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! 🙂

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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!

Book Review: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

winterspell

Let’s ignore the fact that the girl on the cover looks exactly like Peyton Sawyer, shall we?

Seventeen-year-old Clara Stole hasn’t had the best life – what with having a father who’s a Mafia boss in 19th century New York, a mother who’s been brutally murdered and a sleazy doctor who’s been after her for years. Her only source of comfort are her mysterious combat training sessions with Godfather Drosselmeyer and a statue of a handsome man in his shop that causes Clara to have thoughts she’s been taught to hate. But on Christmas Eve of 1900, Clara’s house is attacked by brutal warriors who look like rats, her father disappears, and the statue comes to life. Turns out the statue is none other than Prince Nicholas of Cane, a magical land invaded by the cruel Queen Anise and the faeries. As Clara, her father, Nicholas and Godfather Drosselmeyer run away from the Faery warriors and end up in Cane, all Clara can think about is getting back by the New Year’s Eve to save her sister from the sleazy Dr. Victor and finding her father who was kidnapped by the Faeries, not helping Nicholas get his throne back. Can Clara and Co get out of Cane in time or will the gang fall apart and betray each other? And is there more to Queen Anise that meets the eye?

 

I picked up “Winterspell” because I was interested in reading a retelling of “The Nutcracker” – one of my favourite Christmas tales by E.T.A. Goffman, adapted by Tchaikovsky into one of the most famous ballets in the world. Marketed as a “dark fairytale”, this book has unfortunately failed in keeping me engaged for at least 60% of it. It was very painful to read about how much abuse Clara was taking at the start and while her reaction to it was handled quite well by the author, and she does go through quite a bit of development, she’s not the kind of heroine I’m interested in reading. What I particularly disliked was how her sexual awakening was treated. I understand that sexuality is an important and a fascinating aspect of fairytales, but the way she was attracted to the statue was, quite frankly, off-putting to say the least; I’d even go as far as to say that it was creepy. And not in the cool fairytale kind.

I appreciated the backstory of the world of Cane written in the style of a Christmas fairytale – those bits were in fact Legrand’s best pieces of writing in the whole book. Unfortunately, therey were few and far between. The narrative didn’t really flow very well – I had to go back a couple of pages every few chapters to figue out what the hell Clara was up to. Clara’s narration was also not great in the first half of the book and it didn’t get much better except during the times she spent with the villain.

To be quite honest, the villain was the most interesting character, and generally the best part of the book. She reminded me a little of Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles (without the raping a guy for a year part thankfully). She was a very interesting character with a compelling backstory that could’ve been explored more. I’m not hesitating in saying that this villain was wasted on a book like “Winterspell” and I almost stopped reading when she died. I don’t normally appreciate queer characters getting killed off, and in this case, I was particularly disappointed to see a bisexual villain die when she had so much potential.

However, a compelling villain and mildly atmospheric writing weren’t enough to make up for a heroine I didn’t like, a love interest that was creepy but otherwise completely bland and poorly handled sexual themes. The only things I recognised from “The Nutcracker” were the heroine’s name, the rat soldiers and a statue who turns into a man. The German words randomly scattered across the text don’t count – they were there for literally no reason other than because the original story is in German I’m afraid “Winterspell” has failed to enchant me, and my rating is 6/10. I suggest sticking with the original story or better yet, seeing the ballet.

 

Favourite quotes:

“All Lady mages were girls at one point, weren’t they? And I bet few of ’em ever planned any assassinations.”

“Like an architect dropped into a world of infinite awareness and infinite possibilities, she felt an urge to explore and create.”

