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Schrödinger's Bookshelf: Young Adult and Short Fiction Reviews
by Michael M Jones
Welcome to Schrödinger's Bookshelf, where I attempt to unlock the eternal mystery of what's good and what's not, by being the first to open the box for you. My specialties, for in this day and age, even SF reviews need specialties, are the short fiction and young adult markets, so you can expect to find a mixture of both. I'll tackle novels, anthologies, magazines, webzines, single-author collections, chapbooks, even audiobooks, so long as they fall under the broad spectrum of "short fiction" or "young adult/children's" SF and fantasy. And without further ado, on with the show.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Schrödinger's Bookshelf columns.]

Rebel Angels
Libba Bray
Delacorte Press, 548 pages

Rebel Angels In the sequel to A Great And Terrible Beauty, life for Gemma Doyle and her friends goes on. Circe's monster has been destroyed, the magic of the Realms has been released from the crystals which bound it, and Pippa lies dead and buried, a victim of Circe's evil machinations. At first, Gemma refuses to use her gift to travel back into the magical Realms, but events soon conspire to make her change her mind. After all, there's still way too much she doesn't know about the Realms, or the secretive Order, or the evil Circe. As the students of Spence disperse for the Christmas season, Gemma, Felicity and Ann meet up in London, where they alternate their normal social activities with much stranger pursuits, returning to the realms where they're reunited with Pippa's spirit.

Things get more and more complicated, as Gemma continues to explore the past, finding out just how the Order, the Realms, and the cult known as the Rakshana all relate to one another. As Gemma travels further into the Realms in search of the lost Temple, where she alone can rebind the freed magic, she'll have to deal with strained friendships and betrayals, dark secrets and sinister mysteries, and Circe herself. But who is Circe, and how close has she come to our heroes while in disguise? And can Gemma ever really trust Kartik, who claims to help her, yet who loyally serves the Rakshana? In the end, Gemma will be forced to make some very important decisions about who will control the magic and the Realms. No matter what, she'll have some powerful enemies to contend with.

Rebel Angels is the continuation of Libba Bray's stunning Victorian tale of magic, mystery, and maturation. Quite a few questions are answered, but more are raised as Gemma follows her path of self-discovery and growth, and we learn a lot more about the Order and the Rakshana, who appears to be two sides to the same coin. Of course, this just sets the stage for the next book in the series, in which Gemma will finish what she's started. Mark my words, this really is quite an excellent series. Take just a little Harry Potter, and quite a bit more Little Princess, throw in as much Victorian sensibility, social dichotomy, and repressed sensuality as possible, shake and stir. Bray takes full advantage of her setting to really play up the social conventions, gender-biased double standards, rampant mysticism, and restrained chaos that comes to mind when we think of Victorian England, and uses it all to tell a powerful story. I can hardly wait to see what comes next.

Drift House: The First Voyage
Dale Peck
Bloomsbury, 437 pages

Drift House: The First Voyage When their parents decide New York has become dangerous, Susan, Charles, and Murray Oakenfeld are sent to stay with their eccentric uncle Farley up in Canada. There, they discover the strange sanctuary that is Drift House, a ramshackle old place situated on the Bay of Eternity, built so that it looks as if it literally washed ashore. In this strange crooked house, mysteries abound. There's Uncle Farley, of course, and his parrot President Wilson, and a housekeeper named Mrs. Applewhite (or is it Applethwaite?) who no one ever sees. Things get stranger after they've been there a little while, especially after the entire house drifts out to sea, proving that it's definitely more than it seems. For Drift House is a transtemporal vessel, capable of navigating the time-tossed waters of the unique Sea of Time, and now the Oakenfeld children and their uncle are at the mercy of the tides, just in time to begin a grand adventure.

Coerced by the local mermaids into helping to foil the kidnap plot of some unsavory pirates, the Oakenfeld children are quickly drawn into an insidious scheme to close the Great Drain of the Sea of Time itself, an action which would have grave consequences for the flow of time and the cycle of life and death. Now Susan and her brothers have to exercise their wits and cunning if they want to get home alive. Can Susan pull off an impersonation as the infamous pirate, Pierre Marin? Can Charles get over his resentment and feelings of inadequacy? What's going on with Murray? And how does the dodo fit in? The answers are all here.

I found Drift House: The First Voyage to be a little slow-going at first, taking time to really get up to speed. And while any adventure involving pirates, mermaids, and a giant whale is bound to be exciting, I thought the book lacked a certain passion that made it hard to get too deeply involved in the narrative. Overall, it was a well-told story with a lot of potential and an unusual plot, and there were enough twists and unexpected revelations to keep me from getting too complacent, but it was missing a certain energy that I hope will be present in any future entries in the series. A good strong start, but with plenty of room for improvement.

Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You
Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black
Simon and Schuster, 121 pages

Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You This is the long-awaited capstone to the bestselling, highly popular Spiderwick Chronicles, and is actually a replica of the book which carries much of the story's plot. In the books, the three Grace children find their uncle's Field Guide to the creatures of Faerie, and are thusly hounded, hunted, bedeviled and threatened by the various goblins, gnomes, trolls and what-not that are described within. Here at last is the book which started it all, recreated in all its glory by superb artist Tony DiTerlizzi, with help from the ever-impressive Holly Black.

Covering dozens of creatures, including many not actually seen in the Spiderwick Chronicles, it combines full-color drawings with textual articles on everything from Brownies to Unicorns, Dragons to Phookas, Goblins to Salamanders, and much more. Every page is a work of art, combining fresh new art with samples of Arthur Spiderwick's original journal notes. As well, there are notes added by the next generation, in the form of the Grace children after their own encounters with the creatures of magic. If you were planning to study supernatural beings, this book might very well be a great place to start, provided you have the right equipment and a certain lack of self-preservation.

Quite simply, this is the logical successor to Brian Froud's fairy books, as good as anything he has done on the subject if not better. Beautifully put-together, with richly intricate and whimsical art on every page, laid out with the utmost of care, the Field Guide is a worthy addition to the shelf of any fantasy lover, and a must-have for Spiderwick fans. DiTerlizzi and Black have outdone themselves here. I can't recommend this item highly enough, and I suspect we'll be seeing more from this creative team in the near future.

Any material for consideration may be sent to Michael M. Jones, 2717 Bobolink Lane, Roanoke, VA 24018. Feel free to mark on the outside whether it's short fiction, young adult, or fan mail. Anything ticking, shaking, smoking, or glowing will be given to the cats as a toy. You can also contact me via email at everbard@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2006 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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