Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, Reviews, Steampunk

Book Review: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

When my parents and I visited my cousin in Switzerland last year, she bought us these made-to-order truffles that came in a gorgeous gold box with a blue ribbon around it. At first it looked and tasted like your ordinary run-of-the mill chocolate, and then you kept chewing and chewing and chewing, and suddenly all sorts of flavours explode in your mouth, and its like you discover everything that’s good about the world in that one piece of chocolate truffle.

I know it sounds random, but that is the closest metaphor I could find to describe what it felt like to read this book. 

First of all, I don’t know what Steampunk means, okay? As a blogger and wannabe book reviewer, I should be able to provide a definition for that genre on request but I can’t. This book apparently falls under the genre, and as far as I can tell steampunk is a general term for something that’s set in the Victorian era but contains futuristic (and even fantastical) elements.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I don’t know what steampunk means, because I have never read any novel as hard to categorise and put into a box as this one. It defies genres, it defies explanations, and, at different times while reading it, I thought it defined all common sense in the best way possible.

At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple story about a clerk who works for the Home Office in Whitehall during the Victorian era who was  saved by – of all things – a pocket watch from becoming a victim of a terrible bombing. He traces the origins of this watch back to a mysterious and enigmatic watchmaker on Filigree street, and from there, all sorts of mayhem ensues.

63202476-clockwork-wallpapers

WARNING: HEADING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE. 

I didn’t quite know what to make of this book at first. By the time I thought to wonder what the hell I was reading, I was already halfway through the book. And that is a testament to the author’s talent as a writer. She can make even the most mundane of things seem interesting. 

And let me tell you, its very easy to judge this book as – as one reviewer on Goodreads so eloquently put it – a one-way ticket to Snoozeville. Those looking for heart-stopping action or a fully-formed plot would find it difficult to get through this book. On the surface, nothing really seems to be happening. Or at least, nothing important anyway.

I think this is one of those books that is more character-driven than plot-driven. The strength of the book lies not in its narrative but rather in the developing relationships between the characters, particularly that of Thaniel (said clerk) and Keita Mori (watchmaker).

There was a very clear chemistry between these two men, a kind of alchemical attraction that is evident in every interaction, even when they’re just sitting around sipping green tea. Their conversations were rapid fire and rife with secret glances and inside jokes; it felt like we, as readers, were being treated to a glimpse of something so unbearably intimate.

It was all so very subtly done that I didn’t even realise I was actually reading a love story until I REALISED I WAS READING A LOVE STORY.

Confession Time: I reread this book last night because it was one of those books that I sort of whizzed through because I was just so impatient to get to the ending. I was never really quite sure that I wasn’t just losing my mind and literally reading too much into things, such that I was seeing and feeling sexual tension where there was none.

But nope. No two ways about it, this book is a bloody romance novel, albeit a really subtle and well-crafted one.

Finding the romance amidst everything that was going on plot-wise was like, I don’t know, that first bite of chocolate truffle, or as Katy Perry once wrote in one of her songs, like eating hard candy with a surprise centre. I didn’t expect it, and it somehow felt more magical to find it because it was so unexpected (kind of like love itself, I suppose).

And the romance was just one of the many pleasant surprises in this book. There were endearing touches of whimsy everywhere, especially in Keita Mori’s clockwork inventions. Everything about the house on Filigree Street feels enchanting, amazing and well ahead of its time.

In fact, my third favourite character (and Thaniel and Mori win by a very narrow margin only by virtue of the fact that they’re ACTUAL human beings) is a mischievous sock-loving clockwork octopus named Katsu.

bryan-callahan-14-katsu
Photo credits to Brian Callahan (https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rNDra)

That’s not to say that the book didn’t have its darker moments. It calls to question everything we know about time and the future, specifically our ability to predict it.

Don’t you guys find it mind-bending sometimes how one simple decision can alter our lives forever? Like how, if we decide to take the later train instead of the one we usually catch because we were running late because we decided to party on a weeknight the night before, we end up missing the chance to meet our future husband and therefore all our future children end up being unborn?

Doesn’t it freak you out sometimes how life seems to be made up of all these infinitesimal moments of chance and missed opportunities? 

It sure as hell freaks me out.

Anyway, I’ve gone on and on as usual when all I really wanted to say was that you all should give this book a chance. The reviews have been hit-or-miss so far, and I suppose its all a matter of taste, but I personally would vouch for it. And also, the cover is TO DIE FOR.

