Paranormal is the new normal, especially in teen fiction. Ask teens if they’ve read any good books lately, and nine times out of 10, they’ll name a fantasy. Make that 10 out of 10. For this year’s recent Teen Read Week, 9,000 teens across the country voted at their local libraries for the 2011 Teens’ Top Ten, http://tinyurl.com/3hwnpy Steampunk, dystopia, apocalypse nigh. Vampires, zombies, aliens and angels. Many, many angels.
Karou is the girl with blue hair, the girl raised by demons, the girl who falls in love with an angel. She is also the title character of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a scintillating mix of myth and magic, religion and romance.
In the storybook setting of 21st-century Prague, Karou is an art student who occasionally puzzles her best friend with unexplained absences and detailed drawings of fantastic creatures. But how to explain her errands for the chimaera Brimstone, who looks like a monster and who trades in wishes and teeth? It’s what Karou has always known until enigmatic handprints start appearing on the portals to “Elsewhere,” and she is attacked in Marrakesh by a beautiful man with blazing eyes. He is the seraph Akiva, and he and Karou soon learn their destinies are joined by a 1,000-year-old war between angels and demons.
Taylor nicely tempers the exotic and epic with teen angst and snark. Karou may discover she has secret powers, but she still is a teenager with a cell phone and boyfriend trouble. The book doesn’t end so much as stop, leaving readers longing for the next in the series.
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a dark horse tale. On the island of Thisby, which is rural and Gaelic, riders risk their lives every fall riding fierce water horses on a strip of beach. The stallions are predatory carnivores who pluck people off of horses and boats, drowning them in the sea.
At 19, Sean Kendrick is a Scorpio Race veteran and winner. This year he’s racing for the right to buy the red stallion Corr. Young Puck Connelly decides to race her land mare for the prize money she and her orphaned brothers desperately need. Both know they are just as likely to die as to win as they take turns narrating chapters.
Stiefvater’s atmospheric, present-tense story fairly gallops along. The water horses rise realistically from the waves, and the race itself is harrowing. Readers win.
Open Book: I bought the e-book versions of both Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (Little, Brown) and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic). I’m also about halfway through a digital galley of Lia Habel’s first novel Dearly, Departed (Random House via NetGalley), an inventive steampunk-zombie hybrid slowed by some clunky writing. But I want to find out what happens to New Victorian teen Nora Dearly and the oddly attractive and very undead soldier Bram Griswold.