Category: fantasy

Review: ‘Three Dark Crowns’ by Kendare Blake

Review: ‘Three Dark Crowns’ by Kendare Blake

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
I was interested in picking up Three Dark Crowns from the moment that I first saw the plot description.  It sounded like the darker kind of fantasy that Crooked Kingdom had left me wanting more of.  I mean, really, a queen giving birth to three daughters with different but equally impressive sounding powers and a fight to the death between those sisters to see who gets to become queen?  Brutal sounding, maybe, but interesting.  Then the book cropped up on a whole host of favourites lists towards the end of 2016 and I was completely sold.  
I was disappointed.
Frankly, Three Dark Crowns is mostly boring.  I don’t use that word lightly but there’s just no other way to describe the overwhelming feeling that I had while reading; it was boredom.  The book opens with the bit of back story that you get from the blurb and introduces the three sisters: Katharine, a poisoner who is meant to be able to handle and consume the deadliest poisons without harm; Arsinoe, a naturist born to control living things; and, Mirabella, an elementalist who, you guessed it, can control the elements.  Chapters then shift between the sisters as they approach their sixteenth birthday and their respective communities gear up to help them win power by destroying their siblings. 
I think that maybe I expected something like The Hunger Games.  A bit of world building and some character development and then on with the action that people (or at least, I) came for.  The balance in Three Dark Crowns feels way off.  A solid three quarters of the book is build up, which I suppose makes it all the more insulting that the world still feels pretty flimsy.  
It turns out that not all of the sisters are as gifted as they’re expected to be and they moan about it constantly.  I get it, you’re supposed to be a badass princess with a power that will have your sisters quaking in their boots and instead, you’re powerless, styling it out and facing what you’re pretty sure is impending death.  That’s bound to be challenging.  What’s annoying (and dull) is that this applies to two out of the three sisters, making things pretty repetitive, and seemingly they and their friends have decided not to do a great deal about it.  Or at least, not to do anything constructive or sensible about it.  They could be training physically, for example, or developing a realistic alternative plan to “win”, rather than just sitting around waiting to see if they’ll develop their powers in time.  Don’t even get me started on the one who seems to adopt a strategy of “if I get it on with this strange man, maybe I can develop an allure that will make all of the men fall in love with me and protect me”.
Even the emotional side of being raised to kill your siblings that could have been interesting is dulled by the fact that only one out of the three even has memories of the others.  The other two have conveniently forgotten their early life with their sisters and so believe the spiels they’ve been given about how evil they are.  An easy dodge that just felt lazy.  And there’s insta-love.  Twice.
And THEN, infuriatingly, the last quarter or so of the book was actually good.  The princesses and their retinues all arrive at…somewhere I’ve forgotten and make the first moves in the festival that commences the year within which they’re supposed to be trying to kill each other.  The spark that’s been missing for most of the book finally turns up and the plot starts moving at a decent clip with some scheming, some posturing and some peril.  It’s interesting, appropriately gory and sinister and reveals the potential that was hiding behind the whining all along (although one “twist” was a bit obvious and underwhelming).  Despite having been utterly disinterested for most of the novel and been convinced that I’d put aside the first book and immediately scrub the series off my list as one to watch, I found myself intrigued and sure that with some fiercer editing and perhaps a wider shot at the overarching story, this story could have been something great.
Overall:  I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re particularly interested in the concept, you have a spare few hours (which is probably all this will take if you can get stuck in without being distracted…) and don’t already have a burgeoning list of series that you’re in the middle of, the last quarter makes it feel as though the series will be worth a read.  Otherwise, I’d probably wait until the next book comes out and see how the story pans out before committing…
Date finished:  07 January 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Fantasy fiction; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in September 2016 by Pan Macmillan
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery
Review: ‘Crooked Kingdom’ by Leigh Bardugo

Review: ‘Crooked Kingdom’ by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

