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Via [personal profile] janni.

A YA fantasy romance which reminds me both of Shannon Hale (note: not a positive association for me) and early Robin McKinley (note: very positive association for me).

George is the prince of a kingdom in which animal magic-- the ability to communicate with, and sometimes turn oneself into, wild animals-- is punishable by death. Naturally, he has inherited animal magic from his mother, and has to hide it at all costs. He doesn't even have the ability to take comfort from household animals, because animals who live too much with humans lose their own languages and cannot be spoken to.

Since he's perpetually hiding huge chunks of himself and can't get close to anybody, George hopes for civility and nothing more out of his arranged marriage, with the princess, Beatrice, of a neighboring kingdom. Beatrice, however, though she doesn't have the magic, is inseparable from her gigantic hound-- and just as miserable as George is.

You might think, from this description, that this is something of a typical-nowadays YA angst-fest. ... yeah, kind of. But it's quite well done; the reason it reminds me of McKinley is its portrayal of people who have complimentary damage that nonetheless does not make them easy with each other. I approve of books in which even the relationships that are obviously going to work out do not settle down into being simple and straightforward. And it's reasonably well-plotted, in ways which I'm not going to go into, because while I did not find them surprising, I am incredibly difficult to surprise. As in, I think one book has managed it this year. This is probably a book with good plot twists for people who are not perpetually internally trying to hack the plot of all books in advance, but that's a thing about myself I can't actually turn off.

So I'm not saying this is spectacular-- I have about had it up to here with the standard European-cod-medieval fantasy-country setting in which everyone is white and straight and somehow has reasonable teeth-- but it is so much better than it needed to be, and its characters are genuinely good, its darkness dark, its bits of light well-worked for. I will probably read the sequels.

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