When Tana wakes up in a bathtub the morning after a high school party, she thinks the most she’ll have to worry about is facing her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, sober and dealing with one hell of a hangover. Little does she know the party had some visitors during the night – and now all of her classmates are dead. All except Aidan, who has been bitten and tied to a bed, with a chained up vampire. Tana pities the vampire, named Gavriel, and makes a rash decision, bundling him and Aidan in the back of her car before more vampires bust into the house and catch them. Tana is nearly caught, escaping with a scrape from a vampire tooth. Now she may be infected with the vampire virus, and if so must resist human blood for 88 days, or she’ll lose her humanity forever.
So begins the road trip of a vampire, a newly infected, and possibly infected human to their only refuge: a Coldtown. Famed for being a harbour for vampires, and broadcast across the world as a never ending party, with humans enthralled and offering up their blood in hopes of being turned. There, Tana may be able to find salvation for them all. That is, if the vampires hunting Gavriel don’t catch them first.
I’ve been a long time fan of Holly Black’s work, ever since I first read Tithe as a teenager and feel in love with urban fantasy books, especially those featuring faeries, and I have avidly read all her work. But I must admit, to my disappointment this has to be her weakest book. Having said that, it is still a Holly Black book, which puts it leagues above many others out there. So, the good. The concept of Coldtowns is a very original one, and the mystery and allure surrounding them draws in the readers as well of the characters. The descriptions of the Coldtown parties, and vampire bounty hunters are pretty captivating. It adds to the casual horror of the novel, which has got to be the strongest part of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The gore and monstrous nature of the vampires is very well done, making this not a book to be read by the squeamish. I like my vampires with a lot of bite, which made this almost perfect in that respect.
However, there were a few problems in this novel that I just couldn’t ignore. Whilst the action was fast paced and fairly intense, with chapters ending on cliffhangers, this effect was ruined by the alternating chapters which would provide background information or alternate points of view (still all in third person though). Don’t get me wrong, these chapters were interesting in their own right, but they seriously disrupted the flow of the story. Also, the characters didn’t feel very fleshed out, which I believe is caused by this book being based off a short story. I have read this short story, which also has the same name, and I believe it is much stronger than this book. In both, the characters aren’t developed much, but this is forgivable in a short story which has less space for said development. The novel, on the other hand, felt like an idea that was stretched too thin, causing the characters to suffer as we never really get to know them that well. This leads to a lot of telling rather than showing when it comes to their personalities. Aidan probably suffers the most from this: Tana thinks many times about how he’s an alright guy really, and how gentle he really is, etc,etc, but all of their relationship we see are through her flashbacks, overshadowed by how she realises now that it was never going to work, and him lying and manipulating her to make sure she comes back to save him. This also meant the romance between Tana and Gavriel was pretty lacklustre, with little attraction or reason behind it, causing it to be almost boring.
I had high hopes for this one, and I can’t say, when comparing to Holly Black’s other work, that I am impressed. Yet, it is still a good vampire book, and I recommend it to anyone looking for vampires and gore. Better yet, I recommend the original short story. I just can’t help but be disappointed, as I know Holly Black is capable of better.
After the pain of losing her mother and the huge culture shock moving to Japan to live with her aunt, Katie could be forgiven for suffering from stress and seeing things that aren’t really there; drawings moving, staring at her with blank eyes, or crawling towards her with razor sharp teeth, and ink that pools and oozes like blood. If only Katie could believe it was just stress, but she knows different – this is all somehow linked to Tomohiro Yuu, the good looking senior with amazing artistic skills and a bad attitude. Is he human, or kami – a person with god-like power?
As Katie gets closer to Tomohiro they discover that her being near him causes the ink he uses to act strangely. With her Tomohiro’s power is increasing, and his control is slipping. Soon, Katie isn’t the only one who has discovered what he can do.
