No More Ms Nice Girl — And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken (The Conqueror's Saga, #1)And I Darken by Kiersten White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kiersten White pulls off something truly remarkable in this YA alternative history novel. Several things in fact. She makes an unfamiliar setting (the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s) compelling and riveting, with a solid grasp of the region’s politics and religious practices. White crafts a female heroine who is unapologetically violent, fearless, and ambitious, and makes us care about her with just the right touches of vulnerability and brokenness. White realistically details emotional challenges of living as a homosexual young adult in this historical period. And finally, she presents friendship and loyalty in all its forms, from jealousy to love to deathless devotion.

The book actually took me a while to get through — it’s really a good idea to read it through in a short time in order to recall all the names and places. But the payoff is truly worth it. The character dynamics are spot-on, especially as the book gets going, as we are treated to a truly compelling trio of friends, each with a solid set of identities about who they are and what they want as individuals. The most important of these is of course our heroine Lada, the fiercest female this side of history. Her character is sharply drawn, beautifully damaged, and gloriously invincible.

I only wish the cover for this book hadn’t fallen prey to the use of pinks, purples, and flowers to pigeonhole it as a YA “girl” book, when so clearly it deserves an image of a blood-soaked battlefield, with Lada vicious and triumphant upon a heap of Ottoman soldiers — the only kind of image worthy of her ferocity and fearlessness.

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Capturing that Childlike Star Wars Magic Again in Beware the Power of the Dark Side!

Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (Star Wars: Return of the Jedi)Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book surprised me in so many ways. Its tone, its insight, its author’s note (this man loves Star Wars so much it makes my eyes misty I swear). He’s got humility, and you suddenly realize how important that is for a writer of licensed material to have. This is a writer I can trust to handle the characters and people close to my heart.

Alright, here we go.

This is unquestionably my favorite book to come out of the rebooted canon of Star Wars so far. Why?

Tom Angleberger loves Star Wars with a child’s purity and passion, but he writes with an ironic insight that captures powerful, subtle layers of characterization and thematic importance, leaving no character untouched by an aside for motivations.

He is a true fan and with that love he gives everyone dignity, credit, and depth. On top of that there’s humor (the footnotes are golden), his prose sparkling with all the wide-eyed horror, cheek, and excitement only a child could experience, yet with the knowing thoughtfulness of an adult.

Let’s get back to that character and thematic insight…

There’s (albeit bite-sized) chapter-long contemplations dedicated to so many characters and events. We see Jerjerrod, not an evil man, but full of fear (and paperwork!), and we see through the littlest people working on the Death Star how easy evil is done by the simplest of actions that seem so very innocent. We see Yoda’s deft pathos, Luke’s anger, how the truth gave Vader a great power over Luke. We see Luke at Jabba’s palace, with the perfect mix of confusion, confidence, and conviction. We see Jabba, a great, evil, vicious heap, the essence of disgust… “Ah yes, now we come to the point where Jabba simply must be described.” We see how Mon Mothma stepped in as Leia’s parents in so many ways, and how the Ewoks can be pretty badass after all (re the Ewok council of war: “Things are said that are not cute.” Bless this fourth-wall-breaking, tongue-in-cheek, I’m-being-very-serious-and-yet!)

There are lines in this book I wish I could save forever. Angleberger has a talent for finding seemingly unconnected events and pointing out the thoughtful irony in them. All said with an absolute minimum of words and a joyous playfulness. It reminds me of what effective characterization can be achieved through the quality of brevity in style.

Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! is serious, hilarious, full of heart, pure joy, and thoughtful reflection. I think its magic comes from how much Angleberger loves the material and strove to bring his childhood love to life again, with the wide-eyed wonder that makes the same story new again.

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