Review

Review: Fellside by M.R. Carey

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Well, this was incredibly disappointing.

After the absolutely astonishing book that was The Girl With All The Gifts, I expected something just as amazing from M.R. Carey the second time round. Sadly, it was not to be.

I wouldn’t call this horror, not in the same way that The Girl With All The Gifts was. It’s more paranormal, but it’s also just very odd. Jess Moulson finds herself in prison after a fire, a fire that she apparently caused whilst high. When Jess finds out what happened during the fire, she decides the best thing to do is to end her life, and goes on hunger strike. She is teetering on the very edge of life and death when she suddenly starts to hear voices and see visions, a figure from her past that might hold all the answers.

To be honest, I think my main issue with this book was Jess. She was just a bit of a limp character, and there didn’t seem to be much to her. I also found the whole explanation for Jess’s visions to be a bit of a let down. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but with the way that the book was going I had started to suspect the reason behind them (it is very difficult to write about this book with giving anything away to be honest, which is why this review is so short!), regardless it was still disappointing and almost felt as though the involvement of Jess’s case was entirely pointless. And if, like me, you’re more interested in prison dramas after Orange is the New Black – this ain’t that.

As with The Girl With All The Gifts, Carey’s writing is excellent. It was just the story that did not work for me this time – it wasn’t even creepy like the blurb claimed. I will still read his next book with the hope that it will live up to the first, but I feel sadly disappointed by Fellside.

Review

Review: The Demon King (The Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Demon King had long been one of those fantasy books I was aware of, knew SO many people who raved about it, yet I pretty much ignored it. It sat on my ‘to read’ list for a while, despite sounding amazing, and despite endless wonderful praise from my bookish buddies. However, recently I’ve been trying to make more use of my local library. The library itself has very little, but since I can order books from anywhere in the county for free and pick them up from there, I’ve been grabbing ten books at a time, scouring through the library catalogue and cross-referencing with my Goodreads ‘to read’ shelf. The Demon King happened to be available, and so, by this twist of fate, I ended up reading it much sooner than I probably would have otherwise.

Let me just say: I am so, SO thankful for the county library inter-loan system. I devoured this 500 page fantasy novel in two days. I read it during my commute, not looking up once, and would have happily stayed on the bus and gone round in circles all day just reading if, you know, I hadn’t had to go to work… Inconvenient, much?

The Demon King centres around several characters. First, there’s Han Alister, also known to the Clans as Hunts Alone, or to the people of Fellsmarch as Cuffs Alister, streetlord of Ragmarket. Han is the son of a laundress who has turned to petty crime in order to provide for his family, but he also has connections with the Clans outside the city – the Clans being tribespeople who have connections with the land. Second, we have Princess Raisa, princess heir to the throne of the Fells (MATRIARCHY YES), who isn’t content with her position. I really liked Raisa – instead of being a spoiled brat who wasn’t happy with her lot, she was shown as someone who perhaps just wanted to live a simpler life, but was also kept in the dark about how her people were treated, and how they saw their monarch. She aspired to be a warrior queen, and was basically so determined and always prepared to do whatever it took. Other characters include Amon Byrne, Raisa’s childhood friend and son of the Captain of the Guard, and Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard and a Draco Malfoy type character that you might want to slap across the face once or twice.

I have to admit, any plot twists or events that were meant to be shocking did not work – everything was quite obvious. But this did not spoil the magic for me. I was just so enamoured by Fellsmarch, the Clans, Raisa and Han’s separate missions and just about everything else that was going on to care. I feel like The Demon King is a fantasy novel that would work for both fantasy lovers, and those who aren’t sure about the genre – it’s not overly complicated, but it also evokes those classic elements of the genre. There’s no other way of saying this: it gave me the warm fuzzies.

This book had just the right amount of magic and swordplay for me, and I cannot WAIT to move on to book two. So, The Demon King isn’t a huge epic Tolkien-esque fantasy, where the world is crafted perfectly from the bare bones, with hundreds of years of history and made up languages and just about every family tree from peasant to royalty. But it is a magically crafted novel that allowed me to escape into this fantasy world, forgetting everything around me, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Review

Review: Goldenhand (Abhorsen #5) by Garth Nix

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

And here it is at last, my long overdue review of Goldenhand by Garth Nix. I started reading this as soon as it landed on my doormat, and read it in two days – back in October. Sadly, due to my preparations for Sci-Fi Month, and the fact that sometimes I take FOREVER to get my thoughts together, it has taken me this long to write my review up.