Keep an open mind dear readers and fellow bookworms. Open your heart to a lonely Japanese man with a mechanical pet octopus, and you will find yourself wanting to journey to Filigree street, and just like Thaniel, want to stay there forever,

FIVE STARS.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book Review: Monsters of Verity Duology – V.E. Schwab

She tried to swim to the surface but it kept stretching out of reach. It was like the cusp between waking and sleep, where you couldn’t hold on to your thoughts. Couldn’t hold on to anything.

But she held on to him.

Once in a while, you come across the kind of written work that makes you wish you had the talent to craft something so beautiful out of something that’s so dark and twisted.

I’ve loved V.E. Schwab ever since I picked up the Shades of Magic trilogy last year. As an author, I think there are no limits to what her imagination can conceive and what she can put into words. In a time where everyone seems to be writing about love triangles and sparkly vampires, she dares to be different.

36638423

This Savage Song, the first book in the Monsters of Verity series, opens up with our “heroine” committing arson by burning down the chapel in the Catholic school she was attending. Talk about something starting with a bang. The opening chapter alone made me sit up and take notice. Right out of the gate, I knew this was not going to be a typical YA fantasy novel.

The concept behind this series is simple and yet strangely complex at the same time. Verity is a city teeming with monsters that arise in the aftermath of horrible crimes and savage acts. There are three known kinds: Corsai, who are born out of violent but non-lethal acts, like to prey on flesh. Malchai, born out of murder, feed on blood.

And last but not least, the Sunai, who are born out crimes so horrible that they take out the lives of more than one person, feed on souls. However, they can only feed on the souls of sinners, and to hear their song is to feel your soul being reaped from you one note at a time. They are considered to be the worst kind of monsters because they look, walk and talk just like humans, until you look into the bottomless depths of their eyes.

The city itself is divided into two factions: the North City, ruled by Callum Harker, who “controls” the monsters and who makes the inhabitants pay for his protection; and the South City, ruled by Henry Flynn, whose small band of soldiers patrol the streets in order to keep humans safe from the monsters.

And because this is some kind of retelling of Romeo and Juliet (in like, a sick, distorted kind of way), OF COURSE, Callum and Henry have  two offsprings that meet somewhere and get to know each other in a way that makes readers hopeful that some kind of love story will arise from the gruesomeness of this tale.

Right.

If you’re looking for happily-ever-after, you might want to move on to the new Stephenie Meyer novel or reread Twilight. There are no cutesy, holding hands in the dark and chasing each other down the beach moments here.

Kate Harker is no Juliet. And while August Flynn may have the looks of someone who would spout sonnets in the moonlight and liken his lady love to a summer’s day, he would just as likely kill someone with his violin than he would make love to a woman.

I love atypical and imperfect main characters. I think they’re so much more relatable than those characters that are perceived to be perfect by everyone around them. I think the fact that these characters are neither purely good nor evil makes them more compelling and interesting, and it mirrors the truth of what it means to be human.

Its not always black and white. We are defined largely by the sum total of our life experiences and the choices we’ve made and have stood by. I think what I realised while reading this book is that life tends to be one large grey area most of the time, and no one really has the right to judge anyone by what they do when faced with an impossible situation.

Apart from being thought-provoking, this two-book series is also action-packed and gruesome in the best way possible. It is not afraid to be graphic and descriptive about mankind’s capacity for violence, and it just makes me think about how we’ve come a long way from the days when YA was synonymous to Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield in the Sweet Valley series.

There is a lot of violence in these books, but the good thing is that it never feels gratuitous or senseless. The violence feels like an integral part of the story; it feels like we NEED to see and get past the bad parts in order to get to some kind of resolution, just like real life.

Some part of me always knew how this series would end, and I wasn’t far off in my predictions actually. Still, when I came to the climactic conclusion of ‘Our Dark Duet‘ (the second book in the series), I found myself sobbing like a baby and crying ugly tears, even as I knew it could not have ended any other way.

The author allows you to develop such a personal connection with her characters. You are able to share in their joys, sorrows, triumphs and loss. But it also means that the ending of the story packs a real punch because you feel like you’ve gone through this roller coaster journey with them.

So no, it wasn’t a happy ending, but what it was was hopeful and redemptive. It leaves you with the feeling that this is a story that is just beginning, and that there is so much more work to be done before there can be real and lasting peace in Verity.

