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Month: July 2018

Review: Bright Ruin (Dark Gifts Trilogy) by Vic James

Review: Bright Ruin (Dark Gifts Trilogy) by Vic James

‘Magically gifted aristocrats rule Britain, and the people must serve them. But rebellion now strikes at the heart of the old order. Abi has escaped public execution, thanks to an unexpected ally. Her brother Luke is on the run with Silyen Jardine, the most mysterious aristocrat of all. And as political and magical conflicts escalate, each must decide how far they’ll go for their beliefs.

Dragons clash in the skies, as two powerful women duel for the soul of Britain. A symbol of government will blaze as it dies, and doors between worlds will open – and close forever. But the battle within human hearts will be the fiercest of all.’

Firstly, thank you very much to Pan Macmillan for sending me the Dark Gifts Trilogy to read! This review primarily focuses on the last in the trilogy, Bright Ruin, and, while it contains no specific spoilers, there are broad references to events.

Bright Ruin is the conclusion to the Dark Gifts Trilogy, in which Britain is divided into a class system that sees one serving the other for a decade, during which they must surrender all rights and are considered slaves – not that the ‘commoners’ have many rights in comparison to their ‘Equal’ rulers to start with. This system is not one that even all of the ruling class agree with, and Bright Ruin sees the conclusion of the ongoing battles between and within the Skilled and non-Skilled classes.

The third book in the series has a notably different tone to Gilded Cage and Tarnished City, taking some considerably darker twists while also seeming somewhat crisper in its narrative style. This is not to say that its darker tone is something negative – indeed it would not have the impact it does were events to be handled with a lighter touch. What I found most haunting about the series as a whole is its handling of politics in the setting in which events unfold, and I found myself unable to forget that, though we are told and often try to believe that the class system no longer exists and there are equal opportunities for all, this is, in-fact, not the case.

For me, the most interesting threads of the narrative were those that directly involved one of the Jardine brothers, which I really wasn’t expecting going into the trilogy. I read a considerable amount of YA fantasy and sometimes find it difficult to get invested in the stories of male characters, usually because they quite frequently turn out to either be the standard love interest who may or may not treat the female protagonist poorly, the eventual traitor or the enemy. While it could be said that the trio are each of these, in one way or another, they are all delightfully difficult to figure out and have their own paths to travel, making none of them a mere plot device. Each of them is quite dark and twisty, neither completely ‘evil’ nor fully redeemable, caught between forces that they are both at the mercy of and trying to control. Gavar has to be my favourite, his unpredictable and sometimes violent nature contrasted by his unwavering devotion to his slaveborn daughter, Libby, though it was my opinion of Silyen that altered the most over the course of the trilogy, and mostly as events in Bright Ruin unfolded. Walking in the very dark end of the morally grey, Silyen’s open acknowledgement of his priorities as learning and understanding – at what cost? – make him an intriguing character that the reader by turn may find morally repulsive and yet garner grudging respect for his moments of honesty.

Bouda is terrifying in her determination to achieve her goals and a frightening picture of what the pursuit of what power can do. Yet, despite there being moments when she seems truly evil in her attitude towards those not of her class (and towards Libby in particular), there undeniably remain instances where the reader feels sympathy for what she’s been crafted into by her upbringing and just what she’s willing to do to try and get her own way. It’s true that she makes some progress in terms of understanding of herself and some of the people around her, but whether she truly makes enough progress as regards her attitude to how society functions and how she treats people is debatable, as she is often her worst enemy, demonstrating a glimpse of humanity only to rapidly conceal it.

One of the many elements I appreciated about James’ work is the style of speech of the characters and their thoughts. I don’t mean in terms of accents being written out, but the patterns of speech, use of slang and everyday words and phrases that the British actually use. It serves to make the characters more familiar, believable and of the setting of their stories. This goes hand in hand with the use of events in history with their own Dark Gifts twists, making Britain’s alternative history unique and familiar enough to lend further credibility to the world that the characters have been brought up in.

Bright Ruin hits UK shelves next Thursday, 26th July. If you’ve not picked up any of the Dark Gifts trilogy before, now’s an excellent time to do so! I read the last two books in 48 hours, unable to put them down, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in the magic and mayhem of Dark Gifts Britain. Highly recommended!

