I have not had the pleasure of reading Andy Remic's Clockwork Vampire Chronicles yet, but hearing about how those books have earned the author the nickname "Tarantino of epic fantasy" has gotten me mighty curious. Being compared to the great QT is high praise indeed! How then could I possibly say no to The Iron Wolves?
This book has it all: bloody fight scenes and explosive battles, psychopathic villains and twisted, gritty anti-heroes. Oh, and mud-orcs. Mustn't forget the mud-orcs. Needless to say, I am happy to report that Andy Remic's title is well-deserved; we're talking no-holds-barred dark fantasy, of the faint-of-heart-need-not-apply variety. We're talking graphic violence, explicit sex scenes, and a truly astounding number of decapitations within these blood-soaked pages.
If this sounds like your kind of novel, then you're in for a real treat. Andy Remic has taken the classic "gather your party and go forth on a quest of epic proportions" objective, and so generously wrapped it all up for us in a nice grim package. To stop an invading army of horrors, the great general Dalgoram sets out across the land to reunite his band of veteran warriors for one last stand. Having been estranged for years, the members of the Iron Wolves have all either fallen on hard times or have turned to lives of deviance and corruption. But together again, they find they can transform their shared curse into something so much more.
By the way, my description of "twisted, gritty anti-heroes" was in no way an exaggeration. With perhaps the exception of the old man Dalgoran, I was hard pressed to name a single admirable soul in this group of vile, despicable Iron Wolves. But that's what I signed up for so I can't complain too much, especially since Remic delivers exactly what was promised. The only downside I could see to this is finding enough to set some of these characters apart, which gets a little difficult when almost all of them are defined by broken pasts, foul mouths and violent tendencies.
Also as I've noted before, at times a novel's "epicness" can be something of a double-edged sword, as it can do a number on pacing. This story stumbles a bit due to the sheer size of the cast and their multiple points of view, especially when a couple more Iron Wolves are still being added to the mix at about two-thirds of the way through the book. As maniacal as they are, I wish we'd gotten a chance to know Zastarte and Trista a bit better, though I think this will mean a much smoother ride for the next installment now that the scene has been set and all the introductions have been made.
Speaking of which, I'm excited about book two, and if you'd seen that ending, you would be too. I have to say I felt the final showdown scene was over way too quickly, though this probably had less to do with the pacing and more to do with how much I enjoyed the climax and conclusion. Andy Remic is in his element when it comes to writing big battles and fight scenes, and he graces this book with a lot of them. It would be easy but disingenuous to brush them all off as an excuse to provide gratuitous violence, because I actually found many of the scenes of war and fighting to flow and fit exceedingly well within the context of the story.
After all, this is The Iron Wolves, folks. A great choice for readers looking for a stronger, headier kick to their heroic fantasy, just remember to steel yourselves for the unlimited energy and madness this book will unleash upon your lives!(less)
Once in a while, a great book like Shadow and Bone will come along and remind me of why I read YA -- and why overlooking this category of fiction would be a big mistake. It's another one of those titles which had hung around on my to-read list for much too long, and now I wish I'd listened to the glowing reviews and picked it up sooner. It has everything I look for in a YA novel: a likeable protagonist, a sweet and believable romance that's not insta-love, and a pace for storytelling that's just perfect.
At the beginning of the book, we are introduced to a girl and a boy, two orphans who became friends with each other when a kind nobleman took them in. Years later, both Alina and Mal have ended up in the army and are preparing to cross the Fold, a wasteland of darkness where savage creatures called Volcra lurk, ready to swoop down on any unsuspecting travelers. Well, of course they get attacked by Volcra during the crossing. Without understanding how, Alina manages to save the life of her best friend Mal by unleashing a brilliant flash of light as bright as the sun, driving away the creatures.
Anyway, this book doesn't waste time getting to the meat of the story. It turns out Alina is one of the Grisha, and a special one at that. Grisha are what you would call the sorcerers of this world, except I would say that their magic is more like a science -- acts of magic are actually the Grisha manipulating and altering matter at its most basic level. It's an interesting system, and I also find it fascinating that the Grisha have their own social structure, politics and culture. When it is discovered that Alina is the Sun Summoner with the power to control light, she is whisked away to learn the ways of the Grisha, and I had the pleasure of learning all about their society through her eyes.
The world of Shadow and Bone has a sort-of Russian flavor, and yes, the way of the Grisha court has some of your usual YA trappings. Normally, I'd be calling for more world building and further expansion into the book's ideas, but I'm actually quite amazed and how much it was able to convey. Especially when you consider how this was a relatively short novel and a really quick read. The story finds its momentum early on and it just keeps going like that all the way to the end, and I don't think I would have traded that for anything. Everything you need to know is there, and I liked how we don't get any unnecessary detail or lengthy exposition weighing things down.
But it's the characters that made this book such a joy to read. Alina's a tough girl, and even though she can get a tad too sentimental at times, she's proven herself to be quite capable. Her romance with Mal actually feels natural, and I liked the fact that it was the result of a long-term friendship that grew deeper over time. It makes their relationship more genuine, and I could better understand their intense feelings for each other. Since finding a YA romance that I actually like is quite rare for me, it makes a big impression whenever it does happen.
It also helps that this book was exactly what I needed at time. If you're ever in the mood for a quick YA fantasy with a decent romance and a bit of adventure and intrigue thrown in, this will do the trick nicely. I found it very enjoyable!(less)
I usually start off my reviews with an explanation of what initially drew me to the book, and in this case it was the words "Zombies" and "Western" used to describe it that had me tripping over my feet for the opportunity to check it out. To date, I've only read a few titles from relatively new speculative fiction imprint Jo Fletcher, but they've already set themselves apart in my mind as a very special publisher, thanks to books like Your Brother's Blood which mix elements of sci-fi and fantasy with many other genres. Here, the result is something completely new and different, but I was also surprised to find this "Zombie-Western" to be quite literary and elegant at the same time.
The book is actually set hundreds of years into the future after an oft referred to but unknown apocalyptic event, and pockets of humanity now live ruggedly in small communities spread out across a vast and arid land in a style reminiscent of the Old West. A war is currently being waged between two armies, and caught in between them is the complicated matter of the dead who come back to life, those referred to as "the Walkin'".
Thomas grew up in Barkley, and at thirty-two years old he'd left to fight a war only to die and wake up again. He knows going home will put his wife and child in danger, but the pull towards love and family is too great; in the end his arrival in town sends him on the run again, with his daughter Mary in tow. It becomes a race against time as they try to evade their pursuers, because Barkley's zealots do not suffer the wicked or their spawn to live.
Other than a very few exceptions, I don't think I've come across many zombie stories that are told from the perspective of the undead, so this immediately makes Your Brother's Blood stand out for me. As a Walkin', Thomas' heart does not beat, nor does he bleed or feel a thing, but he does possess emotions, intelligence, and awareness of everything around him. He remembers Mary even though he hasn't seen her in a long time, and his love and devotion to her leads to many sad and touching scenes between father and daughter.
In this and many other ways, Your Brother's Blood is not a typical zombie novel; in fact, it shares very few similarities with other books in this horror sub-genre. Towsey's zombies aren't the mindless, shambling and brains-craving kind to be feared, and much of my enjoyment was actually the result of how much I sympathized with Thomas and related to his concerns for Mary. It's definitely a story that tugs at your heartstrings, but on the flip side there's also a sense of danger and urgency, for at the heart of this plot is the desperate-chase-across-the-wasteland factor that's so characteristic of classic Westerns.
There's just such a strange but unique mix of elements here, making this a special book unlike anything I've read before. There's just enough detail in this book to make you wonder things like, what happened to result in this post-apocalyptic world, and what's "in the blood" that makes a person more liable to rise as a Walkin' when they die? I'm hoping future installments will explore these questions, but I'd be okay too if some things are left as mysteries.
It's always interesting to me when I see authors take what's familiar and shake things up, creating imaginative characters and new worlds that lead to speculation. This was an enjoyable debut from David Towsey that not only surprised me with its originality, but also had a lot more feeling than I expected. I recommend it to anyone looking for something that's different, resonant and not "just another zombie book".
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.(less)
Books like Mage's Blood are extremely hard for me to review, and not least of all because the many comparisons of this to A Song of Ice and Fire are mostly appropriate; this first book of the Moontide Quartet is a sprawling epic indeed! Still, I'm of the mind that George R.R. Martin's epic series stands uniquely on its own...but then so does David Hair's. It would be impossible for me to go into every single thing I liked about this book without having to talk about why, because that would just lead to lengthy explanations into the details of the plot, and if I did that this review will end up being thirty pages long with half of it made up of spoilers. Obviously, we can't have that.
Suffice to say though, this book has it all: nations at war, clashing religions, political intrigue, mages and sorcery, multiple points of view. Yuros and Antiopia are two lands long separated by vast ocean. But every Moontide, the seas part to reveal the magnificent mage-crafted Leviathan Bridge, allowing trade and communication between the two continents. Unfortunately, the passage is also a source of much bitterness and conflict. The last two Moontides have involved crusades of conquest, thanks to the lofty ambitions of the Magi.
Now another Moontide is at hand. As the time draws nearer, the people on both sides prepare for war. Antonin Meiros, a mage of great renown (in fact, it was he who was the intellect behind the Leviathan Bridge) seeks a new wife, and travels to Lahk to wed Ramita. Ramita, however, is already betrothed to the hotheaded Kazim. In another part of the world, Elena Anborn has pledged her life to protect the royal family of Javon, fighting off the assassination attempts and conspiracies masterminded by her former lover Gurvon Gyle, who works for powerful political enemies. Meanwhile in Noros, Elena's nephew Alaron prepares for his mage finals. But during the presentation of his thesis, he unwittingly proposes a dangerous topic that could mean the end to his hopes and dreams.
