Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Gone Wolf, Circle of Shamans, and Mari and the Curse of El Cocodrillo

McBride, Amber. Gone Wolf.
publication October 3, 2023 by Feiwel & Friends
Copy provided by the publisher

Inmate Eleven is a "Blue" who exists in a tiny room with her hybrid wolf/dog Ira in the year 2111. She often works with Dr. Abby, who makes her take the doll test repeatedly, and when she "fails" (picks the Blue doll instead of the white one) is told that she won't be able to leave her cell until she passes. Because of events that occurred long ago, Blues are kept "safe" in small rooms by Clones because they would perish out in the larger world of the Bible Boot. There was a Xeno virus that made people hate and distrust their neighbors, and while there are vaccines, Blues often don't get them. This area of the US is ruled by President Tuba, and when his son, Larkin, comes to talk to Inmate Eleven, she finds out that she is somehow connected to him. She meets Inmate Three (whose secret name is Kin) and Inmate Thirteen, who has no tongue but helps get Inmate Eleven "presentable" to go before Congress with Larkin. Larkin is kind, and suggests that she take a different name. She decides on Imogen, and uses this secretly. Going out in public with Larkin is hard, because Blues and Clones don't converse, and Blues are not even supposed to be heard. When Imogen starts to learn more of the truth about what is going on in the Bible Boot, she tries to escape, but Larkin becomes ill. We then go back to 2020, where we meet the real Imogen and find that this version of the world is likely maladaptive daydreams caused by trauma. Imogen and her mother have moved from Virginia to Charlottesville, NC, where Imogen is in therapy with Dr. Lovingood. The characters from 2111 are reflected in the people in Imogen's life; she had a dog  named Ira, and foster brothers named Kin and Lark. In a narrative interspersed with pages of factual information about Black history, we are able to piece together how Imogen's family trauma during the pandemic has caused her to have this vision of the future. 
Strengths: This was an interesting use of a dystopian setting to try to make sense of Black history and trauma. Imogen's experiences in 2111 mirror some of the experiences of Black Americans through history, from the treatment of enslaved peoples, to lunch counter sit ins, to the "doll test" with its horrifying ramifications. The tie-in with the events during the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted how far Civil Rights have NOT come, made this especially harrowing. The pages of "Bible Boot Learning Flashcards" in 2011 eerily reflect the "Black History for Kids" pages in the modern day. This was a book that has a lot of important information for readers to use for reflection. 
Weaknesses: This had more of a Young Adult feel to it, and may be somewhat confusing to middle grade readers who are used to more straightforward stories. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who are fond of narrators that are unreliable because of past traumas, such as the ones in Haydu's Eventown, Emezi's Pet, or Everett's The Probability of Everything.

