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T5W: Books Without Romance

Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme that was created by Lainey of gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam of ThoughtsOnTomes. Every week, I will post my top 5 of that week’s theme. If you’d like to learn more about it or join in the fun, head over to the Goodreads group where all the discussions take place here.

This week’s topic is books without romance. Sometimes, romance plots can follow certain cliches, and are, by their nature, usually quite predictable in their endings. For that reason, I don’t typically love romance novels, and prefer the romance to be a secondary storyline, or play a minor role, if any at all. Sometimes I love the cliches, and sometimes I want something new. This can be difficult to find, but it can be refreshing and if done right, can bring to light different themes that aren’t always explored as much, as well as exploring other relationship dynamics that characters have, whether they are friendships or family bonds.

Here we go!

1. The Red Abbey Chronicles – Maria Turtschaninoff

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When does this series not feature in one of my T5W posts? I don’t know if it ever won’t be here. I will find every opportunity I possibly can to talk about this. Romance is completely absent in the first novel, Maresi, and features slightly in the second, but never in the way that you expect it. Turtschaninoff’s writing is completely new and different, and so her exploration of love and romance is as well.

Read my reviews for the first two books in the series here and here.

2. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

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Romance features briefly at the start of this novel, but not for long. Before the story has even got going, Shadow Moon discovers that the love of his life Laura has died. From then on, he embarks on an adventure with the mysterious Thursday, discovering that gods are real, and that they are going to war. Although this isn’t a book devoid of romance, much like the Red Abbey Chronicles, this is not a story that is driven by romance.

Read my full review here.

3. The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton 

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The most important relationship in this novel is that of Zoe and her grandmother, who she runs away from home with to protect. I thought at one point that romance would feature, but it turned out to simply be a red herring. It was so satisfying to see a YA novel adventure that focused solely on the family relationships of the main character.

Read my full review here.

4. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

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Another YA novel that focused on family bonds, Everything I Never Told You is one of the most interesting books I have read in this genre. In the very first page, we are told that Lydia, the favourite child of the Lee family, has died. Over the course of the novel, Ng explores not only the relationships between the characters, but the dynamics of interracial relationships, racial identity, the American dream, the pressures that children face, and guilt.

5. Uprooted – Naomi Novik 

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The whole way through this novel I expected there to be more romance. It just goes to show how conditioned we are to expect it. Although romance did feature, it only made an appearance two times, if I remember correctly. Other than that, there was so much more to the plot that it took a back seat, and it would have been just as good without it altogether, because the relationship between Agnieszka and ‘the Dragon’ is so complex regardless.

Read my full review here.

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.