Everything and everyone is connected in this massive and intricate web that David Hair has woven. The scale of both setting and story are vast. The continents involved here encompass various nations, many of which are described here with great thought and detail. Their populations, including their cultures, languages, religions, rituals and even food and styles of dress are given the same exacting care. This is a world where both magic and theology form a strong basis for society, and it is diverse.
At the same time, readers will find there is much that is familiar in this fantasy world of Urte. Most of the nations and cultures in this book bear marked resemblances to those in our reality -- even when it comes to religion and geography. The nature of this brought to mind a recent discussion I had with a friend, regarding settings in various epic fantasies and how he usually preferred fictional worlds that he can imagine as our own earth, whereas I tended to prefer the opposite. Needless to say, a book like Mage's Blood can appeal to both camps. As well, even I can admit that real-world historical and cultural influences in a fantasy setting can add a lot to a story, a prime example being Jacqueline Carey's original Kushiel's Universe trilogy which remains one of my favorite series of all time.
With a book so massive which features a cast so big, it was perhaps no surprise that the first quarter of Mage's Blood is the most demanding of the reader. The different characters and their story lines are cleanly organized and separated by chapters, which is why this is my favorite format for epic novels. Nevertheless, it makes for a slower start, when an author has to cycle through the perspectives while introducing all the main players, and the first couple hundred pages were dedicated to this task. Patience pays off though, as the book finishes setting the scene and gradually builds up momentum in the middle chapters. This is the meat of the story, and it is amazing how David Hair manages keep all the plates spinning at once, giving each character and plot thread the attention they deserve, while also meticulously bringing them all together so that they eventually form a much bigger picture.
As Mage's Blood features an ensemble cast, obviously I had my favorites (the notable example being Ramita and her story with Antonin Meiros) while others were not as interesting to me. Each person has an important role to play though, and this was made clear by the climax and the ending, which is in a word incredible. It is a conclusion that is positively incendiary, leaving me wondering what else the author has in store. As the series name implies, Mage's Blood is only the first in what is meant to be series of four books, and as such there is much left wide open for huge things to come. However, at the same time David Hair has wrapped things up in a way that is straightforward and satisfying, without any abruptness. I think this is a far rarer skill than people realize.
I have a feeling a lot will be happening in The Scarlet Tides. Mage's Blood may have been encumbered by a lengthy introduction and a slow build-up to the story, which I honestly don't think could have been avoided. I suspect, however, that we will jump right into the action with the sequel. I'm excited, and can't wait to see where things will go.(less)
Earlier this year I read Angelfall and was very impressed, more than I would've expected to be by a young adult paranormal novel which initially appeared quite typical on the surface. Featuring a teenaged female protagonist in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by invading angels, I figured it would do for an entertaining read, but didn't think it would go beyond covering old ground. I was mistaken, of course! I ended up loving Angelfall for the high quality of the storytelling and fantastic characters, and thank goodness I didn't discover the book until late summer because that meant much less of a wait for World After, this much anticipated sequel.
The story picks up where Angelfall left off, after the rebels' attack on the angel stronghold. Penryn had spent most of the last book trying to find her sister and ultimately succeeded in her quest, though little Paige has suffered much at the hands of the enemy and is no longer the girl she used to be. Driven out by the other human survivors that consider her a monster, Paige takes off, leaving Penryn to try and track her down...again.
Meanwhile, the angel Raffe was left scarred in more ways than one in the aftermath of the explosive assault on the Aerie, still hunting his wings that were severed and taken away from him. Penryn is crushed knowing that he still thinks she's dead, but she has more pressing things on her mind. While working for the resistance and looking for Paige, she discovers a nefarious plot at hand.
After reading World After, I still think Angelfall was a better book, though only by a small margin. The first book was a great debut that set some pretty high standards, and I knew it was going to be tough to beat. Nevertheless, the series continues to impress me with this sequel, which shows no sign of the plot slowing down. That's what I've been loving so much about this story, the fact that there is very little filler and no tedious expounding of the characters' emotional hangups or pointless dragging out of the romance. Less is more sometimes, and we all know a relationship is what's shaping up between Penryn and Raffe after all; I didn't need the extra bells and whistles to still have a great time anticipating the moment when the two of them will be reunited again.
So much of my enjoyment for a book depends on how much I take to the main character, and I think that is the key to why I'm a such fan. In a genre where topics like survival in the post-apocalyptic world (and even angels) have been done six ways to Sunday, Penryn is what makes this series stand out. She is a take-charge leader and a fighter, and the best part is that she is consistent, not switching from a tough girl one moment to a shrinking violet the next. She's also sassy, but not in an over-confident or obnoxious kind of way. Of course, she is not without her problems, but what's important is that she doesn't dwell on them or whine about the things she knows she cannot change.
Basically, Penryn feels like a real person just doing her best to stay alive in a difficult situation, though the events of this book definitely tests her mettle. While she may be resilient, she is not dismissive of her own pain or that of others'. There are some very heart-wrenching moments when Penryn sees what her sister has become and has to struggle to accept her. Indeed, what chance does the human race have, when people are turning on their own, especially on those who have endured the worst? It will also be interesting now to see how Penryn will respond to her deepening feelings towards Raffe. In my experience, nothing changes a YA heroine faster than a burgeoning romance, and here's hoping Penryn remains the strong female protagonist I know and love!(less)
The Scroll of Years sees Chris Willrich taking his characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone into new territory, in more ways than one. To date, the pair of adventurers have appeared in a handful of short stories (and the first one is actually included in the back of this volume) but now the two of them are starring in their own full-length novel.
A dynamic dual and partners in crime, Gaunt and Bone are also lovers expecting their first child. Caught up in some trouble with Night Auditor assassins at the beginning of this book, the pair flee across the ocean to Qiangguo, a land very much inspired by ancient Imperial China. To protect themselves from enemies and other factions who already have designs on their unborn child, they will need all the help they can get, and allies apparently can come from the most unexpected of places.
There is much to be said about Chris Willrich's ability to make me feel so connected to his main protagonists, since I have not read the short stories and The Scroll of Years is my first introduction to Gaunt and Bone. Already, the two are in love and starting a family, which offers a very interesting kind of dynamic you usually don't find when picking up the first book of a series. It's not often that one gets a chance to read a fantasy novel from the perspective of a couple of parents-to-be, after all.
Quite frankly, it gave me positive feelings towards this book and its main characters right away, especially since the emotional nuances are always so close to surface whenever Gaunt or Bone find themselves in a quandary. On a personal level, Persimmon Gaunt's experiences as an expectant woman and then a new mother were humorous at times, and tugged at my heartstrings at others. Overall, these characters have a lot of depth and are just written so well.
The world in which the story takes place is also beautifully crafted, achieved without overt info-dumping. I have a great interest in Far East traditions, and to my delight the author has taken some Chinese myths and legends and incorporated them into this story, also creating some of his own at times to add to the richness of Qiangguo. Clearly, a lot of care was taken to blend fantasy, history, and his own research and knowledge, as evidenced by some of the stories and poetry found in this book, and even by simple things like the name given to this land of the Heavenwalls ("Qiang" meaning "Wall", "Guo" meaning "Nation").
The writing is also something I feel I have to remark upon, because the prose is definitely not of a typical style. Even so, this makes it no less beautiful or impressive in my eyes. It did take me a lot longer than expected to read this book, but only because Chris Willrich's style was something I felt really needed to be taken in slowly and savored. Because a certain level of attention is required to do so, this might make The Scroll of Years a difficult book to get into, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded by many subtle surprises in the writing. For example, I for one was not expecting much humor in this novel, but there were actually quite a few funny moments that came out of nowhere and made me laugh out loud.
All in all, I can safely say I cannot remember the last time I came across a book like this. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy who love a good action-adventure tale, especially those who might be on the lookout for something a bit different with an elegant and subtle touch.(less)
Featuring exotic lands, magic and adventure and warrior knights embarking on sacred quests, Heartwood had everything I like going for it. Now that I've finished this book, I'm still amazed at the sheer scope of the story; epic doesn't even begin to describe it. Though as I soon found, "epicness" could also be something of a double-edged sword.
The book opens with a scene at the Congressus, a conference of peace talks in which representatives from all across Anguis come together in an attempt to negotiate and maintain stability between the many nations. Chonrad, Lord of Barle, joins the holy knights of Heartwood to oversee the talks in the fortified temple, where the great tree called the Arbor stands. Congressus does not go well, however, and then the gathering is ambushed by an army of warriors who seem to have materialized from the water of the river itself. In the ensuing battle many are killed, but it is the Arbor with its massive trunk split and its heart stolen away that is the worst blow of all.
Because the great tree is what binds the land and all its people, it must be saved. First, the Arbor's heart must be retrieved, but five Nodes located in five different hallowed sites across the land must also be activated in order for the tree to heal. In addition, a powerful magician called the Virimage must also be found, brought back to Heartwood so he can lend his abilities to the mending. Thus it begins; we have seven different groups, each on their own journey, each tasked with a special Quest.
Like I said, the scope of this is massive. It's what I loved best about this book, and the author Freya Robertson pulls off an impressive feat of storytelling by weaving no less than six or seven different plot threads together into a one big whole. She's also done incredible things with world building, creating this land made up of many different nations, all with their own unique population and cultures. The characters featured in this book all have ties to their own homes and histories, which also reflects in their personalities, motivations and value systems. I liked this last point a lot too, reminding me very much of the worlds in the role-playing games I like to play.
