Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: The Ruin of Kings – Jenn Lyons

There’s few things I hate more than not being able to finish a book.

I tried with this one, I really did. I wanted to give up after the first few chapters but I persevered because the writing’s not bad, truly. I like the snarky humour, the sarcasm and I even came to tolerate the convoluted non-linear narration.

But writing fantasy is like telling a good joke. If you have to explain the punchline, you’re doing it wrong. There were a lot of telling and explaining in this book. Plot twists were “discovered” by the hero without any build-up whatsoever, and the backstories were so complicated that I gave up trying to keep up.

I’m not even sure what the premise was. I thought I was reading a book about dragons, something that I’m really into as I wait for the final season of Game of Thrones to finish. But there’s ONE dragon in this book and he’s as interesting as an Excel spreadsheet. I was waiting for a ‘Dracarys’ moment but he just went on and on and on about what he would do to the hero when he caught him without actually doing anything. Its very difficult to be bored out of your mind when reading about dragons but this book has achieved that.

The hero, Kihrin, was mildly interesting. He’s got a mysterious past, a somewhat conflicted sexuality and he’s got personality with a capital P. He’s got snark down to an art form and I like how he never lets anyone or anything get him down. He does what he can to get by and makes no apologies for the things he’s done to survive. I love survivors.

Kihrin is – from the little I understood about the backstory- in the centre of a great prophecy concerning the end of the known world. Good premise, maybe. But it all went downhill from there with all the deaths and subsequent resurrections, the massive cast of characters who can take on different forms which makes the cast even bigger than it already is…it was all just unnecessarily complicated.

I DNF’d at about 70%. It had taken me 2 weeks to even get that far and that point my to-read pile had grown too big for me to ignore the fact that I had simply lost interest in this book.

I don’t like giving bad reviews. This could just be all me, really. Other people seem to find it good and kudos to them for being able to keep up. For me, there’s a reason why they say simplicity is beauty. You don’t need all kinds of props and gimmicks in Fantasy, you just have to tell the story.

Also, if you’re going to have a book with dragons, USE YOUR DRAGONS for more than just show.

Overall rating: 2 stars (and mostly because I like the cover!)

Posted in Books, Fantasy, LGBT, women, Women's literature

Book Review: The Priory of The Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

I’ve been trying to find words for the past 24 hours that will do this book justice and so far all I have to show for it are drafts that I’ve since decided were rubbish. Sometimes when a book comes out that is so ambitious in its scope, and just so damn interesting, words fail me.

Book like these are an experience. So much patience and skill went into the world-building, which we all know is the foundation of any good fantasy story. The Queendom of Inys, the mysterious Priory and the distant East all felt like real places, places that I would pay big bucks to visit I might add. Each separate location had its own language, religion, traditions and culture. Its a world that felt like it sprung fully-formed from the depths of the author’s imagination. She made it feel so easy and effortless, when it must have taken ages to piece all of it together.

The characters were as alive as the setting. First of all, I like that the members of the female population featured more prominently in this book than their male counterparts. I can see why its being called a feminist book. Its led by three strong women, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, strengths and faults. One is a queen whose destiny is irrevocably tied to the fate of her country, another is a mage in hiding who’s been tasked to protect a queen. And the third? The third just wants to ride dragons.

Did i fail to mention there were dragons in this story?

They were such glorious, magnificent creatures in this book. You can tell how much enthusiasm Samantha Shannon had in writing them into the narrative, they totally stole each scene they were in. I loved how they were almost human in their portrayal, if that makes sense. Not only were they sentient beings they also had a a voice, a personality, and a sense of humour.

They were so involved in human lives that they even took part in war councils and contributed to political decisions. I know that having any sort of fire-breathing beings in your book will draw the inevitable comparison to Game of Thrones (intended to be a compliment I’m sure) but I think this book is a far cry from being any sort of imitation. I found it quite unique and original.

The story is rich and complex. A dynasty that was built on a lie is threatened by the arrival of an ancient enemy. Add to the mix some political machinations and betrayal, the formation and dissolution of alliances, and above all, the quest for the truth in order to keep a Queendom safe and what you have is a tale of epic proportions.

Despite the fantastical and magical elements though, this is a story that’s (strangely) very much grounded in reality. I certainly saw parallels with the current state of the world. Whether or not it was her intention, there were moments when the book felt like a social commentary on the times.

