Leigh Bardugo's shorts are almost too good. I'm beginning to seriously think she's holding out on us.
My dream: one day, when the Darkling and Alina ha...moreLeigh Bardugo's shorts are almost too good. I'm beginning to seriously think she's holding out on us.
My dream: one day, when the Darkling and Alina have long since had their happily ever after, and Mal has run off with a pretty, dark-haired thing and had a small army of babies, and spends his days happily buzzed from all that kvas, Leigh will sit down at her computer, and finally decide to put together her collection of fairytales. Which, of course, she's had sitting, typed up on her computer, for years but is holding back to torture us.
Because, you know, torture is kind of what she does. She's just like that.(less)
First Thoughts: It took me an age to warm to this book, but once I did? Wow. The world is terrifying and fascinating, the characters' pain is palpable a...moreFirst Thoughts: It took me an age to warm to this book, but once I did? Wow. The world is terrifying and fascinating, the characters' pain is palpable and the romance? Phwoar. Book 2, please!
In Sanctum, Sarah Fine's début offering, nightmares walk the streets of a hellish city, normal girls can be fierce warriors, and tortured boys so much more. The world of Sanctum is terrifying and fascinating, the characters’ pain palpable, and the romance? Phwoar.
"Would you risk your afterlife to save your best friend’s soul?" I’m not sure I would if the friend was Nadia, but, Lela would. Especially since she owes Nadia her life.
Nadia helped Lela recover from the darkest point of her life; overcome a history of neglect, abuse and depression... Only to succumb to darkness herself. When the seemingly perfect, sunny Nadia takes her own life, Lela is shattered, unable to comfort herself with thoughts of Nadia being in a better place. She’s haunted by dreams of a shell-shocked Nadia wandering the streets of a place Lela knows all too well--the place all suicides go on their death. A place worse than the life they fled from. Lela will do anything to save Nadia from her fate, even risk death, itself. But Sanctum is not Nadia’s story. It is Lela’s. And while it is a story of love, and a kind of selfless friendship that crosses worlds, it’s a little something more.
Sarah Fine approaches her story with a unique background -- she’s a psychologist. Sanctum deals with suicide, and it’s done well, Fine capturing conflicting feelings of guilt, despair, anger and betrayal from its ‘left behind’ protagonist, but what sat uncomfortably true was its departed Nadia’s hopelessness and pain.
It’s a dark book, dealing with dark matters, but, for the most part, it doesn’t feel like a book about suicide. It reads as Urban Fantasy, with all the dark, gritty hallmarks of the genre. What Sanctum does well is the creepy, the visceral, the haunting. Tortured souls wonder the streets of Suicide City, grasping at ‘things’ to fill their empty spaces; monsters hide within the shadows, and without. Nightmares grow and grasp like living creatures, and in one particularly disquieting scene, a building which feeds people their own fears in order to consume them left me with chills.
Sanctum’s heroine, Lela is tough, brave and damaged. At times she felt forced, and with her voice to guide me, it took me some time to fall into the story’s flow. But, once she held me her grasp, it did not let go. When she’s not posturing and telling the reader she’s tough and people don’t mess with her because she done time on the inside, yo, I liked her immensely. It’s the fragile, aching inside of her, not the tough girl exterior, I grew to love. She’s capable of great selflessness, as indicated by her willing trip to hell to save her friend’s soul, but there are times when her selflessness puts others on the line, teetering dangerously close to its antonym. There’s an interesting theme of choice here, or perhaps, if not choice, the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. The lines between both in Sanctum are vague, as they can be in real life.
Of course, at the core of Sanctum is a romance, intense and sexy as could be wished for. Lela falls for Malachi, King of the Underworld. Okay, okay, he’s not at all King or ruler. He’s a guard, a protector, with some very dark secrets. The two share an instant attraction and fascination with one another, and it develops, while alarmingly fast at first, into something far deeper. To put it succinctly, when I finished the book, my thoughts on the romance could be distilled into one word: phwoar — It’s totally a word, right?
That romance aside, Malachi himself was, for me, the story’s greatest draw, and as his long history unfolds in Sanctum’s final pages, I found it hard to look away.
The Verdict So there you have it. Sanctum. Combine scorching chemistry and a creepy, living world, built of old and new. Add swords, knives, a kickass heroine and dashing, tortured hero. Then take another girl — a broken one; a friendship and loyalty powerful enough to reach across worlds, and you’ll have Sanctum. To quote another, far more eloquent, reviewer, Sanctum is “an amazing story of loss and redemption and courage and grief, but I know you’re all skimming this paragraph to hear about the boy, right?” Well, the wait was worth it, and I’m sure you, ‘dear reader’, will find it so, too.(less)
4.5 Stars Following Daughter of Smoke and Bone was never to prove an easy task. How could any book trump the romance, the beauty, the glittering darkn...more4.5 Stars Following Daughter of Smoke and Bone was never to prove an easy task. How could any book trump the romance, the beauty, the glittering darkness of its predecessor? Of course there was no cause for concern. While Days of Blood and Stalight may not ‘trump’, Laini Taylor builds, breathing life and magic into an Eretz yet unknown to readers. She abandons romance. This time, it's war.
