Red Rising, Pierce Brown

  • Red Rising by Pierce BrownScreen Shot 2016-07-26 at 09.26.47.png

Rating: * * *

Series: #1 Red Rising

Publisher: Hodder

Publication Date: 2014

Goodreads synopsis:


The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

To be honest, I found it hard to give a rating for ‘Red Rising’. There were some really good bits in the novel, but these were counteracted by some bits that I found boring. During these latter bits I was tempted to put the book down and pick up something else from my TBR list.

I was divided on the book as a whole, but especially in the opening. On the one hand it is very good at establishing the grim and awful world Darrow lives in:

‘On Mars there is not much gravity. So you have to pull the feet to break the neck. They let the loved ones do it.’

‘I’m looking for the pitvipers that curl through the darkness seeking the warmth of my drill. They’ll eat into your suit too, bit through the shell and then try to burrow into the warmest place they find, usually your belly, so they can lay their eggs.’

Brown establishes the dystopian nature of the world very quickly. However, at times in the opening I wanted to shout at the book, ‘Show, don’t tell!’ Some of the information is left for the reader to discover – about how the caste system actually works and about the Golds – but some information about Darrow, his life and his relationships is just plonked down. The vital information we are left to discover actually makes the novel confusing. I also found it irritating how there are lots of terms in Darrow’s world that have a capital letter midword. This is a common trait in dystopian novels that is sometimes unnecessary.

Additionally, while there is action and tension in the beginning  – Darrow is drilling and it is dangerous – it didn’t come across particularly vividly for me and didn’t capture my imagination. I wasn’t picturing what was happening the way I do with most other books. There wasn’t dialogue for a while; it was more reflective and I found the first person present narration dragged slightly. It’s definitely not one of the best openings I have read. I felt it could have been punchier and it did not really grab me or make me want to read on.

However, I did read on and from 6 percent the book really picked up for me. I thought the section from 6 to 13 percent was fantastic: it was dramatic, tense, moving, and I loved Eo. She had such vitality and passion when she made her speech to Darrow:

‘Death isn’t empty like you say it is. Emptiness is life without freedom, Darrow. Emptiness is living chained by fear, fear of loss, of death. I say we break those chains. Break the chains of fear and you break the chains that bind us to the Golds, to the Society.’ 

I also really enjoyed the detail in Darrow’s transformation and that bit did really capture my imagination and it interested and intrigued me. Darrow as a character, however, wasn’t actually that great for me. I didn’t root for him in the way I have rooted for other characters recently. He was okay, but he didn’t have any obvious flaws or defining characteristics, so he wasn’t especially memorable or vivid. In fact, none of the characters aside from Eo actually stood out for me, apart from Mustang and Sevro who did at select times.

As well as enjoying the description of Darrow’s transformation, I liked the twists concerning Titus at the end of chapter 28 and the one concerning Mustang at the end, as well as the fact that Darrow and Mustang’s budding relationship was described subtly and developed slowly (none of the dreaded ‘instalove’!) Darrow’s stand off with Jackal was very tense and dramatic, as was the trap where someone pretended to be Mustang to fool Darrow.

In my opinion, overall, ‘Red Rising’ was a mix of very good sections and less good sections. I won’t be rushing to read the sequel, but if I have time I will probably check it out because I think that it might be one of those series that gets better as it goes along.

 

 

5 Reasons You Should Read…The Novice by Taran Matharu

The Novice by Taran Matharu 

  • Series: #1 The Summoner
  • Publisher: Hodder Children’s
  • Publication Date: May 2015Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 08.31.18.png

Goodreads Synopsis:

When blacksmith apprentice Fletcher discovers that he has the ability to summon demons from another world, he travels to Adept Military Academy. There the gifted are trained in the art of summoning. Fletcher is put through grueling training as a battlemage to fight in the Hominum Empire’s war against orcs. He must tread carefully while training alongside children of powerful nobles. The power hungry, those seeking alliances, and the fear of betrayal surround him. Fletcher finds himself caught in the middle of powerful forces, with only his demon Ignatius for help.

As the pieces on the board maneuver for supremacy, Fletcher must decide where his loyalties lie. The fate of an empire is in his hands. The Novice is the first in a trilogy about Fletcher, his demon Ignatius, and the war against the Orcs.

