Ava and Avery are a bonded couple from Kaya, a land where ancient magic ensures that, once bonded, one cannot live without the other. So when Avery isAva and Avery are a bonded couple from Kaya, a land where ancient magic ensures that, once bonded, one cannot live without the other. So when Avery is killed while on a mission to assassinate the evil queen of Pirenti, the northern country with which they have been at war for as long as anyone can remember, Ava is expected to die as well. But she does not, she lives on, though with only half a soul. Vengeance guides her back to Pirenti where, two years later, disguised as a boy called Avery, she is caught by the second prince, Ambrose, and sentence to life on the prison island. But when their ship is wrecked in a storm, Ambrose and Ava must work together to survive. In the process, despite their vast differences, a friendship develops. That friendship soon grows into love, even with Ambrose believing Avery is a boy - when their secrets come out, can their new-found connection survive? Is it possible to love your enemy, or love at all without betraying the man who took half your soul with him into death?
I have several problems with this book. First off, Avery is marketed as 'adult fantasy' but I cannot in good conscience call it anything other than Young Adult, despite the 'adult themes' and excessively violent, often gruesome scenes that occur. It's in the adolescent tone, the way the characters speak, especially. It's not just that they - well, the main character, Ava/Avery, in particular - sound so immature, it's that words like "whatever" and "gross" belong more to badly written teen fanfiction than published adult fantasy. That might make me sound like a snob, but it's not that - you write a novel set in another world, a fantasy world, which has its own, decidedly foreign, cultures. You cannot then make your characters sound like cliches from Clueless and hope that your fantasy world be taken seriously. The culture that created such colloquialisms as 'whatever' is not part of this world, and the effect is incredibly jarring. My ability to suspend disbelief was too often hampered by such lazy writing.
The writing is also lazy in the world-building. This was perhaps the biggest flaw of the novel. The details of this world just never quite made sense, or weren't adequately explained. Geography, as well, was out of whack. Pirenti is a northern country perhaps geographically akin to Russia or Canada; in the north are the 'ice caps', which appear to be a permanent, year-round hostile environment. Yet, at the same latitude is the prison island, which is described as a jungle. How does that work? While we're on the prison isle, world-building gaffes abound within the secret 'village' of escapee Kayan prisoners - it's not the incredible cliffside dwellings carved out of marble that they've brought from a nearby quarry that I struggled with, believe it or not, but the fact that they have glass in their windows, luxurious apartments (even for unwanted guests) and eat things like cheese. This place is home to Kayans who, they say, escaped the Pirenti prison. No one knows they're there and they can't leave. They have no animals or livestock (so, no milk for cheese), and if they want to remain undetected they would have to be careful of the amount of noise they make (quarrying for rock with no tools?? or do they use their sole Warder's magic - it's never explained what these people are actually capable of) and of smoke, say from a kiln or other super hot oven? Where do they get their clothes from, the materials for everything? All highly unlikely.
Distances and timeframes were also liberally dispensed with when required by the author to maintain her swift pacing. It all reminded me of cheesy action movies, as if they were used as the model for many of the scenes - especially the fight scenes. Plot holes abound here, too, such as when Ava escapes from a dungeon, taking not the guard's sword but his bow and arrows! A dungeon guard, carrying bow and arrows?? In the highly militaristic and violent country of Pirenti, they would know better.
I could keep going, but I think you get the drift. Really, though, this is a character-driven romantic fantasy, so I should be discussing the characters. When she isn't talking like a rather lame contemporary western teenager, Ava is solidly drawn and has some charisma, as does Ambrose. The other two main characters here are Ambrose's older brother, Thorne, and his wife Roselyn. All four alternate in first person narrative voice, and this is handled quite deftly. Roselyn is a nicely distinctive character, and Thorne is clearly a different person from Ambrose. The problem for me lies in the way domestic violence is handled. While it's wrapped up in a broader theme of power and women's rights, and while the denouement ensures that Thorne's violence towards his wife is not rewarded by the author, Roselyn's quiet, steadfast and loving loyalty to Thorne remains a distinct problem. While one fictional character should not a message make, Roselyn's refusal to leave her husband or do anything but love him makes her a difficult character to respect. That said, the characters are the strength of this novel, that and the swift pacing.