Ink had so much potential to be an amazing book, full of monsters and Japanese culture – and whilst it is clear a lot of research has been put into this book, in the end it just doesn’t do enough to break through the typical YA paranormal romance cliches. The setting is very fleshed out (at least to a Westerner who has never visited Japan) and described beautifully, especially the images of the cherry blossoms in bloom. The romance also began rather sweetly – for all its “insta-love” problems, they can be forgiven as they fit with the character of Katie. She is alone in a foreign country, living with an aunt she barely knows, and often struggles with her new life. She has trouble speaking and reading Japanese, she keeps forgetting every-day customs like bowing and when it is acceptable to address someone by their first name, and she is the only white person in her school. For her, falling in love with Tomohiro so fast is about finding someone who also feels like an outsider, and their shared pain over loosing a mother is the beginning of their bond. Throughout the novel we see Katie’s confidence grow until she feels at home in Japan, in a realistic and sweet way.
Unfortunately, the romance soon gets fairly boring, and has practically all the annoying stereotypes of a YA paranormal romance. Insta-love (not even half way through Katie claims she can’t live without him now), not being able to be together because one of them will get hurt, ignoring or dropping friends the moment a guy comes along – these are just a few of the cliches used. The mythology of the Kami was such a unique idea, and the few scenes that depicted Tomohiro’s power (like a dragon coming to life and attacking them) were amazing to read, but they were few and far between, ultimately not enough to save the book. There is also far too much of Katie running around, stalking Tomohiro, and generally being paranoid.
If a standard YA paranormal romance, with a beautifully described setting, is what you are looking for then Ink is perfect – but if, like me, you where hoping for something special and memorable then prepare to be disappointed.
Athena thought that being a god meant she couldn’t die, but choking on the owl feathers that cut through her lungs are proving her wrong. She’s not the only one: Hermes is wasting away slowly, Hera’s flesh is turning to stone, and Poseidon has become a mindless monster, eating his own creatures. What could be killing these gods? In their hunt for answers and a way to stop their slow destruction, Athena and Hermes are pointed towards a young woman called Cassandra – the reincarnation of the prophetess Cassandra of Troy, who was cursed by her lover Apollo so no-one would believe her visions. Somehow, they believe she will save them.
Cassandra knows nothing of the gods’ affairs. To her these names are nothing more than ancient legends, most of which she doesn’t even remember. All she worries about is her relationship with Aidan and her ability to see into the future – until what used to be a way to freak out her school mates by predicting the outcome of coin tosses shows her visions of people dying horribly. Aidan realises that she is being hunt by his family, for he is in fact Apollo and his beloved has no idea. But like it or not, Cassandra will soon find out the truth, for Hera is hunting down the other gods, in an effort to kill them and prolong her own life. And to her, Cassandra is nothing more than a weapon.
Antigoddess is a very enjoyable book, but with a couple of reservations. Whilst full of interesting characters, lots of action, and links to Greek mythology that was used very well, I feel that the book suffered somewhat from its modern setting. The few scenes of Athena reminiscing about her life as a full goddess were some of the most interesting, but the rest of it felt a little detached from the original mythology the book is based on. It would have been amazing if we had seen Mount Olympus, and met Zeus and Hades, and I can only hope these ideas are used in the next book. The character of Athena, who was pretty awesome anyway, also suffered from this modernisation. She spent a little too much time thinking along the lines of ‘once I would have turned a mortal to stone for less, but times have changed’, which felt like Kendare Blake was telling rather than showing how badass Athena is supposed to be. Despite this, Athena was a very likeable and interesting character, who is strong enough in her own right to face the threat of death by both Hera and the mysterious curse that has claimed all the gods, but also struggling with the self appointed role of battle leader.
Most of the other characters were also interesting, though not quite as much as Athena. Odyssey and Hermes were enjoyable and stood on their own fairly well, but I felt Cassandra could have been expanded more, and Aidan/Apollo seemed solely concerned with his relationship. It’s interesting having the male character preoccupied with his love life more than the female, but it still isn’t particularly interesting to read about. He is meant to be the God of the Sun but just seems two-dimensional and a bit boring. Also, he is never held to account for his original cursing of Cassandra – she gets mad at him, but the action never gives them a chance to actually talk about what happened, so he’s never really punished for it.
These few problems within Antigoddess are not enough, however, to deter from the pleasure of the book itself. The action and mythology are captivating, and I am definitely coming back for book two.
Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.
But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.
It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.
What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree – there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.
I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.
These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.