I first read Sabriel, the first book in Garth Nix’s Abhorsen/The Old Kingdom series when I was 12 or 13. I think it was a birthday present, and I’m not sure who from now – but whomever it was, I am incredibly grateful to them. This was the beginning of my love for the series, and I devoured the next two books as soon as I could. It is a series that has remained with me ever since, and in the fourteen years since I read it for the first time, I have re-read it countless times. I even took part in a readalong of Sabriel on my blog a few years ago. When Clariel was published in 2014, I was of course ecstatic – but it didn’t feel quite the same. Being a prequel to the main series, it was lacking what I had fallen in love with – namely the familiar characters, ones that I’d ‘adventured’ with.

And then along came Goldenhand.

Goldenhand picks up where Lirael leaves off. We get to follow the badass Second Assistant Librarian turned Abhorsen-in-Waiting once again. We get to see familiar faces, such as Sabriel and Touchstone. Returning to the Old Kingdom was just truly magical, and it felt like reading the series for the first time all over again. It brought up those feelings, that enchantment I felt when I first read Sabriel, and how drawn I was into the world of the Abhorsen.

Nix’s writing is just as excellent as ever, and of course the world building is stellar. He builds even further upon his creation of more than a decade ago, and Goldenhand helps to paint an even more vivid picture of the world in which Lirael lives. It is even published using the same classic font as the first books, which somehow reminded me even more strongly of this world into which I had escaped. And what I love about this world is how much it feels like ours, but with a magical twist. As a bookish twelve-year-old (and even now as a bookish 26-year-old) I could totally imagine myself accompanying Lirael and Sabriel on their journeys, exploring Anceltierre and The Old Kingdom. There is enough of a threat to the world that you feel a sense of peril, an urgency to read on and make sure that the heroes will be okay, even when you know things will turn out okay. I’ve never encountered anything like the magic system in these books in any other – a magic that feels so real and entwined in everything.

Goldenhand is, without a doubt, an excellent return to the Old Kingdom, and one that cannot be missed. If, like me, you fell in love with the series on your first read all those years ago, then for nostalgia’s sake pick up a copy of Goldenhand and dive back in! If you’ve never read any of Garth Nix’s books, then I highly recommend you start with Sabriel and work your way through the series – it is an absolute classic for fantasy fans, no matter your age. Truly a series I will treasure forever.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Review of Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

When I was first sent a copy of Revenger for review, my immediate thought was of the excellent but criminally short-lived TV show Firefly. However I seem to draw this comparison now for all books revolving around a spaceship crew. I love stories of life on a spaceship, from Firefly to my favourite video game Mass Effect.

Unlike many of the previous tales I’ve read, watched or played, Revenger is told from the point of view of a teenage girl. Arafura is a privileged young woman, the youngest daughter of a wealthy man. Her sister, Adrana, is the more confident of the two, the more adventurous and bolshy. Arafura seems meek and timid, reluctant to follow her sister into trouble but also too scared to let her go off alone. The book starts with them escaping their ‘nanny bot’ and stowing away on a ship, where the adventure begins.

There is just so much action from the very beginning of this novel that it is impossible not to feel draw in instantly. I was unsure of Arafura as a narrator at first – the boring sister, perhaps, the less adventurous one – but actually this decision worked so well. The reader follows Fura as she grows in confidence and matures, as she learns what revenge means. There were plenty of other likeable characters too, although there wasn’t always time to get to know some and get a sense of who they really were due to a rather quick changeover in some cases. The villain of the story, Bosa Sennan, has some fantastic folklore built around them that really made me feel as if humankind had been space-faring peoples for centuries. And the idea that Bosa Sennan’s ship could just come out of nowhere, undetected was pretty terrifying.

I actually really enjoyed the premise of what the ship’s crew actually did – exploring abandoned alien bases/ships/planets, that were only accessible during certain periods of time, and looting everything that could be found. I’d love a whole novel based purely around that! It sounds like some cool sort of space archaeology/exploration.

Whilst this is pitched as a Young Adult novel, don’t let that put you off if you’re not normally a reader of YA. Similarly, if you’ve ever felt intimidated by Alastair Reynolds’ galaxy-sprawling works of science fiction, don’t be scared off by this one. The tone is completely different, his writing style almost unrecognisible from his previous work such as House of Suns, but every bit just as fantastical and epic. To top it off, the cover is simple but so perfect, demonstrating the vastness and emptiness of space.

Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2016: Review of New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

I can actually remember when I first heard about New Pompeii. I’d just finished reading A Darker Shade of Magic, and flicked to the back of the book to read about upcoming titles from Titan Books – and there it was. A Jurassic Park style element involving ancient Romans? Err, yes please and thank you. I felt my little archaeologist heart drop a little when I saw the words ‘Expected publication 2016’. It felt so far away!

Fast forward to a year later, and what turned up on my doorstep, courtesy of Titan? My very own shiny copy of New Pompeii. Obviously when you’ve been waiting for something for so long, your expectations are pretty high, and I was actually worried that after all this time that it might not live up to my own hype – but as it turns out, there was no need to worry.

There have been a lot of stories of people undertaking foolish activities and studies, where you know things are going to go wrong – Jurassic Park is obviously the big one. But there’s something quite terrifying about that scientific project that could potentially go catastrophically wrong being human beings. The main error that NovusPart make is that they don’t seem to see the citizens of New Pompeii as actual people; they’re from the past so naturally they’re less intelligent, less developed, less civilised (ha!). These were the people who were responsible for so many human advances, so many things we’d be so stuck without now, and the people of NovusPart saw them almost like cavemen. New Pompeii raised some really interesting questions relating to this – what rights do these people have? But also, most terrifyingly – what effect will their presence have on the future?

As for the writing itself, the book was really accessible and did not resort to overly complicated terminology or anything like that to explain exactly how the process worked. It was simplified, and maybe not fully explained – but it’s science fiction. We’re already believing that people can be brought back through time, we don’t then have to criticise the how. And to be honest, I was much more interested in the clash of modern and ancient cultures and the idea of Nick trying to fit in with these people to learn from them, than the sciencey mumbo jumbo behind how they got there.

Overall, maybe New Pompeii didn’t feel quite as fleshed out as I was expecting. But it was a really good, fun novel, with plenty of action-packed scenes, I absolutely LOVED the concept and wouldn’t hesitate to read a sequel. What I would give to walk through those streets and interact with genuine ancient Pompeiians… A very strong four stars from me – or should I say IV stars? 😉

Review

Review: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld Colouring Book

Well this is certainly a first – I have never reviewed a colouring book before! And I’m not entirely sure how to review one…

However, I don’t think you could really go wrong with this for Pratchett fans. It’s illustrated by Paul Kidby, the classic Pratchett illustrator. It features all of the favourite characters – Rincewind, the Librarian, Death, Granny Weatherwax, Tiffany Aching, Sam Vynes – and more. There are some simple pages, and some that could take you forever to finish, and there is a really wide range of choices. And, most excitingly, there’s an excellent collection of colour plates at the back, fully illustrated and coloured by Paul Kidby. Whether you use these as inspiration for your own colouring or not, they’re pretty gorgeous.

Oh, and here’s one I made earlier…

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I chose a pretty simple one to start, but had a lot of fun with it! Especially my excessive use of (three different) gold pens…

In conclusion I’d say that this was a pretty excellent choice for Pratchett fans. Adult colouring books are ‘in’, and I love that we’re now getting ones from all our favourite fantasy series. The Discworld Colouring Book provides the reader (colourer? colour in-er? Um…) with loads of choice, familiar and beloved characters, and a wide range of ‘levels’, from simple pages that might only require a few colours to absolute monsters that might require everything you have. In short: grab this book, grab your pencils, and get colouring!

Review

Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

There is a definite trend for Alice in Wonderland related things at the moment, what with the 150th anniversary of the books publication in 2015. Since then I’ve seen countless retellings, spin-offs and books loosely inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll. Therefore, anyone writing one of these such novels has to work extra hard to make theirs stand out from the crowd, and sadly, apart from the gorgeous cover, After Alice didn’t really manage the job.

Following the tale of Ada, a friend of Alice who is very, very briefly mentioned in Alice in Wonderland, After Alice demonstrates how Wonderland has changed after Alice’s visit. Which is to say, not much at all. Following Alice’s journey almost step for step, Ada meets the various denizens of Wonderland – the walrus and the carpenter, the White Rabbit, the Duchess, the Red Queen – but, unlike Alice, her interaction is minimal and not half as entertaining. Ada seems to have none of Alice’s curiosity in ending up in Wonderland, and therefore the reader is not exposed to as much as they could be.

There were a lot of things I did not particularly enjoy about the novel. First, the purple prose, clearly trying to emulate Carroll’s style of writing, but falling slightly flat. Secondly, the sudden switches between tenses for no apparent reason – it would go from past to present tense and back without explanation, which threw me off a bit. And finally, this book shows a much darker side to Alice and her family. Considering that these were real people, and at times they appear almost vulgar and grotesque, I actually felt almost uncomfortable at their portrayal.

Every character felt flat and stereotyped, and the frequent switches between point of view (both Ada and Alice’s older sister, Lydia) made it too disjointed to feel like an adventure. Ultimately, I had a lot of trouble concentrating on this book, and it never managed to fully pull me down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

Review

Review: Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Tell me that any book is similar to Harry Potter, and I’ll be on it like a shot. The blurb of Nevernight makes reference to Hogwarts – actually saying that the Red Church is nothing like it – and how right it is. However, to all those fans like myself who grew up with Harry and might occasionally enjoy the darker, more graphic fantasy – this is it.

I’ve got to admit, I haven’t known what to make of Jay Kristoff for a while. I basically instantly dismissed Stormdancer, his first novel, because he said in an interview that he did all the research for his Japanese-inspired world on Wikipedia, which didn’t exactly reek of professionalism. But then I read Illuminae, Kristoff’s science fiction not-quite-a-novel (told through chat logs, reports etc), co-written with Amie Kaufman, and really enjoyed it. So when Nevernight first appeared, promising a darker, more seductive world of fantasy than other recent releases, I was rather draw to it. The hype was hard to ignore, and I have a thing for assassin stories. What is it about these types of people that makes them so compelling to read about? And compelling this was.

Nevernight basically went straight into the ‘action’, as it were (wink wink nudge nudge), opening with our protagonist losing her virginity to a male prostitute. Through a series of flashbacks that contrast with the present day, we learn more about Mia and why she is on this murderous path. From the beginning, the violence was graphic, the sex was detailed and the cursewords coming left, right and centre – and I LOVED IT. This book is so, so brutal (if you’ve been reading about Nevernight on social media, you’ve probably heard all about people going crazy for page 553) and literally everything that happened was the complete opposite of what I expected. Kristoff does not hold back.

Mia as a character was interesting. She was a bit of a broody teen, but that was realistic. Having read several different fantasy series where young adults are trained to be killers, I have to say that this has so far been the only one where the characters really confront what they’re doing, and also seem to accept that, whilst it’s not right, it’s what they need to do. I’m not sure entirely how to express this, but Mia felt constant in terms of her personality. She never really once felt like a teenage girl who just happens to know the best way to kill someone, and spends the rest of her time contradicting that side of herself. She knows she is a murderer, and nothing is sugar-coated. The rest of her classmates are the same – thieving, seducing, bribing and more to get what they need. It is a competition in a school of assassinsnothing is going to be easy.

I enjoyed the world-building, a sort of Italian/Roman inspired world, and I’m interested to see what other cultures might be used in the sequel. Also, friendships and relationships were formed that just felt so natural and easy-going, which of course then made certain events even more painful to witness. My only issue with the book was the footnotes – there were a few too many and some were rather long, distracting from the main story. I know that they’re there for world-building, but they felt a little too much like Kristoff was trying too hard to be Pratchett-esque.

Apart from that, Nevernight was an absolute delight – if that’s what you can call a book filled to the grim with guts, gore, graphic sexual encounters and enough swearing to make Malcolm Tucker blush. If you’re bored of fantasy where the characters are all firmly on the side of Good, and are looking for something with perhaps more immoral than moral, Nevernight might be just the ticket.

Review

Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books: after reading it first at school aged 16, I then re-read in 2014. This time round, without the need to analyse every little detail, I absolutely fell in love with it. Ever since then, I’ve been looking out for any Jane Eyre inspired books or retellings, which is why I was so eager to accept a copy of Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye.