I recently read ‘The Novice’ by Taran Matharu and it was absolutely brilliant. I loved it, and I would definitely recommend it to others. Here are five reasons why:

 

  • THE OPENING IS SIMPLY FANTASTIC

The first chapter of ‘The Novice’ has to be one of the best openings I have ever read, if not the best. It is so captivating, in fact, that as soon as I finished it I passed it over to my dad and got him to read it, too, because I wanted someone to share it and talk about it with. It made my dad very eager to read on but luckily I got the book back so I could do so first.

The opening is tense as Fletcher is hunting and very hungry, it immediately and vividly establishes the setting for the novel and world-builds, it has a twist at the end, and, most importantly, because Fletcher is treated unfairly in it, it has the reader immediately on Fletcher’s side. We establish a connection with Fletcher which lasts for the whole novel and we cheer him on and wish for him to succeed and prevail against the odds. Fletcher is one of the most likeable characters I have read about, and in my mind he has joined the ranks of Harry Potter and Percy Jackson – at times awkward male protagonists you cannot help but grow very attached to, ones who face adversity but unexpectedly overcome it.

  • ‘THE NOVICE’ IS FULL OF STRIKING AND VIVID CHARACTERS

Fletcher is not the only wonderful character in this novel – far from it. He is joined by an excellent cast of other characters. Standouts for me are Berdon, the blacksmith to whom Fletcher is apprentice and who touchingly treats Fletcher as a son rather than a worker, Othello the wise-beyond-his-years dwarf who has had himself tattooed identically to his volatile brother Atilla so that he can get Atilla out of trouble, and Sylva, the elf who is immediately hostile but who undergoes change and realisation after her life is threatened. All the teachers at the Vocans Academy are great too, from the loyal and friendly Captain Lovett to the hostile and challenging Rook. I think that Fletcher’s mentor Arcturus is my favourite of the teachers.

  • THE WORLD-BUILDING IS GREAT

The world-building in this novel is brilliant. We learn lots about the history of the Hominum Empire, about its present, and also about possibilities for its future. Taran Matharu manages to get the balance exactly right between giving enough detail to capture the reader’s imagination and not giving so much that it becomes at all overwhelming or excessive. We see the racist attitudes of the largely corrupt Pinkertons and the general human public towards the elves and the dwarves. Taran Matharu also establishes traditions for the dwarves and elves – like that the female dwarves wear veils – which make them feel more vivid and real. I really liked the explanation for why they wear veils. Additionally, the writing is very atmospheric, capturing the bustle of the marketplaces, the reaction of crowds, the architecture of the summoning academy…this allows the reader to vividly imagine all the scenes and settings.

  • THE DEMONOLOGY IS ALSO GREAT 

I have read plenty of books that feature demons (The Mortal Instruments, The Dark Days Club etc). It is a crowded theme, but in spite of this Taran Matharu manages to bring something totally new to the table and it’s very refreshing. He reverses expectations – when Fletcher summons a demon I was expecting a ferocious and hideous beast, but actually Ignatius, Fletcher’s demon, is mostly adorable (until he gets into a fight and breathes fire to singe and scorch his enemies!). He curls up in Fletcher’s hood and purrs. I would really like to have a Salamander demon like Ignatius!

Additionally, I love the fact that you cannot talk to your summoned demons – instead of sensing your words they sense your emotions and so, whenever Ignatius is concerned or upset, Fletcher has to send him calming thoughts. There are also many other fascinating aspects to summoning and controlling demons in this novel – the idea of fulfilment, which is a summoner’s capacity for summoning demons – infusion, where a summoner absorbs their demon into themselves and their demon is able to process some of what is happening through the summoner’s eyes, and scrying.

There are also many different types of demons, from the dog-like Canid and cat-like Felid to hydras and minotaurs. The demon species are imaginative and inventive. The paperback edition has a really helpful guide to these at the back.

  • THE NOVEL IS GRIPPING

You know it’s a great book when you are reading and you really need to go and do something else and you think to yourself ‘Just one more chapter!’, but you end up reading another five chapters before you are forced to put the book down. I experienced this every time I picked up ‘The Novice’. It is a gripping and fun read, and there are mini cliffhangers at the ends of chapters which keep you reading on. It’s exciting and fast-paced, with several twists. It ends with a cliff-hanger but the best news is that the first sequel is already out so you don’t have to be suspended from the cliff for very long at all! I’m bursting to read the sequel and am so glad I chose to read ‘The Novice’ now when ‘The Inquisition’ already came out in May.