Returning Karou and Akiva’s world and doomed love is a painful journey. We left them in horror and pain at the end of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and they are found, in Days of Blood and Starlight, even deeper in darkness. The opening pages are like those few brief moments of peace, of happiness, between falling asleep with the knowledge of some terrible, asphyxiating grief, and waking, the world crashing down twice as dreadful as before.
Karou and Akiva are separated, but fighting. A war is being faught, and while the Seraphim believe themselves victorious, and the Chimaera population is decimated, all is not as lost as it may seem. It’s a story different in tone from its predecessor. Where Daughter was filled with light and love and hope, even in its darkest moments, Blood and Starlight is a tale beautiful, still, but bleak. It carries a feeling worse than that of hopelessness, but of hope lost – but perhaps not forever. The hope tangled in its pages will be drawn more from readers – lovers of these characters and their world and their creator – and faith that things must get better. After all, at the tale’s conclusion, it is difficult to see how they could get worse.
Days of Blood and Starlight is a tale of war and vengeance – of all the associated horrors and atrocities and needless violence. Readers are shown much of its greater impact, of genocide, of murdered or twisted children, of a pervasive learned hatred, and while Taylor never seems to be pushing an agenda, or concealing an underlying message, it’s fascinating to consider how this applies to life; especially in light of a recent quote she posted (do go read it. It’s short, and brilliant).
It is certainly the greater impact of the eons old war between Chimaera and Seraphim which carries Days of Blood and Starlight’s greatest horrors, but it’s the personal, more intimate facets shown that drive it home. Through the eyes of an escaped slave girl, a seraphim sentry, a soldier, and our beloved Karou and Akiva themselves, Taylor shows the price of hatred, of greed, of bitter, empty bloodshed for its own sake.
And it is, of course, Akiva and Karou who form the book’s emotional core, and its most crushing moments. Where once upon a time, the lovers dreamed together of a new world, a better one, one free from endless war and killing, they are now separated by more than distance and race and ancient enmity.
The two work separately, clinging to their tattered dream. There is still innocence in that dream, however bloody it becomes, but innocence, while a beautiful garb, is not always the best armour. Akiva, consumed with gnawing agony and guilt, is a shell, and Karou as beautiful as ever, is lost. Where, once, Karou could almost be synonymous with life, she is robbed of it, drowning in grief and anger and sorrow. It’s devastating watching such beloved characters suffer so greatly, but even more so as it blinds them to the machinations and manipulations of others.
There is light in this dark tale, however, in the form of Zuzanna and Mik who, separated from Karou by worlds, don’t give up on their friend. Zuzanna brings laughter, and Mik humour, and together, a friendship and romance which grounds the otherwise fantastical tale in reality, where the human world would be otherwise lost to Ertez.
The Verdict Told between two worlds and the yawning pit between them, Taylor weaves her tale of war, of magic, and of course, blood and starlight, in a fashion uniquely hers. Crushingly sad and beautifully written, Days of Blood and Starlight is, as its predecessor, a triumph of fantasy and of prose, but it offers precious few answers, instead building towards a yet unknown climax and conclusion I’m not quite sure if I should dread or celebrate, but one I most keenly anticipate. Once again, Taylor delivers magic.(less)
Very short, very light read. Essentially a sex scene with a bit of intriguing back story. Starts out strong, and kept my attention, but ended right as...moreVery short, very light read. Essentially a sex scene with a bit of intriguing back story. Starts out strong, and kept my attention, but ended right as it was getting good.(less)
Two words: Chainsaw Katana. Add mechanical samurai, flying warships, and ask yourself: what else could a book possibly need? Yet Jay Kristoff’s debut...moreTwo words: Chainsaw Katana. Add mechanical samurai, flying warships, and ask yourself: what else could a book possibly need? Yet Jay Kristoff’s debut isn’t content with its clockwork wonders and mythical beasts alone. Stormdancer straddles genres, steampunk and Shinto fantasy combining with a passionate message for one of the most thematically rich releases of the year.
The Story: Brave, angry and wild, we meet Yukiko in the suffocating, toxic streets of Kigen City. Polluted by the poisonous exhaust of the Shima Empire’s mechanical advancement, the country is dying. Famine, poverty and Black Lung grip the nation’s working poor. Yukiko is somewhat privileged, the daughter of the Shogun’s Master Hunter, the Black Fox, Masaru, though with most animal and plant life near extinct beneath the blanket of choking smog, why the Shogun needs a master hunter is questionable. Until the impossible happens.
An Arashitora—part eagle, part tiger, thought extinct—is spotted, and Shogun Yoritomo will have it as his prize at any cost. Journeying with her father to hunt the legendary thunder tiger, Yukiko knows their lives are forfeit if they return to Yoritomo without the beast.
They find the thunder tiger, alright. But when things go terribly wrong, Yukiko is left stranded is the empire’s last surviving wilderness with the furious, crippled beast. A beast who thinks and reasons like her. A beast with a soul and a mind that may just change hers forever, and change the destiny of the entire country.
The 101: With constantly shifting point of view and a vast cast of characters, Stormdancer is a tale of many things, and many people, but of none more than Yukiko and Buruu. Yukiko is angry and orphaned for all but her father, who wastes his days and coin in gambling dens, lost in an opium haze. But in a world dying and oppressed by corrupt government and religious zealots, Yukiko has a weapon: empathy—in more ways than one. She’s a splendid character, able to see and care for the suffering around her.
Her weakness is perhaps a lack of resolve, or, if not the will to take action, the way. Enter Buruu. Pure animalistic instinct, resolve, action and fury, Buruu completes Yukiko. His fire combines with Yukiko’s compassion, and the two both grow, Buruu learning reason and restraint, Yukiko learning freedom, and to fight for it.
"Our troubles are but mayflies, rising and falling between the turn of dawn and dusk. And then they are gone to the houses of memory, you and I will remain, Yukiko."
The real magic of Stormdancer lies in the bond shared by Buruu and Yukiko. Far beyond simple friendship, stronger than blood, and deeper than the most passionate romance, the connection that grows and blossoms between Thunder Tiger and ‘Monkey Child’ is the stuff of legend. As hatred shifts to grudging tolerance, then cautious acceptance, to something indelible and profound, both change and grow into something more. The pair cease to be two, becoming one in a magnificent, awe-inspiring way, the joining of their minds proving a breathtaking, pivotal moment in the book.
Dancing around behind the pair is a vast, rich world, filled with powerful players and pawns, corruption and beauty, and rebellion. Shima is a world poisoned, choking on the refuse of its own mechanical revolution, and with Stormdancer, Kristoff makes a bold statement on the cost of industry and advancement, examining the true price of power, leading to gruesome, grizzly, and deeply disturbing discoveries.
"Your kind are blind. You see only the now. Never the will be."
But magic, mechanics, and madness aside, Stormdancer is also a tale of family, in all its forms. What is family, really? A crumbling connection of lies and blood between father and daughter? Sacrifice for a beloved child? Manipulations between brother and sister? The deepest, most profound message of Stormdancer is perhaps the one of family we make for ourselves—of bonds deeper than blood, those of love and devotion and sacrifice despite differences.
But it is worth noting that—perhaps like all worthy, great, things in life—Stormdancer is not always easy to read. Kristoff loves words—and with a demonstrated mastery, so he rightly should—but lengthy, detailed descriptions and wordy imagery do make for a slow start. Do not be discouraged. Persevere, and you shall be richly rewarded.
"Each of you must decide where you stand. All we ask is that you refuse to kneel. You are the people. You have the power. Open your eyes. Open your minds. Then close the fingers on your hand."
The Verdict: A sweeping, thrilling epic, Stormdancer is magnificent. Kristoff’s Japanese-steampunk-fantasy masterpiece is both a splendid celebration of family and friendship and a scathing allegory for corruption, and the grey-area ethics of technological advancement and its environment impact. Call it grown-up, call it YA, Stormdancer is category crossover with a profound tale of friendship, love, and truth that will appeal to fantasy fans of all ages.(less)
Blending elements of fairytale, folklore and fantasy, Sarah J. Maas’ debut, Throne of Glass, is a Cinderella story with a twist. A rather dark and dea...moreBlending elements of fairytale, folklore and fantasy, Sarah J. Maas’ debut, Throne of Glass, is a Cinderella story with a twist. A rather dark and deadly one...
The Story Twelve months in the dreaded, deadly salt mines of Endovier have not been kind to Celaena Sardothien—but she has not been forgotten. Then again, few were likely to forget the land’s most lethal assassin. Celaena knows her death from the hard labour, freezing winters and brutal beatings won’t be long, but then she’s given an offer she can’t refuse, by none other than the Crown Prince himself: compete against two-dozen hired thugs, criminals, assassins and thieves. Compete and win, and become the King’s Champion. Be free.
