Have you ever wanted to take a trip to another world? Escape the routine, the normal, and see or do something drastically different? Thanks to a class assignment, I am going to be bringing you groupings of books on various topics. Here I present 3 books that imagine different worlds with very different rules, though I’m not sure I would actually want to live in any of them. But that’s the great thing about fantasy, you leave reality behind and submerge yourself in a world of imagination.
Fantasy can take many forms. Today I will show you a world where dark fairy tales come to life, a world where beauty is a commodity for the rich and powerful, and a utopian society where there is no misery, illness, or death, for most people at least. So sit back, relax, and let’s journey to another world.
What would life be like if fairy tales were real and a bunch were coming after you? That is the main premise of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. This fantasy suggests that there is an alternate reality that hovers nearby which is the world of a group of fairy tales. The world is called the Hinterland and it is ruled over by the storyteller. This is suggested to us in the very first few pages, but doesn’t really make any sense until you have gotten through a large part of the story.
The book follows Alice Crewe, the grand daughter of the elusive Althea Proserpine, the author of Tales from the Hinterland. She has never met her grandmother, never gotten to see her huge house called The Hazel Wood, and instead, she and her mother from town to town with a trail of bad luck following them. Alice has never read her grandmother’s book and only knows that she was named after one of the stories. After her grandmother dies, Alice sees a man who had tried to kidnap her years before with a copy of the book and then is asked about her last name by a classmate. The beginning of the quest takes place.
The book took a bit of time for me to get into, but once the story got going, it was a really engaging read. I am a huge fan of fairy tales and love to look at them in a variety of ways. The fairy tales that exist in the Hinterland are not nice little tales, but feel more like the warnings that the original Grimm tales held. The closer Alice got to the Hazel Wood, the stranger the book became and the more engrossing as well. People who enjoy fantasy, quests, and fairy tales will adore this book.
Next we will travel into Dhonaille Clayton’s novel, The Belles. In this world, beauty can be deadly. The Belles might look like a fluffy novel about beauty, but don’t judge a book by its cover, there are actually much deeper ideas at play.
In a world obsessed with appearances, being beautiful isn’t enough. In Orleans, everyone was born with gray skin, red eyes, and wrinkled skin. This was the damnation that was thrust upon the people of Orleans when the Goddess paid more attention to her children, the humans, than the God of the Sky. But the Goddess brought forth the Belles to counteract his deed. Now beauty is a commodity and one that the Belles control with the power of their arcana. But Clayton also shows that this deep desire to be beautiful and to change your body to specific ideas of what beauty is comes with a great cost and the always present undercurrent that someone can take their need for beauty too far. Just like the need for extreme power, there is the need for extreme beauty, or in the case of this book, for both.
The story is told from the perspective of Camillia Beauregard, a Belle coming of age. More than anything, Camillia wants to be chosen the “favorite” – the Belle chosen by the Queen to live and work in the palace. Camillia is rather full of herself and can be grating on the nerves, but it is all a part of her learning process.
You know before beginning this book that Camillia will wind up in the palace, though it doesn’t happen as simply as one might imagine. You also know that there are some deep dark secrets being kept in the palace. As Camillia slowly learns that Belle life is not all that she was raised to believe, she wants to figure out what is really going on. Whether it is the cruelty and lies from the women running the tea houses where treatments are done or learning first hand that the princess’s need for beauty and power are dangerous to anyone who is near her, the outward appearance of beauty in the world of Orleans is not the real picture.
The Belles poses an interesting look at the harm that can be done with an obsession with beauty. It shows how power can corrupt and how people often put others down, or force transformations onto them, in order to make themselves feel better. Characters are bullies and fakes, not unlike our own world.
The final book, and the one I loved the most, is Neal Shusterman’s Scythe. Scythe is a gripping novel that takes readers into the future and poses questions that should be on the minds of people today. Issues that plague us now have been alleviated in this future society because all of that information that gets uploaded to “the cloud,” which has morphed and managed to gain artificial intelligence alleviating the need for politics and politicians that lie. The newly renamed Thunderhead contains information on everything you ever wanted to know about anyone in its near infinite memory
As the book progresses, the world they live in becomes increasingly darker and it becomes obvious why there is no such thing as a true utopia. There is always going to be someone wanting power, it is basic human nature. There are always going to be questions of judgement and right versus wrong. Within the world of Scythe, Citra and Rowan have to consider what is the right way to decide who should be gleaned? Should gleaning be quick and painless or should you prepare someone for it? And what about mass gleanings?
This quasi-utopian society has ideals of what life could be like but shows that darkness exists in humans no matter how perfect you think you have made a society. Shusterman leads readers to this world and makes them think a little bit more about life and death, right and wrong, power struggles, and the information you are putting in the cloud. I’ve already inhaled Thundercloud (book #2), and am desperately awaiting book #3.