Although the novel is targeted at a Young Adult audience, it is one of those universally enjoyable reads that will appeal to a much larger audience. Additionally, I saw a comment in which this novel was compared to Harry Potter. Usually Harry Potter (and also The Hunger Games ones although I didn’t enjoy that series as much) comparisons earn a sign from me because they are handed around a lot now, but actually with ‘The Novice’ I really see it and I think it is very deserving of that comparison. It is perfect for fans of HP.

‘The Novice’ is also only 99p at the moment on Amazon Kindle UK!

Walk The Edge by Katie McGarry

NB: This review assumes you’ve read Nowhere But Here, the first novel in the series as it contains a spoiler for that novel. 

  • Walk the Edge by Katie McGarry

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 17.05.51.pngRating: * * * *

Series: #2 Thunder Road

Publisher: Mira Ink

Publication Date: March 2016

Goodreads Synopsis:

One moment of recklessness will change their worlds 

Smart. Responsible. That’s seventeen-year-old Breanna’s role in her large family, and heaven forbid she put a toe out of line. Until one night of shockingly un-Breanna-like behavior puts her into a vicious cyber-bully’s line of fire—and brings fellow senior Thomas “Razor” Turner into her life. 

Razor lives for the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, and good girls like Breanna just don’t belong. But when he learns she’s being blackmailed over a compromising picture of the two of them—a picture that turns one unexpected and beautiful moment into ugliness—he knows it’s time to step outside the rules. 

And so they make a pact: he’ll help her track down her blackmailer, and in return she’ll help him seek answers to the mystery that’s haunted him—one that not even his club brothers have been willing to discuss. But the more time they spend together, the more their feelings grow. And suddenly they’re both walking the edge of discovering who they really are, what they want, and where they’re going from here.

‘Walk the Edge’, the second novel in the Thunder Road series, is an exciting and enjoyable contemporary romance and one I’d definitely recommend having in your beach bag this summer.

To summarise, it’s the story of Razor, a newly patched-in member of the Reign of Terror Motorcycle Club, and his fiercely clever fellow high school student Breanna. Both Breanna and Razor face their own separate struggles: Breanna is the 5th out of nine children and the responsibility for caring for her younger siblings falls on her because her parents have to work and her elder siblings are rather selfish and gang up against her, and she also was laughed at in middle school for her academic prowess; meanwhile, Razor is haunted by rumours that his mother committed suicide because death was better than a life with him and a visit by a detective at the start of the novel makes him question both these rumours and the things that he’s been told by his father and other members of the Terror about his mother’s death. He’s also watched carefully by the board of his club because they aren’t sure that he is fit to be a proper member. Razor and Breanna also share a joint struggle which drives much of the plot of ‘Walk the Edge’ – someone has got hold of a photo of the two of them in a compromising situation and is threatening to post it online.

Razor and Breanna are both great characters. Both are very likeable because we witness and empathise with the burdens they carry – Razor with his mother’s death and Breanna with being the ‘perfect’ and isolated one of her siblings. Both are weighed down by their troubles. Not only are they each likeable in their own right, but I love the two of them together. Although they appear to be very different on the surface, actually they are very similar and are well-suited to each other – they can relate very well to each other. Their emotional connection is even stronger than their physical one and it develops steadily over the course of the novel. While both can be quite closed off to other people – Breanna can’t talk to her siblings because they’ll just laugh at her and her parents do not talk to her  because they think she has everything sorted and can handle things herself, and Razor has a reputation for being tough, hostile and quiet – they open up to each other and feel comfortable around each other. They also have great chemistry together.

There are also lots of other complex and well-portrayed relationships in the novel apart from this central relationship. Friendships are a focus in the novel and I enjoyed Breanna’s relationship with her best friend Addison. Addison is a well-developed character and what I particularly liked is that she’s developed by little bits of extra information slipped in here and there, such as her ill-treatment by her father and also by one of her teachers at school – her development feels very natural and smooth. She’s a very faithful best friend to Breanna and I’m hoping that we see more of her in subsequent books as I really like her.

