Posted in bloggers, Lifestyle, Stress Relief, Writing

The 100th and How Blogging Saved My Sanity

When I was a kid growing up I was obsessed with the Sweet Valley series. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were a big part of my childhood and they were probably one of the biggest influences of my adolescent years. I was gutted when I learned that having twins in the family was a genetic thing because that meant I’d never give birth to identical twin girls that I can dress in matching outfits (now that I’m older I find myself eternally grateful for that! Lol)

As a special edition, Francine Pascal published a ‘Secret Diaries’ edition where readers can be privy to the twins’ innermost thoughts. I read all three volumes of each twin’s diary and this was what inspired me to start my own. I bought my first diary, padlocks and all, when I was 9 and carried on feverishly writing every detail, every significant event (my first period covered three whole pages! Lol), every crush, that first heartbreak, friendships gained and lost, all up until I was around 15.

Overall I think I must have around 10 to 12 volumes total, and it still amuses (and embarrasses) me to read some of them when I go home and think about how simple life was back then even though it probably seemed incredibly complex to a teenager; how I wish my problems today are as simple as whether this one guy likes me or not. Oh wait.Hahahaha

It got a bit harder to find the time to write in a diary as I studied Nursing, and I guess you reach the age where experiences come in waves and there’s simply no time to do anything but ride it out and pray that you land on your feet. It became too difficult to articulate everything I was feeling.

Of course blogging is a completely different format. I mean for one thing, its not exactly secret. In fact the whole point is to reach as many people as possible. You put so much of yourself in the public eye and if I really think about how much I’m opening myself up to possible censure and judgment (I’m sure there’s a fair percentage of the population that wonders who the hell I think I am) I never would have had the courage to start this blog.

But the thing I always remind myself is that I started this for ME. Even if I’m the only one who ever reads my posts (I know they’re a bit long!) I still gain satisfaction from seeing my thoughts put into words. Its so therapeutic to pour out the contents of your mind. When I’m going through something, I am able to blog about how I feel even if I can’t exactly disclose the full details. And when I like something, say a book or what have you, I’m able to share it and communicate with other people who may love it too.

When I started to seriously blog, I discovered a whole community of people who have the same interests as I do. There are a lot of book lovers and book reviewers out there for one thing, and its amazing to think that you can somehow influence their choice of reading material. Blogging about books has opened doors for me and have brought opportunities my way that I never thought were possible. There are also a lot of single people out there who go through the same problems that most single people do when it comes to dating.

I’ve always been very careful to ensure that my virtual life and social media presence doesn’t supersede my actual life. But there’s no denying the fact that blogging was a way for me to unwind and vent and release my frustrations at a time when I really needed it the most. Without it I think I would have gone mental.

And I’m so grateful that there are people out there who actually follow this blog. And I’m writing this massive thank you to my first 100 followers. This was my goal before the year ends, to reach 100 followers, and I’m so happy to have done that. Thanks for putting up with the sap, the drama and the occasional whining. Its been a pleasure blogging and finding my voice again. This is a really awesome way to end the year.

Cheers! Xx

Posted in Travel

Switzerland Is Sweeter The Nth Time Around

Shortly before Christmas one of my surgeons asked me where I’d be celebrating the holidays and I answered guilelessly that I’d be going to Switzerland. He was rendered speechless for all of 5 seconds before asking me if I was secretly a millionaire.

People think of Switzerland as this uber expensive, ultra-posh country where the rich and famous go on ski holidays. But for me, Switzerland has always been my home away from home. My nearest relative, apart from my sister, lives in Switzerland and she would always welcome me with open arms whenever I’d get the notion to escape London for a while.

I remember one time I was having a horrendously bad week at work, culminating in a Friday where I had a horrific row with the surgeon I was working with. It was a sure sign of how overworked I was because my composure around orthopaedic surgeons is usually unflappable.

