YA Reviews - The Winter Horses and Etiquette & Espionage

Friday Apr 04 2014
by Jack

Some of the best books in our store are categorized by their publishers as “Young Adult” (or “YA”). They are good books for a variety of reasons: they are often written by well-known successful authors; they usually have linear plots and do not mess around with experimental writing styles; they are relatively short; and they are considerably less expensive than their adult counterparts. Two good examples of such “YA” books recently arrived in Whodunit? are Philip Kerr’s The Winter Horses (Knopf, $19.99 hardbound) and Gail Carriger’s Etiquette and Espionage Little, Brown, $11.00 trade paper).

Philip Kerr is best-known as the author of the “Berlin Trilogy,” the series of three novels set in Nazi Germany featuring private eye Bernie Gunther (subsequently extended to eight by following Bernie after the war), although he has also written a kid’s series (Children of the Lamp) and a number of excellent standalones (such as Dark Matter, starring Isaac Newton). The Winter Horses has as its ostensible heroine a Ukrainian Soviet teenager named Kalinka, although the real stars of the book are two horses and a wolfhound dog. The novel is set on the steppes of central Russia in a nature reserve named Askaniya-Nova in 1941. Kalinka has fled from the devastation of her village and the death of all her family at the hands of the invading Germans; her coat sports a Star of David. Reaching Askaniya-Nova, she befriends two Przewalski’s horses, an ancient Mongolian breed, virtually extinct, which have been preserved and bred at the reserve, and later a wolfhound named Taras The story follows her effort, with the aid of her animal friends and a number of decent human beings, to escape the invaders and reach the Russian lines. The Winter Horses is cast as a fable, with a redemptive ending. Much of it is very violent and sad, however, as befits its subject matter, with its author pulling a few punches but not sugar-coating his story unduly.

Etiquette and Espionage is quite a different matter, sharing with The Winter Horses little except a teenage heroine (the fourteen year-old Sophronia). A hard to handle handful to her mother, Sophronia is shipped off to boarding school at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. But the school is not quite what it seems. True, it does offer instruction in the female graces, but it also specializes in teaching the fine arts of assassination and espionage to its young pupils. Gail Carriger is better known as the author of a very popular series of fantasy novels set in a world called the Parasol Protectorate. This book is set in the same steam-punk universe, and is written with a tongue-in-cheek style which most readers seem to enjoy enormously.

Quite different books, each of which is engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable in its own way and on its own terms.

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