From the Shelf
Character and Community
Two giants in science fiction and fantasy died last week: Frederik Pohl, 93, whose first contribution to the field was a poem in Amazing Stories magazine in 1937, and A.C. Crispin, 63, the author of, among other things, tie-ins that fleshed out familiar characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, V, Alien and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Crispin wrote 23 novels, including the StarBridge series, and her movie and TV tie-in work, which culminated with a long novel that told the history of young Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. For many authors and fans, she emphasized, as Ryan Britt wrote in an obituary, "the possibility of a multi-faceted character." She was also deeply involved in the industry: she was a v-p of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and, in what may be her most enduring legacy for fellow authors, she co-founded Writers Beware, an SFWA site that warns aspiring writers about scams and con artists.
Over the course of his long life, Pohl won 16 major writing awards, including six Hugos and three Nebulas. His best-known titles include Jem (which won an American Book Award), The Space Merchants (co-written with Cyril Kornbluth), Man Plus and Gateway. Fittingly for a representative of the golden age of science fiction, his memoir was called The Way the Future Was, which Pohl regularly updated on thewaythefuture. But Pohl was more than "merely" an author. He was also a literary agent, a book and magazine editor, a science writer, a futurist, an early organizer of sff fan clubs and conventions and was president of the SFWA.
One of our favorite comments by Pohl highlights the best of science fiction and fantasy--and writing in general. The New York Times quoted him saying in 1980: "I am a sort of preacher. I like to talk to people and get them to change their views when I think their views are wrong. Why else would anyone write a book?"
In this Issue...
by Elizabeth Wein
The gut-wrenching World War II companion to Code Name Verity, featuring an American pilot struggling to survive imprisonment in Ravensbrück.
by Jillian Cantor
What would have become of Margot, Anne Frank's older sister, had she survived the Holocaust and settled in postwar America?
by Poe Ballantine
A funny memoir and "true crime" mashup by one of the best of the country's vagabond raconteurs, in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.
Review by Subjects:
09/18/2019 - 6:00PM
09/19/2019 - 6:30PM
Halloween Prep; Book Lovers' Challenges
Boo...ooks! Buzzfeed suggested "21 children's book characters born to be Halloween costumes."
Noting that "being a book lover comes with its challenges," the Daily Edge considered "13 of the hardest things about being a book lover."
The Guardian polled its readers to discover the "top 10 books people claim to read but haven't."
Whose fracking job is this anyway? "From House Elves to Hunger Games: Labor Issues in Sci-Fi and Fantasy" were explored by Wired magazine.
The Russians are coming... with books! "Leo Tolstoy's top 5 characters" were ranked by the Flavorwire, and the Huffington Post discovered "7 life lessons from Anna Karenina."
Yanko Design featured the Pages chair, which "allows the user to adjust the seat height and backrest cushioning simply by turning its colorful padded 'pages.' "
The Writer's Life
Jamie Ford: The Past Is Personal
|photo: Laurence Kim|
Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Now, in Songs of Willow Frost (see our review below), Ford explores Depression-era Seattle through the eyes of 12-year-old William Eng, a resident of Sacred Heart Orphanage who hasn't seen his mother in seven years. During a visit to the Moore Theatre, William sees an actress called Willow Frost and is convinced she's his mother, Liu Song. Desperate to find her, William and his blind friend, Charlotte, escape the orphanage, but the truth of Willow Frost and Liu Song is more complicated and tragic than William ever imagined.
Jamie Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name "Ford," thus confusing countless generations. He recently spoke with us about Songs of Willow Frost, the strong women in his own life and the early American film industry.
Where did you get the idea for Songs of Willow Frost?
I totally ripped off James Patterson. No, I'm kidding! No, Willow started with a bunch of different things. I kept going back to the '20s and kicking around that time period in Seattle. There was a back-room gambling parlor called the Wah Mee Club. It's where my grandparents met, and it's where there was a horrific mass murder in 1983. Some gunmen held up the place and shot everybody, killed everybody. The building is vacant to this day. No one will touch it. It's bad luck. But it was the place that my grandparents met.