Anyway, I cancelled all my bank shifts because I told our coordinator I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown (haha) and booked an EasyJet flight to Zurich. Its become something of a running joke between that surgeon and I actually (we eventually made up, sort of).

So yeah, going to Switzerland is like going home. My cousin is awesome at all things household-related and stepping into her home is like stepping into a bed and breakfast. Her cooking is awesome; when she visited me for my 30th birthday I must have gained a good 3kilos because of all the scrumptious home-cooked meals I was being treated to.

For the holidays, my mum and my cousin’s mum came over to visit, and because the UK requires a separate visa (apart from the Schengen visa) for tourists wishing to come visit, my sister and I decided that it’d be better for us to go to Switzerland instead.

I really really needed the time away from London. I don’t think I could have withstood another couple of days of watching myself mope around the house. I was starting to annoy myself with how pathetic I was being over (of all things) a guy. Of course, I did a lot of moping in Switzerland as well but at least it was moping with a view. Lol

I’ve been to the Rhine Falls several times – its an obligatory stop when you visit Switzerland -and its never failed to lift my mood. There is just something so satisfying about being able to see and be one with nature after months and months of living with the relentless pace of the concrete jungle that is London (no, Hyde Park doesn’t count).

Getting to spend time with Mum was an added bonus. I love my Mum. There is something to be said about a woman who will still rub Vicks on her sick 30-year-old daughter because she’s coughing so badly that she can’t sleep (yeah, I was unwell for most of this trip). Check out my very youthful and lovely mum!

The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch were every bit as good as I expected it to be, so good in fact that I went on my annual post-christmas 3k guilt run just to help burn off all those extra calories (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t enough but whatever).

So yeah, it was a very Merry Christmas indeed and I’m pretty sure I’m over whatever funk I was in a couple of weeks ago. A change in scenery was just what the doctor ordered.

Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holiday, blabbaholics! 😘

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

I’m sorry but this is not going to be the most coherent of reviews. My emotions after reading this book and its ending can be summed up in three words:

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My apologies for the expletive but there can be no other reaction to this utter mindf***of a novel. I cannot believe that the author actually went there. Towards the end, I wasn’t actually sure what kind of novel I was reading; the only thing I was sure about was that the characters in this book are all totally batshit crazy.

Mild spoilers ahead people! 

Okay so it starts out as a normal thriller. Lonely divorcee Louise meets rich, handsome married psychiatrist and has an affair with him. The other complication? She also strikes up a friendship with his beautiful wife Adele. As she gets entangled in their complicated marriage and the secrets of their past, Louise finds herself unsure of who she can trust. Her lover who has violent tendencies but seems to be so gentle when he’s with her? Or her new best friend who seems to only want what’s best for her?

I honestly don’t know how to even write this review. As I power read through the chapters I find myself growing more and more confused; at one point I thought for sure that this was going to be like John Cusack in Identity and that they were all really one person with one hell of a  multiple personality disorder and a clusterf*** of a life. I could not understand where the author was going with the narrative. This book’s whole marketing campaign had apparently been all about the “twist” and how it had “the most shocking ending you’ll read all year”.

Well, let me tell you something about that ending. 

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Fine, okay. It managed to get a reaction out of me. My mind was completely blown, I can’t deny that. But if I think too hard about it, it doesn’t actually make any sense! And what’s even stranger is that in a weird sort of way, after you think about it a little more, it kind of does make a little bit of sense. I can’t explain it without giving it away but its the kind of twist that will generate a lot of discussion and will surely polarise readers; some will hate it, others will go gaga over it. I’m not a huge fan of it myself, but it sure added layers to the story and if you suspend belief for one second (or more) it does kinda grow on you.

Okay, there’s more to review than just the ending. There are some themes in this novel that number among my least favourite literary tropes. Infidelity, for example. I have really strong feelings about cheating and I think that there’s never any justification for breaking your marital vows. At the same time I’ve always been determined not to judge other people who have extra-marital affairs mostly because, having never faced that kind of situation myself, I can never fully say how I would react to the prospect of an affair with a married man. Love and lust can make you do crazy things after all.

