Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

A young woman with long wavy dark hair, dressed in a denim jacket, looks backward over her shoulder. A bright yellow and orange phoenix is rising behind her against the night sky, and its tail wraps around her.

By Sahana C.

Consider this: every fairy tale you’ve ever heard is at least a little bit true. The Kingdom of Avalon is full of castles and magic, Alice really did travel all through Wonderland, and most of all – magic? Definitely real.  

But at the exact same time, Rin Chupeco manages to surprise readers with twists on each story. Avalon is frozen (literally and metaphorically!) outside of time, Alice was a warrior, and all that magic has rules and regulations in ways that seem to make sense when you look around at the modern world.  

The book opens in the Royal States, a monarchical version of the U.S., where everything is almost exactly the same as reality with the exceptions of a king and quite a bit more magic. The story even involves governmental agencies, with ICE taking on a prominent (and punny!) role throughout the course of the plot. 

The hero here is a young girl named Tala. She comes from an incredibly powerful legacy, with her family hailing from both the Philippines and Avalon. Her entire lineage is made up of magic, despite being convinced that she lives in the most boring town in the entire Royal States, and she’s been told that she’s fairly powerful, too. She’s hesitant to believe it, though, considering her powers are exclusively centered on disrupting magic.  

Her life changes in a big way when her family is called to protect the Crown Prince of Avalon, Alexei, who is the sole survivor of the royal family and has been in hiding for his whole life. Alexei’s dream is to revive his home country and take back his homeland by breaking the curse of the Ice Queen. In the meantime, though, he and Tala become fast friends, and he manages to enjoy a little bit of a normal high school, being sheltered by the Makiling clan, Tala’s super powerful family.  

When the Firebird, the symbol of Avalonian royalty, finally arrives, Tala and Alexei are thrown into a whirlwind adventure, accompanied by the children of Avalon’s best and brightest heroes. All of them have something to prove and they don’t always get along, but they do come together to save a country they’ve all loved and longed for from afar.  

You see, this whole book is a thinly veiled analogy for the immigrant experience and various facets therein. Tala’s whole family is Filipino, and she’s never been to the Philippines but longs to know more about her culture. Alexei had to leave Avalon as a child, forced out by war. The rest of the group that accompanies Tala and Alexei on their adventure also have varying levels of connection to Avalon: some have fond memories of childhood there, others have most of their family members stuck behind the border.  

Chupeco makes it clear, through Tala, that regardless of how connected to country she is, she can still fully claim her heritage. Tala is told by trusted adults time and time again that she belongs, and Chupeco makes it even more explicit when she writes, “Just because you’ve never been to the Philippines doesn’t mean that their rivers don’t course through your blood. It doesn’t mean you don’t have their mountains in your eyes. It’s not where we are, it’s who we are. You’ll always be both a Makiling and a Warnock, and always a Filipina. Never forget that.” 

I will say that some of the worldbuilding was a touch heavy-handed, and I had to go back and forth on the rules of magic and power in this universe Chupeco creates. Those moments could have benefited from a bit less, but they did not take away from the heart present in every chapter. First and foremost, this is a story about family, ones that are forged by blood and those that are found through friendship. For readers who are interested in YA fantasy, with an incredibly diverse and vibrant cast of characters who talk about the immigrant experience and recognize just how important food is as a bonding tool, this is the book for you.  

Wicked As You Wish is available in print and as an eBook from Libby/OverDrive.

Sahana is an Instructor and Research Specialist at the Savage Branch. She enjoys adding books to her “want to read” list despite having a mountain of books waiting for her already.

Wintery Tales for Winter Reading Challenge

By Kristen B.

Sometimes, as the days get dark and cold, I prefer to read books that reflect the world around me. I’m not as drawn to these sorts of books in the summer, those are the marvelous, warm days of beach-y reads. HCLS has kicked off its Winter Reading challenge, which asks you to track what you read online. All ages can participate. Here are a couple of recent favorites with a fairy tale flavor that make the best use of their snowy settings to get you started.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

A dark haired woman dressed in black pours coins from one hand to the other, and they change from silver to gold. Side images include a bag of coin, a man's face, and more coins falling. The title and author appear below the images.

