Aurelia by Anne Osterlund
Published by Penguin on 2008-04-17
Genres: Fantasy YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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An impressive debut, equal parts commercial appeal and literary prowess.
Princess Aurelia is next in line to rule the kingdom of Tyralt, but she would rather be one of the common folk, free to learn and roam and . . . not marry the next tyrannical prince that comes courting. Naturally, the king wants Aurelia to marry for political power. Aurelia wants to marry for love. And someone in the kingdom wants her . . . dead. Assigned to investigate and protect Aurelia is Robert, the son of the king's former royal spy and one of Aurelia's oldest friends. As Aurelia and Robert slowly uncover clues as to who is threatening her, their friendship turns to romance. With everything possible on the line, her life, her kingdom, her heart, Aurelia is forced to take matters into her own hands, no matter the cost.
Thoughts: I adored Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund when I read it back in… many years ago. She immediately went onto my list of “why-must-they-be-so-perfect” authors and I hoped my next foray into Osterlund-land would be just as impressive. Years later and – at last! – I finally got the chance to read her debut novel, Aurelia. And it was good. Very good, even. But it’s no Academy 7.
Let’s start out with the good: the characters. Aurelia features a POC heroine who is doing her best to cope with a very complicated life. Boys and her hair are not her priority – but she isn’t oblivious to those things, nor is she dismissive of girls who do make that the centre of their world. Meanwhile, Robert, he book’s male protagonist, is a genuinely good human being. He may be trying to protect Aurelia, but certainly doesn’t believe he has a “right” to her. All in all: big thumbs up.
The bad: Aurelia is far, far too short. Sure, there was drama and intrigue and whatnot – but it didn’t build long enough for me to truly care about its resolution. And the ending? Rushed and unsatisfying. Of course, I know there is a sequel, and many of the outstanding issues should be resolved in the next book, but… I want some kind of real conclusion. Not just a big “TO BE CONTINUED…”. Not cute. But, then again:
- this is Osterlund’s first book,
- I’m sure it was heavily edited to fit the publishing world’s many-sequel model, and
- despite #1 and #2 it is still very entertaining.
Bottom line? In spite of the not-so-great aspects, Aurelia is worth a read – especially if you are into good historical YA novels. But, for God’s sake, go read Academy 7 already!
Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Published by Speak
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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With a past too terrible to speak of, and a bleak, lonely future ahead of her, Aerin Renning is shocked to find she has earned a place at the most exclusive school in the universe. Aerin excels at Academy 7 in all but debate, where Dane Madousin - son of one of the most powerful men in the Alliance - consistently outtalks her. Fortunately Aerin consistently outwits him at sparring. They are at the top of their class until Dane jeopardizes everything and Aerin is unintentionally dragged down with him. When the pair is given a joint punishment, an unexpected friendship - and romance - begins to form. But Dane and Aerin both harbor dangerous secrets, and the two are linked in ways neither of them could ever have imagined...
Thoughts: There is only one thing I hate about this book: it’s too damn short! I could have kept on reading Academy 7 for another 500 pages – it was just that good.
Don’t be fooled by the cover: Academy 7 is Science Fiction YA. But like all good Science Fiction it is about so much more than space, it’s about character. And even while it is all about character, it’s also about politics, and intelligence, and standing up and thinking for yourself. Academy 7 managed to weave a complex world behind the main narrative – a world both believable and intriguing that would have kept me hooked even if I hadn’t liked the main story. It’s part what makes any book great, but in Academy 7 it is what made it brilliant.
While there was a romance between the two main characters – Aerin and Dane – Academy 7 wasn’t about them getting together… it was about them getting over the misery that had been their lives. Both Aerin and Dane reminded me, in a way, of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Neither one of them wanted to open up to each other, but life brought them together to do just that. I love it when characters need to overcome real emotional obstacles… when their bond with another character develops out of the mistrust that everyone feels for strangers. Aerin and Dane were complex individuals, and watching them grow together was just beautiful…
I also loved how intellectual this book was. Academy 7 is an institute that brings together the brightest minds in the galaxy, and it shows. Aerin and Dane are there because of their extraordinary intelligence, and Anne Osterlund lets it shine through the pages. Here’s what I mean:
Aerin was reminded frequently over the next two months that Dane was still exasperating: the way he drilled her on the small points of an argument, then turned and argued the flip side against her in class; the way he refused to use certain openings in combat, claiming that to do so went against his sense of moral conduct; the way he managed to let others’ snide remarks slide past him as if they meant nothing. If Aerin had been asked at the end of their second term to describe Dane, the first word she would have used would have been maddening. She would also have added stubborn, intelligent, and, to her surprise, funny. His sense of humor, couched in irony, took her a while to appreciate, but it was also bluntly honest; and, by the start of Academia’s damp season, she found herself looking forward to his unvarnished opinions on every topic from flight paths to Ausyan philosophy.
There were no pedestals in Dane’s world. No crystal vases to be treated with supreme care. No heroes. But there was a constant willingness to take out a topic, test it, shake it apart, mix up the pieces, and test them again.
Perhaps that’s why he spends time with me, Aerin found herself thinking one afternoon as she negotiated the Great Hall’s uneven stairs on her way to report for work. Because I haven’t made up my mind about this part of the universe.
– Chapter 14, Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
In case you hadn’t gathered, I just loved this book. There were a few flaws, mainly due to the short length of the novel. I think Anne Osterlund had enough plot to fill at least 100 more pages and it was a shame to see some pretty key scenes rushed into a few pages. But the somewhat-uneven pacing is not enough to distract from the sheer brilliance of this novel.
Bottom line? Academy 7 is a stunning, emotional, and realistic novel. I adored the characters, the verse, and – hell – even the villains. When I say YA fiction can be astounding, this is the type of novel I’m talking about!
Note: Academy 7 reads as a standalone novel and will likely remain a standalone. Although Anne Osterlund envisioned the book as the first in a trilogy, there aren’t any plans to publish any more in this series (although, please, someone tell me I’m wrong about this!). It’s depressing when I think about it…