My Paradoxical Relationship with Samantha Shannon’s THE BONE SEASON

December 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Disclaimer: Yes, I have worked out how to insert gifs into WordPress posts.

the bone season coverThe Bone Season was one of the first books I reviewed when I first started my blog. I’d heard the buzz about the girl who was poised to become the next J. K. Rowling, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her book.

Shannon was only twenty-two when The Bone Season was published. We are just about the same age, and I was so jealous! Not only had this girl managed to write a manuscript, but she had scored an unusual deal – seven books, based on a debut. The last person to do so successfully, at least that I could think of, was…well, you know who it was.

The first time I read The Bone Season, I was completely underwhelmed. It was messy and sprawling, and I didn’t get much of a sense for any of the characters, including the protagonist. The world building was choppy and shallow at first, and then unnecessarily detailed as the book progressed – a quality that I find difficult to overcome. The most unforgiveable aspect of this much-anticipated book was much simpler than all of that. It was the way in which the author introduced the reader to the world of Sheol I.

Fantasy authors should show readers their world, not tell them about it. I can’t remember who said this, but I think that they were spot on. For two thirds of The Bone Season, Shannon condescends to tell the reader in lengthy, sometimes clumsy paragraphs, all about Scion and Sheol I. The story grinds to a halt while the reader is, quite literally, lectured about the various caste systems of each society (different, but equally detailed), about the seemingly endless types of voyants, and the many translations of the terminology used by each level of each caste of each system.

Brave1

Reading The Bone Season for a second time, I can feel Shannon’s relationship with her world. Her passion for it, her desire to bring her readers into Sheol I, is alive in the pages of her book. This is a wonderful thing, but for the first two thirds of the book, she falls into the same trap that Robert Jordan did toward the end of the Wheel of Time saga – both Shannon and Jordan created rich, detailed worlds, but in doing so, forgot about the stories that brought them there in the first place.

Like Jordan, I think Shannon could experience some issues with pacing, but hers will be in reverse. Robert Jordan forgot what was happening in WoT, and went rambling with his characters. He led us through his immersive landscape in the process, but his readers were left wondering about what was happening to their beloved protagonists. Pacing in The Bone Season is quite different – it’s all very quick. In the space of one book, the author tells us about the establishment of a fascist government in London (Scion), Scion’s failure to take root in Ireland (the Molly Riots), the existence of an ancient and formidable race called the Rephaim, the troubling relationship that they have with Scion, the existence of an underground city under their control, the criminal world of the rebel voyants, the history of the rebellion against the Rephaim, when and where the language of Scion came from, and all of the many ways in which one can be clairvoyant.

Fascinating stuff, but it feels irrelevant, because there is no accompanying story – at least, not for the first two thirds of the novel.

GAH

 ***

Prior to and during my reread of The Bone Season, I have been reading another book. Shrewd readers will have already made the connection between my gripes about world building and Robert Jordan, and will have realized that this book is Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.

The second in his Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance is a testament to Sanderson’s complete control over his world building. If you’ve read The Mistborn series, you’ll know that Sanderson does not get lost, even when it seems that that is exactly what is happening. You pay attention to every detail, to every interlude, because they might become pivotal at some later point in the narrative.

It’s really unfair of me to compare The Bone Season to yet another master of the fantasy genre. First, it was J. K. Rowling, and now it’s Brandon Sanderson, who is probably my favourite author. At first, I felt bad, like I’d fallen into the trap of disappointing myself again – but then I saw it in a new way.

Samantha, if you’re reading this: I’ve been harsh on you, I know. But that’s only because I think you can take it. It’s only because I’ve been comparing you to Brandon Sanderson and J. K. Rowling.

Yes. Sanderson and Rowling. I see it. Roshar, The Final Empire, Hogwarts – and Sheol I.

