Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs

Ryan, Pam Muñoz. Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs
February 1st 2022 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Solimar is approaching fifteen, and when she has her Quinceañera, she'll officially be a princess of San Gregorio. Her brother, known as Campeón, is the reluctant heir apparent, which is unfair, but the way Solimar's world works. Her father, King Sebastian, and her mother, Queen Rosalinda, have some problems; King Aveno is trying to buy some of their land. Unfortunately, it is the land that monarch butterflies visit every year, and the kingdom is known far and wide for them. When the monarchs are due to return, Solimar travels into the oyamel forest (which has a cool, moist environment) to see the monarchs. She crosses the river to get a better look even though it is forbidden, and is rewarded by having the butterflies settle on her. This, however, has a strange effect; afterwards, her rebozo (a scarflike shawl) glistens and seems to grant Solimar the power to see into the near future if she wears it in the sun. She keeps this ability secret from most people, but tells her abuela. Her abuela takes her to the local "witch" with whom she studied, Doña Flora, who tells her the rebozo now is helping the weaker monarchs to survive, and she must be their steward. When her father and brother are due to take goods to the big market in Puerto Rivera, her brother confides in her that he intends to run away and join the crew of a ship, leaving the possibility of ruling in her lap. He begs her to keep this a secret, and she's willing to... until King Aveno takes advantage of her father's absence and descends upon the palace, taking her mother and other residents of the castle hostage. Luckily, Solimar isn't in the room, but hears the commotion, and uses a secret passage to escape and take consel with Doña Flora. She is advised to go to Puerto Rivera to get her father and brother, and to travel down the Rio Diablo to make good time. Luckily, she meets Berto, who studies the river and travels it, and he agrees to help her. With the additional help of her pet bird, Lazaro, and an enchanted doll, Zarita, Solimar undertakes the difficult journey to get help to save her kingdom. Will she be able to get help in time to save not only her family, but the butterflies? 
Strengths: Solimar was a very engaging character who bristled a bit at her upbringing but in general was up for embracing any adventure that came her way, which I appreciated. Her family, while fairly traditional, was also open to change and didn't try to change her too much, although they did want her to make more of an effort to be a princess, such as not wearing her boots with her Quinceañera dress. I was a nice change to not have them be mean about it! The magic and herbal healing was a nice touch, and I would gladly read a whole book about a young abuela being trained by Doña Flora! Berto was very helpful, and the two got along well on their adventure. This was a fast paced, pleasant read, and I loved the inclusion of information about the importance of monarch butterflies and what can be done to save them. (I have a bee and butterfly garden in my yard, so it's always good to see conservation efforts promoted in literature.)
Weaknesses: Solimar's adventure was fairly standard. I did like this much more than this author's Echo, and this would be a great choice for fans of Sarah Beth Durst's work. 
What I really think: This had an old school, fantasy adventure feel to it, similar to Banks' The Farthest Away Mountain, Levine's The Two Princesses of Bamarre, or Tamora Pierce's work, but with a Mexican setting and cultural connections. There was a bit more princess power and deconstruction of gender norms, which actually, gave this a strong John Flanagan Royal Ranger vibe. If this remains a stand alone, I might buy it, but I already have so many fantasy series, and relatively few readers for them. 

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. The School for Whatnots
February 8th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's hard to write a review of this one, since there are a lot of twists and turns in the plot. A somewhat omniscient narrator walks us through these, and sometimes even the narrator claims surprise. 

Max's wealthy parents want to protect him from ever feeling loved only for his money, so they enroll him in a school populated by android students; "whatnots". They are supposed to be examples of perfect behavior and support his social and emotional development. However, one of the students is a real person. Josie's family lives in poverty, so in exchange for her pretending to be an android (to the point of being raised by an android nanny she never sees and having to sleep in a charging bed every night!), she gets a better education. Whatnots are phased out when children graduate from 5th grade, so when Josie leaves Max a note saying that he should always remember she is real, he is very worried when he is told he will never see her again. This triggers a deep dive into many societal secrets. 

Excellent reviewer and former colleague Mark Buxton has a great review of this over at Young Adult Books Central. I'm kerflummoxed as to what I even think about this book. My daughter Picky Reader was a HUGE fan of Haddix's work. When asked why, she said "I never know what is going to happen in her books, and it's always something I don't expect." This book certainly exemplifies this!

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