Bookish Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Published: September 2015 by Hachette Children’s Group

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Six of Crows (Book #1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/5

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager
A runaway with a privileged past
A spy known as the Wraith
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

Review: I was really looking forward to this series. I’d read the Grisha trilogy and fell in love with the world Leigh Bardugo had created so I was keen to revisit with a whole new cast of characters!

Six of Crows started off really strong. I was totally sucked into the plot, the different characters and their predicaments – I loved finding out how each of them had come to be in Ketterdam and they had really strong back stories and felt properly fleshed out. Needless to say I grew attached really quickly! Kaz was the ruthless gangleader with the troubled past he had buried deep inside him, Inej, kidnapped into slavery and was given an escape from a life of indenture by Kaz, Nina the Grisha in exile who has a complicated history with Matthias a loyal and righteous Fjerdan, with an unfortunate soft spot for Nina. We also have Jesper, the trigger happy guy from a humble background with a bad gambling habit, and finally Wylan the posh kid who has ended up right in the middle of the most ambitious heist ever.

I liked how distinct they all were not just diverse in terms of race (brilliant by the way) but also their personalities. One of my favourite things was easily the fact that these guys aren’t and don’t pretend to be perfect or even good at times! Kaz can be really nasty but it’s his way of surviving and the thing that’s got him to the top of his game in Ketterdam. The conflict between Nina and Matthias was great because you totally root for them but also understand why it wasn’t an instalove happily ever after for them (and waaay more realistic). And Inej despite her horrible experiences still holds on to her faith and light temperance which contrasted really well with Kaz.

As I read on, I found myself more invested in the brilliant characters over the plot! I loved how their back stories trickled into the story as we went along and the flashbacks were seamless and didn’t feel clunky at all. I was totally intrigued by some of their histories, especially Kaz and Nina’s, and very curious as to how they would play into this book and the next. Also credit to Leigh Bardugo, who is now queen of my heart, because there is not one love triangle to be found anywhere in this book – even with six characters milling about!

The pace of the book was great, things were continuously happening and nothing felt like filler – all of the events related back to The Heist. The audacity of the entire plot kept it totally riveting and the characters’ personal motivations for the money made it all the more nail-biting! It was all going swimmingly until I got to the last quarter when The Heist is going down and the proverbial hits the fan. Without going into detail and falling foul of giving away spoilers, whilst reading this section I found it a little difficult to follow the action – the description in this section of where they are and how they get from A to B is a little dense and I think the problem was that I just couldn’t visualise it – so more ‘it’s me, not the book’ as I don’t think this would be noticeable to most readers but I have notched off 0.5 stars. I found myself dragging and taking longer to just power through that section… and that’s when my book buddy stepped in!

I’d organised a buddy read of Crooked Kingdom with Laura over at Reading Sanctuary for when I’d finished Six of Crows and honestly that powered me through. She was great, really encouraging and I’m so glad I persevered because Six of Crows went back to being fabulous after that very brief, slightly frustrating, section. We’ve started our buddy read of Crooked Kingdom and it is seriously *so* good so far – expect another rave-filled review soon! So if there are two takeaways from this post it’s:

  1. Absolutely read Six of Crows and get ready to fall in love with some awesome characters (and don’t be stupid like me and get distracted by or lost in the description in *that* scene)
  2. Get a book buddy/buddy read a book – it’s so much fun to be able to fangirl to someone in real-time because they’re reading the book at the same time. There’s nothing better than fangirls coming together and… well, fangirling together!

Have you read Six of Crows? What did you think? Or maybe you’ve already discovered the brilliance of buddy reading? Let me know your thoughts!!

img_1175

 

Bookish Event: YA Fantasy Panel with Garth Nix and Co.

image-1

Lovely readers, I have a packed event schedule for the next week so there’ll be more bookish events posts over the next few days – you guys are in for a treat! Also doing my first giveaway (which may involve signed books by YA Queens Rainbow Rowell and Leigh Bardugo!!!) so keep your eyes peeled for that…

Now onto business… Earlier this week, I went to the YA fantasy event hosted by Waterstones Piccadilly with a stellar panel of authors – seriously. We had the legend Garth Nix (Old Kingdom/Abhorsen series), Melinda Salisbury (The Sin Eater’s Daughter series), Alwyn Hamilton (Rebel in the Sands series), Paul Magrs (The Lora Trilogy series) and Laure Eve (The Graces series) with Buzzfeed’s Chelsy Pippin chairing.