And there it is. At the heart of this crazy, strange and utterly psychotic story is the fact that love for another human being can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. Think about a mother who would give her life for her child, or a friend donating a kidney to a dying friend; love is at the heart of all those things, and when that love becomes all-consuming, when the other person becomes the one thing you see and value to the exclusion of everything else (even yourself) I think that’s when love becomes dangerous.

On a slightly lighter note, I think that this novel is also a cautionary tale that people should just MIND THEIR OWN DAMN BUSINESS. Some of the things that Louise did in this novel made me cringe. I mean come on, there’s busybody and intrusive, and then there was Louise in this story. Her reactions to certain situations were so annoying that I was screaming at the book as if I could get through to her. I mean there are a lot of things that I would do for a friend but she’s crossed so many lines in this book that I cannot even begin to describe it. And Louise is supposed to be the sane and sensible one in this story. That tells you a lot about how crazy the other characters are.

Anyway, to read this book and enjoy it you just have to be prepared to take it as it is and not dissect the hell out of it. Its escapist reading at its finest certainly, and it will sure take your mind off your problems at work or the flu you’re nursing (or your broken heart). I almost wish we could have picked this for book club meeting next month because I can already imagine the kind of fiery debate that this book will generate. But alas, this choice was vetoed by other members. I’m still thankful to the book club members who recommended this to me, though. I can’t say that I’m totally happy with it, but I sure enjoyed it enough to finish it in only 6 hours.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars because okay, that ending was actually good the more I think about it. Lol. Kudos to the author for thumbing her nose at naysayers and just going for the unexpected, no matter what!

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Feminism, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: The Bear and The Nightingale

What better way to spend these cold winter nights than to curl up in bed reading this book of Russian fairy tales set in the deepest of (yep, you guessed it), winter?

I have always been fascinated by Russia: its culture, traditions and very rich history. For Christmas last year my friend Romelyn bought me a hardbound copy of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s complete history of The Romanovs and I spent the entire break reading it in all its gory detail. Sure, it was Disney who first sparked my interest in the Romanovs (I’m looking at you, Anastasia) but I was equally enthralled by the things that I discovered about the Romanov dynasty from reading that book.

Katherine Arden’s offering is set long before the time of the Romanovs, when Russia was made up of a bunch of principalities ruled by the Grand Prince of Moscow. The good thing about this book is that the narrative doesn’t get too bogged down by any attempts to maintain historical accuracy; the story itself is set too far away from Moscow, in a tiny little village called Lesnaya Zemlya. The village is governed by a boyar names Pyotr Vladimirovich (why do these Russian names have to be so long???) and his wife Marina. Their household is a simple yet happy one – full of the laughter of their children –  and nights are spent around the fireplace listening to old tales told by what I think is the Russian equivalent of a nanny, in this case by an old woman named Dunya.

Marina’s mother was rumoured to be a witch who enchanted one of the Grand Princes of Moscow with her beauty. Marina herself has the sight which allows her to see beings that are not necessarily of this world, and which also allows her to foreshadow the future a little bit. She had foreseen that she would die giving birth to a child who would be different and special, and whose fate will be intertwined with that of the Frost King that haunts the forests surrounding the village. True enough, she gave birth to a daughter called Vasilisa and died soon after.

Vasilisa grew up to be a tomboyish hoyden who would rather play in the forest than do her chores. Like her mother, she sees beings like the domovoi who protects the house from evil spirits and the vasila who tends to the horses. Despairing of his daughter’s mounting unruliness, Pyotr decides to visit Moscow to look for a wife who can help keep his daughter in check and maybe serve as a good example of how a woman should act (insert eye roll here, because of course if a woman isn’t doing household chores she’s somehow strange!).

