Review: Awakening (Tankborn #2)

awakening Title: Awakening
Author: Karen Sandler
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction, Hard
Pages: 400
Publisher: Lee and Low Books/Tu Books
Review Copy: Arc from NetGalley
Availability: April 9, 2013 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Once a Chadi sector GEN girl terrified of her first Assignment, Kayla is now a member of the Kinship, a secret organization of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns. Kayla travels on Kinship business, collecting information to further the cause of GEN freedom.

Despite Kayla’s relative freedom, she is still a slave to the trueborn ruling class. She rarely sees trueborn Devak, and any relationship between them is still strictly forbidden.

Kayla longs to be truly free, but other priorities have gotten in the way. A paradoxically deadly new virus has swept through GEN sectors—a disease only GENs catch. And GEN warrens and warehouses are being bombed, with only a scrawled clue: F.H.E. Freedom, Humanity, Equality.

With the virus and the bombings decimating the GEN community, freedom and love are put on the back burner as Kayla and her friends find a way to stop the killing . . . before it’s too late. Image from Amazon and summary from IndieBound.

Review: Last week in her review of Fragments, Audrey wrote, “Second books in a trilogy are always complicated.” I couldn’t agree more. Middle books often seem to wander a bit merely waiting for the final wrap up in the third. In this case, the first book, Tankborn, left quite a few strings untied and much open for speculation, but this second book raised even more questions and provided very few answers. A completely new storyline is introduced and only a smattering of clues come with it.

Karen Sandler certainly leaves the reader begging for more, since the book ends rather abruptly in the middle of some major action. The author has created characters that the reader can care about, so it can be a bit frustrating for the reader when faced with a cliff-hanger. You may want to wait until the third book is a bit closer to release so you can read them close together. Revolution is slated to be released in the spring of 2014 and that seems like a long time to wait to find out what will happen next.

The benefit of a trilogy though, is that the world is already created, the characters are in place and a lot more development can happen. In Tankborn, Kayla’s physical and emotional strength were demonstrated on many occasions and the reader could get to know her to a certain degree. In Awakening, Sandler takes that next step and  shines more of a light on her inner strength. Kayla has many choices to make and Sandler really takes the opportunity to flesh out who Kayla is and what she truly values.

This book also delves deeper into the caste system and the effects it has on the entire society. The ranking of GENs, lowborns, and trueborns is extremely rigid and even the privileged people who are “helping” still don’t always see how little respect they show those who are lower in the order. As the truth is exposed, characters come face to face with the ugliness in their society and must make the choice to let it remain or take steps to make a change. Fortunately, there is hope for a better future.

One of the cool things about this book is the wildlife on the planet Loka. I found the “pet” seycat to be pretty awesome. Kayla noted that, “Seycats like Nishi might be barely knee-high to the tall GEN boys, but they could slash even a full grown man to ribbons with those claws and teeth” (16). They generally eat rat-snakes (venomous spider creature with a rat-like head and long snake-like body) and sewer toads. Nice.

Once in a while it felt a bit like the vocabulary was forced in and a bit deliberate so the world would seem radically different than Earth, but for the most part it worked. Karen Sandler has a vivid imagination and she uses it to spin a tale complete with deadly meter-high spiders called bhimkays and Genetically Engineered Non-humans who often times appeared more humane than their human “superiors”.

Recommendation: If you cannot take suspense, I would say wait until the final book, Revolution, is closer to release. Otherwise, get it soon along with Tankborn if you haven’t already read it. You would miss a lot — particularly the backstory of Kayla’s relationship with Devak without reading that first. Both books are thought-provoking and entertaining with plenty of action, mystery, and a bit of romance.

Extras:
Booktalk with Karen Sandler Discussing Genetic Engineering and Caste Systems

Sketches from planet Loka (including the above mentioned seycat, bhimkay, and rat-snake)

Karen Sandler Discussing Tankborn

More videos about Tankborn

More Diversity in Fairytales, please

Last week, Shana Mlawski, wrote about populating fantasy with diversity and not just sticking to Medieval England as a reference and I completely agree with her. In fact, I’m add to her argument by saying we can take diversity a step further, especially as to the current trend of taking well known folklore/fairy tales and putting a modern spin on them.

