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Month: August 2018

Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

Review: Vox by Christina Dalcher

‘Neurolinguist Dr Jean McClellan has become a woman of few words. One hundred words per day to be exact; any more and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins. She is not alone. Now that the new government is in power, no woman is able to speak over this limit without punishment.

Books are forbidden, bank accounts transferred to the closest male relative and all female employment suspended, while young girls are no longer taught to read and write. But when the President’s brother suffers a stroke, Jean is temporarily given back her voice in order to work on the cure. But things are not as they seem and Jean soon discovers that she is part of a much larger plan, to silence voices around the world for good.

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Power, VOX is book club fiction with huge commercial appeal and a sharp political edge. Poignant and subversive, this is a thrilling feminist dystopia that resonates with the exploding conversations around female equality and the misuse of power.’

Review

Vox is a terrifying look into a future that seems dangerously possible. It was my intention to read only a few chapters to start with, but I found myself unable to put it down and read it cover to cover in an evening. It’s a well-paced novel and somewhat relentless in the horrors unearthed along the way, perhaps mirroring the constant intrusion and monitoring by the story’s authorities.

For me, the moments with the most impact are those concerning the children in the novel, particularly Sonia and how she adapts and is increasingly manipulated into compliance by the education system. To see the educational establishments of Vox’s America being the primary tool by which children of all ages are brainwashed into behaving and believing as the new leaders of society would have them is one of the most troubling elements of the story, especially as this is by no means unheard of today, the swiftness of the fictional system’s success with Jean’s children and the impact it has on them almost painful to read in parts. Steven’s contribution to this facet of the narrative is no less chilling than the more innocent uptake of his little sister, his behaviour a frightening reminder of just how quickly people can absorb what they’re told, even when they believe that they have thoroughly interrogated it.

There are a lot of similarities to The Handmaid’s Tale as regards elements and structure of the narrative, issues addressed and characters created, but I find that the two are uncomfortable reads (and meant to be) for different reasons. For example, the lack of information about the journey that leads to the America of The Handmaid’s Tale, paired with its post-script, creates a distance that makes it feel like another world and a warning, while the quite obvious references to modern politics and society in Vox take away that distance and force the reader to acknowledge unhappy truths about the present day. The reality in the world of Vox stands to be one of no women with a voice, power or respect, taking it a step further than the work it’s compared to.

A haunting read and one that I suggest getting a copy of as soon as possible. Thank you to Harper Collins for the excellent read!

‘VOX highlights the urgency of movements like #MeToo, but also of the basic importance of language.’
VANITY FAIR

‘Any woman who has ever been shamed into silence will recognise the terrifying vista so vividly portrayed in VOX.’
THE IRISH TIMES WOMEN’S PODCAST

‘I can’t remember the last time I read a book quite this thrilling. VOX is, like all the best dystopian novels, razor sharp and terrifyingly plausible. It is extraordinary.’
LOUISE O’NEILL

‘A disturbingly prescient cautionary tale. It will also get under your skin and make you
extremely angry, regardless of your gender’
STARBURST MAGAZINE

About the Author

Christina Dalcher earned her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from Georgetown University. She specializes in the phonetics of sound change in Italian and British dialects and has taught at universities in the United States, England, and the United Arab Emirates.

Over one hundred of her short stories and flash fiction appear in journals worldwide. Recognitions include the Bath Flash Award’s Short List; nominations for The Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions; and multiple other awards. She teaches flash fiction as a member of the faculty at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, Virginia. VOX is her first novel, and has been longlisted for the 2018 Not The Booker Prize.

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pub date: 21st August 2018

I received a copy of Vox from NetGalley and the publisher.

Review: Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Review: Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Three lush and adventurous stories in the Star-Touched world.

Death and Night

He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.

Poison and Gold

Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Queen Gauri and King Vikram’s new reign presents itself, she is thrown into the path of the fearsome yet enchanting Spy Mistress. To help her friends, Aasha will have to battle her insecurities and perhaps, along the way, find love.

Rose and Sword

There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?’

I loved The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes and was thrilled to see more stories being written in this universe. Death and Night is set before the events of the first novel, while Poison and Gold follows A Crown of Wishes, with Rose and Sword imagined some years later.

I can’t decide which I enjoy more: the prose describing the world(s) in which the stories are set or the characters that inhabit them. I adore Gauri and that she does not yield and is not broken down into behaving as others might wish her to. All too often, we see confident and capable female characters eventually ‘get in touch with their feelings’ and start spouting poetic declarations of love. With Gauri, it isn’t that she doesn’t have these feelings, but that she finds ways of expressing herself without conforming to cliches and having her agency taken away from her by her romantic interest. Vikram is just as wonderful and a strong male lead without being a ‘moody and mysterious’ puzzle to unpick. He’s delightfully open and unashamedly himself, both entertaining and endearing without being over the top or the comic relief. I have to say that Gauri may well be my all-time favourite character, both for the reasons above and the fact that she gets to be both feminine and a warrior without having to trade one for the other, her intelligence not sacrificed for the sake of her feelings (and vice versa). She is brilliant and brave and I cannot applaud her multi-faceted nature enough.

