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Month: September 2019

Review: Verify by Joelle Charbonneau

Review: Verify by Joelle Charbonneau

‘Meri Beckley lives in a world without lies. When she looks at the peaceful Chicago streets, she feels pride in the era of unprecedented hope and prosperity over which the governor presides.

But when Meri’s mother is killed, Meri suddenly has questions that no one else seems to be asking. And when she tries to uncover her mother’s state of mind in her last weeks, she finds herself drawn into a secret world with a history she didn’t know existed.

Suddenly, Meri is faced with a choice between accepting the “truth” or embracing a world the government doesn’t want anyone to see- a world where words have the power to change the course of a country and where the wrong ones can get Meri killed.’

Verify is an interesting novel with a good and current message at its core, yet I feel that its narrative is and overall story is rather muddled, meaning the message itself loses its impact, particularly as we are told its core idea more than once without seeing much evidence of characters going through the process of understanding it and coming to terms with what it truly means. That many of the high stakes events happen off-screen, as it were, seems to rob the tale of much of its urgency, especially as very little to actively disturb the lives of the characters the reader is introduced to actually happens.

The idea itself is a decent one and one that I believe is important for literature to incorporate given society’s growing dependency on technology and the internet to tell us everything that we need to know, whenever we want clarification or to learn something that we need to. However, it’s the execution of the concept that made me unable to fully invest in it, as I found it very difficult to believe that it would take so short a time for words to supposedly disappear completely from language and for society to stop questioning what they are told. That children would accept everything that they are told in their lessons without forming opinions that have them questioning what they have learnt is the major hurdle that kept me out of sync with the story, for key components of learning are analysing information and points of view and examining evidence. There is almost no point to the exams that the characters sit without these skills. I completely understand the message at the novel’s heart and its relevance, notably as we seem to be staring right at the mistakes of the past and about to make them all over again, given the current political climate and frankly appalling state of affairs as regards the rise in ugly forms of nationalism, yet there are too many plot holes for it to work quite as it’s intended.

The concept of the Stewards is one of the things that kept me reading and something that I wish had taken up more of the novel (I’m hoping we get more about them in a sequel or series). I loved the idea of literature and history having been saved and pooled somewhere and I would really like to see it developed in more depth and used for greater impact in what future instalments are to arrive. Meri’s involvement with them and swift rise to practically being in-charge is something that, again, I found myself rather dubious about, but this stands to be elaborated upon as the rest of the story unfolds.

Verify is read pertinent to today’s issues as regards censorship and manipulation of the media and one I would recommend as a look at what stands to happen through deliberately limiting understanding and presenting a surface image that dissuades people from disturbing that which they have been conditioned to believe is best for them. Thank you Harper 360YA for sending me a copy! Verify is out on September 24th!

Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

Review: Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron

‘Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.’

I absolutely loved Kingdom of Souls and read most it in one sitting because I just couldn’t put it down. The worldbuilding is excellent and immersive, painted in a rich and vivid manner that makes it easy to visualise both the world in which Arrah lives and the characters that inhabit it. I adored the magic system and that it, particularly for Arrah, is not always without consequence, especially as this is something that is increasingly rarely seen in fantasy and YA novels, where many protagonists seem to pay no price for powers they possess or embrace over the course of their journeys. That the magic is grounded primarily in the use of physical objects makes it all the more tangible and engaging. Both the broader subject matter involved and features of the magic itself make the story one that feels on the darker side of fantasy, for not all of it is an easy read, and at no point is it suggested that there are nothing but high stakes involves, even during the stretches of the narrative in which there is less going on than at other points, making for a tale full of tension and shifting power.

I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, so I will say that one of the things that kept me reading was Arrah’s relationship with her mother, which, much like Arrah herself, I could never quite figure out. I didn’t want to be lured into thinking that some of the elements of her behaviour were leading to a double cross and so was quite resistant to any suggestion that she is anything other than what she is initially painted as, despite the suffering she has endured. The antagonist(s) in Kingdom of Souls are no villain-monologuing cut outs, but there is a true impression of a depth of power that perhaps even they do not quite understand to its full extent, often wielded selfishly and with a dangerous sense of their own entitlement to do as they wish. Ultimately, I think Arrah’s relationships with both her mother and her father are some of the strongest threads of the narrative, contrasted as they are. Other than Arrah herself, her father is one of my favourite characters, mostly because he is depicted as a good and kind man who plainly loves his daughter as she is.

I would say the only thing that detracted from my reading was that I did catch on to one of the plot twists rather early in the narrative, whether this is a deliberate feature of that section of the story or otherwise, and so I wasn’t terribly shocked by one particular revelation. However, it is only a very small detraction, as I love the plot element itself (it’s one of my all-time favourite narrative devices) and look forward the most to seeing where it leads the story in future instalments.

All in all, Kingdom of Souls is a fantastic read and one I would highly recommend! Thank you to Harper Voyager UK for sending me a copy!

