Reaper Man is a book that I find really hard to define. It would be so easy to simply describe it as a hil...moreOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
Reaper Man is a book that I find really hard to define. It would be so easy to simply describe it as a hilarious – or even absurdist – romp about the chaos that ensues after Death is (forcibly) retired without an immediate replacement to take over his duties. There are wizards running around, there are snow globes that pop out of nowhere then hatch into EVIL shopping trolleys (!!), a bunch of previously-undead people (including a vampire and a boogeyman) fighting for Undead Rights alongside the newly-undead Windle Poons. Whilst, in the meantime, basically oblivious to all the chaos, Death assumes the mantle of Bill Door and finds work at Miss Flitworth’s farm as a literal reaper man, helping with the harvest.
And this description above would not be inexact.
But it would be an incomplete one. This is a funny, absurd book and it does feature all of the above and it is perfectly fun and fine at face value. But it is finer when it comes to its metaphors and its thought-provoking themes. There is actually one fun moment of meta-awareness within the story when Windle Poons realises that the whole chaos surrounding him, the things happening to him are so full of metaphorical interpretations it is almost too much.
Anyways, one of the main ideas here is that when Death retires, the living cease to die – at least for a time. In a more immediate storyline, the building of this untapped life force causes many problems for the inhabitants of Discworld and allows for darker forces to try to exploit this gap.
The point is, no Death = no moving on, especially to those who are waiting for this idea of personified Death to come and collect them. Actually one of the recurrent ideas of the Death books (at least these two I have read) is that beliefis a force to be reckoned with and it infuses the entire concept of this worldbuilding.
One of the main characters here alongside Death is the elderly magician Widdle Poons who have lived an unremarkable life until he became undead. He died but there was no one to collect him so he came back to life only to find that he now has a strong body and a clear mind for the first time in decades. This extra time proves to be everything to him – at first, he is perfectly happy to go along with his friends’ plans to rebury him (alive) because he understands his being HERE is completely abnormal. But then he finds himself being needed…and that is a powerful motivator.
Meanwhile, Death finds himself with counted time for the first time. For someone who never had to count time before, this comes as a shock. It is the first time since the beginning of life that Death truly understands his harvest.
This juxtaposition of both storylines is fascinating because what happened to both these characters is a boon but in different ways. Widdle has more time, Death has less time but both find meaning. And it’s remarkable because it is still all so relative because minutes and hours and lives are still ephemeral in the great scheme of things but all so important to everyone.
So this is about Time and about life and about being needed, being helpful. It’s also about empathy: the ending of this book is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. It’s Death coming to a better understanding of his role, of his standing, of the humans he is supposed to harvest. His relationship with Miss Flitworth is a thing of heart-warming beauty and their final moments and their literal danse macabre are so full of compassion it almost made my heart burst.
And it is funny because Death becomes even more humanised – which is exactly what caused the problem in the first place – but he is now probably a better Death than ever before. You just ask the Death of Rats (and while at it, the Death of Fleas) what they think of it. (less)
On a Red Station, Drifting is a science fiction novella by Aliette de Bodard, and its recent nomination...moreOriginal review posted over at the Kirkus blog
On a Red Station, Drifting is a science fiction novella by Aliette de Bodard, and its recent nomination for Best Novella in the 2012 Nebula Awards put it on my radar. I'm glad, since this proved to be a remarkable read.
At first glance, one can see familiar science fiction trappings in its setting and basic premise: At some point in the future, Prosper Space Station is at a crossroads point of its long existence. Its resources are depleted as one of the consequences of an ongoing war, its greatest minds called away to join the fight for the Dai Viet Empire. Worst of all, its artificial intelligence, the Honoured Ancestress, once the mind that connected everyone and offered guidance and protection, is now faltering, ailing and wilting away to unpredictable results.
This familiar setting is just a departure point from which to deeply explore aspects of this imagined future in meaningful ways that combine the private and the public. The excellence here comes from the realm this novella chooses to concern itself with, as well its narrative focus. The former relates to family, tradition and ancestry and how they affect people's lives. Everyone in Prosper Station is related and interconnected both by blood and by the AI’s always present company. To some, this is a positive aspect that offers comfort. To others, it’s a prison that is worth questioning. Ancestry is so important as to be literal, real: To those who are worthy, there are mem-implants of their Ancestors offering guidance and counsel. The more mem-implants one has, the greater the individual.
Of course, the question of what exactly makes one worthy is central to this story. In this version of the future, people are tested for their abilities; those who fail these tests are forever branded as lesser beings, unable to have mem-implants of their Ancestors, often saddled in marriages against their will to greater partners and discriminated against what is perceived as lack of achievement. Interestingly, gender plays no role in this: Lesser and greater partners can be either male or female and a great number of lesser people left behind on Prosper Station are actually male (their greater wives off to war).
These social, cultural, historical strands are examined closer—privately, personally—in the lives of two women, the two main characters that share the narrative focus: Station Mistress Quyen and her distant cousin, a visiting Magistrate named Linh. Linh is an educated official, used to exert power, who shares her mind with several mem-implants of her Ancestors. Her arrival at Prosper Station is what sets things in motion—the reasons for her coming there are a matter of life and death. Quyen effectively runs the Station but, as a lesser individual, she is burdened by her own sense of inferiority which shapes her interactions with most people. Quyen is the only one who truly understands what the Honoured Ancestress’ ailment really means to Prosper.
These two characters are believable, incredibly strong female characters whose strengths lie in how their characterisation allows them to be complex, flawed individuals. Their interactions are fraught with tension and miscommunication stemming from their different sense of self-worth. And each woman’s arc eventually leads her to make choices, those choices a balance of questioning and acceptance.
This is an extremely political story in every sense of the word: on a macro scale of fighting for one’s beliefs in impossible situations and within the microcosm of the domestic, the individual—this dichotomy not really a dichotomy at all, as the micro and macro often intertwine in an inextricable tangle.
This is a beautifully realized story and the characters, plot, theme and writing are expertly crafted. My one regret is that I did not read it before we sent out our Hugo Award Nominations.
…And then, one day in the not so distant future, once On a Red Station, Drifting inevitably becomes the SciFi classic it’s meant to be, we can all look back and remember this horrendous cover with fondness. Maybe.
Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to the absolutely fabulous, heart-breaking, th...moreOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
Rose Under Fire is a companion novel to the absolutely fabulous, heart-breaking, the-best-book-of-2012 Code Name Verity. I will come back to this later.