**This is the second book in the Six of Crows duology – so that I can bleat about this to as many people as possible, there aren’t any spoilers in this review for either this or Six of Crows so unless you’re particularly cautious about that type of thing and don’t even want to know which characters are still around in Crooked Kingdom, you’re safe!  If you decide not to read on, please just know this: this is one of the best books I’ve read this year and a new favourite.  The series is a triumph and one that should be held up to the naysayers about how amazing YA fantasy can be when done really, really well.
I really enjoyed Six of Crows when I read it in September last year and it really stuck in my head after I’d finished it (something I find quite rare with YA fantasy).  I decided to make the most of the momentum, ignore the hefty page count of Crooked Kingdom and just read it.  It turned out to be one of my better decisions of the year and I’ve been banging on about it ever since.  Six of Crows is a great book; Crooked Kingdom is just something else.  Outstanding.  I don’t have the words to express just how much I adored this book (although that won’t stop me trying).
The plot carries on almost straight from where Six of Crows left off and the pace is relentless. In the best, dark and brooding kind of way.  The story continues to be told in multiple perspectives, with narratives shifting to keep readers wrong-footed and to disguise those parts of the plot that the reader isn’t privy to.  Not in a way that you notice at the time but in a way that means that when the twist comes, you’re just as stunned as everybody else.  The writing and plotting is so clever and I would absolutely never have guessed that it was written by the same author that penned the Grisha trilogy book that I was so underwhelmed by if I hadn’t known.  I have a lot of respect for Leigh Bardugo for writing a duology and not trying to drag the series out into a trilogy. Both books are tightly put together and nothing feels like filler.  Sure, I wish I’d been able to have more but only because I’m greedy and I loved the books so much.  I’d much rather be left wanting more than have had to tolerate a mediocre middle instalment that watered down this gut-wrenching finale.
And the characters! They’re some of my absolute favourites. Not “for this year” or “for YA”, my actual, all time, Hall of Favourites. Every single one of the main group is unique and is developed in a way that makes absolute perfect sense.  Their flaws are deeply rooted and they aren’t the kind to be cured by a well-timed kiss or a motivational pep-talk.  Kaz Brekker breaks my heart.  Jesper’s battle with a gambling addiction is so well written and his banter with Wylan makes me grin like an idiot.  Inej’s struggles with what she’s had to do to survive are quietly painful.  I hate when I start reading a book full of characters that have darker sides only to find that their quirks are ironed out over the course of the plot.  Not all of the characters got the ending that I so fervently hoped for while I was reading and yet I find that instead of being disappointed, I’m convinced that the endings that Bardugo chose are utter perfection.  I can’t think of a single thing that I would have done differently.  I read the last 150 pages or so in one evening and I must have looked like a complete barmpot clutching the pages ridiculously hard, gasping, laughing and crying to myself.
I didn’t start a new book properly for a good few days after I’d finished this one because I couldn’t shake it off. I didn’t want to read about new characters or fly straight into a new story.  I wanted to wallow in my feelings and cling to these characters. I still do, actually.  Every time I see the book in my living room (I haven’t had the heart to ditch it back onto my ‘Read’ pile upstairs), I’m reminded of how bloody brilliant the whole thing was and how sad it is that I’ll never get to read it for the first time again.  
Only one word of light warning on this one – if you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy yet and do plan to, this book does have a pretty significant spoiler for the ending of that trilogy so you might want to get that finished before you get to this duology. Weirdly, now that I’ve read the ending to the trilogy, I am now tempted to go back and give it another try! 
Overall: I really don’t think that I need to say anything here but honestly and really and truly, this book is so worth your money and your time.  It’s one of the extremely few books that I can genuinely say that I might re-read at some point in the future.  If Leigh Bardugo writes anything else, I’ll be pre-ordering it without a second thought.
Date finished:  15 December 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Fantasy fiction; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in September 2016 by Orion Children’s Books
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Review: ‘Empire of Storms’ by Sarah J. Maas (Spoiler Free!)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As this is the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series, I won’t be pasting a synopsis here. If you’ve read the fourth book or just really don’t care about spoilers, you can find a synopsis on GoodReads HERE.

This post doesn’t include spoilers for this instalment but it does include some spoilers for earlier books in the series so if you haven’t read Queen of Shadows yet, look away now!


First things first, I really enjoyed reading this book. There is something about this story and about Sarah J. Maas’ writing that is so readable and completely absorbing. With every instalment, it takes me a few chapters to get back into the world but after that, the story pulls me in and I fly through the pages.  Whatever criticisms I might have of this book, I still think that this series is one of the best YA high fantasy around at the moment (even though it is getting progressively less ‘YA’ as the series goes on…) and I will absolutely be reading the final book in the series as soon as possible.  The ending of Empire of Storms is a real sucker punch and I very much need to know how the story ends.
There are some characters that deserve particular mentions this time around. Lysandra is fabulous and easily my favourite character at this point in the series. Now that magic is back in the world, we get to see a lot more of her shifting abilities and it’s so, so good. If you liked her in the earlier books, you will love her in this one. She kicks arse. I was also a big fan of the development of Elide and Manon. Elide becomes more than the shy, quiet girl that she is in the earlier books but in a way that absolutely feels consistent with the back story we’ve been given.  Manon has always been one of my favourites and I loved her even more in Empire of Storms.  She’s one of the more unique and unpredictable characters and stops the story from becoming too ‘Vanilla Fae’. While we’re on Manon, oh my goodness, how adorable is Abraxos? If adorable is the right word for a giant, lethal wyvern…Writing this makes me realise that it’s the ladies who are the stand out characters in this series at the moment. There aren’t any characters that I actually dislike but the male characters are definitely left behind in this book. Aside from Dorian, who is still learning about his magic and still manages to be a lot more complex than the other brawny and slightly dull men otherwise filling up the cast.
So there’s a lot that’s great. My main gripe with this book, however, is the romance. Not so much the Aelin-Rowan romance (which I have some reservations about but that I’m actually quite a fan of generally) but the all-out romance offensive. I get that the main group of characters have been travelling together for a while by the time that we’ve got to this book and that maybe some of the relationship dynamics might have started to change into something more romantic but to have pretty much every single character hooking up with another in the space of a single book is a stretch.  I mean, sure, I’ve never been part of a royal court during a global war and maybesomething about the constant peril might drive a lot of people together but everybody?  I’m not sure I buy it.  It also gave rise to a series of raunchy scenes that were pretty repetitive and, honestly, became awkward. In principle, sex in books doesn’t bother me but it does need to be well-written. Not all of the scenes in this book are. At the very least, the frequency with which couples start getting together had me rolling my eyes in a ‘here we go again’ kind of way.
The plot is as twisty as previous instalments and keeps a solid pace for a book that’s pretty much 700 pages. I didn’t feel bored or as though the story was being laboured, which is no mean feat with such a hefty page count so far into a series.  One thing that I did notice in this book more than I have in others is how heavily the series continues to rely on diversions and twists. Characters are secretive and through neat handling of the multiple POVs, information is doled out often at the last minute and I did a lot of gawping at the pages. Generally, I quite like that about this series and always have. When I get to a Big Reveal, I don’t feel cheated or as though it’s a lazy way of shifting the direction of the story without having to write any build-up (which I have seen some reviewers raise as a complaint). I feel as though it fits with whoever was doing the plotting’s character or actions in preceding chapters. What I had a bit of a grumble about this time around is maybe a bit of an odd one but it bugged me that Aelin doesn’t even seem to trust the man who is apparently the love of her life with her plans. I don’t know…I guess it does make sense in some contexts but there are some things that I really think could be shared with someone with someone trusted, even if you aren’t sure if it’ll come off. Worrying about being embarrassed in front of your partner if something doesn’t work out doesn’t fit with the picture of the equal partnership of a relationship that we’re expected to buy into.
Overall:  If you’ve read and liked Queen of Shadows, the series really is worth carrying on with.  Ditto if you’re at any other point in the series but have a cavalier attitude to spoilers!  It’s clear that the series is going to keep on going with a similar tone to Queen of Shadows and that one hell of a finale is coming.  Each book is darker than the last and I’m excited (worried) to see where things end up.

