The Untamed – A Review

Publicity poster from The Untamed

The Untamed is a 2019 web drama that is also available to stream on Netflix. It’s based on the Chinese novel Mo Dao Zu Shi, or Grandfather of Demonic Cultivation in English. The drama runs for 50 episodes and is entirely in Chinese, so anyone who doesn’t speak Chinese will need to view it with subtitles. But even with the language barrier, this show is phenomenal.

The story, which takes place in Ancient China, revolves around our main character, Wei Wuxian, a young and talented cultivator, which is someone who uses both sword fighting techniques and magic/talismans to keep demons, ghosts, and monsters from harming the living. He lived a life before and is remembered as the Yiling Patriarch, who was able to control the dead and make them fight for him by playing a flute. The Yiling Patriarch was supposed to have died 16 years ago, and Wei Wuxian is the most shocked when he reappears in the world, faced with both a new mystery and the faces of his past.

Now that sounds exciting enough as a premise, but I did call the show a drama, and not an action or fantasy show, because that’s really what it is. “The Untamed” focuses much more on its very human characters, their relationships, and the choices they have to make. There are sword fights here and there, big action packed battles, full on wars, mystery and detective elements, but that’s not the main focus. The show asks questions about what is right, what is wrong, when is the right time to follow your heart, when is the right time to put family first, and what making choices can force you to sacrifice. Each character’s actions send ripples into their world, affecting both the political world and their personal relationships. The story is really one of the strongest things about the show. It gave me my fair share of laughs and smiles, but it also gave me a lot of tears. The story, while it has its happy and playful moments, is often tragic, but it earns it.

The characters, although they live in both a time and place much different from ours, are relatable and empathetic. From the cheerful Wei Wuxian, to his hotheaded brother Jiang Cheng, to the quiet and reserved Lan Wangji, and even to the straight up psychopathic mass murder Xue Yang, they all seem very, very human. They all have a story. The way they interact with each other, on personal, political, and indirect levels, is really the heart of the show. You get to watch relationships be built, and you get to watch them slowly fall apart. There’s a very wide cast of characters, but they’re all distinct, even with the similar qualities that each clan shares! You won’t have a hard time remembering who each character is, even if you have to juggle 3 names for almost all of them.

The acting in this show is absolutely amazing. All the characters seem very real, and no performance seems either phony or over the top. Xiao Zhan, who plays the main character Wei Wuxian, does a great job with line delivery, facial expressions, and body language. He sells both Wei Wuxian’s highs and his lows. His acting really made the character! Another stellar performance was put on by Wang Yibo, who played Lan Wangji. Lan Wangji is a man of few words and even fewer faces. He hardly talks and mainly keeps a straight face. However Wang Yibo was able to portray his hidden emotions with small but noticeable changes in his voice and body language, and his very, very subtle facial expressions. It’s a big challenge to convincingly portray the silent and non-emoting type, but Wang Yibo is able to do it! He never looks uninspired or boring- there’s always something going on beneath the surface. The other actor I wanted to shout out was Zhu Zanjin, who plays Meng Yao. Meng Yao is a very … complicated character. There’s a lot going on with him, and there’s quite a few changes he goes through. However Zhu Zanjin was able to capture each and every of the many facets of his character spectacularly! I can’t say much without giving something away, so you’ll have to take my word on this one. He’s great.

The set design was also fantastic in this show! Each set is detailed, and each region has personality, usually corresponding to the cultivation clan that rules that area. The show features many shots of the forests, mountains, and overall scenery of (ancient) China, which was a joy to see!

I do have two complaints with the show. The first is with the special effects. The actual, done on set effects are fine, but some of the CGI is a bit … off. It’s not terrible, and not very distracting, but you can definitely tell it’s not real. I get that that’s kind of obvious when someone’s holding a lightning whip, but CGI in the modern era is typically much more refined. Again, it wasn’t too distracting and the CGI/magic isn’t the main appeal of the series anyway, so it’s all forgivable.

My second complaint is that the episodes sometimes just kind of end, right in the middle of scenes or in awkward places, like they couldn’t find a better place. Normally you can tell when an episode is going to end, but it often came out of the blue for this show. It sort of makes sense, since it was a web series and often two episodes would be put out at the same time, but it’s a bit jarring when you’re binging it, like I did. Still, it wasn’t a huge detractor from the show.