When I was a little girl, I loved the Disney princesses and fairytales in general, so when I learned about Beastly, by Alex Flinn, I was excited. And then more and more books were published that were based off of Western fairy tales. I read them, liking the modern touch, but one aspect of all of these novels rubbed me the wrong way. These stories were set in our modern times, in our modern cities, with our very techno-savvy modern lifestyles, but there wasn’t a single instance of diversity. None.

How was that possible? In my daily life I’m interacting with all sorts of people – different races, ages, sizes – my world is incredibly diverse. How come I’m not seeing this same world I live in reflected in my reading? I could have gotten angry; I could have raged at the world, but instead, I wrote. I wrote my own story, with the diversity I saw reflected in my world. I also searched. Searched for authors who chose to step out from their comfort zones and write different characters; create diverse worlds.

Shannon Hale’s Book of a Thousand Days is a re-telling of a tale by the Brother’s Grimm, but is set in central Asia. Malinda Lo’s Ash, takes Cinderella’s tale and turns it on its head. Marissa Meyer’s Cinder is set in a future China and the prince is Asian. These are wonderful additions to YA literature for their diversity and their unique take on the old tales they are based on.

However, as readers we have to demand more, and as writers we have to create more. Writers need to be more open to writing characters that are different from them. Research other fairytales and folklore that exist in other countries, or even in one’s own culture. Folklore was created as a way of sharing history, teaching morality and exists in every culture on Earth. These stories have not stood the test of time because they are good, but because they are captivating stories. We can restructure these stories and place them in a modern context for the next generation, but we must be sure that our modern stories also reflect our modern lives.

New Releases

Here are two more books — both released on April 9th! Nine Days sounds exactly like the kind of book I want to read under the table during class (maybe I will).

nine daysNine Days by Fred Hiatt

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

A fast-paced contemporary thriller in the vein of James Patterson and Anthony Horowitz set against the bustling backdrop of Hong Kong, Vietnam, and the border of China. This heart-pounding adventure takes place as two teens, an American teenage boy and his friend, a Chinese girl from his Washington, DC-area high school, must find her father who has been kidnapped—and they only have nine days. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

 

Revenge ofrevenge a Not-So-Pretty Girl by Carolita Blythe

Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Faye doesn’t mean to hit the old lady she and her friends are mugging. But she does. The old lady isn’t moving, but Faye has no reason to feel guilty for leaving her there. The old lady might be ancient and wrinkly now. But back in the day, she was as beautiful as they come—a famous movie star. And everyone knows that pretty and mean always go together. But Faye does feel guilty. So she comes back. Slowly, Faye and the old lady form an unlikely friendship, one that pulls Faye out of her life with her abusive mother and destructive “friends” and allows the old lady relief from her loneliness. –Picture and summary via Amazon.com

 

Review: Fragments

Fragments
Title: Fragments
Author: Dan Wells
Genres: Dystopia/Post-Apocalyptic; Science Fiction, Hard
Pages: 564
Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins
Review Copy: Received as a birthday gift
Availability: February 26, 2013 (on shelves now!)

Summary: Kira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.

The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival. —(Summary and image via Goodreads)

Review: Second books in a trilogy are always complicated. They’re rarely satisfactory on their own since their primary purpose seems to be setting everything up for the final book. Even if you do get answers to questions, you’re immediately peppered with more questions.

My feelings about Fragments are equally complicated. On the one hand, yes, Kira finds out who and what she is in this book and what the Trust is—that is awesome. (And this is the point where I highly recommend that you re-read Partials before you launch into Fragments. The science-y plotlines will be much easier to follow if you do.) On the other hand, very little else in this book gets resolved. All the other movements, particularly with the other POVs, seem specifically designed to position all the pieces for book three. As a reader, that’s frustrating, but it also has become standard for the trilogy format. (I had a higher standard for Wells as Mr. Monster was an amazing and satisfying second book, and I’d hoped that magic would extend to Fragments.)

