Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Last Namsara

In the beginning, there was the Namsara: the child of sky and spirit, who carried love and laughter wherever he went. But where there is light, there must be darkness—and so there was also the Iskari. The child of blood and moonlight. The destroyer. The death-bringer.

These are the legends that Asha, daughter of the king of Firgaard, has grown up learning in hushed whispers, drawn to the forbidden figures of the past. But it isn’t until she becomes the fiercest, most feared dragon slayer in the land that she takes on the role of the next Iskari—a lonely destiny that leaves her feeling more like a weapon than a girl.

Asha conquers each dragon and brings its head to the king, but no kill can free her from the shackles that await at home: her betrothal to the cruel commandant, a man who holds the truth about her nature in his palm. When she’s offered the chance to gain her freedom in exchange for the life of the most powerful dragon in Firgaard, she finds that there may be more truth to the ancient stories than she ever could have expected. With the help of a secret friend—a slave boy from her betrothed’s household—Asha must shed the layers of her Iskari bondage and open her heart to love, light, and a truth that has been kept from her. 

Ass-kicking, dragon-hunting protagonist? Say no more, I’m there! That’s pretty much all I knew about this book going into it after receiving a copy in a subscription box, but it was all I needed to know. I was anticipating action and adventure, fierce females and far-away fantasy. And this book delivered it all, and then some!

Protagonist Asha is a dragon-hunter. She hunts and slays dragons to atone for inadvertently summoning a dragon that destroyed her city when she was a girl. Her people fear her. Her father, the king, names her Iskari after a vengeful goddess and uses her drive the last of “the Old Ways” from his kingdom. She’s betrothed to a glory-hunting jackass and only ‘one last (dragon-hunting) job’ can save her from his clutches. That’s probably as much detail as I can go into without starting to run off a synopsis of the book, but suffice to say, she’s badass.

It was up to the supporting characters to draw the real Asha out though, and they were a great cast! Asha’s slave-blooded cousin, Safire, was my personal favourite. Her brother Dax seemed like to much of an idiot through most of the story for me to believe as the heir to the dragon king’s throne, until revelation later in the story revealed that to not be the case. Of course, no such book would be complete without a love interest, which is where things started to unravel a bit for me. Torwin was…fine. Just…fine. He’s a slave to Asha’s royalty, so they had the whole Romeo and Juliet thing going on, but it felt a bit too by-the-numbers to be organic. I think I’d have preferred to read them as friends rather than would-be lovers. Asha’s relationship with her pet dragon Shadow – and later, *named redacted because spoilers* – was more believable. Torwin was a great character and played out the other side of Asha’s world perfectly, but their burgeoning romance felt forced. I wasn’t a huge fan of the way Asha turned to mush around Torwin. I get their slow burn romance and the author was showing the real Asha starting to emerge from the hardened shell she’s built around herself, but I just have a dislike of female protagonists going gooey ever time they’re in close physical proximity to the designated love interest. A love interest that, of course, smells great no matter what’s just happened to him. Seriously, is it too much to ask that a character acknowledges that their partner smells like they really need a wash?

The world-building in this book is absolutely fantasy perfection; enough to create a rich, vibrant world without bogging itself down in irrelevant details. Asha’s refined kingdom of Firgaard and the wild, free scrublands are pretty much the only places we hear about, but their history and cultures shine through, woven through the story seemingly effortlessly. The ancient stories that peppered the book itself were a lovely touch. As well as letting the reader see the tales which inspired such awe and fear, they were a clever way of sneakily feeding the reader the history of the world without glaringly obvious infodumps. 

The book is action-packed from start to finish and it ends pretty much perfectly. There’s plenty of scope for a sequel, but it also reads stand alone without dangling plot threads or unanswered questions that serve to annoy more than they entice. My kind of ending!

Sunday, 18 February 2018


In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch. 

I’ll be honest, all the pre-publication hype around Truthwitch killed my interest in this book. Like, killed it dead. I was pumped to read it, then sick of hearing about it, so it wasn’t until recently that I actually picked up a copy. I think the gorgeous UK paperback went some way towards bringing me around! As it happens, I wish I hadn’t been put off by the hype. Ths book was pretty much the definition of a page turner. Fast-paced, engaging and well-written with characters that took on a life of their own…I couldn’t put it down!

