Blind the Eyes, a YA dystopian paranormal fantasy by K.A. Wiggins, coming to bookstores near you and online Christmas 2017

YA Fantasy - K.A. Wiggins

Reviews, writing and publishing news and more from YA fantasy author K.A. Wiggins.

 

K.A. Wiggins is a Vancouverite who doesn't know how to live in the same place for long, a bookstagrammer and a fan of Islay Scotch and craft gin. She writes stories about being on the edges of things.

 

Her first published novel is BLIND THE EYES, a YA dark fantasy in which a not-quite alive girl and her not-quite dead ghost discover trusted authorities lie, allies have their own agendas and even the monsters wear masks in a story that evokes STRANGE THE DREAMER and THIS SAVAGE SONG with the flawed, challenging voices of PLACES NO ONE KNOWS. A free 5 chapter preview ebook and audiobook is now available for newsletter subscribers (along with other exclusive content) at https://kaie.space

 

Find her YA portal fantasy/post-apocalyptic survival thriller FLAME OF THE CONNARII, inspired by Disney's TARZAN-meets-Celtic-warrior-princess, and her NA horror rom-com THINGS GOT OUT OF HAND serialized on Wattpad under the pen name KAIE.

 

Multi-fantasy-genre mashup with surprisingly good twists

Fire and Bone - Rachel A. Marks

Disclaimer: Reviewing uncorrected proof on NetGalley

 

This seemed like one of those genre-bridging stories that you're technically not supposed to do, but that often work so well. There are elements of Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, and Contemporary Fantasy in the mix, and it sort of hovers on the edge of YA/NA/Adult Fantasy.

 

I found it a little hard to get into at first. The narrative switches perspective between the MC, a homeless teen on the streets of LA who discovers unexpected, uncontrollable powers, and the man (immortal Irish magical something or other) who protects her. The voices aren't necessarily all that distinct, and at the beginning it feels like there's a bit more information to get caught up on and angsty internal monologue than I really needed, but I'm glad I stuck with it, because by the end I was ready to pick up the sequel immediately!

 

The magical worldbuilding, with gritty back alleys, glitzy clubs, and luxurious, at times otherworldly, retreats, is quite well done, and the mixed supernatural/fantasy cast of gods and goddesses, their powerful children, fae, vampires, and other creatures actually fits together pretty seamlessly. Part of what makes it a hard read at the start is that the main character/viewpoint character doesn't have a clue what's going on, and you have to follow through with her as she stumbles, fights back against those who could help her, and generally suffers a lot before finding her balance.

 

I liked the twists - there's some really interesting stuff happening with identity, memory, and purpose. I was worried about this tipping into explicit NA territory, but while there's some sexual situations, lots of ink spilled on romantic mishaps, and some language/violence etc. that ranks a mature rating, it never goes too far - though I wouldn't be surprised if the main characters hook up at some point in the series. So, for me, that was a count in its favour that all the romantic stuff didn't get detailed.

 

Weirdly, this kind of reminded me of a Sarah J. Maas book, with a bit of a slower start and wild, power-move twists at the end. There's a lot of potential here for an intense series and I'd be up to see where things go.

Fire wants to devour; when it's inside you, you find fuel, or you become fuel

Enna Burning - Shannon Hale

This second book switches gears from a very fairytale-feeling classic fantasy to something entirely new. A side character in book one steps into the spotlight when her struggles to contain the raging power of fire propel her into the midst of a war. Enjoyable, but also upsetting, the narrative is slightly more mature and 'teen' than book 1, with a gaslighting scoundrel of an enemy captain taking up a large amount of the runtime. 

Lovely, classic fairytale-style fantasy

The Goose Girl - Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale writes perfect fairytale-style modern fantasies. Every book reminds me of stories I read as a kid, but the level of storytelling sophistication and nuance in characterization holds up by today's standards.

 

The Goose Girl launches a classic, almost remote or detached-feeling princess story in the type of Euro-historic setting that so often feels tired and overdone, but in this case feels timeless and intuitive. You know the twists are coming, but follow the characters every step of the way. Rather than predictable, the plot feels archetypal.

