Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen and the Buffy Legacy

October 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a brilliant, groundbreaking show. The majority of the women in the show are unashamedly fierce, but there are also many who aren’t – just like REAL women! And the same goes for the men; some of them are stubborn and painfully arrogant, some of them are smart, shy and quiet (hiiii Oz), and some of them have hidden depths that only TRUE FANS appreciate. (Okay, I may still be a bit hung up on Spike. But who isn’t?!) There were vampires, werewolves, demons, ventriloquist dummies, goddesses, Keys, witches and proms. Don’t you miss it?

Harmony - will you ever learn? (she didn't)

Harmony – will you ever learn? (she didn’t)

Long before Willow turned dark, before Buffy died (the first time), and before Anya started threatening to hit things with frying pans, the Hellmouth opened beneath Sunnydale High School. A sixteen-year-old blonde chick showed up and started hacking away at the demons that began to manifest in and around the high school. The rest, as they say, is…well; it’s seasons two through seven.

Many attempts have been made to resurrect BTVS. Comics, novels, fanfic, Angel – you name it, the creators and the show’s fans have attempted it. Although I enjoyed them (and, uh, may have participated in the fanfic), I don’t really think any of these forays has truly captured the spirit of those glorious early days.

Readers of The Novelettes, I hold in my hands the legacy to BTVS. It is Michelle Knudsen’s Evil Librarian.

From Buzzfeed - #Sunnydale problems

From Buzzfeed – #Sunnydale problems

Cyn and Annie, best friends since who-knows-when, share everything. Under the rules of best-friendship, Annie has been subjected to Cyn’s mooning over Ryan Hadley for years. Really, it’s lucky that Annie hasn’t ever really had a crush of the same magnitude, because Cyn does enough swooning for the both of them.

As technical director of the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, Cyn isn’t really all that interested in the goings-on of the school library. And neither is Annie, really – until Mr. Gabriel arrives. The new school librarian is young, disturbingly handsome and just a little bit too charismatic for Cyn’s liking, but Annie has fallen head over heels for him. Mr. Gabriel seems to be taken with Annie too, which would be repulsive enough all by itself – but when Cyn walks in on the librarian covered in the blood of another teacher, she knows for certain: Annie’s life is in danger.

“An evil librarian is taking over the school. He appears to be making my best friend his special evil library monitor.”

All over the school, students are exhibiting disturbing signs of some kind of brainwashing. Only Cyn, and the object of her affections, Ryan, seem to notice that the zombie-like entrancements are connected with Mr. Gabriel. All of a sudden, Cyn and Ryan find themselves in the middle of a demon war – with their high school as the battlegrounds.

“Because, you know, evil demon librarians, not so much known for the honesty policy.”

Seriously, though, Cyn’s got other things on her mind than stopping the denizens from hell ripping her school to shreds. She’s only got three weeks until Sweeney Todd’s opening night, and there’s so much to do! Normally, she’d need a lot of time to analyse the progress between she and Ryan, but she’s had to put all that energy into saving Annie from becoming a demon bride.

But she loves Annie. So much so that she’d go to Hell and back to save her. Which is lucky, since that’s exactly what she’s going to have to do.

My favourite cover art of the year.

My favourite cover art of the year.

Since reading Fangirl, I’ve been more interested than normal in well-developed romances, particularly those that are a sidebar to the main plot. Ryan and Cyn’s story is just the right balance of awkwardness, humour and sweet determination to get it right. Just like Cath in Fangirl, Cyn’s relationship with Ryan develops and grows along with Cyn. That is the sign of a romantic subplot done right!

Although Evil Librarian is being touted as Knudsen’s YA debut, I really believe that adults are going to get just as much out of this novel – if not more – than teenage readers. At twenty-four, high school might be over for me, but BTVS dialogue is still present in my everyday life (whether my friends know it or not). I think that as an adult, you might have the capacity to find this book funny in a way that teenagers won’t yet be able to.

“He looks at me again and the flames vanish and the knife is gone and his voice goes light and breezy and all coffee-shop conversational, as if he wasn’t just one second ago impaling me with fiery eyes and discussing the dark fate of my best friend and the souls of all my classmates.”

