Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

bear-nightingale

Favourite quotes:

“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives”.

“All my life, I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me”.

“They smelled the city long before they saw it, hazed as it was with the smoke of ten thousand fires, and then the brilliant domes – green and scarlet and cobalt – showed dimly through the vapor. At last they saw the city itself, lusty and squalid, like a far woman with feet caked and filth. The high golden towers rose proudly above the desperate poor, and the gold-fretted icons watched, inscrutable, while princes and farmers’ wives came to kiss their stiff faces and pray”.

 

Vasilisa, or Vasya, loves a good story, a good fairytale. Especially those her nurse Dunya tells her and her brothers on a cold winter night – which is almost every night if one lives at the edge of Russian wilderness, beyond the Arctic Circle. Her favourite is that of Morozko (Frost) – a winter demon that claims the souls of the unworthy and rewards those who display courage in the face of the lethal cold. She loves fairytales and stories because she knows them to be real. The spirits that inhibits them are real – Vasya has seen them. Others in her household might not see them, but they honour them nonetheless, despite Christianity rapidly taking over and replacing the pagan beliefs in the old gods.

Soon, however, Vasya’s harmless stories and games aren’t so harmless anymore. Some years after her mother – daughter of a vedma (witch) dies, her father goes to Moscow to introduce her brothers to the Tsar and to find himself another wife. Vasya’s new stepmother is Anna, and she sees what Vasya sees. But she is afraid. She sees the household spirits as demons, devils. Throwing herself completely into Christianity, Anna and the new priest Konstantin, sent by the Tsar to Vasya’s village, forbid the people from worshipping the old gods, honouring the old ways. Vasya is the only one who sees, who understands the disasters that are arising as a result. The weather becomes worse, the crops fail, the wolves come closer and closer to the village, and Vasya is powerless to stop it. Or is she?

Can Vasya – a fourteen-year-old maiden now – defy her stepmother and make sure that the people remember the old ways and save them? Or will Anna and Konstantin send her to convent before she manages to do anything? And what if Frost isn’t real after all and Anna’s demand for snowdrops in midwinter make Vasya freeze to death – a fate fitting for a vedma?

 

Most of you know that I have Russian family and am fluent in the language. This is why I have such ambivalent attitude towards books based on Russian culture written by non-Russian authors. Some of those authors, like Catherynne Valente, get it so right that my heart weeps with nostalgia for childhood. Others, like Leigh Bardugo in the Grisha Trilogy, are talented in their own way, but fail to grasp the nuances of the culture and the history. Thus I was apprehensive when I picked up “The Bear and the Nightingale”.

I needn’t have been.

I’ve previously made dessert analogies in relation to reading books, and I must say that reading “The Bear and the Nightingale” was like eating a massive, decadent yet light and smooth, chocolate mousse. There were a lot of things packed in this page-turner, but they flowed so incredibly well that it was impossible to be overwhelved. And the writing was absolutely stunning.

The book strikes a perfect balance – just enough flowery prose, just enough descriptions and metaphors, and just enough references to history to satisfy the reader without overindulging them. And for me, it was a double treat – what with my Russian heritage and all! Although I should say – some of you might find a few “nuts” in the decadent “mousse” that is “The Bear and the Nightingale”. These “nuts” are Russian words that appear quite often throughout the text. Fortunately, there is a very helpful guide at the end of the book to help you figure out what the words mean.

I’m biased, as a Russian speaker, but I never get tired of seeing foreign words in an English text – especially those that fit! Some books, like “Black Widow” by M. Stohl were 90% hit, 10% obvious miss with the Russian vocabulary. “The Bear and the Nightingale” was a 100% hit. In fact, I’m not convinced that the book wasn’t originally written in Russian! It just flows so incredibly smoothly – I “translated” a little in my head and could see how well the grammar structures and sentences worked in both Russian and English narration. Miss Arden, I thus nominate thee an Honorary Russian! Although with the author’s background, it’s not surprising that she’s managed to craft such a beautiful, such a Russian masterpiece.

The book might technically be “fantasy” but it is also a terrific study of a little-known period of Russian history – post-Mongol invasion, pre-Peter the Great. It takes place a few years after the introduction of Orthodox Christianity to Russia (or Rus’, as it was known back then), and makes history and religion both important plot points and significant details of the overall atmosphere of the novel. And one thing “The Bear and the Nightingale” certainly doesn’t lack is atmosphere! I believe that one would enjoy reading this on a cold winter day/evening, curled up in a comfortable chair, under a warm blanket – that’s what I did. Best weekend in a while! I can’t really imagine rushing through a book like this one when you’re on a train, for example. No, these kinds of book demand being invested in them – both in terms of time and emotion. “The Bear and the Nightingale” is tricky to put down! Once you get pulled into it, only Solovey (Nightingale) himself can help you out of it! And that’s only because he would be exhausted of Vasya trying to braid his mane and need something to do.