Overall, I’d give this show a 9/10! I recommend it to everyone over a certain age. The show features some mature themes (mentioned, not shown) and quite a bit of violence during the fight scenes (blood, stabbing, and other graphic scenes are shown). It doesn’t have an official rating in the US, but I’d give it a PG-13 rating, maybe a bit older for some kids. It’s really nothing terrible, but it might be rough on the squeamish. But aside all that, I think everyone should give the show a shot! It gets continually better as it progresses, as it’s strongest aspects are the characters and their relationships, which both take time to build and explore.

So, if you’ve got Netflix, are OK with subtitles, and aren’t squeamish, definitely give this show a whirl! It’ll play with your heart strings and you’ll love every minute of it.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children introduces the world of peculiars, a secret group of individuals born with strange abilities and attributes that set them apart from the rest of humanity. Hunted by bloodthirsty creatures called hollowgast, peculiars are protected by women known as ymbrynes who can transform into birds and manipulate time. Ymbrynes– like the titular Miss Peregrine– watch over their wards inside loops, portals of safety where the same day is repeated over and over again. For hundreds of years, peculiars have lived inside these loops, never aging and sheltered from the threats of the outside world. But sinister forces threaten to destroy the world of peculiardom, and its inhabitants have no idea what’s to come…

Jacob Portman, the narrator of the story, grew up listening to his grandfather’s tales of the children’s home on a tiny island off the coast of Wales where magical children lived in paradise, watched over by their benevolent headmistress. As a child, he would hang onto his grandfather’s every word, relishing the tales of his grandfather’s brave adventures and extraordinary friends. But as Jacob grew older and his grandfather began to sink into dementia’s grip, he stopped believing the man’s fantastical tales– until a traumatizing night leads him to travel to that tiny island and see for himself– and suddenly, the stories don’t seem so implausible.

As Jacob is thrust into the mind-bending world of the peculiars, he discovers more about his grandfather and himself than he ever thought possible. With an intriguing narrative style and hauntingly fascinating vintage photography, Ransom Riggs takes the reader along for Jacob’s incredible ride, creating a vivid new world that’s unlike anything I’ve read before. Truly unique, this book (and the rest in its series) is hard to put down and is a must-read for anyone looking for a new YA fantastical adventure that’s different from the norm. There’s action, romance, mystery, and even some humor mixed in with an awesome cast of characters that will win you over from the start.

The narrative voice, in the first-person view of Jacob, is descriptive and articulate without forsaking the heart of his character. The author’s style is expressive and vivid, assisted by the distinctive addition of the vintage photographs interspersed throughout the book. The pictures are what truly make this series unique, and add a touch of stirring realism to the plotline. The book’s plot was written partially around the photographs that the author had found and included, and the rest of the photos were chosen because they fit what the author had in mind. I love this addition to the books, and they’re a big part of what makes the series unforgettable.

The world of peculiardom is a fascinating and multi-faceted one, and the farther you read into the series, the more wide and diverse it grows. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children introduces the world well, but with each new book in the series, Ransom Riggs finds a new way to expand its borders. Its inhabitants are equally as diverse and fascinating as the world they live in, and I fell in love with all of them almost immediately. It’s interesting to read how their peculiarities can align with their personalities– for example; Emma, one of the main protagonists, sparks flames from her hands and is the fiery, determined leader of the group. Bronwyn, a girl with extraordinary strength, is the mother hen of the children and a natural protector. Each of Miss Peregrine’s peculiar wards has a distinctive personality, as does every new character they meet during their journeys. The variety of peculiar abilities and attributes of these characters is astounding as well.

One thing I love about this book and its series is the nature of the peculiarities. Rather than give his characters differing versions of “superpowers”, the author has created a group of people (and occasionally, animals) who simply possess attributes and abilities that place them (far) outside the realm of normal. Some of the peculiars can do things that seem familiar to us in the realm of science fiction, like Bronwyn’s strength or Emma’s fire. But more often, peculiars are born with other traits– like the mouth in the back of Claire’s head, the way Olive is simply lighter than air, or the bees that live inside of Hugh– that you won’t find between the pages of comic book. Their peculiarness is delightfully strange in a way that enhances the dark and supernatural feel of the story, which sets it apart from your average science fiction novel about kids with superpowers.

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a darkly fascinating book that sets off an intriguing and endlessly riveting series. You won’t be able to get enough of this book and its peculiar world once you’ve fallen under its captivating spell, and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a series with a distinctive and enthralling concept.