Evil Librarian feels original and familiar all at once. It’s funny, dramatic, kind of gross and very sweet. Without ever copying anything from Joss Whedon, Knudsen manages to capture everything that I loved about Buffy and bring it to an original setting in a new universe. It’s selflessness and scathing sarcasm in the face of the actual bloodthirsty monsters. It’s flippant quips when your world it is coming crashing down around your ears. It’s the ferocity of adolescence, channeled into all-encompassing friendship; the kind of friendship you’d die for.

Want a copy of Evil Librarian? If you’re in Brisbane, grab one from Pulp Fiction, now at Adelaide Street.

PS – I have a Gentleman T-shirt. I don’t actually wear it in public because it’s kind of scary. But here you go:

Hush, hush.

Hush, hush.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: How to be an Introvert

October 2, 2014 § 1 Comment

Fangirl cover art by Noelle Stevenson

Fangirl cover art by Noelle Stevenson

Cath has always preferred the fictional world over reality. She particularly loves the Simon Snow series, about a boy and his vampire roommate at school for the magically gifted. In fact, maybe “love” is not a strong enough word for how Cath feels about Simon and his vampiric frenemy, Baz. After all, she is the author of Carry On, Simon, the most widely read Simon Snow fanfic on the Internet. When she was younger, Cath used to write Carry On, Simon with her twin sister, Wren. Even though she’s always been the more outgoing one, Wren was always supportive of Cath’s reclusive ways. But as they prepare for their first year of college, Cath’s worst nightmare comes true – Wren doesn’t want to share a dorm room. Completely unprepared to broach a campus life without Wren by her side, Cath feels her anxiety rear its ugly head. She’s tempted to just stay at home in the bedroom she and Wren have always shared, but her father insists that she give the college life a try. Vivacious Wren takes to college like a duck to water. She’s on top of her classes, she gets on well with her roommate, and her social life is booming. Between attending parties and recovering from them, Wren doesn’t have any time for Cath. Reagan, Cath’s roommate, is…not someone Cath would normally choose to spend time with. She’s bossy, loud, has no qualms about speaking her mind and she thinks Cath needs a life. Cath doesn’t necessarily disagree, but she’d rather not be told so often (and so loudly). Reagan’s friend Levi is always hanging around, interrupting Cath’s much-needed writing time with persistent attempts to get to know her. Spending time with Reagan and Levi is uncomfortable, but not unpleasant, and she starts to settle in. She’s coping with her classes, still on top of Carry On, Simon, and is even managing without Wren. Cath is okay. And then, she’s not. The slow unraveling of her life does not take Cath by surprise; rather, her stress creeps up on her cumulatively (slowly, and then all at once?). She fails one of her papers, and she’s stumped as to how to approach the next one. Her slowly developing relationship with Levi grinds to a screeching halt when she walks in on him kissing another girl. Her estranged mother returns to her life, and wants to get to know the daughters she abandoned. Their mentally ill father relapses, and Wren is AWOL when Cath needs her.

If given the choice between going to a party and sitting at home with a book and a cup of tea, I, like Cath, will invariably choose the latter. When faced with a confronting situation, my brain, like Cath’s, will invariably choose to assume that the worst-case scenario is happening. It would not be unreasonable for me to call myself a fangirl…I do own a replica of Hermione’s wand, after all. Now, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Simon Snow series pays homage to Harry Potter, and I know my readers won’t be surprised to hear that I relate to the Harry Potter novels in the same way that Cath does to Simon Snow (minus the fanfic). Ninety percent of the time, I feel more comfortable in the fictional world than I do in the real world. Fangirl is Cath’s story. And it’s also mine. fangirl1   When I read the blurb on the back of the novel, I predicted that this book would end with Cath moving on from Carry On, Simon, emerging from her life as the eponymous Fangirl and participating in the real world along with her sister. But Cath’s fandom is a part of her identity, and the author did not belittle this. Instead of becoming a more “socially acceptable” person, Cath simply becomes a stronger version of herself. I loved that the author represented Cath’s relationships with her sister and her mother in a realistic light. Wren is not a perfect person. The novel’s resolution did not see her realizing the error of her ways and becoming the supportive, attentive sister Cath needs. Instead, Cath came to terms with Wren’s role in her life, and appreciated her for what she could offer her. How wonderful, and how empowering, to read about a character afflicted with stressful situations and relationships that she does not necessarily fix, but learns to manage. I loved that. It was also refreshing to find that, although the plot does incorporate a budding relationship, romance was not the focus of the novel. Instead, it is a part of the larger story that is Cath’s life, and the way that she comes to be with Levi is all wrapped up in her development as a person. I loved Fangirl in a way that made me feel both protective and proud of it. I actually delayed finishing it, I loved it so much.But I also wanted to buy a hundred copies of it and give one to everyone I know, so that they might have the opportunity to feel as comforted as I did when I finished this book. No matter how I may feel about John Green these days, I have to say, he summarized this feeling perfectly in The Fault in Our Stars:

