Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Hold Back the Stars follows Carys and Max as they float in space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left in their tanks, nothing left to hold onto but each other, and no hope of being rescued. With earth far below them, they think back over their relationship, and the love which led them to challenge the rules of their society, and eventually to the hopeless situation they find themselves in now.

The story is set in Europia, a society in the future where countries that survived nuclear war have pulled together to create a world of unity, no borders, and no cultural barriers. In order to achieve this, individuals are ‘rotated’ at regular intervals, shuttled all over the world so that they no longer ‘belong’ to any one country, and instead build relationships everywhere they go in the world. ‘Individualism’ is a central value, with individuals acting only in their own name, and not for or on behalf of their country or government, and the most important aspect of this value for Carys and Max is the Couples Rule. This requires that individuals stay single until their late thirties at the earliest before they settle down and start a family. However, when they fall in love, Carys and Max begin to challenge this rule, a decision which sets a chain of events that ends with them floating in outer space, waiting to die.

This is a simple story of boy meets girl, set in a futuristic world of space travel and utopian ideals of diversity, unity, and individualism – all great virtues, although they have backfired to prevent true freedom. I really enjoyed discovering the different aspects of Europia, especially because Khan didn’t bury the story under heavy or unnecessary details, and only gave us that which was necessary to understand the story so that it didn’t become buried under information. I found the world to be a realistic idea, and the details which Khan did give us made it seem like a genuine possibility for a future society. I also liked that Europia was not revealed to be an evil society but was a genuine attempt at a utopia that the characters all believed it to be. It made the world that Katie Khan created feel subtle and nuanced, letting the romance take centre stage.

The novel is split into two time frames. One story shows Carys and Max’s relationship evolving on earth, and the other shows them struggling in outer space as they try to figure out whether they can find a way to save each other. I liked that both stories were equally gripping but in different ways. The romance was more human, showing the highs and lows of the pair’s relationship. In space, each chapter is led with how many minutes the pair have remaining to live, adding an aspect of suspense, and we are gripped by the ways that Carys and Max try to find a way to survive. I was impressed that Katie Khan managed to make these two stories work so well together, because I expected one of the two to fall flat.

The only point at which this novel felt less than brilliant was the ending, which confused me as it completely stepped away from the structure that the rest of the novel had followed. To summarise, Katie Khan gives us three alternate endings to the lack of oxygen dilemma, each showing us different aspects to the world and characters. My issue was that this just didn’t fit with the book overall, and felt out of place. To make things even more confusing, the three endings weren’t clearly signposted as alternate endings, but rather I had to figure out what they were for myself, so when I began reading the second option, I was wondering whether or not my copy of the book had printed the same chapter twice by accident.

Overall, Hold Back the Stars was an enjoyable read, with a well-developed world and interesting love story at its core, but the structure of the ending of the book made it difficult to enjoy completely for me. Perhaps if the multiple endings had clear headings explaining what they were, I would have felt more comfortable, but as they were the reading experience felt confusing and muddled up.

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Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Windhaven – George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle Review

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Rating: ★★

I’m a massive fan of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but like many others, I’ve been impatiently waiting for the next instalment for years and years. So, I decided to give George R.R. Martin’s other books a chance, and picked up Windhaven when I found it in a secondhand bookshop. I was really excited to see what else the mastermind behind Westeros had come up with, but Windhaven just fell flat to me.

Windhaven is set on a world made of various islands, and communication between these islands is effected via ‘flyers’, who fly on wings made of a special fabric. These flyers are selected from an elite group of families, who pass the wings onto their children. However, Maris of Amberley, a fisherman’s daughter who is adopted and raised by a flyer, is furious when her stepfather takes the winks from her and gives them instead to her younger stepbrother, his natural born son, despite her being the better flyer. She is so angry that she begins a revolution of sorts, sparking a series of events that changes the course of her life, to allow flying to be an option to everyone in Windhaven.

