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The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Summer Prince

mariko18, February 20, 2013

Alaya Dawn Johnson's "The Summer Prince" is a contemporary work that evokes the quality of classic science fiction that the genre has lost in a quagmire of space operas and dystopic battle-royales. It posits a future that is easily imaginable given the state of contemporary technology and society, and explores the inherent dangers, not in technology itself, but in how humans might (mis)use it. Consequently it becomes a gripping analysis of human nature, life, power, and the sociopolitical workings of the world. A world that takes for granted the fluid nature of sexuality, explores the pitfalls of chasing immortality, assisted suicide, the convergence of ritual and technology, the balance of power and mutual disrespect between youth and extreme age-"Summer Prince" has it all.

Yet at its heart, "Summer Prince" is the story of one girl's tumultuous journey towards maturity and her relationship with those she loves. June Costa is a girl with a mission, who wants to do what's right but is navigating the pitfalls and inherent narcissism that results from being a teenager. June is deeply reflective about the outside world, but is still learning how to be introspective. This allows her to grow. If Johnson hadn't written her questioning her own obsession with winning the Queen's Prize, it might have felt contrived: Her desire for the prize is completely irrational. But desire is irrational. June knows continuing to chase this prize after she's learned how corrupt the system is and her thirst for public recognition wanes, is illogical, but her inability to let go in spite of that is painfully realistic. Her relationship with her family and the slow revelation of the events surrounding her father's death are among the most compelling parts of the novel. Her friendship with Gil is delightfully deep. Though they drift apart whenever they get caught up in their own personal nonsense, they always find their way back to each other. June's growing friendship with Enki is also strong, and despite June's descriptions of how he affects her physically, feels more like an intellectual love affair than a romance. They understand each other on a fundamental, even primal level, akin to two missiles on an inescapable collision course: When they hit the explosion will change the world.

Reviews describe June’s relationship with Gil and Enki as a love triangle, yet calling it such feels reductive. While it might have been more interesting if sex hadn't entered into the equation on the Enki/June side, Johnson creates a complex, layered and deeply nuanced emotional relationship between these three characters that is immensely compelling. The love that holds it together is varied, allowing the novel to explore different kinds of love that are equally powerful and all-consuming. Johnson does not privilege any one variety of love over the others, though the Gil-June and June-Enki sides of the triangle are arguably more fully developed. June, the central and narrating character, is naturally more knowledgeable and concerned about her relationship with Gil and Enki than their relationship with each other. Still, Enki and Gil's love for one another captivates Palmares Tres and pervades the story.

Johnson's colorful and multi-dimensional cast of supporting characters, intriguing narrative structure, and vivid prose complete a novel that is as evocative (perhaps even provocative) as it is captivating. This is without a doubt her best novel to date.
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The Burning City by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Burning City

mariko18, July 3, 2010

Three years after the release of the first volume, "Racing the Dark," Alaya Dawn Johnson's Spirit Binder trilogy remains a welcome relief from the cookie-cutter novels that dominate the shelves of YA fantasy. "The Burning City" builds on the promise of "Racing the Dark," drawing readers deeper into Lana's wild and rapidly destabilizing world. Johnson paints characters of such heartrending complexity that you find yourself constantly pondering the "right" course, just as Lana is forced time and again to question her own choices and the path she must take to rescue her mother, a city, and perhaps even all of humanity. The black book and the past it reveals is masterfully interwoven with the present, greatly enriching the already intricate plot and adding unforeseen depth to Lana's plight and the woman who betrayed her. The novel's true strength lies in the cast's dimension: No character is wholly "good" nor "evil"--all are painfully human, struggling to do what must be done, what they believe is right, in a situation that seems increasingly hopeless. No one is irredeemable nor wholly unsympathetic. Readers who enjoyed "Racing the Dark" will find even greater riches in "The Burning City" and Lana's startling epiphanies coupled with the enticing cliff-hanger finale will have you begging for the final volume. Here's hoping it won't be a long wait.
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Moonshine by Alaya Johnson

mariko18, May 17, 2010

If you did a poll to ascertain who among us was least into vampires I would likely rank near the top of the list. While I am a loyal fantasy junkie of the first degree, I have never been a fan of vampires, never understood the draw, and lament on a daily basis the vampire craze that has seemingly replaced all other varieties of fantasy on the YA shelves of Borders and Barnes and Noble, something I find deeply frustrating.

Nevertheless, while I may be no fan of vampires, I *am* a fan of this book. I have been reading Alaya's work for a long time and while it was my loyalty to her as an author that led me to this novel, it is her ingenuity as a writer and Zephyr's engaging, light-hearted tone that never takes itself too seriously that kept me hypnotically turning the pages. This is an intelligent, witty book that while aiming (and succeeding) to be fun and funny will nevertheless make you think about the nature of prejudice and all those who are labeled "other" in any society.

To be brief: This is not my kind of book--but I loved it anyway.

One final note: I've noticed a lot of reviewers and bloggers calling this Alaya's debut novel and I wanted to say to those who loved it and are looking for more of Alaya's work that it is in fact her second novel, not her first. Her debut novel is called "Racing the Dark" and is the first in a truly engrossing fantasy trilogy called "The Spirit Binders." The second installment, "The Burning City," will be released on June 1st. Fans of fantasy, Alaya and "Moonshine" should definitely check them out.
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Racing the Dark by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Racing the Dark

mariko18, July 14, 2009

In response to Iona's comment: Racing the Dark is the first book in a trilogy called "The Spirit Binders." The paperback version will be released this fall, followed by the sequel "The Burning City" (which is even better than the first book). The delay between books is normal as Alaya was working on several projects at once. I would encourage everyone to exercise patience and to look for Alaya's other upcoming titles and short stories as they are all well worth the wait.
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Bloodhound (Beka Cooper) by Tamora Pierce
Bloodhound (Beka Cooper)

mariko18, April 16, 2009

Tamora Pierce's "Bloodhound" is the long-awaited sequel to "Terrier," the first book in the "Beka Cooper" or "Provost's Dog" trilogy and turns out to be well worth the wait. Fans of the first book might be a little disappointed to find that some of the characters from "Terrier" have very little page-time in this novel, but will likely be comforted by the first real glimpse in any of Pierce's Tortall novels of the city Port Cayne, not to mention Beka and her companions' startling brand of humor. Despite the serious and dangerous nature of Beka and Goodwin's assignment, readers will find themselves laughing out loud at their wry comments and well timed jokes. The search for counterfeiters is very different from Beka's quest for the diggers and the Shadow Snake in "Terrier", and serves to keep the series and Beka's growth as a Dog and in her personal life fresh and intriguing. The scent hound Achoo, the latest addition to Beka's team, is wholeheartedly endearing. There are several new characters in the book, all wonderfully fleshed out, and Pierce bravely and delicately tackles gender-identity issues avoided by lesser authors (for this I applaud her). Fans of Pierce's Tortall books will be delighted by additional names and places they recognize from "Song of the Lioness" and newcomers will simply be enthralled by Pierce's captivating world, fascinating narrative, and a heroine worthy of the title.
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