On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.(less)
Parva “Pen” Khan has survived a brutal attack from a living mass of barbed wire. Well, if you can call this surviving. Covered in scars all over her body, with a face that people recoil from, Pen is trying to get her normal life back. But it’s not easy: with her best friend Beth turned into a living embodiment of the city of itself, pressure from her fellow classmates to tell them what happened, feeling that her face is no longer her own, and the guilt of causing her parents pain. The only person who understands Pen is Parva, her mirror sister who lives in the reflected city of London-Under-Glass.
But when Parva is kidnapped, Pen knows that she must find her, whatever it takes. Striking a deal with the Chemical Synod, Pen trades her parents’ memories of her for entrance to London-Uner-Glass, where looks are currency and her sister is considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Posing as Parva, Pen is caught in a world of politics and terrorists, where beauty is everything.
The Skyscraper Throne is a series that takes the genre Urban Fantasy to a new level – the city of London literally comes alive in these books. Descriptions of living street lights who communicate by flashing light, Pavement Priests who are trapped in stone, creepy men covered in oil who collect and experiment with human emotions and memories (to name a few), are all fascinating and original, building a truly unique picture of the modern world. The new society of London-Under-Glass introduced in The Glass Republic mirrors and distorts the idea of beauty being connected to self worth that is so prominent in our culture, much like the way the river Themes reflects the city itself. The use of half-faces and the terrorists know as the Faceless are both creepy but sympathetic, showing the flaws in both worlds and our obsession as people with looks. But as great as the world build is, it is nothing when compared to the characters, especially the protagonist Pen.
It’s great to see the return of Beth, the hero of the first book The City’s Son, who is still just as brilliant. Her change into a daughter of the streets continues and her struggles with this transition, and the sacrifices made by Fil, the boy she loved, are realistic and moving. There is the introduction of another great character, Espel, a steeplejill with half a true face and half a mirror. She is in many ways Pen’s opposite, a beautiful girl who braves the hights of the skyscrapers in London-Under-Glass to clear it of raining brick and concrete in an almost reckless way, but she shares a lot of the same fears and self doubts as Pen. Then there is Pen herself – a character so raw with pain, anger, and fear, but so willing to throw her own safety to the wind to save the people she loves. Her struggles made me want to cry: watching her fight for a normal life any way she can whilst living with a ruined face, bullying from her schoolmates, and knowing that the teacher who abused her may be going free. All this doesn’t stop her, as she just keeps telling herself that “It’s still all you, Pen” – and it is. Pen is a truly amazing character, who does gain back part of her control over her body after her trauma. I love Pen with a passion.
The reason I’ve rated The Glass Republic 4.5 and not 5 stars? The cliffhanger ending was completely unexpected and shocked me, as I didn’t realise this series was in fact a trilogy. Waiting for the next book may actually kill me! What else can I say but read it, and read it now.
To be given the chance to undo the mistakes of his past, to not only change the fate of his family but also save the world, Raybould Marsh has agreed to trust his most despised enemy. Gretel is one of the few living genetic experiments created by the mad Dr Von Westarp, who were used as soldiers during the Second World War. She can see the future, and has used her powers to kill Marsh’s infant daughter once already. But the only wait to save his baby, and everyone else, is to trust Gretel. As the Eidolons – a race of god-like beings who abhor humans – destroy the world Gretel is able to send Marsh back in time from 1963 to 1940 in order to save this time line from destruction and redeem himself.
Necessary Evil is a very bittersweet book. After seeing Marsh become a shadow of the man he used to be in the last book, The Coldest War, he is given a chance to change history – but for a different version of himself. He gets to see his wife, when she still loved him, and his baby daughter, who has been dead for nearly twenty years, but can’t reveal who he truly is. Marsh’s pain and loneliness is visible throughout the novel, and heart-wrenching to read.
The comparisons between Old Marsh and Young Marsh is interesting to read. Both are obviously stubborn and determined to protect their family, but Old Marsh has become better at scheming and manipulating people: more willing to do the “necessary evil” in order to reach his goals. His loneliness has hardened him, and the possibility of saving his child has made him desperate. Yet, despite these faults, Old Marsh is a constantly sympathetic character.
The few insights we get into Gretel’s mind are fascinating, in a very disturbing way. She has been described as “evil” constantly throughout the series, and these chapters certainly show she is unstable and obsessive, willing to kill anyone who gets in her way. No-one is safe, and a few key characters are killed in a fairly gruesome way.
Ultimately, this is a satisfying and emotional ending to a great series.