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Month: October 2019

Review: Emergence by Gaja J. Kos & Boris Kos

Review: Emergence by Gaja J. Kos & Boris Kos

‘A new breed of nightmare

Broken relationships. Broken heart. Broken world.

Ember has left illusions behind in Somraque, but reality is just as treacherous in a land where nothing is static. Not even the ground beneath her feet.

To find the missing fragment and fulfil the prophecy, she has to rebuild the trust left in ashes in the Whispers. While Mordecai might have placed his faith in his enemies, will they be able to do the same to the monster in their midst?

And more importantly—can a Savior even exist in a world that does not want to be saved?’

I read an advance copy of the first in the Shadowfire trilogy, Evenfall, last year and was grateful to also receive an ARC of the second book in the series, Emergence, from Gaja Kos! Thank you! Though I enjoyed Evenfall, I have to admit that I think I enjoyed Emergence even more, particularly for its choice of location for much of the narrative and the system(s) of magic that are uncovered and explored there.

Emergence picks up where Evenfall left off, with Ember and her friends having just stepped through a portal from Somraque to Svitanye, which they immediately find to be very different from the world they’ve left behind. Svitanye is subject to shifts which change its layout and location, these instances often unpredictable and, most importantly, near indiscriminate in occurrences that can also tear apart people who are caught in them. These shifts almost immediately separate Ember from her companions, meaning the first thing she has to do is try to find a common place to attempt to locate them. As she does this, the reader is introduced to the other ways in which Svitanye is different to the other two worlds, such as the manner in which its inhabitants embrace a myriad of colours and styles to express themselves, dying their hair vibrant colours and using spells to permanently change elements of their appearance. Compared to what they have left behind, Svitanye seems much more alive, yet, as they soon find out, it’s just as deadly, only a different fashion (if you’ll excuse the inadvertent pun).

There isn’t a great deal of action in the first two thirds of Emergence, but, as I’m sure I’ve said before, this is exactly the kind of thing that I love, as it allows more focus on character development. I’m not a huge fan of action-packed books in general, so I was delighted to find that, while bringing the plot along at a steady pace, there were not vast chapters of fighting. The conflict in this is mostly internal, as Ember struggles to come to terms with the numerous tragedies that her very birth brought upon the worlds and her own family, attempting to accept what others have – that it was beyond her control – while finding she is unable to do anything but feel sick to her stomach each time some new element of the awful day is uncovered. She is both the Savior of the worlds and the one who has caused some of the worst destruction, something that she finds herself quite unable to reconcile. As everyone searches for evidence of the fragment that is key to saving the worlds, Ember searches also for ways to accept herself and her still developing powers – and what they mean for her, those she loves and all three worlds.

I loved the focus on books and the ways of interacting with the texts within that are revealed as the ways that magic is used in Svitanye is explored. By using some key command words, Ember (and others native to the world) are able to essentially walk through memories that have been left in pages, and it’s through this that she uncovers not only important historical information, but also things about her family history that she would rather not know, especially as pertains to her relationship with Mordecai. Speaking of the Crescent Prince, though he isn’t present for much of the narrative, he is nevertheless key to it when he is involved. It might be a small thing to others, but I thought how he interacts with Lyra was adorable and it was a positive way of showing his more human side, especially as it’s often said that one can judge a person on how they treat animals.

Emergence is a well-written novel with beautiful description and immersive prose, and will be on shelves from October 29th!

Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

Review: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo

‘The streets of Creije are for the deadly and the dreamers, and four crooks in particular know just how much magic they need up their sleeve to survive.

Tavia, a busker ready to pack up her dark-magic wares and turn her back on Creije for good. She’ll do anything to put her crimes behind her.

Wesley, the closest thing Creije has to a gangster. After growing up on streets hungry enough to swallow the weak whole, he won’t stop until he has brought the entire realm to kneel before him.

