"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} never a nothing girl

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Feiwel and Friends, 2015 (orig. 2013).

Hardcover 304 pages

“Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, the lowest of the low on the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same course for three hundred years. In that time, the ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents committed such a terrible crime that they were thrown overboard, and their daughter ostracised.

But Petrel is a survivor. She lives in the dark corners of the ship, speaking to no one except two large grey rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink. Then a boy is discovered, frozen on an iceberg, and Petrel saves him, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that for the last three hundred years, the Oyster has been guarding a secret. A secret that could change the world.

A secret that the boy has been sent to destroy, along with the ship and everyone on it…” –Publisher’s comments

I hugged the book before I read it, and you can be sure I hugged it afterward. Why? Because Lian Tanner has written one of my favorite Juvenile Fiction Series (The Keeper Trilogy) and she did not let me down in Icebreaker.

Tanner creates rather than contrives her characters and their conflicts. It takes reading the novel to realize what I mean by that difference between the creating and the contrivance. The characters experience real, important change, within the boundaries of their personality. You labor alongside them in those pivotal moments.

Icebreaker is not for those who like to anticipate the story and control every outcome. Tanner doesn’t make her adventures easy on the characters, why would she make it easy on the reader? Tanner’s characters earn their stunning heroism and heart. That Petrel would arrive to a transformative state is perhaps expected, but what of the others, and what of the winding series of events that traverse the massive and entangle innards of the Oyster? There are clues to mysteries (Crab) for the reader to guess successfully, but the overall the sensation of honestly not knowing what is coming next is marvelous.

Tanner complicates her otherworldly stories in painfully realistic ways. Both Petrel (aka Nothing Girl) and the strange boy she rescues have internalized the beliefs of their respective adult worlds—and they have to push back for the sake of everyone. Theirs is a violent and devastated world. The different factions are rational outcomes and hauntingly familiar, yet there is a fine and cutting edge of ridiculousness in the situation. So much of the violence is situated in willful ignorance and incredible egoism. Squid is a still, quiet breath of fresh air.

The presence of tribal leaders’ children in the story is notable; especially the handling of daughters (like Squid) as game-changers. The offspring represent the attitudes of their tribes as well as the opportunity for change. The Braids’ leader, Orca’s daughter, is a horrible fascination and was no doubt one of the most tenuous to write. How to convincingly affect change in relatively few pages, and can we trust it going forward? Nothing Girl and the “rescued boy” (who represent two sets of “others” or factions) are convincing actors, posing in alternate versions of themselves, playing the role survival requires of them. The reader is helped to understand that there is a lot at stake when it comes to who and when to trust—and how to prioritize needs and wants. From the get-go, the question of whether a Nothing Girl should have rescued the boy on the ice haunts the story: Is he worth it? Is she?

The harsh setting is fraught with the kind of danger that inspires courage and resourcefulness, though the survivalist Petrel would downplay such aggrandizement of her reality. Yet while she may not find herself exceptional or worthy of manning the story, the reader will see what her few friends do, worth the risk-taking. She is so earnest, so damned determined and requiring of love. She is so damned familiar.

How Tanner manages to make such a horrible moment near the end, the realization of Nothing Girl as Petrel, to be also humorous… She has great storytelling instincts. Tanner is thought-provoking in unexpected ways, reminding the reader always of perspective (that there is always more than one at play).

Icebreaker combines the most appealing traits of juvenile fiction: an exhilarating imagination and an increasingly necessary imperative: empathy.

I wrote this of Museum of Thieves way back when: “Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.” Go ahead and transpose Icebreaker and Sunker’s Deep; Tanner is a satiating must-read.


Of note: Perfect for tracing the pathways of character development over the course of a plot, no “convenient” gaps to leap over here.