People were messy. They were defined not only by what they’d done, but by what they would have done, under different circumstances, moulded as much by their regrets as their actions, choices they stood by and those they wished they could undo. Of course, there was no going back – time only moved forward – but people could change.

For worse. For better. It wasn’t easy. The world was complicated. Life was hard. And so often, living hurt.

So make it worth the pain. 

I am under no illusions that this is an unbiased review. I love love love this series. To me, it is absolutely faultless, and I would really recommend it for people who love world-building, fantasy and a taste of something different. Happy reading, bookworms!

Posted in bloggers, Books, Fantasy, LGBT, relationships, romance

Book Review: Murmuration – TJ Klune

Ever read a book where you spent a good 10 to 15 minutes staring into space (wondering what the hell you just read) as soon as you turned the last page?

tumblr_oevt0qBSUI1s9a9yjo1_500

Welcome to the world of Murmuration. Its confusing, amazing, heartbreaking, fascinating, wonderful, traumatic and lovely all at the same time.

Its seriously f***ked up. 

This was recommended by a friend on Goodreads who thought it would be a worthy addition to the list of LGBT books on my bookshelf. I thought I’d be reading some fluffy love story that will make me feel all gooey inside after I’ve read it. I was reading this while on a birthday trip to Disneyland Paris, for crying out loud!

So there I was, all glowy and happy from a day of spending time with Mickey, Minnie and my favourite Disney Princesses (and super high on adrenaline after riding two rollercoasters in one afternoon), and I thought it would be a good idea to finish the evening reading something light, something that’s not so taxing on the brain cells. I was on holiday after all.

source

This book totally made my brain hurt. Is there such a thing as mental pain? Because I’m pretty sure that describes the sum of all my feelings towards this book.

I can’t even give you a synopsis because I don’t want to spoil the plot. Let’s just say that I thought this was a story about a small town boy (living in a lonely world) in the 1950s who falls in love with another small town boy and that they would have to fight to overcome the prejudices that were prevalent at the time.

I started to get warm and fuzzy feelings from the development of the romance (I do love a good friends-to-lovers story) and from the level of acceptance that surrounded these two human beings. I thought, my my, what an awesome story, there is still hope for mankind after all.

giphy-downsized

I don’t know when the vague sense of unease started to creep in. I don’t know where I started to get an inkling that there’s something not quite right with this story. Amidst the cute diner scenes, fourth of July picnics and the charms of walking home hand in hand in the dark, I started to feel like this was all too good to be true. There’s something seriously wrong with this story.

Okay confession time.

I skipped ahead to the ending. 

Okay, okay, I’m sorry. But COME ON, have you ever had the distinct experience of reading a book by TJ Klune? The man doesn’t have it in him to be brief, okay? His books are incredibly lengthy, and while the writing is good there are moments when you just want to yell at the man to get a damned editor because surely there is a better, SHORTER, way of writing a story.

Just get the bloody hell on with it.

Anyway. I skipped to the ending because I know I won’t be able to sleep a wink without knowing for sure which one of my crazy theories were correct. I was sure that it was either one or the other. I have read a lot of books and its very rare that a plot line is able to surprise me. I’m usually always spot on with my predictions.

I was so far off the mark with this one that its not even funny.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve been living under a rock or what, but I thought this was one of the most unique plots I’ve ever read in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever come across such an insanely fascinating story in my entire life.

Does it have plot holes? Sure. Absolutely. Enough to rival the holes on the ozone layer in fact.

Does it make sense? Hell, no. It doesn’t. It requires a lengthy stretch of the imagination to even conceive that this book is within the realms of possibility.

What it was, though, was vastly entertaining. It will keep you on your toes, constantly thinking up explanations for the things that are happening. It will drive you crazy wondering what the hell is going on. It will keep you in a heightened sense of dread, especially when things are going so well for the main protagonists, because you are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It will make you cry. There’s all sorts of feels in this book, and the ending is bittersweet in the way really good stories are (Hello, Inception). It will make you feel like maybe its okay to not have a happily-ever-after, as long as you can be happy for now.

I‘m pretty sure this book took a little piece of my heart with it. 

Let me just say, in conclusion, that it constantly amazes me to think about what the human mind is capable of. It is capable of so much invention and innovation as the seat of our intelligence. It is capable of so much destruction when common sense is overruled by emotion, such as pain.

It is capable of dreaming up stories such as this.