Karam, a warrior who spends her days watching over the city’s worst criminals and her nights in the fighting rings, making a deadly name for herself.

And Saxony, a resistance fighter hiding from the very people who destroyed her family, and willing to do whatever it takes to get her revenge.

Everything in their lives is going to plan, until Tavia makes a crucial mistake: she delivers a vial of dark magic—a weapon she didn’t know she had—to someone she cares about, sparking the greatest conflict in decades. Now these four magical outsiders must come together to save their home and the world, before it’s too late. But with enemies at all sides, they can trust nobody. Least of all each other.’

This book. I’ll admit, it took a little while for it to drag me in, but I do say it dragged me in because I just didn’t want to put it down and I didn’t want it to end once it got hold of me. The follow-up to Into the Crooked Place is already one of, if not my most anticipated read of next year and I cannot wait to see more from this world and these characters because there is just so much that I loved about them.

In my opinion, one of the things that Into the Crooked Place does very well is skilfully manipulate how the reader feels about particular characters. I don’t want to name those I mean because I feel that a big part of the journey of the narrative is how your opinion of them alters and how you grow to care for those that it’s been signposted you ought not to. And despite knowing it’s probably going to be a bad idea to start to sympathise and want positive things for them, in the end there is very little fighting it. The cast of the book go on some grand journeys both literally, in terms of travel, and within themselves and their own feelings, but I think the most important is that which the reader goes on as characters transform in a number of ways and become more than what they may have been assumed to be very early in the story, subverting the expectations for their own tales and interactions.

I love, love, love Karam and Saxony, both together and as individual characters, and it’s their backstories and histories that lend the novel a good deal of its atmosphere and bring together a lot of its worldbuilding and magical mechanics. One of my favourites things is how vividly and richly the magic Saxony wields is described, and I adore the systems of magic employed by her people (I would quite happily read endless stories about them). That Karam is not what she has made herself be perceived as, especially how she is in her quieter moments, is another of my favourite things about the book, and I hope that we get to see more of her working through what she left behind, who she is, and who she wants to be.

I tend not to favour books with multiple points of view, but Into the Crooked Place is structured in such a way as to make the different viewpoints of its different protagonists flow together seamlessly and keep the switches from being too jarring (which is my primary complaint when more than one point of view is involved, because I tend to end up liking one character’s chapters more than that of the other(s)). The chapters are not built to be so long as to let you settle completely into one character’s mindset, yet each propels the story and shares enough of their thoughts and feelings about events both present and past (often incidents which have involved the others) as to weave together what feels like a very elegant tapestry.

Into the Crooked Place is out tomorrow! Thank you so much to Hot Key Books for sending me a proof copy to read! It truly was my favourite read of the summer.

Review: Hex Life

Review: Hex Life

‘These are tales of witches, wickedness, evil and cunning. Stories of disruption and subversion by today’s women you should fear. Including Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine and Sherrilyn Kenyon writing in their own bestselling universes.

These witches might be monstrous, or they might be heroes, depending on their own definitions. Even the kind hostess with the candy cottage thought of herself as the hero of her own story. After all, a woman’s gotta eat…’

Hex Life is exactly the kind of book I absolutely adore and it did not disappoint. I am a huge fan of stories about witchcraft, and particularly those that examine the representation of and assumptions about women involved involved in it – and exactly why the perception of women involved with magic changed so early in history (big surprise: because of men). In ancient literature, it’s relatively easy to track the presentation of women from all-powerful and beautiful sorceresses to the more common and stereotypical haggard and evil witch figure, used by male dominated societies to paint women as emotional, unpredictable and not to be trusted (I could rant for many thousand words about Medea, but I’ll save that for another time). That we have more and more works by women reclaiming the witch figure and writing them as the powerful, unflinchingly human characters  that they are is, in my opinion, one of the best things happening in modern literature.