It was fascinating to hear the authors talk about the fantasy genre – from how they go about world-building, writing characters, and thoughts on the YA genre. To do all of the authors justice, I thought it would be fun to do this post in an interview style but please note this is very much a summary and not verbatim!! 

First question was how the authors find their inspiration – how/where do the ideas for their books and characters come from?

Garth Nix talked about the 21st anniversary of Sabriel (published 1995 in Australia!) and how he never really left the Old Kingdom – there was no “coming back to it” when Clariel was published in 2014 and Goldenhand this year. One of the oddest places that Garth has ever had an idea come to him was during a root canal! Melinda Salisbury said ideas never came to her fully formed but rather solidified over time whilst Alwyn Hamilton wondered what us normal people did during commutes or before bed because that’s when she gets her inspiration. Laure Eve echoed this, saying coming up with ideas for books was her version of worrying whilst Paul Magrs said he gets inspiration from his favourite childhood things and smashes them together – Lost on Mars is actually a mash up of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles and Laura Ingell’s Little House on the Prairie!

Next Chelsy asked how the authors went about writing strong female characters.

Garth found this question amusing saying he was always asked about how he wrote “strong female characters” as if they were a rare, fantastical thing. He found it odd that he was never asked how he imagined up his actually strange fantasy creatures which actually involves some strong imagination [I loved Garth so much more for this brilliant answer]. He said the answer was simple – he wrote, and could write, strong female characters because that’s exactly what he was surrounded by growing up e.g. family members. He also gave credit to classic YA writers such as Tamora Pierce for her portrayals of female protagonists. Laure, Alwyn and Melinda chimed in agreeing that Pierce was a massive inspiration when they were growing up and for their female characters. Paul went back further and pointed to characters like Alice and Dorothy who were independent and curious young women and influenced his work.

World-building was bound to come up during an event with fantasy authors and come up it did!

Alwyn explained how she took her favourite parts of different worlds – Rebel of the Sands was a mash up of the Wild West and 1,001 Arabian Nights but she forced elements of both to work together for example, iron was very important in the Wild West for horseshoes and symbolised luck whilst iron is thought to ward off jinn in the East. Laure spoke about how music was her biggest inspiration for world-building and how she tries to translate music and how it makes her feel onto a page when she writes. Melinda said she was very visual and atmospheric – she comes up with scenes in her head and knows exactly how things like light and shadow look to build the world around these scenes. Paul said he likes to do it as he goes along, to keep it interesting and Garth agreed saying writing fantasy is like an iceberg where the book is only about 10% of the world that the reader sees (except authors like Tolkein who is a world-building genius).

There was a Q&A with the audience and one of the most interesting questions was how the authors feel about having their works pigeonholed into the YA genre?

Alwyn explained that whilst YA tends to be about teens it does not mean it is only for teens by any stretch of the imagination. Both she and Laure talked about how although the genre is about growing up, this is something everyone can relate to – we can all remember the awkwardness, confusion and loneliness we felt at this point of our life and so the genre transcends age. Garth agreed and said that genres were less for readers and more for publishers in order to maximise commercial success of novels. He hoped readers didn’t pigeonhole themselves into genres they would and would never read. Melinda finished off by saying she thought it was a great shame if people rejected novels because of the YA tag because actually the genre is the vanguard of the publishing the world – it is pushing the boundaries on issues like sexuality, mental health and gender.