My reviews of Museum of Thieves and City of Lies



"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} path of beasts

Sean expressed surprise that I was reviewing the final installment in a series, that is how infrequent I manage this.

pathofbeasts coverPath of Beasts (Book 3 of the Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

Delacorte Press, 2012

hardcover 377 pages

The city of Jewel is in peril once again, as it is held captive by the frightful Fugleman, his band of Blessed Guardians, and an army of merciless mercenaries. There’s no doubt that Goldie and Toadspit want to get their city back, but how can a small group of children fight against such overwhelming forces of evil? And how, as Goldie is determined, can they avoid bloodshed in a war that will set thieves against soldiers, and trickery and deception against a mighty cannon that shoots cannonballs bent on destruction? ~publisher’s copy.

I adore Museum of Thieves and it really is a must for middle graders. It stands alone rather nicely, but then Tanner is so enjoyable the second book is all too tempting. And City of Lies is an adventure of its own imagination and preoccupations, not the typical bridge. Path of Beasts draw both books to a close, and in ways unexpected.

One of the difficulties Goldie must face in the first novel is how, for the sake of “safety”, the adult population of Jewel has given most all of their self-will over to the guidance of The Protector and the Blessed Guardians. Over the course of time, generations have been crippled by this “utopic” culture. The citizenry are a cowed populace, terrified of any hint of wildness. The parental figures, who are doing this out of love, right; not just (ir)rational fear?, have not fared well in the eyes of the reader.  Alongside Goldie and company, the reader would perceive them to be mindless and inept. Not so in Path of Beasts—with some of the parents, at least. Those who are determined to fight back, in sometimes brash but also very quiet subversive ways.

“If His Honor had said such terrible words to her six months ago, Blessed Guardian Hope would have cowered before him and begged for mercy. But her time in Spoke had changed her.” (181)

Tanner even attends to Blessed Guardian Hope’s progression over the course of the trilogy, moving the simpering figure to one with her own mind and a voice to go with it–to an extent. Hope’s self-discovery is a consequence of the adventures in service to the Fugleman. And hers is one example of how a person can choose to abide their oppressors or rebel against them. Costs are measured, are weighted. And in the end we come to a central theme to Path of Beasts: “Hold to your true self ” (283). And allow it of someone else while you’re at it.


We remember that Goldie left the Big Lie (in Book 2) with a passenger. While Bonnie had mastered Princess Frisia’s bow and Toadspit was now a gifted swordsman, Goldie had another person residing inside her—a bloodthirsty one. The military strategy Frisia offers is reason enough to listen to her, but Goldie is not keen to take a life. Her tools are trickery and deception, and truly these are the instruments best suited to retaking the city. Frisia takes over at moments and Goldie fears madness. Tanner writes with the smoothest of transitions in and out of Frisia’s consciousness. She also moves Goldie so close to her boundaries we fear she may be overcome. We are certainly curious how Tanner is going to relieve her heroine.

The publisher’s copy mentions a lone walk of Goldie’s and Toadspit in a duel to the death. This comes late in the book and each protagonist’s challenge is a culmination of all they’d been working toward. Toadspit aka Cautionary is all his names imply when we first meet him and he is downright charming by book 3. Goldie (and the reader) are reminded that for all the risks and all the terrible things she’s endured, she made the right decision.

“They were kind, in a rough sort of way. And after a while, what they did began to seem normal. They gave me another name and I forgot who I was. Kindness can do that to you, quicker than cruelty. (226)”

These are the words of a child turned Slaver. You see the sort of challenges Tanner is unafraid to present to her reader: that kindness could make a person become/do evil things? This makes sense as we, with Pounce, wonder how some of the parents do not fight for their children—sense punctuated by Goldie’s father’s “brave” act. Path of Beasts interrogates self-preservation as well as how are unnatural notions/ways normalized to the detriment of self and/or other.

pathofbeasts brizzle_colourTanner’s imagination, the action and the adventures, the villains and the heroes, all of it is highly entertaining. I tend to go on about the issues that create much of the conflicts because they are so unusual and so incredibly relevant to the audience. Tanner’s children are clever and capable, they are creative and exercise self-control, they have fears, but they have incredible courage—born of a willingness to risk themselves (let alone their discomfort over uncertainties) for someone they love. Someone needs to remind children of this–and their parents.

my review of Museum of Thieves and of City of Lies.

