Tag Archives: Review

Review – Mildred’s Resistance

**DISCLAIMER** I was sent this book because I was super-excited about it on Twitter.

**DOUBLE DISCLAIMER** I just realised I can embed GIFs. I’m not sorry.

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Mildred’s Resistance is the prequel for Katie Cross’s YA Network series. The plot takes us back to the youth of the current High Priestess – Mildred – and explains how the actions of her generation have shaped and influenced the plots of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening. Most of the story takes place in and around Chatham Castle, the seat of power, and the people who work there. As it’s a prequel, if you’ve read Miss Mabel’s, you sort of know where it’s going. But just like when you see a documentary about events leading up to a war, or an assassination, it’s the journey and all those turning-point-moments that make it so interesting.

What I love about this story is the little touches that give depth to the characters: Evelyn is always in the middle of a drama, and serves herself the biggest slice of cake to compensate; Mildred crops her hair in order to feel like herself; half the cabinet are alcoholics… the little actions build into the big actions. The little check points along the way may leave you frustrated because it’s so clear how a character could have taken a different path but they sabotage themselves a lot.

Evelyn starts out a bit like Gwendoline Mary from the Malory Towers books by Enid Blyton. She is spoiled and treated well so she gets arrogant and obnoxious. But the tragedy of her childhood is a weakness that runs through her and drives her actions more than she thinks. Even when it’s on the surface, and she’s talking about her plans to “lead the poor” (i.e. oppress the poor), what it really comes down to is her abandonment issues. May (the grandmother of the Miss Mabel who runs the school in Bianca’s time) twists that fear for her own purposes, and gives her an outlet for it, but really, Evelyn is just a scared girl lashing out because she never grieved properly for her parents.

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Mildred has a similar start in life, but since her mother doesn’t know the High Priestess, she has to go and be poor somewhere else, with her brother. The differences in the way they grow up show all too clearly how divergent your path can get dependent on tiny choices and decisions, and your own personality and drive. Mildred finds magic difficult. She has to study harder and work longer than Evelyn and Stella, and even then it’s hit or miss. But she keeps going. She doesn’t blame external sources for her problems. Isadora, the Watcher who interviews the girls for what school they’ll go to, rejects Mildred from May’s school and sends her to another. She is separated from Stella and Evelyn who both go to May. And you’ll see how that turns out. Evelyn, the other hand, takes all obstacles as personal insults, or deliberate actions against her (egged on by May). Anyone who tries to check her is obviously jealous.

There are a few “aha!” moments for people who have read the other books in the series, as you realise who people are (including one near the end!!!) but you wouldn’t suffer if you hadn’t read them. This is an excellent prequel that you could read before you start the main series without anything being spoiled, or later to fill in the background to the world. What I like about the world in general is that people have ordinary names. There’s a tendency in fantasy – even fantasy with mainly human characters – for names to go down the extreme-sports thunder spectrum. I like that in the Network, ordinary people with ordinary names are the people who are doing the things. Some of the names are old-fashioned, but they’re not elfy-magic names. I’m sure you know what I mean.

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What I appreciate about all the Network books is that most of the characters are female. They still cover the range of motivation and emotion and personality that a typical male-driven fantasy would do, but wouldn’t you know it, the women still manage to carry the story! The male characters are important, and they are still fleshed out, but it is all about the building tension between Mildred and Evelyn. Neither of them shy away from a fight, or from doing the dirty work, but Cross also allows them to be vulnerable without losing integrity. The mainly female cast almost slips by unnoticed, until you think about it, because all the characters are people not just fantasy stereotypes. This would be excellent for any book, but I think for a YA book it’s important. While that might not be the point, and of course you have to write the story, it’s always great that as a by-product you get kickass ladies leading the way.

I very much enjoyed this book and am now even more excited about the next – The High Priest’s Daughter – which hopefully won’t be too far away either!

Mildred’s Resistance is released on 15th July! That’s next week!

More information can be found on Katie’s website, and you can find her on Twitter, here.

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Vacate your mind, but not your bookshelf

Currently just finished: The Magicians

Alright, guys and gals, it’s round-up time.