The plot summary of Rose Under Fire is rather straightforward: a young and naïve American girl named Rose Justice joins the allied forces in England flying planes for the War Effort. While on a short mission to Paris, she is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp. There, she forms strong, deep connections to a group of young political Polish prisoners known as the Rabbits. The Rabbits were the victims of horrifying medical experiments and were protected by the rest of the Camp because of their attempt to bear witness to these atrocities by telling the world.
I don’t know how to write this review. It’s hard to concentrate on what happens in the book not only because it is a difficult topic (I’ve had nightmares two nights in a row now after reading it) but also because I think that I’d rather talk about the themes that arise from it. There are so many.
Just like Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel. Rose keeps a notebook before going to Ravensbrück where she writes about her experiences as a pilot until she is taken. The narrative resumes after Ravensbrück when Rose decides to write down her experiences – at least what she can remember of the six months she spent there. The final two “books” are written about one year later at the time the war trials begin.
It’s interesting: throughout the book there are four different Roses. But it’s always, always the same person. Because her voice is the same but the level of maturity is not – there is a question of superb writing skills here. Rose’s naivety and eagerness to start with are so painful because you just know they will not survive the war.
And I loved this because in these stories the Young and Naïve and Eager soldier is almost invariably a man. This is a book that is about a very specific group of women and how they experienced the war and those are varied even within the limited scope of this novel which concentrates in the Polish/French group of prisoners, especially on the small group formed by the Rabbits. I say “varied” because this is truly I think the core of the novel.
Because even within a similar group there are different experiences of this War and above all, different ways of coping. There are those that don’t, there are those who defy, there are those who cave, there are those who betray, there are those who subvert, those who fight, those who cry, those who laugh, those who do nothing at all, those who do all of this and more.
Actually, one of the things I think the most when reading stories like this is the topic of “defiance”. Ravensbrück was a camp that held political prisoners and some of them were resistance fighters. And as much as I admire resistance fighters, I am always more interested in the small, quiet, daily defiance which is so important too. The defiance that is quiet, incisive, patient, that whispers, that shares a piece of bread, that subverts orders the best way possible.
But there are those who, just like with coping, don’t fight at all. And who can begrudge or judge? No one and especially not this book. There is absolutely no sense of value or judgement in the different ways that each person deals with these atrocities, no right or wrong way. This is all the more important when it comes to the final part of the novel when it comes to the time of bearing witness at the trials. There are those who want to and can talk about their experiences. There are those who simply can’t: who can’t talk about it, who can’t bear to think of standing in front of people and talk about the unspeakable things that happened to them.
There is a huge focus on this because Rose Under Fire is a survivor story. This is important because there were so many that didn’t survive – there are so many that went into the fold nameless and voiceless. To the survivors then there is an extra layer of guilt, of why me and I don’t even dare to imagine what it must feel like. And all of that without being exploitative or simplifying everything by the false dichotomy of good vs evil although the Rose pre-Ravensbrück does think it is as simple as that which makes her friendship with a German guard all the more impacting.
And it is also “varied” because even though Rose is the main character and narrator, I don’t think she is the heroine. Her personal story is important but Ravensbrück’s is more, the Rabbit’s is more. Rose is almost unimportant. Because she is witness.
I think this is where novel completely diverges from Code Name Verity. Because that first book felt like a deeply personal story of two friends whereas this one is more about the whole. So, going back to Code Name Verity: if you have read it, you are probably thinking: is Rose Under Fire as good? I know because I wondered the same thing.
I have been deeply affected by both books in different ways. Because they are different books even if they have the same setting, and the same themes of loyalty and friendship between ladies. But Code Name Verity as heart-wrenching as it was, also had room for fun gotchas and twists because that was a spy book. The narrative here is drier and more straightforward – as it should be. They are both good books. ____
And then in the middle of it all, the details.
The fact that before the war ended and the Concentration Camps were liberated, the majority of the world thought that the news of what was really happening in those camps that were slowly slipping to the world sounded like anti-Nazi propaganda because who WHO could believe such things?
The shared horror of a forced haircut or ripped nylon tights as a naïve prelude to worse to come; saying grace before eating meagre meals; hysterical laughter; faux school exams; propping up the dead and hiding under planks; Vive La France!; flying around the Eiffel Tower; picnics and stitched gifts; red toenails and whispered poems. Maddie (Maddie!) and any mentions of Julie that brought it all back.
And all the heartache in the world.
The simplest way to finish this review is to go back and to say: MY EMOTIONS.
Let me preface this review by getting the big points out of the way: I loved this book. I loved it deeply. For its characters, its message, its grim and terrible beauty, I loved it.
And, I’ll preface this review by saying that it is a very different book than Code Name Verity – epistolary style aside – but for those differences, it’s actually a more powerful, and more important, book.
I have to echo two sentiments that Ana puts forward: first, I think Ana hits on a very important part of the success of this Rose Under Fire – there is no (or ok, there’s some, but it’s not much) passing of judgement. I recently read a nonfictional account of the capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann in The Nazi Hunters, which emphatically, repeatedly uses the labels of GOOD and EVIL; of absolute moral right, and absolute moral depravity. I appreciate the layers in Rose Under Fire; there are terrible, unspeakable things that happen and are inflicted by terrible people, but how there are others that are neither good, nor evil, but somewhere in between (prison guard Anna, for example).
Second, as Ana has pointed out in her part of the review, the theme of defiance and its many faces throughout the book is truly remarkable. I loved the heartbreaking depiction of the different levels of resistance and strength, from taking too long to do different tasks, to chasing after and nudging pilotless planes to their demise, to turning out the lights in a concentration camp and throwing handfuls of dirt while screaming to cause chaos. My goodness, how brave and strong and amazing these people all are and were.
These things said, I think what I appreciated the most about this book are the underlying themes of truth, and truth in storytelling. The truth will be heard. This is the single sentiment that we see Rose and her fellow prisoners in Ravensbrück fight for and rally behind, over and over again. Because the truth is what matters; the reality of the “rabbits” of Ravensbrück and the medical experiments they endured, the cold and starvation and hard labor they faced before being murdered. The truth.
It is perhaps unfair to compare this book to Code Name Verity, which is, as Ana says, an internal novel about two best friends, spies, and brilliant, unexpected lies. Rose Under Fire is a very different creature, without the huge walloping twists of the former novel, and more of a straightforward retrospective record of Rose’s life before and after Ravensbrück. It’s an important story, and one that is written with Elizabeth Wein’s beautifully skilled hand – I have to agree with Ana, the iterations of Rose before she tips that doodlebug and is captured by the Nazis is an entirely different Rose that is imprisoned and beaten in Ravensbrück. And that Rose is a different one than the terrified survivor, who fears her newfound space and freedom (to the point where any loud noises, like a telephone ringing, terrify her). The Rose that ends the book – the one that is reunited with her fellow friends and survivors, who goes to medical school following the war and after she has survived surviving – this is the strongest, most powerful Rose of them all. And I deeply appreciated and loved this character, so very much – moreso, I think, than the heroines of Code Name Verity.