{cover illus. by Jon Foster; interior illus. (2 seen above) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series

city of lies

City of Lies (Book 2: The Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

w/ Illustrations (inside) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2011

Hardcover, 278 pages. Juvenile Fiction

12-year-old Goldie, impulsive and bold, relies on her skills as a liar and a thief to try to rescue her captured friends from the child-stealers running rampant in the City of Spoke.~Publisher’s Summary.

Goldie isn’t the only accomplished Liar and Thief to return in this sequel to Museum of Thieves. We get to experience a whole City of Liars. Shoot, even the City is a Liar. I adore the author of this children’s book series, I really do.

Lian Tanner’s sequel to the brilliant Museum of Thieves is among the better of Book Twos that I have read. In City of Lies Tanner sets us right back down into the City of Jewel and Goldie’s life. It is only a short while after the ending of Museum of Thieves and everyone is still reeling from the effects of Book One. Tanner reminds the reader a bit of the first, but not a great deal. A few interspersed notes by the 3rd person narrator and we are off on this new adventure.  There is a diverting cleverness in bringing the Reader into this new twist swiftly and with such immersion—Tanner needs the Reader to be present in the now of the book. And besides, you’ve read the first book. You have, haven’t you? Because you really should.

The shine of the first story’s victory has taken some tarnish. One, Goldie is unwilling to become the Fifth Keeper of the Museum of Dunt as she is meant to be. Two, Jewel’s parents are still adjusting to having independent children and the absence of the Blessed Guardians. Yes, the change is a good thing, but it is so different from how they were raised. The indoctrinations are not easily shrugged off and when accidents begin to occur a murmuring begins. Three, the Fugleman has returned—and is “a changed man.”

Goldie claims her reason for refusing the appointment as Fifth Keeper is that her parents are sick. And they are. Their time as prisoners of the House of Repentance was traumatic. The parents are also rather clinging (3). Theirs is a chain of a different sort than the first book’s. But they aren’t the only ones holding Goldie back. While their worry is infectious, Goldie herself is a problem—specifically that voice that so infamously led her to triumph in Museum of Thieves.

Goldie has come to believe that the voice only brings her trouble; which isn’t a lie. In part, Goldie longs for a normal childhood, a boring one. This inevitably wars with her more adventurous and independent side that has a daring job to do using her unusual and oft socially unacceptable skill-set. She decides to ignore the voice while undertaking her search for Toadspit and Bonnie in the foreign City of Spoke. In addition to sorting out who she should and will be and whether the voice is worth listening to, Goldie must also navigate a strange city amidst their Festival of Lies where everything is turned inside out and upside down. How does one tell a lie in order to find the truth, and how does one find the already hidden when everything is to be masked?

In the kind of imaginative turn that I adore with Frances Hardinge’s stories, Lian Tanner creates this marvelous Festival of Lies. Everyone must speak in lies and the City itself participates by telling a few Big Lies to the lucky few. Yes, City of Lies maintains the idea that magical (and metaphoric) possibility exists not only within a person or creature, but within Place as well. Beside the focus of a lie-celebrating City of Spoke, the novel returns us to the strange Museum of Dunt occasionally, a Place that has revealed its own consciousness in Museum of Thieves. As in the first book, the state of unrest is linked to the state of the City and the children—Goldie and Toadspit in particular. The Places externalize anxiety and create a fun sort of tension in the novels. In City of Thieves a terrifying beast in on the loose and on the hunt in the Museum, in the City of Jewel, and in the City of Spoke. There are all sorts of dangers and only the daring need apply.

I read an article recently about leading women in Romantic Comedies and it remarked upon how the flaws the writers must give them are, in actuality, trite. She can’t not be beautiful, so let’s make her a klutz. I don’t think Romantic Comedies have cornered the market on this kind of characterization. If not negligibly flawed, many an Adventure Heroine is formulaic enough to undermine (or even nullify) the conflict. Tension is muted because the flaw is hardly considerable or easily overcome by the perfections. Goldie’s flaws create serious conflict, and ones that are identifiable enough within the Reader that adrenaline and worry surface.