One of the things that I liked about Windhaven was the insight into various times in Maris’s life that we get. The first third of the book shows her as a young woman, when she protests against the elitism of flying and asks for access to wings to be based on merit rather than birth. In the second third, Maris is a teacher in one of the schools that she has helped to set up, teaching children born to non-flyer parents how to fly so that they may compete for wings. The third and final part is a now elderly Maris, injured so badly while flying that it marks the end of her lifelong dream. While I feel like it is done in a somewhat disjointed way, by the end of the novel I enjoyed seeing her growth and the bigger picture of her life.

However, there were issues that I had with this novel. As I said, I feel like the plot was quite disjointed, and this is made worse by the fact that the three parts of the novel don’t share a real uniting overarching plot. Rather, each one feels more like a standalone story.

Further I really didn’t understand the world and feel like the world-building was lacking. It was only by looking at the blurb of the book that I understood that Windhaven was another planet, that humans crashed their spaceship on, and that flyers’ wings are made from the materials of the spaceship, hence explaining why the wings are so rare and difficult to acquire. I think I might remember this vaguely being told at one point, but if it was told, it was told in such a boring way that I barely acknowledged it. This was an issue in much of the world-building – it was told via info-dumps, political-style speeches, or just otherwise in a way that was just distracting me from the plot, and desperate to find it again.

Overall, I really wish that I could say that this fulfilled my desire to find something to compete against Game of Thrones, but it didn’t feel at all like it George R.R. Martin was behind it at all. This book was frankly, boring, and although there were aspects that I liked to a degree, it wasn’t enough to salvage the slow, disjointed, and difficult to wade through plot.

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

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I love fast-paced fantasy, unique magical worlds, female-led stories and friendships, so it’s no surprise to me that I absolutely loved Truthwitch! I had been waiting for months to read this book, for two reasons. First of all, my huge hardback edition is far too large to carry to and from school everyday. Secondly, I wanted to give it all of my attention, and I have no regrets (except perhaps that I should have given my full attention to my exam next week but never mind that).

The novel follows Safiya and Iseult, two witches who are trying to make a life for themselves. Safi is a Truthwitch, meaning that she can tell when someone is telling the truth, a power for which she would be hunted, so she keeps it a secret from all but those closest to her. Iseult is a Threadwitch, meaning that she can see their emotions in coloured strands that stem from them, and who these threads ‘tie’ them. The pair are Threadsisters, and when a brewing war threatens all that they hold dear – each other – they have to fight for their bond.

Safi and Iseult are both fantastic protagonists that come to life on the page and their friendship is the fire that keeps them going and that makes the story so interesting. They are lifelike, detailed and complex characters, each with their own stories, backgrounds, personalities and struggles. I loved that each character had their individual plot points, diverting for parts of the book and then rejoining, because it meant that we got to see the characters as independent women as well as a team, and understand the strength of their bond, as well as their individual motivations. This friendship was at the core of why I loved this book so much, as their friendship was so unmovable and strong that it survives all sorts of threats and dangers. Safi and Iseult are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, and they never give up on each other, which I loved.

I also loved Susan Dennard’s magic system and all of the different witcheries. This isn’t a book where you get bogged down by details and information, and lose track of the story while trying to get to grips with the world. She makes it easy and interesting to understand, and the information that she feeds you weaves into the story so you don’t get distracted. It is so expertly crafted that it never feels forced, but rather each witchery seems to make perfect sense. I loved how despite the witches having immense powers in their fields, whether it be manipulating blood or wind or fire, their powers still had clear limitations. For example, some witches can control the air that people breathe, while others can only control the air around them in the world. Some water healers can heal by manipulating the liquids in people’s body, whilst tidewitches control the waters in the sea. It was such a diverse and complex system, but beautifully designed and wonderful to delve into. I can’t wait to see what other witcheries come up in the rest of the series, and what other aspects of the Witchlands’s history and world Susan Dennard will expose us to.

