This horror tinged gothic fantasy would make a surprising meal for any book eater: an interrogation of the concepts of family and loyalty, a warning against perpetuating systems built on cruelty and oppression, an homage to the multitude of emotional and physical demands of growing and birthing and raising another living being that are all bound up and compressed into the too-small word of “mother.” A complex and heady meal, especially if we are what we eat.
However, Dean goes deeper. We are not just what we eat; we are also the stories we tell because you cannot be what you can’t imagine and you can’t imagine what you haven’t seen. The story of Devon and Cai, two monsters made both more monstrous and more human by their love, both willing to dream of and fight for lives radically different from the ones charted out for them, is a fascinating story well-worth reading, rereading, even eating; whatever it takes to keep it with you so you never forget the beauty and brutality of love.
BABEL is a beautifully written historical fantasy filled with rhetorical semantics, linguistic nuance, and etymological minutiae; Kuang never shies away from the Oxfordian roots of this novel. By owning them and fully embracing the genre of “dark academia,” she crafts an engrossing world, a reflection of England in the 1800s but delicately warped with astounding precision.
This distortion displays the English language and its Empire as one and the same; a hodgepodge of plundered pieces from across the globe, stolen away with no credit and claimed as wholly original, a culture that prides itself on innate supremacy whilst built on the backs of looted countries. At the heart of this sweeping colonization is Babel, home of the Royal Institute of Translation and the source of the Empire’s supremacy. The students trained there use the magic of meanings lost in translation, imbued into silver, to shape the world.
Robin and his cohort are simply the latest in a long line of students snapped up from their homes and absorbed by Babel in the pursuit of more knowledge, more power. All four are brilliant, authentic, and heart-breakingly human; each has their own complex and complicated relationship with their school and the government it supports; each has their own method of trying to exist in a system fundamentally hostile towards them. Eventually Robin can no longer ignore the extent of imperial exploitation and he must choose between settling for the seemingly comfortable life of tacitly aiding in oppression or seeking to liberate himself and the world from Britain’s silver shackles.
With this dazzling and erudite tome Kuang accomplishes a feat of literary alchemy as magical as the silver workers in her fictional Babel; a true exploration of the beauty and power of language and the inherent violence of translation and change.
Amanda Foody's WILDERLORE series is an example of everything MG fantasy should be: endearing, engaging characters; vivid action and adventure; all set in a wondrously immersive world. While that has all been present since THE ACCIDENTAL APPRENTICE, THE EVER STORMS goes one further and includes the long-beloved trope of a magical school that is executed with sparkling originality and all of your favorite characters from the first two books.
Foody has a gift for deftly interweaving thrilling adventure with sensitive, heartfelt explorations of deeply resonant themes like what true friendship means, how have a flexible and resilient sense of self, the importance of acknowledging mistakes and learning from them, and, in this book, the myriad beautifully unique forms family can take.
Families can be complicated and messy but the concept of family is simple: people who love each other and would do anything for each other. Those people can be related by blood or marriage, choice or circumstance but they share failures and triumphs, hopes and fears, and willingly carry each other’s burdens. Barclay may be an orphan but he has one of the best families and it fills the heart (and occasionally the eyes) to watch him begin to realize the love that surrounds him.
If you enjoyed the first two books, then this one will not disappoint; if you haven't started the series yet, then consider this your sign to dive in and enjoy one of the best series out there because Foody is only getting better.