The Queen of Nothing, by Holly Black

A cover for the book Queen of Nothing shows a crown in one corner and a snake in another
The Queen of Nothing

The Queen of Nothing, written by Holly Black, is the much-anticipated conclusion to The Folk of the Air trilogy. After the disappointing ending of The Wicked King, this book managed to turn my opinion of the whole series to a positive one. It picks up where the last book ended, with Jude attempting to adapt to live in the human world during her exile.

Throughout this book, one of my few problems was that I did not care about Vivi and Heather as I felt they didn’t add anything to the story. Their characters were fleshed-out well enough and they had cute moments, but their only contribution was as a caretaker for Oak and a connection to the human world. Similarly, I continued to have issues with Taryn, whose “redemption” arc was not satisfying. She killed Locke, but nothing else she did warranted a close bond between the sisters or reason to believe she changed. Overall, Taryn didn’t have much impact on the main plot other than creating emotional pain for Jude in the first two books until she was forgiven and cast into the shadows in the third book.

Cardan was a wonderful character to the end. It was enjoyable to read about a character with reason to be cruel and slowly see the real him by the end of the trilogy. His character arc was refreshing and made sense. Both Jude and Cardan struggled with emotional traumas and it took them time to open up to one another and realize they weren’t all that different, which helped them heal. Black managed to create a scenario that genuinely made me worry that Cardan might not survive, and the way he was brought back didn’t anger me as most death-to-living scenarios do. The ending of the book had been prophesized from Cardan’s birth and it played out in a way that caught both the reader and characters off guard.

Jude’s dilemma with deciding what to do with the new Cardan-snake and realizing that she would rather not have Cardan than have him as a snake with full control over him was poignant and a selfless decision that I wasn’t quite sure she would make. I also liked how Jude grew in confidence over the series and finally stopped annoying me with every decision she made. Despite liking her, I still felt that when she, a human, became Queen of Faerie, if I were a faerie I would have been upset about a human ruling over my kingdom. Knowing that Cardan would rule with her, later on, helped resolve my pity for the people of Faerie.

I do wish that the epilogue had ended with Jude and Cardan in Faerie, but I still enjoyed the cute pizza scene; it just felt out of place in the story. This series was unique from the setting to the plot to the take on faeries that have been oversaturated in the young adult fantasy genre. Despite not enjoying the second book, the third book tied up loose ends and gave me a better outlook over the trilogy.

  The Queen of Nothing earns 10/10 dragons, for its perfect, emotional ending and unique world.

Book Review of Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

Book Cover of Kingdom of Ash and Briars shows a silhouette of a girl in the snowy woods
Kingdom of Ash and Briars

Kingdom of Ash and Briars is an engrossing fantasy tale that weaves in elements of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Emma, and Hua Mulan to tell the story of Bristal, a young woman who discovers that she possesses the power of an elicromancer. With her newfound talent for shapeshifting, Bristal must take her place as one of the last three elicromancers left in the realm to protect the kingdoms from a bloodthirsty tyrant who threatens all she holds dear. As she is thrust into a battle between good and evil that she hadn’t even known existed, Bristal uses all the strength and talent she possesses to prepare the kingdoms for a supernatural battle most don’t believe is possible. This book is darkly enchanting in more ways than one and kept me eagerly turning pages until the very end.

Kingdom of Ash and Briars not only manages to gracefully entwine nods to four different well-known stories into its plot but also creates an effortlessly fascinating new world to spin its tale within. The realm of Nissera and the history of the elicromancers are well-developed and provide the perfect backdrop for Bristal’s narrative, and if you love this novel, Hannah West continues to expand upon the world of Nissera and the elicromancers in several additional books.

I loved the amount of detail the plot of this book manages to include, which is truly impressive considering the number of different story elements it contains. The main narrative is engrossing and full, and the homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Emma, and Hua Mulan serve to enrich the novel’s plot without encroaching upon the premise’s originality. Plot twists abound, and the author’s writing style kept me easily engaged throughout as well. Kingdom of Ash and Briars is written in first person, and Bristal’s determined and honest voice reflects her character nicely.

Bristal’s character is a tenacious, resourceful heroine whose strength and selflessness seems endless but who nonetheless feels very human, a balance that draws the reader into her story and helps readers sympathize with her pain and struggles as her tale unfolds. She faces insurmountable obstacles and is an inspiring model of perseverance, bravery, generosity, and astute intelligence. A good fantasy hero must be many things, and Bristal meets and surpasses these expectations. Despite her boundless tenacity, the character has moments of stark humanity that offset her strengths well amidst her heroics.

