(Review:) The Fate of the Tearling

<Standard, but genuine, apology for how long it has been since I posted here>

 

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I was one of those people who generally ignored the massive buzz around The Queen of the Tearling when it first came out. People were raving about it and the usual “the next blah blak” comparisons were all over the place. Emma Watson gave it some serious exposure and in general it just felt like a whole over the top hullabaloo. So it was some time after it was published that I got around to reading it. And I was so pleasantly surprised! I mean it definitely wasn’t the next best thing since sliced bread but it was energetic, compelling and interesting. I really enjoyed my first read, and then enjoyed my second read even more and by the third read I had decided that this was a book I could place fairly high in my ratings. The characters were interesting and fleshed-out and I cared about them. The world was a little bare-bones but with suggestions of more to come. So I went into the second book with enthusiasm. And I did enjoy it. There were some seriously confusing parts and at times I wasn’t sure if I was actually reading two separate plots but in the end I had managed to merge them in my mind. And I still loved the characters, old and new, and appreciated their growth and changes. And so I looked forward to the final instalment, excited to see how these people I had come to care for would fare.

Warning: There are serious spoilers in what follows and don’t read unless you’ve already read the trilogy.

I genuinely cannot recall the last time I felt so betrayed and let down by the final book in a series. Seriously, it feels like the author has jumped up and down on all the work that went on before and then set it on fire. I’m not complaining because there wasn’t a happy ending, I’m not complaining because what I wanted to happen didn’t happen. I’m complaining because I feel a serious injustice was done to these characters, characters I was led to care about in the previous two books.
The book starts out after Kelsea has handed herself over to the Red Queen and focuses on the Mace’s plan to get her back, her own interactions with the Red Queen and the machinations of the dark thing that Kelsea has just freed. At least one half of the book focuses on that. The other half deals with Kelsea’s flashbacks to the time just after the Crossing and William Tearling’s attempts to built his utopian society. And dear god was that half frustrating and boring. Seriously there was no point to it, all the information needed could have been gathered in one conversation with the Fetch and we wouldn’t have been subjected to a whole load of information that we never need again. The flashbacks in the second book worked much better and, after my initial hesitation, they genuinely felt like they were pushing the plot forward. The other side of the book has its own problems too with the random insertion of what appears to be vampire children (Twilight anyone?), the beyond pointless revelation about Queen Elyssa and some badly thought-out plot twists. For example Kelsea’s father is revealed and, while I actually appreciated who it turns out to be, it doesn’t fit with other points made about Kelsea’s bloodline. Or least it was neglected in such a way that the connection isn’t clear at all.

But all those other complaints fade away when faced with the conclusion to the series. At the end with the Tearling threatened on various sides and after a mad-dash race to make it back to the Keep in an attempt to save it there is one of the biggest cop-outs I’ve ever read. Kelsea reunites her sapphires with the Tearling Crown which magnifies their power and gives her the opportunity to go back in time and make a change, thus changing her present. AND SHE BLOODY DOES. Instead of deciding to try and save her kingdom, instead of trying to change it and improve it with education and judicial reforms she just takes the easy path out. And in this changed present, which is admittedly a much more adjusted society, Kelsea is the only person who remembers the past. Pen, the Mace, her mother, Carlin, they all exist but none of them know her as Queen Kelsea. Pen walks past her in the street to go home to his wife and children. NO-ONE REMEMBERS. And you hear nothing about the vast majority of these characters that you have cared about for three goddamn books. It’s like they didn’t matter, they were just ornaments to the plot. I was genuinely quivering with rage when I finished this book and I’m still angry. It just strikes me as such a lazy solution, like BAM: time-travel, change the past, everything is solved. I wanted to see Kelsea try and rebuilt her kingdom, I wanted to see the Queen’s guard and household develop, I wanted to see something that made it actually felt like the past two books had a purpose.

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(Review:) Nevernight

Nevernight

I attended the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) in London over the weekend which was fantastic. There were some wonderful panels discussing a wide variety of topics and being surrounded by fellow book lovers meant there was a great feeling of inclusion and unity! My bank account hates me a little afterwards though because there were so many fantastic books available to buy and my self-control slipped a little. Oops.

One of the books I bought was the upcoming release from Jay Kristoff, Nevernight. I adored Kristoff’s The Lotus War series, whilst simultaneously cursing him for causing me so much pain. Seriously though, that series was a combination of badassery, exquisite world-building and utter heartbreak and I highly recommend you read it. So as you can I guess I’ve been really looking forward to a new book from him especially when I saw the breathtakingly gorgeous cover. And the tagline ‘Never Flinch. Never Fear. Never Forget’ is pretty awesome too! However I’m sure you’ve sensed the ‘but’ floating around behind my words and here it is; but, having finally read the book I find myself a little disappointed. The premise of the book is fantastic but gets bogged down in overly convoluted explanations and writing. The book also contains a serious pet peeve of mine, footnotes. Baring a very few exceptions, footnotes do absolutely nothing for the text of a book other than break the flow of the reader and encourage the author to included extraneous detail and Nevernight is not one of the exceptions.