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”

This book is for anyone who is “very active in the fandom”. It’s for anyone who has ever experienced the endless, stifling pressure that is anxiety. It is for the black sheep, the outcasts and especially, for the introverts. It’s for the readers and the writers, and the Harry Potter lovers. It’s for you.

The Upside of Being an Introvert by Noelle Stevenson

The Upside of Being an Introvert by Noelle Stevenson

Brisbane readers can pick up a copy of Fangirl at Pulp Fiction Booksellers, now located on Adelaide Street. Visit their website here for more details, or for info on how to place a mail order.

Omens by Kelley Armstrong: The Female Protagonist We Deserve

August 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Cover art for Omens

Cover art for Omens

Olivia Taylor-Jones has lived a life of privilege. Adopted into a wealthy family as a small child, she spends her time volunteering at a women’s shelter. She’s engaged to a promising young man with senatorial aspirations, and she has the freedom to attend as many charity dinners as her societal obligations should require.
When the news breaks that the Olivia is the long-lost daughter of renowned serial killers, her world is shaken. Her biological mother all but disowns her and her fiancée is primarily concerned about how this bad press might affect his political career. Hounded by the media, she takes cover in the small town of Cainsville.
Olivia’s biological mother, Pamela, reaches out to her from jail. She swears to her daughter that she didn’t commit the murders she’s been convicted of, and implores Olivia to investigate the crimes for herself.
In need of some legal expertise, Olivia teams up with a local lawyer, Gabriel Walsh. As she delves deeper into her biological parents’ past, she unearths more than a couple of sinister secrets. But with crucial information on the line, she has no choice but to push on with her research – no matter the cost.

 Never having read any of Kelley Armstrong’s books before, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Omens. I probably wouldn’t have looked at it twice if my bookseller hadn’t told me it was about “a small country town where everything is not as it seems”. So I took a chance, and I bought it. At first, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked the book’s premise. Then I found myself looking for opportunities to sneak a few extra pages in. And then, at about the halfway point, I could barely put Omens down.

Kelley Armstrong is well known for her paranormal romance series, Otherworld. From what I understand, this series is fairly popular, so one can imagine that divergence from her most successful genre would have been a risky endeavor. In some ways, I suppose, this reflects the shift Charlaine Harris made when she published Midnight Crossing. Although I liked the new Harris offering, Armstrong has definitely made the transition much more seamlessly. Where Charlaine Harris was unable to fully release the vampire trope that catapulted her into the mainstream, Armstrong begins Omens with a clean slate. No vampires, no werewolves, no obvious supernatural entities. But there is a kind of psychic energy in the air in Cainsville, and the elders of the small town seem to be able to tap into it.

One crow sorrow, two crows mirth...

One crow sorrow, two crows mirth…

 Omens is written in first person, from the perspective of Olivia Taylor-Jones – also known as Eden Larsen. It is frightfully tempting to bring out all the cliché adjectives to describe her: strong, smart, determined, beautiful…but that would trivialize how brilliant she is. 