Like I said above, this isn’t a quick book. But if you’re looking for a novel you could really get into, get invested in the plot and the characters (both the human heroes and the storybook villains), and enjoy the inevitable book hangover that follows, you need to pick up “The Bear and the Nightingale”. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can wait too long for the sequel! Rating – 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You would enjoy “The Bear and the Nightingale” if you liked:

“Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

“Deathless” by Catherynne Valente

 

Have you read “The Bear and the Nightingale”? What are your favourite books inspired by Russian folklore and history? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

Book Review: Neverland by Shari Arnold

neverland

Favourite quotes:

“There should be a rule universally accepted when it comes to kids, like an age restriction. Nothing and no one should harm a child during the time they are too young to fend for themselves. I get that life isn’t fair. But it’s far worse when you don’t understand what is happening to you. When you’re too young to even make sense of it. The death of a child hoes beyond unfair. It feels like a punishment”.

“Love isn’t selfish. It may be unkind and it will definitely humble you, but never will it demand what it can’t give back”.

“There’s this feeling I get sometimes, that I’m displaced, like I’ve fallen and no one has noticed yet. If I stay real still they’ll avoid me, put up pylons around me like I’m a large pothole in the ground. Yes. That’s what I am. I’m a pothole. And until someone comes along and fixes me, I am dangerous. I am broken. I am not a part of this life and yet I’m still here”.

 

Is anybody else missing “Once Upon a Time” like I am? March is still weeks away 😦

In the meantime,I suggest you enjoy this gif of my favourite character:

killian

and this review I wrote of a lovely, albeit not too well-known, retelling of “Peter Pan”.

 

Livy Cloud’s little sister Jenna died of cancer four months ago in Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ever since then, Livy spends most of her time there, reading stories to sick kids, hoping to make their stay there at least a little bit more bearable. She can’t bear the thought of any kid going through what Jenna had gone through, and hopes that by being there, she can at least help somewhat. Besides, it’s better than being at home, with her father who’s been locked up in his study since Jenna’s death and her mother whose sole focus is her Senate campaign. The children, especially Jenna’s best friend Jilly, love listening to Livy’s stories. However, they don’t seem to help Livy herself. She is unable to move on, to stop holding onto Jenna, to move past the denial and depression stages of grief. One day, she meets a mysterious teenage boy named Meyer in the reading room. He doesn’t answer any questions about himself – all he seems to want is for Livy to go on adventures with him and his mysterious friends all over town. Adventures are obviously the last thing on Livy’s mind, but little by little, she remembers how to have fun. Until a tragedy that was Meyer’s fault nearly takes away her best friend. Livy pushes him away and focuses her efforts on saving Jilly’s life – she is a match for a bone marrow translplant and if she couldn’t save Jenna, saving Jilly is the least she can do. However, her new tutor James H. makes her question things, encourages her to broaden her mind, reconsider many issues. Can Livy survive the operation and if not, what awaits her afterwards? Who is Meyer really and why does he seem to know James? And can Livy ever really move on from Jenna’s death and be happy again?

 

I was intrigued by the idea of a Peter Pan retelling taking place in a modern hospital, so that’s how “Neverland” made its way to my TBR almost a year ago. I did expect it to be quite an intense read – most loss of innocence stories are. What I didn’t expect it to be is an amazing tear-jerker that pulled me in right away. Nor did I expect to have such a hard time pausing when life got in the way.

Indeed, “Neverland” was both a sad and beautiful tale of family love, loss of innocence (like most of the Peter Pan retellings) and overcoming grief, and a mystery. The main mystery – for Livy, not for the reader – was Meyer. She is a girl from our world, and naturally she doesn’t believe in Peter Pan, Neverland, mermaids and all that magical stuff. There is little magic left in her life now that Jenna’s gone, so why is Meyer trying to convince her that it exists? Both Meyer and James are making her view Jenna’s passing in different lights, and yet they shed little light upon themseves. And whilst I realised whom they were supposed to represent pretty much right away (James Hook is not someone I’d ever miss), I was very intrigued by the direction the story was taking. Seemingly occurring in our world, it had touches of magical realism that were weaved into the contemporary setting by a skilled pen, as though they belonged here.