Date finished: 02 October 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: YA fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: on 06 September 2016 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Wordery  |  Amazon

Review: ‘Six of Crows’ by Leigh Bardugo

Find a copy on
SocialBookCo here
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist.

Break into the notorious Ice Court (a military stronghold that has never been breached)

Retrieve a hostage (who could unleash magical havoc on the world)

Survive long enough to collect his reward (and spend it)

When I read the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy a few years ago (which was confusingly initially published as The Gathering Dark in the UK while being Shadow and Bone in the US), I was pretty underwhelmed.  The Russian-esque setting was a nice deviation from the usual medieval Europe setting that fantasy writers often plump for but other than that, it felt very much like a re-hashing of all kinds of YA tropes –  young, unexpectedly gifted but remarkably naïve magic wielder, handsome and more experienced magic wielder to whom the young protégé finds herself attracted, impending world-changing evil, the works.  I never picked up the second book.
When Six of Crows came out, I was pretty taken with the idea (six criminals of varying specialties and levels of depravity attempting to break into a seemingly impenetrable fortress sounded like my kind of story) but I was wary after The Gathering Dark.  It was only when I started seeing positive reviews from readers who also hadn’t enjoyed or finished the Grisha trilogy either that it hit my wishlist.
I’ll start simply:  if, like me, you read one or more of the Grisha books and weren’t impressed, Six of Crows is so much better.  So, so much better.  If you’d given me them both and not told me the author, I wouldn’t ever have guessed that they were written by the same person.  Six of Crows feels so much more mature in both style and content.  It takes the distinctive setting from the Grisha trilogy and makes use of it, embellishing it to include more politics and history and fleshed out cultures.  The characters are distinctive, feeling flawed and real, and their relationships are tangled and complicated.  It’s an objectively really good book, not just a really good book in comparison to Bardugo’s earlier books.
Chapters alternate between different characters’ points of view in a way that reveals just enough to keep the story moving, secrets revealed and characters developing without getting muddled (although if I do have one criticism, it’s that characters’ voices do read as quite similar to each other overall). Take Kaz Brekker, the leader of these particular underworld inhabitants.  Readers get to experience how other characters see him and indulge in the mystique of the seemingly always-one-step-ahead criminal while also getting to know him.  It sounds as though it will be confused or as though the chapters where readers get to hear from Kaz will somehow ruin those where we’re meant to be intrigued by him.  And yet it isn’t confused at all.  It’s perfectly paced and cleverly plotted and, frankly, just bloody fantastic.
The book manages to deliver a dark and twisted plot (and in some places, I do mean dark) that is also a heck of a lot of fun to read.  There’s slavery, death, violence, racial prejudice and umpteen characters out for bloody vengeance but it never felt heavy.  I was still always dying to pick the story up whenever I’d put it down.  If you want ponderous fantasy, this one might not be for you but if you want something that’s full of action and intrigue and will have you staying up way past your bedtime, you could do far worse than Six of Crows.
Overall:  If you’ve been avoiding this for any reason related to the Grisha trilogy, stop avoiding and get yourself a copy.  There may well have been nuances that I’ve missed and allusions to the history of the Grisha that have passed me by but I never felt lost or as though I was on the outside of a series of ‘in’ jokes and references; this series stands up perfectly well on its own  The next instalment, Crooked Kingdom, is out soon and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy and carrying on with the series.
If you do fancy picking up a copy, you can compare prices over at SocialBookCo, a nifty website that shows you the current price of the book you want at most popular online stores (including Amazon, Book Depository and Wordery).  Find Six of Crows HERE.