I’m still working on my master list, and have just crossed another off. I need to cheat a little though, because I just got my ARC of Mildred’s Resistance by Katie Cross, and I’m really looking forward to diving into that! Katie wrote me a really sweet message as well, just to butter me up a little 😉 It’s the prequel to the Network series (Miss Mabel’s School for Girls and Antebellum Awakening) ahead of the third main timeline book set for this autumn!) and will give the back story for Mildred and Evelyn… two witches who were once best friends… BUT THEN. *thunderclap*

I also roped myself into a book challenge.

book bingo

I’m hoping that doing this bingo card will help me tear through some of my list over the summer, too. Found via Katie who found it via My Little Book Blog who found it via Savidge Reads who did it last year with Books on the Night Stand. You can make your own here. There are loads of prompts – hopefully it’ll help me clear the decks a little.

I’m on summer break now from work, so I’ll have plenty of time for reading. Haha. Hahahahaha. And all the sewing. And anything else I want to do. Plus holidays with the girls I lived with at uni and seeing family. It’s going to be back to work time before I know it! I’m still going to try keeping up with photo blogs for Rivka’s Christmas craft present, and I’ll schedule some posts ready for December and January (the crazy organisation!) as obviously I can’t say what it is or share it now or it’ll ruin the surprise. But soon… sooooooooon…

Ooh, it’s clouding up! Hopefully time for another storm. It’s been crazy hot here north of the Wall, and while summer is welcome (and it’s a lot easier to cope with now I’m not at work and restricted to things like clothing choices and professional language) it has been ridiculous. A good cloud burst will do us all good. That might have been thunder I just heard! Or a tractor. It’s hard to tell round here.

So I just finished The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I ripped through it, and I kinda like it. It’s a mix of The Catcher in the Rye and The Chronicles of Narnia, which don’t feel like they should gel. And on places they don’t, but that’s sort of the point of the book. I think? I would recommend it though if only because you’ll spend hours trying to work out the rules of Welters – a sort of magicians’ chess with the players as pieces. There’s a sequel, grumble, not that I’m at liberty to get it yet. Grumble.

Try not to melt, you guys. Be like this otter.

MjvGBan

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy – Laini Taylor

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love…

Holy effing cow. I love this trilogy. Well, I loved 99% of this trilogy, and that’s pretty good. Laini Taylor has created this behemoth of a story that just keeps on humming. I actually don’t know where to start.

WELL, if you’ve never even picked up one of these books, let me give you a brief window (it probably won’t be brief). We start with Karou, the mysterious girl with blue hair and a weird night-time occupation: she is an artist and a thief and she has a very strange adopted family. No, I need to go further back than that.

We start with Eretz, a world apart from ours but reachable through hidden portals. Eretz is at war with itself. The seraphim and the chimaera are determined to destroy each other, and though the seraphim have the numerical advantage, the chimaera have a seemingly immortal force. These species hate each other. They are all expected to kill on sight. So what happens if a seraph and a chimaera …don’t?

I honestly don’t know how to cover everything I want to say about these books. The prose flows and ebbs with the pace of the story. It breathes as you breathe, it gasps as you gasp. The style is somehow poetic and direct. It never feels pretentious but there are a lot of flourishes. It matches the feel of the world: there is Karou, eccentric, wild and vulnerable racing down the tough cobbled alleyways of Prague. There is hot sand and the hazy perfume of the Kasbah, there is the temple of Ellai in Loramendi the city of the chimaera. Brimstone’s workshop. All these places get woven together and yet all feel natural. The exotic real world settings like the Moroccan desert and the medieval charm of Prague help to segue into Eretz and the world of the chimaera without it being too jarring. For me, a little homebird in Scotland, anyway. It wouldn’t have been so seamless if the main action were set in New York, or Paris. Being able to incorporate different cultures and languages into the story helps to blend the real and the hyper-real. The magic and the mundane layer over each other. It’s a bit Indiana Jones (the good ones). They are also pretty hefty stages. The seraphim and the chimaera are not subtle creations. They need a bold canvas.

The characters that are created are so fragile and human. Karou and Akiva are so similar in some ways that it almost tears them apart forever. They feel envy and fear and make assumptions but are too proud to talk it out. They are almost brave enough… but then the fear comes back and they daren’t risk it. But they can’t stay away from each other. They circle closer and away… closer and closer and away… and hurt each other and love each other and hurt each other again. It never becomes melodramatic, but it is painful in places. If you’ve ever been in relationship limbo, you will relate to their situation, if not the context. In order to survive as species, they need each other and their followers need them. But they’re not supposed to love each other. Balancing their duties and their emotions makes for a bumpy ride.