Viewed as a whole, however, the massiveness of Heartwood -- both its length and scale of the story -- can also make things a little problematic for the reader. When you have so much going on, such as half a dozen quests occurring all at once, that's a lot to take in. First, we have the introduction to the characters, of which there are many, and that shouldn't be a surprise given the intricacies of the plot. Still, I like to see momentum build in the first quarter of a book, because that's generally when I expect to be pulled in by the story as well. In Heartwood, much of the first 100-200 pages is given to establishing the characters and world, which made for a slower-paced beginning. It felt sometimes like I was encountering a new character and his or her long and detailed back-story every few pages, when what I wanted very much was for the story to move forward. Structurally, I think if some of the information could have been edited out or even just spread out more evenly, it might have improved the flow for the first part of the book.
These insertions of character history and moments of information dumping persist throughout the novel, but I think they are the heaviest in the first half. The good news is, I think the story picks up considerably in the second half, after we have the all the introductions and necessary details established. Though a little patience and determination was required of me to reach this point, I have to say it was worth it in the end. I'm still astounded by the way Freya Robertson was able to make all her quest stories come together. She manages to keep all the threads in line, never once letting any of them get away from her, and keeps up a steady level of suspense for each group throughout. With all the perspective changes and jumping around in places and time, I would have expected this book to be way more disjointed than it is, but surprisingly it wasn't, at least not for me.
I didn't get to connect to all the characters equally, since one of the downsides of this format is having to spread my attention between a whole bunch of different players. And some like Chonrad, for example, disappear for a chunk of time after Part I as the book shifts focus to the people on other quests. But over time, I did develop a few favorites. The writing is admittedly not very subtle when it comes to revealing their every thought or emotion, but regardless I came to enjoy Heartwood's female characters a lot. Their depth made them memorable, and the holy knights Procella and Beata stood out for me in particular. Both are strong leaders who are capable and competent, and yet also have their own personal battles between duty and love, what's insides their heads versus what's inside their hearts. On that note, I also want to say how much I appreciate a little romance in my epic fantasy. There's definitely an element of love here, and Freya Robertson is so good at creating passion and sexual tension between couples. I was not surprised when I found out that she has also published a number of romance novels under a different name.
Ultimately, my overall feelings towards Heartwood are positive, though it did take a little time for me to get into the flow of the story. It is, after all, an ambitious novel, and despite a few hitches in its structure and pacing, for a first book in a series I think this one does an admirable job in establishing the world and characters. The way the story unfolded and came together in the end made me curious enough to want to read more from this series and author, and I'll most likely be picking up the next book.(less)
James Enge's A Guile of Dragons is actually the first book of a "prequel" series called A Tournament of Shadows featuring his celebrated character Morlock Ambrosius. Not having read the original books, I'm sure my experience is probably going to differ wildly from that of a reader who is already familiar with the world and character, but knowing beforehand that I was going into an origins-type story was good preparation for what to expect.
Most of the book covers the life of young Morlock. We begin at a point before he is even born, then watch as he is given to the dwarves as an infant. Morlock's real father is Merlin -- yes, that Merlin -- though he is raised among the dwarven folk; as such things go, the character's struggles with his birthright and mixed feelings about his heritage eventually emerge as one of the overarching themes of the story.
But on top of that, the book is also an adventure, with an ancient war between dwarves and dragons at its heart. When the dwarven territories are invaded, their defenders taken prisoner or placed under the corrupted influence of dragonspells, it falls to Morlock to protect his surrogate family and the people who raised him.
This was a good story, well told in its complexity and showing of relationships between different characters, but I have a feeling I'm not clicking with it as much as I should. I'm sure a lot of it had to do with the book and I getting off on the wrong foot, with the introductory chapters throwing me off with its pacing. The sections that take place before Morlock's birth and up to the brief scenes of his childhood with the dwarves feel like they should have been a prologue, separated from the rest of the book.
I understand the importance of including this time of his life as part of his back story, but I don't know if it meshes that well with everything that comes afterward. The first part of the book felt like a running commentary on the circumstances behind Morlock's birth, resulting in a disconnect between myself and the character. Fortunately, the book really gets going once he reaches adulthood and we get into the meat of the story, when we encounter the dragons and their violent confrontations with the dwarves.
What follows is a very intriguing take on the history behind the dwarven-dragon conflict, and the intricacies in the nature of the two societies. The character dynamics also pick up, and as factors like bitter resentment or shifting loyalties start to come into play, things get a lot more interesting. The author throws in a lot of surprising twists, and I have to say one of my favorite aspects of this book is how Enge incorporates elements from legend and Arthurian fantasy into the world lore.
My overall feeling is that you can definitely read A Guile of Dragons on its own, but I have no doubt I'm also missing out on a lot of the subtleties. Yet despite delving into this one without any context, I was on the whole impressed. After seeing how the events of this book has shaped Morlock as a character, I admit I find myself curious about him and his future exploits.(less)
Our protagonist in Thief's Covenant is a young woman who wears many masks and goes by many different names. Once she was Adrienne Satti, an orphan taken off the streets to be raised as an aristocrat's ward, but soon after was forced to shed her old life to escape arrest for a savage crime she didn't commit. Now, she is known simply as the thief Widdershins.
And really, how could I not be drawn to a book starring a character with a name like Widdershins? Along with its impishly clever cover (I kept thinking I was holding the book upside down), it made me believe I was going to be settling back to a cute young adult novel, but to my delight it ended up being something so much more than that. It's true Thief's Covenant could be light and funny at times, but at others it was also quite dark, grim and heavy.
For instance, the book opens with a scene following a bloody and brutal massacre on page one, which instantly dispelled any sort of preconceived notions on my part. But this I considered to be a point in the book's favor, along with the fact that it doesn't seem to fall prey to typical Young Adult genre conventions (I for one thought the decision to forgo a romantic arc was brave but ultimately wise).
As such, I really think a wider audience can enjoy this without being worried about it feeling "too YA". Actually, I couldn't help but make comparisons to Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, not only for the obvious similarities like the subject of the orphaned thief and the past-present format of the novel, but because Thief's Covenant also contains the kind of unexpected plot twists and gut-wrenching story developments that are so characteristic of the Gentleman Bastard books.
Being such a slim volume, I was also pleasantly surprised at the richness of the setting and how layered the story was. The book takes place in a world where every person from the wealthiest noble to the grimiest street urchin worships one of the dozens of gods approved by the Hallowed Pact. Widdershins, however, is a follower of the almost-forgotten minor deity Olgun, but their worshipper-worshipped relationship is one that is unlike any other. Olgun is in fact a major presence in Widdershins' life, or more accurately, a rather major one in her head. Like I said, there's plenty of fun and cheeriness in this book too, and the playful banter between the two of them is a very good example of the humor you will find to break up the tension.
I only wish the story had been better paced; part of this is due to the aforementioned time jumps which occur quite frequently, with flashbacks to an earlier part of Widdershins' life almost every other chapter. On the one hand this was a very good way to give us better insight into her character and personality, and I find I really enjoyed her back story. On the other hand, it made the plot feel disjointed and gave the book a slow start, and because of this I couldn't get into it right away.
And yet, one thing I did notice was the carefully planned and measured way the chapters were laid out, done with such a subtle elegance that the events told in the flashback chapters would always relate to what was happening to Widdershins in the present. In this way, all the questions you'll have about her character and her history will eventually be answered. The steady doling out of details admittedly made this book a little tough to get through for the first half, but the rewarding second half made picking this book up well worth it in the end.(less)
I don't know what I was expecting when I first got into Vampire Empire, probably something light and fun given its vampire and steampunk concept. But...moreI don't know what I was expecting when I first got into Vampire Empire, probably something light and fun given its vampire and steampunk concept. But I have to say though, this is shaping up to be quite an impressive series. Somewhere along the way, these books have gone beyond simply being candy for my mind, to the point now where I find myself emotionally invested in the story and its characters in particular.
After the events in The Greyfriar, Princess Adele finds herself back in the heart of the Equatorian Empire, trying to put off her dreaded marriage to Senator Clark of the American Republic. Unfortunately, her husband-to-be is eager to get on with sealing their vows so that the new human alliance can start waging war on the vampire clans of the north. His battle plans, however, involve committing atrocities Adele would have no part of.
Besides, her heart still belongs to mysterious swordsman and great vampire hunter known as the Greyfriar. While I would by no means categorize these books as pure "Romance", the relationship between Adele and Greyfriar is still a strong element in this series, and I want to highlight it again because it was what struck me in the first book. Theirs is probably one of the most well-written and engaging love stories I've encountered in my reading, which I think is why the romance still manages to shine through here amidst all the action and adventure. There is just so much chemistry between these two characters.
To put it into perspective, take this one minor scene in which Adele puts on some inconspicuous clothes as a disguise and asks Greyfriar offhandedly how she looks. His response: "Strong. Determined." THAT'S how Greyfriar always sees his beloved! And the world of significance behind his simple two-word answer is like the biggest turn on ever. In any book, the fact that two lovers can originate from vastly different backgrounds but still be able to stand together and treat each other as equals is a very important thing for me.
Quite honestly, despite the various action scenes in the first quarter or so of this book, I find I could not enjoy myself to the fullest until the the two of them were reunited. After that, I was happy and relieved, even if they did get themselves into more than a few harrowing situations, and as ever the vampire clans are a constant threat.
In these books, vampires are a whole separate species from humans, with their own civilizations and desires to expand and conquer. With the humans driven south, a lot of this series takes place in an area of the world not frequently seen in vampire fiction. The seat of Equatoria is in Alexandria, and with the displaced people from all nations and faiths coming together as one to defeat the vampires, I also loved the diversity in the cast of characters.