The characters and tropes are an integral part of “Neverland”. I have to admit, whilst I saw the glimpses of the seemingly intended love triangle, it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does. Nor did the insta-love between Livy and Meyer. I usually scoff at insta-love because most of the time, it is written in a very unbelieavable way, but I could see it happening to someone who’s gone through what Livy has gone through and I could certainly believe that she had fallen for Meyer. Another trope is loss of a young family member being a catalyst for character development. Jenna was a lot more than a plot device, but her death sets the events of “Neverland” in motion and thus serves as a prism for Livy’s character development. Livy has always been a good person, but it is through that prism that we see how selfless and loving she really is, and how, despite the devastating loss and the grim atmosphere of the hospital around her, she has retained a zest for life. Meyer was just a way to bring it back out – it’s always been there. Her romance with Meyer is important to the overall story, but it does not distract from the rest of the book, which is essentially Livy-centric. That’s not to say that the background characters are underdeveloped or boring. For example, the James Hook twist was definitely a new one and yet I could so see it.

You know that an author is talented when they write things that the reader believes and gets. “Neverland” is not Shari Arnold’s debut novel – it’s not even her first self-published novel. And reading it was an amazing experience. My rating is 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Neverland” if you liked:

“Never Ever” by Sara Saedi

“Nora & Kettle” by Lauren Taylor

“Alias Hook” by Lisa Jensen

“The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton

 

Have you read “Neverland”? What are your favourite Peter Pen retellings? Drop me a line in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Invisible Library, book 3)

burning-page

My reviews for books 1 and 2 of the series can be found here and here.

Favourite quotes:

“I’m quite happy to steal a book from storage where nobody’s ever going to read it. But I do feel a bit guilty about snatching it mid-read from someone’s bedside table”.

“I have spent most of my life preferring books to people. Just because I like a few specific people doesn’t change anything”.

“The only problem is that it’s difficult to imagine something entirely new. We use the words and definitions of the past to shape our ideas. Something that is genuinely the next evolutionary step is unlikely to resemble anything we can imagine. Even the best books on the subject are limited”.

At the end of “The Masked City”, Irene Winters has stopped a war between the Fae and dragons. However, the mess she’s made in the process wasn’t appreciated by her superiors of the Library, so she’s currently on probation. Which means that she’s stuck with lowly jobs that are hardly prestigious, such as snatching books from heavily chaos-infested worlds that are dangerous. And that means that her apprentice Kai (who happens to be a dragon prince) is also stuck doing these jobs with her. His Royal Dragon Family isn’t too happy, needless to say, despite the fact that they respect Irene for saving Kai from his kidnappers. One such lowly job almost ends in Irene and Kai being burnt to death just as they are about to leave a chaos-infested world and return to the Library. Turns out that the fire wasn’t accidental, and the Library Elders are very concerned. It seems that the traitor Alberich is trying to do something to the Library, but nobody knows for sure what. Since Irene is on probation, she doesn’t have much influence, but her mentor is willing to listen to her insights and assigns her a job that’s slightly more prestigious than her previous one. Irene is to snatch a book from one of the alternates ruled by the Imperial Russia.

But before she can set for St. Petersburg, Irene has to stop by Vale’s London to check on him. In the process, she and Kai are attacked by giant babboon spiders, Irene is kidnapped by werewolves, and the two Librarians find their friend Vale acting too much like his literary counterpart. On top of that, Irene’s old flame, a Fae called Zayanna whom she met in Venice, makes an appearance. And everyone knows that you can’t trust the Fae…

Will Irene and Kai be able to complete their mission and save the Library and Vale in the process? Or will traitors, giant Asian hornets, snakes and worlds that don’t seem to listen to the Language end up being too much for them to deal with?

I must admit – I’ve missed Irene, Kai and the London gang since finishing “The Masked City” almost exactly a year ago. I adore the characters of the “Invisible Library” series, and the world Genevieve Cogman has created. The third installment of the series contains even more action than the previous one, and characters barely spend any time on research or planning. We saw at least some semblance of that in “The Masked City”, when Irene tried to get to know the Guantes’, but “The Burning Page” contains very few interludes like that. Irene is actually a prime example of “act first, think later” in this book. Or maybe things just tend to happen to this “unprincipled adventuress working as a book thief”. Indeed, only in the first third of the book, she:

  • Was nearly burnt to death;
  • Was nearly trampled by furniture and stairs;
  • Was attacked by giant spiders;
  • Flew on a dragon’s back;
  • Got ambushed by an overly-friendly Fae;
  • Got rejected by a potential bedmate after finding him high as a kite;
  • Got dragged to what essentially was a staff meeting and an internal affairs squabble;
  • Got kidnapped by a bunch of werewolves.