Praises all said, the one key area where I felt that Rose Under Fire faltered, however, is in its epistolary narrative. (This perhaps is my own stylistic preference and nitpick, more than anything else.) Rose narrates the story through her journal before Ravensbrück as a daily diary, but after she escapes and survives the concentration camp, the narrative switches to a long, very detailed account of daily life and her encounters over that missing year. To me, this feels more than a little contrived (to be fair, I had the same issue with Code Name Verity and the plausibility gap of a hardened Gestapo officer allowing a young captured spy to write so much in a journal day after day of being imprisoned and divulging nothing of importance). I also was not a huge fan of Rose’s poetry, although I appreciate the importance of lyricism and poetry to the character. Personally, it wasn’t to my taste, but this is completely a matter of personal taste and not a failing of the writing at all.
The only other thing I will say about this book actually has very little to do with the book – and perhaps this is more of a personal reflection, or fodder for a ponderings post, than it is a fair commentary on the actual story itself. (This is code for me saying, please feel free to tune out now!) Still, I feel very strongly that something must be said: Rose Under Fire is one hell of a book. It’s a powerful, emotionally resonant historical novel about remembering and about surviving, and I truly appreciate and value that. That said, it’s also a story about a war that ended nearly 70 years ago. It’s also the story narrated by a beautiful, young, privileged, white girl who literally falls into a terrible situation. Please understand that I am not disparaging or arguing against the value of the rich canon of literature about the Holocaust, or the set of circumstances facing heroine Rose. I am simply saying this: there are so many wars, atrocities, even genocides that have happened in the last 70 years, and that are still happening now. Those truths and those stories are hardly represented today – much less in YA literature. And perhaps this doesn’t belong here in this review, but it’s something I am acutely conscious of, and I vow to do as much as I can to change this and draw awareness to the titles that do exist in these more contemporary, non-WWII centric eras. Because I am inspired by Rose’s story and by this book, because I think it’s important to talk, to remember, and to experience that truth through storytelling, I vow to read and review books from other, more contemporary wars, from viewpoints other than that of the white, the privileged, and the western European. (I think I’ll start with Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick, or A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah – if anyone has any other suggestions, please, please let me know.) And that is all. (less)
Since the events of The Ruby in the Smoke - the devastating loss of Sally's father, the dramatic mystery of a...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Since the events of The Ruby in the Smoke - the devastating loss of Sally's father, the dramatic mystery of a cursed Ruby and an old woman who would stop at nothing to seize its power - quite a lot has happened in Sally's life. She has gone to Cambridge and procured a higher education (even if she, a woman, could not receive a degree), she has organized her dear friends' photography business and saved it from financial ruin, and she has fittingly gone into business as a financial consultant. Everything is going swimmingly, until one of her recent clients loses their life savings on an investment in a shipping company - an investment that Sally personally endorsed, no less. Flabbergasted and determined to get to the bottom of the unprecedented liquidation of the shipping firm, Sally delves into the company's mysterious demise and discovers a sprawling, tangled web of murder, espionage, and machinery. At the heart of the mystery, in the middle of the web waits a tycoon named Bellman, plotting, manipulating everyone, slowly and steadily building power at the highest levels of industry and government.
Well, it's official: I am addicted to Sally Lockhart. I am enthralled, enamored, and utterly heartbroken by this novel. I am thrilled and infuriated. I will continue to read this series to the bitter end because I am incredibly hooked (I am still heartbroken though - DAMN YOU, PHILIP PULLMAN).
A LOT has happened in the time between this second mystery and the first book - so much so that I was concerned that I picked up the wrong book to read. But that is simply the nature of the novel, and once you get over the initial shock of the gap in time, it's easy to slip back into the world of Sally Lockhart. Since The Ruby in the Smoke, Sally has started an entirely new business and has grown into a wise - if prickly - young woman, running a business on her own and determined to keep her money and property and independence no matter the cost. This also means, however, that her relationship with Frederick - the young, vivacious photographer whom she met in on a desperate sea-side scramble in Ruby in the Smoke - is also strained. Fred is in love with Sally, you see, and wants to marry her; but Sally, uncertain of her feelings and needing to maintain her independence, refuses to answer him. And so, for months, the two have interacted, clearing caring for each other but also slipping easily into intense arguments about the same subject. It makes for a very interesting dynamic - the Sally of this second book is less naive than the Sally of a few years earlier. She's just as fierce and brave, but her need to be so strong and independent also means she's pushing people away from her. In particular there's one scene between Sally and Fred that broke my heart - he tells her that at her best she is brilliant, but at her worst she is a cold, abrasive terror, and as a third party observer you can see this is true. That's not to say that Sally is a cruel character or unrelateable - quite the opposite, actually. It hurts because it's true and we want Sally to open up and trust the people who so clearly love her, and whose affection she so clearly reciprocates (even if she refuses to admit it to herself). And there is MORE to this relationship, but I refuse to talk about it because there are SPOILERS. Suffice it to say, it broke my heart.
Of course, beyond this one central relationships, The Shadow in the North is a proper Mystery novel - complete with industrial espionage, secret companies and bad investments, guns, graphite and steam. The identity of the villain isn't a mystery, but the way everything fits together and the seemingly disparate plot threads, is a wonderful payoff. And the secret behind all of Bellman's machinations is also wonderfully, impressively unveiled. All around, this is a much more sophisticated book than The Ruby in the Smoke - it incorporates elements of spiritualism, secret marriages, and murder in the ice no less. But right alongside these more sensationalist elements, there's also some wonderful economic thriller aspects to the book, which might not sound particularly sexy but an angle that I absolutely LOVED. Sally's brand of detection takes her to research financial statements and patent histories, corporate entities and ghost companies. I'm saying it again: this is so freaking awesome. I love that this is a heroine that loves facts and figures, that loves math and history and finance and wields this intelligence like the honed blade that it is. AWESOME.
In addition to all of this, we get to see familiar faces (not just Sally and Fred, but Jim who is now a young man) and new faces, the most memorable of the new being Sally's loyal dog, Chaka.
And, everyone, there is HEARTBREAK. The only thing I was not crazy about with this book was the very, very end - not so much because of the terrible thing that Philip Pullman does to you as a reader, but because of the trite last sentence twist (which you can predict coming from miles away).
