Sunday, 12 November 2017

Sunday Street Team - This Mortal Coil


Catarina Agatta is a hacker. She can cripple mainframes and crash through firewalls, but that’s not what makes her special. In Cat’s world, people are implanted with technology to recode their DNA, allowing them to change their bodies in any way they want. And Cat happens to be a gene-hacking genius.

That’s no surprise, since Cat’s father is Dr. Lachlan Agatta, a legendary geneticist who may be the last hope for defeating a plague that has brought humanity to the brink of extinction. But during the outbreak, Lachlan was kidnapped by a shadowy organization called Cartaxus, leaving Cat to survive the last two years on her own.

When a Cartaxus soldier, Cole, arrives with news that her father has been killed, Cat’s instincts tell her it’s just another Cartaxus lie. But Cole also brings a message: before Lachlan died, he managed to create a vaccine, and Cole needs Cat’s help to release it and save the human race.

Now Cat must decide who she can trust: The soldier with secrets of his own? The father who made her promise to hide from Cartaxus at all costs? In a world where nature itself can be rewritten, how much can she even trust herself? 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33876440-this-mortal-coil


About the author

Emily Suvada was born and raised in Australia, where she went on to study mathematics and astrophysics. She previously worked as a data scientist, and still spends hours writing algorithms to perform tasks which would only take minutes to complete on her own. When not writing, she can be found hiking, cycling, and conducting chemistry experiments in her kitchen. She currently lives in Portland, OR, with her husband.

Ten things Emily Suvada would tell her past self when she first started writing

#1 - Don’t write what you think people want to read!
This one is SO important. If you try to write to the market, or to what you think people will want to read or buy, you’ll never find your own voice, and your work will probably be out-of-date. If a book takes a year to write and sell, it’ll probably be at least another year before it’s released - sometimes two. That’s up to three years between an idea and its publication. By that time, any trend you were chasing when you started will be over. You also won’t be able to find your own voice if you’re trying to match the tone or focus of the market, or what you think people want to read. I sat down and wrote This Mortal Coil and accepted from the beginning that it could be a tough sell - it’s a wild book - but that allowed me to really find my voice and have fun with it. If I’d done this years ago, when I started writing, maybe I could have saved myself some time!

#2 - Industrial-grade earmuffs are your friend.
I find noise really distracting while writing, so I often write with white noise tracks playing through headphones. When I need silence, I wear the kind of earmuffs that people use while operating heavy machinery! They’re pretty cheap, too - and comfortable!

#3 - Critique partners and groups are the best!
The two most important things you can do for your writing are giving critique, and seeking it out. Giving critique is a magical thing - you often notice weaknesses in other people’s writing that you then realize are in your own, even though you hadn’t noticed them before! It’s extremely illuminating, and sharpens your ability to edit your own work. Receiving critique can be tough at first, but it’s a crucial step to take and become comfortable with. You’ll be amazed at how deeply other people can understand what you’re trying to accomplish with your work - often they can see it more clearly than you! So many of the best parts of my writing came about through suggestions from my critique partners and later, my agent and editors.

#4 - Other writers don’t bite!
If you’re part of an online writing community, either on social media or another platform, you’ve probably admired other writers from afar - both published and aspiring. Generally speaking - writers are very friendly and love to connect with other people who share their interests! They’ll probably love you reaching out to them, and may even offer advice or become your friend. This can make you feel like a real part of the community and help your motivation.

#5 - There are so many incredible people in the writing community to learn from.
Following on from #4, even if you’re not comfortable interacting with writers, being part of the community online is still important. There are discussions taking place in YA twitter every day about important issues that are shaping the landscape of the childrens’ book world - making it an inclusive, diverse and meaningful space for all readers, while also highlighting ways to help independent booksellers, libraries, and offering advice for authors in this fast-changing digital world. There are authors and community members whose combined voices offer an education that can’t be found anywhere else. Follow them, learn from them, and support their work and their books!

#6 - Find your tools!
There is more to life than Microsoft Word. Try out different writing software, like Scrivener, and look into distraction-free software and tools. Try drafting or editing on paper. Your writing methods can have a big effect on your craft - so try as many methods as possible!

#7 - Don’t edit while you’re drafting.

Drafting is not editing. Drafting is drafting. Edit once you have a draft. If you’re only going to listen to one point on this list - make it this one. You’ll thank me!

#8 - Be prepared to keep secrets for a looooong time

Publishing is a long, slow process, full of secrets that you’re not allowed to share. Deals fall through, titles change, books are altered and delayed. Sometimes contracts can just take a really, really long time to get signed. Some secrets - like a new book deal, a cover, or exciting film or foreign rights news - can feel like they’re going to make you explode, but part of being a professional writer is keeping your lips sealed. It’s not easy.