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Pub date: 26th July 2018

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Review: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, sixteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, she dreams of writing poetry like the old world poetry she loves to hear read, she dreams of one day receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects. When she is kidnapped by the government and taken in secret to the royal palace, she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place. As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty-and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear, and one wrong move could lead to her death.’

This year, I have had the good fortune to read many books that I’ve greatly enjoyed, but if I were to choose one that stands out as having grabbed hold of my heart and not let go, it would be Mirage.

The characters have voices that ring true and are written in such a way that you begin to care for them very quickly, particularly Amani and Maram (even when she’s being awful), and though there are some predictable elements to the narrative, such as the romance, the world-building and mythology of the novel are beautiful and immersive. It’s very easy to set up a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side’, but what Mirage does well is ensure that even the characters that the reader is supposed to dislike are so much more than one-dimensional ‘villains’ and are, in-fact, just as well developed as the main protagonist. As the story unfolds and the nuances of society and politics are revealed, it’s just as easy to feel sympathy for those in power as it is to feel it for those they command and control, for nothing is ever as clear cut as it seems.

Amani is a strong lead character who is at her best when in scenes with Maram and where their upbringings and world views are in direct contrast. They both evolve over the course of the narrative, reaching new understandings about the world they live in and uncovering facets of themselves that they don’t necessarily like, so much so that it’s difficult to decide where most sympathy should lie by the novel’s conclusion. Though the character in the story with the highest rank is male, it’s the women in the story who are its heart and hold power there, from the leading women themselves to Amani’s mother and Maram’s grandmother. Seeing how the perceptions of women on different sides of the conflict impacts how they view each other – and how they alter as barriers shift and change – is one of the most interesting facets of the story.

Mirage is a wonderful book that takes on what it is to be caught between worlds, the impact conflict has on cultural identity and how history has a tendency to be rewritten by those in power. Not only this, but it has a stellar and complex cast of relatable female characters. A must-read for 2018!

(Please note that the UK cover will be teal and gold if you’re looking for Mirage on the shelves of UK bookshops!)

Publisher: Hodder

Pub date: 28th August 2018

Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

‘Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s too kind-hearted to collect his debts. They face poverty, until Miryem hardens her own heart and takes up his work in their village.

Her success creates rumours she can turn silver into gold, which attract the fairy king of winter himself. He sets her an impossible challenge – and if she fails, she’ll die. Yet if she triumphs, it may mean a fate worse than death. And in her desperate efforts to succeed, Miryem unwittingly spins a web which draws in the unhappy daughter of a lord.

Irina’s father schemes to wed her to the tsar – he will pay any price to achieve this goal. However, the dashing tsar is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of mortals and winter alike. 

Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and Irina embark on a quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power and love.’

Firstly, I’d like to thank Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of Spinning Silver when I couldn’t get my E-ARC to work correctly. It is very much appreciated!

I spent much of today reading Spinning Silver, having planned to read a hundred or so pages a day, and found myself completely unwilling to put the book down. I’d deliberately stayed away from reading other reviews and had only heard that it was written from multiple points of view, the number of which I found a little daunting, expecting them to be introduced one after the other at the very beginning. This was not the case and in-fact one of the things about the novel that I found the most effective. Some points of view aren’t introduced until a good way into the story, and are then belonging to characters that the reader already knows, meaning they don’t detract from the main narrative or draw it off path, but add to it in ways that bring you closer to many of the characters involved.

I can’t say that there was a point of view that I didn’t enjoy reading, which I find is rarely the case with novels that alternate from one character to the next. Perhaps this is not only owing to what I’ve addressed above, but that the sections belonging to each character are just long enough to add to their stories and the story as a whole without leaving the reader feeling frustrated that they are moved on to someone else too quickly. However, ultimately, the main reason the point of view shifts don’t become frustrating is because of the characters themselves.