The plot follows Mia Corvere, who sees her whole family destroyed in one day as a young child and escapes, vowing to gain revenge on those responsible. She is raised, and trained for her vengeance by a man she meets on the cold, unforgiving streets of Godsgrave. When she reaches sixteen her mentor sends her to find the Red Church, a legendary school of assassins in order to gain all the skills needed to avenge her family. Mia is accompanied, as she has been since the terrible day her world was turned upside down, by Mister Kindly a creature made from the shadows Mia has control over. With Mister Kindly at her side Mia has to navigate deadly lessons, equally deadly fellow students and figure out exactly how to control her power. But she never forgets her vengence. Which sounds like an awesome plot right? And the potential was there for this to be a epically fast-paced adventure, but instead the reader is bogged down in unnecessary detail! The political landscape of Godsgrave is that of a Roman-style senate and Kristoff cannot resist giving the reader too much irrelevant history of this government and city in the footnotes. It removes the dark, forbidding atmosphere that the blurb, cover and tagline give to the book and makes you feel like you’re reading an academic history book. There was also a tendency to use overly complicated language and metaphors, in an attempt to make the atmosphere grave and epic, but unfortunately had the same effect as the footnotes; forced the reader to slow or stop in order to untangle the meaning in their mind. There was also a discord in the behaviour of the characters. Kristoff obviously meant his school to be deadly and without remorse – students are regularly set potentially fatal tests and the teachers don’t seem to care if they fail. Yet there was still too much kindness and camaraderie for a reader to truly believe these children will be deadly killers. I mean the book tells you they are, and shows you they are, but it doesn’t really ring true.

I don’t think this is a terrible book, in fact there were parts that I really enjoyed such as the Mister Kindly character. He definitely seems like a multi-faceted invention and I definitely think there is much more beneath the surface than Mia, or the reader, realises. I also enjoyed the flashback scenes and Kristoff did succeed in making me hate those who have wronged Mia and want her to gain her revenge. I just think if a lot of elements had been stripped back (ESPECIALLY THE FOOTNOTES) everything would have been better – it’s a very strong plot and could have held the reader’s attention on its own.

(Review:) Daughter of Blood

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Where to start? No seriously where on earth do I start when it comes to reviewing a book so filled with complex twists and elements, most of which have yet to be made clear, that I realise something new every time I read it? I have a short description of the series in my Top Five Fantasy Series so if you’re not familiar with it at all go read that, then read the first two books, then read the third, THEN come back here!

Much like in The Gathering of the Lost, Daughter of Blood follows three main paths that ultimately all converge at the end of the book…..only to diverge again! There are other, splinter paths that join at various times but ultimately the focus is on Malian travelling with Raven towards reclaiming her place in the Derai Alliance, Kalan getting to, and surviving, in the Red Keep and Myr, the Daughter of Blood who has more strength than she, or her family, realises. Her family are a fascinating look at the personalities that make up the whole Derai Alliance and I loved the intricate relationships Lowe displayed between the siblings. I also wanted to kill most of them, but I’m pretty sure that’s how I’m meant to feel! This book was full of the sense that not only is the web tightening, its a much bigger web than we could have ever anticipated.The Darksworn are clearly much more complicated than might have been previously thought, which was hinted at in The Gathering of the Lost but truly highlighted here. Not only that, it is becoming clear that Lowe doesn’t want readers to view the Derai Alliance as the ‘Good’ to their ‘Evil’. There is a long and complex history behind this struggle that exists in the grey of morality. Malian may find that rebuilding the Derai Alliance is not only harder than she could have ever anticipated, it might also reveal dark truths that are hard to face.
Kalan has had a challenging time of it lately and this book was no different. I wonder how hard it was for him to return to the Red Keep disguised as a warrior and wonder if his family hadn’t sent him away, if his powers hadn’t manifested, would this have been truly his life? The suggestions that there is more to his lineage than we might have realised are tantalizing and I was honestly shouting at him to say something to Taly when he realised their connection (if you’re a GOT fan, imagine if in the recent episode where Jon and Sansa reunited, Jon saw her walk in….and then left before she saw him).
Myr frustrates me slightly. Admittedly, because she was only introduced in this book, I don’t have the same strong connection to her that I’ve developed with other characters but there is more to it than just that. At my own admission I find the journey passive characters take to become more assertive, slightly irritating. I say this having struggled with anxiety and self-esteem my whole life and I wonder if the problem is that I actually identify too much with Myr and so find reading her hesitations hard, and her growth as unattainable. But my own niggly emotions towards the character aside, she is a welcome addition to the tale because she further diversifies the story and adds a different personality to the mix of warriors and power-users.
There were so many parts of this book that I loved. The glimpses we got into other Derai Houses were fascinating, especially Sea House and I squealed, yes actually squealed, when Stars appeared. And the fact that at least one of their Blood seems to be a reasonable person makes me so hopeful for Malian’s attempt to reunite the Derai. I also think the priestly houses that have been so dismissed by the Derai warriors will have a pretty big impact in the future despite their weak appearance. Faro’s story has barely been scratched and I feel like, despite the events at the end, he will be an essential part of the story going forward.