Olivia is not strong – she is fierce. She finds out her parents are serial killers, leading to her wealthy biological mother disowning her. On top of that, her fiancée is less than supportive, and the media are having a field day. Now, if this happened to me, I’d dissolve into a quivering mess of anxiety and hole up in my bedroom until it passed. Not so, Olivia. Fighting her way through the press, she flings her engagement ring at her undeserving fiancée, withdraws a small amount of cash from her sizeable trust fund and hits the road. The transition from a life of luxury and privilege to borderline poverty does not faze Olivia. Bracing herself against new challenges, she finds a job, works her butt off, and establishes a new life in Cainsville.
She is not just smart – she is shrewd and tenacious. Faced with the challenge of proving her parents’ innocence, she enlists notoriously aggressive lawyer, Gabriel. Without her former wealth behind her, Olivia relies on her intellect and astute observation skills to negotiate for Gabriel’s service. And once he’s on board, Olivia refuses to play the role of coddled client. Instead, she forces Gabriel to lower his fees by stepping up as his assistant. And she kills it in the legal research department, of course.
To wrap up my rhapsody on Olivia – she has a degree in Victorian literature, has no interest in being a senator’s wife, and can read meaning in the “omens” littered throughout her life. What else do you want in a protagonist?
Oh, and just a note on romance – there is none. Given that this is the first book in a series, there’s definitely room for it to be developed, but for now, readers will enjoy getting to know Olivia (and, perhaps, Gabriel…).

Welcome to Cainsville.

Welcome to Cainsville.

Omens is the kind of unassuming book that you might ordinarily pass by. It sort of doesn’t fit the exact parameters of either crime or fantasy, but rather straddles the two. The unfortunate truth is that because it takes a little from columns A and B, readers of both genres might bypass it. However, I could. Not. Put. It. Down. So if you’re willing to try something a bit different, and you’re somewhat fascinated with small-town stories and/or murder, you might like to pick up Omens next time you visit your local bookseller. Take heed, though you might want to cancel your plans for the next few days…

Like the sound of Omens? You might also enjoy Midnight Crossing by Charlaine Harris. Check out my review!

Sycamore Row: It’s As Good As I Wanted It To Be

July 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

Cover art for Sycamore Row

Cover art for Sycamore Row

Three years after his success in the infamous Hailey trial, Jake Brigance’s clientele are nearly non-existent. He’s still recuperating from the Klan attacks on his now destroyed home, and he’s barely scraping by financially. Although the Clanton community respects Jake for the stand he took for Carl-Lee, the town is still divided by deep-seated racism.
Dying of lung cancer, wealthy lumberyard magnate Seth Hubbard hangs himself from a tree on Sycamore Row. The day after Hubbard’s suicide, Jake receives a handwritten letter from the deceased man. The letter contains very specific instructions for Jake: Hubbard has written a new will, one that abolishes all of his previous wills, and he wants Jake to defend it in court.

Previously, Seth Hubbard’s substantial estate had been left to his two greedy children. The new holographic will, however, stipulates that 90% of his fortune goes to his black housekeeper, Lettie Lang.

Eager for the work, Jake takes on the responsibility of defending the will. Unsurprisingly, the former beneficiaries of the Hubbard estate contest the new stipulations, arguing that Lettie exerted undue influence over their dying father. Lettie herself is less happy about her potential inheritance than she is confused about why she’s been chosen as its heir.
Did Seth have a reason to leave his money to his housekeeper? Or did he do it just to antagonize the children who abandoned him in his illness? Did his children deserve to be publicly shamed by the insinuation that they are nothing but selfish money-hounds? Where is the long-lost brother to whom Seth has left five percent of his estate? And why did he disappear in the first place?
With an unprecedented fortune on the line, Clanton is once again catapulted into a racial conflict. The trial looms closer, and the significance of Seth Hubbard’s decision becomes apparent – but unless Jake and his legal team can uncover his reasoning, their case seems doomed.

***

Sycamore Row is the sequel to A Time to Kill, which is one of my very favourite novels, but I didn’t rush out and buy Sycamore Row when it was released. The premise didn’t exactly grab me. ATTK is about a murder trial – how could a will contest possibly be as exciting?