 

Dreamcast

Clara Stole – Cara Delevigne

Nicholas – Armie Hammer

Bo – Amandla Stenberg

Anise – Michellle Williams

 

Recommendations

You might like “Winterspell” if you liked:

“The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer

“Fractured Dream” by K.M. Randall

“Iron Fey” by Julie Kagawa

“Into the Woods”

Have you read “Winterspell”? What are your favourite fairytale retellings? Please let me know 🙂

Book Review: Miss Mabel’s School for Girls by Katie Cross

miss mabel

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

Bianca Monroe is a 16-year-old witch. A powerful Inheritance curse has been placed on her mother and grandmother. The witch behind the curse is none other than Miss Mabel of Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. The school is the most prestigious one in the Witches’ Network and every year, it hosts a Student Competition, the prize of which is private lessons with the school’s High Witch. Within the first few hours of arriving to the school, Bianca volunteers for the Competition – the first first-year volunteer in centuries. She needs to get to Miss Mabel and to save her family. But what she doesn’t realise, and what she has been warned about, is that winning the Competition was the easiest part – Miss Mabel is cunning, ruthless and ambitious and has her own agendas, for which Bianca could be the perfect weapon…

 

“Miss Mabel’s School for Girls” is a fairly short novel – I managed to finish it in an afternoon. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised. For a debut author, the world of The Witch Networks is quite solid – I read a lot of fantasy and paranormal books, and witches, together with vampires, are amongst my least favourite premises. Katie Cross, however, did manage to make it work for me. Perhaps it’s because I love novels set in boarding schools, and I especially like it when there are actual lessons and learning going on – otherwise it’s just a building where teenagers rebel and manage to fool experienced supervisors with the dumbest tricks in the book. The writing is unpretentious and sets the fast pace quite nicely. Even Bianca’s occasional internal monologues fit it really well.

The book is the first instalment in “The Network series”, which explains the brief, albeit, as I said above, quite solid explanations of the world of The Network. One of the things that surprised me was that the witches in the book were more “Harry Potter” than those who practice Wiccan religion. The students at Miss Mabel’s School learn charms, spells, magical arts and other things of the sort – which is what we see at Hogwarts. However, the world of Harry Potter doesn’t have High Priests and Priestesses, whereas in “The Network” they are quite important. I look forward to leanring more about the world in the next installment!

“Miss Mabel” is a quick, fast-paced read that doesn’t try to be anything other than a nice way to spend a summer afternoon. It is a very good book for a summer reading list. My rating is 6.5/10

 

Favourite quotes

“Grimoires were my favorite. I loved learning what magic the original owner knew, what secrets and spells they passed on, like a magical diary.”

“No girl should have to fight for her own right to live.”

 

Dreamcast

Bianca Monroe – Bianca A. Santos

Miss Mabel – Kate Bosworth

 

Recommendations 

You might like “Miss Mabel’s School for Girls” if you liked:

“Gallagher Girls” series by Ally Carter 

“Gemma Doyle” series by Libba Bray

“Leland Sisters” series by Marissa Doyle

Book Review: Fractured Dream by K. M. Randall

fractured dream

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

It’s been almost ten years since Story Sparks, a 20-year-old art major from a small town in New York, had a dream. Now the nightmares are back – the Wolves in her dreams are attacking a girl who was her friend from a long time ago, but Story doesn’t remember ever knowing her. The dark waters of Lake Sandeen in Story’s town, where her Uncle disappeared years ago, may hold the key to Story’s dreams – or are they memories? Together with her two best friends Elliott and Adam (more on that later), they dive into the lake one day and are never seen in the Real World again.

The truth is, they went down to Story’s real world. The world she has forgotten a long time ago, where she had friends, magical powers, and was known as The Dreamer. But where did her memories go? Unfortunately, seeking the answer to that question has to wait because the world of Tressla is in danger. It used to be populated by beloved Fairytale characters (with a twist, of course), but now they are pariahs and are in hiding because of power-hungry Lord Brink. Story has a very big role to play in the struggle against him, but as their journey continues and old and new friends and family are found and lost again, she learns a lot more about her past, present and future than she originally bargained for and the weight on her shoulders increases each passing day. Does being The Dreamer mean that an old prophecy is about to come true? What would it mean for Story’s Dark Self and her Spirit? And what is it about a tall-dark-handsome-mysterious Nicholas that draws Story to him inexplicably?

“Fractured Dream” is told in several third-person POVs. All narrators have distinct voices, which was particularly clear in several sections of the book which were narrated in a style of a fairytale. These were my favourite parts – not only because of how well they were written, but also because of the deep insight they offered into the world of Story and Tressla, as well as the past and present characters. Not to mention, they were quite lovely stories and would have worked just as well as short separate fairytales.