 

The princess has a rich, nuanced internal life and faces challenges with realistically flawed reactions. Things get ugly, and it's not only the strength she grows through her trials that helps her, but the hard-won friendships she makes and discovers.

 

Beautiful, beautiful storytelling that I'd have happily read by age 8 or so. Some light romantic stuff (after all, she's a princess on her way to get married off), but none of the awkward deep-dives into teenaged hormones or explicit behind-closed-doors scenes that push some YA into the mature category. Can't recommend highly enough.

Calling all book bloggers~~

Blind the Eyes Limited Preview Edition: 3 Chapter Preview - K.A. Wiggins

Hey guys! I have a last-minute cover reveal for Blind the Eyes coming up this week because I've got some other exciting news breaking pretty much immediately.

 

If anyone has an opening on their blog or whatever social channel you're rocking and would like to get involved in sharing the news/boosting the signal, please DM!

 

For everyone else, subscribers get exclusive first looks, breaking news, & previews at http://kaie.space/newsletter

Victorian girl competes to get into forensic pathology academy in Dracula's castle. What could go wrong?

Hunting Prince Dracula - Kerri Maniscalco

This was an engaging historical romance read with mystery/thriller/horror elements depending on how jumpy you are when it comes to murder, vampire bats & huge spiders. (Man, that one scene took it to 110% horror mode for me!!)

 

It's not the book's fault, but I was super sad it didn't go into training montage/Harry Potter mode and double down on the competition to get into the bizarro forensic pathologist teens training academy in Dracula's creepy castle. Especially with the super-feminist Victorian girl trying to play on the same field as the boys, I wanted more of her competing for equal footing and to be recognized. Instead, the murder mystery element stepped up into centrefield. Which, it was cool the way they went in a different direction with the ending, I guess, and there were some truly unexpected twists, so props for that.

 

I think I prefer a little closer adherence to period-accurate perspectives in my historical fiction, to be honest. This leans more into an exciting, acceptable-to-2018-standards adventure territory. And the author had notes at the end pointing out which elements were research-based, and which were liberties taken for story purposes. But the feminist MC, although feminism did exist at the time, felt like she took things too far and in an inauthentic direction. To me, it felt preachy and performative, like if it were a film, she'd turn to the camera and make her argument, and then go back to playing her part. (Laurie R. King & Cat Winters do a spectacular job of integrating thoughtful feminist narratives in a period-specific narrative, if you want to read that btw.) But then again, it's not rare for teens to lack subtlety . . .

 

So in summary, so far this series isn't a personal favourite, but it is perfectly well done YA historical romance and makes for an entertaining read. Love the girl-forensic-pathologist angle, it's fun how historical characters who've become nearly fictional get woven in, and there's some very clever plotting going on. Props for accurate historical details and research at many points too. The love interest has an interestingly Holmesian character, and supporting cast are well defined and distinctive. 3.5 stars for a generally good read.

A feminist forensic pathology trainee takes on Jack the Ripper

Stalking Jack the Ripper - Kerri Maniscalco

Enjoyable historical fiction read with elements of mystery/thriller/horror depending on how you feel about all the dead bodies, and a strong teen romance bent. Good attention paid to historical detail in the world-building, but a very modern teen voice and attitude, so if you're a stickler for period-appropriate tone, that might bug you. I wouldn't have minded a touch more paranormal/fantasy, and, having just started in on the sequel, I'm enjoying the character dynamics noticeably more as they become more established, so if this first one doesn't grab you, you might want to hang in there for book 2. Pretty good unexpected twists in the wrap up too - fun when the book marketing itself sets you up for it.

UnBound: Stories from the Unwind World (Unwind Dystology) - Neal Shusterman

Normally I wouldn't review a story collection all that highly, but this felt like such a natural supplement/extension of the series that I barely noticed the format. Shusterman juggles so many characters and perspectives with such excellent transitions in voice, that this prequel/sequel collection felt seamless. Cool world-building backstories seem like a behind-the-scenes peek, while the post-book-4 bits are fun and add a little more dimension. Must-read for fans of the series.

