Review

Review: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

28149981.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

Because I don’t have a lot of space for storing books, I do quite often donate them to charity after reading if they aren’t favourites or I don’t think I will re-read them. This allows me to buy even more without taking up more space, so my book collection pretty much remains at the same size. Revolution was in my ‘donate after reading’ pile, and as I will soon be moving I’ve been trying to work through more of these so I don’t need to take them with me.

I’m not really sure what I expected when I picked up this book. In fact, after a couple of chapters I almost DNFed it because of the main character, Andi. The book opens with Andi hanging out with her friends, and they immediately seemed so pretentious and ridiculous, but I decided to keep going. And whilst I finished the book, Andi was definitely not my favourite of characters. I loved that she was so passionate about music and art, and really knowledgeable, but at times she felt elitist and a bit of a snob. Not to mention the whole very ‘try hard’ emo style she was going for. I get that she’s grieving. I get that she’s gone through this horrible event. But it kind of felt lazy for the author to use the emo look to portray someone who is struggling to get over the death of someone close to them.

However, Revolution was a clever story. I thought the use of the French Revolution, and entwining both Andi and Alex’s stories to be very well done. I maybe didn’t enjoy reading Alex’s journal entries as much as I’d expected – they just didn’t flow as well – but it was nice to revisit this area of history that I studied in detail eight or nine years ago.

Overall, this was a quick and easy read, and actually a lot more enjoyable than I’d reckoned – but let down in places by the portrayal of the main character.

Advertisements
Review

Review: The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley

22929615.jpg

2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

The Dead Men Stood Together was, perhaps, not quite what I was expecting. I actually ended up reading this in print, rather than the e-galley originally from Netgalley, and the cover of the finished version gave the impression of a book for much younger readers than I’d originally thought. This is supported by the size of the font (HUGE), which for some reason was all in bold, a choice I found rather odd.

Formatting aside, this was a strange book. It is based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an odd choice considering the book’s intended audience – and especially when, on reading, I think I would have appreciated the book a lot more had I prior knowledge of the poem, which I expect most middle grade/teen readers won’t have. It is not entirely clear when the book is set, the prologue is clearly the late 19th century but the majority of the story is centuries before that – from the elements of the story I would hazard a guess at the 1700s, which is also when Ancient Mariner was published.

The Dead Men Stood Together tells of a young boy who joins his uncle on a supply ship, but their ship gets lost in a storm and ends up in frozen and foggy waters. They are soon frequently visited by an albatross, whom the crew begin to see as a beacon of hope. However, the boy’s uncle, who is possibly mad and completely untruthful, kills the albatross, and the crew turns on him. Fortunately, just before they can kill him, the ice and fog begin to clear, and they are free. It just gets weirder from there – although this is all a direct retelling of the Ancient Mariner, the poem in prose form. The only original element is the narrator, the young boy on a journey with his uncle.

This was an easy and quick read, but a very odd one. I would definitely have appreciated it a lot more if I’d previously read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I have a feeling the book will suffer a lot for much of its target audience being unfamiliar with the poem. I have to admit, whilst I’d heard of it, I knew very little about it before now. There were no names in the book – as with the poem, I believe – but this only meant that I had no chance to ‘get to know’ the characters. And now that I know that the book is pretty much the poem exactly, with a few additions at beginning and end, it feels almost lazy.

Review

Review: The Winner’s Curse (The Winner’s Trilogy #1) by Marie Rutkoski

16069030.jpg

4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The Winner’s Curse is a tricky book to define – I honestly have no idea what genre to put it under. The setting doesn’t quite feel fantasy, but it also doesn’t quite feel science fiction. I suppose it could considered to be a dystopian novel, but in a very different way to other Young Adult dystopian such as The Hunger Games or Divergent. I’m not really sure what I was expecting when I picked it up – there are a lot of positive reviews on Goodreads – but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this.

The setting seemed a little odd. There was obvious Graeco-Roman inspiration, e.g. the empire, slaves, villas, names such as Trajan and soldiers with names ending in ‘x’, but there were plenty of names that didn’t fit. I suppose it doesn’t have to be inspired by one particular culture, if any at all, but it does make it feel more grounded and ‘real’, in a way. The world-building didn’t feel very strong. There was a vague sense of history – the Valorians enslaved the Herranis a while before the events of the book, but that was about it.

Kestrel, the protagonist, was a relief. She may have been from an aristocratic family, but she wasn’t amazing at everything, despite all the opportunities. She was clever, quick-witted and musical, but not a good fighter. She doesn’t mope about, there’s no talk of how she’s plain or any ‘special snowflake’ behaviour. And she has a genuine friendship with a female friend that doesn’t just revolve around the friend being a handy way for Kestrel to discuss her feelings – although it does seem that way at first, it is later shown that Jess is truly important to Kestrel. However, Arin felt quite flat. There was a little bit of his history, but I wasn’t able to get a real sense of his personality. It’s a possibility that he was meant to be mysterious and aloof, but it didn’t really come off that way.

I am writing this review a few weeks after reading the book, and I have to admit that if it weren’t for my notes, I’d have great difficulty writing this. Despite having read the book not that long ago, it took me a little while to recall all of the details. It may not be the most memorable of stories, but I do know that I really enjoyed it! And the best bit? No insta-love!

Review

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

6342491.jpg

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 Novice (Summoner #1) by Taran Matharu

22297138.jpg

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.

yawn gif

Review

Review: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

25372801.jpg

5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

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

A tale of magic versus science, All the Birds in the Sky had me gripped from the very first page. It was a truly enchanting story, all the more wonderful for going in pretty much unaware of the plot, or anything about the book (apart from the pretty cover).

There was something really wonderful about Charlie Jane Anders’ writing. She added in all these unnecessary details, so small and yet they made the story all the more intriguing, the world all the more vivid. I have previously spoken about how I like magic systems that require some sort of sacrifice, rather than just saying some words or waving a wand and casting a spell, but here this system seemed to work quite well. Patricia’s magic required no sacrifice, but that felt natural. I felt that the book would not have benefited from an explanation of how the magic worked – it would have just distracted away from the story.

Although All the Birds in the Sky did lose its wind a bit in the last quarter or so, I was gripped throughout almost the entire story. It was a truly lovely story of two ‘weirdos’ who come together, united by their social awkwardness and alternative interests. As you can see by how short this review is, I just don’t feel I can truly tell you how wonderful this was – so go out and read it yourself!

Review

Review: Divergent (Divergent #1) by Veronica Roth

13335037.jpg

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.