Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Review – ‘The Queen of the Tearling’ – Erika Johansen

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★

I had been dying to read this novel. I’ve heard only great things about it, and so when I got my hands on it I was so excited to finally tear through this female-oriented fantasy adventure novel. Although this book was a great read, and has left me itching to get to the second instalment, I do feel like it was ever so slightly uneventful.

The Queen of the Tearling is Erika Johansen’s debut novel, and is exactly the swift injection of freshness and modernity that I think fantasy novels have needed for a while. The story follows Kelsea Raleigh, daughter of the late Queen Elyssa of the Tearling, who takes to the throne of her troubled kingdom at 19. Kelsea has been brought up by foster carers Barty and Carlin in hiding, away from assassins who try to kill her at every turn. Although she has always known that she will be Queen, the downside to this form of being brought up is that Kelsea knows next to nothing about the problems plaguing her kingdom, from the black market trade, to corruption within the Keep and widespread poverty.

Queen-of-the-TearlingMy favourite thing about this book was that, despite being about a lost princess, it did not fall into a ‘princess character’ trap. Kelsea is anything but your usual princess. I loved that the emphasis is not on Kelsea’s appearance – not because I have a thing against pretty characters, but because it was nice to see her build her reputation based on her decisions and leadership rather than something she was born with. Kelsea is smart and knows what she wants. Even though she doubts herself, you know that she will deliver what she says, and I almost felt like I was cheering her on for most of the book, wishing I could whisper in her ear that she can survive!

Unfortunately, most of the aspects of this book that I liked are tempered by the fact that I think this book could have done so much more in terms of plot. Reading about Kelsea’s decisions as a new Queen was exciting, but the whole second half of the book seemed to be building towards an invasion that never came. I loved reading about the characters surrounding Kelsea, her Guard and staff, but we were only getting to know them at the end of it. I love an excellent villain, and the ‘Red Queen of Mortmesne’ definitely sounded like it would be right up my street, but we didn’t really manage to see the Red Queen do anything but think about Kelsea. This isn’t to say that the story wasn’t great, because it was and I still tore through this book without wanting to put it down, but I think that the structure was lacking. Most of the time, the story wasn’t really heading anywhere. We follow Kelsea around as she meets with arbitrary characters who didn’t really bring much to the book, and think about how to be a good Queen, but I would have preferred more action and a clearer plot.

51vf6tLmIqL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Of course, I understand that The Queen of the Tearling is one book in a trilogy, and I probably wouldn’t mind this lack of plot if the rest of the series was already out, but I haven’t been able to get my hands on the second instalment yet, so I’m feeling a bit annoyed, and I think even a book that is part of a series should be able to stand as a good story independently – for that time between one book and the next.  Once I have read the finished series I will probably feel very different towards this book, but right now I just feel a little betrayed.

Overall, The Queen of the Tearling is a fantastic story, with brilliant characters. You will be excited when you read it, thrilled to turn over the next page and start the next chapter, and you won’t want to put it down. But I would advise waiting until you have the sequel at hand so that you don’t feel like you’ve picked up a book that somebody has ripped the back pages out of.

I should add as an end note to keep an eye out for my review of The Invasion of the Tearling, which I’m sure I won’t be able to put off reading for very much longer. At this moment, I am surfing the net for the best deal.

And: make sure you check out my new instagram account, which is very bookish, at @inkdropsreviews.

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Book Reviews, Historical

Review – ‘Tulip Fever’ – Deborah Moggach

Tulip-Fever
A preview from the 2016 film adaptation

Tulip Fever is a tale about art, love, and breaking the rules. Sophia Sandvoort has never considered straying from the path of faithfulness in her marriage, until her husband Cornelis hired the young, talented painted Jan van Loos to paint their portrait. Once she begins to break the rules, it seems that there is no stopping, and before long, the pair’s lies grow bigger than either of them can control.

Set against the backdrop of ‘Tulipomania’ in 1630s Amsterdam, Moggach’s story captures the imagination from the first page. I loved the way that each chapter was short and sweet, and the way that each scene was described like a painting, in beautiful but not too-long-winded detail. With Moggach’s writing, you dive headfirst into the story, and feel as if you can see, feel, and smell everything that she describes, from the food to the dresses and Amsterdam itself. Each of the characters has a chance to tell the story from their point of view, from the main three, Sophia, Cornelis and Jan, to Sophia’s maid Maria, Jan’s apprentice Jacob and his servant Gerrit (some of my favourite chapters). There are even chapters told by paintings, flower sellers, and seasons. This flitting between characters was done with subtlety and didn’t interrupt the story at all, but rather made it flow perfectly, showing each of the characters’ roles in the story.

72872From when I picked up the book, I was intrigued by this ‘Tulipomania’. The idea of a nation becoming so obsessed with flowers that men gave up their jobs and risked their livelihoods to nurture and sell them was fascinating.  When it finally became intwined with the story, I was thrilled, but I wish that it had played a bigger role, or that we could have seen more of its effects. There were hints of it in the opening chapters, but when it actually did become a part of the story, I felt like it was brushed over a little too much.