On the other hand, I love the development of Mik and Zuzana’s romance. It might be a bit immature and fairytale, but we have to remember that Karou and Zuzana are seventeen at the start of Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Karou gets the benefit of all Madrigal’s life experience, but Zuzana doesn’t. Mik and Zuze playing “prince and damsel” is so sweet and uncomplicated in comparison to Karou and Akiva. They’re still main players with their own agency; they don’t exist just to be a counterpoint, but it’s nice that in the background of this life-and-death chaos, there are two people who just fully and unapologetically adore each other.

As I said at the beginning, I love 99% of this trilogy. The slow unravelling of the war and the concepts of identity and self-agency are gripping, and the drama and danger – and romance – that accompany them fizz with intent and a desperation to squeeze everything from the experience. I was more than halfway through each book before I realised it. That has to be a good sign. I needed desperately to know what was going to happen. What was going to be the next trap or the next salvation or the next obstacle? A hundred more pages later…

The latter half of Dreams of Gods and Monsters is where it started to run out of steam, for me. The ending felt anti-climactic. It felt a bit lost. It’s not the way I would have done it. I don’t feel utterly betrayed and let down by the series; it’s an ending that works, but to me it isn’t the best ending. All of a sudden it ran out of pages. I got to the end without realising it was the end. I was expecting one more chapter. But it wasn’t there. It is definitely a five star read, and it will be re-read many times, and lent out and thrust upon people, and considered, but… *sigh* It was so close to perfection. The last few chapters just seemed a bit cobbled together. It’s hard, from such an intense timeframe, to cover the passage of time and come back a while later without it feeling that way, and the characters didn’t suddenly change motivation or anything. It just didn’t play out with the strength that I was expecting. I can’t explain more without spoiling 1800 pages of work.

I see that there is a film potentially in the works, and also that Laini Taylor is already working on a new series. I am very much looking forward to both.

Follow Laini Taylor on Twitter here.

Buy Daughter of Smoke and Bone from Amazon UK here.

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Review – Eden Daire 1+2

The Garden of Good and Eden – Paulette Oakes

Getting Eden – Paulette Oakes

I read both available Eden Daire books one after the other, having found them through a random RT and thought the premise was interesting. I have to mention that there were a few typos in the books, though my review is on the content. There were only a few – maybe five or six over the two books – but I can’t not mention it, if I’m on the side of “as professional as you can get” for publishing.

Here’s the blurb for The Garden of Good and Eden:

Eden Daire has known her whole life that she was different than everyone else. Not just because she was adopted into a large Catholic family in rural Kentucky, but because she could do things that no one else could do. Things like make plants grow at will, communicate with animals, and even heal them when they were sick. No one seems to have any answers: not her family members, her mysterious best friend Amara, or even the hundreds of books she devours looking for clues. All that changes on the eve of her 25th birthday when her whole world comes crashing down around her to reveal secrets and creatures she had never known existed. And they all seem to think that she is the key to an ancient prophecy that will topple kingdoms. On top of all that, a different type of threat is looming over her beloved family and she’s the only one that can stop it in its tracks. How will she balance the love and commitment she feels to her adopted family and the new power and responsibility that comes with finally getting the answers to her past? Her world will never be the same again…

Right, then. On the whole I enjoyed these books, taken as they are. I didn’t really have to stretch my brain, but they were fun and the story was engaging. The pace was good and the over-arching story has so much potential that the two sub-stories that make up these books are given proper treatment and come to satisfactory conclusions. I wasn’t sure if these are YA or not, I don’t think so, and there is some (non-gratuitous) swearing.

The main premise is that there are three warring factions: Earth, Sky and Sea. Eden, the protagonist, is at the centre of this conflict. She lives in Kentucky, with a huge extended family (more on that later) and has always been different. She just didn’t know exactly how different until her 25th birthday. The author uses the Greek pantheon in the main part, with the addition of vampires (more on that later) fey/fairies and were-cougars. As the story progresses, the tension between the human world and the supernatural world builds nicely and Eden gets some good meaty decisions to make about her destiny.

There are some great characters in store if you pick up these books – Demetrius the satyr is cheesy and fun, but the joke of his stereotypical randiness doesn’t get old, and there’s some juicy backstory there that begs to be explored in future books. The brownies, Brother and Sister, also manage to avoid Jar Jar Binks territory and stay on the cute side of “creature sidekick”. Terra, Eden’s mother, comes across as a little cold, but it’s understandable given the situation she is in, and it’s good that Oakes doesn’t make her the traditional “Earth Mother”, soppy, tearful kind of woman.

