Friday, September 23, 2011


Title: Cloaked
Author: Alex Flinn
Themes: fairy tales, love, friendship, responsibility, commitment, quest, magic, money, duty
Rating: **

Plot: I'm not your average hero. I actually wasn't your average anything. Just a poor guy working an after-school job at a South Beach shoe repair shop to help his mom make ends meet. But a little magic changed it all.

It all started with a curse. And a frognapping. And one hot-looking princess, who asked me to lead a rescue mission.

There wasn't a fairy godmother or any of that. And even though I fell in love along the way, what happened to me is unlike any fairy tale I've ever heard. Before I knew it, I was spying with a flock of enchanted swans, talking (yes, talking!) to a fox named Todd, and nearly trampled by giants in the Keys.

Don't believe me? I didn't believe it either. But you'll see. Because I knew it all was true, the second I got cloaked.

My Thoughts: Cloaked is a mash up of fairy tales Flinn believed to be underrepresented in literature and film, which is an exciting premise! She takes elements from: The Elves and the Shoemaker, The Frog Prince, The Six Swans (Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest is an excellent retelling btw), The Golden Bird, The Valiant Tailor, The Salad, and The Fisherman and His Wife.

My first thought is that...that's a lot of obscure (well, unless you like fairy tales) stories to mash up and still have a cohesive representation of each. In fact...the only one that really shines through is The Frog Prince, arguable the most well known of the bunch. My second thought was that Flinn's epilogue explaining all this really should have been a prologue.

Flinn writes a believable and likable male lead (in all three of the novels I've read this is that I think about it), most side characters are fairly flat and one-dimensional but that actually works in the stories-since the protagonist is pretty self-absorbed. In fact, he's so self-absorbed that he can't figure out the obvious romantic feelings a certain girl has when the reader knows it from page one (oh wait, is this a YA trope?). Or apparently recognize obviously dodgy behavior in others...but I guess it keeps the plot moving.

Johnny's adventures take him from Florida to the Keys then across the nation and into a vaguely defined European country with the aid of a magic cloak. But capturing the frog he's after requires a bit more than a cloak that can transport you where ever you wish to go. In fact it requires the aid of six swans, a fox, a rat, a magical ring, a best friend, and a surprisingly lax mom.

Nevertheless Johnny's trials reveal his own ambitions and emotions while giving him a clearer sense of self and self-worth...which he uses to become a celebrity of sorts by the books conclusion.

Cloaked suffers just a bit from Harry Potter Syndrome...the conclusion just takes it too far and wraps it up too completely to make it a satisfying read.

Recommendation: If you are a fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings I would give it a go. If you like whimsical YA you may enjoy Cloaked. However, it's certainly not the best of either category and suffers a bit in the character development and conclusion.

Random Quote: "I'm in. I won. I don't need the fox or the inn or anything. I'm not going to get shot at. I just have to catch the frog, something any little boy can do. For once in my life, something is easy! (106)"

Similar Reads: Beastly and A Kiss in Time both by Alex Flinn, My Mother She Killed Me My Father He Ate Me edited by Kate Bernheimer, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

Flinn, Alex. Cloaked. New York: HarperTeen, 2011.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Quick Review: Troubled Waters

Title: Troubled Waters
Author: Sharon Shinn
Themes: change, power, love, family
Rating: **1/2

Plot: Bestseller Shinn (Quatrain) carries readers away into a vivid new fantasy world where the five elements control everyone's lives. Alone and in shock after the death of her father, Zoe Ardelay is invited to the capital to become the king's fifth wife and create a much needed numerological balance both politically and at court, where the four queens vie to promote their children for the role of heir to the throne. Then Zoe learns she is the new prime of the Lalindar clan, which saves her from the marriage, but thrusts her into a world of dangerous political scheming, secret agendas, and an increasingly risky attraction to royal adviser Darien Serlast. This entertaining and suspenseful story is full of lively characters, and the intriguing new system of magic and politics provides plenty of potential for sequels.

My Thoughts: For some reason I totally had Avatar: The Last Airbender in mind the entire time I was reading this fun little adventure/romance by Sharon Shinn. In Shinn's new world every person has a tie to an element which determines their character to a large extent. The whole elemental connection/magical power thing definitely followed the traditional modes of thought (i.e. "fire" people were hot tempered and ambitious, "stone/earth" people are stubborn and unmovable...etc.) concerning elemental personality attributes. I think this is always a fun way to order a fantasy universe/people, despite the fact that it's been done countless times before. Shinn adds an extra element by providing an elaborate "blessing" system that occurs at birth, where the new parent asks three random people to pull blessing coins from the temple for their newborn child. These coins contain words or phrases such as "beauty," "power," or "industrious" and are believed to truthfully characterize the newborn through their life.

Zoe is a likable, yet very flawed (and rather slow), protagonist with a strong sense of right and wrong - but an ambiguous relationship to power and any means to gaining power. While the romance was a bit predictable and staid, and the elemental philosophy a bit overemphasized and redundant I found this novel to be a fun little jaunt into another of Shinn's fantasy worlds. Zoe faces many obstacles, gains and loses power, and finally comes to a self-awareness she lacked at the beginning of the novel.

With most of Shinn's works I find the plotlines to be a bit...overextended, with events just piling up and no apparent reason for it all. While it makes for a fast and exciting second-half of a book it does come across as strained to me. It just seems like a bit too much. Just one of these issues or events could make a satisfying and exciting read...for instance the Soechin infatuation with youth was disturbing and frighteningly familiar and the entire book could have been written about the possible marriage between the two kingdoms.

Recommendation: A staid read with predictable romance and a familiar elemental personality system...yet the details are fun and the world building is excellent. I would recommend to anyone looking for a light read, especially if they are a fan of Shinn's works.

Similar Reads: Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn, Chalice by Robin McKinley

Shinn, Sharon. Troubled Waters. New York: Ace Books, 2010.