There was only one issue that I really had with this book, and that was that I felt like I had simply read it before for much of the first half of the book. If you, like me, have read other books set in a similar period in Amsterdam, also with an emphasis on art or forbidden romances, like Girl With a Pearl Earring or The Miniaturist, it might feel a little repetitive. However, this is more to do with me than the book itself, and once the story had really got going (past the simple, bound to happen love affair), I could see that this story was going along a route that I hadn’t read before. Therefore, if you start doubting whether this book is a repeat of something else, don’t be fooled. The story is thrilling and full of twists and turns, and you won’t regret finishing it off.

Overall, the beautiful writing in Tulip Fever matched with the exciting storyline made it a pleasure to read. I couldn’t get enough of it and couldn’t bear to put the book down. The narrative flows beautifully and not a single word felt out of place. Definitely read this book before the movie is released later this year.

Book Reviews, Classics

Review – ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ – D.H. Laurence

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First published in 1928, the scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in the United Kingdom for over 30 years. In 1960, Penguin, who used the defence that it was of literary merit, published it. This resulted in the famous obscenity trial against Penguin Books where the since-mocked questions were asked; “Is it a book you would have lying around your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” In 1961, after Penguin was found not guilty, the second edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was dedicated to the twelve jurors who allowed the book to be openly published. And so, like this, DH Laurence’s story of a passionate affair across societal boundaries and of a woman discovering her sensuality and the value of living life on her own term’s gained a reputation which still lasts today.

D.H. Laurence
D.H. Laurence

The day of its first publication in 1960, it sold 200,000 copies and I am almost certain that with a new BBC adaptation to be released in 2015 starring Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden and James Norton, the book will be making waves across a brand new audience and generation. After all, banned books always engender curiosity. Although I had been intending to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for a while, wanting to see for myself what all the fuss had been about, it was the news of the new adaptation that gave me the final push to read it. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not the story of a love affair that takes place in a vacuum. This is very clearly a 20th century drama which concerns itself with the changes happening in society around the characters, changes such as the collapse of British industry, ‘liberated’ women and recovering soldiers. The world around Constance Chatterley has been destroyed and is in the process of building itself up again. When she married her husband in 1917, she did not think of sex as an important part of life, instead preferring an intellectual connection and so when her husband is paralysed in the war, this doesn’t much affect their relationship. It isn’t until later that she begins to feel that something is missing. Her role of carer is slowly taken from her as a woman is hired to be a nurse for Clifford, and eventually this woman also takes away Constance’s role of companion, and she finds herself enjoying her new freedom. Constance takes her new freedom step-by-step, first enjoying walks in the forests until eventually, she begins an affair with Oliver Mellors, the groundskeeper. book coverThe characters themselves are mostly not particularly exciting. Constance is, for the majority of the novel, difficult to understand. Even though the story is told from her perspective, it is unclear to the reader whether she loves Mellors, whether she is using him for sexual gratification or just because she has nothing better to do. Similarly, with Mellors, it is unclear for much of the book whether he truly loves Constance or is simply lustful. It isn’t for a while that these questions are clarified, and even when I am sure that the two do love each other, I still doubted it. How long would it last? This final question is left unanswered, and I now appreciate the significance behind it. We, the reader, are much like the people around Constance and Mellors who, when they declare their relationship, doubt the sincerity of their relationship. Even further, my dismissal of the depth of their relationship also highlighted something else to me; that claiming that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is only a book about a scandalous affair greatly diminishes it. In fact, the affair itself wasn’t even the most interesting part of the book. On the other hand, what interested me the most was Constance’s embracing of her liberty and her growth into a woman who decides to live her life on her own terms. It is this that I believe set Lady Chatterley’s Lover out from the other books of its time. This was a time of writers philosophising, questioning life and death and the world around them. This was the time of the Lost Generation writers and experimentation in literature, breaking down the rules and boundaries. Although Lady Chatterley literally is breaking the rules, having an affair, getting pregnant and even worse, with someone in a different class who is also married, she is also acting against the intellectual movement of the time. Her husband literally cannot enjoy his physical body, but neither can he appreciate this enjoyment in other people or the physical world around him without breaking it down to ideas and words. It is this world which Constance rejects and is “born” again as a woman.

Lady Chatterley's Lover made waves when it was openly published in 1960
Lady Chatterley’s Lover made waves when it was openly published in 1960

I don’t think I would class Lady Chatterley’s Lover as an enjoyable read, but it was definitely interesting and I don’t regret reading it. Although the plot was dull and the relationship between Constance and Mellors felt unclear and a little flat, this allows Constance’s development as a character to really shine. Constance rebels against society in the opposite way to characters in other books from the same period; Constance embraces sexual and physical love, and emotions came after. She rejected the world of intellectualism and philosophising and instead falls in love with Mellors’ world, one of nature, transparency and staying true to oneself.