Another great thing about “Fractured Dream” was the cast of characters and the twists KM Randall added to them. We have Story’s two best friends from the real world – strong and brave Adam, who is on a first-name basis with earth magic and hilarious and supportive Elliott who is a seer, or a psychic – depends on where you’re from. The great thing about those three is that there is NO LOVE TRIANGLE. Firstly, Elliott is not into women. Secondly, as the story went on, I was more and more convinced that these two were meant for each other. We also have Story’s friends from Tressla, that she’s forgotten over her time in the Real World – Wolf Slayer Jess, whose story of Little Red Riding Hood is as twisted as it gets, lovely Kestrel with whom Story has grown up (but again, doesn’t remember – who took Story’s memories and why?), Bliss the Thumbelina (remember H. C. Anderson’s tale? One of my childhood favourites), and Morgana and Guinevere – as Elliott said, there is no Lancelot in this version of the story. And of course, there is Nicholas – Story’s romantic interest with secrets of his own. I did feel as though their romance was rushed at first, but it made sense as the story progressed. The story of The Dreamer and the Fiddler was one of the fairytales I loved that I mention above.

The characters and their friendships and relationships are a strong point in “Fractured Dream” and I am looking forward to reading more about them in the second installment of The Dreamer Saga. The fairytale setting was not my favourite one – I’ve read and watched a lot of retold fairytales – but KM Randall’s writing is very atmospheric and it does suck the reader into the world of Tressla. The vivid imagery and the twisty retellings were quite wonderful.

What prevented me from absolutely loving this book, however, was the pacing – it felt as though the author tried to cram a lot into a single installment and as a result, the book turned out longer than expected. It picks up from after about 20 of the book and is quite steady for almost half of it, but some chapters felt jumbled and I had to flip back a page or two on several occasions to understand what on earth was happening to Story. The protagonist’s “split of self” was also a little hard to follow, until it was explained in the last 1/4 of the book, although it made sense after that. Therefore, the structure and the pace of the narration seemed a little “messy and confusing” to me. My rating for “Fractured Dream” is 7/10.

Favourite quotes

“But saving the world sounded like an impossible task for anyone, let alone a twenty-year-old art major who had memory problems and a pack of steroid-pumping Wolf men on her trails”

“Fairytales were born in the form of tales passed down through the ages, and finally written into books. Great artists were forged from the whispered words of dreams into their ears. And so the years wore on, and the gods watched humanity imagine wonderful and sometimes horrible things”.

Dreamcast

Story Sparks – Troian Belissario

Elliott – Jordan Gavaris

Adam – Sam Claflin

Nicholas – Liam Hemsworth

Jess – Sophie Turner 

Darvish – Shemar Moore

Mother Earth – Eva Green

And Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby can reprise their respective “Merlin” roles.

Recommendations

You might like “Fractured Dream” if you liked:

“The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

“Afterworlds” by Scott Westerfield

“Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

Once Upon a Time”

Book Review: The Minority Council (Matthew Swift Book 4) by Kate Griffin

swift4

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My reviews of the previous installments can be found here, here and here.

I’m sorry if you guys are sick of me posting about this series, but this is the last Matthew Swift book, I promise. Well, there are also two spin-off books but I don’t have them and probably won’t for a while (money!).

 

Last we saw of Matthew Swift, he’s just solved the mystery of The Blackout with heartbreaking consequences. The Midnight Mayor’s duties still have to be carried out, however, no matter how devastated our hero is. He does everything in his power to ignore everyone in the office, most of all The Aldermen whom he loathes, but that is proven to be difficult with the addition of a new giddy but quite lovely PA named Kelly, who never, ever, stops moving and rambling. A random meeting on a boat, however, makes Swift, for once, dive into the murky waters of politics. He meets a woman named Meera and they have an instant connection – of the magical kind. She is practicing magic nobody should ever even dabble in, and Swift tries to stop her. Then a strange woman shows up at his office and tells him that the kids in her local borough are acting “soulless” because some creepy shadow murdered their friend. His old friend The Beggar King also asks him for help – some of his charges are disappearing.