All that said - I still loved the book. I will be back for more, very soon.(less)
Sally Lockhart is sixteen years old when she loses her father. The only child of a successful merchant with a...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Sally Lockhart is sixteen years old when she loses her father. The only child of a successful merchant with a business of importing goods from far-off destinations, Sally is devastated when she learns that her father's boat has capsized somewhere off the coast of Singapore, killing him and every other soul onboard. To make matters worse, her only living relation is a distant, scornful Aunt, and her inheritance is far less than what it should be, thanks to a complication in her father's will. But what has Sally truly flummoxed is a mysterious, misspelled anonymous note she receives in the post, with the message: "Sali beware of the seven blessings. Marchbanks will help chattum. Bware darling."
Little does Sally know that her quest to understand this message, to figure out what the mysterious Seven Blessings are, who Marchbanks is, will lead to devastating revelations about her past. Her quest for answers will also lead to a mysterious ruby, and a single-minded old woman who will stop at nothing to get her hands on this prize.
Dear readers, I am incredibly remiss - I cannot believe that it took me so long to first discover that this book existed, and second, to actually read and review it. The Ruby in the Smoke is admittedly no His Dark Materials, but it is a wonderfully written and executed Victorian Mystery. And it's one I enjoyed very, very much. From the onset of the book (really, from the first paragraph introducing Sally Lockhart), I fell in love with the characters and the writing, with its universal omniscient - aka, the "Little Did She Know" foreshadowing/opinion - style. Instead of forced or affected, this writing choice feels very much like a Victorian novel, and imbues a sly character to the narration and some effective foreshadowing for twists to come as Sally and her friends unravel the mystery of the Maharajah's (cursed) missing ruby. On that note, the plot and true mystery angle of the novel is solid and executed perfectly. There are dual mysteries here, really, whose answers lie in Sally's past: the mystery of Sally's father's death (and the "seven blessings"), the mystery of the missing ruby (and the reasons why people desire it). Sally's first adventure is a story filled with secrets and reveals, with sojourns to isolated run down mansions, secret journals and hidden letters, opium dens and even pirates. Needless to say, there is a lot going on in The Ruby in the Smoke, but it never feels over-much or over-wrought - no small feat.
On a character front, this book also excels. I adore Sally Lockhart, who is a no-nonsense heroine, who has no knowledge of French or literature but knows how to balance accounts, invest in stocks and bonds, and manage a business. (On that note, can I please interject - A HEROINE THAT LOVES MATH AND ECONOMICS! YES! THIS! I freaking love it!) In addition to the smart, steady-handed and sympathetic heroine we have in Sally, we also meet a swath of different characters, villains and friends alike, over the course of this book. Mrs. Holland, the book's villain, is a terrifying figure, with her cruelty (and the frightening image of her over-large, vicious dentures) and her singular desire to seize the ruby at any cost. We never really know what drives Mrs. Holland until the end of the book, when we learn a little more about her past and her character - she's no sympathetic villain, but she has a believable backstory that fuels her misery and obsession.
The best characters, in my opinion, are the new friends that Sally makes - Jim, an apprentice clerk at Sally's shipping company with his keen insights (fueled by his love for penny dreadfuls); Frederick, the photographer who is terrible with numbers but passionate about his art (and who is quite taken with young Sally); Rosa, the vivacious, beautiful actress who has defied her family and spurned her inheritance for freedom and passion; and Adelaide, the urchin forced to do Mrs. Holland's bidding, but who finally finds friends and a brighter future. In sum, Sally has made a crew of friends with the perfect set of skills for a new investigation agency. I'm keen to see what happens in their next adventure together.
Finally, I cannot end this review without saying something about that ending! I admit to tearing up just a little bit with that emotional final discovery, and I cannot wait to read the next book in this wonderful series. Absolutely recommended.
(And clearly I must check out the 2006 BBC television adaptation - starring Billie Piper and Matt Smith in a strange out-of-sequence Doctor Who confluence of awesomeness?)
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1, the best introduction to a character, EVER:
On a cold, fretful afternoon in early October, 1872, a hansom cab drew up outside the offices of Lockhart and Selby, Shipping Agents, in the financial heart of London, and a young girl got out and paid the driver.
She was a person of sixteen or so--alone, and uncommonly pretty. She was slender and pale, and dressed in mourning, with a black bonnet under which she tucked back a straying twist of blond hair that the wind had teased loose. She had unusually dark brown eyes for one so fair. Her name was Sally Lockhart; and within fifteen minutes, she was going to kill a man.
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle m...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle makes her home. After her father, a fisherman, rows out his ship and never returns, Peri's mother lapses into quiet despair, forgetting to talk and always staring out at the roiling sea and fantasizing about the people that live in its depths. Without her parents to watch over her or remind her to do things like brush her hair or hem her clothes, Peri grows from a quiet child to a wild and somewhat neglected young woman - her hair always a tangle, her dresses bleached of all color, too tight in some places, too loose in others. Even the old wise woman who used to brush Peri's hair in her small cottage disappears one day, leaving Peri without anyone to care for her at all. During the day, she works at the local inn, scrubbing floors and cleaning rooms; by night, she returns to the old woman's cottage and makes her own isolated home where she plots her revenge against the sea. Hateful of the ocean that has taken both of her parents away, Peri crafts three crude hexes to curse the sea - it is here that she meets Prince Kir, who also knew the wise woman and years for her counsel. Kir has deep troubles of his own, also connected to the watery depths, and hopes that Peri can help him make his peace with the ocean that haunts his every waking moment. When Peri finishes her hexes and throws them deep into the great water, she also includes an offering from Kir - and to Peri's great astonishment, her hexes start to work.
A great sea dragon starts to appear amongst the fishermen's boats on the sea, with an impossibly large gold chain around its neck. Then, a magician comes to town, promising that he will be able to remove the chain and give the gold to the villagers - for a price. And most importantly, Kir's dreams of the sea grow more fevered and frantic, as his own unknown, hidden past catches up to him. And it is all up to Periwinkle to set everything back to rights.
To date, I've only read a handful of books and short stories from Patricia McKillip, mostly her recent releases. The Changeling Sea, however, is one of McKillip's earlier works, originally published in the 1980s and instantly endeared itself to me - a changeling fable that takes place by the stormy sea? What better place to jump into McKillip's rich and extensive backlist? And you know what? I absolutely loved this book. Shortly put: The Changeling Sea is another gorgeous, wonderful book from the incredibly talented McKillip.