#9 - Celebrate when you can!
Following on from #8 - in this industry, it often won’t feel totally right to celebrate exciting news. Deals might come together slowly, with constant risk of them falling through. Do you celebrate when you strike a deal, when you sign your contract - or when you announce? Do you celebrate sending the book off to copyedits? What about first pass pages? There are so many small milestones, none of which might feel “big” enough to pop open champagne for. My advice is to go with those mini champagne bottles, or fancy desserts, or take-out - celebrating whenever you can. You’re only going to debut once, so enjoy it!

#10 - People are going to love your book one day, and it’s going to blow your mind.
No, really. People are going to read your book, and some of them are going to “get” it, and love it, and talk about it. There is no preparing you for this feeling. I didn’t know I could have so much love for so many people. Putting this book into the world and seeing people connect with it has transformed my life. I feel like my heart has grown a thousand times, trying to fit so many wonderful readers into it. There’s nothing quite like it - it’s what writers live for!

Giveaway

Sunday, 5 November 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens


Isobel is a prodigy portrait artist with a dangerous set of clients: the sinister fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without crumbling to dust. They crave human Craft with a terrible thirst, and Isobel’s paintings are highly prized among them. But when she receives her first royal patron—Rook, the autumn prince—she makes a terrible mistake. She paints mortal sorrow in his eyes – a weakness that could cost him his life.

Furious and devastated, Rook spirits her away to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Waylaid by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King, and hideous monsters risen from barrow mounds, Isobel and Rook depend on one another for survival. Their alliance blossoms into trust, then love, violating the fair folks’ ruthless Good Law. There's only one way to save both their lives, Isobel must drink from the Green Well, whose water will transform her into a fair one—at the cost of her Craft, for immortality is as stagnant as it is timeless.

Isobel has a choice: she can sacrifice her art for a future, or arm herself with paint and canvas against the ancient power of the fairy courts. Because secretly, her Craft represents a threat the fair folk have never faced in all the millennia of their unchanging lives: for the first time, her portraits have the power to make them feel.

I've been dying to get my hands on An Enchantment of Ravens for a while now. I absolutely loved the concept and it sounded like if offered more than enough twists on some of the fantasy genre staples. And it absolutely delivered! It reads like a beautiful fairytale, but it doesn't take long for the cracks to show themselves and reveal a darkness below the surface. Rather like the story's "fair folk", who hide their repulsive true forms beneath a facade of beauty and youth, there's more here than meets the eye.

In recent years, faeries seem to have undergone the same nice guy makeovers as vampires. Far from being the monstrous creatures of myth, they're now portrayed as misunderstood, smoldering love interests whose possessive nature is passed off as romantic. For someone who grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, believe me when I say vampires used to be cool. Ever since Twilight however, they've been something of a joke in pop culture; reduced to a punchline.



This story takes the fae back to their roots. Little details, like Rook not considering the fact that Isobel needs to eat or she'll die, and Isobel's early fae patron Gadfly talking about seeing a mortal "just the other day", when the man in question has in fact been dead for over 300 years, bring a realism that's sorely lacking in most fae-centric fantasy books. We're talking about a 17 year old human (because they're always 17!) and a centuries old faery, and more often than not the only reference authors give to their differences is bright eyes, pointy ear and maybe the odd fang. So I loved the realism in this book - if it can be called such a thing! The author has clearly done her research. There's a lot of inspiration from celtic mythology, but it goes far beyond character and place names. The concept of faeries as inhuman tricksters who are little more than withered corpses behind their glamour is pure old-school mythology and I loved it. I'm sick to the back teeth of fantasy novels romanticising faeries as a bundle of bulging biceps, smoldering eyes and toxic masculinity. After a glut of popular novels following this formula, An Enchantment of Ravens feels fresh.

Sure, the world-building does feel undeniably thin - there's so much that is mentioned in passing that practically begs to be explored - and the pacing of the story is lean almost to a fault, but it's nice to read a simply story told well, without feeling like the author is setting up sequels and novellas and spin-offs. I'd love to have known more about the Winter Hunt and the deliciously smarmy Hemlock, but those things wouldn't have been relevant to the story. The glimpses we do see - of a world trapped in eternal summer under the rule of the alder king and forests plagued by monstous, rotting abominations created from fae magic - offer hints of the world beyond Isobel and Rook's journey. On one hand, I really wanted to see more of it, but at the same time I admired the fact that the author focused solely on her story without getting distracted by useless side quests and pointless backstory.

