Friday, 29 November 2019

Godsgrave


Book Title: Godsgrave
Author: Jay Kristoff
Series: The Nevernight Chronicles #2
Date Started: October 9th 2019
Date Completed: November 28th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Action
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Four Stars
Review:

Godsgrave continues on the story of Mia Corvere from the first book with just as much gore, sex and glory. I have to say I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first book just because, with so much going on, it was so dense. It wasn't a bad thing for the story, and it wasn't a deal-breaker, but it was harder to read continuously.

Look, I need to take a moment to talk about how Jay Kristoff pulls off his twists because they're some of the few 'shocks' that I would actually give that name. There are some things that I can predict, and then there are some things I don't see coming at all, which is significant partially because a great deal of misdirection is used. He distracts you and makes it seem like something isn't important when it turns out to be the key to everything. But he also understands his readers. He is aware of their expectations both narratively, from genre to gratification, but also contextually. Kristoff knows the industry he works in and the other works it puts out, and he uses that to lead his reader down one path, implies they should be looking down another, and actually have the puzzle hidden behind a third direction altogether, letting all three converge at just the right time to be revealed. That's writing skill.

The tension works because violence and the threat of death are taken seriously in the story, so they have weight. Here's a little tip: don't get attached to anyone. Like anyone. Just because a character is named or instrumental to the story means nothing when this guy gets near them. And the tension also works because you know Kristoff is going to give you a conclusion by the last page. I can't tell you how satisfying it is to have a whole story arc and its goals achieved in a single book, even if it is part of a series. Kristoff knows how to add more questions rather than leaving things unanswered. He makes you want to come back for more rather than bribing with answers he's denied you.

Mia is interesting. Mostly because she's hard to predict. Not where it makes me question her consistency, but in a very human way that makes a unique spin on the very bloody, brutal world she lives in and the part she plays in it. She's hard and she's soft, and that's what's going to decide how this story ends more than her ability and luck. You don't often get characters like that. (I'd also like to thank Kristoff for some bisexual representation where a bi character actually has relationships with both genders).

With each instalment fulfilling its own narrative goals, I can't imagine what the last book in the series is going to be after it's done wrapping up its own story as well as the overarching epic that's been brewing for something like 1000 pages now. I hope it's just as jam-packed of everything, but I also hope I can't put it down.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

The Master Magician


Book Title: The Master Magician
Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
Series: The Paper Magician #3
Date Started: October 23rd 2019
Date Completed: October 21st 2019
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Adventure, Mystery
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three Stars
Review:


The Master Magician is the final instalment in an easy, enjoyable series of books. Magical, adventurous and cute (but kinda sickly sweet, you know), it's the kind of thing you pick up when you just aren't feeling up to a 600-page epic that's going to try and trick you and have you on the edge of your seat. I just wanted some magic, some mystery, and pretty metaphors.

Holmberg's triumph with this series is its magic system, and she absolutely dives into it. From the things you can do with each discipline of magic (paper, smelter (metal), polymaker (plastic), gaffer (glass), excisioner (blood), more that I'm sure I've forgotten), to the ways in which magic affects 18th Century London and the authorities governing it. I'll admit, sometimes things don't make sense; a trick with paper that was conveniently used earlier now doesn't occur to the characters, or something that could've completely solved a problem earlier is introduced without comment later on. But for the pure creativity of the magic system and how exciting it is to see everything develop, it doesn't really matter. Holmberg pulls something new out of the bag for practically every page you turn.

Let's be honest, each one of these books is basically the same formula when you think about it, but it's done in a way that you don't really notice unless you do sit down and think about it. Ultimately, that's what all stories are anyway. I will say that what annoyed me slightly was the collection of side stories that were very easily solved, to the point it made me wonder why they were there at all. But, oh well. What I'm basically saying is that The Paper Magician series isn't going to be winning any awards for its writing, but we need to remember that books and stories are just as important as entertainment as they are pieces of literature.

I do wonder how Ceony is still alive at this point when her instincts and ability to stay out of trouble are practically non-existent - and knowingly so - for the plot's sake. Yes, you need a way to get her into the middle of the danger for tension but this girl has the best luck at not dying when she really should be dead I have ever come across. The other characters are also incredibly irresponsible when they tell her anything to do with the plot considering her track record, but where would the fun in that be.

The Paper Magician trilogy has been a nice, pretty series wrapped up in a nice, pretty bow. It's not always my thing, but it's been fun, I've had a good time. I fully support easy, enjoyable reads, especially since we all need those simple stories to pull us away from the real world every now and then.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Scorpio Races


Book Title: The Scorpio Races
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Date Started: September 27th 2019
Date Completed: October 7th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure, Romance
Quality Rating: Five Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Five Stars
Final Rating: Five Stars
Review:

To say this book wasn't what I expected means a couple of things, but mostly it means I didn't expect to be so knocked off my feet. The Scorpio Races is very different from a lot of things out there, and it's fearlessly confident of its worth; there's no feeling that things are being pushed in or hurried up to keep the reader entertained. It is a gentle, fierce book, and is proud of it.