Now that I’ve finished The Bone Season for a second time, I’ve taken a step back. I’ve been reading it so closely this whole time that all I could see were its faults. But this is one part of your writing, and there’s so, so much more to it.

The Mime OrderReaders, in the final third of The Bone Season, Paige steps off the page. Her spirit unspools itself and slams into your dreamscape, and suddenly, you’re there with her. Warden, Paige’s brooding Reph keeper, is revealed to have a depth of character that I did not expect of him. A rebellion has broken, and its second wave is brewing. Paige is in a kind of triumphant state of shambles, and everything is up in the air. She’s got a million choices to make, and whichever way she turns are the tips of the many swords surrounding her.

I’m about to start book two of the series, and I promise you now, Samantha – I’m in for the long haul.

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The Best Books I Read in 2014

December 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

2014 has been a busy year for me, and sadly that means I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would like. But in between work and study, I devote almost all of my spare time to reading, and I have encountered some wonderful books this year. Some of them, I can’t wait to write about, and I will have jumped straight online to review them. Others, I hold to myself, and try in vain to put together the words that would accurately portray how much I loved them. So here is a list of the best books I read in 2014 – some that I raved about and some that I quietly loved. All wonderful!

  1. Daughters of the Storm – Kim Wilkins

2014 1I don’t want to be that boring reviewer who just keeps saying how much she loves something, but…I love this book. I have pushed it onto everyone I possibly could, because I believe there’s something for everyone in Daughters of the Storm, which features my favourite character of the entire year – Bluebell. This one of the ones I wanted to rave about immediately after finishing, so you can read my review here. Also, side note – Kim Wilkins is absolutely lovely, so you can add that to the list of reasons to buy this book.

  1. Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

Before I read Daughters of the Storm, I would have said that QoT was my favourite fantasy of the year. Now, I’d have to tie it, but it’s still brilliant. I haven’t had as much success convincing my friends and family to try this book, but it’s just as deserving as Daughters. Kelsea, the hero of this novel, is at once a mash up of Danearys Targaryen, Katniss Everdeen and Hermione Granger, and an entirely fresh character. Emma Watson got on board with Queen of the Tearling, so you know this is gonna be good. I will review this one in the coming months, as I plan a reread!

  1. Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell

Winter’s Bone. It’s so hard to put into words how I felt reading this book. Maybe “emotional” would be a good starting place, but it still doesn’t even tap the surface of how it feels to be a part of the world that Ree and her brothers inhabit, if only for those 193 pages. Winter’s Bone is harsh and stark, in setting and in prose, but it is uplifting and life affirming at its close. Not only one of the best books I read this year, but one of the greatest I’ve ever read.

  1. The Last Policeman – Ben H. Winters 

2014 7I finished The Last Policeman only recently, and am still unsure of whether I want to read its sequel. You see, The Last Policeman was so affecting, so distressing, that I don’t know if I’m ready for another installment. An asteroid is six months away from hitting the Earth and devastating all human life, and recently qualified Detective Palace is called to investigate what appears to be another pre-apocalypse suicide. Existential in philosophy, hard-boiled in nature, The Last Policeman is traumatic and an exceptional work of genre fiction.

  1. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

I’m not one for chick lit, and I don’t go in for romance – so I was happy to find that Fangirl was neither. I have reviewed Fangirl (you can read it here), and I have rhapsodized about how it elevates fandom as a means of identity, so I won’t bore you with my love for the book all over again. What I will say, though, is that Rainbow Rowell recently announced that she is writing Carry On – the Harry Potter-esque novel upon which Cath’s fanfiction is based. TRUST ME WHEN I SAY THAT I HAVE A GIANT SMILE ON MY FACE AS I TYPE THIS.