All in all, Kingdom of Ash and Briars is a wonderful read, and if you’re looking for a new fantasy adventure novel, fairy tale retelling, or YA romantic fiction novel, this book is sure to please.

House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin A. Craig

Book Cover of A house of salt and Sorrows shows gold lettering on a green background
House of Salt and Sorrows

House of Salt and Sorrows, written by Erin A. Craig, is a retelling of the fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It follows Annaleigh and her sisters, who keep mysteriously dying, as they try to understand why they are “cursed” and who might be behind it.

Everything about this book except the climax was wonderful. The girls had distinct personalities and I was able to connect with most of them as they suffered through the book. The romance was convincing and cute mostly throughout, and the dark tone of the book made it perfect for the beginning of fall. Craig’s writing is beautifully atmospheric, which helped develop the small islands the story took place on. I didn’t anticipate this book being scary, but there were parts that sent shivers down my spine, especially when one of the twists about the nature of the late-night ball was revealed.

One of my problems with this book was the big reveal during the climax. The idea of gods existing in the world had been explored, but it wasn’t confirmed that they existed, so when the gods suddenly showed up it was a confusing shock that took me out of the story. A god being the one behind the “curse” was as unsatisfying as the villain being some random sailor we had never met. The connection to their stepmother did make it better. It seemed anticlimactic and expanded the story in a way that didn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the story. If there were no gods involved, I would have enjoyed it much better. The conflict was over very quickly, which made the ending feel rushed.

The death at the end being undone was extremely upsetting. I can’t stand when books and movies create an emotional death only to bring them back pages later for no reason other than romance or something similar. When Annaleigh’s father died, I had to reread to find the part where he died because it was mentioned briefly in a sentence without any sort of emotional reaction from any of the girls who had just lost their only parental figure. It was a strange reaction that I feel the author must have forgotten to edit it in later or something because the girls had a good relationship with their father, therefore it should have been the big emotional blow in the end.

As far as mystery books go, Craig could have done a better job at foreshadowing and maybe misguiding to keep the reader guessing. The first half of the book was fun, but it would have been more practical if it were more suspenseful.

The love triangle was annoying, as most are, but it was blatantly obvious how it would turn out from the beginning. This book offers no diversity in any form, which is disappointing as there were many opportunities to add it in a convincing way. Annaleigh’s relationship with Cassius felt very rushed towards the end when they said they loved each other, as there was no reason to suggest they felt that intensely for one another. Although there were some issues, this was a great debut for Craig that promises growth in future books.

Overall, I would rate House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig 5/10 dragons for the atmospheric writing and lack of impactful climax.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

I always enjoy this whole book series but this one ends everything off quite nicely (Not including The Cursed Child).

            This book starts off at Malfoy Manor where Voldemort and the Death Eaters are gathering and planning on how to capture Harry Potter. During the process, Snape reveals the Order of the Phoenix’s plans to move him. They had captured a Hogwarts teacher (Muggle Studies) and proceed to murder her. It then ends and we are taken back to Harry’s life. He is currently arguing/saying goodbye to the Dursleys as they are shortly being taken away for their protection.

            Once this is all over, some of the Order members, including Fred, George, Ron, and Hermione greet Harry, intending to depart with him. They have a plan that may work, people take Polyjuice Potion and turn into Harry, they then take things like broomsticks to a safehouse where they then Portkey to the Burrow. This goes good and well until they are into the air where chaos breaks loose. There are Death Eaters and Voldemort himself flying around, trying to find the real Harry. There are many fights, some ear damage and general bad things. Everybody gets to the Burrow and all is well until Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

            At the wedding, they get a message saying, “The Ministry has fallen, Scrimgeour is dead, they are coming”. The protective enchantments over the house are broken and Death Eaters invade the party. Harry, Ron and Hermione manage to escape, though somehow attract Death Eaters into the Muggle World.

            The trio then starts their search for Horcruxes. They know they must find something to destroy them and they also must figure out where the other Horcruxes are. They venture to the Ministry of Magic, where they encounter many problems but manage to find the actual locket. They have no way to destroy it though they try everything. Ron was Splinched and must wear a cast while they heal, they can’t apparate, so they are stuck in a forest. Days past and they have nothing, then something horrible happens. Ron, who was angry over the lack of progression, abandons the others and leaves. Harry and Hermione then travel to Godrics Hallow, hoping to find some clues, they instead get Voldemort. After escaping him, they spend many nights alone, not talking.