Well, it’s not. There’s not as much on the line as there was in the Hailey case of ATTK, and somehow, it doesn’t matter as much. But I enjoyed Sycamore Row as much as ATTK, although for different reasons.
While A Time to Kill is dark and suspenseful, Sycamore Row is more focused on characterization. For fans of ATTK, it’s interesting to see how Jake and his family have coped with the aftermath of the Hailey trial. Because the plot of A Time to Kill is so absorbing, it’s easy to forget how great Grisham’s characterization can be. Rufus Buckley, made famous by Kevin Spacey in the ATTK film (in something of a pre-Underwood performance, if you ask me), shows up again in a rather different capacity than when we last saw him. Lucien Wilbanks, still a drunk, is determined to re-sit the bar exam and practice law again, inspired by the intrigue of the Carl-Lee Hailey case. And Harry Rex, vile as ever, is still the greatest legal mind in the area.

Rufus Buckley, you evil SOB.

Rufus Buckley, you evil SOB.

I particularly liked Portia, Lettie Lang’s daughter, who returns to Clanton from deployment in the army. Determined to help her mother win the money that could change her life, Portia takes a position on Jake’s team as a paralegal. Polished, articulate and a formidable academic, Portia is something of an outcast in her family. But her dedication to her mother and her determination to ensure a fair verdict is both moving and inspiring. Even better is her relationship with Jake – Portia has no qualms about giving her boss her honest opinion, even to the point of argument, but Jake respects her all the more for it. Unlike in ATTK, though, where Jake and Roark came close to having an affair, Jake and Portia’s relationship is wholly platonic, and I loved seeing it unfold.

A sequel twenty-five years in the making, Sycamore Row is a worthy successor to Grisham’s wonderful breakout novel. Although the plot doesn’t move as quickly as ATTK, Sycamore Row does still have some twists up its sleeve. It also takes an insightful look at the way that wealth and its transfer can affect people, both as individuals and a community at large. Regular readers and my real-life friends will know that I never really recuperated from the season finale of True Detective. Something about that show…I can’t even really explain it. It’s like a part of me got stuck in the South with Rust and Woody, searching for the King in Yellow. Ever since the end of TD, I’ve been drawn to books set in the South. So I enjoyed Sycamore Row for the chance to return to the South, to the troubled town of Clanton, amongst characters I was happy to see again. Recommended!

Gratuitous Jake Brigance, because he's lovely

Gratuitous Jake Brigance, because he’s lovely

The Three: A Horror Novel for Skeptics

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Cover art for The Three

Cover art for The Three

On Black Friday, 2011, four planes went down at exactly the same time, in four separate corners of the globe. Only three children survive – in Japan, Hiro; in America, Bobby; and in the UK, Jess, whose twin sister and parents perished.
  With no explanation as to why the planes crashed, the survival of the children – dubbed ‘The Three’ by the ravenous press – is nothing short of a miracle.
  Bereft of their parents, The Three are placed into the custody of their next-of-kin. While their new guardians are overjoyed to have them alive, each becomes concerned, and then disturbed, by the children’s increasingly bizarre behaviour.

For me, horror novels present the ultimate obstacle in the suspension of disbelief. In order to accept that Carrie is going to rain fire on her bullies, we first must accept that she has telekinetic powers. Somehow, I find it harder to accept this version of reality than the one i in which a Ministry of Magic hides an entire population among everyday British citizens. Maybe that’s because horror, as a genre, doesn’t need to establish an entirely new world from the ground up in order to set the stage for its conflict.

The Three is a horror novel for skeptics. For one thing, it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to imagine the terror that would arise from four planes going down at the same time in different parts of the world. With this narrative device, Lotz draws upon an all-too-familiar fear that the world as we know it is about to change. As I didn’t really have a problem believing that planes could be the modern harbinger of “end times”, the novel sucked me in from the get-go.

South African author Sarah Lotz

South African author Sarah Lotz

All over the globe, people are reacting to the events of Black Friday. In America, Pastor Len believes that The Three are the first of the four horsemen, and that their arrival is a sign that Judgment Day is close at hand. Evangelism borders on mass hysteria as the Bible Belt latches on to Pastor Len’s message. In Japan, a cult forms around Hiro, the six-year-old survivor of the plane that went down in Osaka. Hiro’s eighteen-year-old cousin, Chiyoko, whose family is bound up in the creation of “surrabot” androids, is now his primary carer. Chiyoko’s online conversations, detailing how she feels about the events of Black Thursday and Hiro himself, form the basis of Hiro’s story. This was my favourite subplot of the novel. In England, Paul struggles to care for his niece Jess as her behavior becomes increasingly disturbing.