I'm going to say something that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is so very true: Patricia McKillip has a way with words that is simply magical. Like The Bell at Sealey Head or The Bards of Bone Plain, The Changeling Sea is a slender book, but one written with lush and evocative prose that is as beautiful as it is simple. For example:
A sigh, smelling of shrimp and seaweed, wafted over the water... In the deep waters beyond the stones, a great flaming sea-thing gazed back at her, big as a house or two, its mouth a strainer like the mouth of a baleen whale, its translucent fiery streamers coiling and uncoiling languorously in the warm waters. The brow fins over its wide eyes gave it a surprised expression. Around its neck, like a dog collar, was a massive chain of pure gold.
Beautiful, no? Such is McKillip's writing, littered throughout with these gleaming gems of description and story.
Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.
As the title suggests, The Changeling Sea is a fable about a changeling, and a story whose heart is inextricably tied to the sea. It's a book about love - no, scratch that. It's actually a book about yearning for what once was, and what can never be again. It's the book of a King that yearns for the beauty of the sea queen in all her splendor, the story of two brothers crossed at birth that yearn for their true homes on sea and on land. It's the story of a wild haired, barefooted fisherman's daughter that dares hex the spiteful sea, and yearns for the love of one that can never return it. Aren't these some of the best of all? These stories of want and hate and love, all jumbled up into one powerful package of emotion?
And then there are the characters! Periwinkle, our heroine, is a pinched and angry character at first, who scowls at the ocean but refuses to leave its shores despite her hate. She's bold and wild, who cares little about the conventions that bind others - she doesn't have secret dreams of catching the prince's eye like the other girls who work at the inn, and she doesn't pay attention to her clothes or her hair. She's smart but rough around the edges, passionate but obstinate - and for all that, a character you cannot help but love, flaws and all. There is the tortured Kir, who is...well, defined by his yearning for the ocean and his feeling that he does not belong on dry land. There's also the sea dragon himself, who is not at all what he seems, and a king that has made mistakes in his past but loves his children and lovers dearly. But for all that, my other favorite character in this beautiful little book is Lyo - the canny magician, with his smiling face and his penchant for twisting magic in delightful, unexpected ways.
All in all, I loved The Changeling Sea, and absolutely recommend it. I cannot wait to try more of Patricia McKillip's work - now, any suggestions on where to go next? (less)
It could be argued that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a book chiefly about routine – routine that is painstakingly described by its narrator M...moreIt could be argued that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a book chiefly about routine – routine that is painstakingly described by its narrator Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood and thoroughly adhered to by her and those she shares her life with: her beloved sister Constance, their sickly uncle Julian and even Jonas, the cat.
This daily routine is almost a magical thing for Merricat, source of comfort and power. Certain days of the week belong to cleaning the house as well as making sure that each room remain exactly as they once were. Other days are the days where Merricat ventures outside the boundaries of her house in search of food and books. Those are the worse days: the days when she is taunted by the villagers and where it is made clear that the Blackwoods are others and have always been so.
Their otherness are both real and imagined. There is clearly a distinction of social class and the villagers see the Blackwoods as lofty and separate. The Blackwoods themselves have always thought so as well but the remaining Blackwoods are other for different reasons. Just how much of Merricat and Constance’s strangeness is exacerbated by any external factor is a matter for discussion but there is something clearly broken here. The more time is spent with the Blackwoods, the clearly this becomes and Merryicat and Constance both reveal facets of themselves that are extremely disturbing and even perverse.
The problem is that the villagers – unlike us, the readers –have no way of knowing just the extent of the girls’ strangeness. When they act upon their mistrust, they are acting on their own accord, led by their own prejudices and small-minded persecution. There is horror here but it is a different type of horror than the one that takes place inside the house – and inside Merricat’s point of view.
This juxtaposition of what the villagers know and what they don’t know is only one of the reasons that make this book such a triumph. Merricat’s (extremely) unreliable narrative as well as the book’s ultimate conceptualisation embody perfect storytelling.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle is an incredibly harrowing story because of the former. Something terrible has happened to the Blackwoods 6 years ago and something terrible is about to happen again when the observance of their routine is abruptly interrupted by an unwanted visitor. It starts when Merricat is no longer allowed to go to the village. As we come to realise, this is a person who is completely unable to change – the Blackwoods live suspended in time and the biggest indication of that is how Merricat’s voice is that of a much, much younger girl than she is supposed to be. These girls have not grown at all and their carefully maintained lives are only possible because of that. The reasons why are open for interpretation.
The latter – the book’s brilliant framing – is exemplified by the narrative within narrative as Uncle Julian tries to organise and retell those events that took place six years before. But above all in the way the story progresses and eventually culminates in a perfectly shaped fairytale: the type that horrifies but also presents no excuses for its horror. The type that sees its roots in oral storytelling (this might be a written story, but Merricat is telling us her story in a most traditional way) as it grows and transforms in time. The ending encapsulates this perfectly.
I admit that this review is a rather cryptic one in terms of how I have refrained from talking about specific plot details but believe me when I say this is for the best. 1
There are definitely thematic parallels between this and the The Haunting of Hill House as well as the psychological horror that fuels the narrative. But it is the narrative in the two books – how engaging and unnerving they are – that brings both books together and which makes me say, without hesitation, that Shirley Jackson has blown my mind away. And I am so happy to have finally discovered her books. (less)
Maeve, the fourth daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters, has lived apart from her immediate f...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Maeve, the fourth daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters, has lived apart from her immediate family for ten years. As a child Maeve fell victim to a terrible fire, scarring her face and body and costing her the use of her hands. For ten years since, Maeve has lived with her Aunt Liadan and Uncle Bran in Britain - sent away by her parents at first in the hopes that Liadan would be able to find a salve or poultice that could help Maeve heal and regain some movement of her fingers and hands. As the years pass, however, and the reality of Maeve's condition sets in, she learns from her foster family how to be brave and strong in the face of adversity, how to accept herself, and live a happy, normal life. Maeve is resigned to never be married or run a household in the manner that a chieftan's wife would, and instead, she hones another skill - Maeve has a natural gift for communicating and soothing animals, and uses her skills to train horses in Bran's stables. As for Sevenwaters and her birth parents, Maeve has little desire to ever return home, where she believes she will certainly be seen as an embarrassment to her father, and a weight on the household to her mother.