Date finished: 20 September 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Received from SocialBookCo in exchange for an honest review
Genre: YA fantasy fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in June 2016 by Orion Children’s Books

Audiobook Mini Reviews: YA Dystopia and Fantasy

Legend by Marie Lu

I’d heard a lot of great things about this series so I was pretty keen when I saw the first in the series on my library’s audiobook list.  It was a disappointment.  If you’ve read any YA Dystopia in recent years, chances are you’ll be able to take a stab at make some pretty accurate guesses about the plot from the blurb.  Shining light in the Republic’s academy, June, is devastated when her brother is murdered.  The country’s most wanted criminal, Day, becomes the prime suspect and June launches off on a state-sponsored under-cover mission to track him down and exact some revenge.  When their paths cross, they realise that (shocker) everything with the Republic is not quite as it seems…
I struggled to find the story very compelling because I felt like I’d already read it.  I finished the book and felt as though all of the detail had been forgotten somewhere – there’s a great ramble about “the Colonies” and how the Republic hates them.  Problem is, it’s difficult for me to really get into this Republic v. Colonies struggle if it isn’t fully described.  What are the Colonies?  Why does the Republic hate them so much?  What’s the political position of the Colonies?  I haven’t a clue.  It felt a little bit as though it was relying on the atmosphere that pervades the genre rather than creating any of its own; you’re lead to believe that you hate the Republic not because you’re really shown why (at least at first) but because you know that’s who you’re supposed to hate.
The characters are also pretty two dimensional and if it hadn’t been for the fact that June and Day’s chapters were narrated by different actors in the audiobook, I’d have struggled to tell them apart.  The romance is shallow and uninspiring.  All in all, I felt like as a first book, it’s too light.  There isn’t enough time spent building the world or developing the characters and I don’t plan on picking up the next one to fill in the blanks because I kind of don’t care about them.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars for being a passable re-hash of the ‘Big Bad Republic Tramples Poor’ trope.  It doesn’t offer anything new or particularly interesting but it isn’t appalling enough to inspire any major ranting.  Just ok.
The Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix

This is another series that I’d heard wonderful things about.  The concept of the series is pretty great – Sabriel is adopted as a baby by the Abhorsen, a bell-wielding necromancer, and sent off to Ancelstierre as a child to learn charter magic and grow up away from her death-walking father.  When her father goes missing, the first book sees Sabriel returning to the Old Kingdom and setting off to find him with a tremendously sarcastic talking cat.  The later books are set about 20 years after the first and follow younger, new characters as they face down an impending apocalypse.
One of my main problems with the series overall was that the books are quite repetitive, which gives it away as epic fantasy for slightly younger readers.  Nix has gone to the trouble of creating a wonderful magic system for the necromancers that is centred around bells, each of which has a different name and power.  What was frustrating was that every time a bell was used, I was treated to a run-down of its characteristics and abilities.  Which was fine the first couple of times but by the end of the third book, felt a bit worn.  The characters are also very much young adults.  They can be whiny and there’s a lot of growing into powers and learning about who they are and who they can be etc. etc.  It works well in the first book but is much less dexterously handled in the latter two.
I did like the series.  I might not sound like I did, but I did.  It’s quite gritty and focusses a lot on Death (which is a place with levels that the Abhorsen can walk through that I wish had been featured more) and the undead.  It’s dark in places and worth reading if you’re patient and the odd bout of self-pity/whining.  Maybe they’d be better read with a few books in between to break them up and give you chance to forget some of the facts that you’ll be reminded about later on.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars for having some great ideas and concepts that were just lacking in their execution for me.  It also loses stars for having a talking dog (“the Disreputable Dog”) feature heavily in the second and third books because it is a) is a talking dog, which is a bit insipid and didn’t appeal to me because I’m just not a dog person and b) has far too many hidden powers that conveniently manifest themselves when the going gets tough and the characters need an easy out.
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Oof.  Sorry, friends.  This set of mini reviews isn’t the most positive I’ve ever written!  I think that maybe YA fantasy and I need to take a little break…
This offering is about Grace, a teenager living in Mercy Falls who has a frankly unhealthy preoccupation with a wolf with yellow eyes who lives in the woods behind her house.  One day she meets a boy, Sam, who has hauntingly familiar yellow eyes and…guessed where this is going yet?  Yep, this is another book that’s pretty predictable.  And a bit annoying.  
The twist on the usual werewolf day/night shifts was interesting – these werewolves get to be human while its warm and turn into wolves for the winter.  Eventually, they run out of summers and turn into wolves forever.  Unfortunately for Grace, this is Sam’s last summer as a human and so the lovers have to race to find a way to stay together.  Perhaps I’m a cynic but I really struggle to buy into a relationship that’s based on years of Grace having watched Sam as a wolf.  There are some minor moral quandaries along the way but the plot is really just Grace and Sam canoodling and trying to plan a life together in their second month together.
My sister loves this series so it could be just me but my overwhelming feelings is just a world of ‘meh’.  
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars for making me feel like I was wading through tropes.  Cross-species relationship, parents that are conveniently always busy and out of the main characters’ way, InstaLove (because I’m sorry but I will not believe that meaningful ‘getting to know each other’ time can happen while one of the parties is a wolf) and high school friendships straining under the weight of one person’s new obsession with The One.