            Ron then magically appears back, after saving Harry from almost drowning. Harry had been trying to get the Sword of Gryffindor, which was hidden at the bottom of a pool. They get back and Ron and Hermione fight. After a while, they are fine and go to visit Luna Lovegood’s father. It is again a disaster, they are almost caught by Death Eaters and pretty much blow up his house. They travel for a few more days (they have destroyed the locket) before Harry accidentally says the word “Voldemort” which triggers a Taboo, Snatchers find them and capture them, bringing them to Malfoy Manor. All hope seemed lost but fear not, Dobby to the rescue. The next parts are intense and include some torture. They managed to save Griphook, a goblin that used to work at Gringotts, the wizarding bank. They break into Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault, stealing the cup of Hufflepuff. They lose the sword however. After many more small adventures, they are forced to go to Hogwarts. There is a final battle, which includes finding the diadem of Ravenclaw, fighting many Death Eaters, seeing the deaths of multiple people and just general chaos.

            In the end, something happens, I won’t tell because you have to read the book yourself, but it is good.

            I honestly love this book and I really have loved the whole series from about 1st or 2nd grade. This book is the 7th book in a 7-part series (not including the Cursed Child) it ends on a good note and has much drama and many twists and turns throughout, I would definitely recommend this book.

            I would rate it a 9 and ¾ (hehe).

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (book) by Rick Riordan

I previously wrote a blog post on the Lightning Thief movie, I still think that it is horrible. However, I am now doing the book, you can see how different it truly is from the movie.

            The book starts off with Percy Jackson, the main character, sitting on a school bus next to his best friend Grover. They are going on a field trip to a museum. After their tour they go outside for lunch. Percy somehow makes a fist of water come from the fountain grab a girl that was being mean. She claimed that he just pushed her. The other teacher, Mrs. Dodds, takes Percy inside to “talk with him”. She instead turns into a monster and tries to eat him. His disabled teacher comes in and throws him a sword. He kills the monster and then walks outside, the teacher and his friend act like nothing happened.

            He was expelled from his school and went home to his apartment that he shared with him mom and horrible step-father. His mother surprises him and takes him to their favorite place, a cabin at Montauk beach. In the middle of the night, they are disrupted by his friend Grover knocking on the door saying, “it is coming”. They run to the car and drive towards a camp that Percy’s father wanted him to go to. He finally sees that they are being chased by The Minotaur, the half-bull half-man from Greek myths. They are fighting it and his mother is taken and squeezed, she then poofs into magical powder. Percy, using his anger, breaks the Minotaur’s horn and kills it. He then faints and wakes up a few days later, being fed a magical drink by a girl. He learns that he is half-god and half-human and he is at a training camp for people like him. He is taken around this new camp, called Camp Half-Blood. He spends a few days there, getting used to the Hermes cabin, where he stays until he is claimed by his father (who is a Greek god).

            They play Capture the Flag and he is injured by and Ares girl named Clarisse. He stands in the river and is somehow better. His father, Poseidon god of the sea, claims him. For the next few days, everyone skirts around him. He isn’t technically supposed to be alive. After World War 2, Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon had made a pact to have no more children, they were too powerful. Percy is then given a quest, he must retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt, which was stolen.

            He decides to take Grover, who he discovered is half-goat (a satyr) and Annabeth, a child of Athena, who has always wanted to go on a quest. They start traveling west. They stop and have different adventures including, meeting Medusa, meeting Echidna and falling out of the Gateway Arch and getting trapped in the Lotus Casino. They also meet Ares, who gives a backpack full of things and a quest. They are then almost killed by mechanical spiders for said quest. They go to the Underworld, with the intention of retrieving Percy’s mom. The problem is that they need a soul for a soul, someone needs to stay down, or Hades’ Helm of Darkness is returned which was also stolen. They don’t have either, so they escape back to the overworld. They find out that Ares has the helm. Percy fights him. He then finds out that the Lightning Bolt was in the backpack and Ares was acting under orders of someone. They travel to Olympus and return it. Everything is better and Percy goes to camp. He is then betrayed by Luke who he thought had been his friend, he is stung by a scorpion and must stay at camp. When he is better, he goes home and stays with his mom, who got rid of the horrid step-father.