Pirenti is a violent country, so the violence does have some context, but it was a bit excessive and rather unrealistic at times. (Also, marble stains something shocking - how do you have a "killing room" lined in marble and keep it spotless?) Not being afraid of spilling blood and tearing minor characters apart does not make for a more mature novel or more sophisticated ideas. Rather, it becomes too much and, then, too ludicrous. My ability to suspend disbelief - necessary in all fiction, television and film, to varying degrees, but especially in fantasy - was tested time and time again, and often failed under the weight of plotholes, inconsistencies, over-the-top violence and I have no idea what was going on with Ambrose at the end. The romance aspect fell completely flat there (plus, it had finally started to drag by then).
A disappointing foray into a newish Australian voice in fantasy fiction, for me. ...more
In PC Cast's new fantasy series, climate change and polluting industries have devastated what we know of our world. The survivors have fled to new env In PC Cast's new fantasy series, climate change and polluting industries have devastated what we know of our world. The survivors have fled to new environs, living off the land in more harmonious methods. Those who wanted to keep their pets, their dogs, were forced to make their own way, finding sanctuary in the treetops. And those who refused to leave the ruined cities stayed, their bodies decaying and rupturing. These are now known as Skin Stealers, as they capture and skin living creatures - including other humans - in the belief that they will be made stronger from it. The humans they capture are the Tribe of the Trees and their canine Companions, with whom the Tribespeople have a lifelong, almost telepathic bond. If the Tribe are prey for the Skin Stealers, they in turn prey on the Earth Walkers, or 'Scratchers' as the Tribe dismissively calls them. Because they die from a rotting fungal infection when their skin is broken, the Tribe have long been abducting female Scratchers to work on their farm for them. But removing an Earth Walker from her clan means certain death, after long depression. Every month, all Earth Walkers - male and female - need to be 'washed' by their Moon Woman, who calls down the cleansing power of the moon in a secret ritual. Without it, the men turn into made, violent monsters lacking in rational thought, and the women fall into despair, ultimately dying of depression.
Mari is an Earth Walker, but one with a big secret. Her mother, the Moon Woman for the Weaver Clan, fell in love with a Tribesman: Mari is the result of their short relationship nearly two decades ago. Her father is long dead - executed by the Tribe - and Mari must disguise her features, the colour of her hair and even her skin in order to live among the Earth Walkers. Her heritage catches up with her, though, when a pup from the Tribe of the Trees finds her and bonds with her, making her a Companion - and a target for Hunters from the Tribe. One such Tribesman, desperate to find the young dog, is Nik, only child of the Tribe's Sun Priest, their leader, who can channel the sun's fire. It is through Nik's awakening understanding and compassion of the Scratchers' humanity that things between the Tribe and the Earth Walkers looks set to change, but not before the poisonous manipulations of the Skin Stealers finds its way in, taking advantage of a long history of entrenched dogma to destroy a promising new peace.
After a slow start, Moon Chosen becomes quite absorbing and enjoyable. The three distinct peoples have clearly differentiated perspectives and narrative voices: how they see the world and their place in it, and their view of the others. Each is rendered human and knowable through their separate focalisers: Mari, Nik and Dead Eye, who becomes the leader of the Skin Stealers in the nearby ruined city. It is one of the strong elements of the novel, the world-building and the writing, that Cast is able to make each of the main characters quite sympathetic, even if both the Skin Stealers and the Tribe do such horrific things to others. Amongst themselves, they experience tribulations and a painful history, but it shows quite clearly that, in order for one people to take charge of their destiny and create a new, more advantageous world to live in, another people must suffer for it. At the bottom of this world's class stratification are the Earth Walkers, who are rendered less than human by the Tribe and are deeply misunderstood. Their affliction - so far unexplained - only makes them more vulnerable and easily denounced. Their ongoing subjugation has clear parallels in our own world - take your pick, really - as well as representing the more feminised world of Nature and Paganism. Ultimately, the fact that Moon Chosen does not utilise a more traditional, medieval-Europe type setting, as does most epic fantasy written in English, enables it to present a more open-minded, egalitarian world view, free of the misogyny and heterosexuality that bogs down a lot of fantasy.