The common factors between those events? The Aldermen. More specifically, their relationship with magical drug dealers.
When Swift finds Meera dead in one of the dusthouses where fairy dust, a strong magical drug, is produced, he is enraged and ready to go to war with The Fairy Godmother (yes, that is the dealer’s alias). However, The Aldermen are being absolute, utter asshats politicians about that, and only one of them, Richard Templeton, agrees to help Swift. But can The Midnight Mayor trust him and make sure that his lovely Penny stays safe? And who is The Fairy Godmother? And who is the monster disguised as “The Neighbourhood Watch”?

 

Those of you who were there wil me on my Matthew Swift journey will be pleased to know that Swift’s sass and wit has not changed a bit, and he continues to be too sassy for his own good (literally). The fourth book may have more of a thriller vibe than other three, but it’s still written as a Matthew Swift installment – i.e. it involves wordy descriptions, side characters constantly reminding Swift that he’s a total git and either loving or hating him in spite of it, beloved characters of London magic doing their thing, and above all, Swift struggling with a bunch of entities within him (thankfully, no Robert Bakker in him anywhere this time!). This installment is particularly brutal on Swift vs angels and the reader. Thanks to the biggest asshole in this series villain, he pretty much acquires a split personality for a while (not sure how to better explain what happened). No more “I am we and we are me” for poor Matthew – the shift, the dissonance is rather sinister to read about. What happened to him(them), delivered a strong blow to Swift’s already fragile humanity. Which is dangerous for those who made him that way – the person that was the reason for Swift going after the dusthouses in the first place, was someone who made them feel human. London is what saves Matthew Swift. Nair was right to pick Swift as the Mayor for the reason he did – he would never be the city’s enemy. They are a part of London, and it is their city.

I hope my readers forgive me, but I’m about to make a Harry Potter analogy and apply it to Matthew Swift’s books.

“AMOA” is like “Philosopher’s Stone” – we get to know the world for the first time.
“TMM” is like “Prisoner of Azkaban” – main character-centric, and we meet a person who is going to be very important for him. Also my favourite installments of both series.
“TNC” is like “Chamber of Secrets” – focused equally on the main character and the villain.
“TMC” is “The Order of the Phoenix” of the Matthew Swift series. Politics, emotional turmoil, a villain I’d like to punch in the face and death of a beloved character.

“PoA” is my favourite Harry Potter book, but “OotP” comes a close second. The same is with Matthew Swift – “The Midnight Mayor” is my favourite of them all, but “The Minority Council” is a fascinating look into the way the system works in Matthew’s London. For once, Swift is not abruptly thrown into the middle of the action, but he actually chooses to pull The Midnight Mayor rank in relation to the “drug problem”. Needless to say, The Aldermen are not too happy with that – “It would be a shame for our latest Midnight Mayor to die starting a war he cannot win. After all you’ve only just started coming to the meetings”. We are introduced to the Minority Council – the Aldermen government body responsible for electing The Midnight Mayor – and we get answers as to why and how Matthew Swift, a dead sorcerer walking the earth together with the blue electric angels, ended up being one. The Council’s member, Richard Templeman, reluctantly agrees to help Swift take down the dusthouses where the drug is made. And that is when the real problems begin.

So yeah – this book features a lot of politics. But what struck me the most is the unexpected emotional turmoil the author put me through. I so should have expected that after the last book – and she did kill off another beloved character who could have been the perfect Midnight Mayor after Swift, but that’s not even the worst part. The Beggar King sums it up perfectly – “You’re a self-destructive infant with the power of a giant, but you’ve got respect for the little guy, for the f*ck-ups like yourself, and I like that”. This characterisation of Matthew Swift has caused me to tear up on a couple of occasions during certain moments. Most of the time though, I was too engrossed into the plot and too shocked by certain revelations to really cry, until I read the last line – “I sighed, shoved my hands in my pockets, bent my head down against the wind, and kept on walking”. The magic of London may not be real, but my emotions certainly were. Certainly are – it’s been three days, and I’m still experiencing a Matthew Swift hangover! And not just because of the plot and awesome characters. Magical London is an amazing setting, but my heart beat so hard when I was reading about the places I visited and fallen in love with time and time again. In this part of the series, it’s the Inns of Court, “a spacious lost world of paved courtyards, wind-tossed antique fountains, and cobbled streets, and of wide enclosed grounds with wrought-iron benches, gravel walks and perfect lawns”. Griffin is right – not many Londoners know about this little oasis in Central London. I, however, did visit it on several occasions when I was in law school, and it is absolutely stunning. Seriously, somebody should organise a Matthew Swift tour of London, finishing it off with a dinner featuring little cocktails sausages on sticks at a restaurant on Aldermanbury Square!

