A local author creates a complex, character study masquerading as a thriller, and a inventive fantasy riff on a classic tale come in this year at #’s 9 & 8. These two books couldn’t be more different (except for their dark tone and intense female protagonists… okay, maybe there are more similarities than I first thought) and they appear on this list for different reasons. Elo’s book features strong, complex writing, and a deep exploration into character, while Paige’s book features an adventurous, inventive plot, filled with rich, vividly drawn characters. Just a peak into the variances of what makes a strong read for me.
Boston-area author Elisabeth Brink has reinvented herself as Elisabeth Elo after an initial debut that focused on the interior life of a quirky heroine named Gillian Cormier-Brandenberg, in order to launch a dramatic series of suspense novels following the life of another woman with a somewhat complex name, Pirio Kasparov. That’s really where the similarities end. North of Boston certainly delivers on the suspense, but it is so much more than that weaving alcoholism, questionable parenting, the fishing industry, perfumery, complicated family relations, the questionable line between hunting and slaughter, and even the exploitation of indigenous cultures. It may seem like an everything but the kitchen sink approach, but in the skillful hands of Elo, it is in fact, a powerful, coherent story that resonates long after the final page is read.
I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but as I mentioned, this intricate story transcends simple characterization. What holds it together most effortlessly, is the character and voice of a bold new heroine. Pirio can be a little impulsive, and experience has taught her to withhold emotion, but she’s smart, tough and likable, and more than capable of carrying a novel, and as time will surely tell, a series.
First in a series, Dorothy Must Die tells the story of Amy Gumm, another Kansas resident who finds herself dropped in Oz because of a tornado. Sadly, the Oz Amy finds herself in is a horrific reflection of the one we all grew to know through the wonder of the movies. This is Oz is ruled by a despotic hand, one that thinks nothing of torturing and killing anyone who displeases her. It is the hand of Dorothy, and the Order of the Wicked has decreed that she must die and that Amy must be the instrument that does it.
Expanding yet again on the universe of L. Frank Baum, Dorothy Must Die is imaginative, compelling, and yes, horrific. Billed as a young adult novel, I was surprised at the brutality faced by the characters in this book. Still it makes for a really strong read, and fans of fantasy, or the Oz books should give it a try.