* ‘The Scarletti Curse’ by Christine Feehan is billed as a ‘prequel to Dark Symphony’ on the cover, but is very much considered a stand alone novel by the author. Personally, having never read anything by Feehan before, I felt the book was perfectly okay to read by itself, with no particular loose ends to suggest a sequel. *
Now that issue has been cleared up, we can move on to the plot! ‘The Scarletti Curse’ has an interesting mix of fantasy elements, with our introduction to main character, Nicoletta, consisting of a scenario in which her healing abilities are used. It is never explained how or why Nicoletta can heal, she is just able to feel the pain of others and to channel her energy into healing them. She also has the preternatural ability of knowing when someone is dying or in mortal peril before it happens, allowing her to act quickly.
This healing ability is called upon by the aristocratic Scarletti family when young Sophie is poisoned and on the brink of death, bringing Nicoletta and her guardian, Maria Pia, into the presence of Don Giovanni Scarletti. He is instantly taken with Nicoletta, later invoking the ancient right of the Don that allows him to choose any eligible maiden from the surrounding villages for his bride. She is taken from her home with Maria Pia as her guardian to ensure nothing should happen to her before her wedding day. It is then that the ancient Scarletti Curse rears its head, which states that all Scarletti men are to lose their brides, as proved by the death of Vincente’s wife, Giovanni’s brother, and the death of his grandmother. These deaths are often caused by the husbands, creating the mystery of how and why. With this rumoured curse affecting all Scarletti women, will Nicoletta survive the aftermath of her marriage?
Our main female protagonist is the free spirit of the village, feeling most at home roaming the hills and tending to her garden of healing plants. I liked her a lot as a heroine, as she is very headstrong, and not afraid to stand up to the men in her life. She has the feminine naivety of youth, with the running gag throughout the book surrounding her shoes, as she often forgets to wear them, providing elements of comic relief with her being frequently chastised. Comedy is also present in her interactions with elderly Maria Pia, with Nicoletta being reprimanded for not being as devoutly religious as her elder, sometimes mocking the older woman for her faith.
As for Don Giovanni Scarletti, Feehan has created a typical Italian passionate alpha male, describing him as ‘strong and capable, utterly confident, invincible. A dark sorcerer casting his spell’. He is very masculine and dominating, casting a commanding presence over all of the other characters. Similarly to Nicoletta he appears to have a paranormal gift, and is able to speak directly into the minds of people, particularly his bride. His lust for Nicoletta is present throughout the novel, drawn to her whenever they get a moment alone together. Giovanni is very protective over his new wife, but I think that in most cases this is entirely justified, with there only being a couple of moments in which his jealousy was a bit over the top.
I found the plotline to be very good at combining elements from different genres together, with the mystery of the Scarletti curse intertwined with the romance of the Don and Nicoletta and the paranormal elements of their unique gifts. There are some unexpected twists towards the end of the book when the source of the mystery and the curse is revealed, and the romance plotline is very well developed considering how Nicoletta is effectively trapped in the palazzo by the Don.
However, there were some little elements of the book that I didn’t get along with, particularly the use of Italian throughout the book to refer to family members, and Nicoletta being constantly referred to as ‘piccola’, which I take to mean young girl. When her husband refers to her in this way it makes him seem more derogatory and possessive over her, which I personally don’t like in a male protagonist. I also felt like the author detracted from the main mystery plot after the marriage occurs, as the focus then moves onto their relationship and their passionate exploits. When the mystery is resolved towards the end, it is wrapped up in a few pages before Feehan returns to the Don and Nicoletta’s romance.
Overall, I did really enjoy reading this book and, having never read anything by Feehan before, I would definitely consider reading something by her again. The book is passionate, mysterious and supernatural, containing a strong hero and heroine, a perfect blend for a novel. ...more
I love all things Japanese, so when I started DAUGHTER OF THE SWORD by Steve Bein, I was expecting to love this book. It is set for the most part in Tokyo, but also delves into Japan’s ancient past, detailing the honour codes held by samurais.
