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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!

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!

Review: How to Be Luminous by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Review: How to Be Luminous by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

‘When seventeen-year-old Minnie Sloe’s mother disappears, so does her ability to see color. How can young artist Minnie create when all she sees is black-and-white?

Middle child Minnie and her two sisters have always been able to get through anything together: growing up without fathers, living the eccentric artist lifestyle, and riding out their mother’s mental highs and lows. But when they lose their mother, Minnie wonders if she could lose everything: her family, her future, her first love… and maybe even her mind.’

How to be Luminous is a difficult read, and I don’t mean that in a negative way, for it’s a sensitively and well-written book, and I think if it were an easy read it wouldn’t have the impact that it does. That it is a novel that is not always comfortable reading means it is effective in what it means to convey, the narrative one that primarily deals with mental illness via its main protagonist and those in her life, and that it can hit a little too close on more than one occasion means that there are characters with which readers can identify and who are portrayed in a manner that encourages empathy.

One of three sisters, Minnie finds that her ability to see colour vanishes when her mother disappears, and this is only one of many things that makes her doubt whether she isn’t losing her mind as she tries to work through the grief and uncertainty that losing the only parental figure in her life brings her. Without an explanation and without closure, Minnie is left to wonder whether her mother has simply had enough and left her and her siblings to their own devices, or whether her mental illness has driven her to it – or something worse. With the loss of colour come doubts about her own mental state, and while she very clearly suffers from depression in the face of her loss, she also starts to worry that her mother’s highs and lows of what is described akin to being bi-polar is something necessary to create the works of art that she wishes to, and whether her mother’s mental state inevitably means she will suffer the same. In dealing with her grief, she becomes convinced that she must be losing her mind, for she is convinced that she sees her more than once, while also attempting to bring her back to her and seek guidance by imagining and immersing herself in memories of what they used to do. Anyone who has lost someone they care about will surely recognise and empathise with how Minnie feels, and that the stages she goes through and the coping mechanisms she tries to employ are so identifiable is one of the things that can make How to be Luminous an upsetting read for all the right reasons.

The one feature of the novel that I wasn’t sure was entirely necessary was the love triangle. At its heart, the story is about Minnie dealing with the loss of her mother and struggling to live with the building evidence that she is not going to reappear, whether because she has abandoned her or because her bi-polar has led to her taking her own life, and I found the romantic elements more of a distraction than anything. There are some lovely moments between Minnie and Felix, don’t get me wrong, and giving her someone who has experienced the same loss that she is attempting to cope with is an effective facet of the story – I just don’t feel that it being a romantic connection was entirely in keeping with the rest of the story.

One of the pieces of the story’s structure that I enjoyed the most was the naming of colours that have been lost and what Minnie associates them with. These little sections are included between chapters and are beautiful in their insight and effective in bringing home some of the narrative features of the previous chapter(s).

How to be Luminous is out now from Pan Macmillan! I would like to thank the publisher for sending me a copy of this hard-hitting novel for review.