I find myself with an accumulation of Once Upon a Time reads that I have got behind on reviewing—in part because I don’t have quite enough to say on them! So I thought perhaps a round-up, to say a little on each…here’s my first two-for-one review, and I should have another next week!
A Question of Magic by E. D. Baker
Serafina finds herself unexpectedly trapped when she goes to visit an old woman she believes to be her aunt—who turns out to be the legendary Baba Yaga, who has gone into retirement and left Serafina to take over her home and duties. Serafina must answer truthfully the first question anyone asks her, giving her a powerful magic gift akin to prophecy. Unfortunately, each question she answers causes her to age dramatically. She searches for a way to escape her new role and return home to her family and sweetheart.
I have a rocky history with Baker, but I was so intrigued by this question-answering business that I decided to try the book anyway. That wasn’t as exciting as I thought it might be, since magic essentially takes over Serafina and forces an answer with no thought or intention from her. But on the plus side, my chief complaint with Baker, characters lacking emotional depth, was so much better here.
Serafina does feel things—she misses her family and rails against the change to her life and all in all she just reacted to things. She’s also surrounded by some pretty colorful characters, since Baba Yaga’s hut comes complete with talking cat and chattering skulls. The skulls, in particular, bring some comic relief; I especially liked it when Serafina polishes them, and they all turn very vain about their shiny surfaces.
I’m happy this was a fun read, although ultimately I was disappointed that Serafina, who at least felt things, still didn’t do things. She’s ultimately a passive character who ends up rescued from her curse, and the main thing she does throughout the book (answer questions) is really just the magic working through her as a vessel. So, a better book—but still just okay.
Buy it here: A Question of Magic
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
Second book in the Heroes of Olympus series, this one returns us to Percy Jackson, hero of the previous Greek mythology series. Percy is traveling through California, pursued by harpies, with no memories of his past—except a tantalizing glimpse of a girl named Annabeth. He finds his way to the hidden army camp of a group of Roman demigods, and is soon off on a quest with new friends Frank and Hazel with (what else) the fate of the world in the balance.
This book is very, very similar in structure to the previous volume, The Lost Hero, down to the amnesiac lead character with his two friends, each with secrets they’re holding back. However—Riordan had a set-up that worked once, and it works a second time too. With the added bonus that I already knew and liked Percy, and so really enjoyed him here.
Like all Riordan’s books, this is a fun, fast-paced read. The mysteries are good, the threats and monsters are appropriately hideous, and the fights are exciting. Riordan is masterful at punctuating fight sequences with one-liners and snarky comments, without losing any of the tension.
My two favorite things here: 1) I love Percy’s faint memory of Annabeth. He lost all his memories but the spell can’t entirely erase her, and I just loved that. All the more so because Riordan dedicated the book to his wife, with the comment, “even Hera couldn’t make me forget you.” Everyone: AWWW. And 2) Percy and friends go to Seattle to look for Amazons (female warriors) and find the headquarters for Amazon (online merchant)…which is secretly being run by Amazons (female warriors!) who plan to build an economic empire and then take over the world. Love it. All the more so when one character wisecracks, “What are you going to do, cancel free shipping?”
Buy it here (on Amazon!): The Son of Neptune