The powers that Terra and Eden share are clearly defined and demonstrated, and are finite. This is a good decision on the part of the author, as too many of these sorts of books have a DESTINED ONE who is too ridiculously powerful. This also gives Eden’s powers room to grow as she matures and learns to control them. The relationship Eden has with Sheba, her dog, is very well done – part Lyra/Pan, part Dr Doolittle, and the traffic isn’t all one way; Sheba is pretty smart!

A lot of the style of these books reminds me of the Southern Vampire books by Charlaine Harris. Eden is very forthright, and doesn’t spend a lot of time agonising over how other people might react to what she says or does. She is a strong young woman, and acts decisively. She is one of the younger members of her sprawling family, and that’s where I struggled to keep up a little. Eden has so many relatives I just had to let it wash over me. The family is well-established with nicknames and all their spouses and children and businesses, but really apart from Aaron, Sue and Josey in the first book, and then Mac and Cheese and Pharaoh in the second, you don’t really need to be able to tell the others apart. By dint of being juuuust outside The South, the Daires avoid total hillbilly, huge redneck family status, but only just. Maybe that’s my cultural bias, as a Brit.

The main issue I had with her family is that they’re all just too easily accepting. Not even one cousin has a problem (and there are many cousins) with Eden’s powers and the danger they’re all put into because of it. I know they all grew up with her, and it’s all about acceptance, but really? There is some family conflict in Getting Eden with Starla and Pharaoh, which makes up for this a little. The other thing is that despite being twenty-four years old, successful or not, too many of the older family defer to her. Yes, she has magical greenfingers, but the Daire family have their own skills and ventures and intelligence. That Eden just assumes responsibility for sorting out the Tuckers and the protesting – and calling lawyers on the family’s behalf! – was a bit of a stretch, that again not even one older uncle or aunt had an issue with this girl wading in and saying she’s got it all under control.

The other big gripe I have with this series is the inclusion of vampires. There was already so much stuff to play with: all kinds of nymphs and dryads, satyrs, maenads, sirens, witches and the godheads themselves. I don’t think it needed vampires as well. Or fey and brownies either, if I’m being strict about it. Or dwarves and gnomes. But the vampires… I felt like the grandson in the Princess Bride, being tricked into reading a kissing book. Granted, the main vampire character, Patrick, is not a constant presence and the rest of the story chugs along nicely, but why not a dryad or a minotaur? Or an Amazon, since the author is happy to include homosexual relationships with side characters (hoorah for normalising non-hetero couples!). As Demetrius himself asks, in The Garden of Good and Eden, “always with the vampires! What is the big obsession with vampires and werewolves? Is it the fangs? The mystery and romanticism of the night?”

This comes up when Eden is learning about who and what she is, with Terra and Demetrius telling her that myths are partly true. So she’s sitting with a satyr and mother Earth, and she doesn’t ask about anything else from the Greek mythology, despite having that used as an example. By the satyr. Eden has read Greek myths. But she doesn’t ask about Hercules, or Mount Olympus, or the Percy Jackson books; she goes straight to vampires. It sort of jarred with the rest of the story. Like Oakes sort of wanted to write a vampire romance but tucked it away inside an already strong premise. As I said, though, Patrick is not around all the time and hopefully in the next book the vampires will be out of the picture.

I am interested to see where the story goes, and will be keeping an eye out for the next one. I want to see Amara develop, and more of the Storm Riders, and Boone getting more badass. There is such a lot to tease out with this world, and I think it will only go from strength to strength. The fight scenes are snappy, the main characters are established and the conflict is engaging and not too soapy.

You can follow Paulette Oakes on Twitter here.

The Garden of Good and Eden (Eden Daire 1) is available from Amazon UK here. For 99p! Worth a punt 🙂

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Marked

A disclaimer from the start: Rivka Spicer is my flatmate. That might make you think I am biased in this review but her books generally make me want to throw them across the room and I’m happy to tell her so. This is my genuine opinion and the fact that she is currently making my dinner has no bearing on the text below 😀

This week, I have been reading… Marked, by Rivka Spicer.