Review-Ramble Hybrid: ‘The Colour of Magic’ by Terry Pratchett

Bex over at An Armchair by the Sea ran a lovely series of posts in memory of Terry Pratchett (starting HERE) and roused lots of readers to read anything written by the prolific author in the sad week after his death.  You can find all of the tweets and miscellaneous Pratchett chatter that incorporated the hashtag #pratchettreadathon here.  
I didn’t sign up for the read-a-thon because I genuinely didn’t expect that I’d get time to start a book during the week, never mind finish one.  But in a rather annoying turn of events, including a broken boiler (prompting a couple of nights hiding under a duvet with a hot water bottle and my Kindle that fortunately has a glow feature) and a meeting that finished early and a flight that was delayed (leaving me with SIX HOURS at a very small airport indeed), I managed to both start and finish The Colour of Magic, the first in the ginormous Discworld series.
As Bex’s post illustrated, there are many ways to approach the Discworld series.  There are so many differing views on the “right” way to read it that I’ve never really tried any of them.  Instead, since my teenage years, I’ve adopted an approach of just randomly picking up any Practchett book I could get my hands on when I was in the mood for something light, entertaining and easy to settle into.  There’s something about the Discworld books that is so comforting.  Something about Practhett’s writing oozes warmth, even when it’s dripping in sarcasm.  A friendly brand of satire.
When it became apparent that I would in fact be able to visit Ankh-Morpork this week, I didn’t quite know what to choose.  I’ve read pretty haphazardly from the Discworld series and, I’ll admit, there are a couple of books that I’m not sure if I’ve read or not.  I know that I love the Watch books (and obviously adore Night Watch) and I know that I love the Witches books.  I’ve read a lot of the later books (Going Postal is one of my favourites) but my knowledge of the series overall is extremely patchy.  I could have gone back and picked up something that I already know that I love but I’ve been meaning to really get into the series “properly” for ages and it seemed a shame not to do that now.  So I obeyed my order-driven instincts and went right back to the beginning.  Book 1 of 40.
I was wary of my choice.  I’ve heard mixed things about the first in the series and “guides” to the series don’t recommend publication order as a way to approach the back catalogue.  I figured that I’ve read enough of the books though that I’d know enough about the characters, Pratchett’s style and where he took his unruly civilisation of miscreants and wizards that it was time for me to give it a try.  And I was pleasantly surprised!
The Colour of Magic might be a bit random, with Rincewind the sort of wizard and Twoflowers the tourist bouncing from one surreal situation to another, but it still contains everything that makes the series so overwhelmingly popular.  Sure, the jokes aren’t the most sophisticated but do they have to be?  Don’t we all love a good pun and a bit of silliness from time to time?  Does everything have to be shrouded in layers of complexity that we have to really work through just to get the joke?  I’m in the ‘no’ camp, personally.  Part of why I love Pratchett is that his the humour of his writing is so accessible.  There’s dry humour for people with a more wry sense of humour.  There’s slapstick for people that prefer their jokes falling over things.  There’s everything.  The Colour of Magic might not have the strongest plot but it’s just damn good fun.  Dragons, magic, demons, gods, Death, gold-hungry heroes, candied jellyfish, Luggage, assassins, thieves, the Edge, water trolls.  All in 285 pages.
I might not know the series as well as I’d like and I may not be able to give you well-informed advice about where to start the Discworld series it you’re a newbie but I do know that if you’re looking for adventure and something to completely take you away from what can (let’s face it) be quite a gloomy world, The Colour of Magic is a great book with some lovely writing.

It was octarine, the colour of magic. It was alive and glowing and vibrant and it was the undisputed pigment of the imagination, because wherever it appeared it was a sign that mere matter was a servant of the powers of the magical mind. It was enchantment itself.  But Rincewind always thought it looked a sort of greenish-purple

Sir Terry Pratchett was a truly wonderful author and I was very sad to hear of his death.  I can’t say anything more profound or more heartfelt than his many fans have already said.  I only hope that people will continue to enjoy his books for years to come and celebrate his life that way.  It won’t be long before I pick up The Light Fantastic and carry on doing just that.

Review: ‘Thief’s Magic’ by Trudi Canavan

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

In a world where an industrial revolution is powered by magic, Tyen, a student of archaeology, discovers a sentient book in an ancient tomb. Vella was once a young sorcerer-maker, until she was transformed into a useful tool by one of the greatest sorcerers of history. Since then she has been gathering information, including a vital clue to the disaster Tyen’s world faces.

Elsewhere, in a land ruled by the priests since a terrible war depleted all but a little magic, Rielle the dyer’s daughter has been taught that to use magic is to steal from the Angels. Yet she knows from her ability to sense the stain it leaves behind that she has a talent for it, and that there are people willing to teach her how to use it, should she ever need to risk the Angels’ wrath.

Further away, a people called the Travelers live their entire lives on the move, trading goods from one world to another. They know that each world has its own store of magic, reducing or increasing a sorcerer’s abilities, so that if one entered a weak world they may be unable to leave it again. Each family maintains a safe trading route passed down through countless generations and modified whenever local strife makes visiting dangerous. But this is not the only knowledge the Travelers store within their stories and songs, collected over millennia spent roaming the universe. They know a great change is due, and that change brings both loss and opportunity.


