SKIPPING THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP
by Suzi Steffen and Molly Templeton
Last year, Suzi’s young adult books piece was full of beginnings — of the five books she included, three were the first books of a series, and one was set in a fantastic world to which the author was sure to return. 2009 is the year of the sequels: We’ve got three book twos and one companion novel, and most are well worth your time. The biggest letdown, alas, is the most popular of the lot. What’s with the popularity of stupid-acting heroines lately?
Fire by Kristin Cashore. Dial, $17.99.
More a companion piece than a sequel (the action takes place before Graceling, actually, and I have my suspicions about the lead character’s relationship to Katsa in Graceling), Fire features a tremendously talented, terrifying young woman whom the royal family would like to use to advance their political interests. There’s a younger man, a prince, who seems antagonistic to Fire (yes, that’s her name, due to her Extremely Magical Red Hair) but … wait, which book am I recounting? Fire’s action feels far too similar to the plot of Graceling although a central character in the first book gets his (incredibly creepy) backstory here, and it’s set in a different and inaccessible area of Graceling’s world. New touches — the brightly colored, manipulative “monsters” of Fire’s world, who clearly have some parallels in real-world manipulative humans — and generally good writing, combined with political machinations and desperate chases and escapes, make Fire worth reading. — SS
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. Scholastic Press, $17.99.
Oh, the shame of this book. The shame of a good author (the Gregor series was quite good, with some standout books) wasting her talent to pump out something that doesn’t measure up to the first book’s potential. There’s one way it matches Hunger Games: driving action with impossible cliffhangers, intense foreshadowing and ambiguous success against impossible odds. But oh lord, where did our strong Katniss go? Team Peeta, Team Gale: Excuse me? Who cares? Let’s cheer for Team Katniss. Please bring her intelligence, cunning and strength back for the final book, Suzanne Collins. PLEASE. — SS
Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey. Atheneum, $18.99.
Skin Hunger was a different kind of fantasy: The trappings were familiar — orphans, magic school, a romance, untrustworthy adults — but the writing and the relationships unusual. In book two, the stories of Hahp and Sadima come closer to overlapping; Hahp is still at the cruel magicians’ academy he dreams of destroying, while Sadima, years earlier, escapes from its founder, but not without a terrible burden. Though some readers may find it has a touch of book two syndrome (there’s more setting up than there is action), Sacred Scars is graceful and heavy with grief, love and the sometimes incredible cost of change. — MT
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness. Candlewick, $18.99.
Ness’ sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go picks up with no time lost. Wounded and exhausted, Todd and Viola thought they’d found safety — but Haven has been taken over by the power-hungry, misogynistic mayor of Prentisstown. Todd is imprisoned and set to work for the mayor, while Viola, sent to recuperate, finds an uprising in an unlikely place. Both have their loyalties and their limits tested in this sequel, which is both horrifying and a bit heavy-handed — and ends on just as dramatic a cliffhanger as the first book did. — MT