Of course, the book has its fair share of moments where I had to put it down and leave the room because I was laughing too hard. Sometimes, it was Swift’s sass, but most of the time, it was Penny, Dr Seah and Kelly. Who doesn’t love Penny, “sorceresss, ex-traffic warden, looking for the dream kick-ass job for a dream kick-ass girl”? She is the perfect best friend for Swift who can almost match his levels of sass. The Aldermen hate her for summoning the Death of the cities, which makes her even more awesome in Swift’s mine book. Also, Swift and Penny have my favourite literature-related argument – FRANKENSTEIN WAS THE DOCTOR NOT THE MONSTER! And I do love Penny’s take on it – “I can see how being called ‘Monster’ might’ve sucked – like kinda not leaving you many career options, is it?” Can Penny be my best friend already?! We even love doing the same things – “sitting in front of the TV, in a blanket, with the fire on, eating ice cream”.
Aaaaaaaaaaand I just realised Penny’s reason for doing that at that time. It’s been THREE DAYS Kate, stop crying already!
Lastly, I would just like to add that Penny Ngwenya, a badass sorceress, a kick-ass lady and practically Matthew Swift’s bodyguard, named a Tower of London raven Dave. How can you not love her?!

There’s also Dr Seah, a medical professional for the magical community with a peculiar relationship with the NHS. In every book, Swift ends up bruised and battered, but Dr Seah, albeit very reluctantly, patches him up. Not that he ever listens to her – “now, when I said ‘bed rest’, did you take this as, like, meaning the bed should get a rest, because I think we both know that wasn’t what I was getting at”. Oh that Matthew Swift… Although he does listen to her in this book when she says that bloodhounds “just can’t take their garam masala”. Yeah… I HATE hellhounds, psi-hounds, bloodhounds, etc. in literature and TV, but I sympathise with them in terms of garam masala.

And last but not least, we’ve got Kelly Shiring, the PA. Oh Kelly. How I love you. How you remind me of myself five years ago, at my first assistant job. Don’t let your undead sorcerer with a thing attached boss get you down! Swift’s reactions to Kelly’s… eagerness were hilarious, and I loved that she got her own backstory. I’ll always want Nabeela for the next Midnight Mayor, but give it a few years and Kelly will be perfect for it. She’s incredibly English in her appraoch, honest, determined and clearly knows what she’s doing. Her straightforward delivery matches Swift’s, but unlike him, she has no trace of meanness about her. She’s just that way.

It appears that I’m barely able to gather my thoughts to write a concise review for “TMC”. All I can say is – it is an amazing conclusion to the series, it introduces us to even more badass ladies and it will leave you inexplicably sated. That is, until you pick up the spinoff series, Magicians Anonymous. My rating for this installment is 8/10, but it is my firm belief that the entire series deserves at least a 9/10.

 

Favourite quotes

“Penny, I want you to be calm and mature about this, and not shout or anything, but I may have accidentally destroyed a dusthouse last night, and it could just be that a mafia boss who trades in narcotic substances for the magicaly inclined is going to try and kill me and everyone I’ve ever loved. Happily, everyone I’ve ever loved is either dead or absent at the moment, but, when he realises that, he may just go after everyone else in a fit of pique, and that, Penny, includes you”.

“It is always a sad reflection on us when one of our own turns out to be a murderer, a traitor, a torturer of innocents, a manipulator of men, a dust addict, a madman, and a danger to us all. I will be requesting a management review in the near future to discuss just how we managed to let ourselves be so utterly manipulated by a man who represents so much that is evil.”

“You’re the guy who summoned a creature that sucks the brains out of kids your own age, and can I just take this moment to say that while I’m not exactly grammar 101 guy myself, you suck.”