We also get to see more of Razor’s friendship with Oz and Chevy. I love the three of them together and the fierce loyalty between them all. Razor also has a lovely relationship with Violet, taking care of her when she is upset and always looking out for her. However, I think my favourite of Razor’s relationships has to be he and Pigpen’s relationship. Pigpen in this novel is Razor’s unlikely advisor, an older-brother-type figure who Razor turns when trying to get rid of the image of him and Breanna. Pigpen and Razor’s conversations were at times humorous and at other times poignant and they were a big highlight of the novel for me. Additionally, we discover some very intriguing things about Pigpen’s past in ‘Walk the Edge’ and I’m hoping that these things will be further explored and that his whole story will be revealed soon. In fact, I’d actually really like it if Katie McGarry wrote a whole novel about Pigpen – maybe even a NA novel since he’s quite a lot older than the central Thunder Road characters. I’d love to read his story.

We learn more about the inner workings of the Reign of Terror in this novel and it’s all very interesting. I loved seeing the meetings between members of the Reign of Terror and the details we learn about them – for example how when they embrace they avoid touching the other person’s cut as a sign of respect. There is such a strong bond between all the Terror members and they are very much like a family – at times dysfunctional and rowing, but always loyal and there for each other when it counts. Olivia was at the centre of that family, and I loved this quote about her and the way she felt about Violet, Chevy, Oz and Razor:

‘We weren’t born to her, but we were her children. She loved us when we were unlovable.’ 

 

I also really like the way that Katie McGarry has structured this series, with each of the protagonists who are part of the Reign of Terror – Oz and Razor so far – receiving a letter from Olivia after her death and having to decide where to scatter her ashes. It is a lovely and very poignant touch and one that highlights how far that specific character has come and an important realisation that they have made during the course of their novel.

Katie McGarry’s writing is absolutely addictive (as always!). There’s lots of tension in this novel because of the rivalry, which was first explored in ‘Nowhere But Here’, between the Reign of Terror and the Riot motorcycle clubs and because of the constant threat of Kyle posting the picture online and the way that he hounds Breanna about it at school. I really like the way that, as usual with Katie McGarry’s novels, the chapters alternate perspective between the male and female leads because I am always excited to see how the other character is going to react to what went on. Katie McGarry’s writing is always very solid – she’s my go-to writer whenever I want to read a romance – and I feel that she’s completely settled into her style now. I always race through and really enjoy her novels and they keep getting better and better. I really enjoyed her other series, ‘Pushing the Limits’, but I think that this current series is even better!

I am very, very excited for the next book in this series. I have been looking forward to Violet and Chevy’s story since this series began. They are two characters who really stand out for me and I like the fact that, while Oz and Emily and Razor and Breanna met each other in their novels and established a romance, Violet and Chevy have already dated once, so it is a completely different scenario. I also really felt for Violet in ‘Walk the Edge’ because of her experiences with a photo and blackmail. I can’t wait for January and ‘Long Way Home’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading: Musings And Memories

When I look at the books on my bookshelves, they hold so many memories for me, memories of important and defining moments and events in my life. I look at ‘The Assassin’s Blade’ and I remember buying it when I finished my last GCSE exam; I see ‘Heir of Fire’ by Sarah J. Maas and I think about how I read it on the way to collect my GCSE results; I look at ‘Clockwork Angel’ and I remember buying it on the day on which I went to watch ‘Wicked’ in London, one of my all-time favourite musicals, and the day I went to Foyles for the first time; I look at ‘Lady Midnight’ and remember that I pre-ordered that special edition on the day when I got an offer from my first-choice university; I look at ‘Magus of Stonewylde’ and associate it with the day when I got the lead role in the school play. My books are triggers for so many memories, some of which I’m sure I would forget without them as reminders, and the characters in these novels feel like old friends because I associate these memories with them and they were with me at very important times.

You read some books at exactly the time that you need to read them. They can uplift you and inspire you, raise you up when you are feeling down…You read about a character who’s feeling exactly the same way you’re feeling or is in the same situation, and somehow you don’t feel quite so alone anymore. Novels are powerful and amazing things, and even the fantasy that seems totally removed from our own world or our own experiences has an essential truth to it and underneath the surface there are very relatable aspects.

I’ve learnt so many things from the books I’ve read. Books can be highly influential and didactic. Books can establish empathy and challenge and change assumptions and stigmas about things like mental health (I’m particularly thinking of Holly Bourne’s ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ here). One of my favourite quotes about novels comes from Cassandra Clare’s ‘The Infernal Devices’ series and the main character Tessa:

“One must always be careful of books,” said Tessa, “and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”

Words can generate opinions and actions and fundamentally change who we are. I’m sure some of the books I have read have changed me.