  1. The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

2014 3Maggie Stiefvater definitely has the capacity to become one of my favourite YA authors. I’ve read Shiver, the first in her werewolf trilogy and loved it, but sort of forgot to read the rest. For some reason, I picked up The Scorpio Races a few weeks ago, and for twenty four hours, nobody could see my face because the novel was stuck in front of it at all times. The Scorpio Races is a standalone novel about water horses, the dangerous animals that emerge from the sea every year on a Gaelic island. With sparse, melodic prose, Stiefvater paints a portrait of an insular community with its own set of values and ideals, and the two people who subvert those for the love of family, and of horses.

After reading The Scorpio Races, I immediately purchased the first in Maggie’s Raven Cycle, which is sitting patiently on my bedside table.

  1. The Girl Who Would Be King – Kelly Thompson

2014This book is brilliant. To call it a ‘feminist superhero story’ would do it no justice, but it’s probably a good start. There are few male characters in the novel, in part because the two protagonists are so very large. Bonnie, innately good and incredibly powerful, was literally born to oppose Lola. Lola really steals the show in The Girl Who Would Be King – she’s inherently evil and she doesn’t really understand why, but because she’s evil, she doesn’t care. Lola sets out to make herself the King of LA, killing anyone who stands in her path – except for Bonnie, who cannot be killed. This book also features a short epilogue with one of the best twists I’ve come across in genre fiction. Watch out for this one, it’s going to be big.

  1. The Fever – Megan Abbott

If you haven’t read a Megan Abbott novel yet, you’re doing yourself a
disservice. Megan writes about women in a way that no other author can. I’m a huge fan of her noir fiction, but The Fever is perhaps more accessible to non-genre fans. Like Dare Me, The Fever explores the horrors of female adolescent relationships. It’s entirely relatable and completely terrifying at the same time. An infectious disease that causes seizures grips the girls of a small high school, and nobody can work out what is causing their illness. Mass hysteria? Something in the water? You won’t be able to tell, because it’s Megan Abbott. 

  1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor (and Days of Blood and Starlight. I’m still holding on to Dreams of Gods and Monsters for a rainy day)

2014 8I have this stupid habit of not reading the books I am most excited about. This year, I have been massively excited about and have not read: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson and Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. I harassed my booksellers on the day they were supposed to arrive, so I would know the second they landed, and then rushed into the store to get my hands on them (for WoR, it was a two-handed ordeal!). I then put them on my shelf, and told myself I would wait for the right moment to read them. The right moment still hasn’t come for Magician’s Land and for Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Both are the conclusion to incredible trilogies, and I don’t know why I can’t read them. But I think it’s because I just love them so much, I don’t want them to be over. It’s not even because I think they’ll end badly – I know they’ll end wonderfully. I just…can’t do it. Also haven’t watched the final seasons of my favourite shows, including Gilmore Girls, Frasier, and 30 Rock. I just…can’t.

Suffice it to say, I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, to the extent that I cannot yet face its conclusion. Review here.

Also, I am halfway through Words of Radiance and it is so beyond excellent that I can’t yet articulate how much I love it. So maybe it will be Karou’s turn soon.

  1. Shatter Me – Tahereh Mafi

2014 5Last but not least, Tahereh Mafi’s trilogy, beginning with Shatter Me, was my favourite YA of the year. With flowery, musical prose, Mafi tells the story of Juliette, whose burgeoning superpowers are more frightening than they are magical. In The Juliette Chronicles, we go from Juliette’s asylum prison all the way to a military compound for superheroes, all the while watching a damaged protagonist become the physical and mental champion she was destined to be. Another awesome attribute of this series is the relationship side of things; Mafi is one of the few YA authors to really, truly portray the transition from one relationship to another without simplifying or minimizing any of the emotional content involved. Such a fun, addictive trilogy, for fans of dystopian YA looking for their next obsession.

 

As 2014 comes to a close, I’d like to thank Pulp Fiction Booksellers for giving me the opportunity to work with them at Supanova, and for providing me with ARCs throughout the year (including Daughters of the Storm)!

Happy Christmas to you if that’s your thing, and if not, I hope 2014 ends peacefully and happily for you all.