The event was followed by signings and I went a little overboard with the books I must admit. Also, we were able to spend ages talking to the authors who are just the nicest, it was the most laid-back event ever *fangirls* What do you think about their answers? Are any of these authors your ultimate fantasy YA writer?

img_0961

Bookish Review: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Published: September 2016 by Macmillan

GenreFantasy, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

This was my first Kendare Blake book (*gasp* and I call myself a YA book blogger). I’ve never gotten around to reading Anna Dressed in Blood and tbh it’s never really appealed because ghosts, horror and paranormal which aren’t my favourite genre in the world. Buuut I thought I’d take the plunge with this pure fantasy offering 🙂

Three sisters, triplets, queens: Mirabella, the elemental, Arsinoe, the naturalist, and Katharine, the poisoner, are bred by their guardians to compete for the Fennbirn crown. In their 16th year they will take part in a life or death battle, using their gifts to outwit their sisters, to claim the throne by being the last one standing. Except this generation things aren’t proving quite so straightforward. Arsinoe and Katharine’s gifts are weak whilst Mirabella is the only one showing signs of power that has people convinced she will triumph. As they and their guardians fight to cheat, trick and betray their way to the crown, the girls are tested and find the darkness in them brought to the fore…

I was hoping for great things with Three Dark Crowns. First of all, although it’s got a bit of a Hunger Games premise about it (the whole to the death competition thing) I liked that it had a “purpose”, that they weren’t randomers just thrown together by a cruel government. These girls have been bred to compete for the crown and murdering their sisters to get it was par for the course. It was interesting to see how their separate upbringings had shaped their personalities and how far they had been indoctrinated to believe that either they killed their sisters or died trying. The wider political friction between the Black Council and the Temple was intriguing but I would’ve liked to understand more about how it all came about. 

And that leads me to what the biggest letdown was for me – the world building, or lack of. There were so many different rituals, the Gave Noir, Beltane, the Hunt, the Quickening to name a few and some of the names were really ambiguous that by the time they were mentioned a second or third time, I’d forgotten what they were, where they came in the sequence of the Ascension Year, their significance etc. and it jarred the reading for me having to pause and remember. It also felt like a lot of context was skimmed over – why the animosity and friction between the Temple and the Black Council since they all believe in the Goddess? Why are King Consorts so important, what do they do? Hell, what does a Queen do once she’s crowned? I can’t for the life of me tell you what happens to the Queen in the 16 years between the birth of the triplets and the Ascension Year. The twist at the end also wasn’t so much a twist for me as a facepalm moment, and again it feels due to a lack of world building.

The characters weren’t the most memorable I’ve come across and there were quite a few to keep track of. I just feel like a lot of info was held back purely because Three Dark Crowns is the first in a trilogy and this also meant the pacing was rather slow. For pages and pages, we essentially watched as the girls learned and learned and learned some more how to use their gifts (or not so much in Arsinoe’s and Katharine’s case) and it did make me wonder what they’ve been doing for the past ten years that they haven’t really grasped the fact that neither are gifted and should have made contingency plans waaaay sooner. So as this plot was crawling along, the subplot of romance was given more airtime than I think we needed in this book.

The romance was a little miss for me. Reading Three Dark Crowns I actually felt like I was reading a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We had plenty of potential couples, but then we saw them running around with other characters because of various reasons such as curses and duty and it all was just rather messy. Hell, even the parents were in on it – was it just me who found the whole Madrigal (Jules’ mother) going off with Matthew (Jules’ bf’s brother) very weird? Like if Jules was to marry her boyfriend, Joseph, whilst her mum was dating Joseph’s brother, wouldn’t that just be a really awkward situation??? Anyway, I wasn’t sold on any of the ships – most of them seemed quite passive and I couldn’t really feel/sense the attraction between a character and their love interest.

I really wanted to like this but I’ve rated Three Dark Crowns 2.5 stars – the premise was interesting enough that it did keep me reading and was original. I liked that the plot doesn’t rely on some epic romantic arcs for our protagonists to have agency, at least in this book, and that it was more about 3 sisters dealing with their difficult predicament (kinda has a girl/sister power Frozen vibe about it!) However, I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the next installment…

Have you read Three Dark Crowns and have drastically different views? Let me know, I’m always intrigued when I’m in the minority with views on a book 😀

Bookish Review: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

ATorchAgainstTheNight_CV 4.14A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Published: September 2016 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodeads | Buy on Amazon

I pretty much pounced on A Torch Against the Night as soon as it came out. And boy am I glad I did but at the same time, I’ve seen the next book in the series is not due to be released until 2018… 2018??!! WHY!!! Anyway, enough hysterics, let’s dive on into this review.

A Torch Against the Night is the second book in the An Ember in the Ashes series which I read earlier this year (review here) so minor spoilers ahead as to how things were resolved at the end of the first book. Following the events of the Fourth Trial, Elias and Laia are now fugitives on the run from the Martial Empire, now headed up by Emperor Marcus and Helene Aquillas, his Blood Shrike, but also Elias’s oldest friend at Blackliffe Academy. After Laia saves Elias from his execution, they journey to Kauf prison where Laia’s brother Darin is being held. However, hunted by the Empire, the Commandant and otherworldly forces, the path will not be an easy one for any of our characters and difficult choices will have to be made…

Ahh where to start? Because I read the last book so recently, the plot and characters were still fresh in my mind, but Tahir made it really easy to pick up where the reader leaves off and you get totally immersed straightaway. In this book we get to see the characters dealing with the aftermath of the Trials in the last book. I found the exploration of Elias’s guilt and remorse really interesting and gave the character a lot more depth, and the chapters in the Forest of Dusk were brilliant, hinting at what we’ll see in the next book. The idea that we make the best choices we can, and that our best intentions can turn into the worst of mistakes and regret really resonated with me and made the characters feel so much more realistic and human (as if Elias needed to be any more perfect, but I digress…)

So you’ve made a few bad decisions… So has everyone attempting to do something difficult. That doesn’t mean that you give up, you fool.

Tahir excels at writing strong female characters and in A Torch Against the Night we get the whole gamut of different personalities. I loved encountering the strong Tribal characters (Afya, can I be your friend you sassy thing, you?), the reliably ruthless Commandant, as well as some other old and beloved characters from the first book, but the real standout is easily Helene. Helene Aquilla, you are flawed perfection wrapped up in scims and white blonde hair. Her various predicaments (to put it veeery lightly) throughout the book are just heart rending. I cried and raged on her behalf, she is the best kind of flawed character dealing with the ultimate unrequited love for Elias which complicates things to no end but her perseverance to protect and remain loyal in the face of so much is really admirable. I’ve raved about Helene but Laia is equally awesome, she really comes into her own in this book, asserts her independence and makes difficult choices all with saving her brother in mind. One of the things I really liked was that Tahir kept the romance to a minimum and did not try to shoehorn it in – as far as I’m concerned these kids have got plenty to deal with already.

She needs nothing else. She needs no one else. She stands apart.

The pace of A Torch Against the Night was something that really struck me. Although its a middle installment, at no point did any of the plot lines feel like filler fodder. Although I guessed parts of the bigger picture as we sped along, I absolutely did not guess the “reveal” at the end and this is all down to Tahir’s fantastic story-telling. She gives us enough info that we don’t feel totally blind-sided when the reveals come along, but also keeps enough just hidden so that we’re hooked to keep going. I liked that all the different plot lines contributed to the wider story arc in some way and the world-building also developed in a way that brings this book and the last together. There’s also something to be said of the events that our protagonists face – the obstacles are relentless and Tahir is not afraid to really up the ante to make sure there’s no coasting through here. Didn’t do my blood pressure any favours though – there were many points where I was so done and I’m just the reader!

If you’re on the lookout for a quality YA fantasy series, An Ember in the Ashes, should be very high up on that list. The only thing is, after reading this book, I realised there’s TWO more books to go still – folks PSA this is not a trilogy.

Have you read A Torch Against the Night? What were your thoughts on the ending? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

Bookish Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A_Court_of_Mist_and_Fury_-_UK_CoverA Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Published: May 2016 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

*Fans self* phew. Where the frick do I even begin?! A Court of Mist and Fury has coasted its way to my absolute Top 10 books ever (not including HP ofc duh) it is seriously *that* good. Sequels, especially the second book in a trilogy, usually struggle to live up to the first installment, and can sometimes feel like filler material but ohmigosh this book. THIS BOOK. Ahem, OK down to the business of convincing you to read this book if you haven’t already (WHY HAVEN’T YOU ALREADY).

Following on from the events Under the Mountain and Amarantha’s trials, Feyre is struggling to come to terms with her actions. Whilst her fast approaching wedding to the High Lord of the Spring Court is somewhat a distraction she feels stifled by Tamlin and her role in his Court. That is until Rhysand, the High Lord of the Night Court returns to call in Feyre’s end of her bargain with him. As Feyre spends time at the Night Court, she finds things aren’t all they seem, not least of all Rhysand. Learning more about her gifts and understanding more about the Fey world, she meets new friends along the way, and learns more about herself and the oncoming evil threatening her world – one that she might be key to stopping…

And I became darkness, and shadow, and wind.