I loved Isobel as a character! She was smart, resourceful and brave, and her wiley tricks for dealing with the fae made the idea that she could fall in love with one all the more hard-hitting. This clearly couldn't be some childish infatuation or romantic ideal; the character was simply too grounded for that. It was interesting to see a heroine actually confront and see the grotesque reality of eternal life. Again, sorry to keep banging this drum, but many authors seem to think that trapping their character like a bug in amber, keeping them young and beautiful forever, is somehow romantic because they can't deal with the sometimes unpleasant realities of mortality and ageing.



Isobel sees the chance of ageless eternity as a fate worse than death; a curse that will cost her the very thing that defines who she is and condemn her to an endless life of emptiness and detachment. It's an interesting take on the usual trope - rather than becoming a unique and special snowflake, that's exactly what Isobel doesn't want.

Rook was ... okay, I guess.The standoffish autumn prince was a bit too cold and inhuman for me to get hooked on initially, but he got better as the book went on and he started to thaw. He didn't really stand out as a particularly memorable character, which made it a bit hard to understand why Isobel fell so hard for him. Still, I did like the balance he struck in being protective without being possessive. Things started to fall apart for me however about three quarters of the way through when the story turned to Isobel and Rook confessing their love for each other and having to face the consequences of breaking the Good Law. I just did not feel for one second that this pair were in love. Sure, they say it a lot, but actions speak louder than words and, save for a bit of kissing, there's nothing in the pages that made me feel anything close to love between this pair. Maybe because both are so cold - Isobel has been raised to guard her life around faeries and Rook is an inhuman being who doesn't understand basic human concepts like eating and needing to sleep. There was no heat, no passion. I enjoyed Isobel's thought process as she dealt with being in love with Rook, acknowledging how ridiculous it was, but I still didn't feel it.


Despite the story being the Isobel and Rook Show most of the time, the supporting characters, when they popped up, were fantastic. Isobel's goats-turned-human-thanks-to-magic little sisters, March and May, were cute, and her fae patron Gadfly was an adorably absent-minded sweetheart (before twists in the story later on revealed him to be more of a trickster than Isobel ever imagined). Gadfly's niece Lark fitted the creepy kid quota perfectly - from turning Isobel into a rabbit and treating her like an exotic pet, she reminded me of Claudia in Interview with the Vampire; cute and childlike on the outside, but turned cruel and vindictive by her resentment at being an eternal child.

The ending was pretty abrupt and I'm still not sure if it set up a happy ending or not, but it was a near perfect end to a wonderful story. An Enchantment of Ravens is a whimsical fairytale that manages to feel traditional and fresh at the same time.


Sunday, 22 October 2017

Godsgrave



Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

Well, he did it. I wasn't expecting Jay Kristoff to be able to top Nevernight. Second books are often the weakest in a trilogy, and Nevernight was so good that Godsgrave had an even higher mountain to climb. And then, about five chapters in, I realised by scepticism was misplaced. Godsgrave is just as brilliant - maybe even better - than Nevernight. The author takes everything that was so good about the first book and expands it. The world gets bigger, the politics get more twisted and the violence gets bloodier. Everything was perfection. The world, the history, the characters, the plot, the dialogue were all individually outstanding, and together they were absolutely fucking incredible.


After just scraping by her initiation into the Red Church, Mia draws closer to her ultimate goal of avenging the deaths of her family by killing their killers; Scaeva and Duomo. Unfortunately, her end differs to that of her church, and she's forced to go it alone in her quest for revenge. In order to get to Scaeva and Duomo, she has to enter - and win - Godsgrave's gladiator-esque games. By a cruel twist of fate, she finds herself enslaved in her old family home - now a gladiator/slaved training school - where she meets fellow slaves and warriors who make her bloody focus waiver ever so slightly. Mia's fellow recruits were so well written, never once feeling like cliches or plot devices. Mia's almost sisterly relationship with young healer slave Maggot was quietly touching, enough to make you believe that Mia's bloodymindedness could start to falter.



Slave owner Leona was another stand out. While she could have been a standard antagonist or a really good bad guy undone by a sappy back story (my pet peeve!), the author managed to make her an absolute bitch, but a very human one. Constantly battling her abusive bastard of a father, Leona still bought humans to fight to the death, but there were just enough quiet scenes to show the woman behind the mask, even if I did still want to see her get her comeuppance! I was a bit disappointed that Mia's new daemon, the wolf-like Eclipse, was MIA for much of the story. She (it?) had a great back and forth with Mia's original shadowpet, Mr Kindly, but felt a bit pointless given how rarely she featured. 