Celaena joins the secretive competition, and quickly adjusts to a new life of luxury and comfort in the Palace. She forms unlikely friendships with Captain of the Guard, Chaol Westfall, and the Crown Prince himself, Dorian. But as fellow champions start turning up gruesomely mutilated, Celaena discovers the competition is not her only concern...
Beautiful and deadly, meet Celaena Sardothien: girl assassin. Beautiful, deadly, and remarkably girly, Celaena is Adarlan’s most feared assassin—and rather obsessed with clothes. She’s a strange, lovely mix of innocent and worldly, lethal and gentle, cultured and brash. She’s also alarmingly cocky, but it’s based in the sound knowledge she truly is as good as she believes. While much of Throne of Glass is dedicated to the maneuverings of court life, and the subtle, Celaena shines when she’s doing what she does best: kicking ass. A fabulous feminist role-model, Celaena shows that badassery doesn’t have to come at the cost of femininity. However, at times I wished she’d take her future and position more seriously than she did the stitching on her dress, or the state of her hair.
Those coming into Throne of Glass expecting the typically ‘epic’ from the epic fantasy—the Heroic Battles and Valiant Quests and Noble Companions—may be surprised. Instead we have glass castles, mysterious puzzles and cryptic Elvin ghosts. Not to mention a heroine who can kill you with her bare hands faster than you can blink. Perhaps the greatest key to appreciating Throne of Glass is acknowledging its origins. Though Maas grants it has come a long way since, she explains the idea for Throne of Glass came when she asked herself, “What if Cinderella was an assassin, and went to the ball not to dance with the prince, but to kill him?” While the resulting story bears little in mind with the fairytale now, the influence is there, from the beautiful dresses and balls, to the charming princes.
Charming as those princes are, and as lovely the gowns, it’s less the haberdashery and couture, but the action and the bigger picture that are Throne of Glass’ strongest draw. Maas’ world is magnificent, from the shining glass castle and its labyrinthine hallways, to Adarlan’s war-torn towns and forbidden forests still whispering memories of magic long since vanished. The world of Throne of Glass is rich, vivid, brimming with tales to be told. But... I longed for more action, more from Celaena, more of the mystery, and the players’ motivations; more of the magnificent world it all takes place in. Maas teases in Throne of Glass, showing glimpses of what will come to pass, what Celaena is truly capable of, but never so much that I felt truly satisfied.
The Verdict Throne of Glass was certainly not what I expected when confronted with the words ‘fantasy’, ‘assassin’ and talk of deadly competitions; but with a lethal girl-heroine, magnificent world building and deadly mysteries, it’s no less exciting. It boasts warm, layered characters, rich histories and remarkable detail, all of which promise a thrilling adventure as the series unfolds. Compelling, rich and beautifully detailed, I can’t wait to see what Celaena does next.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a rare creature indeed. It's storytelling at its best; its most potent, born of a kind of dark, seductive magic—complex,...moreDaughter of Smoke and Bone is a rare creature indeed. It's storytelling at its best; its most potent, born of a kind of dark, seductive magic—complex, multi-tonal, beautiful—from the mind of a true writer. An artist, a creator. Laini Taylor is a craftsman, and her creation, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, is nothing short of magnificent.
The Story: Karou belongs to no-one, and no world. A beautiful, tattooed, blue-haired girl, she’s an enigma, even to herself. Her friends think her wild stories and extraordinary sketches of half-man, half-beast creatures are fiction—exactly what she allows them to think. Just like she lets them think she colours her hair blue, when it in fact grows that way from the roots, thanks to a wish she made at the age of seven. Her friends don’t know she speaks twenty-seven languages, only one of them learned, and not all of them human. Her friends think the Wishmonger, Brimstone—part man, part lion, part bull—is a fairytale, when in fact, Karou was raised in his fantastical shop in ‘Elsewhere’. A shop where he grants wishes to humans in trade for teeth—both animal and otherwise. The door to which opens to cities all over the world...
But the world is changing, and war is brewing. Karou will be forced to choose between the human world, and the mysterious ‘Elsewhere’ she barely understands herself... and after seventeen years, Karou must finally learn who—and what—she is.
But this is not just her story... meanwhile, beautiful, tortured Akiva flies on fiery wings around the world, determined to put an end to Brimstone’s ‘evil’, and forever close the doors to Elsewhere. He never counted on encountering a strange blue-haired girl. A girl he cannot understand, yet who feels strangely familiar. A girl from who he cannot stay away...
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”
This is such a strange book to review. To talk of any one aspect, in isolation from half a dozen others, seems to do it a disservice, as it’s the sum of so many different shades and layers of creativity that blend to make it such a dazzling whole. To talk of strange, lovely Karou, without talking of beautiful and mysterious Akiva, or to talk of her ‘Chimaera’ family, such as the Minotaur-esque Brimstone, or adoptive mother-figure Issa, half-snake, half-woman, is to tell only a fraction of a story. To isolate any one aspect of Karou’s splendid self is to show a shimmering thread, but not the glorious tapestry: Lovely, but abstract, lacking the meaning it deserves.