A collection of short stories about women and witchcraft, Hex Life encompasses a variety of styles, time periods and themes, with the common thread being the involvement of different magics. Some of them contain the more familiar and typical features of what people have come to expect of the genre, but even those that do certainly cannot be considered ‘typical’, especially in their tone, which is, more often than not, brilliantly unapologetic.

My favourite of the collection is actually the last: How to Become a Witch-Queen by Theodora Goss. One of my favourite things to read is a fairytale retelling, which is what How to Become a Witch-Queen is a twist on, carrying on the tale of Snow White after she has lived her days as a queen and now faces the fact of her son inheriting the throne in the wake of her husband’s death. One of the the features I loved most about it was it being perfectly its own story in its own right, while linking back to the the events in the more widely-known version of Snow White and turning them on their heads to create a new tale and a new, more modern character without dashing the original to pieces. Her primary motivation is to ensure a brighter future for her daughter, knowing that the men in her life will inevitably remove any chance of her making her own choices, determined to use her for their own advantage, and both the journey of mother and daughter and the unthreading of the supposed reality of the past was simply a joy to read.

Hex Life was released on October 1st and is available in bookshops now! Thank you to Titan Books for sending me a copy!

Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris

Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris

‘By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is a college student, and one of the only black kids at Jefferson Academy. By night, she joins hundreds of thousands of black gamers who duel worldwide in the secret online role-playing card game, SLAY.

No one knows Kiera is the game developer – not even her boyfriend, Malcolm. But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, the media labels it an exclusionist, racist hub for thugs.

With threats coming from both inside and outside the game, Kiera must fight to save the safe space she’s created. But can she protect SLAY without losing herself?’

SLAY is one of those books that I picked up intending to read the first few chapters of and ended up halfway through it before realising quite how long I’d been reading for. I thoroughly enjoyed SLAY and found it incredibly engaging. It’s quick to reel the reader in, its pacing – both in the real world and that of the virtual reality – fast and story to the point, which is one of the things I liked most about it. There’s an urgency to the narrative that doesn’t let you gain much distance from the ideas at its heart as they are examined, the need to acknowledge the topics within as a matter of keen importance paired with Kiera’s imperative need to fight for and shield the world she’s built for so many.

In creating SLAY, Kiera has constructed a game that uses virtual reality equipment to bring the player to a fantasy world, where they can primarily get involved with the card collecting and wielding element of the game, as well as roleplay characters and build their own homes. The cards themselves are based on elements of black culture and become different powers and buffs when used in a duel, seen as additions to players’ avatars. To maintain a safe environment for her players, she has done her best to ensure that only black players can access SLAY, meaning for the game to be a celebration of culture, achievement and somewhere free of the racism that is a ugly part of the real world. This being her intention, that her game is labelled as racist and one that deliberately excludes others in the aftermath of the murder hurts her deeply, and one cannot help but flinch that people have the audacity to suggest such a thing.

Malcolm’s behaviour is almost immediately unsettling, particularly the manner in which he speaks of and addresses Kiera. He rather frequently refers to her in a fashion that suggests she is an object, she is his, and he is to be obeyed, while telling her how she ought to behave towards others and what she ought to think. He builds her up in one moment, provided it is in the way he permits, and tears her down in the next. I don’t mean to suggest that he is incorrect for being angry of the injustices of the past and present, but how he behaves both towards her and others, using said anger as an excuse for increasingly poor behaviour that begins to spiral completely out of control, is one of the things that has stuck in my mind long after finishing the novel.

The discussion of online gaming creating safe spaces focuses on something that I feel is becoming increasingly important, particularly as they are many who are determined to believe that gaming is something dangerous that can only perpetuate violence. Those who have never been a part of a gaming community might never understand how much a positive part of a person’s life that they can become and never see online friendships as ‘real’ ones, which is one reason why I particularly appreciated the portrayal of Kiera and Claire’s friendship as supportive and something that brings them both joy and ultimately leads to good things. Those who are a part of the SLAY community are there to share their culture and uniqueness and all that is brilliant about each individual and I especially enjoyed that the different viewpoints in the novel thread together to build and bring worlds closer, encompassing friendships, family and more.