UnDivided (Unwind Dystology) - Neal Shusterman

This is a near-five-star read. Really excellent writing, storytelling, and intelligent critiquing/interrogating of culture. Shusterman has an absolute genius for weaving exciting, twisty plot threads and more character arcs than should be possible together at the last moment for explosive, satisfying endings. Loved so many characters, but especially (mildly spoilerish warning:) Gracie, the "low-cortical" surprise hero who uses her particular skills to basically save the world. I think she's supposed to be something like autistic? But her way of looking at the world turns out to be exactly what's needed. Awesomeness.

 

This is still a pretty depressing premise that calls out human selfishness and irresponsibility in a big way, to the extent that the ending was somewhat implausible, but who wants to read a series about how we're ruining the world with no happy ending in sight? I enjoyed the read, and loved (/feared) the chapter-intro content all the way through the series. In early books, Shusterman used PSA and marketing-style ads to play up the way propaganda and corporate manipulation/marketing worked on people's fears and clouded their thinking. This last book uses actual headlines and articles from the last decade or so to show just how terrifyingly plausible this dystopian future really could be. Smart way to build tension and horror undertones (overtones?) while also proving that the author did an incredible job on the research and world-building.

To no one's surprise, corporations are destroying the world

UnSouled - Neal Shusterman

Third out of four book series digs deeper into the capitalism, convenience, and corrupt corporations angles of this incredibly well-developed dystopia. Deeply disturbing, largely because of just how plausible it is. Still some hope for the main cast to chase, but there's no backing down on exposing the selfishness and willful blindness of humanity either. Doesn't overdo it with caricature-like saints of heroes either. Shusterman has a genius for weaving together several viewpoints and plot threads into an explosive crescendo of a conclusion, so I'm definitely looking forward to the big wrap up.

Capitalism wants to destroy teens

UnWholly - Neal Shusterman

UnWholly, incredibly, manages to dig deeper and raise new questions around its alarming premise. While profiling a couple more heroes, its assessment of humanity and society remains fairly bleak. The events at the end of Unwind prompted a condensing of the period of legal "abortion" of unwanted teens from 13-18 down to 17 as the cap. Unfortunately, this seemingly positive development assuages public guilt or concern and prompts a wave of intensive marketing and PR to promote unwinding troublemaking teens. A decidedly dystopian conspiracy (several, really, but one 'originating' one) put a new spin on this dark future, and heroes from book 1 get a chance to develop and grow further, while new characters are introduced. It's a marvel that Shusterman can juggle so many characters, viewpoints, and plot threads so masterfully to craft a tense, intelligent, troubling, yet entertaining thriller-paced novel. 

Gator wrestling princesses

Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters - Shannon Hale

Another excellent entry taking things in an entirely new direction. I praised book 2 for taking (necessary and deserved) revolution and pushing back at all that anger, putting the emphasis on finding connection points and persuading enemies, instead of trying to destroy them. But The Forgotten Sisters pivots to show that sometimes standing up to wrong does mean getting a little savage.

 

Miri comes full circle as the new royal tutor when she's sent to the swamplands days before her pending betrothal to run the next princess academy for three sisters who are too busy hunting caimans and frogs to learn to read. War is on the horizon, and a political marriage is needed. If Miri succeeds, she can buy back her village and the mine from the king before he sells it to finance the war. If she fails, all the gains her family and friends have made disappear and the country may be overrun. But the secrets on all sides have the potential to change the game entirely.

 

Entertaining and with surprising heart, as always. Good for middle-grade readers and up.

Smart fantasy knows revolution is the easy answer, not the right one

Palace of Stone - Shannon Hale

Another wonderful YA fantasy suitable for younger readers.

 

Miri and company leave the mountain to attend their friend's wedding in the capital and discover the country has some serious trouble brewing. The king is out of touch and careless, his nobles are abusing the commoners, and a bloody revolution is brewing in the background. But Miri's there to learn, and at the royal academy, she struggles with the study and true practice of how to determine, and how to act on, right and wrong.

 

The answer is complicated, and that's part of what makes this writing stand out. In 2018, we're all about fierce, take charge girls being savage and taking down the patriarchy and Nazis and whatever else is doing damage. And we need to call out the abuse of power and the suffering of the powerless and other evils. But, as the head scholar points out to Miri, history shows that revolutions generally involve a lot of murder, a lot of purposeless blood spilt, and much less progress toward their glorious ideals than they were meant to. Understanding, finding a connecting point, and persuading others to reassess their positions is much more effective in taking steps towards a more just outcome.