 

Dreamcast
Matthew Swift – Ben Whishaw
Penny Ngwenya – Naomie Harris
Kelly – Sophie Turner
Nabeela – Mona Zaki
Dr Seah – Laverne Cox
Richard Templeman – Stephen Fry
The Beggar King – Toby Stephens
Alan – Tom Felton

 

Recommendations
You would enjoy “Matthew Swift” if you liked:
“Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman” aka the whole reason I got into urban fantasy in the first place
“Peter Grant series” by Ben Aaronovitch
“The Dresden Files” by Jim Carey
“State of Play” – the TV series, not the movie – “TMC” made me remember how much I love it
“Sherlock, Doctor Who and Supernatural” – actually, “TMC” makes a cheeky reference to our favourite detective. I swear to The Beggar King, this series has NO FOURTH WALL.

 

That concludes my reviews of the “Matthew Swift” series. Go pick them up, guys – you won’t regret it.

Book Review: The Neon Court (Matthew Swift Book 3) by Kate Griffin

swift3

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

My reviews of the first two Matthew Swift books can be found here and here.

Two months have passed since Matthew Swift, against everyone’s wishes, became the Midnight Mayor of London. The job basically means that he has to guard and protect the city at all costs. Obviously, he is a busy man, what with London’s enemies to destroy, unstoppable darkness to drive back, the night of scary things to purge, and an apprentice, Penny, to train. So why would someone decide to summon him into an Inferno that is a burning building in the middle of Sidcup, South London? The answer is, as Oda very well knows, is that impending death has always produced Swift’s very best work. Yes, Oda was so desperate, and so afraid, that she summoned the very thing she considers to be an abomination. Somehow, against all odds, Matthew Swift believes that he managed to save her. What he doesn’t know, is that he’s just made things worse for everyone, most of all her. For one, a daimyo of an elite clan, The Neon Court, was murdered in the fire. Swift is obviously a suspect (what else is new) but The Aldermen have more pressing things to worry about than prosecute him. They need The Midnight Mayor because The Neon Court believes that another clan, The Tribe, had murdered the daimyo. And Lady Neon is coming to town. Which means war between the clans. And that wouldn’t end well for anybody involved.

Ah, if only the war were the only thing Swift had to deal with… It’s actually the least strange thing about this night. Yes, night. Because the sun is not coming up, and the boroughs of London are disappearing one by one, starting with Cockfosters, and nobody seems to remember them. The city is a mess – people’s schedules are confused, they’ve no idea what to do and they just end up falling asleep. London is immersed by one huge blackout. Well, Blackout with a capital B if Swift’s colleague Leslie Dees is to be believed. The spirit of Blackout is “the shadow at the end of the alley, the footsteps half heard in the night”. Blackout is what people fear when they say they fear the dark. He was defeated once by an old friend of Matthew’s, but now he’s returned. And he lives inside Oda, who is walking around with a hole in her heart and can now kill everyone who looks her in the eye. So yeah – Matthew, Leslie and Penny have more pressing things to worry about than some civil war. The problem is – how do they make Lady Neon and the Tribe listen to them? And who is this “chosen one” who supposedly has the power to stop Blackout and why do both sides want her?

After reading the prologue, I assumed that this was set up similarly to the first two instalments – as an urban noir where Matthew Swift is the reluctant hero who is at first believed by everyone to be the villain but at the end, he saves the day with a little help from his frenemies friends – be it life or a position in politics. And in a way, I wasn’t wrong. The entire series is renowned for its unconventionality in terms of characterisation and a flawless combination of urban London and the detective elements. However, “The Neon Court” takes “Matthew Swift” to a whole new level of unconventional, well-rounded and at times, disturbing. Yes, even more disturbing than “The Midnight Mayor”. The baddies in the latter gave me goosebumps, but they were more disconcerting than terrifying. The third book’s baddies (who are pretty much 80% of the characters) are not only disturbing, but downright scary! The main plot involving the uber-villain strongly reminded me of a Doctor Who episode of Tennant’s era. Not any particular one, just the plot has the overall feel of that particular arc. Add a dash of “Skyfall”, a spoonful of “Supernatural” and a pinch of Jack the Ripper who just shows up because a mediocre bad guy screwed things up for everyone, and you might just scrape the surface of the awesomeness of “The Neon Court”.