I definitely give this book 5 stars and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. If you haven’t read it and you love fantasy novels, I could not recommend this to you more. Now excuse me, I need to order my copy of the sequel!

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

My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner Review

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Rating: ★★★

I went into this book completely blind, having been sent it a few months ago by the publisher. This isn’t a book I would typically pick up, but it did impress me. It also confused me a bit, as I couldn’t quite figure out the genre or the age of the intended audience. I wish it had been a little bit longer with some more exploration of some of the characters, but the short length was also part of its appeal.

The main narrator of the book is Jazmin, who has been shunned by everyone since the disappearance of her best friend Becky, who jumped off of a tall building, but never landed. Jazmin told people what happened, but nobody believed her, and now, she is telling her story again. Other narrators also tell their story, in separate but linked tales that eventually interweave in order to tell us what really happened to Becky when she jumped off that building. It’s a slow-burn drama, but mystery is enough to keep you hooked, and the narrators’ voices are strong and clear.

I really liked the narrative style of this. It is told in a second person narrative by various people who are being interviewed about their experiences. They tell the events of the story as they unfolded in their perspective. This means that you don’t have the same reading experience as you would in another novel, where you might feel like the events are happening to you. It isn’t really possible to disappear into the story, so to speak, because at no point does it stop feeling like you are just reading about it, rather than living it. If the book was longer, this might have ended up bothering me, but for its short length that meant I finished it in two days, I didn’t mind this.

Although it wasn’t completely clear from the blurb or even the first few chapters, this book is science fiction. Aliens are mentioned pretty early on, but for a big chunk of the book I couldn’t figure out if the characters were mad or not. This made reading it a bit strange. Also, the age range of this book wasn’t clear either. I was sure from the cover art and the simple style of the narrative that this was a children’s or young adult book, but the narrators are all adults, so I’m not so sure. If you prefer your genre fiction to have very strong elements of that genre, this might not be for you, but otherwise, I enjoyed the mystery and gentle unfolding of the truth.

Whilst the short length worked well in some respects, I think that the book failed to explore some elements of the story. For example, the characters themselves were not very well developed, and many of them simply felt like they were there to push the plot without their identities really being clear. This was especially confusing when they all resulted to be relatives or friends of each other in some way, because I couldn’t tell one apart from the other in order to remember their significance. The romantic storylines also felt forced and very shallow, as the characters seem to fall in love out of nowhere, with no real reasons for their attraction or development in their relationship. This was a major flaw for me as Gardner tried to make love a central theme of the book.

Overall, there were strong and weak points in My Side of the Diamond. I liked the style of narrating, especially the parts where the second-person perspective was clear, and I liked that the book was short. However, I would have preferred for there to have been more character exploration. There were sections of the story that, in my opinion, could have been sacrificed for more character development, or the book could have been a little bit longer to make room for that.

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

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns – Julie C. Dao

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Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been following this book for what feels like ages, ever since I stumbled upon a tweet by Julie C Dao celebrating getting a book deal. In the months since, I’ve seen excitement for the book continue to grow, with readers and authors alike talking about it, so I was chuffed when I finally got a copy. I’m so pleased to say that this book actually surpassed my expectations, feeding my love for morally grey characters and leaving me wanting more and more of Julie’s writing.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East-Asian inspired fantasy novel about a young girl, Xifeng, who is determined to become Empress of her kingdom, Feng-Lu. It seems impossible, after all, she is only a seamstress, far from the Imperial City, but her aunt’s fortune telling cards tell of her destiny as Empress, and she does not question fate. After leaving home to head to the Imperial City, it seems that the stars have aligned to help Xifeng reach her goal. She is accepted into the Emperor’s household, but as a maid. A bigger problem is the fact that the Emperor has a wife, two other concubines, and four sons. How will Xifeng secure her fate, and how far will she go to get it?

