Judged by Jess • find her on Goodreads
In the interests of being completely honest, I feel like I have to tell you all something before we proceed: this is not the piece I expected to write. You see, my work life has been fairly crazy for the past few weeks, and though Beth was more than gracious in accommodating my time constraints, I decided that the smart thing to do was to get a head start on reading the books that I was assigned to judge in round two, which meant either committing to reading all four books or making an educated guess about which books Mireille and Kris were going to pick and hoping like hell I was right.
I opted for the latter and I was wrong.
Based on blurbs, my guess was that Mireille was going to choose Sorcery & Cecelia and that was the first book I picked up, largely due to its availability as an ebook through my local library. And oh, I loved that book. It was basically a composite of all the things I love most and I think I had a post half-written in my head without even cracking anything on the other side of the bracket. Then Beth emailed me with Mireille’s choice and my glee shattered like a broken magical chocolate pot.
I have done my best to not hold the fact that they are not Sorcery & Cecelia against either Year of the Griffin or The School Story, but it’s really for you all to decide if I managed to succeed.
The School Story is a charming middle grade work that features a lot of things that I like in my fiction. There are female friendships and present parents and an extraordinarily supportive teacher, just for good measure. I liked reading it, I liked getting to know Natalie and Zoe and their world. I liked The School Story a great deal. I didn’t love it.
But then, neither did I love Year of the Griffin, which is also a work that contains many things I love. Magical boarding schools are almost always delightful, and this was no exception. There are a lot of unconventional families (do we want to call families that call assassins unconventional? I lack a better alternative, frankly) in this and a found family that is everything I like about found families. The ending, with its full embrace of the EVERYONE FALLS IN LOVE trope, was everything I could have asked for. In an email to Katie, I compared the ending to a Georgette Heyer novel where everything descends into farce and I stand by that comparison. (It’s a good thing, if you’ve never read Heyer.) But I found the beginning of this book very slow going and I would like to lodge a formal complaint that there’s not a sequel. (Unless there is and I missed it among the many series on Diana Wynne Jones’s author page, in which case I retract the complaint and ask to be pointed in the right direction.) I was promised waiting, goddammit, and I wanted to see it happen!
I liked both books very much. I just didn’t love either of them. It’s hard for me to know how much of that was just that they weren’t the book that I loved and wanted to advance, and how much of it was that I simply wasn’t drawn into them the way that I look for in my fiction. With The School Story, charming as I found it, I never lost the sense that the story of how a child could be published was a perfect, idealized fantasy. An accurate fantasy, but a fantasy nonetheless. And with Year of the Griffin, the work that actually is a fantasy novel, the setup took too long and left me unable to immerse myself in the world in the way that I want books that are fantasy to do.
And that makes choosing between them excruciatingly difficult, because really, they deserve better than for me to be their judge.
But since I am what they have and I’m assuming Beth won’t allow some sort of bracket revolt, I choose to advance Year of the Griffin to the third round. In the end, I guess that magical boarding school is just slightly more my thing than middle school. Blame Ben Franklin Junior High School. They have much to answer for.
Congratulations to Year of the Griffin, which moves on to Round 3!