This time on YFYAN Wednesday, Leo Cristea, another awesome blogger – shares his thoughts on his favourite YA novel. You can check out his blog here.
Before writing this post I thought long and hard about which novel to thrust into the limelight. There were many choices: any given book of the Harry Potter series, all of which I grew up with and helped shape my life and personality, even to this day; Laura Lam’s incredibly brave and beautiful Pantomime, which is a bold statement that gender is never just black and white, set against the backdrop of a complex and elegant world; and, of late, Emilie and the Hollow World, by Martha Wells, which displays a fantastical Neo-Vernian world and an intricate story to boot. But in the end, I elected for the Seven Realms series, by Cinda Williams Chima. Not strictly one book, since the series is in fact a quartet/tetrology, but it’s a good starting point to talk about my specific favourite.
When I first discovered the series, it wasn’t through browsing my local YA section; it was on the shelves of my local Waterstone’s, nestled happily on the regular fantasy fiction shelves. I did not know it was labelled as YA. I received it as a birthday gift and read it almost immediately. I was sick with the flu and so I huddled up in the Fells to spend a day or so with Raisa ana’Marianna and Han Alister. Set in a fairly typical fantasy world, with a nation surrounded by potentially hostile powers and a weak Queen on the throne, the Seven Realms series begins with The Demon King, wherein Raisa struggles against the restrictions of her office and worries that the wizard council gains too much power—especially over her mother with the handsome and ruthless Gavan Bayar putting the works on the Queen, with Raisai’s Demonai father away in the Spirit Mountains. Han Alister is a streetlord with a hidden power, suppressed only by the metal cuffs he wears both on his wrists and as a moniker. The series progresses at a gorgeously perfect pace through The Exiled Queen and The Grey Wolf Throne until finally events some to a fantastically dramatic head in The Crimson Crown—which, if I had to say, is my favourite book.
During the series the characters evolve and grow in ways that only characters in YA novels seem to do. Psychologically (the benefit of having his big brother studying the subject…*wink*) we do not cease to be teenagers just because we leap over some invisible fence and enter the twenties. In fact, mental and psychological evolution regarding personality continues well into (and sometimes far beyond) the thirties. So why do all characters in SFF not evolve and grow in the same way that YA protagonists do? This is why I love YA: I love the character evolution and development. I like to see a little bit of myself in the characters I read—just a little, just one sliver with which to identify—and I get this from Chima’s work. I think it’s okay for a guy to identify with a girl, because it’s not about sex or gender, it’s about personality—heck, girls are allowed to see guys as people to aspire to, so I think it’s okay that I find myself, as a guy, wanting to be as strong and wilful as Raisa. I love that Chima can do that, that she can create characters that feel so real and solid that you take solace in the idea that maybe, just maybe there’s there hope you can be like that, too. It’s all about identifying with characters for me.
Sure, there are things about Chima’s work I might not like—though truthfully, there aren’t many—but they can do nothing to outweigh what I find utterly brilliant. There will always be negative elements of a story, things that make you roll your eyes or grumble to the person next to you, but usually that’s all subjective. The real test of a book is how strongly you’ll advise those close to you to read it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve repeated to the people around me that they “have” to read Chima. If I start talking about the Seven Realms after dinner, when people are listening, you can guarantee that it will be well after midnight by the time I remember myself and let people tuck into desert … and then I’ll probably start all over again.
It’s somewhat of a challenge to explain just why I love this series, so we’ll go with the rules of this post and stick with just one book. The Crimson Crown is easily the most gripping and complex book of the series and this is probably why I liked it so much. Never mind the fact that my favourite character—a sub-character—gets to redeem anything he might have done, and truly outdoes himself by doing the right thing in the end. He’s a complex character and he’s just the kind I like: vulnerable, though he won’t admit it, frightened, and caught in so complex a web of machinations that he barely stands a chance—definitely my favourite by far.
Moreover, The Crimson Crown comes with a message of hope and perseverance. Young people can and will change the world and should be trusted to do so; definitely something young adults can identify with. In The Crimson Crown the characters are all on their own with nobody to turn to, and things are getting serious. This book has everything: tension, romance (because, honestly, what guy doesn’t enjoy well-crafted romance, really? Everyone wants to get the girl (or boy, or whatever else takes their fancy) and fantasise about relationships and all the what-ifs), intrigue, betrayal and pretty much everything I ever started reading fantasy for in the first place. It has magic, swordplay, ancient problems trying to bite the characters in ass, and a cast that just shines through everything. There are differences of culture and race and religion and it’s all so subtly and expertly done that it makes up the background of a world that is all the richer for it. Nothing is staged or awkward. Everything is just as it should be and the world feels utterly real.
I actually have a signed copy of the final book of the series, a gift from my elder brother and something that succinctly sums up just how much I adore this series and specifically, this book. The Crimson Crown is a book so utterly right that I will never, ever be able to stop talking about it. Sometimes I walk to the bookshelves and just look at the spines standing ready-to-read in helpful alphabetical order, and then I take down The Crimson Crown and look at the personalised message and think just how much books like The Seven Realms—or anything else for that matter—can enrich our lives.
The crux of it is that I love books and of the books I love the most, The Crimson Crown is way, way up there.
You can find Leo’s bio below:
Leo Elijah Cristea is a book blogger from his one-man show at the whimsically-named Jet Black Ink. Moreover (and more notably) he is a staff writer for Fantasy Faction, where he writes about fairly interesting stuff such as gender and sexuality and YA science fiction and fantasy. He also interviews willing victims. Leo is a perpetual scholar and obvious Ravenclaw and just can’t help himself when it comes to pursing knowledge, language and the random nuggets of information that make the world go round. A terrible introvert, the internet makes for a fantastic medium for expression and he’s very happy to use it as such. An aspiring writer (who isn’t, sometimes?) Leo lives with his elder brother and a veritable army of cats. At the last count, they were definitely outnumbered.
You can follow Leo on twitter @Leo_Cristea, and you can view the previous guest post in the series by Mieneke from A Fantastical Librarian here. Next Wednesday we have Leo’s brother, Alek, stopping by – go check out his blog here.