Marked is the sequel to Sage, and this is now looking to be a trilogy even though she was hoping to wrap things up in two books. The series, called The Last Ancient, follows Sage, a young witch at a boarding school in Yorkshire. The school is open to magical and non-magical pupils alike but the ‘norms’ don’t know about the witchcraft lessons. Sage goes through the usual teen drama of boys and bitchy boarding school girls, but there is also a prophecy about to become heart-breakingly relevant.

Some background: The magic that the witches use in the TLA universe is drawn from The Source (essentially Earth-magic crossed with The Force, and the living energy of all things) and some witches are ‘Ancients’ who channel this magic into the world to be used by the witches. If there are no Ancients then the magic is cut off. There is currently one known Ancient left, and The Coven (who are the high-ups that make the rules and are a little bit corrupt) are desperate to have little Ancient babies to ensure the continuation of the magical heritage. And then there are the Witchfinders (including a Witchfinder General) who, well, track down witches and kill them. So there’s political peril as well as physical danger.

The title Marked refers to the few witches with a strong enough bloodline themselves to be considered a Consort for an Ancient and able to produce children that will continue channelling the magic. The Consorts are all marked in some way – a birth mark, a difference in their magic – that proves they are Consorts.

Right then. I’ll try and keep things as spoiler-lite as possible, but as it’s a sequel there are some things you need to know. Sorry. The events of Marked take place six months after the end of Sage, towards the end of the same school year. Sage is almost eighteen, and has come to terms with her power and begrudgingly accepts that her future is to some extent out of her hands. She is in love and thing are looking rosy. Oh dear. That does not last long.

I found Marked to be a bit more dialogue-heavy than Sage, but then there are lots of important things to discuss, and more characters to do the discussing. It doesn’t affect the flow of the book really, but there were a few points where I wanted them to stop talking and get on with it! On the other hand it’s still just as funny even in the darker sections, and there are some laugh out loud moments. All I’ll say is… fake ninja moves…

Marked deals with a couple of serious issues in a real world setting. Sage is essentially being subjected to an arranged marriage and as a British citizen she has human rights, but they don’t apply in witch society, which is big on Tradition and Ceremony. So, unable to explain properly why she needs help, she is limited to an extremely emergency extraction plan from the women’s refuge as her real-world way out. She doesn’t take that way out, but I’m glad she investigates the option. This is where TLA differs from Harry Potter: while the witches live in secrecy, they still inhabit the real world and interact with it. They aren’t in a weird parallel bubble universe. The witch pupils still have smartphones and use the Internet (there is an official witch forum called Coven.net) and drive cars. They still call the Police if they’re in trouble.

An underlying theme of the book is Sage’s worries about being so young and being expected to marry and immediately start having children to preserve the bloodline and keep the magic in the world. She is frightened and angry and torn between her ultimate duty and her own personal ambitions. While they do overlap in places, Sage herself is quick to point out that she is not even eighteen and doesn’t feel ready for motherhood and matrimony. Call her again in ten years.

On top of the angst is a tournament to win Sage’s hand in marriage. She faces the possibility that she will be married off to a stranger, even though she is in a relationship with a suitable Consort already. This immediately raises her suspicions because The Coven seem determined to keep her apart from her lover, Dean, even though he is Marked and the two of them were planning to be married (eventually) anyway. So that’s interesting…

We veer a little bit into Hunger Games territory because Sage is a teen fighting a powerful oligarchy and it turns out she isn’t the only one who doesn’t like the way that the witches are being governed. So book three is going to be a belter. I hope Ben is still in it (he probably will be given he is present in the final scene of the book) because he has the best hair, and he always calls Sage ‘my Lady’ because he’s a gentleman. I also want him to have a happy ending maybe more than Sage. He’s been through a lot.

At the end of Marked there’s a bit of a cliff hanger and I literally sat in my chair and went AAAAAAAARRRRGHHHHH!!! but luckily there was no one else in the house. Rivka’s books often have that effect on me – when I finished Carnevale I almost threw my reader across the room – but this time it was just in frustration that the book stops RIGHT THERE. With Carnevale it was because of my hatred of a character and his continuing manipulation even after being a total douchebag. Speaking of Carnevale, that series is vaguely linked to TLA because a couple of characters appear or are mentioned, but according to the author there isn’t going to be a total crossover.

So, yeah. Read ­Sage and then read Marked and then you’ll know what I’m going through right now. And read Masquerade and Carnevale as well and let me know what you think of Tristan.

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The Left Hand of God

Seven o’clock already?! Where does the time go..?