The Three is written in an epistolary format – that is, as a series of documents and clippings. It’s also a book within a book, given that the majority of the novel is taken up with excerpts from investigative journalist Elspeth’s narrative history of Black Thursday and its aftermath. This format, which readers might recognize from the recent horror hit World War Z, tends to officiate a horror story in a way that traditional prose cannot. For the skeptical reader, it can be tough to accept not only the apparatus of horror, but also a single, or limited, perspective of the event. The story of The Three is more believable because of the number of people telling it, their various relationships to the incident and the children themselves, and their differing characters. Each of the characters brings a different set of biases, personalities traits and circumstances to the Black Thursday tragedy, and through their collective perspectives, we see an ominous truth being shaped.

US cover art for The Three

US cover art for The Three

The narrative emerges piece by piece from all over the world. It’s a slow burn, and at first, it’s not entirely clear what’s going on. The lack of specificity lends an unshakeable sense of eeriness to the novel – the reader is constantly questioning the nature of Black Friday and The Three, because something simply doesn’t feel right.

The uneasy feeling of foreboding culminates in an epilogue that can only be described as downright scary. Elspeth, the author of the “book within a book”, decides to revisit the story of The Three, and travels to the infamous suicide forest in Japan. What she finds there will likely have you sleeping with the light on for a few nights after you finish the book.

Why would they need a reason? Why do we hunt when we have enough to eat? Why do we kill each other over trifles? What makes you think they needed any more motivation other than to simply see what might happen?

The Three is a horror novel for people who think they don’t like horror novels. Lotz is a master of suspense, and her characterization is far better than I’ve come to expect from the horror genre. With the international scope of World War Z and the intensely personal nature of Dictaphone transcripts, internet conversations and journal entries, The Three leaves no stone unturned. If you’re in the mood for something scary, this novel is worth your time.

Want a copy? Brisbanites, head to Pulp Fiction’s new store on Adelaide Street! Visit their Facebook page here. Wherever you may be, be sure to support your independent booksellers!

Are you a fan of horror? Check out these reviews, too!
M. R. Carey’s THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
Jeff Vandermeer’s ANNIHILATION
a
nd Mira Grant’s PARASITE

The 5 Things I Want You To Know about Daughter of Smoke and Bone

May 10, 2014 § 3 Comments

This is the best cover available for the book.

This is the best cover available for the book.

I started this book once before, and only made it about fifty pages in. For some reason, it just didn’t strike me as anything special. The protagonist was odd, and I couldn’t relate to her.  I found the setting alienating, and couldn’t get a clear picture of the “otherworldly” element. In all honesty, I just didn’t get it, and I didn’t believe the hype (haa). Next!

When I attempted Daughter of Smoke and Bone for a second time, I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness I’d tried again. If I hadn’t, I would never have had the opportunity to immerse myself in one of the most interesting fantasy worlds I’ve ever come across.

Karou is an art student at a specialist college in Prague. She has a reputation for oddness: her blue hair seems to grow out of her head that way, and her drawings of mythological characters seem to have a life of their own. Strange things seem to happen around Karou, but when her friends ask her about it, she simply deflects their questions with a wry smile and a vague response.

Unlike her best friend Zuzanna, Karou has no family in Prague. In fact, she doesn’t seem to have family anywhere on Earth. Nobody seems to know how she ended up in a tiny artist’s college in Prague, or even why she can speak fluent Czech. Karou, it seems, is a mystery.

You can't read this book and not want to go to this city.

You can’t read this book and not want to go to this city.

Unbeknownst to her classmates, Karou has access to numerous portals to another realm. When she steps through one of these scattered doorways, Karou comes face to face with chimaera – hybrid beasts that wouldn’t be out of place in Pan’s Labyrinth. A gorgon-esque woman with the body of a snake and the torso of a human and a huge beast with the head of a ram and the legs of a lion greet her when she crosses the threshold from the human realm into Elsewhere – these are Issa and Brimstone, Karou’s surrogate parents.
Although her chimaera family is even more caring than the average human parents, they have never truly revealed to Karou how she came to be in their care. Brimstone, a merchant who specializes in the trade of teeth, sends Karou all over the globe in search of his unusual produce. Despite this, however, she has no idea what he actually uses the teeth for. With no context for her life, and an endless stream of questions about her very existence, Karou lives with a perpetual feeing of emptiness.