And a bunch of other things happened. I’m sure you can imagine that the rest of the book is just as eventful. And all Irene’s ever wanted was just a good book to read…

Despite the dangers faced by a Librarian, I still have a major case of job envy. Irene indeed does have my dream job – she gets to travel to parallel worlds and meet all kinds of characters, live in the biggest library in the world, practice her language (and Language) skills on a daily basis, and of course, she has access to any book she could ever want. The Language was my favourite plot device in the first two books, and I was thrilled to see it making a huge comeback in “The Burning Page”. It has a lot of potential that wasn’t realized in “The Masked City”, so it was wonderful to see Irene and other Librarians use it a lot more frequently. And its usage in a fight between a hero and a villain was absolutely epic!

“The Burning Page” is primarily an action-and-adventure novel set in a world established in “The Invisible Library”, but we do get to learn more about Irene. If “The Masked City” focused more on Kai’s character and his family, the third book allows us some insights into Irene’s past and gives her several opportunities for character development. One of the things I’m expecting from “The Lost Plot” (Book 4, out later this year) is getting to know Irene even more. Another is seeing how the Library is managing, given the internal conflicts we’ve received a sneak peak of in this book, as well as other obvious challenges it had to overcome in “The Burning Page”.

The setting is one of my favourite part of the “Invisible Library” series, and it was lovely to see more of the Library in “The Burning Page” – we barely got to spend any time there in “The Masked City”. And of course, it featured two of my favourite cities – London and St. Petersburg. I’m convinced that whatever world they’re a part of, they would always be stunning, atmospheric and breathing with history. So it was quite wonderful to see Irene and Kai in action in these two cities. I can’t wait to find out where they’d be going next!

“The Burning Page” is just as good as its predecessor, “The Masked City”, and I look forward to reuniting with our favourites in “The Lost Plot” in a few months! My rating is 8/10.

Dreamcast:

Irene – Rebecca Hall

Kai – Godfrey Gao

Bradamant – Indira Varma

Vale – James D’Arcy

Zayanna – Holliday Granger

Recommendations

You might like “The Invisible Library” series if you liked:

“Rabbit Back Literature Society” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläi

“Magic Ex Libris” series by Jim C. Hine

“The Librarian” movie trilogy

Have you read “The Burning Page” yet? How about other books in the series? Share your opinions in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

egg.jpg

I’m only a boy born a dragon’s tooth

In the nick of time, sad but true.

No father or mother, just two hundred brothers

All telling me what to do.

I want to belong to the two hundred strong,

Yet here is the dismal truth:

I’ll never get older

Or grow up a soldier,

I’m a boy born a dragon’s tooth”.

 

Favourite quotes:

“When you’re young, I think, being vulnerable to desolation comes from your not being able to imagine the world beyond you.<…> Being vulnerable to desolation also arises from being unable to picture a set of choices with which to change your lot in life”.

“It seems there is no shortage of regret among the young – but then, they are young, they make mistakes. They have time to correct them and the courage to admit their failings aloud. Adults should try it. But frankly, I think it’s a miracle that adults can manage to speak to one another at all, and that the entire species doesn’t take a universal vow of silence. Some days I wish it would”. 

“Anything that can happen will happen, sooner or later. The question is whether or not the world can be made ready”.

 

My long-term readers would remember how much “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire destroyed my soul. Naturally, I got another Maguire’s book – this time it’s a YA fantasy based on Russian mythology, a.k.a the characters my family and I grew up with.

“Egg & Spoon” is set in an alternative pre-revolution Russia where magic is real. It is a story of two girls from completely different worlds. One is Elena, a peasant girl who fights for her survival and her mother’s every day. The village of Miersk is desolate, miserable and the land doesn’t produce any food. Elena’s survival depends solely on her own wits and resourcefulness. She doesn’t have her brothers to help her anymore – one, Luka, has been conscripted and another was taken away by the landowner. She needs to get one of them back. But to do that, she needs to go to Saint Petersburg to beg the Tsar to release Luka from his service.