And isn’t it also amazing that books physically can seem so small and understated, but actually between those covers which are perhaps no more than an inch or few inches apart, there is access to a whole new world (okay, now I’m thinking of Aladdin!) if it’s a fantasy or dystopia? That books can transport us to other time periods and societies? I guess they are one of the closest things we have to time travel.  And that the people who read have been to so many more places and have known so many more people (in characters) than the ones who don’t?

 

Advice for YALC!

Last year I attended YALC – the Young Adult Literature Convention – in London for the first time and I absolutely loved it. It was amazing to meet the authors of some of my favourite books, including Marie Rutkoski, Melinda Salisbury, Moira Young and Cassandra Clare. I loved watching panels and hearing about different authors’ experiences and writing advice . These panels left me feeling very inspired and eager to write more of my own writing projects. I also attended a talk by agents about the road to publishing a novel and this was both really interesting and really useful; I made lots of notes!

In short, I had the best time at YALC and I am bursting with excitement for this year’s convention. I will be there for the Friday and Saturday – I have a weekend ticket and would have loved to go for the whole weekend but I have another engagement on the Sunday. I wanted to write this post about what I learned from my first YALC experience particularly for people who are going for the first time this year as it contains some pieces of advice that I wish I had known before going last year, as well as some things that I will be doing the same this year.

Here are my top five bits of advice; I hope you find them useful!

  • MAKE A TWITTER ACCOUNT AND KEEP UPDATED, ESPECIALLY WITH THE MAIN YALC ACCOUNT!

When I went to YALC last year I didn’t have a twitter account and I think that it would have been really useful to have one during the convention. It makes it really easy to stay updated with all things YALC if you follow the main YALC account and there is lots of information on there about finding the building, what entrance to use and what’s happening. This is really useful especially if you’re travelling to the convention on your own and you’re a bit nervous, as I was.

There’ll also be lots of bloggers tweeting about what the authors are saying in panels, which is really interesting, too, and best of all sometimes there are competitions for people at YALC which are posted on twitter – for example, some publisher stands present at YALC post on twitter a key word that you can come to the stand and say in order to win goodies! I found there were lots of these competitions on the final day of YALC – the  Sunday.

  • BRING CASH WITH YOU! (LOTS OF IT!!!)

Most of the publishing stands only take cash not cards, so it is really important that you bring some notes or some change with you if you want to buy anything – I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be tempted to buy more books (no matter how many you have brought with you!) as soon as you enter YALC, which is on the top floor of the building, because as soon as you walk in you are greeted by a multitude of fabulous stands from different publishing companies (as well as Waterstones) which are full of fantastic reads! Last year, within maybe a quarter of an hour of walking into YALC, I had two more bags full of books.

Last year I purchased the majority of the books I wished to have signed in advance of YALC  (or I already had them) and I brought them with me. However, it is always useful to also bring some money with you in case you decide to buy more books to get signed. I found that sitting in on panels and hearing the authors talk about their books made me really want to buy and read the said books. In particular, I really wished to purchase and have signed ‘The Potion Diaries’ by Amy Alward after hearing about the author’s inspirations for this novel. I bought it straight after the panel and I’m so glad that I did – I read it after YALC and I loved it!

In addition to bringing cash, I’d advise that you bring lots of water and snack food, as it can be hot both inside the venue and outside when you are waiting in the queue to get in (suncream might be useful too – although when you are queuing it might be quite early in the morning, I have very fair skin and get worried that if I am standing in the same place for a while I will burn). Because it is a long day you can also get very hungry.

  • THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHAT KIND OF BAG IT IS BEST FOR YOU TO BRING

Last year I went to YALC with a large rucksack. This was useful in that it could fit a lot of books and clothes in (I went straight to YALC from Paddington Station so I had all my things for staying over in London with me at the event on the first day, and all my books for all three days) and I still had my hands free. However, what I hadn’t anticipated was that, because I was wearing tops without sleeves, the straps of the rucksack rubbed my shoulders and this was irritating and quite painful. I got backache quite quickly, too. Additionally, my hands weren’t free because I immediately bought more books and had to carry them in other bags!

What YALC do which is really helpful is that, if you have a weekend ticket, they give you a YALC cloth bag, which is not only really pretty and nice to have as a memento of the event, but it is easy to carry and can actually fit a surprising amount of books and other items in it. I think actually this year I will bring a main bag which can go over my shoulders (and isn’t a rucksack or suitcase) and will bring inside it several cloth bags. Luckily I’m travelling on the Thursday so will only have on the Friday the books for that day with me, rather than all my books for the whole weekend as I did last year.