We can spend a hundred years studying the human mind and I don’t think we will ever reach the limit of its capabilities, nor will we ever fully answer the mysteries inherent in the minor miracle that is our brain. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we’re not meant to overanalyse how we think, how we feel and how we came to be who we are.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in this book, its that there’s very little point in examining and cross-examining why we make the choices we make and why we live the way we do. That’s not the point.

The point is simply to live, the best way you know how. 

 

 

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

Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

Warning: this is not going to be the most coherent and objective of book reviews because, BLOODY HELL, this book was FANTASTIC.

i-love-it-gif-8

Its been sitting on my shelf for a while because I went through a phase where I couldn’t seem to pick up YA fantasy books without wanting to either kill the heroine for being so damned stupid or maim the author for stretching what is really a very basic story into yet another trilogy. For those of you who know me, you know that the one thing I do not have in excess is PATIENCE.

What I do have is appreciation for authors who use their unlimited imagination and their not insignificant writing skills to provide a tale that proves YA fantasy does not have to be synonymous to sparkly vampires. Quite literally, this books feels like a welcome breath of fresh sea air.

To Kill A Kingdom, at first glance, seems like a retelling or a modern spin on The Little Mermaid. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three decades you will know this Hans Christian Andersen classic very well, but you probably know it better as a product of this quite well-known studio you might have heard of called Disney.

This book is about a siren princess called Lira, who is as far away from Ariel as one could get. Whilst Ariel may coyly comb her hair with a fork, flirt with a prince to get him to kiss her and sings about wanting to be a part of our world, Lira would sooner poke her eye out with said fork than to ever deign to associate with humans, let alone kiss a prince.

In fact, Lira has been trained by her dear old mumsy, The Sea Queen, from a very young age to become The Prince’s Bane, ruthlessly killing royals every year on her birthday and keeping their hearts under the sea as both a memento and a source of power. Forced to do unimaginable things before she’s really had a chance to find herself, she is the terror of the seas and, much to mummy’s rage and jealousy, the future of the kingdom of Keto.

Enter our prince, Elian from the kingdom of Midas. By no stretch of the imagination can he be called Prince Charming. Rather than learning how to rule a kingdom, he’s spent most of his life sailing the high seas and killing sirens to bring peace to the Hundred Kingdoms. His dream is to eliminate the threat of sirens forever by killing the Sea Queen and the queen’s greatest weapon: Lira.

Yep, this ain’t Disney baby. 

There are so many things I like about this book that I’m already struggling to keep this blog from becoming a thesis. Its superbly written, and I am not at all surprised to find out that Alexandra Christo is a British author. There is something about her narrative and her use of language and dialogue that is so pleasing to read.

The writing flows smoothly like the ocean that Elian and Lira both love so much, and the action propels the readers into new heights of excitement just like the turbulent seas when there is a gathering storm.

The book is tightly plotted, with no unnecessary teen drama or angst to distract readers from the inevitable conclusion. All roads lead to the Cloud Mountain, where legend tells of a stone that has the power to control and kill the Sea Queen. To get there however, Elian and Lira will have to trust in each other, and to trust in their dream that things can be different; that they can be more than what they have always been, that they have the power to choose their destiny.

Its pretty violent for a YA novel. But there is an unwavering moral compass beneath all the violent scenes that is evident every time Elian chooses to kill only when there is no other choice, in the way Lira – even if its against her nature – chooses to do something because its the right thing to do. I am a sucker for things like that, I get all mushy when I read something that tells me that there are still people who believe in things like honour and loyalty.

I was absolutely enamoured by the legend, the daring, the sword fights and the fact that it featured so many strong female characters. This is a trend that we are starting to see more and more in YA books and it’s FANTASTIC. This sends the kind of message that we want impressionable teenage girls to receive: that women can do whatever they want  and that we also deserve to make our own way in this world, with or without a man by our side.

I love how Lira was almost an anti-thesis to every kind of heroine I’ve ever read about before. She’s no Bella Swan, that’s for sure. She’s not a simpering flower nor a damsel in distress, she’d sooner kill you than kiss you and she’s all kinds of awesome. She refuses to be defined by her past, and she ultimately finds redemption and peace in the best way possible while still being true to herself.

A weak woman will break before she accepts reality, but a strong woman has the ability to bend (just enough) before she breaks. 

Anyway, yes, there is a love story in this book. But its so subtle and atypical that I did not find the time to roll my eyes and be cynical about it. In no way did it distract from the main point of the story, it almost seemed like a secondary thing, like a natural product of the turn of events rather than something that the author contrived to cater to her target market of squealing teens.