Another is Ekaterina (Cat), a spoiled kid neglected by her parents who insisted on her meeting the Tsar’s godson and pulled her out of a boarding school in London for that very purpose. She is stuck on a train with her aunt, the butler and the governess, and the train couldn’t be passing through Russia slowly enough. By a twist of fate, it stops at Miersk – the very village where Elena struggles to survive on a daily basis. We see through our yet unknown narrator’s eye that two girls form an unlikely friendship and by another twist of fate and by virtue of several accidents, switch places with one another. Elena is headed to St Petersburg, whilst Cat is stuck in frozen Miersk with not a single friendly face around. Luckily – or perhaps not so luckily – she meets Baba Yaga. For those unfamiliar with the Russian folklore, she is a witch who lives in a house with chicken legs and is rumoured to lure children in only to eat them later. She is incredibly wise and can appreciate a smart girl, however. Cat, while a sheltered kid, quickly finds her wits about and gives Yaga a gift – a Faberge Egg.

What neither Elena nor Cat know, but Baba Yaga strongly suspects, is that the Firebird is missing and there is no egg from which a new one can hatch. A Firebird is like a phoenix and without it, magic – which is the essence of the Russias – cannot exist either. Our narrator knows that too, and he is scared. Can Elena, Cat, Baba Yaga and the Tsar’s godfather Anton successfully defy the Tsar and find the Firebird? Or will the magic of Russia disappear forever and the lands swallowed by the Ice Dragon?

 

Gregory Maguire is not the sort of author whose books you can just “flick” through. His novels require focus and complete immersion into the worlds that he weaves or adapts. Doing that with “Wicked” has destroyed me in the best way possible, and doing it with “Egg & Spoon” was an amazing ride, too, from start to finish. We are introduced to the narrator early on, but we don’t know who he is until the end of the novel, which adds an element of mystery to an already well-crafted, well-written story that twists Russian mythology in a way I’ve never seen before, and, as someone with Russian ancestors, can appreciate. “Egg & Spoon” to young Russian aficionados is what “Deathless” is to those who are a bit older. Yes, in essence it is a children’s story, with protagonists in their early teens. We have two very different young girls, a boy who is thirsty for adventure, a reluctant mentor figure whose sass can easily match that of “Deathless”‘ Baba Yaga, an equally sassy cat, and a quest. In other words, this has all the elements of an amazing YA novel, and it takes a writer like Maguire to twist them into a story that would appeal to adults and children alike.

I’ve been to St Petersburg a few times by now, and I’ll never get tired of that city taking my breath away, making my soul soar and playing with my emotions to her heart’s content. Needless to say, reading books that take place in St Petersburg is something I love doing, and I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to the city’s atmosphere being reflected in literature and having the power to break my heart over and over again. “The Bronze Horseman” has done that to me earlier this year. “Egg & Spoon” might not have broken my heart like “Wicked” has, but it certainly did leave its impact. It’s been about a week since I finished it, and I’m still feeling it. Not just because of a setting that’s close to my heart, but also because of how real the characters felt to me, of how easy it was to recognise my much, much younger self in all of them, and also because of the overall tone of the book. The narrator tells the story of Cat and Elena in a way that tugs at your heartstrings, but there are also moments when you can’t do anything but laugh out loud at Baba Yaga’s antics.

I should point out that the poem that begins this review is one of the saddest bits of “Egg & Spoon”, and is uttered by a character who NEEDS his own spin-off.

 

Maguire, you’ve done it again. You’ve managed to hold my attention for the entirely of a novel, and I want more. 8.5/10 is my rating of “Egg & Spoon”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Egg & Spoon” if you liked:

“Deathless by Catherynne Valente”

“Briar Rose” by Jane Yolen

“Tsarina” by J. Nelle Patrick

 

Have you read “Egg & Spoon”? What are your favourite Russian fairytale retellings? Let me know! And Happy NaNoWriMo 2016!

Book Review: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid, Book 1) by Seanan McGuire

Untitled-10

Favourite quotes:
“You are an insolent, irresponsible, immature little bitch!
And you’re an arrogant asshole, and there may be a dragon under this city. Now can we stop the dick waving and start figuring out how we’re going to deal with this? Or do I have to kiss you again?”
 
“Mother Nature is a freaky lady who probably created pot so she could spend all her time smoking it”.
 
“It’s amazing how quickly and completely the natural world can adjust. People forget that pigeons aren’t hatched from cracks on the sidewalk; they’re wild birds that have simply learned to exist in symbiosis with the human race. Their adaptation is proof that it can be done. We should applaud the pigeon as a survivalist totem, not call them “rats with wings” and shoo them off our windowsills”.
 