Disaster strikes when Pyotr brings home his new wife Anna, who also has visions. But rather than accepting them like Marina and Vasilisa have done, Anna seems to think they are the devil’s work. She brought with her a priest called Konstantin, who secretly lusts after the now teenage Vasilisa (eew!) and together they stoke fear in the village people’s hearts such that the people gradually forget the old ways of paying tribute to the domovoi and the vasila,  and start to worship at the altar of the Orthodox church instead.

This is where the subject matter becomes tricky for me. I have always hated talking about religion, especially my own, because the Roman Catholic church has such a gruesome history: the Inquisition, the Crusades, heck, the recent sex scandals surrounding Catholic priests who allegedly abused their altar boys. I think it was Dan Brown who said in one of his books that any religion is bound to be flawed because its a human invention and mankind is inherently flawed.  I wholeheartedly agree, and I also think that any religion will always have its zealots, people who believe so fervently to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. They believe themselves to be prophets and instruments of God and they justify any behaviour as necessary to fulfil the will of the Lord. I say, bollocks.

I refuse to believe in any religion that will justify persecution, or that dares to say it has the right to dictate how people should live their lives. I agree that the church and your faith serves as a moral compass, there to guide you and remind you to always do the right thing; I believe in the kind of church that teaches the power of having a conversation with a higher being, God, Allah, what-have-you and the kind of church that promotes tolerance and acceptance rather than exclusion and isolation. I don’t believe in the kind of religion or church that will punish a young girl for being different, which is exactly what is portrayed in this story.

Vasilisa is the kind of heroine that makes up a feminist reader’s wet dream. She’s brave, headstrong, able to speak her mind and does not allow the circumstances of her birth or gender to colour her destiny. Even when faced with fear and distrust from her own people, she risks her life to save them from the Bear, an ancient power in the forest that thrives on chaos and disorder. She offers her own blood as a sacrifice and offering to the beings that maintain the wards around the village, even when they start calling her a witch and even when Father Konstantin starts calling for her exile.

While I wasn’t that big a fan of the book, and by that I mean I’m not hurrying to Waterstone’s to buy the sequel, I think it does have enough merits to guarantee that I will read the sequel sometime in the near future. Its certainly atmospheric; I can almost feel the cold of Northern Rus whilst I sit on my couch reading, something that’s not hard to imagine as London is currently in the grips of the coldest winter recorded since 2011 (haha). I think the pacing could have been improved – it dragged a little bit in the middle – and as many of my friends and followers know I don’t do too well when I have to read a lot of descriptions about nature. Its all just trees to me!

I did like how this is a book about the empowerment of women. Vasilisa was given a choice between marriage or the convent and rather than opting for one of those choices, she chose a third option – and option of her own will and making. She chose to carve her own destiny rather than bow to the dictates of other people. I think that sends a really powerful message to the YA generation that will no doubt devour this book. In fact, Vasilisa is this book’s saving grace. If I should decide to buy the sequel, it will be because I’m curious about where her adventures will take her next.

Overall, a strong albeit slow start to an interesting series. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Posted in dating, relationships, romance

Hello, Goodbye.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been the kind of person who made lists, whether in my head or in actual writing. I’ve always felt better once I’ve put some semblance of order into the everyday chaos of my life, and things just make so much more sense to me when I can see them in bullet points.

At work, I would probably be described as task-orientated. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean we thank the stars for task-orientated people in our workplaces because they get things done. They tick off each item on the list and move on from one task to the next without batting an eyelash.

I come from a family obsessed with life goals and plans. We’ve always been encouraged to go for our dreams but to make sure that those dreams pay the rent. Again, sensible, but the thing about having dreams and aspirations that no one ever tells you about is that they take a lot of work and a lot of focus. Hence, the list. The list of the things you need to accomplish in order to achieve your dreams.

It’s only now that I’m a little bit older that I wonder what things I’ve missed out on because I’ve been too busy trying to achieve that “life list” in my head. For example, I was so focused on doing well in my studies that I never really dated in high school or college. I mean, let’s forget about the fact that my strict Chinese-Catholic parents (and extended family) had forbidden it, we all know there were ways that I – being smart and sort of devious – could have gotten around it.