If you find during YALC that your bag is painful, take a seat, have a rest for a bit and put it down beside you. This is one of the great things about panels – not only are they fascinating because you hear from all the awesome authors, but they are also a chance to sit down and relax for about 40 minutes. There’s also a really great space next to a wall of books where you can sit down on deck chairs, and there is plenty of room on the floor next to the signing areas as well. You can also take your bag off and keep it near to you when you are in the signing queues, and you can also sit down while waiting in them if you wish to.

It might be a good idea to think about what kind of bag you will take – suitcase, backpack, handbag etc- before you travel to YALC and to fill it with books just so you can get a feel of how easy it will be to manoeuvre and whether it will be uncomfortable to have with you for the whole day.

  • ADVICE FOR THE SIGNING QUEUES

One thing I didn’t pick up on or consider until quite far into last year’s YALC is that, if you want to be at the front of an author’s signing queue, you can just not go to their panel and queue up about 40 minutes before in front of the table with their name on. This helps to speed you up as you avoid the rush of everyone leaving the panel and joining the signing queues. It’s therefore really useful if you want to see numerous authors in a particular signing slot as it guarantees you will have more time to get round them all, but it is a shame to miss an author’s panel, particularly if they are one of your favourite authors. It depends what your priority is and what your timings are. Last year I did a bit of both, sometimes going to the panel and then queuing for longer, sometimes not going to the panel and being further ahead in the queue. I tended to do the latter when it was the last event I wanted to go to for that day.

It’s a good idea to keep a keen eye out for any signing queues that are being ticketed. This very rarely happens but if a particular author is very popular and the queue is likely to be very busy, you go to their signing table, pick up a numbered ticket and come back later. This happened last year for Cassandra Clare, but I didn’t realise straight away that the queue was being ticketed and so I was just waiting near to the table. I therefore nearly missed getting a ticket, which would have been really sad as she was one of the authors I was most excited about meeting! There may not be any audible announcements about an author’s queue being ticketed (although things might be different this year) so keep an eye  on the signing table, on the twitter page (@yalc_uk), and also ask others if you are unsure.

Additionally, if you are in a signing queue on your own and wish to have a photo taken with the author, don’t be afraid to ask the person behind you in the queue! Everyone is very friendly and will likely be very willing to take a picture for you. There will also probably be people who work for the event at hand to ask. Make sure there’s room for lots of photos on your phone, that your phone is charged and that you back up your pictures where you can in case your phone gets lost. You can get for iphones cases which act as portable chargers, and they are perfect for events like this.

  • MAKE THE MOST OF YALC!

Finally, YALC is such a wonderful event and it only comes around once a year, so make sure you make the most of it! Have a good look at the timetables before you go and make sure you not only look at the panels and signings, but also at the agent and workshop area events. I only went to one talk last year, Publishing 101, and I wish I’d gone to more. You sign up for these on the day. Last year there were also things happening around the floor – you could get your hair done like Lorali and have Shadowhunter runes painted on you. There’s so much going on at YALC and so much to enjoy, so do as much as you can!

Additionally, don’t be afraid of making conversation with the person next to you in a signing queue or panel. Everyone in the book community is so friendly, inclusive and welcoming, and remember – you are among like-minded individuals who share your love of YA fiction, so you probably have a lot in common and lots to talk about! It doesn’t matter if you attend YALC on your own because there are so many wonderful and welcoming people that you are unlikely to feel lonely.

Also, if you need any help about YALC in general, there is an information point near to the entrance and the people there are happy to help, or, if you would like some more information before the event, you can ask questions to the YALC twitter account. Additionally, if you need help with choosing books from the fantastic array on all the different stands around the room, the booksellers and publishers will be very willing to advise you.

Before you know it, YALC will be over for another year, so chat to as many people as you can and join in with as much as you can! It’s a fantastic event for book lovers, and every day I attended YALC last year I both went and came back buzzing with excitement. I’m feeling that excitement now and cannot wait for YALC 2016 to begin!

 

 

 

 

 

Paper and Fire, Rachel Caine

  • Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 21.52.33.pngRating: * * * * *

Series: #2 The Great Library trilogy

Publisher: Allison and Busby

Publication Date: July 2016

Goodreads synopsis: 

In Ink and BoneNew York Times bestselling author Rachel Caine introduced a world where knowledge is power, and power corrupts absolutely. Now, she continues the story of those who dare to defy the Great Library—and rewrite history…

With an iron fist, The Great Library controls the knowledge of the world, ruthlessly stamping out all rebellion, forbidding the personal ownership of books in the name of the greater good.