One of the greatest weaknesses of this book is the other points of view. From a story standpoint, these POVs are crucial as they develop plotlines that Kira can’t (since she spends the entirety of the book away from Long Island). However, these other POVs weren’t as “in character” as Kira’s were—most weren’t distinctive enough for me to tell them apart easily. This was particularly disappointing with Marcus as the summary made it sound as if he would have a heftier amount of the book devoted to him. While he had more POVs than anyone other than Kira (and I enjoyed his sense of humor most of the time), I wish we had seen more from him as I felt that the events on Long Island could have merited additional screen-time.

What Wells excels at in this book is the ongoing discussion between Kira and other characters (especially Samm) about morality. What extremes do you go to for survival when the human population has been reduced to 35,000 people and there are 500,000 enemy super-soldiers still around? Fragments spends a lot of time exploring this theme, and it is done superbly. I’d talk about it more, but my favorite conversation involves major spoilers for the book.

I especially enjoyed the wider look at the ruined world. Wells clearly spent a lot of time figuring out what would happen to various cities after twelve years of neglect, and the results were stunning (and a bit terrifying and depressing, honestly). The more we got to know about ParaGen and its creations, the more fascinating (and repulsive) the world got. As a character, Afa also helped widen the scope of the world (and raise the possibility of other humans surviving outside Long Island), though he was emotionally taxing most of the time.

The romance that developed in this book was delightfully un-dramatic, and the action scenes were superb. I have a deep fondness for action scenes that rely on the character’s intelligence (and not necessarily skill) in order to win, and Kira’s smarts are often the key to her survival, especially as she learns to use the link. Give me brainy characters over brawny characters any day. (That said, there were some moments where I thought the characters needed to put the dots together sooner, like what the use of “control” meant. Come on, Marcus, you worked in the hospital. Even I figured it out, and I haven’t had a science class since 2005.)

Recommendation: Get it soon if you’re already invested in the trilogy and are willing to put up with all the frustrations inherent in second books. Wells does an amazing job of expanding the world in many ways, but in the end, the book isn’t as satisfying as Partials was. If you’re not already invested, I’d say wait until book three is out and read the series in one go. I have confidence that Wells will give us a fantastic and satisfying ending, especially now that all of the pieces are in the right place. You’ll just have to wait until next year for that to happen.

Meet Our New Bloggers

Crystal and I would like to thank everyone who has re-tweeted, linked, blogged, or tumblr’d about Rich in Color. We are thrilled with all the support you have shown us–and we are excited to announce that we are adding two new co-bloggers and one new contributor to our site. Please extend a warm welcome to them!

Co-bloggers
Jessica is a bookworm to the core (in the place of a heart, she has a book). Every year she tries to carve a novel out of Nanowrimo and fails. In consolation, she scours the bookshelves for YA lit for comfort reading. Her hobbies are summarizing modernist Japanese literature to her friends and practicing her Gollum voice.

When not asleep, she can be found on tumblr, youtube or goodreads.

K. Imani Tennyson calls herself a teacher/writer and writer/teacher because her two professional selves often overlap. An English/Language Arts teacher for 10 years, 8 of them in a middle school, K. Imani also holds an MFA in Creative Writing. She was reintroduced to YA literature as an adult by falling in love with a boy wizard named Harry, and continues to devour the all the wonderful goodness YA brings. Her writing is heavily influenced & inspired by her students as she realized that stories featuring Persons of Color were lacking. Her desire to find and spread the word about quality YA works featuring characters of color and/or written by authors of color is what drove her to join Rich in Color. Lastly, when she isn’t reading, writing or teaching, K. Imani loves to sleep and compete in the occasional triathlon.

You many find her at her website, on Twitter or Facebook.

Contributor
Jon has slummed it in the valley with the Wakefield twins; slumber partied with Huey, Dewey and Louie; joined Krakow in stalking Angela; and climbed every mountain with the Von Trapps. He has written a guide to blogging, and currently writes young adult and middle grade. He lives online at www.jonyang.org, tweets @jayang, and collects covers of MG/YA books featuring Asian males on his Pinterest. Call it a hobby.