Hendrix, Isi. Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans
September 19, 2023 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Adia (who is orphaned) lives  in the Zarain Empire with her evil aunt and uncle, who have convinced her that she is an ogbanje. She was in ill health when she was young, and some bad things have happened to her family, like a cousin going missing, that her family pins on the fact that she might be possessed by a demon. When it comes time for her practicality (an apprenticeship), she manages to get assigned to one at the Academy of Shamans, where she will work in the kitchens and get away from her provincial village. Sadly, things are not much better at the academy. While she has a supportive mentor in Maka Esiniri, and the former "kitchen runt" Lebechi helps her out, she learns the awful truth that the wealthy students who attend the academy really don't have any shamanic power. Some, like Mallorie, are completely awful to the staff, including Adia. Not only that, but she overhears Alusi (gods) in the school library. They are talking about the fact that the young emperor of Zaria, Darian, has been possessed by the spirit of Olark, an ancient demon. There is a curse in place that makes anyone who is told about Olark not believe that Darian is in danger; Adia believes it only because she has overheard the information. When Malorie gets her kicked out of school, she ends up at the harbor, where she follows one of the Alusi, Gini, to a ferry taking her to Horrorbeyond. Adia makes a pact with her that Adia will get paid if she can save the kingdom from Olark by finding a blood soaked stone that holds his power. The Horrorbeyond is full of spirits that will suck ones energy out, and Adia manages to escape, although when one of the Gold Hats from the Academy, Nami, shows up, he almost succumbs. A fierce warrior girl from the Queendom of Nri, Thyme, saves the two. Thyme has been captive in Horrorbeyond for five hundred years, and Nri has long ago fallen to dust. Thyme had the stone, and with Gini's help the group are able to get past Hidoma, the Headless Girl and back to the academy. Darian is visiting, and Adia has to find out why. Will she be able to save the boy he is possessing, and perhaps uncover the secret behind the injustice of the shamanic academy filled with false shamans?  
Strengths: There is a lot of good world building in this, and it echoes some of the colonialistic treatment of African countries. I found the Drops that the missionaries gave people to render them more peaceful particularly unnerving. The ties with Nigerian folk lore and mentions of ogbanje and Ikenga are interesting, and I definitely need to find a book covering more of this information. Adia's quest starts out a little differently, and she has a different motivation than a lot of fantasy characters. It's not that she is a reluctant chosen one; she just happens to overhear something and investigates it, even though she doesn't believe that she has any powers. She just doesn't have anything to lose. Her relationship with Gini and Thyme is interesting, and even Nami has surprising depth. 
Weaknesses: This is the first book in a trilogy. While I could convince a reluctant reader to get through this 352 page book, it's only the seasoned fantasy readers who are going to want to pick up two more, no matter how good it is. I'd love to see SOME fantasy books that aren't in series. I also wish that Mallorie had been more nuanced. Characters that are just completely evil don't pack the dramatic punch that a character like nami has. They're like the villains in Scooby-Doo; harder to take seriously. 
What I really think: I've read hundreds of fantasy books this year, but buy only a handful because I just don't have the readers for them. I do with this were a stand alone, but will actually purchase this one for readers who liked Dumas' Wildseed Witch and Okogwu's Oneyka and the Academy of the Sun. 

Cuevas, Adrianna. Mari and the Curse of El Cocodrilo
October 3, 2023 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mari loves her extended Cuban family, but they can be embarassing at times, like on New Year's Eve. It's bad enough that her microaggressive nemesis "Mocosa" (snot-nosed) Mykenzye sees her grandparents putting a pig into a hole in the ground to roast and posts a picture of them on Instagram, suggesting they are burying a body. Sometimes the family shifts into "peak Cubanity", like burning effigy dolls to get rid of all of the bad luck of the year. Mari doesn't burn hers, and finds that some strange things start happening to her. It is also tradition in her family to give children a journal when they turn twelve, and Mari has taken hers and written down some information about relatives from the past who were mentioned byt grandparents but NOT talked about. The first of these, Andaluz, was her grandmother's sister who drowned trying to get to the US from Cuba. She appears at school right after both Mari and her best friend Kiesha have odd marks on their arms in the shape of crocodiles. It turns out that Mari's writing can summon family ghosts, which is not great, considering that she has mariachi tryouts coming up and Keisha is involved in some fencing matches. The family ghosts, who also included her grandfather's brother who found against Castro, Pipo, and her grandmother's mother, Fautina. These are all fairly benign spirits, but El Cocodrilo is NOT. He is the one responsible for the mark on Mari's arm, and is angry because he didn't get to feed on the misfortunes put into the effigy, since Mari didn't burn it. Instead, he decides to get his power from Mari's fear and misery. Will Mari be able to come to terms with her heritage and send El Cocodrilo on his way?
Strengths: This was a little different from the standard fantasy novel, and didn't really involve a quest, and didn't slip into an entire fantasy world. Mari has the odd things happen in her world, and has to figure out family history in order to deal with El Cocodrilo. I enjoyed meeting most of the relatives, and thought it was valuable for Mari to learn her family history, even though her grandparents are sad about most of it, which is why it is not discussed much. There's enough grounding in the school and home setting, making it much easier for students who aren't huge fantasy fans to enjoy this. Most middle school students are embarassed by their families in some way, so this will resonate. 
Weaknesses: While I completely understand why there is a good deal of the grandparents' dialogue in Spanish, since the author has a note about the fact that her grandparents spoke to her in Spanish but she spoke to them in English, it still slowed me down when I had to look up sentences to understand what was happening. My students who don't speak Spanish would benefit from translations in footnotes, because they may not go to the trouble of figuring out what the sentences day. Also, the cover is not appealing. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed the inherited family magic of Meriano's A Dash of Trouble or Badua's Freddie and the Family Curse, or who enjoyed this author's The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez

1 comment:

  1. all three of them Cybils eligible and as yet un-nominated!