It’s telling that I never felt the inclination to rebel against that particular rule when I’ve broken others (curfew, travels to other cities, drinking, spending too much money, you name it!). I think I always knew that dating and having a relationship would put a wrench in my plans; its an unknown variable that I can never fully control. Of course, that’s not to say that love (the unrequited kind!) didn’t shape my life in a major way but that’s a blog for another day!

And since we’re talking about dating, I can’t fail to mention that other list in my head. You know, the list I had of what constitutes the perfect man. Think of every attribute you’ve ever read in romance novels or seen in Hollywood rom-coms and you’ll have a good idea of what my list looked like. These days, much to my chagrin, I’m down to just two non-negotiable traits: hygiene and sense of humour. Everything else – I can learn to live with (or without). But there was a time when I was holding out for Prince Charming or his handsome twin brother.

Lists go hand in hand with plans. I’ve always planned to be successful, married and settled by the time I reach my 30s. I’ve sort of achieved the first one, but yeah, let’s all laugh at that naive teenage girl who thought that the 2nd and 3rd would be easy. I think everything I’ve ever done in my life has been rooted in my need to achieve that marriage plan. It’s so deep-seated that even when it makes absolutely no sense anymore I can’t seem to fully let go of it.

The thing is, I think we all harbour this illusion that we are somehow in control of our lives. And to an extent I think we are, I mean certainly its up to us how we react to or handle certain situations. But as for the things that actually happen to us, the people we meet, the things we experience, I still believe that a lot of that is fate and some unknown force in the universe who likes to laugh in the face of our so-called plans.

And thank God for that. 

Spoiler alert: I’m not married nor am I likely to be in the immediate future. But. This year I planned to seriously think about settling and to keep at dating even when I have one bad date (or two or three. I think the current count is five in a row!). I told myself that I was done with the games and the fanciful aspirations; I want a mature life partner that I can finally think of settling down with, hygiene and sense of humour non-negotiable, stable bank account desirable but not required, good looks – open to negotiation depending on all other criteria met. Lol

I’ve spent the last 6 months making a list of how I can achieve this goal and the last 4 or 5 seriously doing everything I can to tick off the items on that list. I’ve been on a sort of dating frenzy, swiping right and left willy-nilly and never really getting anywhere. But just like the Energiser bunny, I kept going and going because I told myself that he’s out there somewhere and just like everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life, I just need to work harder and I’ll find him.

And then one day, out of the blue, due to some random collision of chance, fate and orthopaedics, I met a guy who made my world stop. It’s like someone was looking at my life for the past 3 months and they got fed up and finally pressed PAUSE. Pause, anj. You’re getting too caught up in all of it that you’re forgetting to actually enjoy life.

Since we’ve met and gone out, I don’t know, its like someone saw a list of all the things I wished for when I was a little girl dreaming of romance and that same someone has been granting my wishes one date at a time: getting lost in the city when its raining, bonding over a shared love for food, cuddling for warmth in winter, drinks and intimate conversations, texts in the morning, secret looks at work, waiting for me to finish up at the office so we can go out, going to a fair together, and my favourite, holding hands in the park while drinking mulled wine.

I harbour no illusions about this guy, nor do I think for one second that there is a future in store for us. In lots of ways, its a case of wrong place, wrong time. We’re at different stages in our lives and we probably want different things. He’ll be going back to his home city in a couple of days and I will not waste my breath hoping that this thing extends beyond that.

But until then, I got to enjoy the oh-so-wonderful present. I’ve loved every single moment of the past 3 weeks, the uncertainty of wondering whether he’ll text or call and the delight when he follows up with the next date and the next date and the next one after that. This is an interlude in my life that I’ll look back on whenever I need a happy memory.