Set in a Baltic look-alike world called Lithvas, this fantasy novel loosely retells Rumplestiltskin through the points of view of three strong but very different women: the daughter of a village money lender, her indentured servant, and a landowner’s daughter who becomes tsarina. Miryem has a much better head for business than her father and begins to require repayment of local loans so her own family doesn’t starve and freeze. This is how she ends up with an indentured servant, Wanda, who wants a better life for herself and her brothers. Irina, the reluctant princess, discovers that all is not as it seems at the highest levels of society, with the tsar secretly possessed by a fire demon. She discovers that she can escape into a strange winter world via old magic and jewelry made of Staryk silver. She also realizes that she’s much better at politics than her husband.

Miryem’s ability to make money seemingly from nothing brings her to the attention of the Staryk – the immortal fairy creatures who live and thrive in a world of winter. The Staryk’s highly rigid, structured culture comes as a shock and mystery to Miriam when she marries their ruler. Her growing enlightenment brings together all the many threads of this story, which weave an enchanting tale filled with mountains of snow and ice, demons and magical jewels, tsars and servants, and most of all the power of names and of family. I loved each woman separately, as they discover their own talents and try to carve a place to thrive in a world ruled by men who use them but only rarely see them.

Also available in ebook and eaudiobook.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

A cabin shines golden light into a snowy forest, as a figure makes its way toward the open door.

Continuing in the Slavic traditions: The first book in a trilogy, The Bear and the Nightingale repositions the traditional Russian Vasya the Brave tales for our heroine Vasilisa. The youngest daughter of a local boyar (landowner), she grows up idolizing and working alongside her older brothers after her mother dies. When her father goes to Moscow to find a young wife, Vasya’s world changes as her step-mother brings new rules to the house (mostly about wayward girl children) and a new faith, Christianity. Vasya lives very much attached to the old ways and the local spirits of the hearth and the woods. She befriends the spirit of death (or maybe winter), Morozko, and his magical horse as she battles an ancient evil bear/trickster spirit. As the two worldviews come into increasing conflict, neither the pagan traditions or the newer church are portrayed as completely good or evil. There’s a good bit of grey area for the characters to explore and reconcile as Vasya struggles to find a way to stay true to herself and save her family. The storytelling is masterful and the language beautiful, and you root for this wild, willful but somehow lost little girl to find her way home. The story continues in The Girl in the Tower and finishes spectacularly in The Winter of the Witch.

Also available in ebook and eaudiobook.

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

Snowflakes fall in front of a girl  with long brown hair dressed in white. She is holding a small angry blue man with a red beard brandishing a sword.

Last but by no means least: The third book in a YA series about young witch Tiffany Aching, Wintersmith is among my favorite installments of the sprawling Discworld universe. Discworld (the creation of genius satirist and prolific storyteller Terry Pratchett) really deserves its own blog post in the future. Please explore as you have time and interest, but you don’t necessarily have to read the first two Tiffany Aching books (The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky) to enjoy this one.

Tiffany Aching decides to become a witch because she is definitely not a princess and can’t be a woodcutter. Besides, witches get things done. In Wintersmith, as she becomes the firmly established apprentice to Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany accidentally draws the attention of the Wintersmith. The godling mistakes her for the never met but greatly desired spirit of summer, and he proceeds to court Tiffany with romantic notions like personalized snowflakes wearing her face. Pratchett’s turn of phrase often makes me snort with humor, then sit back and admire his way with words. Whether describing no-nonsense older witches or the joys of making good cheese, all of his master craftsmanship shines in this book. It takes Tiffany and her friends some doing, and some dancing, to make everything come right in the end of this lovely wintery caper about finding balance and maintaining boundaries (or maybe it’s maintaining balance and finding boundaries).

One last note: Tiffany’s accomplices on her adventures are the Nac Mac Feegle (see book cover above), who are bright blue, fierce, miniature, larcenous creatures with broad Scots accents (think combative Smurfs with major attitudes) that are simply the best thing ever. Given the Feegles’ dialect, the Tiffany Aching books are also terrific to read aloud or listen to.

Also available in ebook and eaudiobook.

I hope you enjoy one or all of these, or maybe have some of your own seasonal stories to enjoy. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to spend winter reading, baking, and waiting for baseball to return.