Finally, let me just say that its very rare to find a book that represents diversity in such an unobtrusive and casual way. For example, Samantha Shannon didn’t make a big fuss about the fact that several of her main characters have fluid sexual orientations, she simply made it the new normal. I think this book is a great testament to how evolved literature has become, and I’m glad that we’re at that stage where not only is everyone free to be who they are (and to love who they love), we’re also free to read and write all about it.

Don’t be put off by the weight of this book. Yes it felt like I could pound a nail through a two-by-four with it, and I gained biceps definition in the time it took me to walk home from the bookstore just by carrying it around. Its a hefty tome, but its worth it. Samantha Shannon has become one of the authors whose future works I will watch out for. The next time she publishes something, I’m going to hie myself off to my nearest Waterstones faster than you can say ‘Dracarys!’.

Amazing book! 4 out of 5 stars.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews

Book Review: A Knight of The Seven Kingdoms

I cannot believe we’re down to two more episodes in the current season of Game of Thrones. What will I do with my Mondays now? I might actually need to think about work instead of whether or not my favourite character lives or dies! In fact, I might get so upset over the loss of GoT that I will do a dracarys on my way to the office and breathe fire over the good people of London.

Could it be any clearer that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan? 

I first watched this show on the recommendation of my good friend Katie. Well, I read the books first, and it really went into more detail than the series ever did which is probably part of the reason why I got so invested in the characters; I knew their backstory from the books. I wouldn’t compare the books to the series though because I think they’re equally good. There are things that the series has done, like making Robb Stark a more central character before his tragic demise, that I thought worked really well. 

Anyway, I ultimately finished the books and like many others I wait with bated breath for Winds of Winter to come, which from the sounds of it now seems like it will be thick enough to kill a full-grown rat. The tv series has overtaken the books though so I think that will be confusing, keeping all those storylines separate. But I can’t complain when we have episodes like ‘The Spoils of War‘ which is 40 minutes of television heaven. Plus having the R + L = J theory confirmed last season was one of the most gratifying moments in tv history. 

I bought A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms so that I would have something to do in between episodes and because I love everything that has to do with Westeros. I think George R R Martin has done a stupendous job of building this fantasy world with its own history, geography and legends. I mean, I would be just as satisfied reading about the events leading up to Robert’s Rebellion as I would be reading recent Westeros events.

By this time, all these names are as familiar to me as my own. Targaryen. Stark. Baratheon. Lannister. When I see them mentioned in this book, which takes place about 100 years before current GoT events, I get a little thrill. This book is actually a collection of 3 novellas telling the adventures of Dunk and Egg, also known as Ser Duncan the Tall and the future king himself Aegon V Targaryen. Aegon is Mad King Aerys’ father. He was so obssessed with having dragons in the world again that he burned down his palace in Summerhall around the same time that Rhaegar Targaryen was born. 

Ser Duncan is a hedge knight. I’m not sure what that is exactly but it seems like one step short of being a sellsword; a knight who sells his services to any lord. He meets a bald-headed purple-eyed boy in a tavern on his way to a tourney in Ashford. Unbeknownst to him this precocious boy is actually Aegon but he nicknames himself Egg. He unwittingly takes him on as his squire as he enters the tourney where, as fate would have it, Egg’s brothers and uncles are also competing. 

The stories that follow are rich in Westerosi history. Its funny with a touch of adventure and at time unexpectedly moving. Its even more moving when you consider the fact that Ser Duncan was with Aegon through his unexpected rise to the throne and served as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard all throughout his rein and until the end of both their lives (he too died in Summerhall). 

*all photos are taken from the book and are original works of the illustrator specified in the cover*


I didn’t think I’d get through this book so quickly. It took me ages to finish one GoT book (oh God, Clash of Kings was tedious) but it only took me a day or two to finish this one. The illustrations were lovely and helped a great deal. I can imagine reading this book to my children someday in the future. I loved Ser Duncan and his almost foolish sense of nobility (hello, Ned Stark) and I especially loved Egg. These books are a great addition to the world of Game of Thrones and I hope GRRM will live long enough to finish these tales and maybe even write about Rhaegar and Lyanna. I would love a romance novel set in this world, just saying. 

All in all, this was a great book and one I would recommend to any fan.