While I loved Mia's sweet and tender relationship with Ash - it was the closest thing to sweet I could ever hope to find in this series! - I just couldn't get fully on board with it because I loved Tric so much in the first book. He and Mia were so good together and shared a genuine bond, so when Mia jumped into bed with the girl who killed him, there was no way I was going to ship their pairing! The sex scenes were just and graphic, hot and well-written as they were in Nevernight. Unlike some other authors, who try to be both graphic and coy and end up sounding like they're not 100% sure how sex actually works, Jay Kristoff goes there! I've read countless, poorly written sex scenes that refer to down there or people reaching their peak (although my personal favourite are those that refer to guys roaring as they climax. Can you imagine someone roaring as they came? You'd laugh your ass off!) but you don't get that here. Sex, language and violence get equal billing in Godsgrave and this book doesn't shy away from the reality of any one of them. I wasn't a huge fan of the early threesome sex scene, simply because it felt unnecessary and therefore a bit tacky. It wasn't like Mia was going for stealth - she poisoned her target and he ended up vomiting his guts up like he was in a Mortal Kombat fatality - so quite why there was a four page sex scene leading up to it instead of her just slitting his throat was beyond me. Still though, Jay Kristoff is a man who knows how to write good sex!



There's an undeniable Gladiator-esque vibe to the book, I had high hopes for the inevitable 'colesseum' scenes, and I was not disappointed! The beasts Mia encountered in the arena brought genuine peril to the proceedings; from giant worms that vomited up their entire stomachs to six-armed, acid-spitting spider women, I was on the edge of my seat for each and every action sequence. Even though you have more than a sneaking suspicion that the protagonist isn't going to be killed off on page 80, the danger feels real and the stakes feel suitably high. I did wonder how Scaeva hadn't been assassinated earlier, given how easily Mia's frenemy Ash was able to sneak around poisoning wine and hiding weapons in the arena.  

It's hard not to give too much away, but the story was so, so good! It built on all the best element from book one, expanding the world and history through the new characters Mia meets. The footnotes peppered through the main story linking to supplementary world info and history were carried over from Nevernight, and I personally love them. I guess I could agree with some people who say they're a lazy way of conveying information rather than incorporating it into the chapters, but most of it enhances the story rather fits into it. The notes explained legends, imparted sarcastic wisdom from the narrator and shaded in the details of Godsgrave's history, and they can be skipped without detracting from the main story if you're not into them. Just don't go into this book expecting everything to come up sunshine and rainbows. The story, the world, the characters are all brutal and no punches are pulled in showing exactly what this means. There's a borderline cute scene where Mia and her fellow, terrified new recruit prepare to enter the arena for the first time. In a moment of uncharacteristic softness, she holds his hand, tells him to stick with her and, just for a moment, you think they're going to be okay. And then the lad immediately gets shot in the neck and dies. Yeah, sweetness and light, it ain't!

And the ending ... 'byss and blood, the ending!



I don't think I've ever anticipated a sequel this much in my life! Jay Kristoff is a master storyteller and the king of cliffhangers.
 

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Sunday Street Team - Brooding YA Hero


Sunday Street Team is the brainchild of the very lovely Nori over at Read Write Love, shining the spotlight on new releases by new authors. For the October edition, I was super excited to get the opportunity to review Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (almost) as Awesome as Me. If you're into YA and you're on Twitter, you can't not have heard of this guy! I've been following Brooding YA Hero (aka Broody McHottiepants) on Twitter for a long time, alternating between laughing, rolling my eyes and laughing and exclaiming "thank you!" loudly at my phone screen for a while now, so I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a review copy of "his" book. Thanks to co-organisers Nori and Aditi for letting me be part of this tour! 

The Book

Ever wished you could receive a little guidance from your favorite book boyfriend?
Or maybe you're just really confused about what "opal-tinted, luminous cerulean orbs" actually are?

Well, popular Twitter personality @broodingYAhero is here to help as he tackles the final frontier in his media dominance: writing a book. Join Broody McHottiepants as he attempts to pen Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, a "self-help" guide (with activities--you always need activities) that lovingly pokes fun at the YA tropes that we roll our eyes at, but secretly love.

