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Month: December 2018

Review: The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

Review: The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston

‘Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off from her favorite franchise, Starfield. The problem is, Jessica Stone—the actress who plays Princess Amara—wants nothing more than to leave the intense scrutiny of the fandom behind. If this year’s ExcelsiCon isn’t her last, she’ll consider her career derailed. 

When a case of mistaken identity throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must trade places to find the person responsible. That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover new romantic possibilities, as well as the other side of intense fandom. As these “princesses” race to find the script-leaker, they must rescue themselves from their own expectations, and redefine what it means to live happily ever after.’

If you’ve ever been part of a fandom, The Princess and the Fangirl is a book that will remind you of the good times and the bad, for while it feels as if the novel is ultimately a love letter to fandom and what it means for so many people, it doesn’t shy away from highlighting the growing issues within the online communities and hopefully serves as a reminder that it is not acceptable to use the internet as a space to target others with negative comments simply because there’s the anonymity provided by lack of face to face communication. I absolutely loved The Princess and the Fangirl for a huge range of reasons, but the main one has to be because it so accurately captures the fandom and con experience without at any point making it seem as if being a geek is something that you should be ashamed of. Yes, there are facets of fandom that are toxic and social media has a lot to answer for as regards making it easier for people to air their unkind commentary not only to the community, but to content creators and actors themselves, but the book also wonderfully highlights the friendships made through the love of television, books and other media and doesn’t make them seem any less real for having started online.

And that is why The Princess and the Fangirl is a wonderfully inclusive book. It not only features a beautifully wide range of relationships, but fandoms and interests and reasons for becoming involved with them. It isn’t here to shame fandom in the ways that other books that address some of the same ideas seem to – it isn’t a matter of taking a ‘geek’ and making them ‘normal’ or highlighting just how different a character is because they love a film/TV show/game/book so much: it’s about embracing what you love and enjoying it with others. It is unashamedly nerdy. I think anyone who has been to a con or been part of a fandom will recognise elements of their own experiences somewhere in the narrative, hopefully in ways that will make them smile as much as I did while reading, but also in the ways that it addresses sexism and objectification and that these things continue to impact a community that so often claims to be inclusive and non-judgemental.

I love retellings of other tales, and while there are elements employed to make this work that do require a little will to believe, that the book is a joy to read makes it so easy to want to believe. Of the two point of view characters, perhaps the reader gets to know Jess a bit better, but this may well be deliberate, owing to a need to address the impact that fandom can have upon the lives of actors (in that it may be too easy to forget that they are real people, not characters, and not unfeeling objects because they are seen on the television), and also to help those who haven’t experienced fandom to learn about why characters and media can play such key roles in people’s lives. To many who might pick up The Princess and the Fangirl, Imogen is the more familiar figure and mindset, while Jess’ journey is less so, her introduction one that doesn’t make her immediately sympathetic in her views, her stresses are the ones that people often fail to consider when posting online. Ultimately, it seems that Jess learns the most about herself and the world that she’s found herself in, the time spent with her making it most easy to sympathise with her struggles, and while Imogen also learns from her experiences in Jess’ shoes, it feels that Jess’ world is the one that is broadened the most, her heart in a better place for herself by the novel’s conclusion. It is Jess’ transformation to a girl with hope for a future in which she is happy that is perhaps the most uplifting and pleasing of the novel’s threads.

There are lovely references to the Geekerella story, characters from the first novel in this universe making appearances in The Princess and the Fangirl, and I hope that this isn’t the last book that Poston writes in it. I would love to see Jess and Imogen again in another story! Of all the books that I’ve read this year, Geekerella and The Princess and the Fangirl are perhaps the two that I’ve enjoyed and identified with the most. They are certainly the two that have had me smiling the most!

The Princess and The Fangirl is out in April 2019 from Quirk Books!

Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Review: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

‘Paris, 1889: The world is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. In this city, no one keeps tabs on secrets better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier, Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. But when the all-powerful society, the Order of Babel, seeks him out for help, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To find the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin will need help from a band of experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian who can’t yet go home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in all but blood, who might care too much.

Together, they’ll have to use their wits and knowledge to hunt the artifact through the dark and glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the world, but only if they can stay alive.’

The Gilded Wolves is, to me, as about as close to a perfect story if I could ask for any story to be written. It has a cast of diverse and engaging characters who are all unique and interesting in their own right, none of them added to the narrative as specific support for another, more prominent character. They all have their own stories to tell and their own dreams, drives and desires, enough of each revealed to make the reader feel as if they know them well without surrendering every facet of their being, making it easy to empathise with them while still being surprised by some of the paths that they choose. There was not one character that I didn’t want to spend more time with as the story unfolded, and what I found the most endearing about them is that they each bring to the group a skill set that they are (mostly) unabashedly confident in and they seem to enjoy sharing what they love of the world with the others, even if they cannot always share the entire truth of themselves.