I think that bad dates take away a piece of your soul each time and it gets harder to recover and pick up the pieces to try again with each successive bad date. I didn’t realise until now, writing this post, how close I was to giving up on love and romance entirely. That’s saying a lot for a girl who’s always been a hopeless romantic. So no matter what happens, I am grateful for this wrinkle in time, for this wrench in my plans, for this wholly unexpected blessing that fell into my life just when I needed it the most.

Cheers to another couple of days NOT making plans with you. 🙂

Posted in Careers, Health and Well-Being, Self-Discovery, Stress Relief

The Healing Powers of Having a Life

Yesterday, I had a quiet hour at the office which I used to reflect on what the past month has been like: what’s gone well, what could have gone better and what lessons I’ve learned from the curveballs that life has thrown my way.

As many of my loyal readers know, I have a love-hate relationship with my work, in the sense that sometimes I may love it a little too much that I invest too much of myself in it, and when things go wrong it affects me on an almost unhealthy level.

I went through a period where I was so stressed because I got this stupid notion of taking on the problems of an entire department on my unfit could-use-a-workout shoulders. Looking back, I think this was the reason why I was picking fights with my colleagues, magnifying the slightest of slights and why I was unable to shake off even the most minor of incidents. I have (and probably always will be) a dweller, but the way I dwelled on work-related stressors in October was ridiculous, even for me.

So what changed in November?

Simple. I made the conscious decision to actually have a life outside of work. For example, my blogging activities increased tenfold from where it was in October to where it is now.

More importantly, I began to see purpose in what I was doing. What started out as just another social media platform for me to maintain became a tool in which I could reach, for example, book lovers like myself. I’ve actually been asked to do book reviews for external websites and last week I just got my first paid editorial book review order. Not bad for someone whose first language isn’t English.

I’ve tried to socialise more, keep in touch and reconnect with friends I haven’t seen in a while and also to keep trying even when I’ve had a series of really bad dates. I haven’t found the time to visit the gym because of my schedule, but I’ve tried to workout at home at least three times a week, and to develop a healthier relationship with food. My Fatness Fitness Pal is quite happy with my daily calorie log for November which is always a good indicator for my stress levels because when I’m stressed, boy, I eat.

But the main difference is that I’ve also developed a healthy detachment from work. I don’t mean to say that I’ve disengaged with it, more like I’ve learned to let go of the things that I can’t control and to focus more on the things that are within my capacity to change.

And because I’ve actually developed a life outside of work, its easier for me to switch off work mode once I’ve left the building. And when things aren’t quite going the way I want to, I at least know that I have something else to look forward to when I get home.

I’ve always preached about having a healthy-work life balance but I’ve never been able to manage walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. But if I’ve learned anything from these past couple of months, its that you’ll be able to love your work more if you keep it at a distance, and most importantly, if you keep it separate from your personal life (and personal relationships!).

I am fortunate enough to love my job, both aspects of it – education and orthopaedics. But. I need a life outside of it, and what I badly needed this month is to re-connect with myself as a person. I don’t want my whole life to be about what I do at work. Who am I when I’m not a practice educator or an orthopaedic scrub nurse?

I am so much more than just those two things. I have varied interests and I am capable of a lot of other things. There are other things that make me truly happy apart from getting recognition at work. And in the end, success at work means nothing if you are utterly and truly miserable the whole time. As one of my students like to say, success without happiness is the worst kind of failure.

So I’ve made this lengthy entry when what I actually meant to say can be summed up in three words (two three-word phrases in fact): shake it off. Get a life. You’ll be a much better person for it.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light – VE Schwab

When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a published author; I dreamed of writing stories that would take readers to another place and allow them to escape reality if only for a little while. I dabbled at fiction writing at the age of 16, and for as long as I can remember I make one attempt every year to write the stories that are in my head. But every time I tried to put words to a page, the stories I write end up being semi-autobiographical. I realise that I’m merely tweaking elements of my own life and I’m really just writing 10 different versions of the life of Angela.

