Review: The Girl In The Tower

January 20, 2018 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Girl In The TowerThe Girl In The Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Ebury on 25th January 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

For a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya
will choose a third way: magic...

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior's training, recognises this 'boy' as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical...

Having read (and loved) the first book in this series, The Bear and the Nightingale last Christmas, I saved my  early copy of book two, The Girl In The Tower for over the festive season. Set in the Russian winter, this is a tale that’s perfect to read at this time of year. But truthfully, Arden’s writing will transport you to the Russian winter no matter the season outside.

If you haven’t yet read the first book, then make sure you check out my review of it here and go pick up a copy! This post will inevitably contain mild spoilers for that first book.

Where The Bear and the Nightingale was set in rural Russia, The Girl In The Tower takes us on an adventure through the rural landscape and into Moscow itself. Continuing from the first book, we follow Vasya who, with accusations of witchcraft lingering at home, looks to follow her dreams, break with convention, shun marriage or the convent and travel.

We also spend time with her older brother Sasha, the monk, who I personally really liked in the first book, as well as meeting other characters – old and new!

Once again, Arden engulfs us in a beautifully written tale, built around Russian history and folklore. Through Vasya she continues to explore the lives of, and expectations towards, women at this time in Russian history – weaving historical fact within her fiction.

Having become familiarised with the conventions of rural Russia, we arrive in Moscow as overwhelmed as Vasya herself. Together we uncover the lay of the land, the customs, expectations, and requirements of the upper echelons in the Russian city.

The development of the characters in this second novel is fantastic. I love the progression of Vasya’s character – she’s everything I hoped she would be!

Arden’s writing is once again a highlight for me. Her descriptions, turn of phrase and writing style swept me up. I felt I was, once again, there in the Russian snow. I loved the continuation of the story. For me, it felt more action-packed than the first book, filled with deception, death… and a sassy horse!

The story itself is unforgettable, the writing enchanting, what more can I say? It’s a must-read for fans of The Bear and the Nightingale!

five-stars

Review: Everless

December 14, 2017 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: EverlessEverless by Sara Holland
Published by Orchard Books on 4th January 2018
Genres: YA Fantasy, Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything - even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.

Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.

There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever ... and possibly the future of time itself.

I’d heard so much love for this book among fellow reviewers who’ve also been lucky enough to get early copies so I was excited to delve into this new fantasy series. However I must admit, I started reading Everless with a little trepidation. Could this book live up to the early hype? The simple answer, for me, is yes.

I actually had a whole section written to try and describe this book but honestly my draft was long and I just didn’t feel it did the book justice. So we are just going to skip that bit and I refer you to the synopsis above!

This is a hard book to put down, and yet I didn’t want it to end. The concept of time as a currency, extracted from the blood is so creative. I’ve never read anything quite like it. Sara Holland has created a fascinating, rich world where the gulfs between rich and poor are not only measured in monetary value but in time, lifespan.

There’s so much to like in this novel. The storyline is absorbing and mysterious, with characters that I certainly became invested in. It’s a clever, well-written novel that may on the surface appear like others in the genre but is actually quite unique. It has a fairytale-esque feel to it, with the same looming darkness our favourite tales contain.

All in all, this is an excellent, addictive read. I genuinely cannot wait to read the second book in this series. I really think Everless will be hugely popular in 2018. Expect to see this book everywhere.

five-stars

Review: The Cruel Prince

December 7, 2017 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Cruel PrinceThe Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Series: The Folk Of The Air #1
Published by Hot Key Books on 2nd January 2018
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars

Of course I want to be like them. They're beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him—and face the consequences.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Jude is a child living with her parents, her twin Taryn and her older sister Viv when a stranger appears at their door and kills her parents before her eyes. The murderer? Her Mother’s faerie ex-husband Madoc who has come to retrieve his daughter (Viv) whom he previously thought dead. He takes the two human twins with him, returning to Faerie and raising them all as his own. That’s the background.

Madoc is the High King’s General; because of this he has the power to demand that the human twins be treated as his own. So Jude and Taryn are educated with the Faerie gentry, schooled in swordsmanship by Madoc and attend functions at Court. Madoc has remarried, his new wife Oriana is not Jude’s favourite person, but she very much loves her younger brother from this union, Oak.

But not all of the faeries are happy to have humans in their midst, least of all humans with privilege and protection of the General.

Jude dreams of becoming a Knight – a fanciful ambition for a mortal in Faerie but one that she is determined to fulfil. She knows she can’t live under Madoc’s protection forever and if she wants to stay in Faerie rather than return to the mortal lands she is going to need to find some power of her own. Her twin is content with finding a marriage to keep her in Faerie but Jude wants to follow her own dreams.

Jude is educated with the High King’s son Prince Cardan, and his group of gentry faerie friends. They are not fond of humans and even less so of the twins, making life difficult for the twins. This animosity between Jude and Cardan is a theme that runs throughout the novel.

When the High King decides to leave his throne, a succession must follow. Any one of the King’s offspring could wear the Blood Crown, but it’s Prince Dain that the High King has chosen.

So when Dain makes a proposition to Jude, she realises that this could be her chance to find power and forge her own destiny.

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the progression of Jude’s character and the quick escalation of the issues she had in front of her.

Through Jude, Black explores what it’s like to be different in society, to stand out from the crowd and to suffer the consequences of such differences.

Black’s land of Faerie had me thoroughly enthralled and I loved the contrast of the normalcy of going to Target in the mortal lands and the magic, and darkness, of Faerie.