            I really enjoyed this book. It has many twists and turns and some ups and downs (quite literally).  Would definitely recommend reading this book, the series, and all the other books he has written.

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

To: All the people who love Robin Hood and those who like twists in original stories (like Robin Hood…)

From: The girl who loved the twist in classic Robin Hood

Marian was betrothed to Robin when she was young. But instead of being a “proper lady,” she was a little different. While she did enjoy embroidery, she wasn’t normal. She loved fighting Robin with makeshift swords and archery. She was daring and loved Robin with all her heart, until he died.

The people of Locksley always held hope because of Robin. He was their protector, the one who shield them from the persecution of the Sheriff of Nottingham. They were proud. Safe. Somewhat happy. But then Robin died.

Then the Guy of Gisborne comes into play, wishing to be Marian’s new fiancé and Lord of Locksley. No way! The right hand of the Sheriff, the one Robin grew wary of, wanted to take the place of Robin! And as time passed, tensions grew, and Marian, wary of the tensions, became her hero and the people’s as well. She was Robin Hood.

This book was highly enjoyable. I loved the story’s flow and the way Meagan wrote her characters. Marian’s journey about secrets and heartache really hit me in the heart. And brain. This book stayed with me for an extra few days. I even read it during vacation because I had to know what happens next! Anyone who loves fantasy, adventure, and Robin Hood will definitely love this book. I know I did.

I rate this a 9/10 just because of some of the slow parts. This book is a long book, 467 pages to be exact, but every second is worth it. This is great if you need a book to last for a bit longer than usual. Hopefully, I just gave you a new favorite book to read, so go ahead! Enjoy!

Book Review of Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Stepsister is a new book by Jennifer Donnelly published earlier this year. The book tells the story of one of Cinderella’s (though in this book, she is simply known as Ella) stepsisters, Isabelle. Told in third-person point of view, the book follows Isabelle as she navigates life after Ella leaves and shows readers her side of the story. Unbeknownst to Isabelle, however, there are others interested in how her story plays out. According to the three Fates, she is destined for a short and tragic life– a sentence that the charismatic and adventurous enigma Chance is determined to alter. As Isabelle tries to get her family’s life back in order in the face of hatred from their community and a war looming on the horizon, the oldest Fate sister and Chance struggle to lead her path in two very different directions.

The story has meaningful messages to share about the definition of beauty and how the choices we make can have huge impacts on ourselves and those around us. As Isabelle struggles to live in a world that defines her by her past and her gender, she comes into her own and grows stronger as she is finally allowed to play to her own strengths of perseverance, bravery, and skill with a sword rather than a needle. The story shows us that it’s never too late to change your path, and that appearances are not only often deceiving but can also distract us from what truly matters about a person.

The book is well-paced and engaging, giving readers a new kind of fairy tale that includes action, romance, and a powerful coming-of-age theme. It’s witty and surprisingly funny for a book that I expected to be very dark and grim. Make no mistake, there’s plenty of darkness as well, but there’s a great balance between the two– there are too few books that can achieve both at once and maintain a serious plot and genuine message. The characters are distinctive and appealing, which makes them easy to root for throughout the story as well. All in all, this book was a pleasure to read, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of fantasy and fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Sweep,” by Jonathan Auxier

I’m not going to lie, I did not want to read this book at first. I’m not a fan of historical fiction, and a story about monsters and chimney sweeps in England does not sound very appealing. But it’s highly rated and recommended, so I decided to give it a try.

To be honest, this was one of the very best historical fiction books I’ve read. Auxier creates a cold world of struggling characters trying to make a home amidst the cruelties of child labor, yet it’s one you don’t want to leave.

Nan Sparrow is a climber — a girl owned by a chimney sweep and forced to climb up tiny flues all day. Her master, Wilkie Crudd, is cruel, and she and the other children have barely enough to eat. But this is the only thing she’s ever known, sweeping. And she is desperate to find a man, one who cared for her until she was six years old, until she found herself alone.

The Sweep made her see magic in everything, keeping the two of them lighthearted. Indeed, they kept each other alive for half a dozen years until he vanished.

One day, Nan nearly dies in a chimney fire but awakes unharmed in a room with her char — a tiny piece of the Sweep’s love — miraculously alive. Together, Nan and her monster find a home together and realize the truth about love.

Rating: 5/5 stars. This book made me smile, it made me (almost) cry, and I loved Nan’s character, how brave and kind she was.

Ages: 9-14. There is some violence and related elements.