My favourite thing about this book was that Xifeng was not a nice girl. That seems harsh, and perhaps it is, but it’s also true. I don’t mean this in a nitpicking way. Xifeng is selfish, ambitious, and determined to the point of being willing to walk over anyone else to get what she wants. She has set her sights on being Empress, and she will do anything, and does more than the unimaginable, to get it. There were scenes that were difficult to read, and events in the book that change your opinion of Xifeng for good, but it all adds to the complexity of the tale, and of Xifeng herself.

When the book begins, we don’t yet know if she is an unwilling pawn in a game of her aunt’s, whether she even wants to follow this path that has been set out before her, but as Xifeng takes step after step down the path, and as she knocks opponents and obstacles out of her way, we see her accepting her own desires, and embracing her ambitious selfishness and the darkness that lies within her soul. By the end of the novel, there is no doubt that Xifeng is not the pure, innocent girl that we thought she was at the start of the novel. She is dark, evil even, but having followed her along her whole journey, it is difficult to ignore the humanity in her that even she has set aside. Xifeng’s characterisation made this book so easy to read for me.

I loved seeing the exploration of her character reach new depths, and couldn’t get enough of deciphering her morals, or lack of them. What seemed like a bit of a cookie cutter female protagonist in the first pages, turned out to be a character of many layers, with surprises lurking beneath each and every one. When the book ended, I was shocked. I kept expecting a redemption arc, a sorrowful and repenting protagonist, eager to right her wrongs, but Xifeng doesn’t regret anything that she has done to get what she wants, and as horrifying as that is, I also found it refreshing and exciting to read a character do so confidently.

Overall, I really adored Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and I’d love to read it again in the future to explore Xifeng some more. Whilst this book might not be for readers who like to like their protagonists, or for those who don’t like violence and gore, I would still recommend giving it a try and letting it challenge you. I like morally ambiguous characters, and still, Xifeng even challenged me. Julie C Dao writes Xifeng in a way that you still hold out some hope for her, and you’re so reluctant to let go of it, and that made reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a really interesting experience for me personally. I really think that this book has pushed the boundaries of YA fiction, and I hope to see more books like it.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Red Sister – Mark Lawrence Review

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Rating: DNF at 30%

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was so conflicted about this post, but remembering my previous post on not forcing myself to read books I’m not enjoying (Giving Up On Books) I knew that I had to be honest. DNF reviews are tough, but I think they’re just as valid as other reviews. I haven’t given a rating for Red Sister a rating specifically because I didn’t finish it, but even so, here are some brief thoughts on why Red Sister didn’t work for me.

I was really looking forward to Red Sister. For one, I judge books by their covers, and the cover of this book felt inspiring. I wanted to know the story of the girl on the cover. Further, the convent of the setting really excited me, with the promise of lots of women living in close quarters, and together with them fantasy world and the fact that the nuns in the convent are not normal nuns, but murderous nuns, I could not wait.

Unfortunately, these various aspects just didn’t slot in properly for me and Red Sister fell flat from pretty much the first chapter (I’ll excuse the prologue from this, because with an opening sentence of “It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men” it was definitely not boring. It’s a shame that the rest of the book didn’t feel this inspiring. The first third follows a young girl Nona as she is rescued from being executed for murder by a nun, Abbess Glass, and taken to the Sweet Mercy Convent. At the point of DNF-ing, Nona had been at the convent for only one day, but it felt like I had been reading for months. We went to various classes with Nona, heard her telling other girls her life story various times, meeting other girls, but it all blurred together into something vague and foggy that I couldn’t figure out. As I was reading these scenes, I kept finding myself wondering what the point of them were. Was there a meaning to the conversation? Why is this character important? But as various scenes came and went without any apparent plot, I just lost interest.