All of that changes when Lord Sean writes a desperate missive to Bran - Sevenwaters faces a dire threat. The men and two sons of neighboring Chieftan Cruinn of Tirconnell have disappeared while riding through Sevenwaters woods, and despite Lord Sean's search efforts, the corpses of Cruinn's men are turning up one by one, murdered in cruel, unimaginable ways. Mac Dara, the cold king of the fair folk, is behind the Disappearances - his end goal, presumably, to lure his only son Cathal back to Sevenwaters, to force Cathal to succeed Mac Dara's reign of darkness and grief. Mac Dara's actions have a more immediate and sinister implication, however, as Sevenwaters faces threat of war from Cruinn and other clans that have fallen out of kinship with Lord Sean. In order to appease and soothe these tensions, Lord Sean implores Bran to send his finest, most prized stallion across the sea to Erin as a peace offering while Sean's men continue to search for Cruinn's sons. The journey from Britain is long and hard, though, and for Bran's prize horse - a skittish stallion named Swift - only Maeve can calm the beast enough to endure the journey.
Maeve's long overdue return to Sevenwaters is fraught hardship and heartbreak, as she must confront her past and face her family, but it bears the promise of hope and love, as well. Her homecoming is the key to stopping Mac Dara; together with her younger brother Finbar, and aided by two loyal hounds, Maeve must journey to the Otherworld and fulfill a long forgotten geas to protect those she loves from all harm and safeguard Sevenwaters' future.
The sixth in the Sevenwaters series, Flame of Sevenwaters is an Epic Book (note the capitalization). There's a sense of gravity throughout this novel, as the 'coming storm' feel of all the previous books - including the first trilogy, with the events of Child of the Prophecy - come to an inevitable, high-stakes showdown. It's terrifying and exhilarating, with all of the prophecies and geasa revealed, as older figures like Ciaran, and newer faces like Maeve and Finbar, desperately make one last play to safeguard the future of Sevenwaters.
And dear, sweet readers - I loved this book. With the force of an exploding, devastatingly enormous supernova, I loved this book.
Part of the reason for this love is Flame of Sevenwaters' heroine, Maeve, who narrates this tale. Like her sisters and her family that preceded her in the prior books, Maeve faces a daunting task that requires incredible courage and dedication. More than that, Maeve also faces physical and emotional challenges unlike any her sisters have ever confronted. Her scars and the lack of use of her hands has made Maeve approach daily life in a different way than Liadan or Clodagh, or even, arguably, Sorcha. Though she must rely on a maidservant to help her eat and perform tasks like washing and dressing, Maeve is defiant and refuses to indulge in self-pity. Instead of becoming a passive heroine, Maeve builds her ability to sense emotion and empathize with animals and humans alike. Her fear, similarly, is not that she will never been seen as beautiful or that she will never marry, nor does she necessarily fear stigmatization - instead, Maeve's greatest fear is being helpless. Her strength is deep-rooted in this belief in herself and her refusal to become an object of pity, making her at times a prickly and stubborn heroine, but one worth rooting for wholeheartedly. Believe me when I say that Maeve is tempted and tested in this book, but even if she has fears and doubts, she never loses sight of who she is and what things matter the most to her - that is, the safety of those she loves, be they dogs, horses, or her beloved younger brother Finbar.
Beyond Maeve, this sixth volume also reintroduces many familiar faces, while acquainting readers with new ones, too. Among the familiar there is Finbar, no longer a helpless babe, who has grown into a solemn young boy with an uncanny gift for seeing what is to come. The bond Maeve and Finbar form is tentative at first as they are complete strangers, but grows quickly - Maeve years to give Finbar cause to hope and smile and live a normal childhood, while Finbar takes heart from his sister's defiance and courage. There's also the reintroduction of Ciaran, who plays such an important and pivotal role in this last fight against Mac Dara. Liadan and Bran make an appearance, as do Cathal and Clodagh (all my favorite, most beloved characters in this universe - outside of Sorcha and Red, of course). As for new faces, Cruinn the grieving chieftan missing his sons is a powerful figure, as is the introduction of conflicted druid (and unlikely bodyguard to Finbar), Luachan. Besides Maeve, though, my favorite characters are beasts - the two wild hounds, Bear and Badger, that Maeve finds in the shadowy regions of the woods, and beautiful horse, Swift. All three creatures play vital roles in this novel and I will not say how or why - just that though the journey is heartbreaking, it is so worth it.
As always, Juliet Marillier's writing is spectacular and lush, though I will say that the plot of this final book takes a tad too long to get going - there is lots of introspection, of Maeve dealing with her return to Sevenwaters and trying to get away from the family keep. This isn't a bad thing as it helps solidify her character and motivations, but the bulk of the actual story takes a good while to start moving. This is a minor criticism in what is an otherwise flawless novel that actually diverts from the other Sevenwaters entries. I appreciate Marillier's different approach to the structure of the book - in which Maeve's narrative is interrupted with six smaller interstitials, detailing a druid's journey - just as I appreciate her creation of a heroine that is not hale and flawlessly beautiful. Nothing against Clodagh or Sibeal, who are wonderful heroines that are powerful in their own ways, Maeve is a different kind of beautiful, whose appeal has nothing to do with her outward appearance. I love that Maeve remains true to herself throughout the book, that there is no miracle cure for her scars or her hands, though there is hope and love aplenty for her future.
And then there's the journey Maeve undergoes itself! I don't want to reveal too much of the particulars of said journey, nor do I want to reveal details of the final showdown to unseat Mac Dara from power. Suffice it to say, the stakes are as high as they have ever been, and the journey every bit as perilous - if not moreso - than those taken by any of Maeve's predecessors.
In short (though it may be too late to call this review short), I adored this book and its singular heroine. Flame of Sevenwaters is every bit as heart-wrenching as Daughter of the Forest, and as powerful as Heir to Sevenwaters. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically recommended - and beyond a doubt, one of my top 10 books of 2012.(less)
Note: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this serie...moreNote: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this series. You’re welcome.
Let me start by saying: wow. WOW.
I just can’t get over how good The Spark is. I’ve finished reading it a couple of days ago and haven’t recovered from the experience yet.
Roughly, this is what happens in The Spark: Valen, roughly one year since events at the end of Fly Into Fire. Penny “Broken” Silverwing and Sky Ranger now have a baby son, Amos. Teenager Dee is trying to take control of her powers of fire. Along with the few surviving extrahumans they have made a life for themselves apart from everything and everyone, an oasis of presumed tranquillity and as it eventually turns out, unwise recklessness. An ally and friend betrays their location to the Confederation and shit hits the fan monumentally.
And then ten years pass.
I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I sat down to write a regular review but all of a sudden…the review became something else. Because I realise that not everybody has read the first two books in the series, because I want more people to read then, I thought: instead of writing a regular review of this third book, I ought to write about the series as a whole and why I love them and why I think ALL THE PEOPLES should be reading this.
I have been reading and raving about this series since last year but with The Spark it reached a level of awesome that is off-the-charts.
Read this series if you like Scifi: like, proper, well-developed Scifi complete with space travel and superpowers and alien races. But also: dystopias. Proper, thought-out Dystopias with a government that seems to be on your side but it really are not. A government whose tentacles seem inescapable and there is real danger out there. One does not simply fight the Confederation. There are always consequences.
Read this series if you like politics: read this for the politics of the Confederation and how it controls many places at the same time but also how it attempts to control the lives and minds of people. Read this for the unrest, for the realisation that there can be no complete stability when people are exploited and subjugated and controlled. Read this for the resistance – in all forms and shapes – and for the beginning of an awesome revolution.
Read this series if you like awesome, complex characters. I just can’t even begin to describe how awesome this group of characters is and how their arcs evolve and progress beautifully. How there is angst, and sacrifices, and choices to be made and conflict. These people are put through the wringer and no one is safe. This series do not pull punches and is at times, truly heartbreaking.
Read this series if you like superheroes: whose powers are often not a blessing but a curse, whose powers don’t magically solve their problems or the problems of the world. If you like people with powers and whose struggle to accept them, control them is a lifetime struggle. These people struggle to understand who they are with or without those powers.
Read this if you like serious conflict: internal and external. The frame of the series is how an extrahuman who can predict the future contacts our characters from the past to let them know what they need to do to make a better future for everybody. Read this if you think this is fucked-up and unfair and how are these people NOT pawns on an already set course they cannot (can’t they?) alter.
Read this if you like diversity in your stories: for there are people of many races and many sexual identities. In fact, one of the main characters is a transgender person.
The Spark is a patently mature work from this author. It is a rounded, polished work and and the ending, when it comes, is as bittersweet as it can be and a perfect fit to the overall feel of this series. It is an open ending, full of potential and hope – and I hope to gods that Susan Jane Bigelow goes back to this world one day and allow me to spend more time with these characters.
I simply cannot recommend this series enough. The Spark is a serious contender for a top 10 spot this year.(less)
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island for...moreAna’s Take:
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island for example: where consuming a certain type of fish allows one a glimpse of the future; where a beetle song is deadly; and where different peoples fight for survival, as the places for the honoured dead expand at the expense of the places for the living. On one small corner of the island, the Lace – who smile all the time with their adorned teeth and whose names imitate the sounds of nature so that they don’t draw attention from the volatile, living volcanoes that pepper the island – struggle against poverty and overwhelming prejudice.
Their only hope is their Lost, Arilou, who might one day become the most important person on the island and bring riches to the Lace. Born only occasionally and respected for their abilities, the Lost are a different people on their own. Able to send their senses away from their bodies and wander around, they function as the island’s main form of communication across towns and as a sort of sage figure, their important political role unspoken rather than openly asserted.
Arilou is a different Lost though – someone whose mind wanders and rarely comes back. She can’t communicate and that is the best kept secret amongst the Lace, a secret shared and understood without being spoken out loud. Enter Hathin: Arilou’s unassuming sister, born especially to take care of Arilou, to be there for her at all times and to speak on her behalf. It is on her young shoulders that the fate of the Lace truly lies and she lives with this truth every single day of her life.
But then…the Lost start to die mysteriously. All of them are gone except for Arilou and so a history of mistrust and prejudice leads to the Lace being found guilty. Arilou and Hathin must run for their lives but how can the duo survive when one of them can hardly function on her own, on an island where everybody hates them and with an assassin on their track?
And this barely scratches the surface of Gullstruck Island.
Adventurous, wildly imaginative, engaging, thought-provoking, often heartbreaking, always inspiring, Gullstruck Island soars powerfully and beautifully. I feel like a broken record but Frances Hardinge’s imagination is otherworldly and awe-inspiring. It frustrates me a little bit that I do not have the equivalent talent (LOL, how could I) in order to express how good her books are, how awesome Gullstruck Island is. I always feel when I am writing a review of one of her books that I am woefully boring and incapable to convey the sheers brilliance of her stories. I tend to dwell on certain aspects like her powerful social commentary or her heroines’ incredible story arcs and then miss things like…say, the Reckoning in Gullstruck Island. They are group of Lace warriors who abjured their older lives so that they can avenge the death of those they loved and whose deadly weapons are anything they can get a hold of. And then there is the whole thing about the difference between revenge and justice and how different people choose different ways and it is awesome.
The best thing is how Gullstruck Island (the place) is a completely different, original setting in which familiar themes of friendship, sisterhood, coming of age, overcoming prejudice and finding one’s place in the world are explored without a shadow of clichéd writing or oversimplification.
A theme that runs through Gullstruck Island is the insidious nature of prejudice which sometimes is not even OVERT and can even be disguised as friendly. Take this quote for example:
It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it.
Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be a remark like a punch in the gut, but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave, and nobody woujld stop them because it was all only a joke…
Look at me, I am going on and on about things and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the characters are all incredibly well done and I loved them and I hated them and I feared for them and I rooted for them. But most especially, Hathin is such an amazingly drawn, complex protagonist and her arc is inspiring (how many times have I used this word in this review?) and her actions are stirring and affecting. From her complicated relationship with her sister to the way she feels about her place in the world, it is impossible not to empathise with this character. And world, why can’t we have female protagonists like these all the time?
I seriously believe that there is nothing quite like Frances Hardinge’s books out there at the moment – in any shape or form (or genre and age group).
Dear Frances Hardinge: you have ruined me for other books this year and I love you for it.
And I will just finish with my favourite quote from the book:
“I am anything I wish to be. The world cannot choose for me. No, it is for me to choose what the world shall be.”
Yes, yes, yes. Everything that Ana said. I have jumped on the Frances Hardinge bandwagon and have no plans of jumping off. Gullstruck Island is a beautiful, wildly imaginative book that is unlike most anything else out on the market today. Heck, I can’t think of any author in the YA or even adult space that possesses the same imaginative scope as Frances Hardinge.
In Gullstruck Island, we are introduced to an island-society, stratified by different groups of people – varied in their beliefs, in terms of their tribal representations, appearance, and history. Our heroine, Hathin, is one of the Lace – a group of peoples on Gullstruck, marginalized because of their air of perceived secrecy and duplicity, a prejudice that dates back to a time when the always-smiling Lace secretly killed and sacrificed humans to placate the volcanoes on the island. Since that horrific discovery generations earlier, the Lace have been ostracized and demonized by all other tribes on the island, from the Bitter-Fruit clan to the Sours. The one silver lining that the Lace have is Arilou – the Lost are rare on Gullstruck, but there has never been a Lost Lace before, so the respect and power that comes with having a Lady Lost is a huge boon to Arilou’s particular tribe (the Hollow Beasts).
