Excellent. Just excellent. I loved the characters, the characterizations, the action, and the pathos. It hurt in all the good ways.
I picked it up because it was recommended by Seanan McGuire, and it was written by the same author as Cast in Courtlight.
I recommend this to the people who know what real friendship is like, who love their parents dearly, and who know that living with heartbreak doesn't make you stronger on your own.
By Michele Sagara
May 1, 2012 by DAW
YA urban fantasy
"Had he been anyone else, she would have lied, and it would have come cleanly and naturally. Lies were something you told other people to make things easier, somehow - hopefully, for them, but often more selfishly for yourself."
"And oddly enough, there are very few dead in the graveyards of the world. It's not where they lived," he added, "and it's not where they died... I like graveyards because they're quiet."
I picked this book as my "best book of 2012" because of how I felt when I finished it. My initial email to a friend was "Excellent. Just excellent. I loved the characters, the characterizations, the action, and the pathos. It hurt in all the good ways."
Rather than follow the overused vampire or werewolf schtick, Sagara's new character Emma Hall is a budding necromancer with a strong sense of right, a cadre of loyal misfit friends, and no need at all to be anything more than a teenager mourning her father and her boyfriend. She tells everyone she's "fine" and goes though the motions of proving it to keep her mother at a distance. Emma takes her dog Petal for long walks in the graveyard to visit her boyfriend, and writes her dead dad e-mail telling him about her day. It all seems just grey and the same until a mysterious stranger in the graveyard hands her a lamp that sticks to her hands, then disappears. At the same time, the new (and cute!) boy at school starts following her around. And when she is taken to the hospital after a blinding collapse, her dead father shows up to talk about it.
The first half of the book is all about the mysteries and discoveries as Emma works through becoming a necromancer and some of the odd problems it brings. The second half of the book actually narrows the plot down to only a few specific problems to solve rather than continuing to pile on the complications. The main quest, if you can call it that, is that Emma and her friends (who all believe her) are working to save a dead child from a once-burning house.
The strengths of the book are the solid cast, the believable dialog, and Sagara's sense of self-control in not spreading the plot wider than a YA book can reach in one sitting.The straightforward plot made the book lighter to read, and all the more memorable because I wasn't wading through layers of unnecessary twists and turns. Sagara's smooth flow and constant context made the book accessible to a younger audience, and I know some just-13-year olds who enjoyed it too.
There is one wrinkle to the book that I want to call out separately from Sagara's storytelling skills. In the core group of Emma's friends is Michael, a high-functioning autistic boy. He is different, yes. But so is Amy the rich-and-beautiful, and so is Allison the totally-not-Amy. Michael contributes to the story with his strengths and weaknesses just like any other supporting character. I think this expansion of the usual high school cast is both useful and engaging, and adds more depth to the dialog as well as more challenge to the social juggling act that is every high school party.
I picked up this book because it was recommended by Seanan McGuire, and because it was written by the same author as my favorite Cast in Courtlight. I recommend this to the people who know what real friendship is like, who love their parents dearly, and who can embrace death and reject it in the same breath.
New-to-me Books for 2012
House of the Star by Caitlin Brennan, YA fantasy. 282 pages; hardback; stand-alone. 3/5 stars on Goodreads (3 = "liked it"), 4/5 stars on Amazon (4 = "liked it"); straight into the giveawaybox (eta: gone)
Gwenhwyfar by Mercedes Lackey, Fantasy. 404 pages; hardback; stand-alone. 2/5 stars on Goodreads (2 = "it was OK"), 3/5 stars on Amazon (3 = "it was OK"); straight into the giveawaybox (eta: gone)
Blood Engines by T.A. Pratt, Urban fantasy. 336 pages; paperback; first in the series. 3/5 stars on Goodreads (3 = "liked it"), 4/5 stars on Amazon (4 = "liked it"); going to keep it around and loan it to friends
Hexed edited by uncredited, listed under the first author, Ilona Andrews. Urban Fantasy, 326 pages. Paperback; anthology of four novellas. 3/5 stars on Goodreads, 4/5 stars on Amazon; going to loan it to friends who like Kate Daniels, then likely give it away.
Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White. YA Fantasy, 335 pages. Hardback; first in the series. [3/5 on Goodreads] Giveawaybox. (eta: gone)
Stormwalker, by Allyson James. Urban Fantasy, 330 pages. Paperback; first in the series. [3/5 on Goodreads] Giveawaybox. (eta: gone)
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. YA Fantasy, 423 pages. Hardback, stand-alone. [3/5 on Goodreads] Giveawaybox. (eta: gone)
Shadow Ops: Control Point, by Myke Cole. Urban Fantasy... sort of... 382 pages. Paperback, first in the series. [4/5 on Goodreads] Giveawaybox.
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, fantasy. 672 pages. Paperback; first in the series.[4/5 on Goodreads] Borrowed.
Westward Weird edited by Martin Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes. Hell-if-I-know, 302 pages. Paperback, anthology. [3/5 on Goodreads] Giveawaybox.
Discount Armageddon, by Seanan McGuire. Urban fantasy, 360 pages. Paperback; first in the series. Keeping it for now.
Fair Game, by Patricia Briggs, Urban fantasy. 293 pages; hardback; third in the series. Keeping it.
The Modern Fae's Guide to Surviving Humanity, edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray, Urban fantasy. 308 pages; paperback; anthology. Giveawaybox.
Tempting Danger, by Eileen Wilks. Paranormal romance, 301 pages. Paperback, first in the series. Giveawaybox.
Too Much Information, by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. Comic book, 127 pages. Paperback. 9th in the series. Keeping it.
Touch of Power, by Maria V. Snyder. Fantasy romance. 390 pages, paperback. First in the series. Giveawaybox.
Out Whom Shall We Gross?, by Brooke McEldowney. Comic book. 87 pages, paperback. First in the series. Keeping it.
Sonata for Piano and Armpit, by Brooke McEldowney. Comic book. 87 pages, paperback. Second in the series. Keeping it.
Sphinx's Princess, by Esther Friesner. YA Fantasy. 365 pages, paperback. First in the duology. It was a loan. 4/5 on GoodReads.
Sphinx's Queen, by Esther Friesner. YA Fantasy. 347 pages, paperback. Second in the duology. It was a loan. 4/5 on GoodReads.
Bone Shop, by T. A. Pratt. Urban Fantasy. Online. Prequel to the Marla Mason series.
Kitemaster and Other Stories, by Jim C. Hines. Fantasy. e-book anthology. 3/5 on GoodReads, 4/5 on Amazon.
How is that Underling Thing Working out for You?, by Scott Adams. 128 pages, paperback. Comic. Keeping it.
Teamwork Means You Can't Pick the Side That's Right by Scott Adams. 128 pages, paperback. Comic. Keeping it.
The Sentinel Mage, by Emily Gee. Fantasy. 509 pages, paperback. First in the trilogy. It was a loan. 4/5 on GoodReads; 4/5 on Amazon.
Dragon Ship, by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. e-ARC. Science Fiction. Fourth in the series; 14th in the Universe.
Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers, YA fantasy. 549 pages; hardback; stand-alone. 4/5 on GoodReads; 4/5 on Amazon.
Eon, by Allison Goodman. YA Fantasy. 531 pages, paperback. First in the duology.
Silence, by Michele Sagara. YA Fantasy. 289 pages, hardback. First in the series.
In case you want back references, here is the Books for 2011 round-up post