“A Madness of Angels” was London-centric.

“The Midnight Mayor” was Swift-centric.

“The Neon Court” is something else altogether. Matthew Swift may still be the narrator, but never before has he been such an unreliable one. Griffin has established him as such a very long time ago. What happens at a certain point in this book, however, makes him even worse off in that regard. I already gave out too many spoilers, so I’ll just say that “Dead is dead is dead” is the biggest lie in the “Matthew Swift” verse. In his own words, “getting him to share his brain with the dead echo of the guy that killed him” is not the best idea. Ha! And you thought that Swift and the angels was confusing and PTSD-inducing! Seriously, Matthew Swift needs therapy. Although Penny is pretty great too. Also, the readers themselves might also need therapy. While Griffin has been quite ruthless in the previous installments with the bloodshed and suchlike, in this book she has escalated to a, for the lack of a better word, sadist. And I thought Robin Hobb killed off a lot of characters!

Swift’s unreliableness is strengthened by the blue electric angels inside him, who are also a narrator, and arguably an even less reliable one. Even though by now the angels have more or less stopped being overwhelmed by the human world and them in and Matthew have reached some sort of a… congruence (well as well as they could considering), Swift still has only two modes – “diplomatically passive” and “apocalyptically destructive”. And unfortunately, this unique characterisation doesn’t allow them to be reliable narrators. But despite any frustrations I may have with their narrative, Griffin’s plot twists make up for literally all of them.

Well, all except one. The title of the book is quite misleading – it lets the reader believe that the clan of The Neon Court made up of “smug self-satisfied bastards” are the biggest plot point and source of conflict in this book. However, that is most certainly not the case. I am actually a little disappointed that Lady Neon, a character with a lot of potential, only appears twice or thrice throughout the book and she is never really explored as a villain. The only explanation I have for the title is that Griffin wanted to go along with the theme of an unreliable narrator and named the book “The Neon Court” as a red herring for the reader so as to make them believe that The Court are the most prominent villains in the story. If I were the author, I would’ve called it something like “The Missing Boroughs” or “The London Blackout”. That’s really my only issue with the writing, though. The book is still amazing, even though my favourite one so far is “The Midnight Mayor”.

What truly makes this book remarkable are the characters and relationships. “The Neon Court” is primarily about old and new villains and secondary characters. That’s not to say that our favourite Midnight Mayor is ignored or that London’s magic is underused, quite the contrary. The backstories we get for the characters, new and old, alive, dead or in-between, offer remarkable insight into them, as well as the answers to the question the readers have had since the prologue of “A Madness of Angels”. And those answers are startling as well as disturbing. It would take me another five paragraphs to explain Griffin’s complex weaving of backstories and character arcs into the noir plot of “The Neon Court”, and I’m happy to write them, but I think that my readers get that the book is an installment that’s in no way subpar to the two previous ones. My rating is 8/10.

Favourite quotes

The words; they’re alive. It’s a sky made out of words, big and bright and brilliant and alive”

“If the soul is immortal, and there is a destiny, and there is a God, I can’t imagine he’ll have nice things to say to me”

“There is no silence as dead as the sound of the engine stopping, no silence so complete as the city when the traffic stops moving. For chirruping country insects the city made human voices constant in the night; for the rustle of leaves and wind there were air vents in the sides of buildings; for the sound of mud underfoot, the clip clip clip of hard soles on tarmac. There should always be something, somewhere, making noise in the city”

Dreamcast

So since we found out a ton of information about characters in this installment, some of my dreamcasts mentioned in previous reviews are changing.

Matthew Swift – Ben Whishaw (no matter how much the guys on the covers look like Cumberbatch, he is much too dignified for Swift)

Robert Bakker – Derek Jacobi

Oda Ajaja – Freema Agyeman

Penny Ngwenya – Naomie Harris

JG – Nathalie Emmanuel

Lady Neon – Michelle Trachtenberg

Toxik – Michael Socha

Theydon – Oded Fehr

Leslie Dees – Judi Dench