Goldie’s abilities put her at odds with her society. The risks in using her beliefs and skills to create change are significant. Entering the second book, we know that those risks have some reward and consequence, but we feel victorious and that Goldie is capable. She might fumble a bit, but she had come into herself in book one, had she not? But in City of Lies, Tanner creates a separation for the character and Reader. Goldie falters and is somewhat immobilized by responsibilities, distrust of herself, and –let’s face it—weariness. Enter Goldie No One, a reinvention of a self in order to free a self. It is the masked ball, the move to a new city, an opportunity to overcome the limitations pressed upon her by circumstance and expectation—it is a Festival of Lies. Goldie is back to a different kind of beginning, and the conflict of being able to trust who she is still becoming. Should she trust that voice in the back of her head?

Tanner has created a complex character ever in the state of changing, of becoming more. Goldie No One is an aspect this protagonist must address; throwing her into a Festival of Lies is a brilliant move. She has to find her friends, (while without knowing it) find herself, and she has to discern what is mere diversion and what is true and real. Who and what are sincere? Do you create your destiny or do you run blindly along with it—or is there a state in between? How do you interpret the signs?

Who might a young girl become when unencumbered, or, even, encumbered by someone else? Inhabiting the dreams, the adventures of others is a nice move in an Adventure story rife with intrigues. And I enjoy the idea that a person is a place; a museum, a collection of historical fact and figures; that the character might not only inhabit another’s history/adventure, but that they might in turn inhabit the character—whether the character be an actual building or city, or a different plane, or a person or creature. The present can be affected by the past, as well as the lies, in positive and negative ways, tangibly or intangibly. [Those black/white messages of children’s early years become more gray–a lovely lovely shade of gray.]

Despite the disguises, the essence of who someone is appears to remain much the same. This can be infinitely reassuring, or a terrible prickling up the spine. The Lies can be fun, but they can be quite deadly. Little is as it seems, and City of Lies is rife with uncertainty.

City of Lies is everything I want to see as a Book 2 of 3. It bridges to a third and final book with the promise of a great denouement. It also holds an arch of its own: introducing great new characters, providing a mystery to solve, and creating, developing, and gifting a sense of resolution. It doesn’t really stand alone, nor does it apologize for the fact. I am satisfied by good story, by great writing, and I wait longingly for the third book.


If you like Frances Hardinge or Adrienne Kress, you will like Ms. Tanner’s The Keepers books (and vice versa). For boys and girls alike; ages 9 & up (likely to 12/13); lovers of Utopia/Dystopia fiction and/or of fantasy; and especially for those tired of romances in every book they read.

My review of Museum of Thieves.

Ms. Tanner’s website. Sebastian Ciaffaglione’s blog.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · wondermous

do what you must

I’m not sure helicopter parents would let their children read this one, so I recommend helping the poor kids out and sneak them a copy! A wonderful read for children and adults alike! I think Frances Hardinge and/or Adrienne Kress fans would like Ms. Tanner. ~ L’s comment on Museum of Thieves at goodreads.com

7507920Museum of Thieves by Lian Tanner

Delacorte Press, 2010.

312 pages, hardcover.

Welcome to the tyrannical city of Jewel, where impatience is a sin and boldness is a crime.

Goldie Roth has lived in Jewel all her life. Like every child in the city, she wears a silver guardchain and is forced to obey the dreaded Blessed Guardians. She has never done anything by herself and won’t be allowed out on the streets unchained until Separation Day.

When Separation Day is canceled, Goldie, who has always been both impatient and bold, runs away, risking not only her own life but also the lives of those she has left behind. In the chaos that follows, she is lured to the mysterious Museum of Dunt, where she meets the boy Toadspit and discovers terrible secrets. Only the cunning mind of a thief can understand the museum’s strange, shifting rooms. Fortunately, Goldie has a talent for thieving.