There are 3 things that are the absolute basic ingredients for the success of any novel: characters, world building, pace & plot and Ms Maas delivers on all three – the bloody gift to humanity that she is. I am in love with all of the characters in A Court of Mist and Fury, from our main protagonists, right down to our secondary characters. Maas has spared no “expense” with her characters and gives them all enough page time and back stories and most importantly, purpose, that they are fully three-dimensional. I adored Rhysand’s Inner Circle – Morrigan, Cassian, Azriel and Amren. Their back stories are well-developed and distinct that the reader cares what happens to them, feels their joy, pain and sorrow and honestly this is just so rare. I loved learning more about Feyre’s back story, seeing more of her sisters and their dynamics, and seeing her grow into the independent and confident badass girl that we get by the end of the book. ACoMaF had a really great message which is that people have scars and imperfections but that this doesn’t stop you from growing or improving. Feyre forges her own path and decides her own mind and hear, even if it means going against the grain, in this book and it really is a joy to read.

The Court of Dreams. I had belonged to a court of dreams. And dreamers.

And for their dreams… for what they had worked for, sacrificed for.. I could do it.

And let’s not forget about Rhysand. The depth of his character is so refreshing – he is not just a pretty face with the sexiest flirty manner. Maas shows rather than tells us that Rhysand is a selfless ruler, who makes the best decisions for his people even if that means being derided and reviled outside of his Court. His loyalty and devotion to his Court, friends and Feyre is evident in his actions. I loved how he was Feyre’s equal, from the serious stuff like the respect he gives her to make her own decisions, right down to their brilliant banter. The slow burn romance was deftly handled by Maas, none of it was rushed or given priority over the brilliant story – just as it should be. ACoMaF was all about setting up the wider Fey world and I think a heavy dramatic romance would have detracted from this. I will say that the character ships are pretty obvious by the end of the book – but that’s a good thing because there doesn’t see to be any damned love triangles in sight 😉

“So what is there that was worth saving at the cost of everyone else?”

When I faced him, his blue eyes were as ruthless as the churning winter sea in the distance. “Everything,” he said.

The world building in A Court of Mist and Fury is just phenomenal. I knew that we’d learn more about Rhysand’s Night Court but wow. I drank up Maas’s descriptions of Velaris, the City of Starlight and the artists quarter. The cameos from some of the other courts, like the Summer Court and seeing the differences between them and the different High Lords, and learning about history of the Fae world just makes it so easy to become totally immersed. The events of the first book is contextualised into the bigger oncoming war against the King of Hybern and everything makes sense – there are no surprises when all the facts fall into place. Sometimes in fantasy genres, there can be some glaring plot holes where the author has taken some creative license in bending the world building to fit the plot but all of the plot lines just come together so naturally in this book. I’m so excited to see how all of these pieces will tie together in the final installment.

I want to rave about so many other things but this has already become a love letter of epic proportions so I’m going to console myself by re-reading ACoMaF again v soon. This book has really set the bar for me for a lot of the fantasy genre which is saying something! Here’s to a painful year of waiting for the next book.

Have you read A Court of Mist and Fury? Do you prefer it to A Court of Thorns and Roses? Let me know in the comments below!

Waiting on Wednesday: A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which puts the spotlight on eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

September 2016 is looking so promising for YA fantasy releases, especially sequels, so I had to decide on which one I was most looking forward to for this WoW post. Now drum roll please… Sabaa Tahir’s A Torch Against the Night won out in the end!

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

Publication date: 8 September 2016 by Harper Voyager (UK)

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Synopsis: After the events of the Fourth Trial, Martial soldiers hunt the two fugitives as they flee the city of Serra and undertake a perilous journey through the heart of the Empire. Laia is determined to break into Kauf – the Empire’s most secure and dangerous prison – to save her brother, who is the key to the Scholars’ survival. And Elias is determined to help Laia succeed, even if it means giving up his last chance at freedom.