The book begins in the modern Heisei era, in the year 2010, with the villain, Fuchida Shūzō, and a description of his attachment to his ancient sword, Beautiful Singer. He goes so far as to sleep next to his sacred blade, despite knowing that one wrong movement could result in his death. The sword was forged by the legendary sword smith Inazuma, who is said to have endowed his blades with the power of destiny as well as being supreme samurai weapons. However, no-one has ever held the power of more than one Inazuma sword, and Fuchida aims to be the first to have held two of the legendary blades.
“His first slash severed her spinal cord not far above her pelvis. She collapsed, legs as lifeless as ropes. A dark bloodstain spread across her carpet. It was already as wide as a welcome mat. Fuchida bent down, took the phone from her hand, hit END, and slipped the phone into his pants pocket.”
In the same era, we are introduced to Mariko Oshiro, the only female detective in the Tokyo Police Department who has worked extremely hard to earn her place in the all-male environment. However, this does very much define her character before we even meet her, as it is obvious that she struggles against sexism, making her bitter towards her colleagues. She is striving to win a place in the narcotics division, but her harsh lieutenant is looking for any excuse to dispose of her and send her right back to the lower departments.
When Mariko leads a successful arrest of a local drug dealer, it becomes apparent that there may be more going on in Tokyo than meets the eye, as the dealer gives her inside information on a potential delivery of cocaine to the city. Knowing that the yakuza don’t deal in hard drugs, this implies a new enemy, and Mariko has enough to deal with at home, as her sister Saori was arrested as part of the drugs bust. Her vengeful lieutenant then puts her on an attempted theft case as part of his scheme to keep her away from the hard cases of narcotics.
However, this attempted theft case proves to be more than meets the eye, as she meets the old Yasuo Yamada, who claims that someone attempted to steal his ancient sword. He owns another of the Inazuma blades, Glorious Victory Unsought, the very sword which Fuchida seeks. Despite her initial scepticism of Yamada’s stories he begins to train her in the art of the samurai, as it becomes clear that this could be the biggest case of her career, if she can only stay alive to see it through.
I really liked the use of Japanese history and culture throughout this book, as it is clear that the writer had done his research and tried to make the eras feel as authentic as possible. However, I didn’t like his inclusion of Japanese terms that then weren’t explained. There is a handy glossary at the back of the book, but I don’t enjoy having to stop my reading to look up a word.
The book is split into different eras, with the majority of the story taking place in the present day, but I liked how these different time periods seemed to intertwine with each other. These sections give us a sense of the history of both swords, with some sections detailing the past of Glorious Victory Unsought, whilst others tell us about Beautiful Singer. There is even the implication of a third Inazuma sword that might be just as vital to overcoming Fuchida, as each sword has its own mystical qualities.
As for the main character, I liked how strong and independent she was, and also respected how much she had to deal with at home, with her sister being an addict and her mother being worried sick about them both. Although I didn’t like the stereotype of being the only female in an all-male environment I still felt that this shaped Mariko into being who she was and so still enjoyed reading her scenes within the confines of the police department.
I loved the plot of this book and I felt that it was very well-crafted by the author, but there was just something stopping me from getting completely into it. It was very much the kind of book that I could have put down and not picked up again for a long period of time, and as such it took me longer to read than it should have. The writing was good, the description may have seemed a little long-winded in places, but for me it was just missing that spark that makes me unable to put a book down.
Despite all of the build-up to the final confrontation throughout the book, I felt a little let down by the ending as I thought the conflict was too rushed, and that Fuchida wasn’t given the time to shine as a villain. Mariko also didn’t seem to progress as a heroine, as I didn’t feel that she had developed as a character or learned any significant life lessons aside from sword fighting. However, I still enjoyed this book and would recommend it to those who like fantasy and those who take an interest in Japanese culture. ...more
‘Eyes to See’ is an exciting supernatural mystery, with twists around every corner that are sure to keep you reading until the very end. Joseph Nassise’s novel succeeds in setting up a mystery that you feel obliged to find the answers to, with almost as much vigour as the main character himself.
The novel kicks off with a ghostly exorcism, whereby the reader is introduced to Jeremiah Hunt, the protagonist of the novel, and also introduced to his unique supernatural gift – he can see the dead. Hunt made a Faustian bargain with the world of magick, whereby he traded his eyesight for the gift of seeing the dead. As a result, he can see perfectly in total darkness, but is blind in any kind of light.
