Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What We're Reading: New YA Series

Deep beneath New York City's Grand Central Station, there is a whole other world unknown to most humans. It is the world of the Avicen, a magical race of humanoids with feathers instead of hair and decidedly avian instincts and culture. The Avicen have been at war with the Drakharin, another magical race of humanoids with the instincts and attributes of dragons, for longer than either race can remember. The last major engagement between the two races occurred more than a hundred years ago, with regular skirmishes increasing the number of casualties and decreasing any sense of normality on both sides.

Echo is human. She was brought to the Nest as a child by the Ala, the Avicen Seer and council member. While Echo has spent the majority of her life living among the Avicen, she has always been aware that she is not one of them and she hopes that she will, someday, be accepted by them. 

Echo makes her way by working as a pickpocket and petty thief, stealing things from the human world, where she can travel freely, and selling, trading and bartering her way through the Nest. While browsing an antique store in Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, hoping to find something for the Ala's birthday, Echo discovers a reference to the Firebird, a mythical object or entity that is seen in both the Avicen and Drakharin cultures as being powerful enough to end their centuries-old conflict. Echo begins to wonder: If she were to find the Firebird and bring it to the Avicen, would they finally accept her as one of their own? Could she finally truly belong?

In The Girl at Midnight, debut author Melissa Grey introduces readers to a world of magic and adventure just beyond most humans’ abilities to sense it. The fantasy tropes (young outsider making her way in another culture and looking for acceptance) are familiar, but the cultures and characters give new life to a familiar story. The Avicen and the Drakharin cultures are rich and fascinating, and Grey’s characters are interesting and nicely drawn. Most of them behave believably, but with an added verbal skill that allows them to say exactly what one would hope to say in almost any given situation, giving the dialogue in the book the feel of a romantic comedy from the 1940s or some clever wordplay from The Gilmore Girls TV series. Grey also imbues the book with a nice sense of diversity. The Avicen's skin and plumage come in a wide range of hues and tones. The action skips across the globe to different international locations, with a fluidity that reflects current culture more than most fantasy does.

Grey also emphasizes on a personal level the significance of taking a life, even if it can be justified, which is a nice change from the “disposable” casualties and the “Teflon” heroes who dispatch them from many popular works of fantasy.

The Girl at Midnight is a marvelous introduction to a new fantasy series. So far, there is no release date published for the next book.

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