SLAY is out today from Hachette Children’s Books! Thank you to the publisher and Team BKMRK for sending me a proof copy!

Review: Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt

Review: Redwood and Ponytail by K. A. Holt

‘Kate and Tam meet, and both of their worlds tip sideways. At first, Tam figures Kate is your stereotypical cheerleader; Kate sees Tam as another tall jock. And the more they keep running into each other, the more they surprise each other. Beneath Kate’s sleek ponytail and perfect façade, Tam sees a goofy, sensitive, lonely girl. And Tam’s so much more than a volleyball player, Kate realizes: She’s everything Kate wishes she could be. It’s complicated. Except it’s not. When Kate and Tam meet, they fall in like. It’s as simple as that. But not everybody sees it that way. This novel in verse about two girls discovering their feelings for each other is a universal story of finding a way to be comfortable in your own skin.’

I read Redwood and Ponytail cover to cover in one sitting and just didn’t want to put it down. I loved the format of the story, being that the whole narrative is told in verse that includes the thoughts and feelings of Kate and Tam while incorporating their own dialogue and the dialogue of other characters, such as Kate’s sister and Tam’s mother. Every so often, commentary is offered by the Alexes, three girls who serve as a chorus of sorts and bring to light the observations of the school crowd while serving as omniscient narrators. As a Classicist, this is one of the things that I really enjoyed about the structure of the novel and I have to say I would happily read several more books about Kate and Tam written in exactly the same style.

Of Kate and Tam, it’s perhaps Kate’s story that is more complicated, for most of the people in her life, notably her mother, are the ones who don’t want her to be herself, but who they perceive and want her to be. One of the more upsetting features of the story is how Kate’s mother focuses so intently on telling Kate that she is beautiful and must be ‘normal’ and that she has to be everything that her mother wishes her to be, all the while without taking into account what Kate actually wants. It’s plain to see that her mother is trying to live vicariously through her daughter’s achievements, nearly all of which she tries to manipulate, from telling her exactly how she has to behave and what her goals are, to buying the friendship of Kate’s circle of ‘friends’ with tickets to concerts. Her parenting has created in Kate a desperate need to fit in and be the best; the one others look to for guidance and who effortlessly draws attention to her with her perfection. It’s when she begins to realise that her feelings for Tam are making her behave in ways the world insists isn’t ‘normal’ that she begins to panic and shut out everything and everyone who risks exposing her as not the girl everyone believes her to be, just as she is getting to grips with understanding that she doesn’t want to be the person she’s being driven to be.

Tam has more people in her life who are supportive of her choices as she gradually realises the extent of her feelings for Kate, her mother in particular a stark contrast to the behaviour of Kate’s in accepting and feeling joyful about her daughter’s feelings without questioning them. She also has the support of her neighbours, who give her the space to reflect on her feelings and advise based on their own experiences, Frankie having travelled a path that many feel forced down. That Tam has this extended family network in her life makes her coming to terms with her own feelings easier than Kate’s experience, but she struggles with Kate’s behaviour and that of her friends, especially in that they seem superficial and vapid when together as a group, making Kate become a girl that she simply doesn’t know and can’t reconcile with how she sees her. For Kate’s sake more than her own, she tries to fit in with her social circle, but finds herself unable to share their interests or views, with these attempts ultimately ending badly when she can’t bring herself to sacrifice her principles or feelings. For Tam, based on her experience of the world, acceptance is a more simple thing than for Kate, whose life is full of illusions and suppressed emotions and desires that go beyond her feelings for Tam.

Redwood and Ponytail is a beautiful story and I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears at the end of it. It’s out today from Abrams and Chronicle! Thank you to the publisher for sending me a copy! I would love to see more of Tam and Kate’s stories at some point in the future!