I love that the writing is so understated. This story is slow-burning, and all the more satisfying for it. The stakes are sky-high for these characters in very personal ways, but the narrative ebbs and flows with the natural timing of things like waves. It seems to instinctively know when to introduce the little threads of feminism or class politics, when to give you a small thrill, when to fill you with dread. It almost feels like there isn't a writer at all, which is all the more impressive on Stiefvater's part.

The main crux of the plot is the annual race with people-eating horses - and yes, I've simplified that because I think the story is really about the people. Stiefvater basically gives a masterclass on how to unite character motivations with a narrative so that the audience both understands the person and fully backs in the story. On top of that perfectly structured groundwork, she starts laying worldbuilding and lore and vibrancy: a world that is grounded in its realism, set on an offshore island sometime in the late 20th/early 21st century presumably, but magical enough that we can fall head over heels into the dreamlike atmosphere.

Both protagonists, Sean and Puck alike, are equals in this story. The ending perhaps felt like it wrapped up Sean's story a little neater than Puck's, but I didn't feel like any part of the plot was favoured at all until then. Because we were watching two very different but still comparable stories at once, entirely balanced, their arcs (and the romance) was so much more interesting. I didn't know who I wanted to win the race, I just knew that I wanted them both to get what they needed in the end. And that's a stronger driving force than any material goal.

Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle was enjoyable, but I honestly believe that The Scorpio Races is a mini-masterpiece that deserves just as much recognition. Maybe it should even be added to the lines of classics that favour like Black Beauty and Flambards, not because it happens to have horses in it, but because it understands the thoughtful stories they seem to tell with those around them, and the fierce inspiration they seem to give to writers.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Deathless


Book Title: Deathless
Author: Catherynne M. Valente
Date Started: September 5th 2019
Date Completed: September 23rd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Romance
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three Stars
Review:

Well, this was a massive disappointment after all the hype. There are some moments that feel perfectly out of a fairytale but, like a short story collection, they're few and far between and after looking forward to this for a couple of years at this point, I wanted a lot more.

Okay, I get that Deathless is supposed to be dark - awesome! Dark fairy tales are the best, they delve into the morality of the world, they shed light on the context in which it's written, they exaggerate the heights of bravery their heroes eventually achieve. But dark in this book is abusive and sexist, but it's written to be alluring and seductive. The idea of triumphing over it is there, but its thrown aside again and again. I get that the whole thing is a metaphor for Stalinist Russia, the revolution, and various historical events in the country's history (I'm sure if you're very familiar with the history, names and events will match up more obviously), and that's really cool. But Deathless is too on the fence about how it wants to explore that. You can have magical realism, exploring the history with fantastical symbols and landscapes where you aren't quite sure what's real and what isn't, or you can have pure fantasy set in a historical context and influenced by its events and politics - but this book tries to create a middle ground that doesn't work. It makes things confusing and frustrating and still isn't an excuse to make the abusive darkness appropriate to present as enticing in the way that it does.

Past the historical influences, Deathless is like the traditional epic fairy- and folk tales that combine lots of little stories into one. These weave together and supply characters with solutions or tools that will help them later on. Which kind of happens. But it didn't feel like things paid off that satisfyingly. Again, there's a strong thread of doom running through the book because of its inspiration, but even so things didn't feel like they really slotted into place - they felt separate like individual stories.

Last, but not least, is the fact that it's hard to get on with a story when you don't like the main character or feel connected to anyone else. Even more so with a story that is so intrinsically about the main character's change of heart over and over again. I understand that Marya isn't supposed to be likeable, and that's totally fine, but I wasn't rooting for her either and that's a problem.

I kept pushing through with Deathless because I wanted it to impress me, I wanted to be proven wrong, I wanted to love it. But when I reached the end, I thought... what was the point? It pretty much just ends, no climax, no twist, no tragic end even. Disappointed isn't even the right word, but it's the closest I've got.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Kingdom of Souls


Book Title: Kingdom of Souls
Author: Rena Barron
Date Started: August 27th 2019
Date Completed: September 5th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Adventure
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Three Stars
Final Rating: Three Stars
Review:

◆ Thanks to NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

In all honesty, I was bored throughout most of what I read, but when 25% rolled around (which is usually my cut-off point) I thought maybe it just needed a boost to get going. But suddenly at 30% it was Part Two and I didn't understand the point of Part One, so I gave myself a break and gave up on the book. Ultimately, while the world was awesome and there were the foundations for a good story, it refused to get on with it. Far too much unnecessary exposition and information dumping in the middle of scenes, making the plotline itself disjointed. The worldbuilding is great, but I don't need to be told in great detail because you want to delay until some action happens. Please, tell me a story, not anecdotes. In all fairness, this usually wouldn't be enough for me to wholly give up on a book but I found Arrah, our heroine, so passive as a protagonist that I was more rooting for something to go wrong to have some drama than for her to triumph. Not only does she not shut up about not having magic (even though she says she doesn't need it), she proceeds to refuse to attack her problem from a different angle. I'm pretty sure she will later develop magic in the book (or prove she doesn't need it) but she wasn't anywhere near that point a third into the book. I hope other people enjoy Kingdom of Souls more than I did, but in the end it wasn't enough to persuade me to invest more time in it.