As his nefarious ex, Blondie DeMeani, attempts to thwart him at every turn, Broody overcomes to detail, among other topics, how to choose your genre,  his secret formula for guaranteed love triangle success, and how to make sure you secure that sequel, all while keeping his hair perfectly coiffed.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34570455-brooding-ya-hero
 
The Author

Carrie Ann DiRisio is a YA writer and creator of @BroodingYAHero. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with one large fluffy cat, and is currently pursuing her masters in business, although her true dream is to become a Disney Villainess, complete with a really snazzy gown. In addition to writing and plans for world domination, she also enjoys running, coffee, Krav Maga, and knitting.
The Review

There's a pretty simple way to work out if this book is for you or not. Go and check out @BroodingYAHero on Twitter. Did you laugh? Then get this book!

I love YA books and I love YA tropes, but I also love people giving them a poke in the ribs every now and then because, let's be honest, they deserve it.  Don't get me wrong, they're fun to read, but they're also cliche as hell and potentially quite damaging. Good YA books take these tropes and turn them on their head, or blend them into a story with other elements. Bad YA books simply put them in order and then write a plot around them. If you're anything like me, you'll be pinpointing which books the author is referencing as you read.

A lake, a mirror, your sword ... any surface can be used to sneak in some adjectives used to remind the reader of your beauty.

If there's one thing this book can't be accused of, it's taking itself seriously! But of course the hero of the piece, the guy standing front and centre of the cliches - no matter how much the book blurb tries to sell its strong female protagonist - is Broody himself. Or Broody McHottiepants, as the author has christened him.

Some Broody features come standard. These include; angst about my past, casual misogyny, a deep love of my own self importance, and really nice hair.

My workout routine includes eyebrow lifts, leaping over plot holes, high-jumping to conclusions, bench-pressing my emotions to make them easier to suppress, and climbing up cliffs I've been left hanging on.  

Even though the book was mostly for fun, I loved that the author wasn't afraid to call out some of the more damaging and dismissive cliches in YA, like killing off minority side characters and describing people's ethnicity in relations to food. There are so many laugh out loud truths !

“Did I do something wrong?” Well. That was a given. He usually did at least fifteen things wrong per book, but only in a swoony, romantic way, where all could be fixed when he took off his shirt.

The reason I don't give this book the full five stars is because I did struggle to get through the whole thing. There's no denying though that what worked so well in tweet form doesn't translate quite so well into a full book. At least with Very British Problems, the "books" are little more than novelties that are just tweet-length gems. Here, the author attempts to mix the Twitter soundbites with an actual sort-of story, as Broody attempts to write his own book while obliviously living every YA trope in existence. Either one of these approaches could have worked on their own, but the two together don't blend all that well.

Whether you love or hate YA cliches, you'll find something to enjoy in this book. Much truth tea is spilled and plenty of bestselling authors are not so subtley shaded. You'll have plenty of entertainment picking which barbs are aimed where! I found myself laughing in agreement on more than one occasion (which as awkward when I was reading in a cafe or on public transport). A must-read for fans and detractors of brooding YA heroes!



Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Savage


The Book

Savage (Dragonrider Legacy #1)
by Nicole Conway
Publication Date:  September 26, 2017
Publisher:  Month9Books

Savage begins the Dragonrider Legacy series, a thrilling companion to the international bestselling Dragonrider Chronicles.

Never send a hero to do a monster’s job.

Forty years have passed since Jaevid Broadfeather brought peace to Maldobar and Luntharda. But that fragile truce will be tested as darkness gathers on the horizon. The vicious armies of the Tibran Empire have crossed the far seas and are threatening to destroy Maldobar completely. Not even the dragonriders can match the Tibran war machines. And after an attempt to awaken Jaevid from his divine sleep fails, the fate of Maldobar is looking grim.

Reigh has never known what it means to be a normal human. Raised amongst the gray elves in the wild jungle of Luntharda, he’s tried everything to fit in. But the dark power within him is bursting at the seams—refusing to be silenced. And while his adoptive father, Kiran, insists this power must be kept secret, Reigh knows he’s running out of time.

As Maldobar burns, the world is desperate for a new hero. Destiny has called, and one boy will rise to answer.


Google Play | BAM | Chapters | Indies | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | TBD | iBooks

The Author 

Nicole is the author of the children’s fantasy series, THE DRAGONRIDER CHRONICLES, about a young boy’s journey into manhood as he trains to become a dragonrider. She has completed the first two books in the series, and is now working on the third and final book.

Originally from a small town in North Alabama, Nicole moves frequently due to her husband’s career as a pilot for the United States Air Force. She received a B.A. in English with a concentration in Classics from Auburn University, and will soon attend graduate school. She has previously worked as a freelance and graphic artist for promotional companies, but has now embraced writing as a full-time occupation.