There’s only one problem: Arilou, for all her beauty and seeming appearance of a Lady Lost, has never shown a sign that she is anything more than a mentally handicapped girl. This is the Hollow Beasts’ greatest secret, and all falls on the shoulders of young Hathin, Arilou’s sister and “interpreter” who, over the years, has cultivated a commanding voice for Arilou all the while making herself invisible and insignificant to any inquiring outsiders. When a pair of inspectors come to test Arilou and ensure she is, in fact, one of the Lost, things look bad for Hathin and her tribe. When one of the inspectors dies suddenly, and the other goes missing, marooned on the open ocean, things look even worse.
Someone is blaming their deaths on the Hathin’s people, and single-handedly leading an already Lace-prejudiced populace into an angry mob that seeks to wipe Hathin’s tribe from Gullstruck. It is up to Hathin to save Arilou, to avenge her tribe, and save the Lace from annihilation.
I cannot express how complex this book is, and how carefully and completely Frances Hardinge creates the world of Gullstruck and all its various peoples. The central themes of discrimination, fear, and unwarranted prejudice, stirred by heated to a frenzy by some very nasty individuals is not an unfamiliar one – finding an ethnic group or people of a different belief system to blame for misfortune is, unfortunately, a prevalent theme in human nature. In Gullstruck Island, Hardinge examines these ugly human sentiments with careful attentiveness and draws these historical parallels without ever seeming heavy-handed or didactic. This is the stuff of great writing, folks – and Hardinge handles these very important topics with all the grace and import they deserve.
But beyond the social strata and commentary, Hardinge also manages to simply create a world that is amazingly, breathtakingly full. It’s hard to believe that Gullstruck Island is not a real place, with real people! We learn the different languages that these people speak (“Nundesrruth” short for “not under this roof” is a pidgin dialect, versus “Doorsy” which is the formal spoken and written language on the island). More than that, we see their different customs and beliefs, from the Lace’s affinity for smiling and drilling precious jewels in their teeth and creating long strands of shell jewelry, to the Ash people’s hunger for human ash to create and dye their skins and their goods. There are familiar elements from many different cultures and civilizations, but Hardinge makes these inhabitants completely her own.
And the characters! And the plot twists! What more can I say that Ana hasn’t already said? I loved Hathin with the force of a thousand supernovas. I loved her dedication to her sister Arilou, her feelings of pain and fear and ineptitude when her tribe is massacred, her desire to seek revenge and join the Reckoning. I loved Arilou, too, and the twists that come with her character in particular. There are villains and friends aplenty in Gullstruck Island, all believable and formidable enough, given texture and distinction with Hardinge’s clever prose.
If I had one complaint about this book – which isn’t so much a complaint as a note – it is that Gullstruck Island is unnecessarily long. This is something that I’ve noticed with Hardinge’s other books, and I think a detriment to her work. This title, as with A Face Like Glass are very long, very dense creatures that require days of reading time – and I’m an adult, that can read pretty quickly! Gullstruck Island is not the same type of quick, compulsive read that a Harry Potter or Twilight novel is – and I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I do think this is a reason why Frances Hardinge is not a household name. A middle grade level reader or YA reader, the target reader to which Hardinge’s books are aimed, likely does not have hours and hours of reading time. Gullstruck Island is a wonderful, complex novel as it is, but it probably could stand some careful pruning – which would not only help the story move along in a more direct fashion, but could also help its marketability to new audiences.
That said, I loved this book just way it is, and Gullstruck Island is absolutely one of my notable reads of 2012 (it would’ve made my top 10, had it been published in 2012!). Wholeheartedly, unabashedly recommended. (less)
Oh, what a pleasure it is to return to the Three Worlds and the Raksura! Such a rich world, such an incred...moreOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
Oh, what a pleasure it is to return to the Three Worlds and the Raksura! Such a rich world, such an incredibly fun and adventurous story, such a bunch of well-rounded characters!
In this third (and final?) book in the Books of the Raksura series, we continue to follow the long-term tribulations of the folks from Indigo Cloud court as well as the protagonist Moon’s internal struggles.
Indigo Cloud court is still settling down in their new home when news arrive from far away: a rival court has laid claim on Moon and want him back. Moon is not happy about it, he has finally found a home with Indigo Cloud and even though he and its Queen Jade haven’t had a clutch yet (is there anything wrong with him, he wonders), things are looking up. Plus, this other court didn’t want him before, so why bother now. To his surprise, Indigo Cloud tells him to go and they explain that according to the Raksura way of life he must follow the order, that they have no choice and despite reassurances from Jade that she WILL get him back, Moon believes it is the end of the road for him and Indigo Cloud. In the meantime, there is danger in the horizon, as the Fell make their come-back with a vengeance.
This is the book where all threads present in the series so far come to an end. It is here that past and present meet in order to pave the way to the future. Both the Indigo Cloud court and Moon have to face their ghosts so that they can carry on.
For the Indigo Cloud court and even the Raksura themselves, it is time they understand more about their connection to the dreaded Fell and the things they have in common – as unthinkable as this might be. There are surprising revelations here that add an element of learning to the proceedings even as the characters are fighting for their lives in the crudest yet most exciting sequences of the novel.
For Moon, it is coming to grips with his childhood and how his perception of his own history might not be entirely true as well as coming to the understanding about how his life from before is affecting how he responds emotionally to his life now. If there was learning for the Raksura, there is all the more so for Moon. His arc finally reaches the point where he KNOWS everything: who he is, what happened to his family and why; and how this knowledge must be taken onboard to help him decide the person he wants to be.
This is the type of Fantasy series I absolutely love – and highly recommend as a worthwhile series to read and fall in love with. There is a wonderful balance between the personal and the collective, for example, with Moon having to understand the laws the Raksura live by and sometimes even question them; between different peoples and cultures; between character and plot (both drive the story forward). The world-building is unquestionably well-established and thought-through, the Raksura a wholly different species without being completely alien.
It also features a matriarchal society of completely badass women, a different type of Consort that doesn’t mind being protected AND saved by his Queen but who wishes he can be more proactive, friendship bonds, reasoned and negotiated romance, as well as moments of pain and loss mingled with beauty and inspiration.
The Siren Depths closes the series really well – but with scope for more awesome adventures with Moon, Jade, Stone and co. I am hoping for more! (less)