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: The Bees by Laline Paull

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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 wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received a copy of The Bees. A story told from the point of view of a bee? It sounded like it could be really wonderful and unique, or really fall flat. Luckily, this was definitely the former. The Bees follows Flora, a sanitation worker bee from the lowest kin within the Hive. The Hive is separated into kins, each named after plants and flowers such as Sage, Lily, Thistle etc, and each with ‘typical’ duties, for example the Sages being priestess type figures. Floras are normally mute and unable to fly, but Flora defies all expectations of her kin and proves herself capable of any job that the Hive can throw at her. The story follows Flora as she tries to work out her purpose in this very strict society.

Whilst it might sound like a very strange concept, Laline Paull has taken a really wonderful step in creating this story. I think we need more books told from the point of view of unusual and unexpected protagonists. I found myself entranced by her writing, not only her style but also the way in which she told Flora’s story. It might seem odd to read about bees doing things we expect from humans, such as dancing, but in this case Paull makes it fit in. The bees ‘dance’ in order to communicate with fellow gatherers the paths that they should take to collect nectar and remain safe. Even though this is not dancing as we know it, I completely understood what Paull meant. It was so, so vivid, I could easily imagine the hive and everything within it. The structure of the Hive was quite terrifying: almost a dystopian ‘Big Brother’ society where everyone has to stick to their assigned duties, and anyone who breaks rules or has no purpose is killed.

What I loved most about the book was how alive everything felt. Plants, flowers, bees and other insects – Paull’s writing brought so much life to all of them. If you’re a little unsure of this title because of the strange topic, I would definitely say don’t hesitate and give it a try. It’ll certainly make you think about how important bees are within our ecosystem and what really goes on in the hive.

Review

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

This is actually a review of a re-read of Divergent, as I first read it in 2012. It was chosen as a Book of the Month for my Goodreads book group last year, but I didn’t have access to my copy, as I was living in the Netherlands at the time. I then decided to read and finally review it after coming back to the UK. I also wanted to re-read it because I felt it wouldn’t be quite as good the second time round – now that I’ve read so much more YA dystopian fiction, which has very much flooded the market in the past few years.

Just a note that this review will contain spoilers for the first book, Divergent. My reviews do not usually contain spoilers, but I really wanted to discuss some of my issues with this one, which cannot be done spoiler-free.

Firstly, I really need to question the whole system of Divergent. Is Chicago the only city left? What happened to the rest of the world? And why oh why did they think a faction system, especially one that relies on every person having one characteristic, help? Surely the fact that people can choose to switch factions only encourages Divergence? And I’m pretty sure everyone in the world would be Divergent. There’s no way that all of those people aren’t brave AND clever AND kind AND selfless AND honest. Does that mean anyone who is not in Candor is dishonest? Surely then their government would be a mess, as it’s run only by Abnegation? And speaking of Abnegation, whose smart idea was it to let just one faction be effectively in charge? Sure, they’re supposed to be ‘selfless’ but if there are Divergents out there then that only means there is a chance of corruption. I’m also pretty sure that being selfless does not equal being a good leader.

I had to sigh when Tris was described as ‘plain’. Of course, of course. Why are basically all YA dystopian heroines plain? And white, and blonde. And then of course the moody ‘bad’ boy with the mysterious past is interested in the ‘plain’ girl, who of course is special and talented. I am so so bored of this kind of romantic trope.

More questions. Why do only half of the Dauntless initiates get to pass? Surely, in this post-apocalyptic/whatever the hell happened world, you would want to keep population numbers fairly stable, and therefore NOT just randomly let people die? And why have the factionless never rebelled? It’s implied that there’s quite a lot of them, and with Dauntless’s elimination system, you’d assume quite a large percentage of them would be ex-Dauntless. And therefore trained to fight, how to use weapons – and probably willing to go down trying to free themselves.

I still don’t quite know how to rate Divergent. Obviously I have a lot of problems with it; so much of the story just doesn’t make any sense. But I also breezed through the book and quite enjoyed it, despite the gaping plot holes and questions. The last 80 pages or so contain so many shocks and twists, and it’s clear that Veronica Roth is not against making some serious decisions in terms of her characters. It’s better than some YA dystopian fiction that I’ve read, but worse than others – sitting somewhere firmly in the middle.

