Liddell, Alex. The Cadet of Tildor.
10 January 2013, Dial
Renee is returning to the Academy despite the objections of her father and her pending probation. She knows she needs to do well, because there are no other options left for her, and she wants to serve and protect Tildor, which has many problems. Two opposing forces, the Vipers (who kidnap people, are involved in the drug trade and are more violent) and the Family (who are a bit more subtle and blackmail and extort people) are vying for control of the government, which is headed by the young Lysian, a friend of Renee's. Along with her friends Alec and Sasha, Renee tries hard at her studies, especially when the leader of a famous combat unit, Korish Savoy, becomes a teacher. He is ruthless and drives the students hard, but Renee finds him oddly intriguing, and his young brother Diam a fun distraction from the rigors of Academy life. When the Vipers attack Lysian, things start to happen. Renee finds out that Alec is a mage with healing powers, but has not registered with the government as mages are required to do. She also has a fight with the Family-aligned Tanil, and when Diam and his wolf-dog are kidnapped, she decides to try to save them. Savoy follows as well, but is soon captured by the Vipers, who impel him to fight in gladitorial-type battles. Renee works to free him, but finds out that things are in bad shape at the academy as well. Tildor is in big trouble, but Renee's skills are constantly improving, and will no doubt continue in the (??) next book.
Strengths: Lots of medieval style action and adventure, fighting, running about. Comparisons with Pierce's Alanna have to be made, which is okay, since I've seen a resurgence in the popularity of this series. Definitely can see a next book. Fans of John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series and Nielsen's The False Prince will also adore this.
Weaknesses: A few things need to be explained a bit more-- veesi, the illegal drug the Vipers are dealing with, the role of mages in the society, and how the two factions got started. This would help the world of Tildor make a little more sense. I was a bit dismayed at Renee's fascination with Savoy, especially after he beats her several times. Yes, he's an instructor making sure she has the skills, and he does best her in combat, but when he beats her and then she kinda likes him-- disturbing. Also confused by the Scottish brogue of one of the characters. I can see this being a lengthy series, so want it to be really good!
Kladstrup, Kristin. Garden Princess
12 March 2013, Candlewick Press
Book from YA Books Central and reviewed there.
Adela would rather work in the garden than participate in her stepmother Cecile's fancy plans, but when an invitation arrives for Lady Hortensia's garden party, she really wants to go so that she can get some plants. Garth, the gardener, joins the group going, along with Cecile's sister Marguerite. Once there, however, Adela is impressed by the gardens but horrified by how Hortensia treats people. She bewitches Garth so that he no longer seems to like Marguerite-- he is in love with Hortensia, as are many of her male servants. When Adela sees Marguerite turned into a Daisy, and sees Hortensia take her jewelry, she knows that the magic that has long been outlawed in the kingdom is at play. She takes consul with a talking magpie, Krazo, and he admits to helping Hortensia with her evil plans. Krazo thinks the secret to Hortensia's magic is buried in a silver box in the garden, and once all of her companions have been enchanted, Adela finds the box and manages to kill Hortensia and break everyone free from her spell. The only problem remains that Adela has fallen in love with Krazo, who was turned into a magpie because he attempted to steal from Hortensia. When the bag of jewels disappears on the way home, Adela fears that Krazo will not be able to break free of his former ways. Will he come to her debut ball? And what is his true nature-- thief or not?
Strengths: Adela was a fun anti-princess; she wanted to work in the garden, have a life instead of get married, and has this great line "I don't care what I look like. I care about what I do." (page 158) How many times have I chanted "useful, not decorative" to my own children? The setting is a standard medieval royal one, which children seem to really like, and Adela is 17, which makes her even more intriguing as a princess. Hortensia's magic is pretty gruesome, if you think about people living as flowers for decades, but isn't too scary for younger readers. The garden details are also very vivid.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of gardening, so a lot of the details were lost on me. I always think I should like gardening, so this also made me feel guilty!