Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Silver Moon Elm (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi

This is the third book in the Jennifer Scales series. In an attempt to strengthen her friendships and improve relations between were-dragons, beaststalkers, humans, and were-arachnids, 15-year-old Jennifer Scales invites her friends Skip (a were-arachnid), Susan (a human), and Eddie (a beaststalker) to the were-dragons' secret refuge, Crescent Valley. Unfortunately, things don't go as happily as Jennifer had hoped they would, and Skip, especially, is made to feel unwelcome. A short while later, Jennifer's parents have a huge fight when Jennifer's mother, a beaststalker, discovers that she is still being blamed by the were-dragons for something that Jonathan, Jennifer's father and a were-dragon, did. This all becomes the least of Jennifer worries when the were-arachnids perform a powerful spell that changes history and makes were-arachnids the dominant species on the planet. Suddenly, Jennifer seems to be the only were-dragon and beaststalker left on the planet, and no one remembers how things used to be except for Skip. Jennifer has to figure out how to set things right again, if it's even possible.

One of the appeals of this book is getting to see how the regular characters and/or their histories have changed as a result of the timeline-changing magic. No one except for Skip is quite the same person they were before. For readers who have already gotten to know these characters in the previous books, this can either be amusing, sad, scary, or encouraging, depending on who the character is and how he or she has changed. My favorite changed characters were Jennifer's mother, who I always thought was daunting enough in Jennifer's normal timeline, and Xavier, who became very likable (more so than Jennifer, at times).

It's also interesting to see what the world might be like if the were-arachnids became the dominant species. Although all we really see is Jennifer's hometown and a little outside that, it's apparent that were-arachnids are everywhere and are well-accepted. All the classes at Jennifer's school are much more advanced and many have gotten strange (everyone learns about poisons in chemistry class, and music class now includes instruments designed for creatures with eight legs).

I enjoyed finding out more about Jennifer's parents' past - in this book, the authors reveal how Jennifer's parents decided to stay together, despite being part of warring groups. Jennifer's parents are definitely not perfect people, and some of the events early on in this book temporarily strain their relationship. Sometimes I think it might actually be more interesting to read stories that focused in Jennifer's parents. MaryJanice Davidson writes a lot of books for adults, so she might one day decide to tackle a spin-off series involving Jennifer's parents. Probably not, but it's a nice thought.

Jennifer learns new abilities, and that's fun to read about, too. She not only discovers a few dragon abilities she hadn't realized she had (her mixed blood means that she has an odd assortment of abilities), she also discovers things that she, as the Ancient Furnace (don't laugh - it basically means that she's an important dragon who has the blood of many different kinds of dragons running in her veins), should be able to accomplish. It's the stuff of myths and prophecy. Of course, some readers may find this more annoying than appealing - there are so many books out there where someone starts out ordinary and then develops a whole assortment of amazing, just-in-the-nick-of-time skills. Jennifer is a little too flawed to be considered a Mary Sue character, but there are times when she may seem close to being one. Jennifer's one human friend, Susan, sometimes seems to think so - Jennifer has the looks, gets all the guys, and has all the powers.

Most of the beginning of the book, before the timeline changed, was a little hard for me to get through. Jennifer spends a good chunk of that time with her friends Catherine, Susan, Skip, and Eddie. This wouldn't be such a problem if several of the people in that group didn't seem determined to stir up bad feelings. Susan is likely jealous of Jennifer's luck with boys and blatantly flirts with Skip and Eddie, despite the fact that Jennifer, her best friend, is clearly not okay with this behavior. Although Eddie blushes and tries to minimize the whole thing, Skip flirts with Susan (maybe because he wants to make Jennifer jealous). Jennifer and Susan's friendship seems to be a little strained, and this will probably come up more in future books. Jennifer and her friends do a bit of light (and tense, considering the subtext) sexually-oriented joking (Jennifer pokes fun at Susan's small breast size, for instance). It's a very small part of the book, but it might bother some people.

All I can say is that I'm happy that Susan and Jennifer's friendship wasn't the major issue in this book, or I'm not sure I could've gotten through the whole thing - stories with teen friendships gone bad always make me think of trashy teen magazines or soap operas. I still think that the first book in this series was the best, but I still enjoyed it, once I got past the beginning.

  • Undead and Unwed (book) by MaryJanice Davidson - Jennifer Scales' "voice" sounds a lot like that of MaryJanice Davidson's other characters, even though her personality isn't always like theirs. Undead and Unwed is the first book in a series about Betsy Taylor, a woman who unexpectedly becomes a vampire. Not just any vampire, either, but rather the queen of the vampires. Betsy is a bit more shallow than Jennifer (she's an avid buyer of shoes with aspects to her personality that make me think of a Valley Girl), although she and Jennifer seem to be the same amount of dense when it comes to realizing that their friends are upset, hurt, or jealous. Don't get me wrong, Betsy's a nice, likable character, she just doesn't always notice everything going on around her. Unlike any of the Jennifer Scales books, this book and series is intended for adults, not young adults. Although there aren't many sex scenes, there are some, and they're a bit graphic. In Undead and Uneasy, the 6th book in the series, Betsy finds herself suddenly without the support of her friends and family, much like Jennifer in The Silver Moon Elm.
  • Dragonsong (book) by Anne McCaffrey - I think this is the 3rd book in McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series, and the first one featuring Menolly. Menolly wants nothing more than to become a Harper (basically, a professional musician), something her father does his best to make impossible. Menolly runs away and ends up with a group of nine fire lizards (tiny dragon creatures). Readers who liked the dragons in The Silver Moon Elm and Jennifer's attempts to survive by herself in a dangerous environment without hardly any friends or family to support her may like this book. If you can find it, and if you care about that sort of thing, the edition published by Bantam in 1977 has a very nice cover that doesn't make the fire lizards look like they're related to house flies.
  • His Majesty's Dragon (book) by Naomi Novik - This is the first book in Novik's Temeraire series (another series for adults, so consider that before picking it up - I don't think this first book would be too bad for older teens). It tends to get described as a cross between Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey. In this alternate history set during the Napoleonic wars, Will Laurence, a captain in the British Navy, accidentally bonds with a newly hatched dragon. This means our poor Navy captain is suddenly part of the Aerial Corps. Dragons are important for the defense of the nation, but this isn't really the life Laurence wanted for himself. As in the Jennifer Scales series, there are different breeds of dragons, each with their own special abilities. Temeraire (Laurence's dragon) must, like Jennifer, figure out what he is capable of, and, again like Jennifer, he turns out to be a very special dragon, potentially vital in the defense of the British nation.
  • Moon Called (book) by Patricia Briggs - This is the first book in a series intended for adults. Mercy is a mechanic and a skinwalker, someone who can turn into a coyote at will. Mercy is smart and tough, but she's definitely no Mary Sue - she may be able to shapeshift or not whenever she wants, and she may be fast and have a good sense of smell, but she's also weaker and more human than most of the beings she's around. In this book, Mercy and others investigate attacks on local werewolves - although fairies have revealed their existence to humankind, werewolves haven't yet, and random killings could unveil werewolves before they're ready. As with Jennifer, there's some tension between Mercy, her ex-boyfriend (a werewolf), and her neighbor (a guy who's attracted to her and also happens to be the Alpha of the local werewolf pack). Mercy, like Jennifer, is still discovering all the things she can do. Because she grew up with werewolves, rather than skinwalkers, and because she's never met another skinwalker before, most of what she can do she's learned from instinct. If you're looking for fantasy/horror in a contemporary setting and don't mind a book that was written for adults, this might appeal to you.

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