While this book begins somewhat sedately (well, aside from the brutal murder of Jude’s parents) everything soon escalates to the point that you just want to keep reading. It’s a book full of betrayal, loyalty, families, scheming, ambition and secrets.

It is packed with fantastic characters. I’ll admit to being somewhat confused by the different court and placing some of the characters to begin with – I was a bit overwhelmed by names at the start. One of these thoroughly interesting characters is Prince Cardan who is at the heart of the cruelty, taunting and abuse that Jude encounters in Faerie.

I think of the things I liked most about Black’s characters is that they are flawed. No-one is perfect, each has their own stories and desires. Couple that with Black’s descriptive writing, fantastic world building and captivating plot, it’s hard not to love this book.

five-stars

Review: Darien

November 4, 2017 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: DarienDarien by C.F. Iggulden
Series: Empire of Salt #1
Published by Michael Joseph on 13th July 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

TWELVE FAMILIES. ONE THRONE. WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE OF SALT.

The city of Darien stands at the weary end of a golden age. Twelve families keep order with soldiers and artefacts, spies and memories, clinging to a peace that shifts and crumbles. The people of the city endure what they cannot change.

Here, amongst old feuds, a plot is hatched to kill a king. It will summon strangers to the city - Elias Post, a hunter, Tellius, an old swordsman banished from his home, Arthur, a boy who cannot speak, Daw Threefold, a chancer and gambler, Vic Deeds, who feels no guilt - and Nancy, a girl whose talent might be the undoing of them all.

Their arrival inside the walls as the sun sets will set off a series of explosive events. Before the sun returns, five destinies will have been made - and lost - in Darien.

In the past I’ve very much enjoyed Conn Iggulden’s works of historical fiction – his Emperor series being one that really captivated me. So upon hearing that Iggulden would be releasing his first work of fantasy, Darien, (under the name C.F. Iggulden) I knew I had to read it!

Darien is the city around which most of this novel revolves. Headed by a King and twelve families, Darien is a city of power, where those that crave it use whatever means to attain or retain it.

I’m not going to go into the detail of this novel; the synopsis above tells you all I think you need to know. What I will say is that we are introduced to some very interesting characters in this book, each of whom have their own stories, skills and motivations. Although there are many characters in this novel, Iggulden (in my opinion) does them all justice. I always admire this skill in a writer – the ability to introduce depth of character in many characters without overwhelming the reader.

I really enjoyed how the author has drawn upon his great historical knowledge to help to build this world, add the details and merge fact with fantasy.

I became thoroughly swept up in the story, remembering just how much I’ve always enjoyed Iggulden’s writing. As for the fantasy aspect? Well, I love it! It’s hard to describe fantasy as realistic but the building of the world and the characters, if not the magic element itself, make it so.

In short – I’m eager for book two!

four-stars

Review: Flame In The Mist

October 26, 2017 in Book Reviews, YA Fantasy

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Flame In The MistFlame In The Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Series: Flame In The Mist #1
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th May 2017
Genres: YA Fantasy
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

Flame In The Mist is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading for so long but inexplicably hadn’t picked up until now. So I was kind of nervous that I might have built it up too much in my head, but actually I really enjoyed this novel.

Mariko is of the Hattori family, the only daughter of a prominent Samurai. Her twin brother Kenshin is a renowned warrior known as the Dragon of Kai. Unlike her brother, Mariko has no control over her life. A girl in her position must do as her father wishes and her father has lofty ideas for her, securing a betrothal to the Emperor’s son, Raiden.

While travelling from her home to meet Raiden in the imperial city, her party is attacked within the Junkai forest – she is the intended target. Escaping with her life as the sole survivor, Mariko suspects the outlaw Black Clan at being behind her attack. Wandering alone through the dangerous Jukai forest Mariko hatches a plan to take control of her own life and dress as a peasant boy in order to infiltrate the Clan to try and uncover who exactly wants her dead and why. Meanwhile, her twin is convinced that Mariko has survived the attack and is doing all he can to find and rescue his sister.

I really did enjoy this book. Ahdieh’s descriptions make for great scene-setting, helping to sweep the reader up in the story.

Mariko is smart and strong-willed. She’s the type of female protagonist I tend to like, one who taps into her previously unknown depth of strength. Her interactions with the Black Clan, a group of men, thieves, who live together in the woods, are interesting. Led by Ranmanu, supported by his best friend Okami, I quickly came to like this group that Mariko suspects of her attempted murder. I really like the relationship between Ranmanu and Okami, but it was the ongoing war of words between Okami and Mariko that I really enjoyed. Somewhat predictably, the mysterious character of Okami was my favourite person in this tale.

As an aside – I received a candle from In The Wick of Time that was based upon this book (in the Fairyloot box that also contained this book). Even before reading the book the “wood smoke and warm stone” scented candle became an absolute favourite of mine. Now, knowing that it is based on my favourite character Okami, I think I’m going to need to buy a new one – mine’s all burnt out! (find it here)

I’ve seen people talk about how “predictable” this book is and I guess in a way they are right, but that didn’t impact on my enjoyment of this book at all.

Two things did bother me though. They are spoilery though so I’ll hide them below.

View Spoiler »

All in all though, I really enjoyed this book. I did however find the end was a bit rushed. I felt that it didn’t have the same flow as the rest of the book. That said, maybe I just didn’t want it to end? Bring on book two!

four-stars