 

“New York is a city built upon the cannibalized remains of its own past, constantly changing, constantly the same”. Verity Price, however, isn’t looking to bring any change to New York, except to ensure that its cryptids (the bogeymen, the chupacabra, the basilisks, etc.) are safe from humanity, particularly The Covenant. And to win the Regional Argentine tango competition, despite her family insisting that she dedicate her life to cryptozoology, like every other member of the Price clan.

 

Apart from living illegally in an apartment infested with Aeslin Mice, working for a sleazy cryptid bar owner named Dave and having to sacrifice her nights for either work or dancing or cryptozoology, life isn’t going too badly for Verity Price. That is, until she encounters tall, dark and insolent Dominic de Luca from The Covenant – a society of religious fanatics who want to rid the Earth of all cryptids and who are the reason the Price family had to hide for hundreds of years. Is Dominic de Luca the reason cryptid girls are disappearing all over the city? Or is it just an unfortunate coincidence and if yes, who is kidnapping the girls? And how could there be a dragon sleeping underneath New York? Is he eating all the girls? And does Verity have the time to find all that out in addition to her dance competition and her job at the bar?

 

“Discount Armageddon” is classified as urban fantasy and I must say, it’s urban fantasy as its finest – diverse cast of characters, urban setting (you can’t get more urban than New York really), monsters who are characters in their own right, and utter hilarity. Yes, “Discount Armageddon” is a lot of fun. The character of Verity Price is a big reason why – she is clever, she’s witty, she’s been trained to fight to the death from a very young age, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. Overall, a badass with an attitude and a sharp tongue to match. She reminded me a little of Alexia Tarabotti – a woman who is a unique species in itself and feels at home with all sorts of creatures, except religious fanatics who probably want to murder her. However, the world of “InCryptid” isn’t like Parasol Protectorate’s England – for starters, werewolves etc. don’t present themselves as integral members of society. “InCryptid” isn’t an alternative history novel, it’s an urban fantasy novel – more like “Matthew Swift” than “Parasol Protectorate” in that regard. Verity Price doesn’t have any angels stuck in her (as far as we know!), but her wit can certainly match Swift’s, and like Swift, she has a special relationship with all kinds of creatures. Her family is another story entirely – they have a pretty rich history which I’m looking forward to learning more about in Book 2, and they are quite the characters in themselves – for example “Naga wouldn’t mind being called an uncle under the circumstances, and he was the family go-to guy for anything involving snake cults, largely because he was frequently their target. It was just that explaining why I had an extradimensional professor of demonic studies as an honorary uncle would take too long – especially since the uncle in question was a giant snake from the waist down”.

 

I also loved that Verity is a scientist and a dancer (#girlpower), and she doesn’t want to eradicate anyone who isn’t human. On the contrary – she strives to learn as much as possible about other cultures and to protect them from people like Dominic de Luca. Speaking of – I expected there to be romance between Verity and Dominic from the moment they fought each other for the first time, but I was pleasantly surprised at how their romance didn’t get on my nerves and didn’t distract from the main plot. I generally quite enjoy romances that go something like this – “The intoxicatingly mingled scents of sex and sweat perfumed the bedroom air, making me want to fight an army, dance a tango and take a long nap, not necessarily in that order”. The twists in urban legends used by the author were also quite interesting, especially the dragon twist (no spoilers, sorry!). I look forward to reading book 2 in the InCryptid series – I really want to learn more about Verity’s family and friends, and various monst… sorry, cryptids that populate New York.

 

“Discount Armageddon” is written quite well – there are some lengthy passages that provide intro to certain characters, but the overall tone of the book is quite humorous, so they were as much fun to read as the rest of the book – “Not all sirens are into the whole “sitting on rocky atolls luring sailors to their death” gig. At least one is making a pretty good living as a pop singer. She calls herself “Emerald Green”, pretends her hair is dyed that particular shade of seaweed, and refuses to book gigs in coastal cities unless they’re purely acoustic. Nature isn’t always destiny.”
Epigraphs before each chapter were another part I loved – “A proper lady should be able to smile pretty, wear sequins like she means it, and kick a man’s ass nine ways from Sunday while wearing stilletto heels. If she can’t do that much, she’s not trying hard enough”. Also, the book has a playlist of awesome songs at the end – I love when authors do this. My rating of “Discount Armageddon” is 8.5/10.

