The Tyrant’s Daughter, by J.C. Carleson

The Tyrant’s Daughter, by J.C. Carleson
Publisher: Random House
ASIN: B00EMXBD9S
304 pages, Kindle Edition
Published February 2014
Source: NetGalley

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast of NPR Books and someone mentioned that young adult books often focus on how the actions of adults affect the lives of children, but rarely how children drive the lives of parents or other adults. That made me think about this novel and how Carleson’s work follows both directions of impact. The majority of this novel is about how the life of Laila (and the lives of her fellow young) are dictated by their family and culture. Yet, the novel also addresses the lack of freedom inherent even in the lives of the adults, whether they be parent, dictator, or (apparent) CIA officer. Furthermore the novel is that coming-of-age tale where the child begins to exert more freedom and actually turn the tables of control over so that they are now steering the course of their parent’s life.

I finished “The Tyrant’s Daughter in one day. It is an ‘easy’ read, but it is also full of great ideas, intriguing characters, and compelling plots. The story is profound and it is populated with realistic people; the text flows naturally. Nothing in this book seems superfluous, and Carleson nicely makes use of her personal experience to craft a taut thriller amid the literary underpinnings of Laila’s story.

I appreciated just how well this novel mixes entertainment with significance, conflict with insight. This is a book I would have enjoyed even when younger.

Five Stars out of Five

John Snow, by Jack Challoner

John Snow, by Jack Challoner
Publisher: A&C Black (Bloomsbury)
ISBN: 1408178400
112 pages, paperback
Published March 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

This short biography covers the work of doctor John Snow in investigating outbreaks of cholera in England, a key event in the development of the science of epidemiology, tracing an illness back to its source and ultimate cause. Although Snow was no microbiologist, and it fell to Koch to eventually clearly identify the bacteria Vibrio cholera as the causative agent of the disease, Snow’s work laid the foundations for establishing a way to control cholera, namely to focus on water supplies rather than the prevailing view of the time, ‘bad air’.

Challoner, an established writer of communicating science to a lay audience, particularly youth, writes this geared for older children and young adults, but for those unfamiliar with Snow’s work and epidemiology, it would be quick, highly readable primer on the topic. Challoner focuses on the cholera-related work of Snow, rather than writing an all-encompassing birth-to-death biography, though he does discuss tangentially Snow’s role as physician and pioneering anesthesiologist.

Despite focusing on this history of science and medicine, Challoner relates the story with descriptive warmth, including small details of everyday life at the time (mid-late 1800s) and conversationally, anecdotally through the thoughts of Snow and those he comes in contact with in his endeavors. Though fabricated in that retelling, the facts behind the story, the history, remain solidly accurate to my eye.

Beyond introducing Snow’s accomplishments, this book in general outlines the scientific process of mystery, curiosity, research, refinement, and ultimate success, but with more work for others to carry on. In this sense it is a good general introduction of children to science in general.

The only drawback to the book relates to who the audience may actually be. With text alone, it tends towards the dry and detail-laden, including some medical/scientific vocabulary, despite being related in a straight-forward way, more relatable perhaps to an adult. Yet, it is written in a short and succinct manner with phrases interspersed in the detail that seem geared towards the young. It thus seems most appropriate for a teen with a keen interest in science or medicine, or as a fine source for some school project or paper.

Four Stars out of Five

Witch Hunt, by Tabitha Morrow

Witch Hunt, by Tabitha Morrow
Publisher: Diversion Books
ASIN: B00DY5KS0A
183 pages, Kindle Edition
Published July 2013
Source: NetGalley

There were some good aspects to this young adult book, but ultimately I found it disappointing and lacking.The overall plot is an interesting take on witch trials and, (I’m being vague so as not to give spoilers) is actually a mix of several genres, not simply a rehash of history with an exaggerated magical spin.

As a young adult genre book it has a certain amount of thematic predictability: a focus on strong young characters that must step up to take on responsibilities of the impotent adults; a focus on action, protagonists getting out of stick situations; forbidden romance and erotic yearning. Yet each of these elements are handled well from a plot perspective. The plot is kept lively, it is not predictable in the details of its outcomes, and it features both strong female and male characters without that mistake of making the females beholden to their attraction to the male and reliant on his presence to save them from trouble. The action scenes are well composed and the more horrific supernatural moments are perfectly described.

However, the downside of the book is foremost its character development. The protagonist begins the book clueless of her reality, both personal and universal. She does not yet know she has magical powers. Her powers appear, and her knowledge increases in bursts from chapter to chapter with little explanation on how they have developed or how they truly affect her. No particular rules for the magic are established, so its ultimate use in the conclusion of the novel feels like a fantastic deus ex machina – there is no reason to suspect anything isn’t possible for the witches, so there is no resonance with or empathy from the reader when the climax arrives. This lack of character development is not limited to magic. Many actions or decisions by characters seem to just happen. At times explanations for actions are given by characters, but with nothing more than a statement that makes it appear nothing more than the author covering their bases of ‘explanation’. In other words, it often felt as though the author was ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. Other actions or key elements of the setting that are eventually revealed are not explained at all, perhaps setting up a sequel, but leaving this novel unfulfilling.

Despite my not liking the book much due to the above, it would likely be of interest to a young person wanting to read a quick entertaining fantasy tale with characters they can relate to. The themes are obviously overt and not subtle, but they are all good themes and moral dilemmas for a young person to consider. With a little more work establishing this world and its characters it could have been phenomenal, so I would read something else by the author in the hopes of that aspect improving.

Two Stars out of Five