My word is that a long blurb!  So long that I imagine that anybody still reading by this point probably skipped a lot of it.  And I could have gone off to find a shorter one or written my own (even though I couldn’t have done that because I read this on holiday in May…) but then I decided that it actually nicely illustrates my main gripe with Thief’s Magic so it gets to stay.  There’s too much blurb and too much everything.  Too many characters, too many ideas, too much overview.  Mostly at the expense of depth and detail.  
First up is Tyen.  While out on an archaelogical dig, he uncovers a book that has to answer the questions that its readers address to it and that can absorb information while in contact with someone.  Chased away by locals, he flees with his party back to their city, where magic-fuelled technology is the order of the day.  New modes of transport, new types of printing press, mechanised robot-like creations and the like.  It all felt quite like steampunk to me but with a magical twist that was kind of quirky and fun to read.  Tyen is a decent character too but I don’t have a whole lot to say about his friends because they were a bit lost in the already mentioned ‘too much everything’.  Rather than solid secondary characters in this thread, we have world-building.  Despite some questionable decision-making by Tyen (it always annoys me when people who go on about how lucky they are to be doing something abandon it all so readily) and the fact that it was quite YA in tone and in the way that relationships developed, it had action on its side so it was pretty readable and I was always glad to get back to it.
While Tyen’s running around with the book that can talk (sort of), being chased by the many glory hunters that want to steal it for the knowledge it contains, Rielle’s story is bumbling along, set in a completely different, Middle Eastern feeling, patriarchal society where using magic is theft.  The thing is, it’s never clear whether she’s living in a the same world as Tyen but in a different time, the same world but just a different country that is less advanced and feels like it’s in a different time, a different world at the same time…you get my point.  After 553 pages, I still have no real idea about how these two storylines relate to each other.  I don’t mind two plots running alongside each other at all but these kind of feel like two different books just smushed together with little more binding them together than…well, the page binding.  I know that there is almost certainly a plan and an overarching plot that Tyen and Rielle’s stories will be part of but I just can’t see what that might be yet and, if I’m being brutally honest, I don’t care.  I don’t feel like I’ve connected with either of the characters and I’m non-plussed about the plights of their respective countries/worlds/times/whatever.  That wasn’t helped by the fact that Rielle is a bit annoying anyway.  She’s kind of selfish and immature and her decision-making skills are even worse than Tyen’s.  
The main problem is that, because each character’s story gets roughly half of the novel’s attention, there’s only have about 200 pages or so to set up each one, weave in some secondary characters and relationships, set up the political, theological and sociological position of the country/world/time/I don’t know what that they’re living in and get their story moving a bit.  Even with the best and tightest writing in the world, there’s no way that’s going to work in a well-rounded way.  If there are so many ideas to be squeezed into the series, it either needs to be longer or you have to be ruthless.  It feels a bit like a smudging together of all of the ideas that Canavan had for stories.  It isn’t as bad as I’m making it sound – I still think it’s a 3 star book but it’s quite hasty and obvious in its delivery to pack everything in.
I really didn’t hate it.  It was fine.  What I think makes me so disgruntled is that Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy is one of my favourite fantasy series so I was really excited to get to read Thief’s Magic ahead of the release date.  I started it as soon as I could and, although the start was promising, I ended up feeling like I was trying to enjoy it rather than just enjoying it. Thief’s Magic just wasn’t the book that I was so convinced it would be. 
Overall:  A bit of a let down.  There are some good points and I enjoyed at least half of it but I’m not sure whether I want to carry on.  If the later books are as long as this one, I’ll probably wait a little while to see what the reviews are like and whether it looks as though things will start to come together.  I never thought I’d say about a Canavan series and I hate writing that but it’s true.  Sorry.
Date finished: 25 May 2014
Format: eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley – thanks, Orbit!
Genre: Fantasy
Pictured Edition Published:  by Orbit on 13 May 2014

Review: ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ by Ray Bradbury

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

It’s the week before Hallowe’en, and Cooger and Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois. The siren song of the calliope entices all with promises of youth regained and dreams fulfilled… as two boys trembling on the brink of manhood set out to explore the mysteries of the dark carnival’s smoke, mazes and mirrors, they will also discover the true price of innermost wishes…


“Everything that happens before Death is what counts”
What a jolly coincidence that a book I finished listening to months ago has arrived to the top of my (very lengthy) “to review” list at the perfect time for you all to rush off and buy a copy and read it over the Hallowe’en weekend!
Something Wicked This Way Comes is perfect for anyone who (like me) spent much of their early reading life reading all of the Goosebumps and Point Horror titles that they could find.  Putting aside the fact that it was published some time before either R.L.Stine or the seemingly abundant Point Horror authors came on the scene, it was a complete throw-back for me and I really liked it, even if for no reason other than it reminded me of a time where throwing caution to the wind and staying up past my bedtime to finish a good story wouldn’t have a knock-on effect on the next three days of my life.
It isn’t just that it embraces it’s mild horror meets fantasy aspects without irony and without taking itself too seriously, the flow of the story felt so familiar.  Jim Nightshade and William Halloway are drifting their way through summer when some mysterious flyers blow across their path advertising a carnival that is coming to town.  “Circus freaks”, disturbing merry-go-round, sinister hall of mirrors and all.  When Mr Dark and his travelling companions arrive, the summer takes a turn for the creepy as William and Jim explore and uncover more of its secrets and terrors.  So far, so straight-forward.
And then Bradbury adds what I am coming to see as his hallmark twist.  Because this isn’t just a story about two boys and their experiences at a faintly demonic carnival.  It’s also about age and what it means to both the old and the young and plays really cleverly on the quirk of psychology that sees teenagers aching to grow older and adults yearning for youth.  It’s tricky to tell you more without spoiling the story but there are some lovely moments between William and his father, or just with his father mulling over whether he’s too old to be a good father and whether his best years are behind him. 
“Dad,” said Will, his voice very faint. “Are you a good person?”

