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Month: December 2020

Review: Beautiful Wild by Anna Godberson

Review: Beautiful Wild by Anna Godberson

‘Vida Hazzard can see her future: aboard the heralded “Millionaire’s Ship of the West,” she’ll charm the young scion Fitzhugh Farrar, resulting in a proposal of marriage.

But Vida didn’t plan on Fitz’s best friend Sal, a rough-around-the-edges boy with a talent for getting under her skin. Nor did she anticipate a hurricane dashing their ship to pieces, along with her dreams.

Stranded on an island with both Fitz and Sal, Vida is torn between the life she’s always planned for, and a future she’s never dared to want. As they desperately plot a course for home, Vida will discover just which boy can capture her wild heart—and where her future truly lies.’

Beautiful Wild follows Vida Hazzard and her efforts to find a husband (and one husband in particular) following events that have threatened to generate such a scandal as to ruin her chances of ever marrying well. It’s obvious in the opening chapters of the novel that Vida enjoys attention and expects to garner it wherever she goes, and thinks very little about a world that might entertain anything but doing exactly what she wants, when she wants. Her intention in setting sail on an adventure is to make sure that she maintains the attention of the ship company’s heir, Fitzhugh Farrar, and thus ensure that she marries well, into a family that will increase her social status and more than keep her in the manner in which she is accustomed.

For Vida, very little goes to plan. She gets her way insofar as leaving shore, but from then on nothing seems to go as she would wish it. This isn’t to say that things don’t go her way, for, despite the various crisis that befall her, she somehow always appears to be in control of much of what’s happening around her and doesn’t seem to particularly suffer, even after the ship has been wrecked. Vida doesn’t have an ugly personality, but it is rather difficult to root for her when she is still concerned so much about her appearance and romance when she’s in a situation where she should be prioritising survival. She does take a lead in several tasks and activities and shows an eagerness to learn, yet that so much of her focus remains on her two romantic prospects and whether she should perceive other women as a threat makes it hard to connect with her at times. Perhaps it is that her social status has her falling into a commanding position instinctively and without much ability demonstrated? This said, one of the most enjoyable features of the novel is seeing Vida learn what she truly wants and what she has been telling herself she ought to expect, namely that she desires adventure and to be challenged, and that that challenge is not seeking to attract men and their fortunes. The choices she makes demonstrate just how much she has been playing at her role in society; the ease with which she casts it off (though does she still have access to the family money?) is a testament to her willingness to insist on change where it is needed. In Vida’s case, that everyone around her is so understanding is a huge benefit, whereas, for most women, to dare to make such decisions would mean ruin.

Another of the things the narrative takes a good look at is the relationships between women in a society that forces them to be rivals, enemies, and, ultimately, able to orchestrate each other’s fates with a few well-timed words and rumours started. It is perhaps that Vida’s only female ‘friend’ is her maid, who she demonstrates concern for and endeavours to make sure that her choices don’t condemn her, but is this only because she knows her secrets by virtue of circumstance? Camilla is never quite a friend, but a rival and enemy who can’t entirely be trusted, even after all that they’ve been through together (Vida endeavours to see her as a friend, but she still doubts that Camilla would not ruin her, given the chance). With women dependent on men for their status and what freedoms they might ever be granted, it is easy for them to turn against each other simply to try and secure their own futures, a world where they have next to no power turning almost everyone into a threat.

If you enjoy historical romance and YA fiction, Beautiful Wild is a great choice for some Christmas reading and escapism. Thank you Harper360YA for sending me a copy for review!

Review: How to Be a Hero by Cat Weldon

Review: How to Be a Hero by Cat Weldon

‘When failing trainee valkyrie Lotta mistakes an unconscious viking thief, Whetstone, for a fallen hero and takes him triumphantly to Valhalla, things are definitely not turning out to be epic or glorious. Having lost a precious talking cup, Whetstone is also desperate to cover up his mistake and the two embark on a quarrelsome journey to find it and regain their heroic status. But Loki the trickster God is desperate to get his hands on the cup with a plan to unleash chaos across the nine worlds. Can Whetstone prove himself a hero after all when it matters most?’

How to Be a Hero is an adventure book for infant and junior school (around 6-8 years old) children that is not only a fun read, but would work well as an introduction to Norse mythology for those who’ve shown an interest in other histories and mythologies. I always try to avoid thinking that any books are specifically suited to a particular gender, but I had the feeling from this one, primarily owing to the nature of the language choices and the style of humour, that it might be aimed more at boys, but this is not to say that it couldn’t be enjoyed by anyone. The content of the story is certainly inclusive and allows equal opportunities for the messages within to be applicable to all, with the pressure both Whetstone and Lotta feel to fit in with their respective societies, each lingering on the outside because they don’t quite fit the mould that others want them to.

