Libby is one of the popular kids at school, but she’s dissatisfied, bored of everything including her popular friends and her own popularity. On a whim, she signs up for an internship at the zoo, where she is mortified to be working with an astronomy nerd (who wants to be an exobiologist) and a little person, Tina (“Tiny”), who her group has always mocked.
This book has what I love from Cecil Castellucci: the conviction that teenagers can be awesome people when they have goals and useful things to do, the conviction that creativity and art and science and craftsmanship and hard work are at least as important and interesting as who is kissing who, the sharp observation of human nature and social situations. Libby’s makeover isn’t too fast or too dramatic; she wanders around for much of the book bored and restless and sick of herself, as annoyed with the cool people as the uncool people and with no idea what to do about it. But in comparison with Castellucci’s other books, I thought this one was a little thin and shallow.
A weak(er) Castellucci book is still nothing to sneeze at. Absorbing and enjoyable.
Jane and Ally are the misfits at St. Teresa’s, the local all-girl Catholic high school; Jane is short, brilliant, and rebellious, while Ally has a Thing for vampires and witches (including the book Fondled by Shadows, which I will never stop finding awesome.)
The day after an absolutely magnificent humiliation, Ally comes to school with a new haircut and a new friend. Things are looking just a little too good to be true: she’s sold her soul to the devil, and Jane has to figure out how to get it back by Halloween.
I liked Johnson’s Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes but didn’t love it; it was competent, well-executed, but lacked a certain spark. Devilish has that spark. It’s fun and hard to put down, and Jane has a sense of humor about St. Teresa’s that’s never as bitter and angry as her reputation would suggest. I love how it puts a friendship between girls at the center of the story and shunts the romance bits off to the side, and the way that friendship is depicted rings really true to me.
I still felt like Johnson could’ve taken this just a little bit darker, a little bit sharper — and that might have made it a book I jumped all up and down over, but I still enjoyed it greatly.
A generation ship, disabled, limps in orbit around an unstable binary star that could self-immolate at any moment. For five hundred years, Engine and Rule have established quasi-medieval fiefdoms with the Exalt – whose bodies are augmented by a nanotech symbiont – ruling over the Mean. And the artificial intelligence that once controlled the ship’s systems has splintered into ‘angels’ – chief among them Samael, the angel of death (or life support, at any rate) and Jacob Dust, the angel of memory.
Knight-errant Perceval loses a duel – and her wings. She’s taken prisoner by Ariane of Rule. But the Mean servant girl assigned to take care of her is Rien – her long-lost sister. (This book had me at ‘maimed wingless girl knight-errant,’ and never let go). Before long they’ve escaped from Rule on a quest to find their father and prevent the coming war between Engine and Rule.
This is a book stuffed with Cool Bits, especially if you’re me, but even if you’re not. I think it’s terribly neat that there’s medieval window-dressing and a fantasy quest plot, all packaged – with perfect rationality – in a rigorous science fictional universe. There’s a basilisk! There’s a hermaphroditic necromancer! There are peaches that contain the memories of the dead! And at the same time, all of these Cool Bits are pointed at heavy, intense themes and heartbreaking storytelling. Bear is interrogating power and privilege and love and submission and domination and – as always – what it takes to face terrible choices with honor, dignity, and integrity.
This is also the first Elizabeth Bear novel I understood all the way through without having to read anything twice over. I like the opaqueness in some of her work, but I also like the clarity in this one.