Legend says that if a human holds a siren’s heart it will make them immune to the sirens’ song, a song that lulls anyone who hears it into a state where they fall under the siren’s spell and into certain death. I didn’t realise how cynical I had become because I didn’t grasp the implication of this legend immediately, not until the end of the story, when it was thrust upon me.

And this is exactly what this book ultimately gave me: at the risk of sounding trite, finishing this book felt like getting back a piece of my childhood and finding a part of the girl I used to be, the girl who believed anything was possible

For all that I said this book is as far from Disney as it gets, there is something about the last few chapters of the book, the climax and its bittersweet but satisfying ending, that will have you believing again. It will have you believing in the power of friendship, family, love and the power of having something to believe in.

This is a book worth spending your Sundays in bed for, you guys. BUY IT NOW because you will not regret it, it is absolutely awesome.

I will now leave you so that I can watch Disney’s The Little Mermaid. LOL

Out of the sea, wish I could be part of your world.

tumblr_oy4m8mZFnp1wzypxlo1_500

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

Book Review: Ready Player One

So, there are three things you should know about me:

One. I have always loved quests. It doesn’t matter if it involves treasure hunts or a race to a predetermined finish line, if it involves jumping through hoops and solving riddles in the process, I am all for it.

When I was a young and idealistic clinical instructor, I used to organise an Amazing Race Velez College Edition for my nursing students at the end of each placement as a fun way of testing their knowledge and skill as well as, you know, using my powers to get them to do silly stuff like put their faces on a bowl of flour to find the clue hidden underneath. It was awesome.

Two. I love the 80s. I mean, I was only alive for three years of it but my dad and uncles were all 80s aficionados. The three of them had a combined and impressive collection of CDs of artists from the 80s and DVDs of films from that decade. My favourite uncle especially was really into 80s new wave so from the age of 8 and beyond, I had Billy Joel singing Uptown Girl and Kate Bush longing for Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights‘ as the soundtrack of my childhood.

Three. I am a big geek. There is no way anyone who knows me will fail to realise this. I did well in school, I was into books and music and film and I cannot play a sport to save my life (unless Scrabble counts as a sport).

Growing up this gave me a lot of insecurities and for a long time I probably pretended to be a lot cooler than I was, but I’ve reached the age where all you can really do is just be yourself and realise that who you are is awesome simply because ITS YOU.

This is what this book celebrates I guess: quests, the 80s and geekdom. Honestly, this book is like manna from heaven for every geek and gamer out there (of which there are many I’m sure). The number of pop culture references that Wade and company used to solve the quest, get to Halliday’s egg and save the world in the process is so ubiquitous it nearly made my head spin.

I have to admit I did not get most of them, especially the ones relating to video games. But there’s plenty of things that I did get: John Hughes films, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, to name a few. I also loved the Marty McFly reference because the Back To The Future trilogy are among my favourite films of all time.

I know that just like any book that’s reached a certain level of popularity, this one is already getting a lot of backlash and criticism from people who think the references are self-serving, self-referential and complete and utter nonsense. To that I say:

I really don’t get why people feel the need to take a book so personally. I’ve given negative reviews about a book before but I’d like to think I’ve always had something positive to say about it rather than just tearing it to shreds. As someone who aspires to be a writer someday, I appreciate how hard it is to string together a coherent paragraph that will somehow convey the stories that are in your mind, let alone have the commitment to actually get it published.

I think the premise and the plot of this book is stronger than it gets credit for. I loved the more sinister undertones lurking behind the exhilarating quest and the subtle message of the dangers of OASIS, the super-immersive virtual reality program that has enthralled the masses in this dystopian future. It also amazes me that for a book that celebrates all things techie and geeky, it still somehow manages to convey a very human story of acceptance,friendship and love.

Okay so its not without its faults, but overall I find the writing to be so superb that it had me in its hooks even though I have no idea how to tell the difference between an Atari and a Nintendo PS, and though I’ve never played a game of PacMan in my life. The narrative moves forward in an exciting pace and ultimately ends in a triumph that leaves me wanting to do this:

I can’t wait to watch the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation and watch as Steven Spielberg pays homage to 80s pop culture and, well, Steven Spielberg.

Steven Spielberg GIF by Golden Globes - Find & Share on GIPHY

Okay, so that is probably a little too self-congratulatory for my taste but you can’t blame the guy for having had such a heavy influence on most of the films released during that period. He IS one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Let’s not hold that against him and this book.