I always wanted to explore this era, and I was splashing around and found a mention of Sacred Heart orphanage. During the Depression, most of the orphans in the orphanage had parents, which was really surprising to me because when I think of orphanages, I think of the classic Little Orphan Annie story. I don't think of parents consigning their children because they couldn't afford to feed them, hoping to come back some other day.
Those two things collided and led to a story of an orphan and his mother. Then there were the proto-racial stereotypical characters like Anna May Wong and Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa, who was very popular and then shunned when World War II erupted. It's always been interesting to me to see these ethnic actors, the things they had to compromise on in order to achieve success, and how their own cultural base reacted, which was usually unfavorably. I wanted a narrative to include those things.
What made you choose to pair the film industry with Willow and William's story?
I started looking at the film industry at the time, and I called the Washington Film Office and asked what the first movie was that was shot in the Northwest. The poor man that I managed to track down said the first movie was Tug Boat Amy, which was made in the '30s. I was looking at a film group up on Mount Rainier in the '20s and thinking, "There's got to be something we're missing here." There were film studios in the weirdest places because it took a while for early filmmakers to figure out that they could replicate scenery on a sound stage. There was a film studio in Coeur d'Alene [Idaho] and all these places you wouldn't imagine a film studio, and there was one in Tacoma, the H.C. Weaver Studio. It only produced three films, which have been lost. The soundstage burned to the ground in the '30s, but at the time it was the third largest film stage in America. They were making silent films just as talkies were starting, so they were dinosaurs by the time their movies came out.
How did you develop Willow's character and write so effectively from her viewpoint?
Anna May Wong, the actress, was a very sympathetic character. She's kind of the patron saint of unfulfilled love. She died unmarried and had various affairs with all these people in Hollywood. She couldn't have a Caucasian husband because a Caucasian man wouldn't have her in the way that she wanted, and in her own culture she was ostracized. Later in life, she went to China on this tour and hoped she'd be accepted, but she was a pariah. A lot of that emotional angst comes from that character.
Also, my grandmother was really a strong woman in a time when it wasn't acceptable to be that way. I think it made her really tough in her older, more mature years, but I think her younger years must have been pretty tragic. I just respected that about her. She's been gone for 15 years now, but she's still the woman of legend in my family.
You draw your fiction from your family roots. What makes you want to explore your heritage and the past rather than writing, say, futuristic space operas?
The funny thing is, I like sci-fi/fantasy. I just read some of John Scalzi's books, and I can feel that stuff, I just can't write it. It doesn't hold my interest the way history does. In some families, particularly my family, a parent or grandparent wouldn't talk about something, no one would talk about it, so there were all these things in my parents' lives and my childhood that I wanted to ask about but I never did. As a writer and a researcher, I can go back and get the answers.
What's next for you?
I'm working on another book set in Seattle between 1909 and 1959. This one is about a boy who was actually raffled off at the 1909 World's Fair in Seattle. They had orphan trains running up until the 1920s. They'd take street kids from back East and just hand them over to people in the Midwest, and it seems really shocking to us, but back then it may not have seemed particularly cruel. It's definitely one of those moments where you think, "There's a story there."
What do you hope readers will take away from Songs of Willow Frost?
In general, I value books and movies. I throw movies in there because they're both the kind of medium that are about things. We have a long tradition of books and movies being about the human condition, but we're in the era of film and literature being about special effects. Literary jujitsu on the page, like a run-on sentence that lasts for 14 pages, to my mind is the equivalent of a Transformers movie. I hope people feel that Willow is about something, that there's something to take away, that it's a story rather than just an arrangement of words on the page. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads
by Jillian Cantor
For many, The Diary of a Young Girl gave voice to the victims of the Holocaust. While much is known about Anne Frank, her studious older sister, Margot, remains unknown--she also kept a diary, but it was lost. This forgotten sister captured Jillian Cantor's imagination, resulting in the evocative and richly woven, yet deeply personal novel Margot. Drawing upon Anne's writings and those of Miep Gies, one of the family's Dutch protectors, as well as other documents, Cantor (The Life of Glass) rewrites history, saving Margot's life and placing her in mid-20th-century America.
Margot delves into a deep well of survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress; Cantor's portrayal of Margot yearning for acceptance and forgiveness is sympathetic. As Margie Franklin, she works as a secretary for a Philadelphia law firm and spends nights alone in her apartment with her cat, suppressing the past as she lights the Shabbat candles to honor her loved ones. The 1959 Hollywood movie glamorizing her family's time in the Annex unleashes long buried feelings of fear, pain and the burdens of bearing witness to genocide.