Poison and Gold follows Aasha as she tries to cope with the fluctuation  of her abilities and seek out a place to belong within Gauri and Vikram’s court. The LGBT romance is handled sensitively and in so matter of fact a way that it’s nice to see more same sex relationships in YA novels that have societies and characters accepting them without judgement. I wish this story could have been a little longer – but then I wish that all of them could go on forever!

Without giving away any major spoilers, all I feel I can say is this: whether or not there are to be any more stories in the Star-Touched world, Rose and Sword felt like the perfect goodbye.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Pub date: 7th August 2018

I received an ARC of Star-Touched Stories from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

Review: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli

‘Once there were two sisters born with a bond so strong that it forged them together forever. When they were angry, mirrors shattered, and when they were happy, flowers bloomed. It was a magic they cherished – until the day a terrible accident took Essie’s life and trapped her soul in this world.

Dax – the heir to Firgaard’s throne – was responsible for the accident. Roa swore to hate him forever. But eight years later he returned, begging for her help. He was determined to dethrone his cruel father, under whose oppressive reign Roa’s people had suffered. Roa made him a deal: she’d give him the army he needed if he made her queen.

Together with Dax and his sister, Asha, Roa and her people waged war and deposed a tyrant. But now Asha is on the run, hiding from the price on her head. And Roa is an outlander queen, far from home and married to her enemy. Worst of all: Dax’s promises go unfulfilled. Roa’s people continue to suffer.

Then a chance to right every wrong arises – an opportunity for Roa to rid herself of this enemy king and rescue her beloved sister. During the Relinquishing, when the spirits of the dead are said to return, Roa can reclaim her sister for good.

All she has to do is kill the king.’

I loved The Last Namsara and I’m delighted to say that The Caged Queen is everything that I was looking for in a follow-up. I was initially a little concerned that the shift in point of view from Asha to Roa would make the story not quite as easy to get into as it would have been were the point of view to be consistent, but I soon found that Roa was just as wonderful and complex a character. Despite the change, there are still references to what is happening to Asha and Torwin throughout the story, letting them play a significant role in the novel and be ‘present’ without being a permanent presence that might detract from Roa’s personal narrative. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been able to say that I’ve been as pleased by a sequel in a series as much as the opening book, and I’m thrilled that The Caged Queen is a novel that gives me the opportunity to most definitely state that I loved it as much as The Last Namsara.

One of the (many) things that I love about both The Last Namsara and The Caged Queen is the use of myth, story and history between particular chapters to slowly reveal the details that enhance the narrative without making it a complicated matter of employing jumps in time. With the importance placed on stories and their key role in the narrative of The Last Namsara, it was fantastic to see the same in both the structure of The Caged Queen and the story itself. The magic of Roa’s world is primarily tied into spirituality and not so much to do with actual magic power, allowing the use of magic to be a solid component of the story without being something that makes any single one of the characters ‘the strongest’ and most dangerous, also neatly sidestepping any opportunity for any one character to become overpowered.

I adored the dragons in The Last Namsara and what we see of them in The Caged Queen only cemented this. Unfortunately, I can’t really go into any further detail without giving any major spoilers, so I’ll have to stop there! However, what I can say is that if one is to take the use of winged creatures, such as the dragons and Essie’s hawk form, as metaphors and thus broader messages, they are incredibly effective. Any potential metaphors aside, they are also beautifully nuanced characters in their own right (Essie is charming both in her hawk form and as the girl the reader meets in tales told of the past).

Like Asha, Roa is a courageous and intelligent character who manages to avoid becoming one of the more stereotypical YA heroines who can do everything and anything on her own by using her unbelievable powers. Roa uses her mind to try and handle the situations that she finds herself in, and, though she is more than capable of physical combat, this does not define who she is. Roa feels more strongly than she would have most people believe, her focus more on familial love and the bond between herself and Essie than romantic attraction (though there is a love triangle involved in her tale). Though there is a romantic love story in The Caged Queen, its focus is on the concepts of friendship, trust, familial love and loyalty, and it’s that these are at its heart that makes it such a wonderful read. I can’t wait to see what the third in the series brings.

Publisher: Gollancz

Pub date: 27th September 2018

I received an ARC of The Caged Queen from NetGalley and the publisher.