It’s the context of every strange little quirk of Daughter of Smoke and Bone that makes it shine. Nothing within its pages is inessential. Every fleeting, ephemeral detail combines to form a masterpiece of fiction.
“Happiness. It was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety and pure sunbeam comfort. It was all those things, intertwined with the heat and the thrill, and it was as bright within her as a swallowed star.”
So perhaps we should talk of its creator. Laini Taylor. Taylor is nothing short of an artist. She has a way of presenting the bizarre in so matter-of-fact a fashion one can’t help but be charmed, and she tells her story with an imagination as brilliant and twisted as the inimitable Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, or, dare I say it, Neil Gaiman. It’s this kind of imagination that breathes life into new worlds, gives breath to strange, beautiful new creatures, and forms a reality distinct and separate from our own, yet achingly familiar. The kind of world and reality you fall into, that immerses you, and that you find yourself shocked to be torn from. Taylor forms a place as real and magic and wonderfully make-believe as the Narnia and Hogwarts of a million charmed childhoods.
“For the way loneliness is worse when you return to it after a reprieve - like the soul's version of putting on a wet bathing suit, clammy and miserable.”
While every glittering facet of the glorious gem that is Daughter of Smoke and Bone shines, its characters need to be dwelt upon. A mystery even to herself, Karou is strange, beautiful and compelling. She has no family, beyond the peculiar creatures who raised her in Brimstone’s curious shop, and she has no attachments to the human world, beyond the fact that she is human herself. Her whole life, Karou has felt unwhole, as though she is missing something, and, as such things often come to pass in such stories, she is. But despite her missing something, Karou is a whole and splendid character, as colourful and vibrant as her peacock-blue hair. Karou is imperfect, but it is her imperfections, her mistakes, and her occasional selfishness that makes her innate humour, selflessness, wit and intelligence shine. Her every word, thought, and secret longing burns with the glorious intensity of the sun, and she is a joy to read, to know, to learn.
“This new thing between them it was... Astral. It reshaped the air, and it was in her, too—a warming and softening, a pull—and for that moment, her hands in his, Karou felt as powerless as starlight tugged toward the sun in the huge, strange warp of space.”
When we finally meet Akiva, haunted and broken, Karou’s world starts to make sense. Akiva holds the keys and answers Karou and the reader do not. Akiva is as beautiful and compelling in his own ways as Karou, but infinitely more bitter and broken. When the two meet, they are drawn together, a force of nature, a gravitational pull, like the moon and the earth—undeniable, elemental and unbreakable. Their story is as dazzling as starlight, as lovely as the moon, and as vast and breathtaking as the night sky with her entire treasure of sparkling jewels. As Akiva’s back-story is revealed slowly, in parallels with his and Karou's present, it's as beautiful and heartbreaking as the rest.
“Love is a luxury.” “No. Love is an element.” An element. Like air to breathe. Earth to stand on.
The Verdict: I’m hardly sure of where to start, or, for that matter, where to finish. The vibrant characters? Taylor’s stunning, lyrical prose? Misty, mysterious and lovely Prague? Brimstone's wishmongery, bizarre and eclectic in the elusive ‘Elsewhere’? Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a thing of overwhelming beauty. Every detail of it is rendered with a true craftsman's attention to detail, and the world that results is vivid, strange, and strangely real.
As Daughter of Smoke and Bone drew to its inevitable close, I longed for it to continue. But just when Karou and Akiva's story ends—for now—it begins. Its closing pages are filled with beauty and anguish, glorious joy and fierce pain, heartbreak and tragedy, but a beautiful one. If Daughter of Smoke and Bone is just an opening chapter, what follows promises to be a truly extraordinary journey.
Throughout Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Taylor’s writing shines, her creativity glows, and I was repeatedly teased with chills; caught up in such sweeping, overwhelming beauty my chest ached. It’s a story of true scope, real brilliance, and unique vision. It could have been told by none less than Taylor, just as Harry Potter could have been told by none but J.K Rowling, Lord of the Rings by Tolkien, or Narnia born of any imagination other than C.S Lewis’. It is thrilling and lovely and strange, and utterly distinctive. It’s beautiful. It’s dark. At its ugliest it’s resplendent. For me, Daughter of Smoke and Bone was perfect.(less)
There’s a comfort returning to the pages and world of a favourite author: a sense of familiarity and trust that where she leads, you will follow. With...moreThere’s a comfort returning to the pages and world of a favourite author: a sense of familiarity and trust that where she leads, you will follow. With this firmly in mind, I enter any Maria V. Snyder novel with excitement, and, in Scent of Magic, was well rewarded. With romance, intrigue, magic and war, I was thrilled, but even more delighted to find myself surprised.