Now you may be wondering about the reason for this Faustian bargain. His daughter has mysteriously disappeared from under his nose, seemingly without a trace. Hunt is obsessed with finding out what happened to her, and whether she is still alive. Five years later and he is still none the wiser, despite his understanding with Detective Stanton that allows him to see any leads on the case in return for consulting on certain crimes. However, there is a certain animosity between Stanton and Hunt, which is far from a healthy working relationship and could prove costly for both of them.
Jeremiah is an interesting character, with his love for his daughter being the driving force for everything he does. This leaves him isolated from everyone else, with his wife Anne having left him as a result of his obsession. He sees himself as a lone ranger, determined to discover the truth alone, with only his two ghostly companions, Scream and Whisper, for company. Whisper is the ghost of a young girl, providing Hunt with ‘ghostsight’ whenever he needs it, which allows him to see the world around him through the ghost’s eyes. Scream is a ghostly bulk of a man, who can provide Hunt with super strength whenever he needs it and put fear into any surrounding humans that are causing Hunt any problems.
However, these two ghosts are not Hunt’s only companions in his search, as he forms a trio with Russian bartender, Dmitri, and witch, Denise. Dmitri is the bartender at Hunt’s local, the kind of man who keeps out of Hunt’s business, and yet who knows the entire goings on of the city. Denise has prophetic dreams linking her to Hunt, causing her to seek him out to understand the meaning of her dreams. Both Dmitri and Denise are highly wrapped up in the supernatural world, and quick to aid Jeremiah in anything that he needs. However, it seems a little unlikely for Jeremiah to be so quick to trust them, as he has spent so long seeking answers alone, but just lets these two into all of his secrets without question.
There were certain aspects of the book I didn’t like too much, such as some of Nassise’s comparisons throughout the book. There were times where the comparisons felt natural, such as, ‘the vast majority of us go through life like sheep, thinking that it can’t happen to us’, which provides a realistic view of Hunt’s situation, and of real life. However, there were also times where the comparisons didn’t totally fit with the situation in which they were being used, which ruined my reading of the book in places, as I was focused on the bad description and not the plot.
Overall, this book was an enjoyable read, a good mystery to get into that provided lots of twists and turns, with several elements leading up to the final conclusion. There are surprises in store throughout the book, and I particularly liked the way that there are chapters strategically placed throughout the book that directly detail Hunt’s past. Where the series will progress after this first book is unclear, but there is certainly potential for further mysteries that can be solved using the dead as a witness. ...more
DARK SHADOWS: ANGELIQUE’S DESCENT by Lara Parker is based upon the old Dark Shadows TV series, and details the history of witch Angelique, and her relationship with vampire Barnabas.
Having never seen the Dark Shadows TV series, or the recent Dark Shadows movie starring Johnny Depp, I was a little confused when starting this book, as it seemed as if background knowledge of the characters was needed in order to fully connect with the story. There is very little introduction to the character of Barnabas or Angelique, with the book delving straight into the complex plot.
It begins with Barnabas in his present time, apparently having been recently cured of his vampirism and learning to adjust to life as a human once more. He is reminiscent about the past, thinking of Angelique and her influence over his life despite the fact that as a new reader I hadn’t been introduced to her character at this stage.
When he spots a shadowy figure in the grounds of his estate, he enters the uninhabited old house which he hasn’t entered for many years. Here he is overcome with emotion and burns the house to the ground, returning to his own mansion. The morning after, when the ruins are examined, he finds a diary which belonged to Angelique, and it is here that our story really starts.
We are thrown straight into Angelique’s history, which begins when she is taken from her mother at the age of nine and forced to follow her father to a sugar plantation. Here she is dressed as a goddess, where the African slaves pray to her whilst her father keeps her locked away in a tower. She is violently mistreated during her time at the plantation, making many escape attempts in a bid to flee her father.
Her story is interrupted with flashes to the present, with Barnabas reading the diary, but there are details mentioned in this present time that aren’t at all explored. The story is all Angelique’s, but I found myself not caring for her story, and would have liked to see more of Barnabas.