 

 
Dreamcast
Verity Price – Kristen Bell
Sarah – Cristin Milioti
Candice – Margot Robbie

 

 
Recommendations
You might like “Discount Armageddon” if you liked:
“The Immortal Empire” series by Kate Locke
“Parasol Protectorate” series by Gail Carriger
“October Daye” series by Seanan McGuire

 

Have you read the “InCryptid” series? What are your favourite Urban Fantasy reads? Gimme a shout in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: The Vanishing Throne by Elizabeth May

vanishing throne

My review for Book 1 of this series can be found here.

Favourite quotes

“The truth is, memories weigh a great deal. Each one bends your bones a little more until the heft of them wears you down. Now I know that some scars go so deep that they never fade”.

“Truth is never as pretty as a lie. It’s never as appealing. It’s a sword to the gut, the thing that reminds us that some people aren’t who we thought they are. Truth forces us to confront the ugliest parts of the people we love”.

“Don’t look at me for ideas. I just got to keep my body parts”.

 

Aileana Kameron has made a grave mistake, and now the faeries have been released and are wreaking havoc upon Scotland. She doesn’t know how long the assault on Edinburgh has been going on for – days, weeks, months, years have no meaning in Sith-bhruth, where she is trapped and kept prisoner by Lonnrach. Since Aileana is a Falconer – the last representative of a race that kills faeries – and Lonnrach is a baobhan sith, i.e. brother of the very same faerie that killed Aileana’s mother, their relationship is the opposite of pleasant. What Lonnrach puts her through in order to find what he needs is nearly impossible to bear, and it changes Aileana forever. These changes become clear when she escapes Lonnrach with the help of another badass lady and sees what has become of Scotland and her friends. The remaining people of Scotland have formed a fragile alliance with the fae in order to survive, but both the human world and the fae world are on the brink of destruction. The last remaining Falconer can get the solution to saving the worlds, but at a grave cost. Is Aileana ready to – literally – die to save the realms? Or is she still consumed by vengeance?

 

I waited for “The Vanishing Throne” pretty much since the moment I closed the very last page of “The Falconer” in the summer of 2014. I wanted to know more about Aileana’s world, and I wanted to see more badassery, but at the same time, I was anxious about “the second book syndrome”. Fortunately, “The Vanishing Throne” is just as good as “The Falconer” and in some aspects, it even surpasses it. In my review of “The Falconer” I mentioned that I wasn’t thrilled with the cliffhanger, but book 2 starts right after book 1 ends, which worked really well and made for a smooth transition. We don’t see Kiaran and other lovable characters from book 1 for a while – the first part is Aileana-centric, and provides a lot of material for character development, that’s written in a very compelling way. This part also provides us with some insight into the fae magic, which is quite disturbing. The Fae are generally pretty creepy creatures, I find, and I was glad to see that the author doesn’t romanticise them like many other fantasy authors I read. The bone-chilling history of the kingdoms of Seelie and Unseelie that’s revealed throughout the book just adds to the “creepy” factor. We also learn more about the world in which the series is set, which is what I was hoping would happen in this installment.

Aileana Kameron is the best part of “The Vanishing Throne” – just like “The Falconer”. Her development is central to the novel, as it was in book 1. If in book 1 she was primarily driven by revenge for her mother’s death, book 2 shows us that Aileana’s actions that involve killing faeries are no longer about avenging her mother’s murder – she is determined to save the world, even if it costs her her own life. She is not perfect – she feels like a real person, with strengths and flaws, and the emotions she experiences throughout the book are felt by the reader, even when the author doesn’t name them. We all know that a great author shows but doesn’t tell, and May has done the job perfectly in “The Vanishing Throne” when it came to the reader getting to know the Aileana that has gone through what few people have. The writing in “The Vanishing Throne” is even better than in “The Falconer” – as I pointed out, May’s way with words has genuinely made Aileana Kameron a stand-out. The setting in book 2 is much more sinister than in book 1 – there are fewer dances and no society functions, but a lot more blood, death and torture. The blend of the fae and human realms is very vivid, and the reader has an excellent picture of the world created by the author and inspired by the Scottish folklore in their head.