Nicole enjoys hiking, camping, shopping, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. She also loves watching children’s movies and collecting books. She lives at home with her husband, two cats, and dog.

Website • Twitter • Facebook • Goodreads

The Review


Savage is an ambitious novel for sure! It covers warring kingdoms, elves, dragons (and their human riders), prophecy, dark magic, shadow wolves, royal politics and more, all told from the pov of a teenage human raised by elves. That's a lot for a first book in a series to cover, but with so much happening, you can pretty much guarantee to not be bored, but it's a testament to the author's storytelling that you won't be confused either.

The writing style is, across the board, great; descriptive enough to build the world and characters easily, but not affected enough to be distracting or annoying. Nicole Conway manages to build one heck of a world in a first book, populating it with otherworldly creatures and building it with royal politics and history. The one niggling problem I had though was with Reigh's narration. He talks like a 90s California surfer - talking about things sucking, missions being bogus - and it jars with the more traditional fantasy language of all the other characters, like the author wrote a contemporary character and put him in a fantasy novel.

As for Reigh himself though - despite a few eye rolls at his dialogue - I grew to love him s a character. He was a good mix of determined, hot-headed and brave, but he did have a tendency to be stubborn to a fault, and sometimes downright idiotic. In short though, he felt real. I have to say though, his woe-is-me about his dark magic felt a bit disingenuous at times. He constantly professed to be unable to control his mysterious dark power, but he's shown several time to be in complete control. Noh - the wolf-like form his dark magic often takes - obeys Reigh without question. It's not until nearly three quarters of the way through the book that we finally see an instance of Reigh losing control of his magic. I would have liked to have seen more of Noh and exactly what he was capable of doing (Reigh has a tendency to pass out when Noh goes to work), but I guess that's material for book two!

Reigh's adopted, grey-elf "father", Kiran, was one of my favourite characters. Always putting himself out and going out of his way to raise his idiot son right, he was a wonderful character. It probably helped that I kept picturing this healer/hunter/tracker as Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings! Elsewhere, the human dragonrider Princess Jenna was brilliant! The dragons entered the story pretty late considering the book has one on the cover, but Jenna's struggle to be accepted as a fighting female was nicely touched on. It's a shame this book didn't focus on her! Reigh's elf friend Enyo fares less well though, relegated to the best friend/love interest role.

The story was excellent, even if there was a bit much going on. However, I have to admit, this book wrong footed me more than once. I was so sure I saw a twist about Reigh's true identity coming, but the author spun this a completely different way, snatching back my attention - and wiping the smug, 'saw-it-coming' smile from my face - having me devouring pages right up until the end. There's plenty here that makes me want to come back for book two!

 

The Giveaway

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 
 

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Moonburner


Kai is a Moonburner—a female sorceress reviled by her people and normally killed at birth. Except Kai's parents saved her by disguising her as a boy—a ruse they've kept up for almost seventeen years. But when her village is attacked, Kai’s secret is revealed and she’s sentenced to death.

Thankfully, the gods aren’t done with Kai. Despite the odds stacked against her, she escapes her fate, undertaking a harrowing journey to a land where Moonburners are revered and trained as warriors.

But her new home has dangers of its own—the ancient war against the male Sunburners has led the Moonburners down a dark path that could destroy all magic. And Kai, armed only with a secret from her past and a handsome but dangerous ally, may be the only one who can prevent the destruction of her people... 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35672388-moonburner

Wow. Just wow. There's a lot to enjoy in Claire Luana's debut YA fantasy novel; the gender politics, the girl-power, the world building, the fantastic cast of characters. I was expecting to like the story, but I wasn't expecting to totally love it! I was lucky enough to see this story in its late-draft form, but the work that's gone into polishing it is clear to see. Moonburner is clearly a labour of love for the author, and it shows on every page.

And what pages they are! From the prologue that grabs hold of you and won't let go, right the way through to the final battle, Moonburner is a page turner from start to finish. The story is set in the lands of Kita and Miina, countries divided by magic and gender. In Miina, females with magic - drawn from the power of the moon - are revered as so-called Moonburners. In Kita, where Kai was unfortunately born, they are put to death by the male-dominated powers that be - males with magic drawn from the sun, aka Sunburners. After escaping her death sentence march into the desert that divides the two lands, Kai is taken in by the Moonburners and trained to embrace her powers. The world building is simple and easy to get into, which allows for a breathlessly taught opening act. From Kai's outing to her arrival in the Moonburner citadel, a school where young women are trained as warriors to harness their magic, there's barely a stray word that could have been cut in the edit to be found.