With secrets blown wide open, the war with the vampires raging on, and Adele and the Greyfriar's future hanging in the balance, I have a feeling there's a lot in store for me in the third book. Can't wait to read the conclusion to this trilogy!
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!(less)
This book sounded fascinating from its description, with words like "Pirates" and "Assassins" leaping out at me and pushing all the right buttons. And...moreThis book sounded fascinating from its description, with words like "Pirates" and "Assassins" leaping out at me and pushing all the right buttons. And while Angry Robot's young adult imprint Strange Chemistry has only just celebrated their one year birthday, they've already made a name for themselves in my book with their wide variety of unique and interesting titles. So, I'll admit I was going into this with rather high expectations.
A strong point for this book is that it doesn't waste time getting started. Our protagonist and narrator Ananna of the Tanarau faces a difficult and undesirable situation on page one. Hailing from a family of pirates, she is being forced by her parents to marry a scion of another pirate clan. As handsome as he is, Ananna dislikes him right away and figuratively jumps ship on her impending nuptials, leading the jilted young man's family to send an assassin after her.
And yet, I found the story's momentum rapidly loses it steam, even after Ananna and her would-be assassin Naji faces off one night and their skirmish accidentally results in a curse binding them together. Their subsequent quest to break it involves a journey to far off lands, impossible magic, and encounters with strange characters and creatures. On the face of it, that might sound like a lot, but very little of it actually advances the plot.
In essence, I think there's a lot of potential for this series, but this first book read like one long introduction. I waited for it to pick up, but there was really no climax. Upon completing this, I got the impression that I won't get into the real meat of the story until the next installment. It just felt like a very risky way to manage the pacing and a strange place to end the book, with no cliffhanger or anything, just a straightforward promise of more to come.
To its credit, though, the novel does give you plenty of reasons to want to continue with the series. Seeing how Ananna and Naji manages to break the curse will be plenty motivation enough, but their relationship also grows with complexity and is rife with romantic tension throughout the entire book. Those who are interested in seeing what becomes of that will probably want to pick up the next one too.
Bottom line, I don't think a whole lot happened in this book, but it does a decent job setting up the situation and the players. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities for book two.(less)
Okay, can I first just say how misleading the description of Pantomime is and how blatantly it underrates the value and extent of its content? Honestly, it does not do this book justice! One look at it gives the unsuspecting reader the impression of a Young Adult paranormal romance, featuring a story of star-crossed love between a daughter from a noble family and a low-born circus scalawag, perhaps. But no, no, no, that's just all wrong!
That's the problem with publisher descriptions, I suppose. I understand about wanting to save some surprises for the book. I get that, I do. But it's another thing when it makes a book sound so average and conventional, when in reality it's anything but! Hiding behind the official synopsis here is a story that's a lot more significant and extraordinary. Yes, I was surprised and I loved this book for being so much more than its description. But on the other hand, had I know earlier what Pantomime is really about, then maybe I wouldn't have shrugged it off as "just another YA romance" and waited so long to get to it!
Having said that, I am now at a dilemma. How do I talk about how much I enjoyed this one without giving the story away? After all, I did just criticize the description for misrepresenting the book, and yet here I am being vague. At the same time, I was really surprised when revelation about the characters hit me, and spoiler or not, I wouldn't dream of taking that away from anyone else thinking of picking up this book. I loved the story more for it, and it's definitely something you have to read for yourself. Or bah, who knows, maybe the "secret" is actually common knowledge by now. Suffice it to say, I'm sure there are many other reviews out there that have divulged it if you're still curious and want to know, but you probably won't be getting the details from me.
What I will say though, is how impressed I am with the character development and how this coming-of-age story deals with matters of sexuality and identity. These are issues portrayed with sensitivity and attention, as well as the associated emotions that come along with the characters' struggles to understand what they want versus what society expects of them. There's action and drama and romance in Pantomime, but at its heart is a very unique journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, and ultimately it's this aspect that sets this book apart and makes it so special.
I'm also a sucker for circuses, especially in fantasy stories. What an amazing setting and community Laura Lam has created here, complete with atmosphere and all the cultural dynamics. What's incredible is how she so perfectly captures the magical nature of a circus, without actually including much of what we'd think of as traditional magic. And yet there are plenty of other fantastical elements, and I find myself intrigued by the rich history of Ellada as well as the mysteries of Vestige. Still, nothing quite beats the vivid descriptions of the circus along with the performers and their acts.
As Angry Robot's YA imprint, Strange Chemistry has come a long way since its launch. I find some of their older titles to be pretty decent, though a few of their more recent books have been just incredible. I've always attributed that to the publisher gradually coming to find its groove over the last year. Little did I expect though, that I would find such a gem in Pantomime amongst some of their earliest publications. It is simply wonderful.(less)
The Tower and Knife series continues with Knife Sworn, and the second book is as full of magic, intrigue and beauty as the first -- if not even more so! One might be tempted to stop with The Emperor's Knife, its story having wrapped up so nicely at the end after all, with Sarmin coming into his own and the Pattern Master vanquished forever. But trust me, you won't want to miss this.
The events at the end of The Emperor's Blade saw Prince Sarmin free at last, taking his place on the throne after years of being locked up in a tower. Mesema, the girl sent from the horse tribes is now his wife and empress, and has just given birth to a boy. However, Sarmin's own mother the Empire Mother Nessaket has also just recently borne a son, throwing the matter of succession into question. And as the first book has shown, too many boys with royal blood at the palace has always led to bad news.
On top of this, Sarmin has been suffering from memory lapses and getting pressure from his advisers to name a new royal assassin, or a knife-sworn. He's also just received an unwanted gift of a harem of concubines, which he suspects is actually harboring a spy. There are only a few people close to Sarmin he can trust, and with the births of the princes and the arrival of a Yrkman peace convoy, they become more important to him than ever before.
First and foremost of these characters is Grada, whom we met in The Emperor's Knife and has since become one of Sarmin's closest companions and his trusted investigator. I mentioned in my review of the first book that out of all the points-of-view featured, my favorite one was Mesema's. In Knife Sworn, she takes on a less central role, but in her place Mazarkis Williams has given us the narratives of three other women, all strongly characterized and well-written. I've already mentioned Grada, whose complex past and warring emotions made her the most interesting person in the book. There's also Nessaket, who was almost a villain in my eyes in The Emperor's Knife, but in Knife Sworn I actually sympathized with her. And finally, my favorite character in this book was Rushes, the slave girl who instantly endeared me to her with her good heart.
Mazarkis Williams' writing is also in a league of its own, invoking such powerful and vivid imagery. It has been many, many months since I read The Emperor's Knife, but I still remember a certain scene involving blooming flowers in the desert, which Williams had brought to life with exquisite attention to detail. The writing was simply beautiful, and it is even more so now in Knife Sworn since the storytelling has become cleaner and more robust. It's the prime reason why I enjoyed this sequel even more than the first book; in The Emperor's Knife I sometimes found myself lost in terms of which character I was supposed to be following or trying to figure out where I was. I experienced none of that here, in the smooth flowing pace and structure of Knife Sworn.
The author has also ramped up the intrigue. If that was your favorite part of the first book, you will not be disappointed here. Conspiracies, secret agendas and betrayals abound, with twists thrown in. Almost everyone can be seen as a friend or a foe, depending on whose perspective you're following. I read this book much faster than I expected, because I wanted badly to see what certain characters would do.
The only thing I would have liked to see more of in Knife Sworn is the magic. Specifically, I wouldn't have minded a bit more about how it works; the first book introduced a very interesting system involving relationships between mages and spirits, and it was one of the coolest ideas I've ever come across in fantasy. Mages didn't play as big a role in this one, though with the emergence of a new magical threat to the empire, I hope the third book will offer a deeper and more detailed look at the magic of this world.
On that note, The Tower Broken will be coming out very soon! I wouldn't miss it for the world.(less)
I've heard so much about The Bone Season, which was quite possibly one of this summer's most talked about debuts by author Samantha Shannon. Though I'm the kind of person who's generally wary of the hype machine, I won't deny I was quite curious to see for myself what all the fuss was about! And now that I've had the chance to finish the audiobook, I can certainly understand why readers have been so impressed by it.
Though not officially marketed as a Young Adult novel, I'm also not surprised to see so many categorize The Bone Season as such. The nature of its story, main character and dystopian setting all mingle to give it that distinctive YA vibe, yet that's not to say that adults won't be able to enjoy this too. The book's crossover appeal probably has a lot to do its protagonist and narrator, 19-year-old Paige Mahoney who is a strong, mature and level-headed heroine with whom a wide audience can relate.
Paige is also known as a "Dreamwalker", in this alternate world set in the future where individuals like her who possess supernatural abilities are called "Voyants". The book takes place in London, 2059 where the security force Scion holds authority, declaring all voyants criminals simply by existing. Paige is forced to live a secret life, working for the underworld organization where she gathers information by using her rare powers to breaking into other people's minds.
When an unfortunate incident leads to her arrest, however, Paige finds herself imprisoned at a penal colony in Oxford, a city long forgotten. She finds out that Scion has been sending captured voyants here to become slaves and soldiers to an otherworldly race called the Rephaim. She is assigned to Warden, her Rephaim keeper in charge of her care and training. Now all Paige wants to do is to escape and find her way home, but as the days goes by she discovers there is a lot more at stake than just her freedom.