Look out soon for my picks for books to watch in 2015! x

My Votes for the Goodreads Awards!

November 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

So, I just voted in the Goodreads Best Books of 2014. I’m not the greatest advocate of Goodreads, given its affiliation with Amazon, but I voted in the poll for two main reasons:

  1. Much as we may hate to admit it, Goodreads is an important platform for authors, especially up-and-coming ones. Authors frequently request that if you enjoyed their book, you should leave a positive or starred review on Goodreads. I can’t review every book I read, so I do sometimes like to do this for the books I enjoyed. To be a ‘Goodreads Best Book’ is quite a boon for a book, so why not put my two cents in and help out the authors who have made my year awesome?
  2. I really like filling out surveys.

Oh, and I really only voted in categories where I’d read more than one of the books. Just FYI.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Fiction:

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld was, hands down, the best of the selection. This book is magical and sorrowful, and exceptionally moving. The author knows what she’s talking about, as she has worked closely with death row inmates. Read The Enchanted, and you might find yourself rethinking how you see death row criminals. Especially when you get to the unexpected, agonizing reveal at the end.

 Best Fantasy:

Tough choice, but had to go to Queen of the Tearling. One of my two favourite fantasies of the year, tied with Kim Wilkin’s Daughters of the Storm. If Emma Watson’s endorsement of QoT isn’t enough to tell you that this book is amazing, take my word for it: this is the next Hunger Games.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John ScalziScience Fiction:

Best Science Fiction:

For someone who doesn’t think they read SF, this was a surprisingly difficult choice. It came down to a trade off between Annihiliation by Jeff Vandermeer and Lock in by John Scalzi. Lock In won out, due to the sheer obsession that it incited in me for the short time it took to read it. The concepts and the plot will have you thinking long after you finish it!

 Horror Fiction:

I was torn between three contenders for this one. I loved Sarah Lotz’s The Three, was glued to Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes, and The Girl with All the Gifts had me in its thrall from its first page to the last. All of these deserved my vote and the exposure that the Goodreads Best Book title might provide. However, at the end of the day, I wasn’t 100% sure that Girl with All the Gifts is true horror. Gotta make a decision somehow, so I scratched it. And The Three was pretty scary, but it didn’t incite the gleeful revulsion that Broken Monsters did. So, my vote went to the latter, with honorable mentions to two other books I really did love this year.

 Graphic Novel and Comics:

Saga. Always Saga. Nothing further.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Debut Goodreads Author:

Red Rising by Pierce Brown, which is one of the few books I have read twice this year. Honorable mention to QoT, which I almost voted for again, I loved it so much. Side note: pretty excited for Son of Ares to come out in Jan!

 YA Fiction:

We Were Liars by E. E. Lockhart. What a wonderful book. It’s impossible to tell you why, because of the twist at the end. The twist that you might see coming, that might sound predictable if I were to explain it to you, but which feels like an ice-cold glass of water poured slowly over your head as you come to realize you’ve been fooled all along… We Were Liars.

 YA Fantasy and Sci Fi:

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

Titles I considered nominating were: Red Rising (again); Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters; and Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi. Dreams of Gods and Monsters was out of the running for one very simple reason – I haven’t read it yet. I loved DOSAB so very much that I keep finding reasons not to read Dreams of Gods and Monsters, because I simply can’t bear for it to be over. This might be a reason to vote for it in and of itself, if it wasn’t for the inclusion of Ignite Me. Red Rising obviously got scratched from this section because I’d already voted for it, and I wanted to share the love.

I would never have picked up Shatter Me, if it wasn’t for the recommendation of one of my dearest friends. Earlier this year, I burned through Tahereh’s trilogy obsessively. Ignite Me has everything – beautiful, poetic writing; a wonderful protag; a really exciting magic system; a dystopian society to be scared of, and a very intriguing romantic lead. (shoutout to Chapter 62!) I LOVED it, and it’s one of my favourite books of the year.