Truthwitch is an ambitious book for sure. The only problem was, it was just as confusing at times too. Aside from juggling multiple povs (five or more from memory), the author also introduced three empires; an independent country; a soon to expire ceasefire from a decades old war; a magical system comprising of six “witcheries” – earth, air, fire etc, which themselves broke down into countless different types of power; legends; politics; and two girls in the middle of it all who just want a peaceful life of their own. Names, places, curses and words are thrown at the reader from the get go with no point of reference. Take this paragraph for example;

“All right,” Iseult said, her expression unchanging. “My next plan involves the Hell-Bards. They’re in Venaza City for the Truce Summit, right? To protect the Cartorran Empire? Maybe you could appeal to one of them for help since your uncle used to be one – and I doubt even the Dalmotti guards would be stupid enough to cross a Hell-Bard.”

I had no idea what about 30% of that text was referring to when I read it. A quick visit to the authors website shows multi-page documents explaining the worlds, the history and the witchery system. Perhaps these were included in the hardback but not the paperback, but even then you shouldn’t need a glossary to make sense of a story. By the end of the book, I still didn’t know exactly what powers it was possible to have.

Confusion aside though, I really did love this book. The themes of sisterhood and friendship were what made it for me. The romance angles took a backseat, and rightly so. As much as I adored Safi and Merrick’s banter and chemistry (with the exception of a niggling consent issue; male characters kissing female characters against their will or without permission isn’t cute! You wouldn’t get away with it in real life and you shouldn’t get away with it in a YA book), it was her friendship with Iseult that made this book so special. I loved that they supported each other, I loved that their friendship was organic (and not the result of both knowing the love interest) and I loved that they were always each other’s priority. Even when separated, their first thoughts were to get back to each other. Merrick may have been Safi’s “love interest”, but he never came between her and Iseult. He never drew her focus from saving her best friend’s life. It’s depressingly rare to read such strong female friendships in YA (seriously, if anyone has any recommendations, hit me up!) that don’t take a backseat once the hero shows up. I was beyond delighted that Iseult wasn’t relegated to doing Safi’s hair and gossiping while she prepared for a date with Merrick!

Truthwitch has enough ambition and detail for a trilogy of books, never mind one, which sometimes makes for a confusing read. However the wonderful friendship between the two protagonists and their non-stop adventures kept me hooked.

Monday, 18 December 2017


There is darkness sweeping across the stars.

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness: a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her fearsome glass starship the Maurader, she’s just Andi, their captain and protector.

When a routine mission goes awry, the all-girl crew’s resilience is tested as they find themselves in a most unfamiliar place: at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter connected to Andi’s past and a harrowing betrayal.

Meanwhile, on the far side of the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The final pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their ship—or just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles towards the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only thing certain is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

I was provided with an ARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

There's been a lot of online chatter about whether this book deserved to be published, or whether it got a free pass because of Sasha Alsberg's online presence. I think this is neither here nor there when it comes to the quality of the book so I won't bring it in to my review, but I will just say that I feel this book is entirely strong enough to have been published on its own merits. I certainly don't think it's a literary masterpiece or up there with the great YA fantasy novels, but it's certainly well-written and engaging enough to warrant publication. Would it have been picked up without its co-author's "fame"? Who knows, but I don't think it's fair to begrudge her the success she has obviously worked hard for (I can barely write a shopping list, so anyone who can write or even co-write a book gets props from me). If you don't agree with the publisher's decision to pick up Zenith then don't buy it.

Now, quibbles aside, onto the review. I found Zenith to be something of a mixed bag, and an odd one at that. You know how sometimes something is greater than the sum of its parts? They don't really work individually, but they fit together like a very pretty jigsaw? Zenith is like that. The core elements - plot, worldbuilding, characters, dialogue etc - were patchy at best, but when put together, they created a pretty good read. Unfortunately, when I closed the book and started composing my thoughts for a review, these issues only became more glaring. I lost myself in the book (even if I was infuriated or irritated by it), but when I stepped back and processed what I'd just read, my brain started to poke all sorts of holes in it. My thoughts on this book can be packaged into three neat categories; the good, the bad and the ugly.

First up - because I like to be positive - is the good. Zenith has a great premise and is pretty much the definition of a page turner! It's zippy and engaging, and it hooked me from the get-go. I absolutely loved the friendship and bonds between the all-girl crew of the Marauder too (even if I didn't quite buy their badass credentials as much as they themselves seemed to, and this crew of four was a hell of a lot smaller than I was expecting). Andi's protective second-in-command Lira was my favourite, her genuine bond with her captain giving the so-called Bloody Baroness (which is a laugh-out-loud ridiculous alias) some much needed humanity. There's no bitching, no back-biting, no endless conversations about boys; this feels like friendship. A real one. The other two crew members, Brek and Gilly, were fantastic too, sharing a sisterly bond that ranged from blasting spaceships out of the sky to scolding each other for swearing.

The writing style was good - barring a few obvious instances of trying too hard to be quotable. I've never read a co-authored book before and was expecting it to be obviously which bits had been written by who, but the chapters are seamless. The pov switches are nicely done and impeccably timed. The book seemed to know when I was tiring of one character and switched to another. There were some stand-out scenes in the second half of the book; like Andi's meeting with her estranged father and Lira's disastrous visit to her home planet, that really stood out as incredibly well written. There was an overadundance of repetitive flashbacks about the trauma in Andi's past and the subplot about the Queen of Xen Ptera's family history was pretty confusing in early chapters, but, other than those interludes, the writing itself was great.

Unfortunately, next up is the bad. The storyline of this book is not original. At all. Plot and protagonist feel like they've been lifted wholesale from other books and flung into space, and details about body mods and blue-skinned, bald alien women seem to go out of their way to call to mind other sci-fi series (Guardians of the Galaxy and Firefly are two of the more conspicuous ones). The worldbuilding is frustraingly vague too, with names and places thrown at the reader from the get go and, with no reference or explanation, these serve to confuse more than they enlighten.

Details like a character having red-and-white striped eyes, or a man being covered in giant purple spikes, are tossed around inconsistently, meaning you can never really picture a scene because you don't have a damn clue what anyone looks like. There are a couple of glaring instances of lazy writing too. People freeze, have their blood turn to ice or their stomach drop into their toes on entirely too many occasions, and there's an awful lot of talk about huge bangs and explosions of light. In space. I guess someone skipped on their physics lessons in school.

My other big issue was this book was the protagonists. They are, for lack of a better word, assholes. The supporting characters of Andi's crew are fine, but Dex is so two dimensional he'd disappear if he turned sideways, and Andi is utterly reprehensible (more on theat below, dear reader!). If she's not gazing at the stars and sighing about what a troubled badass she is, he's waxing lyrical about her fearsome beauty and deadly skills.

Their relationship hits all the YA love story plot points (which I'm not going to criticise it for because this is a YA book), but it never felt genuine and I never once cared. I prefered Andi's relationship with Lira and the deceased Kalee much more (it's telling that the authors managed to make Andi's relationship with a dead girl more meaningful than her one with Dex). I failed to see why I should care about this pair of idiots. The source of their conflict could have been - and indeed is - explained in a five minute conversation, but they're too busy stabbing and snarling at each other to bother trying to be civil. Am I supposed to want to see this pair together? Because I sure as hell didn't! Dextros (because he's so dexterous. Get it?) flits between cocky flirt, lovesick puppy and barely competent sidekick depending on what the plot requires, and as a result feels more like a plot device than a character. And as for Andi ... well, that brings me rather neatly on to my final section.

And strap yourself in, because this one's a rant. My final thought is on the ugly. Let's be real here. Andi is a mass murderer. We first meet her when she's tallying her kills. She frequently boasts about her reputation and the blood trail she's left across the galaxy. She recalls a job where she and her crew were paid by a man's wife to kidnap said man's mistress and leave her on a barren asteroid to slowly starve to death. Another character reminds her of the time she shot a ship out of the sky only for the debris to rain down on an innocent village and kill its inhabitants. It disturbs me greatly how many YA novels glamorise straight-up murder. Given the current climate (or any climate really), a mass murderer makes for a poor protagonist in my eyes, and trying to pass this off as little more than a troubled heroine backstory leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, Andi had to flee her home planet to escape the death penalty after causing the accident that killed a general's daughter, but she made the choice to become a murderous space pirate from there. She wasn't forced or coerced (even though Dex helped train her, there's no suggestion anywhere that he forced her into killing), so it makes all her guilt feel disingenuous. She made a choice, now she has to live with the consequences of it. There's a lot of talk of regret - and an admittedly cool scene featuring Andi's recurring nightmare of dancing with her dead victims - but just because you feel bad about your actions, doesn't mean you get a pass for them. Maybe I'm being hard on this book, because a trigger-happy protagonist isn't exactly rare in YA, but because the authors go out of their way to bring up Andi's deeds again and again - She's the Bloody Baroness, stars be damned! She's left a trail of blood across the galaxy! Her name strikes fear into the hearts of anyone who's heard it (which is everyone)! - they can't hide the reality of what she is. And that is a murderer. Not a killer, not an assassin, not a baddass; but a murderer.

