Mistwood by Leah Cypess

A few housekeeping notes.  For reasons you might expect, comments are now moderated.  Don’t despair if you don’t see your comment immediately appear, I’m getting to it right away.  And a big, heartfelt thanks to everyone who has recently encouraged and supported me and, more specifically, this blog.  It meant more than you probably know.

Next: I have a few YA book reviews to write about books that don’t directly relate to fat acceptance and body image but that I must write about, my love is so great.  HOWEVER, I also have an upcoming detailed review and critique of Sasha Paley’s Huge (like that awesome new cover with a big NO sign through the S’mores?  NO S’MORES FOR YOU, FAT-ASS!) which is the basis for the ABC Family Show Huge.  I haven’t seen the show yet (it’s on my summer to-watch list, I swear) but I’ve heard good things about it.  I hope it’s enjoyable and positive, which would make it much different than the book.  Here’s a sample of the closing lines of the book, wherein one of the fatties is fat no more and so, so happy!

“nothing — that Hershey’s Kiss included — was as sweet as being a brand-new skinny April.”

How sweet it is indeed! That’s all coming, stay tuned.  In the meantime, here’s a review of one of my favorite books of the year…

He grinned then, his dark eyes gleaming, and she lost any hope of turning and running before it was too late.  It was already too late.  Something about that wide, unrestrained smile. . .

If you were to ask me what my favorite “kind” of book is, (which is what a teenager would most commonly say) what my favorite “genre” was, (a more adult way of phrasing it, perhaps) I would be one of those infuriating people who says, “Oh, I like them all!”  But this would be true.  I honestly can’t think of a genre I won’t try: mysteries, horror, romance, realistic, non-fiction, graphic novels, and on and on and on.  More than that: I can’t think of a single genre I don’t have at least one beloved book in.  There’s really no scale in my mind: literary fiction down to bodice-rippers, I love ’em all.  I’m not one of those people who says things like “I’m a big fantasy fan!” or “I hate paranormal books.”  I don’t actually think of it that way, I guess.  I am genre-venturous, let’s say.

Why am I starting my review of Mistwood off this way?  I guess because when I read it, every twist, every turn, every richly detailed plot point sunk me farther and farther into another book.  It was a hundred genres, a thousand stories, a million possibilities, each opening up on each other.  As I was falling into the romance, the fantasy, the mystery, the period detail, the coming of age story, all of these genres, all of these stories, in Leah Cypess’s beautiful book it occurred to me: these kind of books are my favorites.

Mistwood is the story of The Shifter, a magical creature who lives in the Mistwood and has one duty: to protect the kings of Samorna. The Shifter has been called to serve the crown prince Rokan, but when she awakes in the castle in the form of a girl named Isabel she finds holes in her memory.  Why had she returned to Mistwood?  Why has she been called back to court now?  What loyalty does she now owe Samorna and Rokan?  Who, exactly, is she?

What I Love About This Book

And you know?  I can just bet that first sentence made everyone reading this who says Eh, fantasy, not really my thing. tune out and think of puppies.

But wait!  Mistwood is so much more than that.  As Isabel starts trying to figure out her past, it’s a puzzlebox mystery that is expertly plotted.  When Isabel starts to consider the implications and costs of being The Shifter, it’s an aching coming of age story.  As Isabel tries to navigate the dangerous intricacies of court life, it’s a political thriller.  Sometimes, it’s even a romance of equals (my favorite) a romance of possibilities, passion, loyalty, and humor.  (but to tell more about that would be to spoil the pleasure of watching it evolve in the text!)

And I can’t really spoil or spell out any more of the plot, because so much of the pleasure of Mistwood is simply experiencing it: sinking into the entirely real and entirely foreign universe.  Like The Shifter, we are instantly caught up, unable to turn away.  Cypess’s writing is rich with detail and very precise.  It manages to be evocative but also clear, there’s no purple prose here, even when the narrative is in dramatic overdrive.

I was instantly drawn to Isabel, because for all the magic and intrigue and world-building, her story is the quintessential YA lit story.  What’s the quintessential YA lit story?  It’s about figuring out who you are, not just who everyone tells you that you are.  It’s about learning that being an adult means making tough choices that sometimes suck, that it means leaving behind easy moral universes for more complicated ones, with less “right” answers, but greater personal rewards.  Mistwood is all that, with an awesome side of magic, spells, and shape-shifting thrown in just as a bonus.

Recommended for: Fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Julia Golding’s Dragonfly, readers looking for a more nuanced and complicated fantasy narrative.  I’ve read some reviews that mention that girls will be more drawn to this, but I don’t think that’s exactly true:  the mystery, the intrigues of court life, action and chases – I think this has good cross-gender appeal.  And the romance?  Well, boys like that too, ya know, especially when it’s one as rich and rewarding as the one here.  This book will earn a wide audience and it deserves it.

Why don’t you go into your local library and check out Mistwood today?  If they don’t have a copy, request they buy one.

Visit Leah Cypess’s website for more information, including purchasing information.  The best news: she’s working on a companion novel to be released in 2011.  Awwwww, yeah!

(I might die if I don’t get an ARC of it at Midwinter…I had such a long, exciting conversation about the book with the Greenwillow/HarperCollins reps at their booth during Annual I missed out on loading up on any Harper ARCs … but it was worth it!)