But dark forces, human and otherworldly, work against Laia and Elias. The pair must fight every step of the way to outsmart their enemies: the bloodthirsty Emperor Marcus, the merciless Commandant, the sadistic Warden of Kauf, and, most heartbreaking of all, Helene – Elias’s former friend and the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike. Bound to Marcus’s will, Helene faces a torturous mission of her own – one that might destroy her: find the traitor Elias Veturius and the Scholar slave who helped him escape… and kill them both. (Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it: I read the first in the series, An Ember in the Ashes, earlier this year (review here) and the series has totally made it’s way onto my top 10 YA fantasy series list. I had lots of questions, especially about the wider story arc, after the way the first book ended so I’m really looking forward to getting some more answers and seeing the fallout of Elias and Laia’s choices. Also really interested to see Laia and Elias interact more under different circumstances (some more romance perchance? Sue me.) and how they’ll have matured now that they’re more clued up about what they’re dealing with. 

There were also some great supporting and secondary characters, with intriguing back stories so I’m hoping to see some cameos in the book. A Torch Against the Night is the middle book in the series so I’m fully expecting to have more answers by the end, but if the first book is anything to go by, it’ll be quite the rollercoaster of drama and feels! 

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?

Bookish Review: An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

coverfullAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Published: April 2015 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

An Ember in the Ashes was a book club read and one I’d heard a lot of hype about as the next big fantasy series. The book couldn’t have come at a better time though because I was in the mourning period whilst waiting for the next installment in the Throne of Glass series, and I was hoping An Ember in the Ashes would fill that void perfectly.

Elias is a warrior trained at the most fearsome military academy in the Martial Empire. Laia is a slave, robbed of her freedom and her family. But their dreams and destinies are more alike than either could have imagined. When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason against the tyrannical Empire, she sets off an extraordinary quest to free him. Forced to sacrifice her own freedom and turn spy for the rebels, she meets the academy’s most promising student, who harbours his own rebellious thoughts against the Empire that he’s been brought up to serve. Together they realise they are both destined to play a part in a bigger game that could threaten the future of the Martial Empire itself.

I loved An Ember in the Ashes – that is basically the bottom line. However, having read it for a book club (always dangerous, prepare to either tear the book apart like an angry mob or pledge undying allegiance to it!!) I got to see how other book clubbers responded to it which is always interesting. The actual set up of the book was brilliant, it had all the classic elements of an epic fantasy – power struggles, prophecies, political maneuvering, and enough drama to keep me hooked. Whilst a rebel faction isn’t anything new in a YA fantasy, I did like how their objectives and their ethics were ambivalent, and the same goes for many of the characters too. Tahir was also cruel enough to sprinkle many clues about how the rest of the series will play out and what our protagonists have to look forward to, that I was practically eating out of her hand trying to join up the dots and guess.

I also found myself vested in the characters, their individual story arcs, and their interactions with each other. I cared about both the heroine and the supposed villain and shipped them most ardently 😉 I really liked how Laia was motivated not by some heroine complex but by her love for her brother. It was refreshing to see her not suddenly turn into a warrior princess and military strategist overnight just because she was a Protagonist on a Quest and associated with the rebel camp. Even though there were points where her naiveté led to some facepalm moments, overall it made her character more realistic. Elias was also interesting in that he was a defector  even though he was one of the best Martial soldiers and as high up the social pecking order as you could get. It was intriguing to see his internal conflict around morality which is actually a major part of the book.

However, there are definitely elements of the book that even I can concede could have been handled a little better and may irritate some readers. First of all, some of the love triangles were unnecessary and quite a few of my fellow book clubbers heartily agreed. I admit I was a little disappointed that Elias and Helene couldn’t just have a platonic relationship. I thought their shared childhood growing up under very difficult circumstances is more than enough justification for her to care deeply about him. There were also some elements of instalove, and risking of lives based on fleeting acquaintances (par for the course really).

