead from there. I can’t wait for the next book, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, which is an exciting thing.

illusions of fateIllusions of Fate by Kiersten White: I’ve wanted to like White’s books in the past but have never quite managed it. This one I really liked. The premise and characters were really interesting and while I wasn’t 100% sold on the big twist, it also wasn’t so implausible that I wanted to give up on the book. Jessamine is also a main character who’s not white and who is from a colonized country and dealing with the effects of that in her own life and the lives of her family and friends.

killer instinctKiller Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: Second book in the Naturals series. There’s a bit of second book ness to this one and the characters’ viewpoints are such a different way of seeing the world that I occasionally had a little trouble connecting to them. But all in all, this is a fascinating series.

vnhlpoTerror of the Southlands by Caroline Carlson: Sequel to Magic Marks the Spot. I liked this one less than the first, mostly because the characters seem a bit stuck in their roles. I did very much appreciate how Carlson makes Hilary an adventurous character without presenting her as the Right Way To Be A Girl. In fact, Claire and Miss Pimm are powerful magic users who also enjoy embroidery and traditionally feminine things.


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Reading notes 11-16-2012

I wanted a few of these to be proper reviews, but if that’s the case, we may be waiting till the cows come home. So, SUMMING UP!

Crown of Embers by Rae Carson: Almost all of my reader friends looooved the first book and I…didn’t. But I had enough interest to check out the second, and I’m glad I did. Though I was bothered by the pacing and heavy-handed pointing out of the romance (I don’t object to the pairing, just the “He’s so handsome! But I must not think this! But I do!” which was happening for a longish time), I thought Carson did a fabulous job of deepening Elisa’s character and showing both her weaknesses and strengths as a queen. I do wish that she would be a tad less subtle with her world-building, and I say this as the queen & champion of subtle world-building. There was a line or two that read like these are possibly far in the future settlers on another planet, ala Dragonriders of Pern? But to be honest, I have never liked that aspect of Pern and the strategy in general feels a bit like a cop-out. Or am I totally misreading this? Comment! Tell me! I am confused. (Side note: the UK cover is so much better!.)

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: IVAN! I love Ivan! Well, really I just love everyone in the extended Vorkosigan/Vorpatril/Vorbarra clan, including Gregor who I may have a massive book crush on (I admit nothing). And it took me a really long time to figure out that Bujold is at least partly playing with the Ivan the Idiot figure from Russian folk tales (I wonder which came first, the name or the character?). Because of course, Ivan is not really an idiot. He’s just not Miles. I liked Captain Vorpatril a lot, and I think it would make an interesting counterpoint to A Civil Campaign. I’ve heard rumors that this may be the last Vorkosigan book. If so, I think I will always re-read the series in terms of internal chronology, because Cryoburn is definitely a stronger ending for the whole thing. Which I think Bujold must realize, since she’s set CV’sA a good few years before Cryoburn. The only odd thing is that there were a number of infodumps–interesting ones, with lots of details about Barrayaran & Cetagandan history that haven’t necessarily appeared before, but infodumps nonetheless. Surely this is not the place to enter the series? Surely anyone trying to will realize this and start at the beginning? Moreover, I’m not sure that I don’t prefer not knowing (triple negative, sorry) all the details, having to do the work of figuring out the different cultures. I don’t need to be told that Russian, Greek, & French are the major ancestral groups of Barrayar; I’ve known that since about book 3. If this is the last book, I almost wonder if she was just dumping in all the bits she knew and hadn’t found a place for but wanted to make part of the canon.

The Curiosities by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff: This was one of those books that made me want to jump up and write a whole bunch of short stories. I think it’s an extremely strong anthology, which comes partly from what it is–a collection of the stories from The Merry Sisters of Fate. The three authors work well together, since they have similar obsessions, if not similar styles. And they are so very good at what they do. In fact, the collection as a whole is so strong that I’m having trouble picking out favorite stories. This does not happen to me with anthologies. My only quibble is that I frequently found the annotations distracting, especially on a first read. I’d like an e-book where the reader can turn the annotations on and off as desired.