After healing the dying Prince Ryne at the cost of her life, no-one’s more surprised to find herself alive than Avry of Kazan. We join Avry and Kerrick where we left them, together at last, but Avry’s ‘death’ provides opportunities too good to ignore, and the couple are soon separated, providing the catalyst for the first of many surprises Scent of Magic has in store.
As Avry and Kerrick separate, so too does Scent of Magic’s narrative, a first in Snyder’s novels. While Avry assumes a new identity, travelling to join the army of High Priestess Estrid, Kerrick reunites with Prince Ryne, helping to rally his troops and join Estrid in the fight against the evil King Tohon. If this has you confused, you’re not alone. While Scent of Magic is not the place to enter this series, and it took some few chapters to acclimate, its world and characters re-emerge from the shadows swiftly, and at this, it takes off.
Scent of Magic is, perhaps, Snyder’s most action-packed novel to date. When ‘The Plan’ goes awry, Avry and Kerrick’s paths careen off in disparate directions and, with each alternating chapter ending on a high-stakes note for both leads, maintains a rocketing pace, an element sometimes lost to the minutiae of High Fantasy — though a typical fantasy novelist this author is not.
Snyder has a particular talent for writing strong, capable and intelligent leads, and Avry is, of course, no exception. Even better, Avry’s grown since Touch of Power, and been shaped by her experience. No longer running from danger, she confronts it. She assumes a ‘woman of action’ role in Scent of Magic and, separated from her lover and protector, readers are shown what she’s truly capable of. With magical healing abilities, feared powers, and a knack for finding herself desperately entangled with the Powers That Be, Avry could easily be compared to Snyder’s most memorable heroine, Yelena, but possesses a spark and a special magic all of her own.
Kerrick, meanwhile, gets his moment to shine like no other Snyder hero has, and his job is harder, even, than Avry’s. Beaten, kidnapped and held captive, he becomes a more flawed and relatable hero, and through his eyes we learn more about the magic and construct of the Fifteen Realms. Kerrick’s intimate knowledge of his world’s workings is a welcome addition, offering form and familiarity to a complex world system that would otherwise prove confusing.
While it’s no surprise a Snyder novel offers wonderful leads, there's an interesting moral ambiguity in the Healer series’ characters, one which seems absent from Snyder's previous work, at least in comparison. It boasts a vile, narcissistic, megalomaniac villain, made all the worse as he genuinely believes his evils are justified in the scheme of things, for the greater good – and may just have a point. Meanwhile, the ‘good guys’ themselves don't seem quite ‘good’, and it offers a plethora of opportunities for unexpected twists, turns, and surprises.
The Verdict: High stakes, gripping intrigue and an immersive magical world, Maria V. Snyder delivers yet another fantasy romp which will appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore, not to mention the inimitable Maria, herself. This is Snyder at the top of her game. Filled with unexpected betrayals, double crosses and an expansive cast of warm, wonderful supporting characters, Scent of Magic is surprising and compulsively readable, and one of Snyder’s finest offerings to date.(less)
Lord Of The Abyss is a rather quirky retelling of Beauty and the Beast. For grown-ups. Grown-ups who prefer their fairy-tales with a bit of hot sauce....moreLord Of The Abyss is a rather quirky retelling of Beauty and the Beast. For grown-ups. Grown-ups who prefer their fairy-tales with a bit of hot sauce. I love Nalini Singh (she’s like caffeine and chocolate: addictive, and I know can’t be good for me), but I really wasn’t sure what to expect going in. So I'm really not surprised I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I seriously have no idea how to summarise this one... it’s a bizarre little tale. On a dark, stormy night, Liliana turns up at the gateway to the abyss. Micah, the guardian of the gateway to hell, is intrigued. Used to fear and unquestioning deference from the people around him, this strange little creature talks back, argues, and isn’t afraid of him. Well this almighty beast of a man likes a gal with backbone... but as it turns out, this girl is the daughter of the evil sorcerer who killed his parents, and she’s here to help Micah overthrow him, and return his kingdom to its former glory. Problem: Micah’s hiding a 'beastly' secret. That, and he doesn’t remember who he is.
Firstly: Lord Of The Abyss is actually the fourth book in a four-part series, each written by a different, powerhouse of a romance author, but works as a standalone. Though I haven’t read the prior three, the story was fun and easy to follow.