 

This story explores the emotions and thoughts of the characters as they confront difficult realities in a believable, relatable way. It's somewhat utopian - the crafted plot of a story allows for neat turns and unlikely defusing of volatile situations - but it reminds us to value people and choose the hardest path, the one where we don't just get to tear down what we hate, but rather have to find a way forward and build a better future for everyone. It's smart, considered, enjoyable, and inspiring writing.

Disposable kids, human selfishness, and deadly irresponsibility

Unwind - Neal Shusterman

Well, it's official. Shusterman is obsessed with death. Or perhaps more accurately, with our social, systematic, and personal relationships with death.

 

It's crazy reading through his backlist having been introduced to his work through Scythe, because so many of the same ideas that he's developed so wonderfully in the Arc of a Scythe series pop up in his earlier work.

 

The Unwind Dystology uses the two camps of abortion activists as a jumping off point to develop a dystopian future where both have lost and population control is dealt with by harvesting unwanted teens for their organs. There is some exploration of the perspectives on abortion and what it says about human beliefs and human nature, including: unwanted babies are a burden on society, no one can prove when (or if) a soul exists in a human, adults are frequently irresponsible and want to be freed of the consequences of their actions, teens are a hassle to deal with, organ harvesting is big business, it sucks how much women have to take on, everyone wants to not be the last one left holding the bag. But really, what this first book, at least, leaves you with is not an argument for one camp or the other (women's rights vs. infant rights), but rather that humans are mostly trash.

 

I mean, that makes it sound more depressing than it is as a read. It's fast-paced and entertaining, with well-developed characters and oodles of conflict. I basically read it in a sitting (hello 3 am, my old friend!) But what comes out clearly is that no one wants to deal with nasty chores and the burden of being responsible for someone else. There's the time adults in a community passed around an unwanted baby in a weeks-long game of "hot potato" until it died of neglect. There are the parents who went nuts with having kids and adopting unwanted babies, ultimately to decide to "tithe" the 10th one as a human sacrifice out of some twisted interpretation of their religion. There's the young teen mother who abandons her infant on a doorstep, assuming the wealthy family there will be better able to care for it. There are the parents of teens who, for various reasons, choose to give up troublemakers and disappointments. There's the state, which harvests orphanage kids to finance raising the younger ones. We're told that the demand for organ donation is so high because the adults en masse are more comfortable with kids being "unwound" to parts than they are signing organ donation cards in the event of their own death.

 

So basically, people treat people like trash most of the time. And teens are the least likely to get any sympathy. And most of our bad behaviour comes down to economic reasons, comfort, and convenience.

 

There are heroes, of course. The troublemaking teen who escapes, channels his anger and discontentment into leadership and rescues others. The father who tries to make up for the sacrifice of his own son to save others. The "underground railroad" that works to save fleeing kids because they still believe in something besides convenience and passing the buck. The brainwashed religious (cult) kid who learns his own life and the lives of others have value after all. But those heroes are few - greatly outnumbered by the careless masses.

 

And the series continues. Maybe there's hope for the rest of humanity. Maybe if they're forced to confront the ugly reality of the cost of their normalcy, they'll choose to sacrifice something of their own, and not just tap off kids to sacrifice for them. Or maybe not. Maybe they'll just shift the blame once more to a population without the power to protect themselves. The unborn. The elderly. The damaged. Another nation. Another skin colour. Another religion. Because without something big enough to believe in and convince us to sacrifice our comfort and convenience, most of us subside into willfull ignorance. But hey, idk, maybe that's not where the series is headed. After all, fiction is all about the escapist happy endings, right?

That one time you had a work-study visa in Europe and spent all your time drinking instead of sightseeing (+time travel)

Paris Adrift - E.J. Swift

Disclaimer: reviewing uncorrected digital proof via NetGalley

 

"Adrift" is apt: the author took on a challenging format and offers some true excellence in character writing and worldbuilding, but the experience of reading this book is, for better or worse, as if you're just as adrift, confused, and purposeless as main character Hallie.