However the author takes a fairly simple story of two opposites, and turns the idea on its head. There are no good guys and bad guys here (well, there are, but I'll get to that later). What starts as a black and white world for Kai quickly begins to morph into a world of grey, where nothing's quite as clear-cut as either side of the impending war seem to think. There are a lot of Asian-inspired elements to the story, so the concept of yin and yang seems fitting. On the surface, the moon and sun burners are polar opposites. Female and male. Night and day. Darkness and light. What is initially present to Kai in the citadel's teachings is very much them and us, but the set up evolves into something more complicated as she gradually comes to realise that neither can exist without the other, and true victory lies in peace rather than destruction. Yes, this book features plenty of strong female characters, but it's not always the case that these are the good guys. It also features plenty of strong male characters, and it's not always the case that they are the bad guys. Claire Luana manages to walk the fine line between feminism and equality, without overbalancing into superiority on either side.


If the world building was outstanding, then the characters and dialogue in this story set it on fire! Kai is a utterly adorable protagonist, equal parts strong and vulnerable. Behind her Buffy-esque sass is a young girl raised to fear the world around her, and when the security blanket of her loving family is ripped away in brutal fashion, she's thrown out into that world to fend for herself. Well, not quite for herself. Powerful burners acquire a senshen, a sort of spirit animal, and Kai's is a take-no-shit fox named Quitsu. And he is awesome! Snarky and wise in equal measure, this guy is easily my favourite character. I would have liked to see him written a little more distinctly - it was sometimes hard to work out whether it was Kai or Quitsu that was talking because their dialogue and attitudes were so similar - but that's a minor quibble. Kai's new Moonburner friends were pretty good, if a little interchangeable with their silver hair and sass. Maaya was the best of the group, her soft-heartedness making her stand out a little more than the rest. I did love the ass-kicking trainer Nanase (aka Eclipse, because she killed so many Sunburners in the first war that the sun apparently went dark - seriously, what's not to love here!?), but the abundance of friends, antagonists and teachers at the citadel felt a bit cluttered.

And what can I say about Kai's 'love interest', Hiro? I say love interest in inverted commas because, to be honest, he barely features for most of the book. Seriously, he and Kai meet about three or four times. Their burgeoning relationship is pushed aside by the impending war - and the fact that their both standing on opposite sides of it - as it rightly should be. I have to applaud the author for being brave and going with this angle. The Romeo and Juliet thing is a pretty well trodden path in YA fantasy, and it would have been easy to play this up. But Claire Luana puts her protagonist front and centre, her journey and growth taking precedent over ticking a box or shoehorning in any swoony scenes. It's weird, because in a roundabout way, this totally works. Because both characters keep their head in the game, you buy into their romance even more. It's clearly not some fleeting obsession. Kai's obviously not falling to pieces over Hiro's abs or his sparkly eyes, so their connection feels more real, and I will take this a hundred times over magical bonds, instalove and/or a love triangle.


With such a fast-paced story, it was inevitable that the writing would feel a little flat at times. There's very little navel-gazing here, and no affected, artsy prose. And for the most part it's great because it makes for a more exciting story. But there were times when I'd have liked just a little bit more on how Kai and the other characters were feeling. There's a lot of she said this and he did that, but at lot of the time there's very little sense of how they're saying it and what they're thinking. 

Much like Kai's gradual uncovering of the citadel's dark secrets, there's more to the story than meets the eye. I loved the suprisingly dark subplot with the Moonburner queen and her plot to destroy the Sunburners once and for all. There were a few almost too dark moments though, with a couple of allusions to and mentions of rape that felt out of place. There as nothing wrong with them per se, they just don't seem to fit in this book. The story itself though is solid, if a little cliche at times, but because it's all told through such colourful characters and in such a rich, vibrant world, it feels like something fresh. The gender politics bring a different angle to the usual 'good guys v bad guys' set up, and the message of coexistence and tolerance has rarely felt more timely.

The story wrapped up nicely, while still leaving room for a sequel (more on that below). One of my pet peeves is an ending that reads like the author stopped typing part way through a chapter, but this book has a solid beginning, middle, and end, as well as a hook for book two. Ending perfection! Moonburner is a fantastic debut from a very talented author, and a must-read for YA fantasy fans.



Author Q&A with Claire Luana

1. What inspired you to write Moonburner?

My inspiration for Moonburner was loosely based on China’s One Child Policy, which led to generations of Chinese families choosing to have boys over girls. It made me think: what would happen in a world where families didn't want girls because those girls had some magical ability that was forbidden?