“To you and your mother, yes, I try. But no man’s a hero to himself. I’ve lived with me a lifetime, Will. I know everything worth knowing about myself-“

“And, adding it all up…?”

“The sum? As they come and go, and I mostly sit very still and tight, yes, I’m all right.”
It isn’t particularly subtle, admittedly, but the writing is really fantastic and the story is so charming that I was perfectly happy to overlook the fact that I was almost bludgeoned with a Message on occasion.  Probably because the moments where the characters were musing in a slightly obvious manner did fit in a lot of ways.  The twilight hours see Jim and William facing up to the horrors of the fair but see adults alone in the dark questioning themselves and their motives.  It works.  I only wish that there’d been more book blogs around when I was a teenager to point me in the direction of classics like this that aren’t only accessible in that it’s easy to read (or listen to), it’s just easy to enjoy.  It has dated a little but not in a way that stops it from being enjoyable.  A lot of the tension comes from the fact that the teenagers don’t have mobile phones and can only rely on the odd pay-phone call to keep in touch with their family. The story doesn’t have to try too hard to keep characters isolated with grand reasons for blips in cellular coverage – they already are.
I don’t feel as though I’ve really described well enough why you should get Something Wicked This Way Comes.  It was a throw-back, sure, but it also turned out to be more than enjoyable in its own right.  Mr Dark and his minions are awfully creepy, there’s suspense, there’s chills, the slightly mysterious and the outright fantastical.  In short, it’s the best way to get some light goosebumps this Hallowe’en without giving yourself nightmares until Christmas.
Overall:  Another hit from the Bradbury back catalogue for me.  If you’re looking for a relatively light Halloween/RIP IX type read, Something Wicked This Way Comes should be pretty much spot on.  It isn’t as memorable as Fahrenheit 451 and doesn’t pack as much of a moral punch but it’s well written and does have a strong coming of age thread that’s delivered in a completely charming (if utterly transparent) way. 
A note on the audio:  I listened to the Tantor Media audiobook of this and it was excellent.  The narrator has a really engaging and slightly whimsical tone that fitted the story perfectly.  The story lends itself particularly well to audio, with it’s eerie monologues and introspective characters, so if you’re not overly keen on long, rambly audios or you don’t have much experience with audios and are looking for an easy in, this is a great place to start.

Date finished: April 2014
Format: Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from local library
Genre: Fantasy; Horror
Pictured Edition Published:  by Gollancz in August 2008
Originally Published:  January 1962

A Game of Thrones Confession

When I sat down to my ever-increasing list of books that I need to review, I saw that A Clash of Kings was next up and felt a little bit stumped.  When I read the first in the series, I enjoyed it but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was that made George R. R. Martin’s series the acceptable face of fantasy.  For a while, it was rare to get on a train and not encounter someone putting their wrists in mortal peril and reading one of the Song of Ice and Fire tomes.  It’s still a fairly frequent occurrence, although the initial flurry does seem to have died down a little.  All of which is why, as someone who would list ‘fantasy’ as one of my favourite genres to read, I find it strange that, instead of writing a review and a glowing recommendation of a new favourite series that I’m waiting on with baited breath, I’m writing a post that is more like a resignation and a confession:  I’m not going to be reading any more of the series. 
Last year, I read A Game of Thrones and then persuaded Boyfriend that he wanted to watch the series with me.  The television adaptation turned out to be excellent and Boyfriend showed an uncharacteristic degree of enthusiasm for carrying on watching it.  I made a valiant effort to play for time while I listened to A Clash of Kings in my car, driving to and from work amidst a blaze of incest, death and dragons in a bid to stay ahead of where we were in the series.  The audiobook I listened to was absolutely wonderful in terms of quality (even though I was harbouring a deep resentment of Audible for separating the novel into two parts and charging as much for each half as they would for other complete novels) and I enjoyed it.  What I came to realise, though, was that even while I was enjoying it, I was listening to it in large part just so that I could assure myself that I had “read” it first when I was watching the TV series and could say with smug certainty at various points, “It isn’t like that in the book”.   Then I also realised that I was picturing the actors from the HBO series and was starting to find the differences between the audiobook narrator’s performance as Tyrion Lannister with Peter Dinklage’s a bit annoying (particularly given that the screen version was my preferred version).  Gradually, Boyfriend and I were watching the series faster than I could read/listen to the books and I loved the series enough to let that be the winning medium.
I know full well that I am denying myself some of the intricacies of the novels and that the version I am watching does differ from the version that I would have read but the bottom line is that I just don’t think that I care.  I’m not bothered that in the TV series, rather than losing his nose (as he does in the book), one character instead bears a hefty scar on his face because making an actor that has a nose look like he doesn’t would be tricky.  I’m not concerned that one character in the book broaches a negotiation that is taken up by another character in the TV series.  And the reason I don’t care is that the story that viewers see on screen is gripping, both funny and tragic and as epic as the books that I’ve read.  The books are undeniably impressive and the plotting and sheer volume of background are staggering.  I have nothing but the utmost respect for Martin for the political and historical detail that he has no doubt painstakingly created but they aren’t the aspects of the series that I was drawn to.  It was the characters that adored, their relationships that fascinated me and the many (many, many) tragedies that I cried over and each of those is superbly rendered on screen.  The books are good and undoubtedly more involved and more intelligent in many ways but the series is addictive and scandalous and brilliant.  The other fact is that I will gladly sacrifice some warring faction chat for getting caught up in a new series with Boyfriend. 
And now that I know what’s coming?  I just don’t know if I can face it again in book form.  Can I read upward of 2,000 pages when I know at least some of what I’ll have to go through again?  Goodness me, no.  If I hadn’t been watching the series, I would almost certainly carry on reading the series because it has a heck of a lot going for it and the end of every book/series is perfectly designed to have you dying for more pages of trauma to lose yourself in.  I would also carry on reading if it were possible to find out what happened next now that I’ve watched all there is to watch but sadly there’s also nothing left to read (I think…).  
One last point before the purists unleash their wrath: I feel as though I should mention that I have read epic series in the past and have absolutely no problem with stories that span thousands and thousands of pages so that’s not it.  Sadly, life is just too short and my propensity to confusion too great for me to be at one point of the overall story in TV form and at another in book form.  Especially given that the books follow a different timeline than the series that could in theory have me way ahead on some characters’ stories while also being way behind on other characters’ stories…that, friends, is a recipe for a muddle.  And so this is where A Song of Ice and Fire and I part ways.  Until the next book is released, that is.  I do have to know what happens next to my favourite characters, after all…