I’m not going to tell you any more about the plot of the novel. Not really knowing much about the book meant that it had every capacity to shock and surprise me – which it did, in spades. Instead, I’m going to tell you the top five things I want you to know about Daughter of Smoke and Bone:

1. It is not – repeat, NOT – another YA paranormal romance. While there is a romantic element, it quickly becomes apparent that the focal relationship is only a catalyst for a much more interesting concept: war. And once the war arrives, the romance (quite rightfully) dissipates.

2. While we’re talking about things that this book is not, let me just say that it is not another urban fantasy. In fact, by the time you get to the second book, you’ve almost entirely left the human world, so there’s nothing urban about it. I think it would therefore be fair to class Days of Blood and Starlight as hard fantasy. And, you’ll be pleased to hear, there’s not a vampire in sight.

Lovely fan art - artist unknown (please comment if you know who made this so I can credit them)

Lovely fan art – artist unknown (please comment if you know who made this so I can credit them)

3. In a quietly unassuming way, all of the female characters in the novel are heroic. Karou herself is a beacon of strength, particularly in the face of borderline depression, but even the peripheral women are awesome. Zuzanna, Karou’s best friend, is brilliantly drawn and aggressively fierce, and it’s worth reading this book for her character alone.

Side note: Zuzanna and her boyfriend Mike bring a much-needed light-heartedness to the story, as well as a certain romantic element which is not dependent on a “will they or won’t they” dynamic. Mik and Zuzanna have their own mini-novella, Night of Cake and Puppets, which is adorable and funny, just like they are.

4. I don’t really believe that this is a YA novel. The plot is more complex than most other YA books I’ve read, and the themes and concepts it addresses feel more like adult fiction. While I unashamedly adore YA fiction, I do feel as though Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a more fulfilling read because of its maturity.

Ugh. Just, ugh. This is such a poor representation of the book.

Ugh. Just, ugh. This is such a poor representation of the book.

5.  Please, please don’t judge this brilliant book on this very poor cover art. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is so much more than this silly cover. It’s not about masquerades and balls (although there are some in there) and boys and pretty magic. It’s about war, identity, cultural heritage and friendship. It is a dark, moody novel, and it deserves so much more than this vapid design that gives it no edge over all the cut-copy paranormal YA on the shelves currently.

 

So there you have it. I hope I’ve convinced you to read it, because you really should.

 

Two post-scripts:
1. Apologies for the lack of reviews of late – I’ve recently begun studying a Master of Information and Library Management, and I’m still getting the hang of balancing work, study, blogging and reading!

2. Pulp Fiction is MOVING. If you’re in Brisbane, go check out their 20% off sale to grab a bargain before they move to their new premises (which are very close by – details will be posted soon on their Facebook).

In case you missed it, there's a sale on.

In case you missed it, there’s a sale on.

Charlaine Harris’s MIDNIGHT CROSSROAD: An Advance Review

April 12, 2014 § 1 Comment

midnight-crossroad_612x924The first in a new trilogy, Midnight Crossing is the first book Charlaine Harris will publish after the conclusion of the Southern Vampire Mysteries (sometimes known as the Sookie Stackhouse series, or more recently, the True Blood books). As an author, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to publish a new book after the completion of your best-known series. It must be even more daunting to face a fandom that was, by and large, unhappy with the way you ended that series. Such is the dilemma Charlaine Harris faces, with the release of Midnight Crossroad.
I was lucky enough to receive a highly anticipated ARC of Midnight Crossroad from Pulp Fiction Booksellers. I loved this book, and I am interested to see how fans of the Sookie Stackhouse series are going to respond to Harris’ new direction.