Once Upon A Time... Lord Of The Abyss isn’t a complex story. It’s a sweet one, a fun one, with, as all good fairy tales do, a moral twist (more on this later). The book actually reads a lot like a fairy tale. There is, of course, the obligatory Once Upon A Time, and Happily Ever After, but it has a very fairy-tale tone, present in the light, humorous, knowing narration, which carries through to the two main characters. Despite having seen his fair share of horrors, perversions and wickedness, Micah came across as very... while not naive, perhaps a little childlike. Lilianna is a little more wordly, but still has a touch of that inherent innocence and inner-purity that all good Snow Whites, Cindarellas and fairy tale heroines possess (having said this, she's scarred, ballsy, brave, and fiercly intelligent. Do NOT cross this lady). I enjoyed this, and it’s one of the things that makes Lord Of The Abyss so fun and unique. But the whimsical tone seemed, on occasion, a bit odd in contrast with what at times is a very *ahem* ‘grown-up’ (read: explicit) tale.
Pretty On The Inside:
Seriously, I kept picturing Lilianna as something like this, but slightly dantier XD
Now, as I mentioned, all good fairy-tales have a moral side, right? Just ask Disney. The Lion King has the Circle Of Life/Animals are People Too; Aladdin eventually learns to put other people’s needs, and happiness before his own, and wishes for Genie’s freedom; in Beauty and the Beast, there’s more than meets the eye/it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Wait, did I mention Beauty and the Beast? Well, in Lord Of The Abyss, yes, we have Micah as The Beast, but Lilianna’s a bit of one, too. She’s hook nosed, shaggy haired, and one of her legs is shorter than the other. Others consistently remind her she’s a crone. And she knows it. But Micah, golden surfer-boy gorgeous (most of the time), doesn’t even notice. And as he starts to love her, Lilianna learns to love herself, learns to believe that maybe she is beautiful, because Micah sees her this way. It's sugar-sweet, and I loved this.
The Verdict: Fairy tale aside, Lord Of The Abyss doesn't shy away from being very hot and very steamy. Despite the slightly sinister sounding name and intimidating man-titty on the cover, Lord Of The Abyss left me with a silly grin and a happy sigh. Well, actually, I lie. I turned the last page, kicked my cat off my lap, and went ‘Aaaaaaww!’ No sighing involved. A fun, quirky, (very) adult twist on the much loved fairy tale, Singh fans will enjoy this quick little read. (less)
Uhhhh, WOW! Move over Across the Universe and Shatter Me, I have a new favourite book of 2011 (don’t worry, I still love you. It’s a shared first plac...moreUhhhh, WOW! Move over Across the Universe and Shatter Me, I have a new favourite book of 2011 (don’t worry, I still love you. It’s a shared first place). How to describe Maria V. Snyder’s Touch Of Power? Magical, gripping, and compulsively readable, Touch Of Power offers a tough heroine, multi-faceted characters, fantasy and, well, I mean, what else could you ask for?
Three years ago, plague tore through the Fifteen Kingdoms, decimating the population, destroying governments and kingdoms, and shaking the world to its very foundations. Avry of Kazan is a Healer. Laying her hands on the sick and injured, she heals by absorbing the ailment of a patient into her own body, where she recovers at a ten times the speed of a normal person. But rather than being grateful for her gift, people want her dead. Her kind are captured and executed... because they’ve been blamed for spreading the plague.
Finally caught after three years on the run, Avry is almost relieved to be captured. But as she awaits execution in her prison cell, she’s sprung by a small band of rogues. They offer her freedom in exchange for a simple task... heal a dying prince. Avry has her own reasons for refusing... the least of which being she’ll die in the attempt...
YOU GUYS. JUST... OH. MY. GOODNESS. Words fail me.
It’s no secret I’m a BIG Maria V. Snyder fan. Up until this point, I’d still though Poison Study was her finest work to date, but Touch of Power offers it a serious run for its money. So many things are SO good about this book.
The Leading Lady: In Avry, Snyder’s given birth to yet another inspirational heroine. A victim and a survivor (Maria V. Snyder has a major recurring theme going on in her work with this kind of girl), Avry has special powers, true, but her real power is her grit, resolve, and inner core of strength. Avry is never a damsel in distress. She’s intelligent, deliciously sarcastic, and self-reliant. Avry makes mistakes, and yes, gets rescued a couple of times, but boy can she take care of herself. This is the kind of heroine I read for.
The Gang: Maria V. Snyder has a real flair for creating fabulous ‘side’ characters. Touch Of Power is no exception, with characters like Belan, Flea, Quain and Vinn that bring it to life. They dance across the pages and wriggled their way under my skin. I wound up caring for this bunch every inch as much as the leads. I loved the banter between Avry and the group she’s assimilated into.
The Big Bad: Touch Of Power boasts a deliciously deranged baddie, as well as an array of foes and foils of varying degrees of threat, moral ambiguity and danger. Snyder also has an incredible knack for writing utterly despicable female characters. You’ll find out what I’m talking about (mwahahaha!).