At the beginning of the story, the reader meets Whetstone, who only wishes to prove himself, but has got himself mixed up with those who are quite obviously using him to get what they want. They promise that their endeavour will earn him the glory he can’t otherwise see himself gaining, and, despite some misgivings, he goes ahead with the plan, which only begins his greater troubles. There’s more than one moment where Whetstone demonstrates that he is clever and able to think his way out of various situations, but, as this isn’t something especially valued by those around him, he tends not to consider this one of his strengths. His experience with doing what he feels could be wrong at the behest of others and trying to fit in by mimicking those around him opens up some important discussion points for young children about individuality and when it might not be right to do as others ask. Lotta’s journey addresses similar themes, in that she has been repeatedly told that she only has one purpose – and she finds herself failing to be anything like the valkyrie she is supposed to be. Others look down on her and tease her for not being exactly them, but fail to notice her more important qualities and that she is truly trying to do her best – which is exactly what leads her to Whetstone and their greater discoveries about themselves and all that is at play.

The tale is accompanied by maps and other artwork from Katie Kear (I particularly liked the drawing of Broken Tooth, the dog), which is delightful and often brings further humorous commentary with it. In my opinion, How to Be a Hero would be a great book for parents to read with their children, as the images will help engage those of a younger reading age, while the text itself is challenging enough to encourage those moving on from more simple narratives, or will invite confidence in those who may have a reading age beyond their biological age. It would be a lovely story to read together, taking turns with pages or characters, and has plenty of opportunities for play-acting and features of mythology that children may want to learn more about as they’re reading.

How to Be a Hero is out on January 21st, 2021. Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for sending me a copy for review!

Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

‘In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.’

Between work and my laptop quite literally melting down few weeks ago (hello, melted components), it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write a review, and I’m glad to be writing about Andrea Stewart’s ‘The Bone Shard Daughter’ today! The story follows Lin and a varied cast of point of view characters to build a world with a good deal of dark goings-on, much of which can be linked back to the emperor’s hold on his subjects and his quite literal hold on their lives.

For the purposes of this review, I’m going to be sticking with Lin’s point of view and what the reader learns of the world through her eyes. If I were to pick the points of view that I enjoyed the most, I would have to choose hers, along with Phalue and Ranami, but I can honestly say that the use of so many characters with their own, clearly defined, narrative threads works well in this novel, as does the switching from first person to third person narrative. I’ve mentioned before that I tend not to be a big fan of books that switch from character to character all too often, but the fact is that The Bone Shard Daughter doesn’t include any point of view simply for the sake of it, but to demonstrate the impact on the world of the emperor’s decisions and the consequences of others’ choices, knitting their various plotlines together in a manner that manages to avoid being jarring (which is generally my biggest issue with frequent PoV shifts). This said, I have to admit that not all of the PoV characters held my attention equally, but I can appreciate the need for each of them.

Lin lives in a world that truly isn’t one. She’s largely limited to a solitary life within the palace walls, where she has so little information about herself and what lies beyond the palace that she struggles to understand the motives of those around her and what her purpose in life truly is. Having lost much of her memories and suffering through interrogation about what she cannot remember, she battles with her father’s judgement that she’s internalised – that she is broken – and a determination to prove precisely otherwise and claim her position as heir to the throne. Faced with the prospect of the throne passing to the boy her father has adopted, her focus becomes reclaiming more of herself than him (for he too suffers with memory loss) and learning all that her father has repeatedly refuse to instruct her in. Namely, the bone shard magic that maintains the constructs that work in the palace and maintain functions in the world beyond. It is easy to feel sympathy for Lin, who spends her life faced with the disappointment of a father who doesn’t bother to temper his behaviour towards her, sharing all too often how frustrating and lacking he finds her, while clearly favouring another as his heir. Lin has no-one to turn to and, it would seem, no-one who truly cares for her, her existence a lonely one that leaves her fending for herself both in terms of the investigation she conducts and emotional support. Having gained glimpses of what those beyond the palace grounds are suffering because of her father, her motivations are not entirely selfish, but it’s also difficult to describe her actions as for the good of others. If nothing else, Lin wants to learn so that she cannot be discarded and passed over for someone else – and because she wants to understand what has happened to her and why.

The concept of bone shard magic is one of the most intriguing I’ve seen in a long time – and I read a lot of fantasy! What it entails is shards being harvested from the general population in a ceremony when they are children; one that can cause irreparable damage and death from the outset or mean a slow and painful death when an individual’s shard is put to use powering one of the emperor’s constructs. The shards are inscribed with a series of commands in a system a little like computer programming, using if/when variables and other sequences that work together to create a distinct personality and purpose in the more complex constructs that require multiple shards, or more simple functions in those with fewer. It’s this that Lin attempts to learn over the course of the novel, determined that she will be in a position to control the constructs, particularly because she needs them as it becomes more and more apparent that her father isn’t going to tell her even half of everything that she wishes to know.

All in all, The Bone Shard Daughter is an enjoyable read with some of the most effective twists and turns that I’ve seen executed. There are a few gaps in the narrative that are glossed over and that I hope are revisited in more depth in future instalments, but the world remains unique, convincing and well put together in a fashion that makes it easily believable and immersive. I look forward to the next book! Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy!