Review

Review: Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Red Sister is the third of Mark Lawrence’s books that I’ve read – and you know what they say, third time lucky. That was definitely the case here, as I completely fell in love with the book. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Prince of Thorns, which I read with my online book group, but I enjoyed Prince of Fools a lot more. However, Red Sister just completely blew me away.

I can’t resist a good origin story, nor stories containing assassins, and Red Sister is both of these. It follows a young girl called Nona, who ends up at the Convent of Sweet Mercy after several unfortunate events. However, this is not any old convent, and the Sisters are not normal nuns. Many are ‘Red Sisters’, trained in the arts of fighting, and this is what Nona is on the path to become. Just look at this opening line:

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size.

Doesn’t that just intrigue you? I read the first 170 pages of the book in one sitting, absolutely enthralled by the world Lawrence had created, and what Nona was going through. Nona as a character is quite mysterious for much of the novel, she is perhaps almost as unfamiliar to the reader as she is to her classmates, but that certainly kept me reading. One of the things that made me eager to read this book was that it was centered around female characters, rather than a largely male cast. And within this cast of women and girls, there are some fantastic characters. Nona’s friends and their relationships are great, with rivalries soon becoming friendships. The Nuns are an interesting bunch – some kind, others cruel – so basically just like real teachers!

I have to admit that when I first started reading the book, I hadn’t realised that the protagonist was so young. However, this was not an issue – she therefore has plenty of room to develop, and due to the conditions in which she has grown up, she is very headstrong and mature for her age. I suppose in the sort of world that many of them have grown up in, childhood ends very early. The book is quite slow, and not much really happened in terms of ‘big’ events during the first half. This, to me, was actually pretty perfect. It meant I really got to explore the world Lawrence had created, learn along with Nona and her friends, and I got to see more of the ‘school’ setting (another story element I love!). There were flashes of the future in between, showing a huge and possibly catastrophic event, which only made me want to read even faster, even more in one setting to find out how this could happen.

Overall, Red Sister was an absolutely fantastic read, definitely one of the best series openers I have read in a while, and one of my top reads of 2017 thus far. Mark Lawrence has created something completely different from his other books with this series, so even if you did not get along with his other work I would absolutely recommend that you try Red Sister. If it’s already on your ‘to read’ list, then hurry up and grab a copy! I’m already anticipating book two, but looks like I’ll be waiting a while – so maybe I’ll continue on with Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War series, to tide me over.

I also just want to extend my thanks to Mark Lawrence himself, who got in touch with me via Facebook to offer me a (signed!) ARC. I was ecstatic to receive this message, and so glad for the opportunity to read this book. I also need to thank Mark for being responsible for quite a bit of my blog traffic – a while ago he linked to my review of Prince of Fools on Reddit, as a review by someone who enjoyed the book but did not like Prince of Thorns. I’m still receiving blog traffic from that Reddit post, so thank you, Mark! 🙂

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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

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: 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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