Review

Review: Winter Be My Shield (Children of the Black Sun #1) by Jo Spurrier

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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 have read a lot of fantasy novels in my life; it has pretty much always been one of my favourite genres since as far back as I can remember. Therefore, if I can find a fantasy novel that feels like a breath of fresh air, is unique and original, then I’m happy. Unfortunately, whilst Winter Be My Shield did not quite hit that high note, it was still a good, solid read.

The story follows a girl named Sierra, who until recently was held prisoner and forced to work for a sorcerer named Kell. The reason she was so useful to Kell is because she can use the pain and suffering of others to draw power. The book never really explained how this works; I can only assume that Sierra becomes a conduit of power around those who are suffering or in pain, and others can draw upon that power, as well as drawing upon it herself. Sierra is a bit of a mystery, and for much of the book the reader knows about as much as the characters know about her, which is little. This was both effective in that it kept me reading, wanting to know more, and slightly frustrating in that she was then harder to empathise with.

A quotation on the cover claims that this book will contain ‘villains you will cheer on’, and I can see where the reviewer is coming from. Although Rasten was, quite frankly, disturbing in his thoughts towards and about Sierra, it was also obvious that his mind was twisted by Kell. Occasionally, it was clear that he wanted to be free of his master, and I did want him to succeed in that pursuit, if not others.

By 130 pages in, I had not noted anything that made this fantasy world particularly unique. By 250 pages, I was still waiting for something big to happen. There was a potential romance/relationship which seemed pretty cliche, but then managed to change things round a bit and avoid it. However, it felt like both characters were constantly thinking ‘it couldn’t be love…’, which seemed like foreshadowing. I also had an issue with one of the main male characters, Isidro. We were told that he was, before being captured and tortured, a strong and fierce warrior. However, since he was never shown that way in the book, I had real trouble imagining him as anything but the weak and broken young man he had become. There were also far too many chapters ending ‘And everything went black…’. One of my biggest problems with the book was more edition specific: the font was far too small! Teeny weeny letters…

All in all, I did enjoy Winter Be My Shield. It didn’t feel like a particularly special fantasy novel, not in the way that other series have, but it’s a good, solid fantasy read and I’m interested to see where the second book goes.

Review

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of Zer0es (Zer0es #1) by Chuck Wendig

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, 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 the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

Zer0es was a fun, rather over the top read, and unlike anything I’d ever really read before. I’m not sure how many books I’ve read about hackers – I’m pretty sure this was the first (and since then I’ve now read two more…). Opening with our five ‘Zeroes’ being recruited (or rather apprehended) by the US Government, it easily set up each character’s personality. The hackers are given the option to either work for the government as ‘whitehats’, or go to prison. They each, sensibly, choose to become ‘whitehats’ (the ‘good’ hackers, or rather those working for the government), and form an elite team. However, once their work begins they start to discover secrets, secrets and more secrets…

I’m actually really struggling in writing this review, as you can probably see by its length. This is definitely a ‘disappointed, expected more’ kind of three stars, and there isn’t that much I feel I can comment on. This is the most useless kind of review, where a book doesn’t make me feel any kind of strong negative or positive feelings, but unfortunately that’s how Zer0es was for me. This book felt like it was lacking something, and it didn’t quite pull me in enough. What ultimately let the book down for me in the end were the characters. The five ‘Zeroes’ felt very 2D, there wasn’t much to them past their hacker personas, or else they felt a little stereotypical. I particularly wanted to slap Reagan, a typical internet troll. Maybe that’s the reaction the author was going for, but as a reader I don’t really want to feel aggravated whilst trying to get through a book…

However I can’t fault the action in Zer0es. Despite much of it comprising of people sat at screens, typing rapidly and furiously, Wendig’s writing somehow made that into something very exciting and gripping. Whilst I won’t be continuing with this particular series, I won’t let it stop me from trying out some of Wendig’s other writing.