The Shell Collector
Alex: After finishing the title story in Anthony Doerr’s debut collection of short stories, my first reaction was regret that I had waited so long to dive into his work. Doerr, who received the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year for his novel All the Light We Cannot See, writes with an exacting lyricism and economy of language that’s enviable. His stories frequently focus on man’s relationship to nature, with overtones of a Greek tragedy: the title story focuses on a blind, retired conchologist, who unwittingly becomes a sought-after healer when the poisonous sting of a cone snail miraculously cures a small girl of malaria. His overzealous son arrives, hoping to convince his father to embrace this strange phenomenon; unsurprisingly, neither escapes unscathed. While the cruel beauty of the natural world and the ironically bitter fates that befall both father and son are classical and familiar, Doerr adds a postmodern perspective and enough twists to keep the modern reader guessing. His vivid imagery is astounding, given a blind protagonist who describes the beauty of shells and sea by sense rather than sight. Regret, envy, awe-inspiring beauty: the effects of reading Doerr’s work mimic the themes within it.
The Iron Trial
Ashley: YA phenomenons Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) and Holly Black (Tithe) team up for this magical middle grade series debut that both revels in fantasy tropes and subverts expectations at every turn. Plenty of surface details align with Harry Potter; this start to the Magisterium series follows three young wizards—Callum (affectionately known as Call), Aaron, and Tamara—as they begin training at a super secret underground magic school, learning about the forces of good and evil that actively war with each other and affect their lives in numerous ways. Normally I don’t like battles of good versus evil because they’re so simplistic and superhero-like, but Clare and Black begin dealing with these ideas in intriguing ways that definitely diverge from the storyline of The Boy Who Lived.
For starters, Call, our protagonist, turns out not to be the Chosen One (that’s Aaron) and has a lame leg from a tragic massacre that his mother died in. Call’s struggles feel very relatable in a way stories about Chosen Ones often don’t, as he tries to fit in despite his disability, struggles with the wishes of his father, and attempts to form friendships with Aaron and Tamara even though they all come from such different backgrounds. The bonds this diverse cast of characters form are endearing, and I can’t wait to see how they grow (or break) through four more years of school and a war.
Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft
Joey: Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft is the first installment of Joe Hill’s masterfully crafted suspense and horror series. The Locke family’s life has been torn apart by a disturbed teen spouting nonsense about keys and doors. When the patriarch of the family is murdered, they move into the familial home—Keyhouse, on the island of Lovecraft. It quickly becomes apparent that the keys, the house, and the vicious violence following the Locke family are all inextricably intertwined.
One of the most striking aspects of this series is a trope most often found in fantasy tales: only the young and imaginative are able to see the supernatural elements of the Keyhouse. Bode, the youngest boy of the Locke family, is the only character able to see past the veil of reality and understand that more sinister forces are at work. His brother and sister, already teens, catch glimpses of the supernatural, but they are already too deeply entrenched in the world of adulthood to believe what they see and hear. The parents simply see a tragic series of events, carried out by a mentally ill boy with a penchant for murder and grounded solidly in the real world. It’s an enticing device that only adds to the suspense, as perception and power remain divided within the family.