Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Uprooted – Naomi Novik Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

There are so many great fantasy series out there, but it is quite hard to find a brilliant standalone fantasy novel. For that reason, Uprooted is so refreshing to read as a lover of fantasy – even though I love a good series, it was so much fun to see well-crafted characters, an exciting and complete storyline, a fascinating magical world with its own unique history and culture, all in one book!

uprooted-naomi-novikAgnieszka, our main character, lives in a valley that is bordered by a forest. However, this forest is unlike any others. It is full of dark magical powers that corrupt those that come into contact with it. By corrupting the people who live around it, the forest gradually grows and grows, taking up more and more space, and encroaching further and further on Agnieszka’s village. In return for fighting the forest and protecting the people in the valley, a wizard called the Dragon asks for one thing only: a 17-year-old girl to live with him in his tower for 10 years. Agnieszka is chosen to be this girl, much to the surprise of everyone in the valley, who expected her (prettier and sweeter) friend Kasia.

This was all I knew about the novel when I decided to read it, and I was surprised to find that all of this happened within the first chapter. I had hundreds more pages to read, and absolutely no idea of where the story would go! This made the reading experience so different to anything I had ever had before, because I went into most of the novel completely blind. In fact, the story was like a rollercoaster, with each chapter bringing a new challenge, a new twist, a new surprise. No part of this book’s story is predictable, and apart from a small section of a few chapters in the middle that lost me a little bit, none of it was boring.

The characters in Uprooted were also a pleasure to read. While the Dragon remains an enigma and quite vague the whole way through, this is part of his distant character, it is really Agnieszka and Kasia who stole the show. Their friendship is central to the whole book, and drives the entire storyline. I liked to see a close relationship that wasn’t romantic be at the core of a novel, even despite the fact that there was a romantic relationship. The ‘romance’ plot was very much a subplot, and I liked that you could have taken it out and the novel would have remained by and large the same.

This is also one of the best examples of world-building I have read in a standalone novel. I loved that the villain wasn’t a person, or a monster that could be easily identified, but the vast, spreading forest. This, together with Naomi Novik’s twisting plot, meant that there are plenty of times during the novel where I was sure that there was no way out. When we finally found out what the forest actually is and how it is stopped, I thought it was a beautiful explanation that perfectly wound in the history that Novik had crafted for the world. However, I would have loved to have seen more of the ‘forest’ as a proper character, as this only really became clear in the last few chapters.

I definitely recommend this if you love fantasy novels. The world and magic are interesting and unique, and Novik makes you root for the characters and genuinely fear for them as they face so many different and unpredictable trials over the course of the novel.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Wing Jones – Katherine Webber Review

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

I have been so excited to read this book, having heard lots of buzz about it at various book events in the past year or so. I was excited at reading a book that appeared to make so many strides in terms of diversity of characters and representation of girls in literature, and I was not disappointed. Wing Jones was a really lovely and uplifting story, with a hopeful, motivating message that I’m sure young and older readers will love.

This book follows Wing Jones, a 15-year-old, half-Ghanaian, half-Chinese girl (already interesting!) who, in the aftermath of a family tragedy, discovers that she has an incredible ability for running. While at first, she uses running as an outlet for stress and emotions, her speed brings her a lot of attention, and even the opportunity to help her family out financially. How far (and fast) can Wing Jones go?

I love stories about girls getting out there and grabbing their dreams with both hands, so this was right up my street, but but book was also beautiful in that we get to see Wing discover her new talent, discover a love for it, and pursue it with a burning determination that makes you love and admire her strength. I really enjoyed seeing her struggle with balancing her love of running with her family’s desperate need, and the pressure she had put on herself to help them out, and related to this conflict when something that you love starts to feel like a job (and think probably a lot of people can relate). The way that Katherine Webber writes makes Wing’s thoughts so clear and easy to understand that you can’t help but root for and feel for her.