Did you vote in the Goodreads Best Books awards? Who got your vote?

Daughters of the Storm by Kim Wilkins: 5-star Fantasy

November 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

Daughters of the Storm cover art

Daughters of the Storm cover art

The warrior.

Through blood and steel, Bluebell has forged a reputation as an unkillable soldier. The eldest of the five princesses, she is fiercely protective of her family, unashamedly bloodthirsty in battle, and is ruthless in her decision-making. Pragmatic though she may be, though, Bluebell is not heartless.

Nothing is more important to her than peace in the land she will one day inherit, with the possible exception of her father’s health. When she discovers that the King has been poisoned with elf magic, she will stop at nothing to find the cure – and the person who cursed him.

 The magician.

For years, Ash has lived the academic life. Her elders tell her that the second sight she experiences cannot have manifested in one as young as she, but the truth is that she is plagued with unearthly visitations all the time. Ash abandons her studies without a second thought when she receives a sending from Bluebell, asking her to join her on journey back to their father’s kingdom. As the King’s condition is made clear, Ash realizes that the answer to his recovery may lie in the dark world of undermagic – and she may have to lead her sisters to its heart.

 The lover.

Rose was married to King Wengest as a peace offering brokered by Bluebell for the good of the kingdom. Her life with him is not uncomfortable, but Rose pines unendingly for Heath, the lover she can no longer be with. Her daughter Rowan brings her some happiness, but the possibility of Wengest discovering her true parentage is always looming.

It is Heath himself who accompanies Rose and little Rowan back to AElmesse. On the road together, and even in the larger convoy with Bluebell and her other sisters, Rose cannot deny herself the pleasure of Heath’s company.
Bluebell, who does not have room in her heart for a lover (or so Rose believes), warns her sister that her passion is not only selfish, but also dangerous. Fed up with having her love life dictated by political motivations, Rose ignores Bluebell’s instruction. The price for her disloyalty will be steeper than she realizes.

 The zealot.

Fifteen-year-old Willow wants only to be a loyal servant of the one true god Maava. Her twin Ivy disapproves of her piety, and the kingdom at large does not recognize the trimatyr faith, but Willow knows these are just trials she must endure. Though she barely knows her father, she is happy to care for him while her siblings leave to find an undermagician who can cure him. Alone with the king and his remaining guard, Willow is visited by Maava’s angels. She knows her destiny now: to become pregnant with the kingdom’s first trimatyr king.

The gossip. 

Although she is Willow’s twin, Ivy is truly the youngest of the princesses. Perpetually aware of her royal lineage, Ivy expects to be treated with the respect she feels she deserves – especially by the men who catch her eye. She resents being forced to go along with Bluebell’s attempt to find a cure for her father’s illness, and she’s immeasurably bored. That is, until she meets Heath.
Determined to take him to bed, Ivy can’t understand why he keeps rebuffing her. Despite this, Ivy follows him around with the determination of an infatuated teenager. She comes to realize that Heath’s heart belongs to her sister; her sister who is, in fact, queen of a neighboring kingdom.
Against her wishes, Ivy is sent to bring Rowan home to her father while Rose continues on with Bluebell and Ash. On the long journey back to Folcenham, Ivy considers the valuable information she has gleaned about her sister’s fidelity. What kind of trouble could she cause with this one small fact?

I do love a nice, magical forest. With a touch of eeriness about it, if possible.

I do love a nice, magical forest. With a touch of eeriness about it, if possible. Plenty of those in DotS.

Daughters of the Storm was pitched to me as ‘a female-centric Game of Thrones’. I’m always wary of comparisons to popular franchises, because I think they’ll inevitably be disappointing. Furthermore, I hadn’t read anything from Kim Wilkins before and didn’t really have any idea of whether she could pull off such a feat. I did, however, attend some of Kim’s lectures when I was a student, so I decided to take up the offer of the ARC.