I could have kept going with the weak plot if the characters had grasped my attention, but they also fell flat in my opinion. Nona was interesting in terms of her story, and there were moments where my interest was piqued, such as a moment where she challenges a nun in a lesson, but generally she just felt like an empty space and didn’t bring much to the scene. To be honest, there were complete passages where I was completely unaware of what Nona was doing, what she was thinking, or even that she was there – which is surely not what is supposed to happen with the protagonist. The other characters, the nuns and the other novices were bland and one-dimensional, and they all felt like the initial ideas behind really good characters, but they just didn’t feel alive on the page.

This book had so much potential and I wish that I could have enjoyed it. I wanted the magic, the characters, and the setting to come to life, I wanted to be excited about nuns trained in the martial arts, but it just did not happen. The writing was not bad, rather, sometimes it was beautiful, but the story just felt dull on the page. I couldn’t make myself care about the characters or their story. Perhaps if I kept going, I would have found something to enjoy, but in my opinion, I had simply read enough of the book without encountering what it was I was looking for.

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

A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J. Maas Review

 

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Rating: ★

It’s very apt that this post follows my last post on learning to give up on books, because the A Court of Thorns and Roses series is a series that I have stuck through despite not actually enjoying any of the books that much. ACOWAR is the third book in the ACOTAR series – and what I also thought was the final book before I realised that a further four had been added (why?). It suffered many of the same problems that I found with the previous two, mainly being that it just fell completely flat, and was hard to follow.

This post will probably become a structure-less rant, and will also probably be quite spoiler-y, so be warned if you want to keep completely spoiler-free!

I was initially intrigued by this book because of where the second book ended. Feyre was going to rejoin Tamlin’s household at the Spring Court, pretending that Rhysand had manipulated her mind to make her stay with him, and become a sort of spy with him. Apart from a few moments, one including Ianthe and a truly great little exchange with Lucien, she was the most boring spy in the history of spies. I was expecting lots of intrigue and tension, but for most of this part of the book, Feyre was just pretending to be the ‘old’ Feyre whilst being mentally furious. I find this sort of behaviour boring, and this part definitely did not need to drag on for as long as it did. However, the one positive of this was Lucien, who I genuinely have missed.

Much like the first section, the rest of the book was unsurprisingly boring. There were long periods where nothing much happened except for character talking about Hybern and the wall and other courts, only for one big thing to happen, and then another hundred pages of nothing. I understand that there is a lot of discussion and plotting that takes place in war, but I just don’t think that Sarah J Maas captures the suspense and intrigue that these passages should have. In my my opinion, I found these passages boring for a few reasons. The first is that Prythian as a world does not feel like it has been very well-crafted, and the only way I can explain what I feel about the world-building in this series is that it is disharmonious. The second is that the overall tone of the book felt a bit too all over the place, and just like the world, the characters feel random and disunited. Basically, it was all just a bit too messy to get into.

In terms of the world-building, I didn’t understand the reasoning behind the war, who the different forces in the war were and why they were acting the way they were, and how the magic worked. The King of Hybern, the big bad villain threatening the whole world, has almost no real reason for his actions. All that we are told is that he has brainwashed his people to hate the wall, but not even this made sense to me because Hybern is an island. Does the wall only extend across Prythian, or the entire world? Why does he care about the wall, if his island is miles away from it? Second, there are just so many courts in this book, and they aren’t explored enough for me to remember them all. Maas introduces us to one High Lord on one page, his lovers and guards, and the next page to another High Lord, his lovers and guards, then another, and another, and another – or is this the same one from before? This isn’t even restrained to the other courts. Honestly, I can barely tell some of the main characters apart. Mor and Amren? Honestly, half the time I just guessed which one was which. What exactly does Azriel do with his shadows? Who is in love with who again? Eventually, as with the previous two ACOTAR books, I just gave up and started skim-reading.