But let's talk about the big bad, shall we? Turns out the most powerful magician in a world full of magic also happens to be pathologically insane, and a king. Much like Warner in this year's AMAZING Shatter Me, King Tohon is seven different shades of batsh*t crazy. He seems to want what's best for the people of the world as whole, but doesn't give a damn about anyone other than himself on an individual level. Or perhaps he's just using the promise of a better world to further his own agenda. He's brilliant, manipulative, self-serving and narcissistic, but is capable of real charm... Uh, wait, writing this down, dude sounds like a textbook psychopath, huh? He's awful... and so, so fun to hate.
The Kerrick: And Kerrick, my word! (Kerrick! Kerrick! Kerrick! Kerrick! Kerrick! <3) I wanted to slap him silly. Prickly, stubborn, bossy and... wait, he’s not sounding very loveable, is he? Just wait. You’ll see. Despite his (many) failings, I grew to love this character.
And instalove? You guys hate the instant fall into love thing, right? Well this its antithesis. The romantic subplot that builds (slowly) throughout this book is a long journey, and a joy to witness. Snyder has this nailed.
The Verdict: Once again, Maria V. Snyder has created an exquisitely realised world, brimming with excitement, magic and intrigue. The sharp, funny, sarcastic banter between the party of heroes is a delight, and from page the first, Touch Of Power is filled with fights, flight and action. I’ve said this before, but fans of Kristin Cashore’s Graceling and Fire will lap up Snyder’s Study series, and Touch Of Power even more so. Fast-paced, alluring fantasy almost appallingly entertaining, Touch Of Power is one of those books that will worm its way into your brain and leave you wandering around the gorgeous verdant forest with its heroes long after the final page is turned.
An enormous, massive, collossal THANK YOU to HarlequinTEEN via NetGalley for providing me with Touch Of Power to review early.(less)
The day before Shadow is due to be released from prison, he's called to the warden's office. His wife, Laura, is dead. Released, an...more"A Storm is Coming."
The day before Shadow is due to be released from prison, he's called to the warden's office. His wife, Laura, is dead. Released, and on his route home to Laura's funeral, he encounters a strange old man who calls himself Wednesday. Wednesday--who claims to be a god--knows more about Shadow than he possibly should, and Shadow, reluctantly, agrees to work for him. Led by Wednesday, Shadow is taken on a profoundly strange journey across the USA. A journey to help Wednesday recruit fellow gods, mythical figures and culture heroes to his side of the oncoming storm: a battle of truly epic proportions.
There is something totally unique about Gaiman's writing: instantly recognisable; utterly charming; and deceptively simplistic, when it's anything but. American Gods is no exception. It's brilliant, beautiful, and profoundly strange. The story starts off in a strangely detached fashion. For a while I wondered about this, until you learn more about Shadow. You're experiencing the world through his lens, and detached is exactly what he is. With his wife's death, he's shocked into numbness. When he learns of a painful betrayal on her part, that numbness crystallises, leaving him encased in a protective shell he wears as goes about what's left of his life. Nothing--and I mean nothing--shocks the guy anymore, as it never reaches his core. Nothing can shock him more than what he experiences in the opening chapters of the story.
"This isn't about what is," said Mr Nancy. "It's about what people think is. It's all imaginary anyway. That's why it's important. People only fight over imaginary things."
In addition to Shadow's tale, we also get glimpses into the back-story of other characters, with a chapter here and there telling the story of an immigrant to America arriving, and bringing their gods with them, or following one of the numerous gods who make up the story. Gaiman's take on folklore, cultural stories and myth is extraordinary, and it grounds American Gods in a world that is tantalising familiar--one of stories and tales you recognise, you have heard, you’ve known, your whole life.
American Gods is a long story, and at times is confronting, meandering, fast-paced, slow-paced, funny and witty, deeply philosophical, or utterly absurd (which, of course, is Gaiman at his very best). It's not always an easy read, but it's a very satisfying one. I loved it, and it's a story I can't imagine having been written of anyone less than Neil Gaiman. As another reviewer observes, the book is the story of the "the battle for the soul of America". Gaiman's cutting observations of American culture and life are pure genius. The parts of the nation we visit are charming, and the back drop to the tale is a delightful country of contradictions and opposites: a world embracing modern technology, yet still deeply a product of a rich past. Do we embrace our past as a part of our future? Or do we push it aside and become a world of McDonald's, Starbucks and chain stores? Is there room for both our past and our future in our changing world?
"We need individual stories. Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, 'casualties may rise to a million'. With individual stories, the statistics become people--but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless...
We draw our lines around these moment of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain." (less)