Alamut by Judith Tarr: I finished this one last night. I really liked it–Tarr is one of those writers who makes prose seem effortless. And who knew that Crusading knights and fey creatures could play so well together? In fact, this is a lovely bit of historical fantasy, and I do love historical fantasy, especially with a dash of mystery and a lot of strong writing. There’s also a strong romantic plot which I found odd, but also enjoyable in a hard-to-define way. I’ve heard really good things about her Lord of the Two Lands, so I have put a hold on that.


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Reading notes 9-22-12

At the moment, I’ve thrown over the ten or so books I was dutifully plowing through in favor of Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys which I love like wow. Although it doesn’t have quite the magic of Scorpio Races for me, which caught me at line one and never let me go. I’m still very curious about where this story is heading and glad that it’s a series.

I’m on about page 10 of The Treachery of Beautiful Things, but I’m really liking it so far because 1) Tam Lin retelling (where Tam and Jenny are siblings!) and 2) creepy fairies! I am all for creepy fairies. And the fairyland in the story is lovely, far closer to the kind of fairyland I picture than most versions.

My obligatory non-fiction at the moment is Against Wind and Tide, the new collection of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s letters and diaries. I’m liking it a lot; it’s neat to see the beginnings of what would become Gift From the Sea. Again, I’m not very far along yet.

I’m almost done with Long Lankin, which I’m finding very eerie, but not totally engrossing in the way I would really like it to be. I think I’m partly reacting to the pacing–something is clearly About to Happen and it’s been that way for the past 100 pages or so.

Finished The Far West by Patricia Wrede, the last in the Frontier Magic trilogy. I like the books, but they’re neither quite character driven nor plot driven, which makes them a bit frustrating. I kept expecting something to happen that never quite does.


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The Scorpio Races-Maggie Stiefvater

Opening. “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.”

My usual method for writing reviews is to come up with a list of bullet points about the book, which I then build into paragraphs. When I finished writing up my list for The Scorpio Races, I looked at it and went, “Hmm. I use the word love quite a lot.” And that is because I LOVE THIS BOOK.

So, in case you don’t know much about it, here’s a brief explanation. Puck Connolly and Sean Kendrick grew up on the island of Thisby, where every November first, the men and boys race the capall uisce–beautiful deadly water horses–to win the Scorpio Race. Sean has won the last four years. Puck, however, decides to ride in the races, on her own pony, to win the money to save her house.

I kind of loathe plot summaries, so I’ll just say that this doesn’t do the book justice at all.

It’s told in alternate narration, which I’ve come to expect from Maggie Stiefvater. I really loved Puck’s voice–she’s both fierce and tender and I found her entirely believable. She’s the kind of person I’d be proud to know. If she existed in real life, that is. Sean is fascinating, partly because his narration is full of words–he’s the one that really captures the boiling excitement of the races for me–while to Puck he’s silent.

In my opinion, some of the best books make you feel like you can do things you can’t. When I read The Blue Sword, for instance, I think I could ride in a laprun trial. (HAH!) In this case, the race was so real to me, and the capall uisce, that I felt not only that I was riding with Puck and Sean, but that I could ride in it myself. Since I’ve been on a horse about twice in my whole life, this is obviously not true, but for the space of those pages, I could.

One of my very favorite things about this book is the way the relationship between Sean and Puck unfolds. The sort of culmination of it, in my opinion, is Puck’s exchange with Benjamin Malvern at the end of the book. It made me laugh, but it was also exactly the right note to hit. I love the slow blossoming romances much more than the Insta-attraction (just add water!) ones that seem to be the norm at the moment. I trust that Sean and Puck will last, because they know each other. And besides, they make me feel all gooey.

Another thing that I really appreciated was the way the conflict was set up and resolved. I’m not talking about Mutt Malvern here, but rather that central question that haunts the race scene. Both Sean and Puck have to win this race, while at the same time, they want the other to win. I trusted the way this problem was solved.

Of course, this is also a book about family, and what you do when your family leaves, or when they betray you. I like it when YA deals with that, helpfully messing up that convenient mg/YA marker of family vs. romance. Besides, families are something we live with our whole life, and pretending otherwise is silly.

I’m not sure I’ve given a good sense of just how much I enjoyed this book–the story, the characters, the writing. But I will certainly agree with Maggie Stiefvater herself. This is her best book yet. It’s beautiful, and you should definitely read it.

Book source: public library (but going on my wishlist)
Book information: Scholastic, 2011; YA (though I think upper mg would like it too)


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