Finally, the magic. There was a huge, glaring plot twist that I cannot believe nobody noticed and cannot believe nobody in the entire writing and editing and publishing process decided to fix that it has made me genuinely mAD. When Feyre is brought back to life by the other High Lords at the end of ACOTAR, she takes some of each High Lord’s magical skills. Now, why did the same thing not happen to Rhys? This was one of the only points that really grasped my attention. I was buzzing to see what Maas would do with this. The morbid-Morticia-Addams part of me was eager for him to stay dead, but of course, Maas rarely lets her beloved characters die, so I just wanted to know how he would be saved. I could have actually lived with the repetition of the same technique to save his life, but for him not to take their powers? And for this not to be addressed? Consider me disappointed.

Finally, the tone of this book just cements it as a hot mess in my opinion. This is a book about war. The entire world is being threatened by the mysterious evil baddie Hybern. Everyone could die. They are all terrified. Or at least, that’s the vibe I was getting until Rhys and Feyre keep sh*gging every other chapter. Have these two ever heard of a time and place? Is a war camp, just after a huge battle, when there are people dying, really an appropriate time? You know, I can accept that maybe some people have no qualms about this sort of thing – actually, no I can’t. This is unrealistic. It’s like having sex in a morgue. Or a hospital. Or a cemetery. No. No. Just no. Not to mention Maas’s sex scenes just became painful to read. Does Maas have a problem with ‘normal’, sensual, sweet love scenes? Does she have a problem against characters simply cuddling? Does she really think that talking to your lover about licking blood and dirt off their body is romantic? Am I really supposed to enjoy reading about faeries getting off by stroking each other’s wings? Honestly? Did anyone actually enjoy these scenes? Cannot. Relate.

I cannot believe I actually made it through this book, because to be honest, most of it was like trudging through waist-deep mud. I had initially kept reading these books because I thought that it would pick up and become more fun as it went on. After all, the author who wrote Throne of Glass could not write an entire series this boring? Well, it appears I have been proved wrong. I know that a further four books have been announced in this series, but I think that if you have read this review to the end you can probably guess for yourselves that it would take a lot for me to continue reading. Frankly, at the moment, I’m packing up my ACOTAR books to take to the nearest charity shop.

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

Seraphina – Rachel Hartman Review

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Rating: ★★★

I love fantasy, but it can be difficult to find original twists on old ideas. This is a perfect example of that. Rachel Hartman’s novel takes dragons and makes them into something new and fresh, and crafts a world full of complexities, nooks and crannies. I loved reading Seraphina, and while I think that the plot could have been tightened up in parts, I really enjoyed it.

Seraphina is the newly hired assistant music mistress at the Goreddi palace, but she has arrived at a period of turmoil. Prince Rufus has just been violently murdered, and it appears that a dragon is to blame. Tensions rise between the humans and dragons, who have lived side by side in Goredd since a peace treaty between the two sides was signed forty years previously. In the novel, Seraphina gets drawn into helping Prince Lucian to investigate the murder, and balances this not only with court politics and her duties as the music mistress, but also with keeping a dark secret that could get her killed.

My favourite thing about this novel was Hartman’s world-building. I was sucked into this world where humans and dragons live side by side, and loved learning about all of the different facets of the society. I was intrigued by how dragons took on a human form, the rules that they lived by, and all of the more subtle details that Hartman included, like how a dragon in human form still had a particular smell, how dragons take care of their scales, how dragons are by nature logical and cold, and have to keep their emotions in check so as to not become too ‘human’. There is so much to unpick and love in this novel without even discussing the plot, and I am a sucker for a well-crafted fantasy world.

Although I did have some issues with the plot, I still found the story to be intriguing enough to keep me entertained. The plot was exciting and I loved how the different aspects and characters featured in the book all linked together like pieces of a puzzle. My main issue was that I found it difficult to care all that much about Prince Rufus, and I kept forgetting that he was at the heart of the investigation. I think I would have preferred it if we had at least seen a glimpse of him at the start of the novel to get a feel for his character, rather than jump right into a world that is grieving for him. Also, while I was excited when I found out Seraphina’s secret, I resented her ‘powers’ a bit for seeming a bit too useful, in a sense, and didn’t understand why they existed. I also found the ‘resolution’ to her secret being revealed to feel a little rushed.