Monday, 26 August 2019

The Fountains of Silence


Book Title: The Fountains of Silence
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Date Started: August 23rd 2019
Date Completed: August 26th 2019
Genres: Historical, Romance, Mystery
Quality Rating: Four Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Four Stars
Review:

◆ Thanks to NetGalley for this eBook copy for review ◆

Since I read Salt to the Sea three years ago I've been dying to pick up another one of Sepetys' books. The Fountains of Silence dives into a very different era in a very different place with very different people but is no less thorough and engaging. And hey, you gotta love a cute romance.

Sepetys is very good at representing history without feeling like you're in a lecture. She cares about her story, and so enriches it with the context, furled by the extensive research she's done - rather than distracting you with unnecessary tangents for the sake of it. The one blip for me were the contextual quotes; they were fascinating and helpful for my understanding of what was happening, but they took me out of the story with how irregularly they were placed throughout the book. It was a big sign pointing at the important plot twists that I would've preferred to have felt out myself. But at the same time, those quotes really hit their mark.

The protagonist of Fountains of Silence is a photographer, something which I didn't think much of until I started reading. For one thing, the way Sepetys writes about photographs without actually showing them is so engaging. But it's also a very clever device to put in a story about Francoist Spain, and she takes full advantage of that. (Ironically, the egalley I have doesn't include the photos at the back of the book that I imagine are either supposed to be Daniel's or are what inspired them. It'd be so interesting to cross-reference them with what's mentioned in the story.)

The Fountains of Silence has a time jump in it that I wasn't convinced about to begin with but actually, having finished, it really works well. I think it could've been more towards the middle of the book because I really wanted it to go on a little longer. I can see why it didn't or we would've had an entirely new story inside the same book, but things ended very abruptly. I finished the last page and was confused that the author's note was suddenly there.

Once again Ruta Sepetys is proven to be the queen of young adult historical fiction both in her diligence of research and mastery of stories inside that. The Fountains of Silence is a reasonably easy read for one so dark in many ways, and definitely an enjoyable way to educate yourself about important topics.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

The Zeppelin Deception


Book Title: The Zeppelin Deception
Author: Colleen Gleason
Series: Stoker & Holmes #5
Date Started: August 24th 2019
Date Completed: August 24th 2019
Genres: Historical, Romance, Mystery, Adventure
Quality Rating: Three Stars
Enjoyment Rating: Four Stars
Final Rating: Four Stars
Review:


Stoker & Holmes has been a guilty pleasure of mine for about three years, and I'm a little sad to see it end. The Zeppelin Deception does a good job of satisfying wrapping up the series to the point where I enjoyed it a little more than the others, actually. It didn't have loads of filler crammed in to make it longer; it just focused on finishing the story.

So pacing was a real strength in the final instalment, but it still didn't stop the completely unnecessary descriptions. I really don't need to have two pages reporting on every piece of food eaten or every outfit worn. I really don't care. Yes, the designs (particularly of clothes) are pretty cool with the Steampunk element prevalent in this series, but I'm not here for a catwalk or a buffet. Take a paragraph (if that) and then move on, please.

But, regardless, The Zeppelin Deception was very disciplined in wrapping up the series as a whole. The temptation in a final instalment is to throw in loads of last-minute twists for the sake of it, but this ultimately ends up either confusing the resolution or just completely changing the game you're supposed to be wrapping up. What this book did was give enough of a new plot to get momentum up, but then allowed the characters to naturally follow their own lines of suspicion that have been building up over five books to finally end the series. (And that's not to say that there weren't any final twists - oh, there definitely are - but they aren't at the expense of the final resolution.)

A book where the characters are allowed to be themselves with (mostly) no consequences - while unrealistic, especially in Victorian London - is really nice to read. I'm not here to gather material for an in-depth essay, I'm here for an enjoyable, easy read. And, whether deliberate or not, Gleason takes full advantage of that in her creative license; our imagination is already stretched so use it to give the reader things they will genuinely get joy from. For example, these books are 60% fluffy romance - totally valid anyway. But it's not my thing, yet a couple like Mina and Grayling are cute enough for me to forget about that for a while. Why not?

It's quite a sappy ending, but sometimes that's enjoyable. Stoker & Holmes are definitely a guilty pleasure and aren't works of Shakespeare, but they've been a lot of fun to read.