This led to the premise of Moonburner, where Kai, the main character, is born into a land where magic is forbidden to women, and she is forced to masquerade as a boy to hide her powers.

2. If you could go back in time and give your past self one bit of advice when you sat down and started writing Moonburner, what would it be?

Probably to share Moonburner with other readers and writers sooner! I was so nervous to share my work that I spent a lot of time trying to perfect it before I let it see the light of day. When I inevitably changed things as a result of the feedback, all that polishing went down the drain. Plus, I’ve found I really enjoy sharing my work and getting collaborative feedback and ideas on how to make it better. No need to miss out on that!

3. Do you have any writing rituals?

My rituals have changed over time, but currently, I write every morning. My day job is pretty mentally taxing (I’m a lawyer) so I found I didn’t have much brainpower left at the end of the day. Now I get up at 5am to write, which is painful, but it means it’s done first thing. It feels really good!

4. Which three books would you take to a desert island?

I’d want something with a lot of pages to fend off boredom, so probably the Bible, the Eye of the World (first book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series), and Six of Crows, which is my current fave read.

5. There are a lot of Japanese words and names in Moonburner, did you have any location and cultural inspiration from the far east?

Yes! As I mentioned, the book started with me thinking about China’s One Child policy, and so I always imagined the book as having an Asian influence. We housed Japanese students in my house for years growing up, so I was more familiar with that culture. It’s because of those experiences that I decided to borrow from Japanese medieval culture for Moonburner.

6. Gender division, feminism and equality play big parts in Moonburner, what made you decide to include these rather than more traditional elements of YA fantasy?

Gender equality is a topic near and dear to my heart as a woman who works in a traditionally male dominated field. My colleagues and I spend a lot of time sharing experiences and talking about how we can better advance women in law and society generally, so it felt natural for me to focus on gender as a theme in my first book, especially once the world and the story premise began to take shape.

7. It’s wonderful to see a YA female protagonist who’s on her own journey while the love interest takes a back seat. Was this intentional when you originally sat down to write Moonburner?

It wasn’t intentional, but grew naturally out of the way the plot worked out. Kai met her love interest very early on, but then didn’t run into him again until the last quarter of the book. I definitely sweated a bit trying to figure out a way to build a connection between them without falling prey to the Insta-love trope that so many YA books are guilty of! But in the end, I think romance as a sub-plot more naturally fit the book. Moonburner is really about Kai growing as a person and as a woman. The romance is like a little bonus.

8. Who would be in your fantasy cast for the movie version of Moonburner?

I imagine Grace Park to play Kai, and maybe a younger version of Ian Anthony Dale for Hiro.

9. Who was your favourite character from a writer’s perspective and who was your favourite character from a reader’s perspective, or were they one and the same?

I loved writing Quitsu. He was so fun and scrappy and unique. Those early chapters with him and Kai were some of the first I ever wrote, and still feel really special to me. Readers tell me their favorite character is Emi. I think they appreciate her bad-assery and snark!

10. Kai’s seishen in a fox. What do you think your spirit animal would be?

I think maybe an owl. Owls are wise and mysterious, but can be tough when they need to be!

11. Obviously Sunburner is out soon, but are there any plans for more books in this universe?

Yes! I originally intended to write two, but as I was brainstorming ideas for a new series, I realized that one of those ideas would fit perfectly as a third book in the Moonburner world. Instantly, I knew I had to write it! So, there will be a third book titled Starburner. The protagonist will be Kai and Hiro’s teenage daughter. I have it all plotted out and I’m aiming for a spring launch!

12. Sum up Moonburner in five words.

Strong women make moon magic! 

Coming soon ...

If, like me, you hate getting into a series only to find there's a year plus wait for the next book in the series, you're in luck! Not only is the Moonburner prequel, Burning Fate, already available (and for free if you subscribe to Claire's mailing list) but the sequel proper, Sunburner, is out on Tuesday 26 September.

I've been lucky enough to get my hands on an arc of Sunburner and believe me when I say it's awesome! It's everything that was brilliant about Moonburner turned up to eleven; with the stakes higher, the romance swoonier and the bad guys badder. It's absolutely unmissable, so, if you read and love Moonburner, make sure you add this one to your TBR too. You can check out the blurb on Goodreads now, but be warned, it does contain a spoiler if you're yet to read Moonburner.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34876072-sunburner

If you need any more tempting, there's also a load of swag on offer if you preorder Sunburner, including a bookmark, map (my personal favourite of all swag!) and deleted scenes, as well as chance to win more bookish goodies. Happy reading!