First, the good stuff: I really liked Paige, a smart and capable young woman who is also not infallible. Her history is well-developed and written in such a way that her past details are revealed gradually throughout the course of the novel, keeping things interesting for those curious about her story. My Audible version of The Bone Season is narrated by Irish actress Alana Kerr, who brings Paige to life with her performance. This was the first experience I've had with her work, and I could be wrong but I believe she's new to reading audiobooks. Generally, I prefer narrators who can do a broader range of voices (because sometimes it was hard to tell which character was speaking) but I probably wouldn't be averse to checking out her future audiobook performances if she does any. Overall I was happy with her reading, because she did such a wonderful job conveying Paige's strength and poise.
The world Samantha Shannon has created is also amazingly detailed, but this also means an almost overwhelming amount of information to take in. This does cause some hitches in the pacing, especially during the first half of the novel which didn't flow as well as the second half. I also had to go back several times at the beginning to learn and familiarize myself with all the different names and terms of people, places, organizations, voyant types, and slang. Doing so wasn't easy with an audiobook, but it was also absolutely worth it in order to get the full impact of the setting, and I got to appreciate just how rich it is.
In the end, I felt The Bone Season was an incredibly impressive debut novel from a 21-year-old new author. Hype can be a dangerous thing sometimes, and though it was impossible to ignore the comparisons calling this book the next Hunger Games or Samantha Shannon the next J.K. Rowling, I think going into this book with realistic expectations helped me a lot. I came out of this one pleasantly surprised, and I'm definitely open to reading more from this author and series.(less)
Ian Tregillis has impressed me in the past with his books in the Milkweed Triptych, which was why I got excited when I discovered that he was working on a new novel about angels. And not just about any angels; Something More Than Night is a hard-boiled noir detective story with the following tagline: "a Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler-inspired murder mystery set in Thomas Aquinas's vision of Heaven" and features fallen angels, metaphysics, and a bizarre future. If that description didn't pique your interest or at least make you do a double-take, seriously, check your pulse!
The story opens with a murder. The Archangel Gabriel is dead, his celestial remains falling to earth in a glorious light show in the starry sky, turning to snow as they drift into the mortal realm of the oblivious humans. No one notices the Seraphim's passing but Bayliss, a fallen angel who has made Earth his home for the last few hundred years. His mission is to find a mortal to take Gabriel's place is botched, however, when he accidentally knocks a hapless young woman under a street tram, causing her death and subsequent ascension to the ranks of the angelic Choir.
Now not only does poor Molly need to come to terms with being dead, she also has to learn all that it means to be an angel - not to mention figure out why her predecessor was killed. But Gabriel's death turns out to be no ordinary murder. Molly's investigations with Bayliss lead her to uncover a huge secret that the Archangel had been keeping before he died, involving Jericho's Trumpet and an eons-old conspiracy that can alter the fate of the cosmos.
I've only read the first two books in the Milkweed Triptych (with the third book on my list of must-buys, I assure you) but already Tregillis has cemented himself in my mind as a talented teller of stories and builder of worlds. I have found that his work is hard to pin down in terms of categorizing them; there really is no easy way to describe the unique way he mixes elements of speculative fiction with other genres. I am pleased to find is the same way with Something More Than Night, with its complex and often mind-bending plot and setting.
When it comes to the world he has created in this book, I can only boggle in amazement. There is the earthly one, which gradually makes itself apparent to the reader that we are in a different time, a future in which the earth has clearly seen better days. But then there is also the "heavenly" world called the Pleroma, which is not all clouds and Pearly Gates, but instead something that is both more mundane and extraordinary at the same time. Tregillis has managed to completely floor me with his descriptions of Magisteria (what his angels call home) made of memories and jumbled senses, transforming the abstract into words and physics that I think may take a bit of patience to wrap your head around, but it's worth it in the end. I am still just so in awe.
I also adore Ian Tregillis' writing style, which I've always figured was well suited for darker, more evocative stories, and as such I thought it was perfect for a book like this. Plus, I was just wowed by Bayliss' voice and mannerisms, which are straight out of a crime noir novel of the 30s or 40s. I think that was the most impressive of all, and it's obvious that great lengths were taken to make his character sound true to that particular era and genre. Admittedly, this makes Bayliss hard to understand at times, but I didn't mind slowing down to savor each and every one of his affectations or lines of dialogue.
Really, the only thing I felt was a bit off was the "twist". I like it when unexpected things happen in a book, but it's an entirely different matter when everything I thought I knew or was led to believe gets turned around on its head, and that took a little something away from me. Still, it's such a minor complaint seeing as how it was part and parcel of the story, and ultimately everything in the book came together so well. When it comes down to it, I'm pretty confident Something More Than Night will be unlike any book you've ever read. As always, Ian Tregillis blows me away with his talent and inventive ideas. For something totally original and different, check out this book and author.(less)
A Study in Silks was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Part steampunk historical mystery and part fantasy paranormal romance, I was initially dr...moreA Study in Silks was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway. Part steampunk historical mystery and part fantasy paranormal romance, I was initially drawn to the story's setting as well as its description of the main character Evelina Cooper as being the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes.
Eveline, however, is not solely defined by her famous uncle, and I liked how Emma Jane Holloway has given her character an exceptional background with which to distinguish herself. Thanks to her Granny Holmes, Evelina was plucked from a childhood of growing up with a traveling circus to be dropped into a world of lords and ladies, and here she must learn to live a life caught between two worlds.
But Sherlock Holmes' work has clearly also rubbed off on her, given how eagerly she aspires to follow in his footsteps. When a young servant girl is killed at the home of her best friend, Evelina does what she can for the investigation, going as far as to use her gift of the Blood, which allows her to communicate with minor spirits and recruit them to her aid.
At first glance, one would suppose there's a lot happening in this novel. In fact, one of the most noticeable features of the paperback when it arrived was how remarkably hefty it was. Coming in at more than 500 pages, it's much longer than I would have expected from a book of this genre and type, and my first assumption was that there would be a lot of world building.
In this, I suppose I was half correct. The setting is ambitious, definitely, in this world of steam barons, demons and devas, clockwork animals and automatons. A little too ambitious, maybe, seeing as I was left wishing more attention could have been given to both the steampunk and magical aspect, putting them in further context. I'd have loved to know more about the deva spirits, for example, beyond simply knowng that Evelina has the power to snare them in her mechanical toys and make them do her bidding.
The fact that A Study in Silks falls more heavily on the "paranormal romance" side of things might have something to do with this. Quite honestly, more emphasis in the story is given to providing juicy details about which character is fancying whom, rather than towards world building and setting up a murder mystery. In truth, if Sherlock Holmes were real he'd probably have a conniption fit over Evelina's methods. While I love her character, I don't actually think our heroine makes a good detective, as she often lets her emotional ties get in the way of her objectivity.
My take: The mystery plot spices it up well, but mainly check this book out if you like historical romance with a little fantasy thrown in, and extra bonus if you are a fan of delicious love triangles, which in itself provides a bit of suspense here. The book is definitely not without its merits, especially if you think you might enjoy the look into its elegant world of Victorian steampunk high society, complete with formal balls and debutantes.
So, on my ongoing quest to read more original and offbeat Young Adult titles, my journey has led me to The City's Son by Tom Pollock. I'd heard great things about this book, along with some descriptions of it that are just way in the realm of the bizarre and uncanny. In other words, it sounded right up my alley.
The novel follows Beth Bradley, a young graffiti artist seeking escape after being sold out by her best friend in an incident that suspends her from school. Her father hasn't been the same ever since Beth's mother died, and hardly even notices what goes on in her life anymore. But just when you think this will be yet another story about an angsty teenager running away from her troubles, this book turns everything on its head.
The fun begins when Beth meets up with the mysterious "Urchin", the cocky pavement-slate-skinned boy who introduces himself as Filius Viae, prince of London's streets and the city's son -- for he claims that the goddess of the city is his mother. What follows next is pure wildness as a whole new world is opened to Beth, one filled with living statues, voice-stealing spiders that crawl along telephone wires, runaway railwraith trains, and beings that live inside streetlamps. As rumors surrounding the goddess' impending return continue to mount, Beth helps Filius rally the troops against Reach, the urban god of decay who is preparing his own return to the city in order to see her new friend dead.
The result of this is a novel that's gritty yet sometimes beautiful, with ideas in here ranging from pure whimsical to just downright terrifying. It's also, to put it mildly, all very strange. At the end of the book, Tom Pollock acknowledges authors like Neil Gaiman and China Mieville as influences, and I can absolutely see that here. Consider Gutterglass, Filius' caretaker who has raised him in his goddess mother's absensce, who sometimes manifests as a pile of city garbage, with egg shells for eyes or discarded pens for fingers, all held together by dirt, bugs and worms. Like I said, whimsical and terrifying.
In the past year, I've read several books that feature the setting so strongly that they may as well have been love letters to their respective cities. But still, there's bringing your city to life and then there's bringing your city to life. Sometimes the world-building is done so well and described so richly that the setting ends up becoming like a character in and of itself, but this book takes personification of urban features to a whole new level. Tom Pollock presents London in a way that will completely blow your mind. I read things in this book I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams. Just the sheer amount of creativity at work here is astounding; I have never read a book like The City's Son.
If anything, the world was so fantastically well done that it ended up taking center stage in my mind, making the characters pale in comparison. Don't get me wrong, both Beth and Fil were great, but they almost felt like the supporting cast in light of my love for this incredible re-imagined version of London. I enjoyed the characters immensely but still didn't feel much for their relationship whenever they were together despite their witty dialogue and banter, because ultimately it was the city along with its many strange denizens that made this book so great in my eyes.
The City's Son was exactly the kind of book I was looking for -- a unique and unconventional YA novel that made me see things in a whole different light. Interestingly, this was also my first experience with a Young Adult title from Jo Fletcher books, and based on their penchant for publishing novels with innovative and just plain cool ideas, I'm honestly not surprised that I enjoyed this as much as I did.(less)
I tend to go into young adult novels of this type with a fair amount of wariness and trepidation, so color me surprised when this turned out to be a book I really enjoyed. Then I discovered it was actually first released as a self-published indie, and that just completely floored me. I am beyond impressed.