Which is just as well, because the leader of the Blessed Guardians has his own plans for the museum—plans that threaten the lives of everyone Goldie loves. And it will take a daring thief to stop him. . . .

Museum of Thieves is a thrilling tale of destiny and danger, and of a courageous girl who has never been allowed to grow up—until now. ~Publisher’s Comments.

What if there was a place to put all the dark and dangerous and wild things of the world? What would a society look like if its primary importance was protecting the children from every potential malignancy? Walk. Don’t run. Don’t handle scissors! “[Goldie] opened and closed the scissors three times inside her pocket to make sure she knew how to use them” (30).  Lian Tanner’s Museum of Thieves features a Utopia of familiar trajectory. Tanner exaggerates to the point of utter reason, absolute logic and the results are marvelous! Marvelously wretched of course…I mentioned the society was Dystopic, didn’t I?

Good intentions gone rampant. I love these sort of stories. Tanner is especially enjoyable, a bemused voice, openly critical of the ridiculous extents to which people’s logic carries them—or was that the voice of the wise woman character Olga Ciavolga, one of the Keepers of the Museum of Dunt aka the Museum of Thieves? …

Children, are you feeling coddled, overprotected? Allow Museum of Thieves to bolster your argument. Tanner has the imagination, and the veracity of her vision creates delicious tension and very real concern.  I found this particular vision enthralling: The children are so utterly protected, not a scratch, not a fall. What might be a consequence?

The people of Jewel treat their children like delicate flowers. They think they will not survive without constant protection. But there are parts of the world where young boys and girls spend weeks at a time with no company except a herd of goats. The chase away wolves. They take care of themselves, and they take care of the herd.” […] “And so, when hard times come—as they always do in the end—those children are resourceful and brave. If they have to walk from one end of the country to the other, carrying their baby brothers and sisters, they will do it. If they have to hide during the day and travel at night to avoid soldiers, they will do it. They do not give up easily.

“Of course, I am not saying that it is a good thing to give children such heavy responsibilities. They must be allowed to have a childhood. But they must also be allowed to find their courage and their wisdom, and learn when to stand and when to run away. After all, if they are not permitted to climb the trees, how will they ever see the great and wonderful world that lies before them.” Olga Ciavolga (184-5)

There are moments of peril in Museum of Thieves where people almost died because they could not run, because they were waiting for someone to rescue them (83, 93,  300-1).

“Like everyone else in Jewel, he had been protected from every sort of risk and danger when he was a child. There had been nothing to test his courage, nothing to teach him when to stand and when to run. Now he was paralyzed with fear and indecision. […] They were afraid to stay where they were, and they were afraid to go.” (296-7)

Yet, for all the Safety in Jewel, the citizens are not without fear (even before obvious peril strikes). There are the Slavers, piratanical figures lying in wait for the children, so we are told. Then there are the Blessed Guardians, the “Church” of the Church and State governing partnership, who are dreaded. Guardian Hope is especially horrid. Her zeal for the Fugleman (“the leader of the Blessed Guardians and spokesman for the Seven Gods” (22)) among other traits chillingly calls J.K. Rowling’s Delores Umbridge to mind.

Blessed Guardian Hope, as every character in Tanner’s story is, is wonderfully realized. The originality of the story is delightful to experience and as a writer Tanner is more than capable of sweeping the reader into her imagination.

The Museum of Dunt is a marvelous creation. Within its shifting walls and rooms for every occasion of Jewel’s history, from before it was such a sparkling dystopic utopic realization. The building has secrets, wild moods, and very real threats that are simmering, awaiting fools to release them. But not all the contents of the Museum would harm the populace of Jewel.

“Many years ago,” said Sinew, “Olga Ciavolga and Herro Dan and I made a promise to each other. That one day we’d bring some of the wildness back to the city. Not the big stuff. Not wars and famine and plague. Just vacant blocks and dogs and cats and birds. And secret places for children to hide when they want to escape from the eyes of adults.” (198)

The Museum isn’t the only place brimming with wildness. “He looks so little and harmless, thought Goldie. But inside, he’s bigger and wilder than anyone could imagine. And the museum’s the same” (159). And children are the same, certainly Goldie who fairly bursts with “rebellious” action, set upon by an inner wildness (no, not female hysteria, readers of Victorian fiction and non-fiction).

