During my long break, I waded hip-deep into a bunch of YA fantasy (surprise!), and I've been devouring series in one big gulp. It's kind of fabulous, actually. A quick, fun read, and I walk to the library while I'm finishing the last 10 pages so I can check out the next on. Or, heck, the next two, why wait?
Tamora Pierce is an incredibly popular classic, but it took me a while to understand her. I think this is because she straddles the line between YA and middle-grade--she's NOT a YA writer who ended up in that section because of marketing. Her books have younger characters, simpler moral dilemmas, and straightforward writing. Ages ago when I read the first Circle of Magic book, I considered that a weakness. I've gotten much more comfortable with the genre since then, so I thought I'd try another one.
Alanna: The First Adventure is the beginning of the Song of the Lioness series. It falls clearly into that same category--the main character ages from 10 to about 14 in the book, and the target audience is right in the lower range of those ages. Because I understood that, I could deal with the simplicity, and of course you know how excited I get with books about learning how to do stuff. Knighthood, jousting, girls disguised as boys, magic lessons, court politics. Simple fun, small stories, a kid growing up.
I barely finished the book before I went back for In the Hand of the Goddess and The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (which, good God, don't even look at that awful cover. Alanna is not sassy. Alanna is a knight.). They took about three days to read total, and now I've started Lioness Rampant, which is the final one in the series. She's an adult and traveling around and having adventures. Starting with the second book, Alanna has had sexual relationships (no direct sex scenes), which has thrown off my understanding of the age bracket thing, but basically, I am having a blast reading these books in the same way that I enjoy watching a lot of simple, fast-paced TV shows: stuff is happening to these characters I know and like, and I'd like to see how it turns out.
If I was 14, I'd probably feel impassioned about these books, but for right now, what I'm feeling is a Pez-level pleasure. And baby, I'll take it.
The Changes series by Peter Dickinson is extremely different in tone. For lack of a better word, it's very British. There is something charmingly, weirdly British in a book about people who do a lot of walking that is described in great detail, but somehow that doesn't work against these. The first book, The Devil's Children, I think I found on a "help me find the name of this book I remember from childhood" website; it was the answer to someone else's question. (I know; I need to stop reading those).
One day, England suddenly changes. There's a brief prologue that hints someone in a mine opened up something, but essentially everyone woke up one day hating, loathing, fearing all machines. Cars ran off the road as the drivers tried to jump away from screaming engines, people smashed the electronics in their houses. People wandered the streets, sanitation ended, there was death and mass exodus. People are affected differently--children feel it less acutely than adults; white people more strongly than other races.
The Devil's Children is the story of a girl who is left alone and falls in with a group of Sikhs. They keep her around as a canary in the coal mine--to test whether things that they want to do are likely to get them lynched--and they end up forming a community that lives somewhat peacefully near a feudal-style village. That's almost all there is to the story--it's about looking for a good spot to live, learning about Sikh culture, what mass fear looks like. A small, everyday story.
The second book, Heartsease, is set in a different part of England, five years later. A "witch" (someone who uses technology) is stoned in a small town, and is rescued by some children who aren't as frightened as they should be.
They keep him hidden for months, then smuggle him away to a boat and upriver to the sea. That is all that happens in this book--all the tension is around getting caught, misleading the lynch-mob adults of the town, wandering around at night, and trying to get up the canal. And along the way, teeny-tiny little clues about why The Changes happened are dropped.
I'm DYING to know what's up with The Changes. The third book is sitting here beside me. I'll let you know how it goes.