As Chokshi has demonstrated before in her Star-Touched series, her writing is beautifully immersive and sensory, colours and textures and everything all but leaping from the page, each location painted so vividly that it makes it incredibly easy to experience the world that the characters do. I simply love her writing and have re-read both her Star-Touched series and The Gilded Wolves more than once because they are some of the most enchanting books out there.

In particular, I loved Zofia and Laila; in particular Laila’s understanding of what Zofia finds difficult about the world and how she finds ways of encouraging her and explaining things to her when necessary (the sugar cookies!). The portrayal of Zofia’s coping mechanisms is a sensitive one that holds true to methods that others of similar circumstances (I am making the assumption that Zofia is on the autistic spectrum) are known to employ – at least in my experience – which is a detail that I especially appreciated. Laila’s abilities and what is slowly revealed of her past as it becomes more and more of her present are further elements of the narrative that I particularly enjoyed, the specifics of which I can’t go into much detail about with giving away spoilers. In short: I adored her, though Zofia might still be my favourite.

One of the many reasons why The Gilded Wolves is my idea of a perfect story is its use of altered history, mythology and ancient artefacts from different cultures. Having spent much of my life studying Classical Civilisation and Egyptology, the details of the artefacts and the research that the cast put into unlocking the various secrets that they must was a huge highlight, along with the snippets of where and when the concept of Forging (around which the book’s magic system is based) came about and what such power means for people across the world. Paired with the varied backgrounds of its cast of characters, its representation of love and the unravelling of mysteries of both people and history, it’s a fantastically enjoyable read.

The Gilded Wolves is out in January 2019 and would be an excellent read to start the year with!

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?

Review: Do You Dream of Terra-Two?

‘A century ago, scientists theorised that a habitable planet existed in a nearby solar system. Today, ten astronauts will leave a dying Earth to find it. Four are decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space-race. And six are teenagers, graduates of the exclusive Dalton Academy, who’ve been in training for this mission for most of their lives.

 It will take the team 23 years to reach Terra-Two. Twenty-three years spent in close quarters. Twenty-three years with no one to rely on but each other. Twenty-three years with no rescue possible, should something go wrong. And something always goes wrong.’

I love novels that are character driven and take the time to explore the different facets of their cast – and so different facets of what it means to be human – and Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is a book that does this well. It might not be what some desire in terms of a speedy plot, but to have a more elaborate and fast-paced plot unfolding at the same time as that which is dedicated to character development would be to draw focus from the novel’s strengths.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? focuses on a group of young people who have been in training to go into space and journey to a new Earth, sacrificing decades of their lives in an effort to ensure that mankind has another planet to colonise. Their decisions to attempt to join this mission have been made at a very young age, often in their early teens, and is one that influences their schooling and socialisation from the minute they become involved – if a candidate is successful. Some elements of this decision process and description of the schooling involved is reflected on by the characters as their mission date approaches, inviting the reader to question the ethics of those in-charge and at which stage of desperation for survival should it ever become appropriate to allow young people to sacrifice their futures for the ‘greater good’. Though each of the characters does their best to be an adult and the symbol of hope that the world wants them to be, there are many moments where they are undeniably children who have led rather sheltered lives, their facades apt to crack and crumble as reality hits them. It’s these moments in the book that are among the most interesting, as subjects such as depression, sexuality and isolation are explored through the eyes of characters discovering themselves just as they sacrifice themselves.

There are a good many characters whose points of view (in third person) are used to explore a range of different and often difficult topics, from suicide and mental health to the implications of loneliness and the concept of a life set on an inescapable path. Initially, it’s a little difficult to keep track of which character is which, but, as the novel continues, they become much more distinct and well-developed, particularly as they begin to interact with each other in smaller groups. In the same vein, there is some brilliant description, particularly in sections involving Astrid and/or Juno, yet sometimes passages involving action seem a touch muddled, making it difficult to track exactly what is going on. However, as mentioned previously, the focus on character development throughout the novel more than makes up for this, and I would have happily spent much longer reading about each of them. It’s rare that I find a book with so many different points of view that can be equally enjoyed, which I believe is another one of the novel’s great successes.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Do You Dream of Terra-Two? and would happily read another instalment – which I hope there is!

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK

Pub date: 7th March 2019

I received a copy of Do You Dream of Terra-Two? from Netgalley and the publisher.