Hallie's doing the dissipated youth finding herself routine in Paris. But before we find that out, we have to wade through some future revolutionary setup with time-travellers who want to go back and change the past to resolve the blighted dystopian future they're living in. This is the frame story and the plot, but Hallie doesn't figure out where she fits into it until extremely late in the game. Instead, she's working and drinking her life away in a bar, hanging out with people who do the same, and - unwillingly at first - hopping through time in the cellar.

 

There's a lot to like at a technical level. Swift conveys that dreamy/nightmarish feeling and atmosphere of being 20-something and finding your group on the road, living in the moment, but with an uneasy awareness that the moment must pass and you're more than where you're stuck now. Paris and the group of international workers at Hallie's bar are conveyed with detailed world-building excellence, including what (as far as my limited French can tell) is accurate and characteristic uses of French.

 

If you think of this as a literary novel, it deserves a high rating. Dreamy, evocative, endlessly confusing, but in a way that hints at careful construction, it's an effective deep-dive into character. But the frame story plot lags as Hallie finds herself, and there are too many mysteries held for too long for it to be effective as a genre work. If you need fast, thriller pacing, spicy romance, or intricate and engage SFF goings-on to enjoy a book, this is not the story for you. If you're happy to invest some time, drift through the story, and maybe reminisce about (or look forward to) your own dissipated youthful travels, this offers much to appreciate. Just sit back and let it flow.

Bandits, miner's daughters, a boring prince and a sentient mountain

Princess Academy - Shannon Hale

This is the type of excellent children's publishing that I craved as a preteen/young teen. It reads sort of like a middle grade, more accessible to younger readers than a lot of the YA MA books these days.

 

This wasn't at all what I was expecting from the title and cover; I thought it would be fluffy romantic school stories, but it's the type of smart, political historical fiction-inspired fantasy that I loved well before paranormal romance and urban fantasy took over YA.

 

Miri is a 14-year-old miner's daughter who mourns the fact that she's too small and can't go help out in the mines. Fantasy!politics decree that all daughters in the village between 12-18 or so must be removed to a training camp to be prepared as a potential princess pool. Handwavy explanation aside, it's a chance for Miri to start to see a wider world and her own home's context within that. She uses what she learns about economics, politics, reading and math to negotiate a better situation for her village, protect her classmates, understand her family, and fight oppression. There's some very mild romance (again, suitable for MG/young teen readers), but the story is more about personal growth, community and friendship, and helping others through learning and sharing knowledge. Beautiful, meaningful, engaging and fast-paced.

Bikers, escorts, and a detective with a conscience in hipster Vancouver

Invisible Dead - Sam Wiebe

I do read mysteries, but I don't tend to read the gritty crime/noir genre. Too dark, in most cases. I loved this, though. 

 

Wiebe captures the culture, ephemera, and atmosphere of Vancouver with endless telling details, making his narrative about crime and the seedy, dark underbelly of the city all the more alarming. Reads smoothly and convincingly, with all-too-recognizable characters. The endless men (and some women) dismissing the harm they do to others, particularly to the most vulnerable (and often First Nations and visible minority) women, are the company owners I've worked with and for, the powerful and dismissive, the entitled and self-satisfied, and most of all, the casually careless.

 

The specificity of eating out in Vancouver and enjoying the views are so common in the city as to be living stereotypes, and the friendly familiarity of the lifestyle and location details drives the knife in even further as one character after another drives the women who've suffered in this book, and on our streets in real life, further into the mud.

 

I prefer reading mysteries set in exotic foreign places and times. New York. Chicago. London. Paris. 1920s. 1940s. A crime novel calling out not only the shady hidden figures of my Vancouver, but all of us in the city, privileged and struggling alike, for glossing past, stepping over, and treating with casual disdain and irresponsibility the ones having the hardest time surviving, hits far too close to home. But there's a balance of hope and tenacity in this book that keeps the darkness from feeling entirely crushing. So I'll read more of Wiebe's work, if only to remind myself of the faces, the voices, and the stories I need to not forget.

Currently reading

Blind the Eyes by K.A. Wiggins
Blind the Eyes Special Preview Edition: 5 Chapter Preview by K.A. Wiggins

@kaie.space