Jess Brightwell has survived his introduction to the sinister, seductive world of the Library, but serving in its army is nothing like he envisioned. His life and the lives of those he cares for have been altered forever. His best friend is lost, and Morgan, the girl he loves, is locked away in the Iron Tower and doomed to a life apart.

Embarking on a mission to save one of their own, Jess and his band of allies make one wrong move and suddenly find themselves hunted by the Library’s deadly automata and forced to flee Alexandria, all the way to London.

But Jess’s home isn’t safe anymore. The Welsh army is coming, London is burning, and soon, Jess must choose between his friends, his family, or the Library willing to sacrifice anything and anyone in the search for ultimate control…

‘Paper and Fire’ was my most anticipated book of 2016 and I am delighted to say that it lived up to exceeded all my expectations. Here’s what I loved so much about it and why I would recommend it:

THE CHARACTERS

‘Paper and Fire’ has an awesome cast of characters. A highlight for me has to be Glain. She’s determined, strong, and fiercely loyal. She’s also very astute and rather blunt:

‘If that bit of false-modesty theatre was meant to distract me from the fact you’re wearing some kind of smuggling equipment under that shirt, it failed.’ 

I really like the fact that it is Glain who is the Squad Leader and that she is assertive and very much in control in this role, and also that she’s addressed as ‘Sir’ and Jess describes her as ‘handsome’ rather than ‘pretty’. She defies stereotypes of young women and her strength really captures my admiration. I’m so glad that she has a large role in this book and I love that her and Jess’ friendship is built on mutual respect.

Although she’s quite a minor character and only appears in a few scenes, something about Anit’s quiet strength and practical nature really makes her, too, stand out for me. I’m very much hoping that she will appear in the next book.

Additionally, I love that another layer is added to Dario’s character. In ‘Paper and Fire’, we see his vulnerability, his guilt, and his disappointment in himself when he tries to do the things Jess can but fails because he isn’t as experienced. His character is developed as we see his flaws along with his successes. I also really like seeing more of him and Khalila together – they were my favourite couple in the first book in this series, ‘Ink and Bone’. We also get to see more of Jess and Morgan and of Wolfe and Santi. Santi’s loyalty to Wolfe during Wolfe’s struggles in this book is very touching.

I have to say that this series is the best fantasy series I have read in terms of the diversity of the cast of characters. There are characters with different sexual orientations, religious faiths and from different cultures and countries. I know this is something very important and that many readers look for books which are representative.

WORLD-BUILDING

I loved the world that Rachel Caine created in ‘Ink and Bone’ and couldn’t wait to return to it. ‘Paper and Fire’ makes me love it even more, as we get to see so much more of it. We learn more about Translation, the black market for books and the Black Archives, and more about those who run the library and the Library’s past. We also learn more about Wolfe’s past through Mesmer-induced trances.

A particular highlight for me is learning more about the automata and how they can be switched on and off – it’s fascinating, and the different automata are vividly described. It’s also really interesting to learn more about the various career paths and options available in this world through seeing what Jess’ fellow library initiates are up to. Through Morgan, we get to glimpse the duties of being an Obscurist. These duties, we discover, are particularly sinister for females – the Library controls and constrains them in an awful way.

When reading this novel, you are swept away into this fascinating, tense, imaginative and vivid world of the Library. More aspects of the world are filled in and developed in this sequel, and this world is wonderfully unique and original. It’s a world I love to live in and I can’t wait to return to it in the final novel. It’s just like Morganville, the setting for Rachel Caine’s other YA series – you never want to leave!

PLOT AND PACE 

One of the main things that makes ‘Paper and Fire’ so enjoyable and un-put-down-able is the great amount of tension in the novel. The protagonist Jess is always getting himself/being put into scrapes that he must find his way out of, whether it’s being chased by menacing and dangerous automata, illegally smuggling books in his harness, having to avoid blazes of Greek Fire, or desperately searching for the off-switch or place of vulnerability of a Spartan warrior statue. I especially love this line of his narration:

‘Running for his life was a feeling that settled on him like old, familiar clothes.’