Anyway, at first glance, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. It's got all the makings of a Young Adult, paranormal, post-apocalyptic-dystopian-type novel starring a teenage female protagonist narrating in the first person present tense, and of course, there's always the promise of some romance. Though, I suppose there's something to be said of its "End of Days" scenario with the invasion of warrior angels coming to destroy the world. Even early on, when I barely knew anything about this book, the subject was what made it stand out for me.
The book starts six weeks after the angels of the apocalypse have descended, demolishing civilization as we know it. Penryn carries the responsibility of taking care of her mother, who has schizophrenia, as well as her little sister Paige whose legs are paralyzed and she needs a wheelchair to get around. When an angel steals Paige and carries her off, Penryn will do anything to get her back, including allying herself with the enemy. She forms a tentative agreement with Raffe, a warrior angel whom she rescues after finding him bloodied and lying in the street, beaten and broken with his wings cut off.
I'll admit that I started this book with a skeptical mindset, unconvinced it would win me over, even with all the great stuff being said about it. I love reading YA novels, but I also can't help but hold them to a higher standard, mostly because the genre is so over-saturated and it takes a lot for one to really stand out for me. And at first, I found that I liked Penryn, liked the introduction of Raffe, and liked the direction of the story...but still nothing made me truly love it.
That changed somewhere along the way, and I don't even know when it happened. Maybe it's because at no point did I find this book boring; the plot is constantly driving forward, and even when there's no action happening on the page, there's still plenty of tension to keep you interested in the story.
Penryn, too, sets herself apart as a strong heroine, who takes the weight of the world upon her underfed shoulders. Having your troubled mother and disabled sister depend on you when the world is crumbling before your eyes can't be easy, but she handles it with grace and maturity and none of the angst or dramatics. She's quick-witted and thinks on her feet, even if her plans don't always work out perfectly. My favorite scene is when she decks a chauvinist meathead for making lewd comments at her, with the expectation that potential allies would come to her aid, only to find herself fighting alone. But she ends up winning! Nice job, Penryn.
The climax and ending were also really well done. I'm amazed at how everything came together, since very often at this point of a book I will find myself spotting plot holes or picking apart illogical points in the story, ultimately just resigning myself to go with the flow. And yet, I really don't recall doing a lot of that here, but maybe it's because I was just so completely focused on the twists and surprising developments that I wasn't concentrating on thinking about much else.
And finally, how I really know this book made an impression on me? The fact that as soon as I finished, I quickly went online to find the next book...only to discover it's not coming out until November. Hey, well, something to look forward to.(less)
I really, really liked Seven Forges. Still, I'll admit the book had me rolling with the punches for most of it. It left me cold for a long time, waiting for something awesome to happen, something to make me perk up and say, "Hey, now we're onto something."
A lot of this has to do with the book's pacing, which is probably slower than I'd have preferred. I noticed while reading, for example, that even at more than halfway in, I was still treading in territory already covered by the blurb in the back of the book: a group from Fellein makes first contact with the mysterious warrior people of the Seven Forges mountains called the Sa'ba Taalor, and the expedition leader Merros Dulver brings a small entourage of them home with him.
Of course, there were other developments along the way, but not many that helped me tease out what was supposed to be the main conflict, even as I was well into the book. The world James A. Moore created here is highly imaginative and the characters and cultures are intriguing, but I still wasn't seeing what all the fuss was about.
And then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Unexpected plot twists, shocking revelations, total chaos. Everything I thought I was signing on for when I picked up this book, I got. The only catch is? All this only started occurring in the last fifty pages or so.
The question is then, can the final 10-15 percent of a book be so incredibly awesome as to impress me enough turn my opinion completely around? I struggled with this question and as a result also struggled with my review, but in the end, I have to say yes. And I don't come to this decision lightly; very rarely does a book redeem itself in my eyes simply for having an extraordinary ending, but somehow this one manages. I went from feeling generally unaffected to being completely absorbed.
I don't want to make it sound like I wasn't enjoying myself at all before this point, though. I felt the book took its time getting to the meat of the conflict, yes, but even so, all the while I had the sense that it was there all along, just building up in a slow burn. Looking back now, I see that the bulk of this book reads like a very long introduction, all leading up to the point where the conflict finally ignites. And when it does, it happens in a very powerful, explosive way.
Speaking of which, James A. Moore is in his element when he is writing scenes with fighting and big battles, and his strength is definitely in crafting very realistic, frenetic action sequences. On the other hand, areas I felt needed more attention included character development and dialogue. For example, Desh Krohan the emperor's sorcerer was someone I was very interested in, but would have also loved to see more exploration into his character. He talks a lot about what his powers are capable of, but even now, I'm not entirely sure what sort of magic he does and what the nature of it is.
I suppose all that will come in time, in subsequent books in this series. There's a lot of untapped potential when it comes to the characters, but at the same time I see things moving in the right direction. Even now I think a hero is emerging in Andover Lashk, a character whose place I wasn't sure of at the beginning, but now I see the author is actually raising him up in a very unique and unprecedented way, one I think I'll enjoy watching.
Mission accomplished, Mr. Moore, you have me practically on pins and needles for the next installment.(less)
Of the many re-tellings and interpretations I've read based on the King Arthur mythos, I think M.K. Hume's is probably the most "scholarly" version I've ever come across. As an expert on Arthurian literature writing the series as more of a historical fiction than a fantasy, the author clearly went to great lengths to find the most accurate accounts of Arthur's reign. Still, she ultimately chose to tell the legends her way, and there are certainly no shortage of surprises here.
This is the second book of Hume's King Arthur trilogy. The first book Dragon's Child was about how Artor (Arthur) won his crown to become High King of the Britons, while Warrior of the West takes place approximately twelve years after that. The story almost feels like it is split into two parts, with the first half of the novel focusing on the war against Glamdring Ironfist and his army of Saxon invaders.
But while it was undoubtedly the right call for Hume to open the book with the excitement and conflict of a war campaign, I personally found the events of the second half of the novel more engaging. Having driven back his enemies, the rest of the book centers around Artor's efforts to establish his throne and his need for a legitimate heir. This, of course, is where Wenhaver (Guenevere) comes in, and the interesting part begins.
I have to say this book's characterization of Wenhaver is one of my favorite portrayals of King Arthur's queen that I've ever encountered. Simply put, she's a terrible, vicious person, little more than a spoiled child accustomed to using her beauty to get what she wants. In her afterword, Hume confesses that she has never much liked Guenevere or her character's relevance as someone who could bring ruin to an entire kingdom for the love of another man, and yet could still retain her likeability as a person. I've never thought about it that way, but the fact that Guenevere and her part in the legend has always been heavily romanticized is true enough.
However, in this story Wenhaver is a vile, jealous and sadistic character who cheats on her husband out of spite. Hume also leaves the character of Lancelot out entirely, which makes sense because she is staying faithful to the older versions of the legend (Lancelot is thought to have been absorbed into the Arthurian tradition after he was introduced by the French romances). But while there's no love lost between king and queen, Hume cultivates her character relationships in other places.
As a counterpoint to Wenhaver, we have Nimue, known commonly as the Lady of the Lake who enchants the heart of Merlin. Nimue is the polar opposite of Wenhaver, being a sweet, kindly and down-to-earth young woman -- which again is an intriguing portrayal of a key figure that is very different and unique. I love the background Hume has written for Nimue, while still managing to tie in a lot of the elements from the more popular versions of the legend, including her relationship with Myrddion Merlinus.
In spite of this, the story also feels grounded in historical reality, which I'm sure is due largely to Hume's research and academic expertise. The nature of the writing style also puts you right there, and is quite effective at emphasizing the brutality of the times. In some ways, the starkness of the prose makes the violence seem so much worse, making me feel a lot more squeamish. Indeed, the author does not spare us from the darker, bloodier side of forging a kingdom.
As you can see, the book veers off a great deal from the more "accepted" versions of the King Arthur legend, but that is also what I love best about it. The way Hume weaves her own personal imaginings into a framework which brings together myth and legend with historical accounts is what's making this series stand out for me. It's true that these novels lean further into historical fiction territory than fantasy, making them quite different than the type of books I'm currently reading now, but I'm definitely looking forward to checking out the conclusion of this trilogy.(less)
I know I said I wasn't going to write a full review until closer to the release date, but past experience has shown that I just cannot shut up when it...moreI know I said I wasn't going to write a full review until closer to the release date, but past experience has shown that I just cannot shut up when it comes to the books I love and I'm the worst when it comes to waiting. Anyway, I'll compromise by putting up an early version on my thoughts here for now, because there were just so many other things I'd wanted to say about this book.
Anyway, I loved Django Wexler's adult epic fantasy The Thousand Names that came out earlier this year, but I had no idea he could write such an excellent children's novel as well. I was so ecstatic when I received this ARC. The author really shows his talent and versatility with this book, creating imaginative worlds filled with all kinds of interesting creatures, bringing them to life with such rich and detailed descriptions. Speaking of which, I also can't wait to see the final book with all the illustrations. They just seem like they'll be wonderful given the creativity and imagination found in here.
The story itself is fantastic; as an avid bibliophile it's hard for me to resist anything to do with libraries or reading about books that take you away to wondrous places...and in this case, it's quite literal as Alice has a power that lets her enter into a book's world and the only way out again is if she defeats the creature imprisoned inside. People like Alice are called "Readers", and by defeating the creatures in these "prison books", they are able to bind them to their will and have access to their abilities. I thought this was such an amazing idea to explain how Readers derive their magical powers and spells, by actually calling upon the creatures they control to channel it for them.