Another niggle was with Tahir telling us multiple times that the Commander was the Big Bad and the students of Blackcliff were the most loyal and sadistic of the Martial Empire’s servants. Sometimes this wasn’t totally convincing. Sure, the Commander did punish Laia once severely but she didn’t follow through on lots of her threats – the facial mutilation that never was seemed to be a classic cop out by the author to keep the protagonist attractive and perfect. Also, most of the students seemed to spend most of their time angsting after each other and playing out their love triangles/rhombus/freaking polygons rather than being the brutal soldiers and assassins they were supposed to be. Now I’m not asking for more sadistic elements for the sake of it but it just seemed like Tahir told rather than showed this particular aspect of her world building.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of the rare occasions where my rating could be called slightly irrational – I’m totally aware of some of the glaring issues with the book but I nonetheless adored it overall and it was pretty near perfect for me. The goods definitely outweighed the not-so-greats for me and the series is now up there with my other favourite fantasy series such as the Throne of Glass and the Lunar Chronicles series.

Waiting on Wednesday: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which puts the spotlight on eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

I’m rather overdue a Waiting on Wednesday post, and after seeing a video of Sarah J. Maas introducing her new book, A Court of Mist and Fury, on the Waterstones YouTube channel, I thought it was perfect timing for a new WoW post.

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

Publication date: 3 May 2016 by Bloomsbury Childrens

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

SynopsisFeyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court – but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms–and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future–and the future of a world cleaved in two. (Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it: I totally fell in love with the first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I’m a big fan of Sarah’s Throne of Glass series, so my yearning for this book is par the course. I’m looking forward to seeing how Feyre fares at the Night Court and how she holds up against Rhysand’s charm especially after how things were left at the end of the first book.

The series so far has delivered great drama and has really populated my bookish boyfriends list (Rhysand, Tamlin and Lucien? Yes please!) Plus it has delivered more new adult-esque romance which was really welcome after ToG readers were left a little wanting 😉 

What upcoming releases are you looking forward to?

Bookish Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Published: January 2016 by Walker Books

GenreHistorical, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

UGH just look at that cover! Gorgeous Lady Helen, Broody Lord Carlston – seriously just gimme! I’d not read any of Alison Goodman’s previous novels but the cover (more about that later…) and blurb definitely grabbed me. Also I’m a massive historical fiction fan, and the society/debutante Regency sub-genre has always intrigued me so this really was a no-brainer.

Orphan Lady Helen Wrexhall has a £40,000 inheritance but the appeal of this is tempered by the rumour that her mother was a traitor to the Crown. After the disappearance of her housemaid and on the cusp of her debut into Society she finds herself thrust into the world of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club and finds out her unusual story is even stranger than she could possible have imagined. And to top it off the mysterious (and deliciously handsome) Lord Carlston seems to be the only person who can help… Lady Helen sets out to understand her destiny but juggling societal expectations and the inusufferable Lord Carlston soon proves way more than she can handle and it’s not long before Lady Helen finds herself in over her head.

The setting of Regency London is almost a character in and of itself in The Dark Days Club. I loved the rich description of everything from the attire of the nobility, the atmospheric London setting, and the strict rules and conventions that governed Regency society. Goodman’s detail is so immersive and as a born-and-bred Londoner many of the street names and parks were familiar to me. I really enjoyed imagining places like Piccadilly, Cheapside and Vauxhall with hackney carriages trundling down them and street peddlers on every corner. The references to real historical figures and events also helped to ground the book and made it so much more evocative of the era. There’s an Author’s Note at the end explaining the extensive research Goodman undertook in writing the book and it really shows. My favourite had to be the detail about Lady Helen’s wardrobe (seriously lush!) and the different rules of engagement between men and women (who knew ungloved hands could be so intimate?)

Lady Helen was a great character – she was spunky but at the same time sheltered and unsure of all the changes that were happening to and around her. I loved following the character’s progress as she finds out about The Dark Days Club and her place in it, and watching her transformation from a skeptical girl condemned to her lot in life as a Lady to the confident girl who makes her own decisions . The relationship between her and her lady’s maid, Darby, was a really wonderful portrayal of female relationships and they passed the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Lord Carlston was oh so swoonworthy – one of the reasons why I much prefer the UK cover over others 😉 He’s a complex character with lots of secrets and I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the next installment. I cheered on Lady Helen’s suspicion of Lord Carlston and reluctance to immediately and naively look to him for answers and appreciated that Goodman made the romance between the two veeery slow-burning (the tension between the two was so thick that by the end I was all for a bit of classic YA insta-love resolution)

I thought the fantasy element was really original and interesting. Goodman goes to a lot of effort to world-build but I felt that sometimes the explanations were a bit dense and also lots of the rules around the demons were conditional e.g. certain things would only happen during a full moon or if a demon had been feeding. I found it was an effort to recall all of these conditions/details and assimilate them with the events as they were happening. Nonetheless, the concept was refreshing and as it is the first book, the dense explanations are perhaps understandable and expected – another reason why I’m looking forward to the next in series!