I’ve not given up on my dream of being a published author yet, but I’ve come to the sad conclusion that my view of the world is just too linear (not to mention self-referential, its really all about me! lol) for me to ever write fiction. I don’t have the kind of imagination that will translate into fantasy and adventure stories. I am grateful however, that there are people in this world who do have that kind of imagination and I feel honoured to be able to review their work.

A Conjuring of Light is the kind of book that makes me feel sorry for people who claim to have no time to read books. They miss out on so much by depriving themselves of the written word, like this story of magic, friendship, adventure, loyalty and love. This epic conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy lives up to the promise of the first two books, and ends it in the most satisfying way possible.

It begins immediately where A Gathering of Shadows left off, with Kell – and by extension, Rhy – fighting for his life in White London after he is lured to a trap by a dark force calling himself Osaron. Osaron invades Red London in the worst way, stealing into the minds of its people and corrupting the magic that has always made Red London special.

Fighting against this evil is a small band of people led by Kell, Rhy,  Lila, the “traitor” Antari Holland, Captain Alucard Emery and other members of the Royal Family, especially the King himself, who used to be called “The Steel Prince” because of his prowess in the battlefield. They are also helped by the priests of the kingdom who help to build wards around the palace so that Osaron cannot reach the people within.

In searching for a way to stop Osaron, our heroes go through both a metaphorical and literal journey. They sail the high seas for an ancient weapon that will contain Osaron’s power, and they also search the strength within themselves to resist the pull of Osaron’s power.

I really really really love this book. I have raved about the world-building so many times in my previous reviews that I know I’m starting to sound redundant. But there is just something so special about the world that VE Schwab has created; even when its encased in darkness it just feel so alive. I’ve read somewhere that the movie rights to this book have already been purchased and I hope to God that whoever directs the cinematic adaptation of this novel will do it justice.

The only thing more special than the world-building is the character development. This book is truly anchored by each character’s relationship to the other. The bond between Rhy and Kell is still one of the most poignant aspects of this trilogy, and the scenes between them brought tears to my eyes. The relationship between Rhy and Captain Alucard brought tingles to my palms (always a good sign) because hey, I’ve always had a thing for second-chance romance.

Lila and Kell’s relationship was a delight to read because it just felt so natural and organic. There was no need for convoluted plot devices specifically designed to bring them together, they just fell into each other so effortlessly that they were in love before they – or the reader – was aware of what was happening. It was like they just said, “oh hello, there you are. You’ve been there all along”. Le sigh.

The real revelation if this book is Holland, the Antari from White London who we all thought was dead in the first book. Imprisoned for being a traitor, and for being the one to bring Osaron into the world in the first place, in this third book we get his backstory and we gain a little more understanding of him as a character – his motives, his fears and, perhaps most painful of all, his hopes. In the end, I would like to think he redeemed himself and was finally able to find the peace that was denied from him for so long.

There are so many fantasy elements woven into this story that fans of the genre will salivate over: magical objects, the question of immortality, an undead army and so on. However, VE Schwab always underscores the very real point that we all have the capability to do evil within us, even without the influence of magic or darkness. Its greed, jealousy and the lack of honour that makes men and women do dishonourable things, and that’s not fantasy – just human nature.

I won’t lie, certain parts of this book are heartbreaking but also necessary. I guess its unrealistic to expect that all our favourite characters will come through this ordeal safe and unscathed, but the ending proves that all the sacrifices were worth it. In the end, we are left with a world that’s bent but not broken, and the promise lies in the fact that what’s left of the rubble is made of stronger stuff.

All in all, this book deserves a place in the fantasy genre for its stupendous world-building, on-point characterisation and witty dialogue. The writing is sharp and crisp and there’s not one scene that feels like a filler; every scene is necessary to propel the story to its inevitable conclusion. At the hands of its very capable author,  the book doesn’t lose momentum even for an instant, but rather keeps all of us readers at the edge of our seats, waiting for what will happen next. I would strongly recommend it to fans of the fantasy genre.