I've previously read a few of Cast's paranormal series, The House of Night, co-authored with her daughter Kristen, which began interestingly but soon grew to be rather perplexing to me. In those YA novels, the adolescent characters spoke with a strong teen vernacular, making them sound like stereotypical, urban high school students. It was rather over-the-top at times. It is one of the disappointments of Moon Chosen that many of the characters, especially Mari, use the same register and syntax as an American teenager might, today. It makes her sound too contemporary for this post-apocalyptic world, which is jarring.
The magic ("magick" here), the connections between humans, animals and the land itself are all compelling features; while it is similar in some superficial ways to Ambelin Kwaymullina's Tribe trilogy, the latter is by far the more superior story - though of a different sub-genre (and thus with a different audience in mind) to this. Cast's novel is more in the vein of epic fantasy, rich with details and a sense of place and time, slowly and carefully building a complex world of history, tradition, religion, fear and hope. The epilogue leads me to understand that the series will be structured much like a paranormal romance series: each volume the personal story of a different character. While Moon Chosen is predominantly Mari's story, the epilogue makes central a minor character vaguely introduced in the final chapters: Antreas, from a different Tribe, and his Companion, a Lynx called Bast. So, not every Tribe lives in the trees or bonds with dogs. I know I'll want to read his story, as I do love the big cats, and the larger plot involving the Skin Stealers has only just got started. What role Mari and Nik will play in it, I am also curious to see.
Overall, a successful foray into fantasy from Cast, with a slightly older audience in mind than her House of Night series. With an exploration of fear-based prejudice that highlights how easily - and how misguidedly - human nature falls into this pattern, Cast shows the predilections of humans to form societies based on mutual (shared) ideologies, and to exclude or even demonise those who represent differences. I am quite curious to see where she goes with this, in this setting and with this particular, gritty and often unpleasant world.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book....more
I'm a tentative fan of Sophie Kinsella's novels - some I have absolutely loved, others have been slightly annoying, while The Undomestic Goddess leftI'm a tentative fan of Sophie Kinsella's novels - some I have absolutely loved, others have been slightly annoying, while The Undomestic Goddess left me cringing. Finding Audrey is Kinsella's first Young Adult novel, a sort of John Green-type story but with more human warmth, humour and, frankly, realism than Green (I might be the only person who isn't gaga over John Green, who is seriously over-rated, but the comparison is a fair one I think). Audrey Turner is a young teen suffering from severe anxiety after an incident at school the year before, in which three girls bullied her to the point of giving her a breakdown. She is slowly showing signs of recovering, but hides behind dark sunglasses, even inside, and rarely ventures out. Her older brother, Frank, spends all his time on the computer playing Land of Conquerors, and their younger brother, Felix, is a delightful toddler. Their parents are showing signs of stress, especially their mother, who puts most of her energy into combating what she sees as Frank's computer addiction - to the point of throwing his computer out of the upstairs' bedroom window. In Audrey's view, the whole family is nuts.
Her psychologist, Dr Sarah, encourages her to make a film, hoping that being behind the camera will help Audrey interact with others. But it is the arrival of Linus, Frank's teammate for LOC, that makes the most significant change. Audrey's attraction to Linus and Linus's patient bridge-building with her pave the way for real improvement, but it's a tenuous one, easily damaged.
Finding Audrey is both funny and serious, combining real-world issues like bullying with a wry, deprecating tone that helps balance the stresses I feel are coming to dominate the lives of young people. Audrey's case is an extreme one, but the number of teenagers with anxiety and/or depression seem to be rising. People, even young people, have the capacity to be truly awful to each other, but Finding Audrey is really about the positive, hopeful, loving and loyal connections we make with each other, which can help save us from our worst qualities.