Midnight is a middle-of-the-road town in Texas, consisting of a diner, a church, a New-Age store, a gas station, a nail salon-and-antique store, and a pawnshop. The town is populated almost entirely by the proprietors of those businesses, and the very occasional passer-by.
Manfred, a sometime genuine and oftentimes fraudulent psychic, moves to Midnight in the hope of starting afresh. He quickly becomes accustomed to the insular community, and learns that the Midnighters don’t take kindly to personal questions. Secrets aside, however, the Midnight residents happily take Manfred into their fold, and he finds himself establishing a home in the unusual town.

When one of his neighbors suggests a “welcome to Midnight” picnic in Manfred’s honor, the whole town treks out to a picturesque mountain spot. The social occasion is brought to a screeching halt when one of Midnight’s citizens stumbles upon a dead body – unmistakably that of Aubrey Hamilton, former girlfriend of the pawnshop owner, Bobo.

The confirmation that Aubrey was murdered, and not just a runaway, throws Midnight society into disarray. Knowing that the killer had to have been one of their own, the Midnighters become suspicious and frightened.

The usually conservative members of the community find themselves having to disclose more and more about their pasts and their unusual abilities in order to avoid being targeted as Aubrey’s murderer. Before long, Midnight is embroiled in a conspiracy involving bikers, white supremacists and a mysterious legend that may or may not have a basis in reality.

deadtotheworldMidnight Crossroad is most definitely not the SVM. For one thing, it’s far more serious than the Sookie Stackhouse books. In the SVM series, Sookie’s sassy narration could lighten even the gravest predicaments (pun intended – sorry…). In Midnight Crossroad, Harris employs a third-person omniscient narrator, with multiple points of view – quite a change from her usual MO. Instead of forming a comfortable relationship with a single, familiar narrator as we did with Sookie, readers will instead find themselves immersed in the community of Midnight. It’s quite an eerie effect, especially as we begin to unravel the truth of Aubrey’s murder.
While the Sookie Stackhouse books were arguably focused on romance, Midnight only gives it a periphery acknowledgement. Manfred finds himself drawn to one of Midnight’s most mysterious citizens, and Fiji, the town witch, is trying to suppress her feelings for Bobo, but it’s only a small part of a much more interesting narrative.
Most fascinating to me, however, was the fact that any reference to the supernatural was extremely casual. Fiji is a witch, but the full extent of her abilities is left largely unexplored. Manfred comes from a family of genuine psychic ability, but we’re not really given any insight into whether he’s just carrying on the tradition, or if he’s got a true gift. Lemuel is a vampire, but he’s not one of Bill or Eric’s brethren. He seems to subsist on energy, rather than blood – although he did mention that “the synthetic stuff” just doesn’t cut it for him, a reference Sookie’s fans will appreciate.
I knew very little about Midnight Crossroad when I started it, but I did expect that it would be another addition to Harris’ canon of supernatural or paranormal works. It’s actually quite difficult to define, now that I’ve finished it, because the references to the supernatural elements of the town are so minimal that it could almost be classed as magical realism. Overall, it gives the impression that there is much more to the town of Midnight than this first book has divulged.

You might find a street such as this in Midnight.

You might find a street such as this in Midnight.

I loved Midnight Crossroads. I missed my bus stop on not one, but two separate bus trips because I was so engrossed in it. With a few small alterations, this book could have been “twee” or overly kitschy, but Harris confidently walks the line between intriguing darkness and heartening community. Midnight Crossroads was an excellent follow-up to True Detective, as it carried on the Southern Gothic theme, but also served as a reintroduction to genre fiction (I had been suffering a bit of genre burnout beforehand). I recommend it not only to Sookie’s fans, but to anyone who is fed up with traditional urban fantasy. If you aren’t quite ready to let go of the eerie South yet, pick up your copy of Midnight Crossroad on release day.

Midnight Crossroad is released in America on May 1, and in Australia on May 6. Please order your copy from Pulp Fiction Booksellers – you can add them on Facebook here.

I received a reviewer’s proof copy of Midnight Crossroads in exchange for providing my honest feedback to Pulp Fiction Booksellers. The copy I read was not the final edit, and may be subject to publisher’s editing prior to its publication. Thanks again Beau, Iain and Ron for providing me with this excellent book.

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