Jewel would repress wildness. Olga Ciavolga would rather instruct it. “You must both learn to think before you act. Whatever happens, remember that there is always a choice. Think of the consequences, and then do what you must” (187). I am considering a cross-stitch pattern for this little gem, “Think of the consequences, and then do what you must.” Goldie does not betray this trust. Tested and empowered, Goldie solves an incredible problem and proves heroic. Her actions from the very first have had consequences, terrible ones, but some brilliant ones as well. Museum of Thieves measures what risks are worth taking and living seems to be the result of it.

“The people of Jewel are like Guardian Hope, with her planks and hammers. They tried to nail life down. They wanted to be completely safe and happy at all times. The trouble is, the world just isn’t like that. You can’t have high mountains without deep valleys. You can’t have great happiness without great sadness. The world is never still. It moves from one thing to another, back and forth, back and forth, like a butterfly opening and closing its wings.” –Sinew (197)

Goldie is not thoughtless, nor is she uncaring of her family. She loves her parents. She has a best friend whom she cares for deeply. She spends the novel emotionally regretting the price her parents pay for her rebellious (yet necessary) action. A parent’s desire to shelter their child is not demonized, nor are children who desire to remain in the care of their parents. The Peter Pan, Toadspit, for all his brusqueness, is for the comfort of family as well.  What the novel does is interrogate what forms “sheltering” might take that is detrimental. That the parents complicity is due to ignorance and cowardice is a complication. The punishment is severe, isn’t it? To not parent the way Jewel Society defines it…

On the whole, the society of Jewel resides in ignorance. Statistics are muttered as reminders that past decisions have been correct. Those in place of power, really the Grand Protector (mayoral figure) and the Fugleman, have manipulative capabilities and some perspective from their differing height. [Interestingly, the Protector and the Fugleman are siblings, so the relationship between Church and State cannot be seen as anything but related/connected.] The Keepers at the Museum have information and importance as well. They have Historical memory and long life spans.

The Keepers are interesting characters, an independent and secretive agency. Oh, and they’re Thieves. Thieves as heroes provokes another challenging idea:

“Perhaps there is a wildness in thieves that speaks to the wildness that is here. Perhaps a thief sees the secret paths, the hidden places.” [Olga Ciavolga] looked hard at Goldie. “Listen to me carefully, child. I do not wish to glorify theft. There are people in this world who think they are better than others, or deserve more. People who would rob their grandmother of her last coin and laugh as they did it. I have not time for such people. To move quietly, to be quick of hand and eye, that is a gift. If you use it to hurt others, even in a small way, you betray yourself and everyone around you.” (122)

Tanner is ever thoughtful. A Tale-teller with an audience in mind, weaving perspectives and leaving the angles for the listener to consider. The text and the reader asks questions and Tanner provides the scenario.

Olga and Sinew and others would recognize and foster Goldie’s potential, her unique abilities, and offer lessons in a few more useful skills. “When hard times come—as they always do in the end—[Goldie is] resourceful and brave.” Of course, that isn’t what certain persons in power wanted at all. Their love and concern aren’t actually real.

For all the potentially “hazardous” messages convicting the helicoptering sort and spurring children to consider their wildness and camouflaging skills, Museum of Thieves is a Tale of one misbehaved girl’s adventure that is deliciously entertaining. There are perils and triumphs, a cute puppy and a blood-thirsty hound, a big black bird that starts with the eyeballs, people with ridiculous names, and soldiers that speak like this: “Is a leedle gel!” (272). Loved it!

Museum of Thieves is Book One of The Keepers Trilogy; although, you won’t feel cheated, Book One could stand alone (disregarding 311-2). I am looking forward to City of Lies (expected Sept 2011). Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.

Think of the consequences, and then do what you must*…


*which is read this book! and purchase me the set.

an awesome site connected to the book.