So why do I rate this book relatively highly, despite lambasting it pretty thoroughly for about two thirds of my review? Well, I was entertained. Books don't have to change the world, and they don't have to stay with you long after you close the pages. Sometimes, you just want to get swept up in a story, and this book did that for me. It made me feel something, even if that feeling wasn't always a good one. Zenith does have a very positive, pro-friendship message too, and correctly posits that family is what you make it, that bonds made through choice and freedom hold tighter than those born of obligation. The scene were Andi's crew gather silently around her while she cries hits ten times harder than any of her forced conflict with Dex. It's just a shame that this element was relegated to mere window dressing a lot of the time. The pockets of originality and quiet scenes between the girls feel like they were written from the heart, whereas all the talk of Andi's troubled past and her beautiful badassery feel like they were written with one eye on a spot on the bestseller lists. If this book had followed its own, more genuine, path rather than forcing its chracters to follow the well-worn steps of other people's stories, I would have enjoyed it so much more.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Mated to the Werewolf King

As war looms between the two species, the Demon Lord is determined to find Annabelle – little does she know, the truth behind his sinister actions is about to unravel. When Annabelle discovers that she is not the true daughter of the Alpha in her pack, her world, as she knows it, comes crashing down and she finds herself running to hide from the tyrannical Demon Lord who is hell-bent on finding her.

Despite her objections, she is taken to the court of the Werewolf King. He’s arrogant, stubborn and discerning of her very being, but willing to defend her… for now.

Will the Werewolf King yield to the Demon Lord’s ultimatum and give her to the enemy or will she be the cause of a looming war between the two species? More importantly, what does the Demon Lord want with Belle? She’s only a werewolf… isn’t she? 

Disclaimer; I was provided with a free copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

DNF 70%

I try to be positive with book reviews, and that goes double for first in a series and/or indie published books, but I just couldn't find much to like here. The blurb above had potential but there wasn't as much inter-species politics and worldbuilding as I'd hoped. The supposed looming war is barely mentioned and there's no real sense of scale outside Belle and whoever is trying to sleep with her in that partiular chapter. I was hoping for armies and scheming and twisted history, but unfortunately there wasn't much to be found outside the so-called love story. Well, unless your a fan of misogyny, toxic masulinity and hugely unlikable "heroines".

The writing style wasn't my cup of tea. Characters literally announced how they felt and a lot of plot elements were thrown in as the story required them rather than being woven through the story to establish the world. This book was very much a character and relationship-driven story, and unfortunately is where it fell apart in a major way for me.

Protagonist Belle is a brat, an idiot and a misogynist. She stomps her feet, sulks and frequently refers to other (pretty and blonde - of course!) female characters as bitches for no other reason than the fact they've slept with the guy she has the hots for. That's pretty much the extent of their characteristation, but what more reason do we need to hate each other, amiright ladies? She had zero autonomy in what was supposedly her own story, however her internal monologue had her seemingly believing she was a genuine, no-nonsense badass. If this was intentional, it could have been downright brilliant, but I suspect it wasn't. Belle is certainly written like whiny teenager, but I don't know if that was intentional or not, because werewolf king Keith is written in much the same way.

Keith (yes, that's right. The big sexy of this novel is called Keith) is a possessive, aggressive asshole who treats Belle like property and/or baggage. He stomps around declaring Belle "mine, mine, mine" like a petulant toddler who's had his favourite toy taken away, shags around behind her back (but it's okay though, because he was thinking of her the whole time!) and abuses and assaults her on the regular. At one point, he forcibly kisses her against her will, then throws her against a wall and blames her for his inability to control himself. And it's passed of as being romantic.

Seriously, HOW CAN THAT BE PUBLISHED IN 2017!? Perhaps it's just bad timing, but given the current climate and discussions around consent and women's rights, this book is downright nauseating. Add in the fact that several Big Bads all want Belle as their mate because she's so super-special, and you've got a recipe for pure rage fuel. The idea that Keith has to "mark" Belle as his before anyone can claim her, at which point all the other guys will lose interest in her, is so disgusting that it makes reading the book about as erotic as being rubbed down with a raw chicken. Their relationship, such as it is, is a mess of toxic masculinity and horrendously outdated romance tropes. The hate-love relationship switched in literally one scene which robbed the story of any anticipation and blew any attempts at making it anything more than story-ordained instalove. Some of my personal highlights of their relationships came in the following quotes;

"You do not touch anybody but me, and nobody touches you." Keith to Belle.
"Why didn't he want me?" Belle, in the middle of a life-threatening trial to discover who or what she really is, when Keith says he wants to get rid of their mate-pull
"Mine," he growled. "You are mine." Keith, channelling hs inner Christian Grey
"I will kill them all. She is mine. Only mine." Keith, on any guy who tries to get close to his property his mate.

I personally found all this revolting and outside it there's not a lot else going on in the book. I should have known what I was letting myself in for with that title. If you're looking for a straight up romance book with a bit of a paranormal twist, you may love it, but my expectations were the other way around, which meant I was often reading bored or angry. Your mileage may vary.

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?

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!


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


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.