The book did pick up slightly after Angelique’s escape from the plantation, as she then meets Barnabas and we discover how he became a vampire, but I still wasn’t drawn into her story. She has the qualities of a sorceress, being able to cast spells similar to voodoo, with her magic using more dark qualities than light. It is often used to hurt others, and yet still I wasn’t interested in her character, despite this emotional drama.
After enduring a slow read to reach the end of the book, I started asking myself why I wasn’t more interested in Angelique, as her story is harrowing and emotional but was missing something. Partly I think this was because I had no prior knowledge of the characters, but there was something else that frustrated me more than that. This was the description used by the writer. It was overly excessive, with every point exaggerated too far. This was good at the beginning of the book for world-building, but then I found myself going several pages and wondering what was actually happening throughout all the detail.
“Jasmine twined profusely through the iron enclosure, sweetly perfuming the air, and there was another aroma, of gardenias, tropical and heavy in the mist, blooming waxen on black bushes by the gate.”
This is just one example of the description, and as you can see, this is all one overly long sentence. The book is full of descriptions like this, and when looking back at the events I found that they could have been summed up in a couple of sentences rather than pages, and the story wouldn’t have lost any of its value.
Overall the plot of this book didn’t impress me, as I didn’t form a connection to the character of Angelique. If there had been a page or two as a prologue to detail the events of the TV series then I might have fared better, but I feel like this book is better aimed at fans of the show.
Fantastic and highly useful critical work of Richardson's Pamela, featuring a multitude of contemporary responses to the novel across different genresFantastic and highly useful critical work of Richardson's Pamela, featuring a multitude of contemporary responses to the novel across different genres....more
‘Nightlife’ by Rob Thurman is as much a tale of family values as of demons and darkness, with the brotherly bond between the protagonists forming a basis for the plot. The novel contains a multitude of supernatural elements, from conventional vampires and werewolves to new creations of the boggle and Auphe. Fight scenes are scattered throughout the text, displaying a mastery of various weaponry.
The protagonist, Caliban Leandros, is the first of his kind, half-Auphe, half-human, and born to a mother who has no love for him. His very name of ‘Caliban’ demonstrates her dislike of him (named after the human-beast creature in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’), hence the shortening to ‘Cal’, with the ‘Auphe’ being a demonic elf-like creature, incapable of love. The Auphe are after Cal, having watched over him for years, finally taking him at the age of 14. They pulled him through a gate, only for him to emerge again two years older than when he left. Cal fought his way back to the human world, to his older brother Niko, for them both to go on the run in a bid to escape recapture.
This novel takes place after four years on the run, with the brothers trying to keep a low profile, obsessed with security, and keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity. The Auphe threat is difficult to describe, with the brothers referring to them as Grendels for the better part of the novel. Thurman describes them as having, ‘pale skin and paler hair a luminescent smear in the gloom. Every eye was fixed on me with a maniacal and almost coveting glee.’ They covet power, and apparently need Cal in order to get it, with their true aims being revealed at the end of the novel.
‘Nightlife’ is told from the first person perspective of Cal, who seemingly has a very sarcastic outlook on life, critiquing every event that occurs. These sarky comments are amusing at times and aggravating at others, I found myself wanting him to be more grown up and serious, wishing the novel was narrated by his brother Niko instead. However, the author does capture Cal’s inner turmoil of whether or not he is a monster, causing the reader to sympathise with him.
On the other hand, Cal’s brother Niko is completely different, a highly focused and intelligent individual with superb fighting skills. He is devoted to his younger brother, his main goal to keep Cal alive. However, there is seemingly nothing wrong with Niko, he is too perfect, his attractiveness gaining him female attention to top off his perfect combat skills and intellect.
However, as much as I liked the two main characters and the brotherly banter that passes between them, I felt that the plot lacked substance. For the first half of the novel I wasn’t sure if the plot was actually building up to anything significant, the author not giving away enough clues to keep me interested in the storyline. The characters were the only elements that kept me interested in reading on, with the car salesman, Robin, providing some brilliant comic moments with the brothers, boasting of his exploits with women (and men).