The Dark Days Club was a great mix of fantasy, history and romance with classic YA heroes and heroines and I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Infernal Devices or The Diviners series where the fantasy element and the rich historical background blend together really well. I would probably recommend this for the beautiful detail of Regency London alone and think anyone even vaguely interested in the era would find it enjoyable!

Bookish Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Published: May 2015 by Macmillan Children’s Books

GenreFantasy, Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

Behold the 2015 Costa Book of the Year Award Winner! I found out about The Lie Tree after its shock win, becoming only the second time a children’s book has won the award since Philip Pullman’s win in 2001 almost fifteen years ago. The Lie Tree is a murder mystery wrapped up in historical fiction and so I was super excited to get stuck in.

Fourteen-year-old Faith finds herself thrown into a tale of mystery and intrigue when her father dies suddenly and under suspicious circumstances. No one else in her new village seems to agree though, and so Faith takes it upon herself to solve his murder. Amongst her father’s papers she finds evidence that points to a tree that survives on lies and rewards the person who sustains it with hidden secrets. Faith realises that the tree contains the secret to her father’s death and begins to feed it with progressively bigger lies, but she finds that not all truths are easy to bear…

Dead people bled silence

Well what to say about this book? It simply and utterly blew me away. I was totally and completely engrossed in Faith’s world from page one. She is a wondrously complex and inquisitive character and, although only fourteen-years-old, will resonate with readers young and old with ease. She had faults, good intentions, she loved and hated passionately, intelligence beyond her years, and an understanding of the ways of the world and the unfairness of her place as a female within that society. However, she was also naive and desperate for the acceptance of her father. I could literally go on. I haven’t come across a character in a very long time that I was so invested in. She is a fantastically realistic character, bolstered even further by a strong cast of supporting characters.

The rules tinkled silently as they broke

The prose was another delight. Frances Hardinge is a master of the English language and I found myself highlighting loads of passages as I read (grand total being upwards of 30!). The Lie Tree was atmospheric and beautiful in its detail and almost seemed like a love letter to the British coast – with its overcast but evocative weather and eccentric village cast. One thing I really noticed was how imaginative and original Hardinge is in her use of similes and metaphors. There’s a page where the author describes the sensation of taste and it was so expressive that the description left me responding physically – suffice to say this doesn’t happen often and Hardinge’s talent shines through her prose.

And now Erasmus Sunderley would be added to the names of the deceased in the family Bible, another little human life crushed fly-like between its great pages

Although the story is based on an outlandish fantasy object, the Lie Tree, I like how the author doesn’t glorify or overstate the oddity of the plant and its powers. Instead, Hardinge focuses the narrative on an exploration of the human character including the effects of greed and gossip. I loved the insights into Regency society – Faith’s canny and witty observations threw into sharp relief the societal restrictions placed upon women and girls and how she desperately wants to defy these. Whilst the main characters are predominantly male and Faith encounters many obstructions from male characters in her investigation, it is the female characters who are vivacious and strong despite the restrictive rules and conventions of society. Hardinge’s exploration of this, and Faith’s desperation to learn and to be accepted for her mind, weaves through the story but is never heavy-handed. 

Each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left behind by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.

The story moved along really well – there were no filler scenes with everything that happened contributing to moving along the plot. It was pacy and brisk, meaning that it kept the suspense ratcheted up – important in a book of this genre. I did not see the ending coming but liked it a lot. The only slight critique being that the action was a little hijinks compared to the rest of the novel and was a little jarring. However, it was executed well and did not detract from the overall excellence of the book.

I am not in the least bit surprised that The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This was a brilliantly evocative story with just the right amounts of intrigue, drama, societal issues and coupled with a fantastic cast of characters. In case my adoration wasn’t evident in the rambling above, I wholeheartedly recommend The Lie Tree and if you haven’t read it already, it’s well worth bumping this up to the top of your TBR list!