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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.]

Eldest
Christopher Paolini
Alfred A. Knopf, 681 pages

Eldest No sooner has one battle ended for young hunter-turned-reluctant hero Eragon and his dragon Saphira, than another begins. For the world has become an ever more dangerous place, filled with uncertainty and potential betrayal around every corner. The Empire now hunts for Eragon and Saphira with every resource it can muster, and Eragon can no longer stay with the organization of rebels known as the Varden. He must learn to master his gifts as one of the legendary Riders, learn to properly wield the magic that flows through him, and strengthen his bond with Saphira. So with a small select group of allies, he travels to Ellesmera, the homeland of the elves, to embark upon the next stage in his education. Little does he know how he'll be tested, trained, and ultimately changed by his time there. Worse yet, he'll do it without the aid of a dear friend, who falls early on due to treachery and violence. Can he overcome his limitations to become a true Rider, in time to save the Varden from annihilation?

Meanwhile, Eragon's cousin, Roran, has a war of his own to wage when the Empire's forces threaten his home of Carvahall. What begins as a simple act of defiance soon turns into an epic struggle and a desperate journey across the land, molding a man into a leader, and a small town into a near-legendary force to be reckoned with. But will Roran find what he seeks, and will the people of Carvahall escape with their lives when the Empire comes calling? Ultimately, Eragon and Roran's paths must cross, but will it be as friends, or enemies? And what awful truths about Eragon's past will finally be revealed?

Eldest continues the story of Eragon, Saphira, Murtagh, Arya, Nasuada, and the Varden in proper epic style. Like all good middle books in a trilogy, it raises as many questions as it answers, moves the hero further along his path of self-discovery and maturation, and places all the pieces so they'll be ready for the final book. It's easy to look at the Inheritance trilogy and pick out all of Christopher Paolini's numerous influences, especially Tolkien, Joseph Campbell, and Star Wars. But while Paolini may show his influences, he's not overly beholden to them, taking old and familiar elements (dragons, elves, dwarves, prophecies, an evil empire, a valiant rebellion, an ageless master, and so forth) and weaving them into a highly-enjoyable story. In some ways, the predictability of various twists is almost refreshing; it proves that Paolini respects the genre conventions he's working with. That he can do so and still turn out a good, solid story is even better. I'll definitely be looking forward to the last book in the series, to see if he can wrap it up properly.

Twilight
Stephenie Meyer
Megan Tingley Books, 498 pages

Twilight Isabella (Bella) Swan never expected to really make a home for herself in the small Pacific Northwest town of Forks, Washington, where she'd be living with her father, the police chief. After all, she hasn't stayed with him for years, preferring to live with her scatter-brained, eccentric mother. But times have changed, and now Bella must fit in at a new school all over again. She quickly settles in, making an assortment of new friends and carving out a niche for herself in true high school fashion. And then she goes and does the one thing she really shouldn't: she makes friends with Edward Cullen, a strange young man whose family, while vaguely respected in town, are social outcasts for no immediately discernable reason. And Bella pursues this friendship, even as her life takes a strange and dangerous turn. The closer she gets to Edward, the more death stalks her, and the more she fall in love with him. And for all of his protestations and warnings, the feelings seem mutual. Then Bella learns the truth: Edward and his entire family are vampires, ones who deny their craving for human blood even as they attempt to live among humans. But there are still vampires out there who stick to the old ways, and they're about to complicate matters tremendously for Bella and Edward. Will our heroes find love together, or be torn apart (and limb from limb)? If they want to live long enough to go to the prom, they'll run for their lives and exercise every ounce of cunning they possess to outwit their foes.

Twilight is a thoroughly enjoyable, solidly-plotted YA vampire romance, that introduces a number of believable, sympathetic characters, and offers a thoughtful spin on the vampire mythos. Bella's practicality and stubbornness makes her the perfect foil for the older-than-he-seems Edward, while their respective friends and families help to flesh out a scenario that borders (but never commits) on becoming tragic. It's nice to see a vampire that doesn't mope around, wallow in Gothic excess, or exude sex with every breath. (Although the way Edward describes Bella's appeal is enough to make a person hungry.) I hope we'll see a sequel to this book soon, if only to answer the questions raised about Bella's nature. (Particularly her accident-prone tendencies, extreme clumsiness, and amplified appeal to vampires. You just know there's something going on here.) I thoroughly enjoyed Twilight, and it's a wonderful debut from newcomer Stephenie Meyer, proving that the vampire romance genre isn't bled dry yet.

Tales From The Brothers Grimm And The Sisters Weird
Vivian Vande Velde
Magic Carpet Books, 128 pages

Tales From the Brothers Grimm and the Sisters Weird This is an amusing, entertaining collection of retold fairy tales, in which the original material has been turned upside-down, inside-out, and in some cases, tossed in a blender for good measure. Thus, in this collection, you'll find everything from a story in which Rumpelstiltskin is in cahoots with the miller's daughter (and everyone really does end up happily ever after) to one where the enchanted frog turns the tables on an ungrateful princess in a fitting fashion. There's an All Points Bulletin for Goldilocks (for breaking and entering), a Little Red Riding Hood that won't shut up (and we end up rooting for the wolf), a story that questions the Pied Piper's true motivations, another look at that pesky Jack of the beanstalk fame, fairy tale endings you're not likely to see (PG-13, no less), a princess whose sensitivity to peas may not be all that desirable after all, and a truly disturbing Hansel and Gretel. And let's not even mention the version of Beauty and the Beast where she vastly prefers the Beast over the handsome prince.

There's not much to say about this assortment of stories, poems, and quick double-takes; it's clever, often unexpected, and slyly witty, but Vivian Vande Velde doesn't devote much time to any one story. These are like drive-bys against the old solemnity and seriousness of the traditional material, making their point and moving on. As such, they're fast-paced, and a breath of fresh air, and the collection as a whole makes for a nice diversion. I always enjoy Vande Velde's work for its originality. Fairy tale lovers might get a kick out of this, and the stories might be fun to read to younger audiences, who will undoubtedly appreciate the humor in some of them.


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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