If you haven’t got a copy already, go buy this book. Solid 4 stars!

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.

Conjuring-of-Light-feature-809x538

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.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows – VE Schwab

Harry Potter meets A Knight’s Tale meets Pirates of the Caribbean in this swashbuckling second instalment of the Shades of Magic trilogy.

In fact, its quite unfair to describe this book in terms of pop culture references because it is so much more than the sum of all its parts, but I do it only to emphasise how truly magnificent this book is.

As with all good things it starts as a slow burn, with the author setting the stage and taking the time to reintroduce us to our favourite characters several months after the events of book one. The first quarter of the book was intent on showing how their brush with dark magic impacted Lila, Kell and Prince Rhy. At first glance, they seem to have weathered the storm well but appearances can be deceiving.

Rhy and Kell are struggling with the implications of the spell that keeps Rhy’s life tethered to Kell’s, and how this changes the dynamics of their relationship. Rhy in particular is tortured with guilt at what his actions have brought and a sense of being unworthy of the second chance at life he’s been given.

Kell meanwhile is haunted by dreams of Red London burning, by a growing recklessness and by an increasing need to use his powers. He also faces the fallout of his past activities as the kingdom continues to regard him with suspicion, and the king and queen increasingly treat him like a prisoner under guard rather than a beloved adopted son. Most of all, he struggles with the responsibility of knowing he holds his brother’s life in his hands and that any pain inflicted on him will also be inflicted on Rhy.

As for our favourite Grey London thief, to no one’s surprise, she’s nimbly landed on her feet and finds herself being part of the crew of the Night Spire, a privateer (ahem, pirate) vessel under the leadership of the enigmatic, mysterious and dashing Captain Alucard Emery. She spent the last 3 months on an adventure, establishing a reputation on the high seas as the Sparow, a thief in the night who will rob you blind and you’ll never even see him (or her, in this case) coming.

9780765376473_fc

Woven through all of this is the stunning background of the Essen Tasch or The Elemental Games, where the strongest magicians from the neigbouring empires of Faro and Vesk compete against the pride of the Arnesian empire for the pride of being champion. All of this is set in elaborate arenas built at the heart of Red London, the capital of Arnes.

The world building is stunning. The way the author describes the setting and the scenes just begs for a cinematic adaptation. Reading the book one can almost feel the buildup to the climactic and pivotal moments of the narrative, one can almost taste the anticipation in the air and touch the pulse beat of the excitement as we wait with bated breath for the next twist, for the bend in the road, for the wrench that throws off even the best laid plans.

The thing that is most impressive is that even with so many things going on, VE Schwab never loses sight of the fact that the real strength of this book is the relationship between her central characters. As Master Tieren (the blessed priest) said, magic is not the unknown in the equation because at its core it is and always will be pure. Its the human hands that wield the magic that causes it to appear in different forms. Similarly, in this book its the characters rather than the events that shape the story.

Rhy becomes more of a central figure in this book and we learn a little bit more of his backstory, as well as gaining insight into his hopes, thoughts and fears. I love reading about strong relationships, especially between brothers, so I particularly loved how this book highlighted the bond between Rhy and Kell; its a rope that is damaged and frayed by uncertainty at the moment but its the kind that will hold.

I think Kell for me never quite settles into his role as the main protagonist of this book. Sure, he enters the tournament by stealth and has the chance to flex a bit of muscle in this installment but he still feels like a secondary character. But I don’t think that’s a testament to weak character development; rather its a by-product of the fact that VE Schwab has created such a strong character in the delightful Lila Bard that everyone else just pales in comparison.

I love Lila. Relentless, uncompromising, fearless to the point of having a death wish, she is the real star of this show. Whether dressed in a demon mask, a suit of armor or disarming Kell in that awesome first meeting by donning an actual dress, she burns through the pages and just comes alive in every scene she’s in. I love that she’s an atypical heroine, and she’s a breath of fresh air in this day and age when the fantasy genre is full of so many vapid female characters.

Reading this book will give you an appreciation for the author’s broad imagination. There is something for everyone, even a Cinderella moment for Disney fanatics like me. Overall, its an exquisite blend of intrigue, adventure, magic and romance that will leave readers breathless, that is, breathless from running to the nearest bookstore to read the next book because its just that darn good. A Gathering of Shadows is a delicious romp across this world that VE Schwab has built, and you will be glad you came along for the ride.

Rating: 5 stars