There is something charming about each of the main characters in Spinning Silver that makes it easy to want them to get rewarded for the work they do and the suffering they endure. This may be because their focus is so often not on themselves and what they can get out of life, but on what their actions mean for others and how they can improve things for them. Though there are some instances of callousness, it is not out of spite or with evil intentions that these characters act, but out of a desire to change the broader picture – and if, along the way, they learn that their beliefs do not reflect reality, they are quick to consult their conscience and attempt to make amends. In particular, that the women of Spinning Silver are all presented as clever and quick-witted, no matter their ‘place’ in society, as well as warm-hearted (no matter what other characters might insist) is wonderful to see, especially when women in fiction are so often presented as one, but lacking in the other.

One of the many things that I love about Spinning Silver is how Wanda refers to learning how to use numbers as ‘magic’ and how she finds a growing joy in discovering how they work and what she can use them for. It was lovely to see it presented as something that a character has a positive experience learning and putting to practical use. Against a backdrop of myth and magic, to see mathematics painted as something beautiful honestly made me wish I’d had a better experience of it.

The overarching theme of familial love is what draws the different narratives together and drives much of the characters in the novel. The descriptions of meals and what the different affectionate gestures in this vein made by Miryem’s family mean to others in the story are some of the most captivating and are often what give characters the strength to believe in their own worth and learn what it means to have found family. From the beginning to the very end of the novel, it’s these connections that drive them onward, whether the ties of blood or the love of others who consider them their own, making Spinning Silver an engaging and endearing tale. A truly magical story.

Review: Arrowheart by Rebecca Sky

Review: Arrowheart by Rebecca Sky

‘Rachel Patel is a Hedoness – one of a strong group of women descended from Greek God Eros, who wield the power to take the will of any boy they kiss. Unfortunately, this makes true love impossible for Rachel. The last thing she wants is to force someone to love her…

When seventeen-year-old Benjamin Blake’s disappearance links back to the Hedonesses, Rachel’s world collides with his, and her biggest fear becomes a terrifying reality. She’s falling for him – a messy, magnetic, arrow-over-feet type of fall.

Rachel distances herself, struggling to resist the growing attraction, but when he gives up his dream to help her evade arrest, distance becomes an insurmountable task. With the police hot on their trail, Rachel soon realises there are darker forces hunting them…’

As a Classicist, I love reading novels that include takes and twists on ancient mythology, and though I went into reading Arrowheart mostly blind, I had heard a good deal about it from TeamBKMRK and went book shopping with the intention of finding it – and found a signed copy too!

The concept of the Hedonesses – how their powers work and the influence they’ve had on society – is an engaging one that feels unique in a market of YA fiction referencing mythology. Quite often, such stories seem to introduce the gods and goddesses and inadvertently end up making them the focus of the story rather than the intended protagonist(s), which isn’t a trap that Arrowheart falls into. The reader stays with Rachel, who struggles to accept the ‘gift’ she’s been given and has well-grounded moral objections to using it, while almost everyone around her is intent on encouraging or manipulating her into it. Though she sometimes feels sorry for herself, she feels more sorry for those who end up suffering at the hands of other Hedonesses, so making her not appear self-pitying or self-obsessed – unlike her supposed best friend. It’s easy to side with Rachel, given the examples she has around her, who seem to inflict suffering and humiliation on others, though sometimes out of necessity or accidentally. Her best friend, Marissa, uses her gift indiscriminately and without considering the consequences, only highlighting to both Rachel and the reader that one shouldn’t exploit others simply because they can or could.

Arrowheart is a well-paced novel that does a good job of reeling you in (I started it with the intention of reading a couple of chapters… then 20 chapters and 2am happened). There are no real lulls in the story, helped by Rachel’s growing understanding of her gift and the increasingly difficult obstacles it presents for her. Though it ends on a cliffhanger and sets up the next in the Love Curse series, not everything is left to the third act, yet enough loose threads are left hanging and created in its closing pages that it somehow feels both complete and leaves the reader needing to know what journey Rachel is going to undertake in the next novel.

I very much liked the references to family and how none of the characters has a particularly easy or typical home life, leading them to explore what family means to them and acknowledge that it isn’t always about blood ties. To me, this was one of the most interesting themes in the novel and what I hope receives the same kind of attention in the next book (especially as regards Marissa’s behaviour and the life of Rachel’s father).

A fun read on the whole and not too heavy, I’ll be recommending Arrowheart to young students of Classics in particular, as I’m sure they’ll enjoy it!

Publisher: Hodder

Pub date: June 14th 2018