DotS offers up a palate of political intrigue that is almost on par with GoT, so the comparison is actually not an unfair one. Just like in GoT, there is much contention for the throne, but in DotS, the contenders for the crown are mostly trying to preserve the tentative diplomatic balance that already exists.

What stands out most about Daughters of the Storm is the highly polished characterization. Bluebell is one of the best protagonists I’ve ever read in a fantasy novel, regardless of her gender. When you consider her as a female character…well. She stomps all over her competition.
Bluebell doesn’t upend any gender roles, necessarily. She simply doesn’t pay any attention to them. She’s a battle-hardened soldier by choice, covered in sinew and tattoos, and dresses in practical soldier’s garb all of the time. She expects to be referred to as ‘my lord’ instead of ‘princess’, and her sword is rather amusingly named the Widowsmith.

But unlike, say, Brienne of Tarth, Bluebell is not hiding her femininity. It’s actually a part of her, just as much as her tattoos, or her sword. Bluebell is the heir to the kingdom, and she must make the political decisions everyone else is too scared to. As pragmatic as she can be, she does so with a degree of compassion and kindness that belies a feminine nature. In Bluebell, Wilkins has created a leader, a sister, a woman to be scared of – and all without making her an imitation of a man.

Kim Wilkins - click to go to her website.

Kim Wilkins – click to go to her website.

The scope of personalities that exist among Bluebell’s four sisters and the rest of the characters are varied and engrossing. The narrative plays out so well because each of the women has her own complex motivation and life story. Through the eponymous Daughters, Wilkins draws the reader into a world where politics matter, but where relationships are more important. She gives us a female leader who is not a matriarch, and not a queen, but a king.

Daughters of the Storm is one of my two favourite fantasy books of the year. It is my favourite Australian book of the year, hands down. If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre at all, I highly recommend this book to you.

Brisbane readers, do your bit to support your local independent booksellers, and pick up your copy of Daughters of the Storm from Pulp Fiction!  Also, like Kim Wilkins on Facebook here for updates and fun DotS stuff. Plus, she’s a cool lady.

International readers can pick up a digital Daughters of the Storm from Harlequin here. More news on where to buy it from if you’re outside Australia to come soon.

Still not sure? (Seriously?) Check a sample chapter here.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks to Pulp Fiction for the advanced copy, and to Bent Books for sourcing some of Kim’s other books for me. Thank you to Fantasy Faction for sharing this post, and also to Kim Wilkins, for putting up with my excitement for the last few weeks! 

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!

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.

Nnedi Okorafor’s WHO FEARS DEATH: A Review

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Please note: The article contains discussion of the author’s treatment of rape and female circumcision in the context of a book review. 

Cover art for WHO FEARS DEATH

Cover art for WHO FEARS DEATH

Oneyesonwu was born of rape. A Nuru man, who wanted to impregnate her with a light-skinned baby, raped her mother. Instead of reviling her child as a lifelong reminder of her brutal assault, Onye’s mother speaks her truest wish – for her child to become a sorceress.
Forever labelled as Ewu, the product of rape, Onyesonwu becomes resilient to the prejudice she faces every day. As she grows up, she discovers that her strength also manifests in supernatural abilities. Her mother’s wish has come true – Onye is Eshu, a sorceress.
As a child, Onyesonwu meets another Ewu – a boy named Mwita, who is also a gifted healer. It soon becomes apparent that Onye and Mwita are destined to belong to one another.
Even though she knows her mother and her beloved stepfather love her, Onye feels responsible for the shame they have faced throughout her life, as the parents of a Nuru-Okeke Ewu. When she turns eleven, Onye makes the irreversible decision to go through with the Eleventh Rite, which she knows will bring her family honour and respect. In undertaking this enormous procedure, she is bonded to the three girls of her Eleventh Rite group – Diti, Luyu and Binta, her friends for life.
Despite the abuse she suffers on a daily basis, Onye lives a happy life. She longs to develop her magical abilities, and seeks an apprenticeship under a teacher who might be able to facilitate her learning. Although Aro, the teacher of magic, rejects her at first, Onye’s need for tutelage becomes great when it becomes apparent that her biological father intends to find and kill her.