The plot also has enough mystery to keep you constantly guessing, and you can never be sure what everybody's motives are. I couldn't help but feel for Alice and her predicament of being suddenly thrust into this strange new environment where she can't trust anyone. Not that Alice is helpless or needs my sympathy; she's courageous and headstrong, a take-charge girl who won't accept setbacks lying down. It's like I can see her growing up to be the kind of strong female protagonist I admire in the epic fantasy novels I read.
In some ways, The Forbidden Library is a lot more complex than I would have expected from a middle-grade book. At times it's cute (like Ashes the talking cat will be a joy to many, I think -- not just to cat-lovers!), at others it's quite dark. And sometimes it's both at the same time, as evidenced by the "swarmers", Alice's horde of bizarre bird-like creatures that have the physical appearance and consistency of a rubber ball on legs. I won't lie -- reading this made me want an army of swarmers of my own, them being a black mass of razor-sharp pecking beaks notwithstanding. I think this is one of those books that both kids and adults can enjoy; it certainly has that wide appeal.
Now if only my toddler was older so I could have read this aloud to her (well, I did anyway, because it was just too fun not to, what with doing all the voices of the book's many eccentric and memorable characters! But I can't wait until my daughter can actually understand the story). I've been trying to read a lot more children's books/middle-grade books lately, and taking note of my favorite titles, just waiting for the day. The Forbidden Library is most definitely one of them!(less)
Note: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!
Vampires an...moreNote: I received a review copy of this book compliments of the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinions. Thanks, Pyr/Prometheus Books!
Vampires and steampunk! The former, obviously, is a topic that's been wildly popular for years and years. The latter, as well, has been a subgenre gaining more traction in the science fiction and fantasy world lately, hence the fact that I would finally stumble across a book which unites both concepts in the foundation for its story was only a matter of time! What did strike me as a pleasant surprise, however, was finding a book that does this so well.
The Greyfriar is set in an alternate history in which humans and vampires have been locked in a bitter war for more than a century. In 1870, the blood drinkers rose up to conquer the northern lands, driving the humans towards warmer climes. Now, the young princess Adele of Equatoria is to wed the famed vampire hunter senator of the American Republic, their marriage to be the start of an alliance to take back their lands. But a month before the wedding, an ambush on the princess' airship throws all plans into turmoil. Adele's way home now involves a partnership with the Greyfriar, a semi-legendary figure who has become a symbol of humanity's fight against the vampires.
Notice I say "partnership with" and not "dependency upon", because as princesses go, Adele is far from your dainty damsel in distress and can most certainly hold her own. In this book, both the main protagonist and also the enemy vampire warchief are female characters one would not be wise to cross, as each woman has a commanding presence about them in their own way. With Adele, I loved her for her independence, intelligence, fighting skills, as well as for her protectiveness and love for her little brother. All the characters here are pretty well written, but it's extra nice having a heroine I genuinely like and enjoy reading about.
Still, while I'm steadfastly rooting for Adele, it's hard not to be drawn to the vampires as well, with their fascinating empire, politics, family conspiracies and infighting among their peerage. The vampires in this book are atypical enough not to bore me, with their strange biological quirks allowing their bodies to be lighter and to "float" in the air, and it amuses me to no end how disdainful they are of human myths like the ones claiming vampires to be their own dead risen to life. Their culture is well defined, like everything else in this book's world.
My favorite part, though, is the thread of romance woven through the second half of the book! Admittedly, as much as I enjoy love stories, romance in these types of books usually make me balk -- like, seriously, why spoil a perfectly awesome action adventure tale by forcing a contrived and cringe-worthy romantic side plot just for the sake of having it? And yet, the thing is, the love story in this book could not have been more natural and just...totally appropriate, like it belongs. I don't know what it is, but perhaps the fact that the authors are a married couple who have been writing and publishing together for years has something to do with it, because the attraction between Adele and Greyfriar felt passionate, gradual, sweet, real and -- most importantly -- earned. None of that insta-love nonsense.
Plus, no worries if romance isn't your thing; as I've said, it's not the dominant focus and does not overtake the entire story, and I liked how there were just as many if not more action-oriented battles and fight scenes in this book. In fact, my only wish is that the novel was better paced and balanced. After a very bombastic introduction, it wasn't until halfway through the book that my enthusiasm spiked again, but once it did, you can be sure I was completely enamored. I read the second half all in one sitting, and loved every minute of it.(less)
4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to tr...more4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to try! In general I tend not to do spoilers in reviews, but more important is the fact that I simply don't think anything will compare to the emotional rollercoaster of experiencing all the ups-and-downs of this book yourself.
Like the first book, though, it took me a while to get into the story. However, it's significant to note that some of the best books I've ever read start off slow in the first 100 pages, and this has been the case with both books in this series so far. Part of this also has to do with the writing style, which I still find over-encumbered and hard to get used to.
But feel free to ignore all that, because none of it mattered in the end; as soon as this book got its arashitora claws and talons in me, I was pretty much putty in its clutches. After the events of Stormdancer, I was on pins and needles wondering what Yukiko, Buruu, and the Kagen rebels would do now with the entire Shima Imperium in turmoil. My first shock was discovering the Lotus Guild's choice for the new Shogun. That just can't end well.
Now the Kagen are in a frenzy of planning, hoping to sabotage the Shogun-to-be's wedding and foil the Guild's aim to put him at the head of this new tyrannical dynasty. The enemy, however, are also plotting something of their own, something that would have the power to end the Kagen and destroy their forest home. Meanwhile, Yukiko flies off on Buruu across the oceans to learn more about the Kenning, her mysterious power that has been unstable as of late.
There's definitely an epic feel to this series now, especially with the addition of more characters, their points-of-view, and multiple plot threads occurring in different places all at once. For the first time, we also get a brief glimpse of the world happening outside Shima, finally giving some context to this "gaijin war" we've been hearing about for the whole of the first book and a part of this one, but so far have seen none of the fighting or battles.
And if I thought the first 100 pages were slow, the last 100 pages certainly made up for them and more besides. I know "unputdownable" sounds cliched, but it was almost literally the truth when the book was practically glued to my fingers with the nervous sweat coming off of my hands, I kid you not. I don't often like making comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire when I talk about books (because truly, I have never come across anything quite like George R.R. Martin's series) but there were definitely times where I felt this one was "Game of Thrones-ing" me. It was just shock after shock in the last quarter of the book, some which were expected, some not.
Of course, I had some issues, especially with some parts of the plot (like, what a nice convenient way to get Yukiko out of the picture for a while), and the prose with its excessive use of metaphors often made me want to tear my hair out, but overall these were overshadowed by the climax and finale, as well as an insane revelation about Yukiko. I cannot believe I didn't see that one coming.
In the end, I think I liked this book even more than the first one because it was darker, more visceral, violent. I love books which are unpredictable and that keep me guessing, whose direction can change like the wind without warning. I liked how this was not a happy story. It has evolved a lot in this book, and its characters as well. Considering how Jay Kristoff left things off here in total chaos, I'm already looking forward to the next book which I have no doubt will be explosive.(less)
Not for the first time, I wish I had a system in place for giving two ratings to a book: 1) An objective rating in which I give a book stars based on its own merits, uninfluenced by my personal feelings, and 2) A subjective rating which is based on how a book worked for me personally, or how well it meshed with my personal tastes. This is going to be a very tough review for me to write, simply because I've never read a book like this, where those two ratings could not be any more different, but I'm also glad I have the chance to explain why.
The book begins with a young man named Cooper waking up in an unfamiliar place to two strangers fussing over his sudden appearance, and the answers he gets are decidedly not reassuring. Apparently, he is dead. Contrary to what we know about death, when someone dies they merely wake up as themselves somewhere else, appearing on one of a possible million universes where they will once again live out their lives and the whole process repeats itself. That is, until you reach the end and wind up at the City Unspoken, also known as the City of the Dead, because only on this world a person can find true death.
This is where Cooper wakes up. But he has also come at a very unsettling time, where something seems to be preventing True Death from happening, leading to widespread frustration and panic among the denizens of the city. There are some who believe Cooper may be the solution to the problem, as he is different. For one thing, he has a belly button. A navel is really nothing but a scar left over from the attachment of the umbilical cord, and because all are born only once but die many times, waking up on new worlds with their bodies whole and unmarred, the fact Cooper has one holds great significance. He may not be really dead.
And from here on out, it gets even stranger. But hey, you'd too if you were Cooper, dragged across the metaverse by a goddess, kidnapped by faeries, drugged by Cleopatra, engulfed by a machine-flesh creature, and pursued by undead monsters and evil elf beings. I love it when I find a unique book with very different, offbeat ideas, but The Waking Engine treads into seriously bizarre territory. More bizarre than I could handle, perhaps. It's the kind of book I can't tackle at night right before bed, because I wake up in the morning and can't remember if I actually dreamed or read these weird images. I tried really hard to embrace the weirdness, but it soon became clear that I was in way over my head.
And that's a real shame, too. It almost breaks my heart to say I didn't like this one as much as I thought I would. The ideas in this story are some of the most original ones I've ever encountered in science fiction and fantasy, and the characters are unconventional and diverse as well. Unfortunately, the strangeness was a barrier for me, preventing me from appreciating all of the positive aspects of this book to its fullness. It's difficult to connect to a character, for instance, when instead I'm putting all my effort into trying to make sense of everything that's happening. The world is also wildly imaginative, which is another huge plus to this book, but words cannot describe just how amazing and fantastical it is. I mean that literally in this case; I get the sense from Edison's writing that the environments he pictures in his mind are so vast and visionary that they transcend mere language.