The Tribe is my new favourite series, and I am eagerly, impatiently awaiting the next two instalments. Having devoured the first, The Interrogation oThe Tribe is my new favourite series, and I am eagerly, impatiently awaiting the next two instalments. Having devoured the first, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, in January this year, I quickly went out to get a copy of the second book, which did not disappoint in the slightest.
Following on from the events of the first book, the Tribe is somewhat more structured, involved and purposeful - maybe it's because I'm currently reading the final Obernewtyn book, but there are similarities between the two series, which only makes me cleave to this one all the more. They are young, they have unique abilities, and they have a deep and profound love and respect for the natural world - and this is a strong component of both the world-building and the Indigenous culture from which Kwaymullina comes.
Ember Crow is Ashala Wolf's best friend and, in effect, second in command of the Tribe. Now, suddenly, she is missing, and as Ashala and the Tribe track her down they learn incredible secrets about Ember and the 'family' she comes from, secrets that open up a whole new dimension to this post-apocalyptic world still in recovery, and reveal a threat they hadn't known existed.
I honestly couldn't recommend this series highly enough. It is riveting, engrossing, exciting, surprising, imaginative, intelligent and captivating. Can I squeeze any more adjectives into that sentence? I love the concept, I love the Aboriginal aspects and I love the world-building, but I especially love the characters, who are becoming as dear to me as the Obernewtyn cast is. Speaking of, it is a relief to have another excellent post-apocalyptic fantasy series like this one to go one with, now that the Obernewtyn Chronicles is finally complete. The Tribe books are already on my "I need to re-read ASAP" list, and I'm on tenterhooks waiting for the next two....more
I only learnt of this book this year, and I’m so glad I did! Set on a juggernaut called Worldshaker, in an alternate present in which the reign of QueI only learnt of this book this year, and I’m so glad I did! Set on a juggernaut called Worldshaker, in an alternate present in which the reign of Queen Victoria continues indefinitely, alongside the Victorian mentality. Col is the son of one of the elite families on the mobile city; his grandfather is the Supreme Commander and he is next in line. Everything in his neat, ordered world is right and good. But then one night a Filthy escapes from Below and hides in his cabin, a girl called Riff. The Filthies are barely human, he’s been taught, but this one challenges his understanding. His only other exposure to them are through the Menials, silent, tongueless and lobotomised servants ‘rescued’ from Below to serve the upper classes. Col’s encounter with Riff is the beginning of something new, dark and terrifying, as everything he believed in begins to fray.
This is a wonderful adventure story containing familiar elements and tropes but still a unique, standalone novel. While you will have a greater and more cynical understanding of the workings of this world than Col does, his path to understanding is rendered so vivid and nail-bitingly tense that it won’t matter. While it utilises the Victorian steampunk tradition, the story acts as an indictment on how we still treat others, even today, not only through class systems but through words and names alone.
At the back of the book are some great maps of the juggernaut, which I wish I’d known about sooner than I did, as they’re very helpful!...more
The first book in the Maze Runner series begins with the main character and narrator, Thomas, waking up in a metal cage as it rises up out of the grouThe first book in the Maze Runner series begins with the main character and narrator, Thomas, waking up in a metal cage as it rises up out of the ground and into a glade. He’s greeted by a large group of boys, all fairly young, who have been trapped here for a few years, surrounded by a maze of towering stone walls that shift in the night, patrolled by fearsome creatures they call Grievers. While each boy has a duty and a job to perform, a select few ‘run’ the maze every day, mapping it, trying to find the way out. Thomas soon proves himself as a runner, and joins them. Time, though, is against them when the routine is disrupted by the arrival of another new kid – a girl.
Despite Thomas’s quickly annoying narrative voice, I did find the premise and early chapters quite promising – this is the kind of story I’m drawn to, but I find all too often that a clever or interesting idea can quickly fizzle out. Such is the case with The Maze Runner, which soon felt like all the other American YA spec fic out there. The answers you get at the end are a bit eye-rollingly predictable and anticlimactic. That said, I did watch the movie after finishing the book, and the book is better. There’s just more in it, more substance and character development, which the film was sorely lacking....more