Malinda Lo, 2011.  Kaede and Taisin are students at the Academy of Sages, where they’ll learn to use powerful magic for the good of their people.  Taisin is talented and shy; Kaede has no natural ability as a sage, but loves gardening and throwing knives. The two girls barely know one another until they’re asked to go on a journey to see the Fairy Queen and try to solve some of the mysterious problems facing their land.

They set off on horseback with a young prince and three guards, sleeping in tents and hostels as they slowly make their way to the Fairy Queen.  Along the way, they meet a cast of characters that help them or hinder them, but are rarely what they initially seem.  At the Queen’s castle, they learn that their ultimate goal is to murder the half-human, half-fairy woman who’s causing everyone to live in an eternal winter….and so they set off on the second half of their quest.

I often say I “couldn’t put down” a book, and that’s true here as well – I kept it in my purse to read at every spare moment, and fell asleep reading it a couple of nights.  However, at the same time, I tried to slow down my reading – rare for me – because I wanted to savor every word.  The girls are so brilliantly drawn; the quest draws on traditional fantasy without copying or parodying it; the love scenes are hot but never graphic; the secondary characters are real and heartbreaking; the evil is never purely evil and the good never purely good; and I wish I could read it all over again for the first time.

Are there flaws?  Of course.  The final section involving the unicorn felt tacked-on and unnecessary.  The scene where the gang decides to go through the town of Ento is unconvincing.  Who cares?  All books are flawed; the sign of a truly brilliant one is when the reader doesn’t mind. Love, love, love this book, my favorite read of 2011 so far.  Recommended for everyone.  Go pre-order it right now, or put a hold on a library copy. GO.

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