Review: Tiger Queen by Annie Sullivan

Review: Tiger Queen by Annie Sullivan

‘In the mythical desert kingdom of Achra, an ancient law forces sixteen-year-old Princess Kateri to fight in the arena to prove her right to rule. For Kateri, winning also means fulfilling a promise to her late mother that she would protect her people, who are struggling through windstorms and drought. The situation is worsened by the gang of Desert Boys that frequently raids the city wells, forcing the king to ration what little water is left. The punishment for stealing water is a choice between two doors: behind one lies freedom, and behind the other is a tiger.

But when Kateri’s final opponent is announced, she knows she cannot win. In desperation, she turns to the desert and the one person she never thought she’d side with. What Kateri discovers twists her world-and her heart-upside down. Her future is now behind two doors-only she’s not sure which holds the key to keeping her kingdom and which releases the tiger.’

Tiger Queen is quite a light read despite some of its subject matter, and one that I read cover to cover in one sitting. It’s an enjoyable read, though one I wish had a good more depth to it, as it felt a little as if only the surface of the key characters is explored with everything quite plain to see. The plot itself is reasonable predictable, which has less to do with the actual story and more to do with the dialogue and interactions between characters that flag up the direction of the tale quite early on.

I don’t believe that a reader needs to like a character to engage with them or for them to be good, strong, viable characters, but I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about Kateri and I don’t know whether that’s a good thing or not. She has many qualities that set her up to be the hero of the story, though the focus lingers on her physical strength and ability as well as her strength of will. It’s her strong will contrasted with her naivity (she often believes anything and everything she is told – by many characters over the course of the story) that unsettled me the most, as it isn’t a case of her just being stubborn and choosing her own way, but that she accepts most of what she’s told without question. For me, she shines most in her interactions with the younger of the Desert Boys and it’s this I wish we had seen more of, as it’s in these moments that we seem to have the most character development from her and she appears most human.

The main issue I found I had with the novel is that there is a lot of telling and not a good deal of showing. Characters often simply tell other their feelings, pieces from their past, or even their evil plans with little to no prompting or invitation, and while it doesn’t seem so out of place with certain character interactions, I found it quite jarring for the villains of the piece to reveal their plans and intentions to their enemies when they had no clear victory in sight. What Rodric intends for Kateri is laid out in detail before her as if she will never find any way of circumventing it, but also in such a manner that it seems to eliminate him as a threat.

This said, as mentioned before, Tiger Queen is an enjoyable read and I wouldn’t have read it so swiftly if it weren’t! I loved the interactions between the Desert Boys and how Kateri becomes one of them, as well as what the reader sees of life beyond the city and what is being done to subvert the rule of her father. I feel as if there’s a whole world that we only got a glimpse into and I would very happily read more about it, were it not to be a stand-alone novel.

Tiger Queen is out on September 10th! Thank you, Harper 360 YA, for sending me a copy for review!

Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

Review: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

‘For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again―a home.’

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is an immersive read written from the points of view of Tova, a young woman with the power to see the future, and Halvard, who is destined to lead his clan. I’m informed that Halvard featured in Young’s first novel, Sky in the Deep, which I haven’t read, but I will be picking up ASAP! The worldbuilding is not so detailed as to require a vast amount of exposition in the opening chapters (which is something I feel a lot of books are suffering from these days) but clear enough that it’s easy to reach an understanding of the clan systems and the environment, the focus more on key characters and the more magical elements, such as truthtelling. I’ve written many an essay on the use of prophecy and oracles as story devices in ancient literature, and I loved the use of it here and the exploration of whether fate is absolute.

Tova’s existence within the Svell community is ultimately an uncomfortable one, both in how she is treated like an outsider and openly despised by many, and in how those around her, even those who might claim to care for her, manipulate her for their own means. The threat of death hangs constantly over her head and so she is driven to cast the stones even when she has no desire to, though the threats against her physical safety are perhaps the least of what she suffers. It’s the emotional manipulation by her father figure that, to me, is the worst of what she has to live with, feeling a duty to him for ‘saving’ her (thanks to his constant reminders of what would have happened to her without him) while he uses her future sight to maintain his position within the clan. He deliberately withholds what he knows of her history to ensure that she is reliant on him, knowing full well that she has no other source of information if she is ever to learn the truth about the circumstances in which she was found. The violent threats against Tova that push her to do as she’s told even when she can face no more are certainly awful, but it’s Jorrund’s manipulation and treatment of her more as a tool and trophy than a daughter that is more abhorrent. It’s brilliant to see her grow in confidence and start to defy both him and the clan’s leaders in clever ways to forge her own path.

Though it takes quite a long time for Tova and Halvard’s paths to cross in more than the actions of their tribes impacting the other, I was glad to find that it was not a case of them instantly falling in love with a sudden shift in narrative to romance. They do wonder about each other, but it seems built more on curiosity and, in Tova’s case, a need to know more and understand the path of fate rather than romantic pining. I really appreciated that the novel stuck with what I feel is its strongest thread, being the exploration of fate and destiny, and while the two do show affection for each other in their brief interactions, their story remains one more concerned with hope for the future and claiming what they believe will be happiness rather than falling into the insta-love trap of many YA novels.

If there’s one thing that I wish we could have learned more about, it’s the Kyrr, and I hope that there will be future instalments in this universe that let us spend more time with them!

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is out on September 3rd! Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy!