Some time back I picked up Hippolyte's Island, an illustrated novel by Barbara Hodgson based only on its cover. The book was light and fun. I willingly suspended disbelief where required and I spent some time thinking about penguins and looking at maps of the Southern Ocean after I finished it. The big realization, for me, is that I don't like "illustrated" adult novels. The drawings and pages of log reports in this one are fantastic, but I noticed them far more today exploring on Amazon (from which the image comes) than I did while reading it. A good story shouldn't need such superfluous material.
More recently I read Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce. In reading these fabulous young adult fantasy novels, I noticed that I don't even flip back to the front to look at maps, even though I think that all such novels should have maps. Once into a story I want to read the story.
While reading Trickster's Choice, I spent a great deal of time thinking about how authors introduce readers to the rules of a world when the characters already live there. I was shocked to find the heroine dealing directly with a god a few chapters into the book. The heroine was not at all shocked. Such introductions are easy when the main characters are themselves outsiders (e.g. Harry Potter; Lucy and Edmund; hobbits outside the Shire), but more difficult when the characters understand magic, gifts, magi and gods, but the readers don't. I thought Pierce did a generally good job of this, but I was conscious of my lostness at several points early on. Later I found that Trickster's Choice, while the first book about Alianne, is Pierce's 13th set in Tortall, so many readers do already know the rules.
In any case, Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen both come heartily recommended to my fellow young adult fantasy fans. You know who you are. They are no Blue Sword (nothing else is), but they have a fantastic teenage heroine who survives by thinking like a spy. She's just a touch annoyingly good at everything, but she still rings mostly true-- and of course I'm all for anything that suggests that smart girls can also be beautiful and good with a blade. By biggest complaint is that the second book involved a very serious moral dilemma (and some interesting commentary about the collateral losses of a just war) and it was decided by outside forces rather than by the characters. I still want to know what she would have done.
Thanks to Sunflower Spinner for lending me the books.