Overall, I found the book to be pretty average, and as a first book in a series I’m not sure if I want to read on. There were a few underdeveloped characters that are clearly going to be developed in later novels, but aside from those there is little indication of any continuing plot points. I wasn’t a fan of Thurman’s writing style, particularly with the narrative shift in the middle of the novel, as I didn’t enjoy the perspective change. As a debut novel this wasn’t a disaster, and I may think about giving the next book in the series a chance to see how her writing style develops. ...more
THE FINAL EMPIRE by Brandon Sanderson is a fantasy novel that takes magic and corruption to new depths, with a citizen’s uprising threatening the oppressive conditions of the Lord Ruler’s reign over the Final Empire.
The majority of this fantasy novel takes place in the city of Luthadel, the central stronghold of the Lord Ruler and the area in which the noblemen reside and wealth is power. However, there is still a divide between rich and poor, or in this case noblemen and skaa, with the skaa being over-worked by the noblemen and beaten into submission at every opportunity.
There is further inequality between the two classes as some of the noblemen have inherited the powers of Allomancy, whereby they can convert particular types of metal and their alloys into magic. Most Allomancers are only able to burn one metal, with each metal producing a different effect, for example tin can produce enhanced senses whilst pewter can increase strength. However, there are those rare individuals, known as mistborns, who are capable of burning all elements, making them very powerful.
Kelsier is one such individual, a mistborn who has escaped the horrors of the Pits of Hathsin, and the only known survivor. He is a thief and a traveller, and we first see him enter a skaa plantation outside of the city and wreak vengeance upon their harsh nobleman master, freeing them in the process. Kelsier is a very powerful mistborn, having honed his magic skills well enough to combat the corruption of the Lord Ruler’s empire, forming a plan to start the uprising.
Kelsier can’t accomplish this uprising alone, and must call on the help of fellow Allomancers who have been a part of thieving crews with him in the past. The destruction of the Final Empire is a job much different than any of them have ever faced before, but each man implicitly trusts Kelsier and is willing to follow his plans wherever they may lead.
This crew is comprised of very strong characters, each holding a strong role in the plan to destroy the empire, but there is one in particular whom the reader is introduced to and follows throughout the book. This character is Vin, a street urchin who is discovered by Kelsier to be a fellow mistborn, and is trained by Kelsier to learn the secrets of Allomancy. She is then given the important role of impersonating a noblewoman and infiltrating the nobles’ inner circles to find out the latest gossip around court. But when her path crosses with Elend, a nobleman who seems more appreciative of skaa than the others, will her faith in their plan waver?
Sanderson’s fantasy world was so intricately carved throughout this book that I immediately became immersed in its pages, craving more and more of the story. The world is slowly built up so you aren’t immersed straight away, and the magic of Allomancy has such depth that the effects of the different elements are explored throughout the book as Vin’s powers grow. Particularly as part of Kelsier’s plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler involves a mysterious eleventh element that has yet to be experimented with.
Kelsier is a fantastic character to lead this rebellion, as he is highly intelligent and has thought out every eventuality of his actions. Despite this, he still has his flaws, such as his blind hatred for the nobility without considering that some of them might be good people. There is also the issue of his ego, as when rallying up the skaa to rebel he easily accepts the God-like worship he receives and does little to change their opinion of him. He is trusting of his men, and becomes a father figure to Vin, not being afraid of caring despite his past adversities.
As for Vin, she begins the book as part of another thief’s crew, where she is beaten into obedience, living with her brother’s logic that sooner or later everyone will betray you. This is no way for her to live, as she is afraid of trusting anyone and can’t believe that Kelsier can be so trusting with his forces. She is especially worried about taking on the role of a noblewoman, as she has to be careful to hide her true nature as a mistborn and can’t truly get close to anyone she meets, particularly the mysterious Elend who spends his time at balls reading instead of dancing.
This fantasy novel was so clever that it’s difficult to fully describe the details of the rebellion without giving anything away, but I will say that there were several shocking moments throughout the book. I loved that these shocking events weren’t just saved for the ending, but were spread out from the very beginning. It was so well written that the long page count didn’t seem to matter, as I became more and more absorbed with every chapter. This is one rebellion that you don’t want to miss, as the ending may surprise you! ...more