Nnedi Okorafor was inspired to write Who Fears Death by a Washington Post article entitled “We Want to Make a Light Baby”. This distressing article brings to light the horrifying experiences of dark-skinned Sudanese women who are raped by Arabic men who hope to impregnate them. The victims believe that the rapes are a “systemic campaign to humiliate the women, their husbands and fathers, and to weaken tribal ethnic lines.”
This unimaginable concept forms the basis for Onyesonwu’s story. Fuelled by her rage against the man who raped her mother, Onye is motivated to overcome the societal expectation that she is fated to become nothing more than a violent criminal.

Artist's interpretation of the post-apocalyptic African desert

Artist’s interpretation of the post-apocalyptic African desert

But Who Fears Death is more than a revenge story. In a place where outrage could have dominated, love is ever-present. Okorafor tenderly explores the nature of love in all its forms – romantic, cultural, platonic, familial and sexual. In fact, sexuality is a major focus of the book. It is linked throughout to Onye’s decision to undergo the Eleventh Rite when she comes of age. The Eleventh Rite is, as you might have guessed, is Onye’s circumcision.
I know that other reviewers have been disturbed by the circumcision scene, but have liked the rest of the book – I don’t really understand how they can separate the one scene from the remainder of the book. Onye’s decision to undergo the Rite is integral to the narrative of Who Fears Death. She, Binta, Diti and Luyu spend the rest of their lives together trying to cope with the decision that they made as children. Their circumcision not only affects their relationships with one another, but deeply shapes the way in which they relate to the opposite sex. Each of the four girls comes to bitterly regret the decision they made at age eleven, but they also respect the ritual and its cultural significance. Their struggle to overcome the expectations of the Okeke culture in order to do the right thing for themselves as individuals makes for an emotionally difficult read, but Okorafor handles this with poise and sensitivity.

Who Fears Death will not disappoint fans of traditional fantasy. There is a prophecy, a Chosen One, a wise old elder who begrudgingly passes his magical skills on to the younger generation, a young magic user whose powers are not wholly within her control, and a quest for revenge that has the potential to destroy our hero. There’s a Scooby Gang of sorts, hellbent on following our hero to the very end, and a love to transcend the ages.

The post-apocalyptic African setting brings us to a new world, where traditional culture has merged with the harsh necessities of life in the post-nuclear desert. And our hero is, in fact, a heroine – Onye is the indisputable centre of this novel. Her life force and her magic are the centre of the storm that she wends throughout the Okeke and Nuru societies. Onye is brave, irrational, frustrating, loving and beloved. She’s unforgettably powerful, in every sense, and she’s stronger than I can summarise in any text less than the length of the novel itself. Onyesonwu – Who Fears Death? Not she.

Incidentally, Nnedi Okorafor sent me this pic on Twitter to show me what Onye would like like.

Incidentally, Nnedi Okorafor sent me this pic on Twitter to show me what Onye would like like.

I can’t recommend Who Fears Death to everyone. It comes with a trigger warning for rape and FGM, even if it is exceptionally well handled. It’s a very emotional read, and although there’s a lot of love to the story, there isn’t as much happiness as traditional fantasy readers may expect. But it is as moving as it is original, and I’m pretty certain that it’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

As ever, I implore my Brisbane-based readers to make the trip to Central Station to pay Pulp Fiction a visit to grab a copy of Who Fears Death. Add Pulp on Facebook here, and check out their Twitter here. Also, I have Twitter too! Check out The Novelettes on Twitter here.

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