Thought I’d get back to the books a little. I don’t want this blog to become a diary. I have kept various online diaries over the years and while through them I have made some great friends, I’m more interested in keeping a little distance between my soul and the keyboard these days.

So… The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman. I feel I’m slightly behind the curve on this one since it has been out since 2010, back when paperbacks still only cost £6.99. But I have read it now. That’s what counts. I mostly loved it. That is to say, I really like it, and parts of it I loved, and there wasn’t anything I didn’t like, but there were dips. I do really want to read part two, The Last Four Things, which I suppose is a positive thing. I’m rambling. (Amazon reviewers of part two are polarised)

I suppose what stops me giving this a full on 100%-joy rating is the uneven tone. I’m still not sure if this is a YA book or not. I don’t mind; I’ll read YA and there’s some great stuff out there, but Hoffman can’t quite seem to make up his mind. The protagonist is fifteen years old, but this is not necessarily a clincher. Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy begins with a youthful protagonist but there is no doubt in my mind that Hobb is writing for a grown-up audience. He also breaks the fourth wall sometimes in trying to give a description of something, and having myself been trained out of using “you” narrative at school this knocks off a few points.

I like the premise and I like the characters. This is good. Cale is a very shady protagonist. When we meet him he is surly, insubordinate and brutish. Pretty much like any teenage boy. The Sanctuary is an unforgiving place and we quickly learn about the realities of life there. I wouldn’t necessarily say we immediately sympathise with Cale but we can understand why he’s so closed-off. There are some bits of the early plot which are far-fetched but necessary for the real action to get underway (the rope, the simplicity of the escape etc) which at the same time feels churlish to mention because I also hate when small plans go HIDEOUSLY WRONG just to add more suffering. So I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of his age. But then as Cale later explains, he’s a tactical genius. Of course his plan goes without a hitch.

I think Vague Henri is my favourite character. He starts off as a cautious (though not truly cowardly) and weedy character with a bit of Cale hero-worship going on. He is the first to grow up, I think, after his experience with Riba in the desert, and Hoffman keeps Henri’s feelings in check without adding an obvious second romantic subplot. Kleist – the third escapee – doesn’t change much. He is grumpy, he always wants to do the opposite of what the others do, and he only stays with them because he doesn’t want to be alone. He has some layers but he’s usually too contrary to let you see them.

The setting was also a little confusing. Hoffman’s website describes it as an alternate-history story which stops references to the Norwegians being totally out of whack. But how far back? Hoffman says he read up on the battle of Agincourt for the Battle at Silbury Hill, which makes sense given what happens, but the actions of the Redeemers seem a little like the most extreme parts of the Spanish Inquisition. And then there’s the weird steampunk vibe you get from the description of Kitty Town:

“There were bawlers with their loozles, mawleys with their ya-yas hanging out for all to see; there were benjamins in jemimas calling out ‘Yellow, come and get get.’ There were burtons and their naked pikers, middlemen calling for agony, Aunts with their bung nippers covered in rouge and shouting for a half and half. There were Hugenots selling bum-baileys to the highest bidder and nutty lads with long tongues looking for a pigeon in a packet of two.”

…What? Followed later by the crowds at the Red Opera, it almost felt like droogs were going to come bursting out of the woodwork:

“All the spivs and gangs of the city were there – the Suedeheads with their red and gold waistcoat and their silver-coloured boots, the hooligans in their white braces and black top hats, the rockers in their bowlers, monocles and thin moustaches. The girls were out in force too, the Lollards with their long coats and thigh-high boots and shaven heads, the Tickets with their shaped red lips like a cupid’s bow, their tight red bodices and stockings black as night.”

And yet the armies fight in full plate and use longbows. It’s all a bit of a mish-mash. Not to mention the Rabbi in the Ghetto with Payot and a wide-brimmed hat who plays chess, and the city of York, and Memphis come to that, though that could be in reference to the Egyptian capital and just a symbolic thing. It’s all very confusing.

A good story though, and I nearly finished it last night but with sixty pages to go I stopped myself because I didn’t want to be up too late. I had to drop it like it was burning hot when I got to a page break (in the middle of the longest chapter!) because there was no chapter end forthcoming. I finished it when I got home from work this afternoon.

Next on the list a YA book I’ve been waiting for: Marked by Rivka Spicer. I’ve been watching her write this for ages and she kept teasing me with little hints but now she’s finally got it edited and out so once I’ve done some work I’ll dive into that! Oh, it’s about witches.