“The Vanishing Throne” is NOT a happy book. “The Falconer” wasn’t either, but the second installment is much darker, and Derrick’s jokes unfortunately bring less relief when the characters know that the world is ending. The romance between Aileana and Kiaran is more interesting than it was in the first book, but after finishing the book, I felt that there was even less hope for them than after Aileana was pulled under into Sith-bhruth at the end of “The Falconer”. The ending of book 2 is less of a cliffhanger than that of book 1, but it is nonetheless quite shocking and makes you yearn for book 3, which unfortunately doesn’t come out until 2017. I can wait, but it’ll be hard! My rating of “The Vanishing Throne” is 7.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Falconer” series if you liked:

“The Infernal Devices” by Cassandra Clare (and “Shadowhunters” TV series)

“Fever” series by Karen Marie Moning

“Throne of Glass” series by Sarah J Maas

 

Have you read “The Falconer” series? What are your favourite books set in Scotland? Do let me know in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

tell wind fire

Favourite quotes

“Real grief is ugly and uncomfortable. People look away from grief the same way they look away from severed limbs or gaping wounds. What they want is pain like death on a stage: beautiful, bloodless, presented for their entertainment”.

“Happiness is self-sabotage, a mean trick that your own mind plays on you. It makes you careless, makes you lose your grip, and once you lose your grip, you lose everything. You certainly aren’t happy anymore”.

“People will come up with a hundred thosand reasons why other people do not count as human, but that does not mean anyone has to listen”.

 

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the future, there are two New Yorks – the self-indulgent Light City ruled by powerful and ruthless Council of Light magicians, and the Dark city where dark magicians deemed too dangerous to live with the rest of the people are buried. Both races need each other to stay alive. Lucie Manette was born in the Dark city, but she managed to win herself a place in the Light city, amongst the elite, through careful manipulations and lies and becoming a symbol of the Light magicians’ mercy. The status has also helped her win the heart of Ethan Stryker – son and nephew of Charles and Mark Stryker, prominent figures on the Light Council. All is well, until Lucie uncovers a fatal secret about Ethan that involves a forbidden Dark ritual and a despised Doppleganger named Carwyn. Once Carwyn’s existence comes to light, the future of the Stryker family hangs by a Golden thread that’s becoming thinner and thinner as Carwyn’s revolutionary activities come to “Light”. The two cities are facing the threat of burning, and it is up to Lucie to save Ethan, Carwyn and bring about the end of the revolution.

 

The author of “The Lynburn Legacy” has created a retelling of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”. Needless to say that the adventures of Lucie, Ethan and Carwyn are very different from those of Kami, Jared and the rest of the Lynburn legacy crew. Firstly, “Tell the Wind and Fire” is not a funny book – not that you’d expect a retelling of a Dickens novel to be funny. The book does certainly have enough familiar elements to be called a “retelling” – the two cities, the Revolution, the murders and the heroine who is perceived as the beacon of light (The Golden Thread) thanks to her hair and status. I did like how the author added magic into the mix to make this an urban fantasy dystopian, but I wouldn’t call the plot devices used in the book “groundbreaking”. We have seen them in “The Hunger Games”, “Divergent”, “Half Bad” and several other YA dystopians. There’s nothing wrong with the societal divisions tropes, but to be frank, I have read far too many novels that use it to be suitably impressed.

Another issue I had with “Tell the Wind and Fire” is the pacing. It started off really well by diving into action that involved death threats right away, but what followed is a large chapter of nothing but background information on how Lucie and Ethan came to be and how the Light and Dark city can’t function without each other. What follows is events not unlike the ones that transpire in “A Tale of Two Cities”, except the pacing is kind of all over the place, making it quite difficult to understand why characters (bar the exception of Lucie, thanks to the info-dump) act the way they do. A great storyteller, which I know Sarah Rees Brennan to be, would weave a story that makes us understand the characters and the plot, as well as the setting without random chunks of information thrown at the reader. I am honestly a little surprised – Brennan’s other books weren’t anything like that.

However, I can’t imagine that retelling a novel as massive and dense as “A Tale of Two Cities” was an easy job to do, and I’m not saying that the author failed to complete the task. It’s certainly a far better retelling of a Dickens novel than “Olivia Twisted”, for instance. However, I do feel that it is next to impossible to squish a plot of “A Tale of Two Cities” into 350 pages or so and expect excellent results. My verdict is that “Tell the Wind and Fire” has an amazing premise that could’ve been executed spectacularly if it were a series or at least a much longer standalone, with fewer info-dumps and more room to flesh out the characters. My rating is 6/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Tell the Wind and Fire” if you liked:

“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E.Schwab

“A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J Maas

“A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

Have you read “Tell the Wind and Fire” yet? Do you have any good retellings of Dickens’ novels that you’d like to recommend? Do let me know!