Review: ‘The String Diaries’ by Stephen Lloyd Jones

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

A jumble of entries, written in different hands, different languages, and different times. They tell of a rumour. A shadow. A killer.

The only interest that Oxford Professor Charles Meredith has in the diaries is as a record of Hungarian folklore … until he comes face to face with a myth.

For Hannah Wilde, the diaries are a survival guide that taught her the three rules she lives by: verify everyone, trust no one, and if in any doubt, run.

But Hannah knows that if her daughter is ever going to be safe, she will have to stop running and face the terror that has hunted her family for five generations.  And nothing in the diaries can prepare her for that.


When this came out and the glowing reviews started appearing everywhere, I almost bought a hardback copy.  That’s how much I wanted to read it.  I didn’t quite get round to doing that and now?  I’m a little bit glad.  I enjoyed the vast majority of The String Diaries but there was something…missing that stopped me from loving it.

The book starts by dropping right in on the action, with Hannah and her husband and daughter on the run from whatever is trying to kill them all.  It’s a strong pace that never really lets up so this is a good one to get stuck into if you want to get well and truly caught up in some drama.  In short, Hannah is on the run from Jakab, a shapechanging bundle of malevolence whose only purpose in life is wreaking violent havoc on Hannah’s family.  A member of the ancient Hungarian Hosszu Eletek, Jakab can shift his shape to look and sound like anybody he wants and has centuries of experience of blending in amongst friends and family to home in on his victims.  It and he is genuinely creepy and weaves tension through even the more mundane conversations.  The idea of ‘validating’ friends and family and exchanging secrets to trade when under pressure works well, even if it is a little overdone by the end.

The Hungarian mythological feel is distinctive and there’s something quite nice about reading a standalone fantasy novel.  For a book that barely tops 400 pages, there’s a surprising amount of depth too.  It was refreshing to read about a culture and history that was based on Eastern European tradition but I think more could have been made out of it – I wanted more of the medieval-esque social rituals and history and more about what the shapechangers’s history and what they could do.  The age-old dispute that the story is based on draws on some clever ideas and manages to throw up plenty of action (some of it quite horrific) but the modern thread is less unique.  Not that it isn’t engaging (because it is) but it doesn’t have the charm that the historic plot does and I would have liked more of the back story and less of the scrambling present day.  That’s more my personal preference (and maybe a hangover from generally loving historical fiction and fantasy with books’ worth of background) than a criticism, though.
But then came the ending.  If the book had stopped after what I thought was the ending, I’d have given this a solid four stars but I was really disappointed that a wonderful ending was diluted to something that was, quite frankly, tepid.  The bulk of the story doesn’t shy away from some more traumatic turns and I like it when an author is brave enough to kill people off.  This story was relying heavily on a pervasive sense of danger that just wouldn’t have worked without a few darker moments.  I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll stop grumbling but things fell flat for me.  And those of you that aren’t epilogue fans will not be converted by The String Diaries’.  Naff.

Overall:  If you’re looking for a relatively quick, action-packed fantasy hit, The String Diaries could be right up your street.  It’s a bit of a mixed bag but it’s a good, definitely adult novel.  If you’re used to ingesting your fantasy in series form, you might find it a little bit lacking in character development but you could do worse if you fancy a break from frustrating cliff-hanger endings.

Date finished: 15 February 2014
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley – thanks, Headline!
Genre: Fantasy fiction
Pictured edition published:  by Headline in July 2013