wing-jones_kwebber-678x1024I especially loved the way that Webber presented the Jones family, and especially the magical realism elements in the story which gave the book an extra dimension but also made the family dynamic more complex. Wing is urged on by an imaginary dragon and tier when she runs, which act as symbols for her two grandmothers. I loved this, as it made it clear that Wing doesn’t only see her family as a burden and pressure, but that she sees them as her reason for running, and her main source of support. Also, the dialogue between the characters, especially the two grandmothers, was so much fun to read and I found myself caring just as much for them as for Wing. The relationship between Wing and her brother is the main relationship in the book though, and the one that is most tense. It was fascinating to watch Wing’s journey from admiring her brother immensely, to re-evaluating not only their relationship but who she is independent of him, and to watch that relationship change and develop.

There was also a romantic storyline to this novel, and while it was written very sweetly, it just wasn’t that important to me as a reader. I did enjoy reading some of the scenes, but most of the time I just wanted to get back to Wing and her family. I also didn’t really appreciate the ‘dilemma’ caused by the fact that Wing’s focus on her running was ‘competing’ in a sense with her relationship. While I thought the development of the relationship at the start was a nice addition to the story, I couldn’t imagine why Wing would sacrifice her potential career for a guy, or let it worry her so much. I wanted Wing to shake it off and focus on her – but perhaps I am just too much of a cynic! Thankfully, this wasn’t an overpowering storyline, and it didn’t detract from the book as a whole, or from Wing at all, even though it wasn’t my personal preference in terms of romantic relationships.

I definitely would recommend this to anyone, young or old(er), but I am particularly excited to see what younger readers’ reactions to this book are. I loved that it presents a young determined girl developing her talents and chasing her goals with all of her might, and I really hope and believe that this book will motivate other young people, especially girls, not only in sport but in all areas.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

A Promise of Fire – Amanda Bouchet Review

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating:  ★ ★ ★

I read this book in two days, and while I consider myself to be a relatively fast reader, 400+ pages is not something I usually achieve in two days. I just couldn’t help myself. There was Greek mythology, a feisty protagonist with an intriguing backstory and powers, and an original setting with politics and magic woven in. This book wasn’t perfect, but I did really enjoy it and probably will read the sequel at some point.

The book is about Cat, who at the beginning of the book is a circus member (but not for long, because if there is one thing that this book does, it is move fast). One day, a war lord called Griffin shows up and senses that her magical powers are more than they seem, and kidnaps her. It turns out that this war lord has just taken over the kingdom and put his sister on the throne, upending a political structure that has been around for centuries and he needs Cat and her magical skills to help him keep hold of the throne.

I loved the setting and the magic in this story. It was unlike anything I had seen before. For one, the mix between Greek mythology and magic was so different. The book probably would have been good with just the one, but the melding of the two systems was really interesting to read. Secondly, Cat’s powers were so cool! She can not only sense when someone is lying, but she can also steal magic from other people and creatures, meaning that she can store it up for use later (she spends half of the book breathing fire, and how much cooler can you get?). The society itself was another thing that I loved; people are either Magoi (magical) or Hoi Poloi (humans). The Magoi have always ruled before, but now Griffin and his family have ended this. Towards the second half of the novel we see a lot of the politics of this taking centre stage of the story, and I can’t wait to see how this part of the story develops in the second novel.

kingmaker_landscape_mktpc-edit-700x394My issue with this book was the central relationship. I hate when male love interests are possessive and irrationally jealous, and especially when this is portrayed as being romantic or endearing. Even worse, I hated the passages where it seemed like Cat was being pressured into doing things that she really didn’t want to do, and where her concerns weren’t being listened to or respected properly. There was literally a passage where Cat (talking about having sex) says something along the lines of: “I should have known I couldn’t keep saying no.” I understand that people’s views can change, but I would have really appreciated seeing Amanda Bouchet more clearly highlight the issues of consent in the representation of the central relationship, especially as the novel gets quite steamy. If it wasn’t for this, which really rubbed me the wrong way, I would have loved this novel!