There’s also constant tension because of the fact that those running the Library, like the automata, are always watching and lurking ready to strike. This is especially brought out when Jess receives a letter from the Artifex Magnus that merely reads ‘Our eyes are on you.’ Additionally, the often ominous and threatening ephemera between chapters create a tense and hostile atmosphere right from the very beginning.

One of my very favourite scenes in the novel is where Jess and Glain’s squad are forced to undergo a training test, which turns out not to be a test at all but a very real and very dangerous situation. The half-strength weapons are actually at full strength. This scene is action-packed and hugely tense. Jess can’t slow down or relax for a second – there is always another danger present, whether it’s a biting cobra or an enemy posed as a friend.

The ending of the novel is just fantastic. Everything builds to a crescendo and it’s totally unpredictable with a few twists. One particularly horrifying, destructive and heart-breaking thing happens at the end and this bit made me feel very emotional, especially because I knew how much it meant to Jess – I can’t give specific details because there’d be massive spoilers. The final cliffhanger has left me desperate for the final book in this amazing trilogy. I don’t know how I will wait a year for it!

OVERALL

‘Paper and Fire’ is a brilliant novel, full of wonderful characters and scenes, and The Great Library series is rapidly climbing up to the top of my all-time favourites list. I highly, highly recommend reading this series if you aren’t already!

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

  • This Savage Song, V. E. Schwab

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Monsters of Verity

Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date: June 2016 (July in the US)

Goodreads Synopsis: There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.
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Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.
 

 

 

I’m tempted to just write a review for this book simply saying ‘READ IT!’ Seriously. This book blew me away. The characters, the world-building, the plot…everything is spectacularly done. I absolutely loved it and it has officially secured V. E. Schwab’s place as my favourite author.

The World-Building

I love the world of the Shades of Magic series and V. E. Schwab has created an equally fascinating and immersive world in this new novel. Essentially, there are multiple different territories called things like ‘Prosperity’, one of which is Verity. The North of Verity is ruled by Callum Harker. He controls the majority of the Malchai and the Corsai and makes the citizens there pay for protection from these monsters. North is separated from the South by a linear area called the Seam. In the South, the Flynn family is in control. Among them are three of the final and most rare type of monster – the Sunai. The peace treaty between North and South is very fragile and any more animosity between the two areas will lead to warfare. The monsters in the city are born when violent acts are committed – violence breeds violence. The three species of monster have different qualities:

“Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.”
“Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.”

I think that the strength of this world is that it is complex enough that it is enveloping, developed and captures the reader’s imagination, but at the same time it’s simple enough, with having just three types of monster and two ruling families, that it can be easily grasped by the reader and is very memorable. It also seems very logical that violence breeds violence.

The Characters

‘This Savage Song’ is full of striking and memorable characters, something I have come to expect from V. E. Schwab.

The two main characters are Kate and August. Kate is strong and fierce, qualities which would be expected given that she is the daughter of Callum Harker, the leader of the North of V-City and the man in control of many monsters and thereby many humans. She’s the girl who wants to be a monster, where August is the boy who wants to be human. When I first read this summary of the two characters, I wasn’t sure how likeable or easy to empathise with Kate would be. However, when I started reading, I realised that any worries I had were misplaced. Kate has a softer side and I love how this is brought out by the game she plays with herself – she asks herself ‘Where is Kate?’ and pictures alternative and happier versions of herself. She is, in some ways, very vulnerable, and still hurting from her mother’s death. She’s also very likeable, I think, in the way that she treats August.

August himself is very easy to like. He’s trapped as someone he doesn’t want to be and terrified of what will happen when he goes dark again. I love his friendship with his sister, Ilsa, a girl with amazing ability but whose strength divides her – their relationship and characterisation is one of my favourite things about this novel. I think that it’s very clever and neat that August and Kate essentially contrast with each other – the humane monster and the monstrous human – but that they share and are united by both an inner sensitivity and a need to be strong and monstrous when it counts, and they fit together very well.

Sloan is another highlight for me in this novel. He is Kate’s father’s lead Malchai and right-hand man (well, right-hand monster!) and he has a great presence about him. He’s creepy and sly, and I always felt tense when Kate was alone with him. I could imagine him very vividly.

The Plot and Pacing

‘This Savage Song’ is gripping, gritty and utterly un-put-down-able. The pacing of the novel is on point.  It speeds up perfectly towards the end of the novel. The ending is also unpredictable, rich in twists, turns and revelations, and it left me desperate for the next book, but at the same time feeling satisfied and blown away by just how amazing and imaginative this first installment was.