Cantor's re-imagining of Margot's life is believable and wistful. Just as Anne's diary allowed others to experience her history so intimately, Cantor's fictional tribute to her sister is a heartbreakingly masterful corollary, ultimately commemorating the abbreviated life of this remarkable young woman. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: What would have become of Margot, Anne Frank's older sister, had she survived the Holocaust and settled in postwar America?
Songs of Willow Frost
by Jamie Ford
Jamie Ford's Songs of Willow Frost is a tender, deeply felt novel set in Seattle during the 1920s and the subsequent Great Depression. Twelve-year-old William Eng knows he has not always lived at Sacred Heart Orphanage, because he remembers a mother who loved him. Since the orphanage withholds information about the parents of its residents, though, William does not know why his mother gave him up. On their assigned communal birthday, the orphans take a field trip to the movies, and William can't believe his eyes when Willow Frost appears onscreen. He's certain the actress is his mother, Liu Song, whose name translates to "willow" in English.
When he learns Willow Frost will be performing in Seattle, William, aided by his blind best friend, Charlotte, plans to run away to her. Together, the children brave the sad and dangerous streets of Depression-era Seattle, but when William comes face-to-face with Willow, he learns her past--and his own--are far more complicated than a simple question of love.
Interwoven with William's story is that of his mother, Liu Song, a beautiful young girl whose mother's death leaves her at the mercy of a cruel stepfather and his coarse wife.
As in his debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Ford explores the effects of separation and the hope for reunion. He delineates a time of great poverty and sacrifice in the U.S., and he examines prejudice against women and minorities. Despite the harsh historical realities, Ford's fans will fall in love all over again, and new readers are sure to find much to enjoy. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Jamie Ford's story of a Chinese boy who believes he has found his long-lost mother is sure to be another book club hit.
Shake Down the Stars
by Renee Swindle
Things aren't going well for Piper Nelson. She's drinking like a fish, bedding every loser in a 20-mile radius and flaking out on the students in her Oakland high school English class. Rock bottom comes when Piper learns her ex-husband (with whom she's still madly in love) has impregnated a 21-year old nitwit. She downs a bottle of scotch and promptly passes out. Unfortunately, she does so while at her school desk in front of her entire class. When she comes to, it's time to take stock of her shattered life.
In Piper, Renee Swindle (Please, Please, Please) has created a self-destructive anti-heroine whose unhappiness manifests itself in ways to which most readers will relate. Her life is a train wreck, but the story is shared with both humor and compassion. There's nothing so satisfying as a redemption story--and the troubled Piper is just sassy and sympathetic enough to root for. Swindle plays the story fast and loose around heavy themes like acceptance and forgiveness, ensuring the book is still a hoot to digest.
Also woven into the tale are an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, from a dumb-as-dirt famous football player/rapper, a party girl turned preacher's wife and a Southern belle with a chip on her shoulder. All add to Piper's journey and do wonders to enrich an already remarkable account.
The beautifully engrossing tale culminates as Piper confronts the hardest choice of all: continuing to zombie walk her way through life or discovering the courage to feel again. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend
Discover: A young woman in a downward spiral confronts her demons and finds her strength in Renee Swindle's humorous and compassionate second novel.
The Mystery of Rio
by Alberto Mussa , trans. by Alex Ladd
"What defines a city is the history of its crimes," Alberto Mussa writes in The Mystery of Rio, and for every city there is a defining crime that could happen only there.
On a Friday the 13th in 1913, the personal secretary to the president of the Brazilian republic is found dead in the House of Swaps. This legendary mansion in Rio de Janeiro is the sex clinic of Miroslav Zmuda, a researcher into the physiology of coitus, and secretly also houses a magnificent brothel where the nurses double as prostitutes. The victim has been discovered tied to the iron bedposts and strangled, gagged and blindfolded. Last seen with him was Fortunata, a beautiful young woman who came to the brothel a virgin and has now vanished, leaving her gold earrings with a 100-year-old sorcerer who haunts the cemetery.
The attractive and ambitious Sebastiao Baeta is determined to solve the mystery. He is a renowned forensic investigator--and a regular patron of the House of Swaps, where he and his wife attend couples night.
Compacting Brazilian lore into heavily loaded sentences, Mussa's prose mimics the earnest thoroughness of a police report. Baeta's search for the murderer leads him through curios and horrors, including a witch walled alive into the Imperial Palace, a mass grave of sailors, women given in marriage to the best shark hunters, macumba rites and the lost treasure map of Lourenco Cao. Brace yourself for a jawdropper ending you have never, ever, ever read before, in a concoction that could only happen in Rio. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: In a delightful, history-crowded celebration of Rio, a political figure is mysteriously murdered in a secret brothel behind a notorious sex clinic.
The Explanation for Everything
by Lauren Grodstein
Debates about evolution between atheists and believers often yield more heat than light. Lauren Grodstein's smart, compassionate novel The Explanation for Everything offers a welcome respite for anyone seeking fresh paths over this well-trodden ground.
Andy Waite teaches evolutionary biology at a nondescript liberal arts college. A disciple of Princeton professor Hank Rosenblum, an aggressive atheist in the mold of Richard Dawkins, he teaches a course whimsically nicknamed "There Is No God," insisting on the first day of class that "Darwinian evolution explains everything about us. Everything." Outside the classroom, he's trying to raise two young daughters eight years after the death of his wife, killed in a collision with a drunk driver (her silent ghost is a character in the story).
Andy's angst snowballs when Lionel Shell, a fundamentalist student taking his course, introduces him to Melissa Potter, another believer, who persuades Andy to support her independent study on intelligent design, the theory litigated in the 2005 Pennsylvania court case that Grodstein has said inspired her novel. Andy finds himself attracted both to Melissa and to her spiritual life, "for having belief he wanted to borrow."
Grodstein, a self-professed atheist, is careful to give each of her characters a distinctive personality, and in doing so invests each with emotional depth and, above all, humanity. In exploring the conflict between faith and science in a story that's as much about the mysteries of the human heart as it is about religion or evolution, she shows that art can be a surer road to truth than even the most intellectually elegant ideology. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Lauren Grodstein's third novel (following 2009's A Friend of the Family) takes a fresh look at the conflict between religion and science.
by Jeff Jackson
Playwright Jeff Jackson's first novel, Mira Corpora, resides on that ethereal continuum between fiction and memoir. Overtly fantastic episodes burst through its earnest sense of reality, each pained step toward adulthood vibrating with psychotropic energy.
Beginning with the murky, earliest memories of childhood, the narrator (also named "Jeff Jackson") recalls the traumatic realization of his mother's abuse. Fleeing her, he finds himself among a near-tribal, faux-mystical scene of rejects and runaways, like a gutter punk Catcher in the Rye. While the reader may never be privy to the exact reasons for Jackson's semi-autobiographical conceit, one can glimpse the beautiful agitation universal to the coming-of-age experience: tenuous, gullible eagerness; bracing determination; fumbling assertions of independence against cravings for belonging, like the many slavering dogs roaming the city streets.
Chapter by chapter, Jackson leaps ahead in time to demark and distill the perpetually rainy turning points that usher him into increasingly mature iterations of himself. At 12, he is clambering through a soggy forest with a group of teens to the auspicious outpost of an oracle presumed to prophesy over his destiny. At 14, he is sidling through filthy alleys with disciples of a musical genius purported to have gone insane. At 15, he is fleeing the devious machinations of a man preying on the lost and forgotten for his own demented games.
Mira Corpora develops with the kind of halting detours that instill within our formative years--no matter how devastating and unusual--an invaluable education, to be remembered our whole lives. --Dave Wheeler, bookseller, The Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, Wash.
Discover: One boy's memory of tattered adolescence on streets riddled with visceral, conditional bargains for love.
Mystery & Thriller
by Geoffrey Girard
At the top secret Dynamic Solutions Technology Institute (DSTI), Gregory Jacobson studies a gene nicknamed "Cain XP11" for its role in prompting murderous behavior. DSTI's cloning program has produced dozens of teenaged copies of killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, some of whom have been placed with families outside the laboratory. In an apparent mental breakdown, Jacobson not only encourages a number of DSTI's killers to escape, he informs some of the adoptees about their insidious origins, providing them with chemical weapons derived from the XP11 gene.