I wanted to like The Waking Engine so much because objectively, it is a great book, deftly and beautifully written with ground breaking ideas, interesting characters, and incredible world building. But I have to be honest, it was just not my style. There's lots to love about this book, but it just has to find its intended audience, which unfortunately is not me. On the other hand, I think fans of "un-reality" or the metaphysical or more abstract elements in their speculative fiction will be very well pleased with this one. Give it a shot if that's the type of stories you like, I guarantee you won't be disappointed.(less)
This was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't...moreThis was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't for me, but that was probably before I realized how few steampunk books I've read actually incorporate that "steampunkness" so fully and completely as this book does. And it's not just about the cool airships and armor and the wicked chainsaw katanas either (though all those things are indeed cool and wicked). The steampunk aspect is ubiquitous and feels like a living, breathing part of the story, going beyond descriptions of the mechanisms to actually touch upon the relationship it has with the whole society and industry.
But enough about the steampunk, because as brilliant as that is, it's only one of the many reasons why I loved this book. I think the kicker is the feudal Japanese-inspired world as well as the author's version on its myths and legends. In the center stage of Stormdancer is the arashitora, a "storm tiger" or griffin, which the characters Yukiko and the members of her father's hunting team are tasked to capture for Shima's megalomaniacal Shogun. However, the expedition is disrupted by a great tempest before they could bring one home, leaving Yukiko stranded and alone with one of the mythological creatures, and a furious one at that.
At is heart, the story is mainly about the friendship that develops between Yukiko and the arashitora Buruu, an unlikely pair who learns to trust and love one another after facing challenges together. While that's not exactly breaking new ground, I still have to say there were a few surprises in the plot that kept things interesting. Once again, it's the world that really pulled me in, and along with that the anticipation of seeing how the characters will prevail against the Shogun and his Lotus Guild. For a novel targeted at young adults, I am more than impressed with the whole package.
I suppose the only thing that gave me pause was the prose. I am torn when it comes to this, because so much of the writing was given to the world building, and surely no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details! The downside of this, however, was, well...no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details...
In general, I found the prose needed getting used to, and also could have done with much less embellishment. But the book's penchant to expound on everything was also both its strongest and weakest point. It may be the reason for its slow-ish start, but also gave life to in my opinion the best and most amazing scene in the whole book, which was the initial hunt in the storm at about a quarter of the way in. There's pretty much no way you can read those vivid chapters and not be hooked afterward! All in all, a great book, and nothing's going to keep me away from the next one.
This is middle-grade fantasy, but honestly, I don't see why it can't be enjoyed by all ages. I'm a strong believer in that fairy tales are not just for children, that the stories and characters in folkloric fantasy can appeal to a much wider audience -- and it's especially entertaining when familiar concepts like "fairy tale romance" or "happily ever after" are being parodied or turned on their heads.
That's the idea behind this book; in a village called Gavaldon, two children are kidnapped every four years, never to be seen again. One was always beautiful and good, the other an outcast and strange. It didn't take long for the village children to speculate where these missing boys and girls go. They say a mysterious schoolmaster takes them to the fabled School for Good and Evil, where storybook heroes and villains are made.
For as long as she can remember, Sophie has dreamed of being whisked away to the School of Good, imagining a magical world of pretty dresses and handsome princes. On the other hand, she figures her friend Agatha with her homely face and frumpy black clothes would be a perfect fit for the School of Evil. So it's no surprise then when the two were the ones taken way this year. However, when they arrive at the Endless Woods, Sophie is dumped into the school for Evil, while Agatha ends up in the School for Good! This has to be just a terrible mix-up, right? Or is it?
How cool is this idea? Let's face it, traditional fairy tales aren't about character development; off the top of my head, Prince Charming and others like him are good examples of characters that don't go beyond being a mere caricature. We don't tend to think beyond what is presented, and that's what makes this book so great. You know the kind of satire we see in Shrek? It's similar here, poking fun at how shallow princesses must be for obsessing only about their beauty and who will take them to the formal ball. It also makes you wonder about the villains, like, do any of them have hopes and ambitions other than cooking up nefarious schemes? Who gets to determine what is good and evil, anyway?
Obviously, there also some good messages here. "Beauty is only skin deep" and "believe in yourself" are only a couple amongst many, but it's presented very well in this original and magical tale, all wrapped up in a whimsical package. There are lovely illustrations scattered throughout the book as well, and I can't help but feel grumpy now about the lack of pretty drawings in my adult fantasy novels. Is there a rule or something that pictures can only belong in children's books?! Regardless, this book is so much fun. At once ridiculous and full of heart, I couldn't help but melt for this story and its characters. Oh so cute at times, but sinister and dark at others, this book will enchant you and make you smile.(less)
Oh boy, I've always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such typ...moreOh boy, I've always adored horror novels that incorporate paranormal elements or a touch of the fantastical, and considering my enjoyment for such types of books written by Stephen King, it's a wonder to me why I waited so long to check out something by his son, an acclaimed author in his own right.
Why I thought this was a great book, reason the first: it succeeded in creeping me out. Honestly, why else would I pick up a horror novel? I mentioned before how much I appreciate having fantasy in my horror, because rather than dulling my fear by being "less realistic", a story with supernatural aspect actually accentuates it. In NOS4A2, Joe Hill manages to balance the "world of reality" and the "world of imagination" perfectly, sometimes blurring the lines.
In this way, a tale about a predator named Charles Manx who snatches children from his vintage Rolls-Royce becomes even more frightening when you think about how in this world of mystical powers, secret places and hidden roads, anything can happen. Manx's powers are even more disturbing, when you find out that his Wraith car has the ability to transport its riders beyond the veil to a place called Christmasland, which at first sounds like a wonderful place, except every moment a child spends there they lose more and more of themselves. Knowing that this villain uses his young victims' love of Christmas against them makes this book even more chilling.
Which brings me to another reason why I found this book so effectively unsettling: the fact that this is, in a way, a story about the loss of childhood innocence. Like Manx, our protagonist Victoria McQueen also has a power, which she discovers at 8 years old, when a rickety old covered bridge appears whenever she rides her bike, always leading her to exactly what she's looking for. Years later and seeking trouble as an angsty teenager, the bridge leads Vic to her first traumatic encounter with Charles Manx.
The events in Vic's past will remain with her forever, but all powers also have their costs. As she grows into adulthood, her memories and power change her life, her personality, her relationships with the people close to her. Her struggles with these changes are a big part of why I felt drawn to her character, because it's easy to sympathize with her desire to be a good person and do the right thing, even if it means facing her greatest fears and returning to the worst time of her life.
Joe Hill builds Vic up to be this fully-realized person, so that her fears became my fears, what she cared about became what I cared about, and what she wanted became what I wanted, too. Indeed, it's not just the thrills and suspense that got me into this novel, but also the factors involving Vic's emotions and relationships with her parents, Lou, and her son.
It takes a very good storyteller to frighten their reader but to also move them, and in this way Joe Hill's writing reminds me a lot of Stephen King's work. This is one seriously talented family. While NOS4A2 may be the first book I've ever read by Joe Hill, it certainly won't be the last.
My thanks go to Strange Chemistry for providing me a copy of Skulk in exchange for an honest review! Every once in a while I’ll delve into the Young Adult genre for my fantasy fix, and this is one of those books that makes me really glad I do.
The story opens with our protagonist and narrator Meg Banks busy sneaking out of her bedroom window in the middle of the night, carrying a backpack full of spray paint. 16-year-old student by day, graffiti artist by night, her plan is to head up to her school and adorn one of its walls with her work. That night, however, Meg is interrupted when she witnesses the final moments of a dying fox, and is shocked when the dead animal inexplicably reverts back into the shape of a man.
After that, nothing is the same again. Meg suddenly learns that the ability to shapeshift has passed on to her, and she is able to change into a fox at will. In addition, a mysterious blue gemstone has come into her possession. In her investigations to find out more about it, she discovers factions of other people like her all around London -- the Rabble, the Horde, the Skulk, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – shapeshifters who all must come together to fight against an ancient threat.
The first thing that hit me about Skulk is that this is not your typical paranormal shapeshifter novel. Not only is the ability to shift into a fox a pretty wild idea, but there are also characters that can change into ravens, rats and even butterflies and spiders (not to mention, thanks to Rosie Best I was also learning all sorts of obsolete collective nouns for groups of animals).
But my favorite part about this book other than its unique premise was the voice of Meg. I admit, when I first learned from the opening pages that she was a rich girl who likes to do things like sneak out in the dead of night to deface her prestigious school’s property with graffiti, I thought she would be one of those annoying YA heroines with a chip on their shoulder and a spoiled attitude. As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Struggling with her weight and uninterested in the same topics as her friends, in many ways Meg sees herself as an outcast. Along with the physical and emotional abuse she suffers at home from her overbearing politician mother, it wouldn't have surprised me if Meg turned out to be a melodramatic and curmudgeon-y main character. Instead, she was the opposite. I truly didn’t expect to find her so down-to-earth and just so damn real and genuine. It was easy to love her.
Story-wise, I also thought Skulk was fantastic. Something interesting or life-altering seemed to be happening to Meg in every chapter. On the whole, with only the exception of a couple plot points I found confusing or forced, I found the book intensely captivating. Even the romance angle, which is an aspect I find overdone in a lot of YA novels, was very sweet and didn’t end up dominating or disrupting the overall flow of the story like a rude guest. Rosie Best found the perfect balance for this book, hitting the nail on the head for this and so much more. As such, Skulk is probably one of the best YA novels I’ve read this year.(less)