Jane Steele is not strictly a retelling of Jane EyreJane Eyre is in fact one of the favourite books of the protagonist, and she often references it. Her story mirrors that of Jane Eyre’s, with some differences, and there are many small references to parts of the book. However, the main difference between this Jane and the original? Jane Steele is a killer. It might seem like a rather outlandish and ridiculous idea, but actually it works so well. Jane Eyre is already a Gothic novel – the huge house, a mysterious employer, strange noises at night and of course the goings on in the attic… Lyndsey Faye takes all of this and adds even more.

This Jane is not the one we know – she is not meek, but cool and cunning. And despite being a killer, she is a likeable character. The book describes her as a ‘serial killer’, but I wouldn’t go as far as that. She kills when she has to – for self-defence, or to protect others, rather than just picking targets at random. But despite knowing from the very beginning that Jane is a murderer, when the murders happen they are still shocking and brutal. Jane Steele is practically the opposite of Jane Eyre in every way – she is confident, sexual, more experience with life, not to mention has slight murderous tendencies… yet despite this, I could easily tie the events of this book back to the original.

There are other differences too. Instead of a ward from France, Mr. Thornfield (Rochester) has a ward from India. Mr. Thornfield is also a lot more open and talkative than Mr. Rochester, but still very mysterious. Lyndsey Faye also reverses some events from the book, e.g. Charles Thornfield spooking Jane’s horse as she is riding down the lane, as opposed to the other way round, which was how Jane Eyre met Mr. Rochester for the first time.

Beautifully written, with a tone that truly evokes the original, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele is a truly gripping book, perfect for fans of Jane Eyre who are looking for something a little bit different. I’ve read a faerie version of Jane Eyre (Ironskin), but I never expected to come across something like this! It is incredibly clever and still original enough to stand out, whilst still drawing from the major events of Jane Eyre. I liked that Jane Steele referenced Bronte’s work herself, somehow that grounded it even more. And if my review isn’t enough to convince you, know that this also comes highly recommended by the Jane Eyre expert herself, Charlene!

 

Favourite Quote:

[Jane, on meeting Mr. Thornfield for the first time] “If I were to kill this very intriguing man, I wonder how difficult he would make the task?”

This stood out to me so much, because it is definitely not something that would have come out of Jane Eyre’s mouth!

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Review

Review: The Novice (Summoner #1) by Taran Matharu

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Maybe I’ve just read so much fantasy that something has to be really unique to get my attention. Or maybe this book was just not that good.

From the very beginning, The Novice just felt like a generic fantasy novel: the protagonist a young boy who is ‘different’ from the others in his village, with unknown parentage. And then one day he discovers that he has a talent for summoning, and somehow ends up at a magical school. Yet the way in which he gets there is so coincidental, and I just had so many questions. It is mentioned so many times that new students are gifted a demon by a summoner on their arrival – but Fletcher just turns up with his. It is assumed it was gifted to him by Arcturus, the summoner who takes Fletcher to the school and who also teaches there, but no-one bothers to check whether he actually did, and neither does Arcturus correct them.

Basically, the requirements for getting into the school are never really explained – which is pretty much how it works throughout the entire book. There was a complete and utter lack of world-building: yep, it’s a fantasy world that has humans, orcs, elves and dwarves. That’s basically all I got. The four races don’t like each other, and orcs and humans are at war. Every single character was boring, flat and a stereotype – the hardy dwarves and snooty elves – and the whole thing was completely predictable, including the details of Fletcher’s heritage. And again, why are there so many fantasy worlds where women are second class citizens? There is all this fuss about how women are ‘finally’ allowed to be summoners. This is a FANTASY world. Even if you draw elements from medieval history, as many fantasy novels do, you don’t have to draw everything to make it more ‘realistic’ – especially as this is a book about magic and summoning demons. I certainly don’t remember learning about that in history class. The dialogue was stilted and awkward, and the writing boring and uninspiring. I love fantasy novels that paint a picture, authors that can summon vivid imagery of their imagined worlds with just a paragraph – but alas, The Novice is seriously lacking in any pretty prose.

Perhaps if I was younger – a LOT younger – and hadn’t read as many fantasy novels with which to compare this, I would have enjoyed it. As it is, it was a dull, predictable novel with no real heart or feeling.

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