Recently retired Delta Force operative Shawn Castillo is recruited to clean up DSTI's mess. A search of Jacobson's house turns up an unexpected surprise: the doctor had adopted his own clone of Jeffrey Dahmer, giving him a relatively normal life as Jeff Jacobson. Castillo brings Jeff along to hunt for the escaped clones, hoping the teenager's connection with his adoptive father will outweigh his liability as a biological copy of an infamous murderer.
Most of Cain's Blood follows Castillo and Jeff as they track the killer clones through the aftermath of their demented road trip. Strongly implied sexual violence and gruesome depictions of murder make this a decidedly mature affair, but debut novelist Geoffrey Girard has also written a YA companion, Project Cain (Simon & Schuster, $17.99), telling this story from young Jeff's perspective. In both cases, Castillo has enough of a history to make him an intriguing character, while Jeff elevates teenage angst to dark new levels. Their uneasy relationship becomes a strong point in both of Girard's novels. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: An ex-soldier and his unlikely sidekick pursue rampaging teenage clones of serial killers.
Biography & Memoir
Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere
by Poe Ballantine
Poe Ballantine lives with his Mexican-born wife, Cristina, and their son, Tom, in Chadron, Neb., a small town where "the quiet of inaction is so thick that you have to get up and check out the window to see if the world has not come to an end." It's also the home of Chadron State College, where math professor Steven Haataja disappeared in December 2006. Nobody thought much of it; the county sheriff half-heartedly investigated until seven months later, when Haataja's charred remains were found on a remote ranch outside of town. The national press ran with the sensational story and the local gossip mill kicked into high gear: Was it a twisted sex tryst? Alcohol? Suicide? Serial killer? accident? The mysterious death went unsolved, but Haataja's story has not gone untold.
Ballantine (501 Minutes to Christ) has a thorough knowledge of Chadron and its citizens and a reporter's instinct for the bizarre. Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere is his take on the Haataja case, but also a personal memoir of settling down after decades of wandering, menial work and various addictions. With Cristina and Tom, he decides to make a fresh go of it, "to be a good neighbor live an honorable life and take out the trash." His account is funny, sensitive and well-paced. It's as if Hunter Thompson, rather than Truman Capote, wrote In Cold Blood--and not as a visiting writer, but as a buddy having a beer at the end of the bar. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A funny memoir and "true crime" mashup by one of the best of the country's vagabond raconteurs, in the tradition of Walt Whitman and Bob Dylan.
by Catherine Burns, editor
This 50-story compilation spanning The Moth's history (more than 15 years and more than 10,000 stories) highlights how personal narrative and the illumination of truth have turned this popular radio show and live performance program into an institution. Like each episode, the book offers a dizzying array of revelations, from such established raconteurs as Adam Gopnik, Malcolm Gladwell and founder George Dawes Green, to novices spinning stories so elaborate they can only be true.
The Moth show is the brainchild of Green, who wanted to re-create the pure magic of storytelling he had experienced on the bourbon-soaked front porches of Georgia--the "full doses of character and loss and destiny" that sprang from the minds of mad talkers who could take over a room.
Where else will you read about an astrophysicist's lovechild born with his organs on the wrong side; a monkey in a neurological experiment who goes on a hunger strike; a chemotherapy patient who deals with cancer by figuring out if she is a wig or a scarf person? "DMC" of RUN-DMC relates how a song by Sarah McLachlan and writing a children's book saved him from suicide; a Nobel Prize–winning geneticist reveals that his parents were his grandparents and his mother actually his sister; a part-time actress tells how she became the "second favorite girlfriend" of the Prince of Brunei.
You'll find such tales nowhere else, which is the beauty of The Moth. By presenting a collection of confessions, it becomes apparent how unusual and distinct each experience is--as only the truth can be. --Christopher Priest, marketing manager, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A compilation of stories from the popular radio show The Moth--a dizzying array of personal tales that illuminate how amazing the truth is.