Speaking of going forward, there is so much I can’t wait for! I sorely missed Tarathan and Jehane Mor in this book and I hope there’s copious amounts of them in the next to make up for their absence! I also really really hope that we see the Emer characters again and Girvase, Audin, Ali, Ghis and Jarna get to see Kalan in his true aspect, and reassure him that he’s still their friend. I want to know just what IS Asantir’s back story, she has to have one right?? I want the Earl of Night to acknowledge that he does love Malian and support her in her attempts at reunification. I want Stars and Night to heal their ancient rift. I want Raven NOT to die ( I have a very bad feeling about this though). I want Kalan and Malian to stand together with all the friends they have made, including some unexpected ones, and face the Swarm together. I want, I want, I want, I WANT THE NEXT BOOK ALREADY.

Two for the price of One!

So the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows, came out this week and I devoured it in a couple of hours so I’ve decided to combine my reviews of both books together (and express my OUTRAGE at the cliffhanger we’ve been left).

So first off I have to say I love this world (worlds?). The atmosphere Schwab creates is a combination of feckless wonder and dark claustrophobia. Magic is seen as a living, moving, thinking thing that doesn’t differentiate between good and bad, just sees power; which personally I find terrifying. Its like trying to reason with a robot that just sees a logical solution but misses the human cost. A Darker Shade of Magic is set hundreds of years after magic over-ran and consumed one of four connected worlds forcing the others to seal themselves from each other. Travel is now only possible if you are an Antari, a magician with mastery over all the elements, including the most important of all: blood. Kell is one of only two Antari left in all the worlds and serves his king and queen by connecting them with their counterparts. I love Kell. This is Kell in my mind:

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Kell is a young, mildly tortured, brilliant magician who has no memory of his childhood until he came under the care of the crown. A crown that sees him as a valuable possession, but treats him as a son leading to some serious mind-fuckery. Kell has been committing mild treason during his visits to the other Londons by bringing objects from them into his own world, and on one of these trips he brings back something he definitely shouldn’t have – cue mayhem. There are various other characters in the book including the other remaining Antari, Holland who is a dark, EXTREMELY tortured, individual that perfectly encapsulates the claustrophobic feeling I was talking about earlier. Rhy is the charming, adventurous, flirtatious prince Kell has grown up alongside and views as a brother, Rhy seems at first to be a typical spoiled royal but he definitely has some hidden depth and he’s grown on me across both books. BUT the main character alongside Kell is Lila, and Lila completely rocks. Here is (a little older) Lila:

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Simply put Lila has never been given a thing in her life – she has survived in her harsh, magic-less world because of a combination of badassery, intelligence and ruthlessness. You can’t help but admire Lila even when her actions exasperate you and she is the perfect counterpart to Kell’s uptight restrictive thinking. For Lila freedom is the most important thing in the world and she’ll do anything to get hers. I love watching as Lila struggles with a sense of debt and then loyalty towards Kell; until the events of the book she only looked out for herself and Schwab manages to realistically develop their relationship from animosity to a debt repaid to friendship.

Without giving too much away, the events of A Darker Shade of Magic seem self-contained with only the hint of a future storyline…a storyline that explodes in A Gathering of Shadows which I absolutely loved. It has so many elements  – swashbuckling piracy, magic battles, an exploration of the price of magic and the toll a life-debt can take on a relationship, a bit of romance that enhances the plot without overwhelming it and so much more. One of my favourite parts of this sequel is how Schwab developed Kell’s character. She delves deeper into the parts of his life that have gnawed at him for years and now threaten to consume him. His frustration at being trapped by duty and love as well as a rising sense of uselessness have been heightened by the events of A Darker Shade of Magic and now come to the fore in A Gathering of Shadows. There are some excellent characters added to the bill in this book and Lila has begun to explore the suddenly expanded options available to her as well as battling with her inbuilt need to flee from anything settled.
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The masquerade scene from the film Van Helsing encapsulates much of the atmosphere in A Gathering of Shadows  – gorgeous, decadent and deadly. And despite my RAGE at the cliff Schwab has left us on, I think this is a sequel that does exactly what a good sequel should – moves the story along, develops characters realistically, elaborates on the world-building already established in the first book and leaves you panting for more.