Unfortunately, I felt like some of the weaker aspects of the plot reflected less than well on the characters. For example, Seraphina as a character was great to begin with. She was smart and ‘prickly’, and I admired reading about a YA female fantasy protagonist with a hard-earned and well-respected job. I liked her curiosity, her loyalty and her complicated feelings towards Orma and dragons. However, she seemed to fall in love with Lucian from one page to the next and with no warning apart from the fact that it was somewhat expected considering that he is a prince that kept popping up in her path. Although Lucian and Seraphina do spend time together and seem to get on, I wasn’t getting any romantic vibes, sexual tension, or flirtation going on between them, and the sudden declaration of love from Seraphina felt forced by the author, and in my opinion, makes her look a bit flighty.

Overall however, the world-building was enough to keep me hooked in this book. I wanted to know if the peace would survive, I wanted to know whose side the dragons were on, I wanted to know which dragons I could trust and who was secretly a dragon in disguise. This saved the novel from some of the less perfect aspects, and redeemed it in my eyes. Whilst I will definitely be putting the sequel to Seraphina, Shadow Scale, on my to-read list, I won’t be pushing it straight to the top of the list.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy

American Gods – Neil Gaiman Review

 

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I said in a T5W post a few weeks ago that I was desperate to read more of Neil Gaiman’s work, and with the release of the television adaptation of this book, American Gods seemed like a good place to start. I was so excited to read this, and I was well rewarded for making it through the 600+ pages with a winding tale of mythology, fantasy, magic, murder, and American road trips.

At the start of the novel, Shadow is awaiting release from prison so that he can return home to his beloved wife Laura, however, days before his release, he is told that his wife has died suddenly and allowed to return home early. On the journey home, he meets the mysterious and charismatic Wednesday who offers him a lucrative job for him, and having no other options, Shadow agrees. This leads him on a journey with Wednesday that takes him to intriguing locations in small town America, and also introduces him to a vast array of gods, old and new gods, loved and forgotten gods, gods that he had never heard of.

It was impossible to not be drawn into the cast of this novel. There are so many interesting gods in this novel that I had mostly never heard of. While I had heard of big names like Odin and Loki, Mr Jaquel who was the Egyptian god Anubis, and Eostre, the goddess of Easter, I hadn’t heard of others like the Zorya sisters, Czernobog and the characters of Mad Sweeney and Whiskey Jack. What I loved was that the characters are often initially introduced as ordinary characters, and then we piece together what gods they actually are. I also really enjoyed the new gods, such as the technology kid and Media. The concept of gods dying if they are forgotten was interesting to read not only as a plot point but also as a sort of commentary of modern society, and it makes you think about what makes certain deities and beliefs fade away and what makes certain aspects of our modern lives like television and freeways take their place.

Second, I absolutely loved how this book crosses so many genres. There was fantasy, mystery, adventure, love, history, and my personal favourite, the murder mystery that takes place in the town of Lakeside. I always looked forward to the ‘Coming to America’ chapters, which take the form of individual short stories describing how certain gods were brought to America by all sorts of figures, from travelling tribes, to prisoners who were transported to America, to slaves and modern immigrants. Neil Gaiman did a really good job of developing these characters well so that you felt a connection to them even in a short time. My favourite was probably that of Salim and the jinn, but all of these stories are emotional and tell stories of people from all over the world throughout history.

I didn’t know how long this novel was, and at times it did feel quite dense, but it always paid off in the end. I think I am getting out of the habit of reading longer novels, but American Gods was overall a lot of fun with lots of plot twist that I didn’t see coming – maybe I am slow, maybe they were obvious to other people, but they definitely shocked me! I am definitely looking forward to continuing my journey of reading as much of Neil Gaiman’s work as I can get my hands on.

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

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.