The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory
by Jesse Walker
Conspiracy theory, Reason editor Jesse Walker argues, is inescapable in American politics and culture; his The United States of Paranoia is a lively and thought-provoking discussion of the perennial phenomenon. Not limited to the fringes, conspiracy theories are equally popular at the center of the political spectrum--every major event in American history, Walker says, has prompted at least one conspiracy theory, often trumpeted by the elite.
Walker lays out five archetypes at the core of conspiracy stories. In addition to enemies trying to destroy the U.S. from outside, inside, above and below, the taxonomy includes the "Benevolent Conspiracy" that secretly works for the betterment of people's lives. In discussing everything from the Salem witch trials to Alger Hiss, from the moon landing to Watergate, Walker combines the storyteller's art with the journalist's instinct for research to analyze the anxieties of people who repeat or believe such stories. He adds new insights to familiar examples, showing, for example, how a fear of illegal immigration fueled the birther conspiracy theories in 2009.
Walker's critique of Richard Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" is in itself worth the price of admission, but the true pleasure of The United States of Paranoia lies in the stories Walker tells--sometimes, as in the case of Orson Welles' famous "War of the Worlds" broadcast, in versions very different from those handed down in popular histories. This entertaining, superbly insightful book is essential reading for anyone interested in American history and culture. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Americans have always believed the official story is hiding the real truth; Walker (Rebels of the Air) outlines the nation's paranoid tendencies with an entertaining comprehensiveness.
Children's & Young Adult
Rose Under Fire
by Elizabeth Wein
Elizabeth Wein revisits the role of women in World War II in Rose Under Fire, a worthy companion to her Code Name Verity. Just as gripping, this novel follows an 18-year-old American and amateur poet named Rose Justice, who works as an ATA pilot based in Britain in the final year of the war.
Rose dreams of being a combat pilot but spends her days ferrying supplies and personnel. Thanks to her uncle, a Royal Engineer, she's selected for a secret mission to fly into newly liberated France. On her return flight, Rose is intercepted by two German planes and forced to land in occupied territory. Wein jumps forward to the aftermath of the war, to Rose's flashbacks of what happened after she landed. A series of linguistic and clerical errors results in her imprisonment in Ravensbrück, a women's concentration camp. Her survival depends upon both the cruelty of her captors and the humanity of her fellow prisoners.
In this gut-wrenching story of war, brutality, friendship and hope, Wein offers readers a small glimpse into one of the Holocaust's most infamous concentration camps. Moments of tenderness and camaraderie between prisoners surface, as well as times when tempers flare and hope seems lost. (An afterword informs readers which aspects of the story were true and which were altered). The author delicately balances two timelines and expertly weaves them together. For Rose, the war becomes both her undoing and her rebirth as she rediscovers what it is to be young, alive and free. --Kyla Paterno, trade book buyer and blogger, Garfield Book Company at PLU
Discover: The gut-wrenching World War II companion to Code Name Verity, featuring an American pilot struggling to survive imprisonment in Ravensbrück.
Crown of Midnight
by Sarah J. Maas
Assassin Celaena Sardothien fought for her life in Throne of Glass and won a tournament against thieves and warriors to become the King's Champion. Crown of Midnight unveils game-changing secrets sure to shock many.
The King of Adarlan has been sending his new Champion around Rifthold to assassinate a group of key rebels who are a threat to his empire. Before the book's start, Celaena was given four targets, all of whom have accepted her offer (after she recognized that they were capable of kindness) to fake their deaths, abandon their names and flee. Celaena brings tokens from each man to trick the king, but lying about her next target, her old friend Archer Finn, won't be as easy, since he's recognized across the land. Celaena hopes to learn from Archer why there are traitors to the crown, and discovers a secret that may corrupt her moral compass.
Maas sends her primary players across the map, and her straightforward writing eases readers into these new settings. The author also exposes a haunted side to her assassin: "I still see their faces, still remember the exact blow it took to kill them." This burden bonds her with Chaol, who killed to save Celaena in the previous book's final duel. But Maas downplays the romance in favor of memorable showdowns with those who've crossed her heroine. The sequel stands on its own, but going forward after this book's final twist, readers may need Crown of Midnight to remain oriented.
Those waiting for the next George R.R. Martin book should check out this series. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller
Discover: An assassin's moral compass steers her into a rebellion against the man who chose her as his King's Champion.