Four Tips for Diversity in Fantasy

Say hello to Shana Mlawski! Shana is the author of HAMMER OF WITCHES (which is out today!), and she has graciously agreed to stop by Rich in Color and give us some advice.

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Ever hear this before? “Diversity in fiction is nice and all, but you can’t expect there to be diversity in [insert popular work of fantasy fiction here]! That book is set in a world inspired by medieval Europe! Of course everyone is a white Anglo-Saxon Christian!”

If you’ve somehow avoided hearing this opinion before, start talking diversity with Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings fans on the Internet. Odds are, it’ll come up.

I’m here to assure you that fantasy stories can be diverse, even if they’re set in medieval Europe or some fantastical facsimile thereof. Here are four simple ways you can do it:

1. Set it in Southern or Eastern Europe.

It seems that, in many people’s minds, “medieval Europe” means “medieval England,” or maybe—maybe—Viking-era Scandinavia. (Thanks, History Channel!) But there are other countries in Europe, if I recall correctly. I happen to know a lot about medieval Spain, so I’ll start there. For more than a half-century, much of the area that is now known as Spain was ruled by various Moorish caliphs and emirs. It was probably the most technologically-advanced and best-educated region in Europe at the time. That’s why it’s now considered a major part of the so-called Islamic Golden Age. Why not build a fantasy world based on that culture instead of the done-to-death Monty Python and the Holy Grail medieval English mudhole? I’d read it.

You can also consider basing your setting on Eastern Europe. Let’s see more Romani fantasies. Byzantine fantasies. Polish fantasies. (Our friend Copernicus was from Poland, you know.) Take a page out of Bryce Moore’s book and go Slovak. What I’m saying is, there are plenty of non-English countries out there waiting to be populated with wizards and monsters.

2. Or, sure, set it in England (or France or Italy)!

Even though these countries were not incredibly diverse in the Middle Ages, not everyone there was a white Anglo-Saxon Christian. There were Jews. There were Africans. (Where do you think Shakespeare got the idea for Othello from?) There were pagans. In Basque Country, there were Basques. If you’re going to write a medieval European fantasy, do a little research into all of the racial and ethnic groups in medieval Europe at the time. It’ll make your world much richer.

3. Remember that racial and ethnic diversity aren’t the only kinds of diversity there are.

Readers now remember, thanks to Game of Thrones and Jepp, Who Defied the Stars, that some people in the Middle Ages were born with dwarfism. There were many people with physical and mental disabilities in the Middle Ages, especially due to disease (and in the case of royalty, sometimes inbreeding). There were gay people in medieval Europe—some historians even say there was a form of gay marriage in some parts. There were genderqueer people in Europe in the Classical Era, and we can assume they didn’t all disappear when the Middle Ages came around. There were some really, really poor people in medieval Europe, even if many works of fiction ignore them. There were slaves, too. According to the Domesday Book about 10% of the English population in the late 1000s were slaves. I’m sure you get my point. There was more diversity in medieval Europe than you might think.

4. Just add some diversity, will ya?

If you’re writing a fantasy book set in a fantasy world, why not put just add some diversity to make things more interesting? You’re building a setting where there’s magic or elves or some other unbelievable thing. You expect readers to accept that, but you don’t think they’ll accept a person of a different race or sexuality? I think I’m going to start calling this the “Black Vulcan* Problem,” after that silly situation back in the day when some Star Trek fans bristled at Tuvok’s skin color. To those fans, pointy-eared aliens were perfectly believable, but dark skin was (if you will) beyond the pale. Yeesh, people. Yeesh.

Of course, all of the above advice must go with the obvious caveat: don’t just add diversity without doing the research. But if you do, I guarantee your fantasy world will be much more interesting than it would be otherwise, and it might actually be more historically-realistic, too.

*The Federation kind, not the Superfriends kind
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Don’t forget to follow Shana on Twitter! You can also read Crystal’s review of HAMMER OF WITCHES or put in a last-minute entry for our ORLEANS giveaway. The giveaway ends tonight at midnight EST, so be fast!