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King Rolen’s Kin

Before I start, for posterity I want to say that I think I’ll always remember what I was doing on the day that Prince George was born: we buried my granddad. Sort of fitting that we said goodbye to someone old and then ushered in someone new. There we are.

Right. Book review time. I’m a great one for browsing in bookshops, buying something random that I like the sound of and then squirreling it away on a shelf for years before reading it. I have two shelves in my room now dedicated to the unread books that I own, in the hopes of getting through some of them before I buy new ones (ha, not very likely). Last night I picked one to read while I sat around for two hours waiting for some live music (relying on trains in the Highlands to get you somewhere at a useful time is not advisable). I picked…

The King’s Bastard, by Rowena Cory Daniells.

Now, I bought this somewhen, and I went into it cold. No clue about reviews, sequels (though it does say BOOK ONE on the front so I know there are sequels), the author or anything. I ended up reading it until half one in the morning. If that isn’t recommendation enough, I guess I could tell you a little more about it.

It’s about Byren, the younger twin of Lence (the main issue I have with the book. Just call him Lance, ffs!), their siblings Piro and Fyn, and all the stuff that happens to them due to them being the children of King Rolen of Rolencia. It’s heartwarming to see some tried and tested fantasy tropes in action but they are well done and I am itching to read the next one. A few examples:

1. The heir is arrogant and a bit of a tool, but his younger brother is good with people and loved more than him, leading to major resentment that drives a lot of the plot.

2. A younger sister who is actually pretty intelligent and feisty but is treated like a child/brat because she doesn’t want to be a pretty princess and do all the elegant lady stuff so she gets in trouble all the time. And she’s a girl, so what does she know about ANYTHING? Eh? Women! *shakes head*

3. You’re GAY?!?!?! Unclean! Unclean!

4. “The neighbouring kingdom is pretty much the same as ours but clearly they’re all evil/barbarians/just plotting to take over.”

5. Magic/mystic power can make you crazy and is feared and forbidden.

6. More end of chapter cliffhangers than you can shake a stick at.

No.6 is partly why I was up so late. I could not wait to find out what happened next. There is a lot going on in this book but it doesn’t feel like it’s just setting up later plot arcs, nor does it feel like Daniells chucked in every twist she could think of. The characters are developed, if still a little constrained by their fantasy pigeonholes (“But I don’t want to be King!” wails Byren over and over again in response to  a. people telling him how much better he’d be than his older brother and b. his older brother accusing him of a conspiracy to take the throne) and with a major upset in progress at the end of the book it’ll be interesting to see how they develop further though I think I could put money on a few of them.

What I quite like about this book is that Daniells doesn’t info dump. She leads the reader using context clues and drip feeding information, but without pages of clunky “minor character represents the reader and asks a stupid question to elicit expositional dialogue”. At the very beginning for example, the characters are tracking a magical animal called a lincis, an Affinity beast, and we are told no more at that point about what either of those things are. If you’ve ever read a decent fantasy book in your life you can make a fairly good guess, and if you said “something probably similar to a lynx” and “part of, or the name of, the magic/religious system” you’d be right! Daniells’ characters discuss these things as though they know what they are. Of course they do; they’re in their own world and we’ve just joined them in the middle of something. The action unfolds and we learn some new words: a seep, Warders, Untamed Affinity (probably bad), renegade Power-worker… but no wet-behind-the-ears recruit asks about them, or wonders about them, or anything. We just get carried along and are allowed to work it out for ourselves.

There are spies and traitors, political marriages and religious ceremonies, laws and historical prejudices and a king not totally unlike Robert Baratheon in his bluff, shouty, quick to anger but also quick to call for wine, my-way-or-the-highway, I AM THE KING! moments. Power plays and layers of lies and betrayals. Even towards the end when a lot of the machinations are explained, I’m not sure I believe that they’re telling the truth. I came away with a “well, no one actually saw that body, so they could be alive…” coupled with an “If X had just told Y about such and such, they could have…” which is great. I’m intrigued by the next ones. Trying to stop myself buying them RIGHT NOW because I have a ton of stuff to do. I need to dangle them as a reward for when I’ve done useful things.

I wouldn’t say this book/series really breaks the mould but it’s worth reading for a solid fantasy world with a plot to get your teeth into. It’s more intelligent than a sword-and-sorcery, with a bit of political complexity and characters to cheer and boo along the way.

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