fantasy

‘Grave Witch’ by Kalayna Price, Review

Grave Witch by Kalayna Price

“Grave witch Alex Craft can speak to the dead, but that doesn’t mean she likes what they have to say.

As a private investigator and consultant for the police, Alex Craft has seen a lot of dark magic. But even though she’s on good terms with Death himself—who happens to look fantastic in a pair of jeans—nothing has prepared her for her latest case. Alex is investigating a high profile murder when she’s attacked by the ‘shade’ she’s raising, which should be impossible. To top off her day, someone makes a serious attempt on her life, but Death saves her. Guess he likes having her around…

To solve this case Alex will have to team up with tough homicide detective Falin Andrews. Falin seems to be hiding something—though it’s certainly not his dislike of Alex—but Alex knows she needs his help to navigate the tangled webs of mortal and paranormal politics, and to track down a killer wielding a magic so malevolent, it may cost Alex her life…and her soul.”

Now, computer troubles put me down for the count last Monday, so let me make it up by throwing a doozy of a book at you guys.  Grave Witch has quickly become one of my favourite books, and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a series new to me and fell head over tail in love. Maybe four or five years ago? Yikes.

Grave Witch is full to the brim with everything I love in an Urban Fantasy novel. Magic, mayhem, mystery, miscellaneous beasties of assorted size and teeth-number… it’s got it all. But it’s also wonderfully different and fresh, an awesome new take on a lot of familiar old concepts in the genre, including witches, branches of magical ability, Faerie courts and even folded spaces, which you don’t hear much of in stories but may be one of my favourite concepts – a space of any size that has always existed but just hasn’t been detectable or even spatially present until a catalyst makes it ‘unfold’. Nekros City, the setting of the novel, is one such space and is the hub of weird things in America. Magic is absolutely everywhere in this world – even the most mundane of mundanes use hair straightening tricks, and quick cleaning spells, and complexion charms. The Fae own a bar, witches set up market in the centre of the city, a kelpie lives in the river… it’s fantastic. Well, not the kelpie. She’ll eat you dead. But still! And don’t forget that vaguely prophetic gargoyle living in the garden, who you never see move, but definitely changes location and whose name is Fred.

Urban Fantasy is really brought to the extreme here, with magic more believably integrated into ‘our’ world than I would have thought possible. The descriptions of the riots and violence after the Fae made themselves known and witches came out of the broom closet gave me chills, and there are even powerful political parties within the world against ‘non-humans’. Some of the bigotry demonstrated harkens back to real life in a way that definitely drives the point home.

The Fae and witches and their dynamics in this novel’s world are just great. Their different uses of magic are fascinating, and I loved hearing about all the specific abilities witches alone can have (these witches being ‘wyrd witches’, often powerful in their ability, but paying a steep price in using them – and if they don’t use their magic, it seeps out of them in dangerous ways!). With folks such as grave witches around, those very rare magic users who can raise shades from corpses, see ghosts and even peer into the terrifying, decaying land of the dead, we see into a deeper world. Though it’s really only hinted at, the things that live in the wastes of the land of the dead sound way scary. Definitely not somewhere you want to be trapped if you’re a ghost reluctant to move on to whatever’s next.

Which brings me to the soul collectors. Damn, these guys are awesome. The collectors are this story’s iteration of what we might call ‘grim reapers’ and their job, yep you guessed it, is to take the souls of the dead to wherever the hell they go. Operating through magic all their on, they’re beings utterly shrouded in mystery, invisible and impossible to sense by any other than the dead – and powerful grave witches. And anti-social and governed by rules unknowable to mere mortals as they may be, that doesn’t stop one soul collector from being our heroine’s oldest, closest friend. Hey, if you met the only living person who could touch you and through that make you capable of eating pizza and drinking coffee, you’d hang around too! And it was definitely interesting to find out that Death is a snarky, sassy babe.

Alex Craft is everything I adore in UF heroine. She’s tough and weird and funny, never a self-righteous prude, not too judgemental to others for their life choices (as long as people aren’t being disembowelled because of them, of course). Very much not arrogant, but has plenty of self-confidence and she’s damn well going to make sure haters know it. She is far from perfect with her abandonment issues, her quick-decisions, recklessness and often her blindness – both metaphorical and literal, at times. She is her own person, reluctant to lean on anyone, but so very grateful to those who add support anyway. Death, of course (wow, that’s weird to say) supports her where he can, and she even has a new partner in solving-crime-but-also-kind-of-committing-crime-because-why-the-hell-not, Falin Andrews, mysterious detective who may or may not be human and who may definitely be an ass. A useful ass, but the point stands. I have to say, he has yet to win me over completely. I enjoy his scenes, and I don’t dislike him. But I don’t exactly want to swaddle him up in a bundle of blankets and protect him, which is the symbol of truly beloved characters, as we all know.

The prose itself is wonderful. It’s never too pretentious, but beautifully descriptive and rich, as well as great in conveying emotions. It’s the type of writing that just flows off the page and paints a fabulously dynamic picture in your imagination. Grave Witch is just full of engaging writing that kept me glued to the book and left me dying for more.

The book builds itself up with action and development to an intense climax, filled with great revelations.

Although, if I’m honest here, some of these revelations were a little predictable. But it personally didn’t take the fun out of the story, nor out of watching Alex discover things in her own time. I could seriously read everything about this character and her life, she’s that much fun.

The story was generally steady-to-fast paced, but it did slow in a couple of places, and I did catch myself skimming when I hit them, though it didn’t exactly take a heroic measure of patience to keep going – the book drags you in quite well.

4.5/5 Stars, Very few complaints, all in all, and I am excited for an Urban Fantasy series in a way I have so missed!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Goodreads

Kalayna Price

– Meg

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Penny Dreadful, Review

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Penny Dreadful is horror series, freshly finished its first season, from Showtime, taking classic horror stories and characters from old favourites such as DraculaFrankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray and placing fascinating new twists layered over plot-points to create a unique and engaging story. In it, African explorer Sir Malcom Murray hunts relentlessly for his kidnapped daughter, Mina Murray (or Harker, seeing as she was recently married) with the aid of Vanessa Ives and Sembene, later enlisting the help of Ethan Chandler and Dr. Victor Frankenstein. But they find a lot more than just vampires in their search. Something old and evil haunts Vanessa, posing links to both the vampires, and Christian and Egyptian mythology both, even as some unknown horror stalks the streets of London, leaving carnage in its wake.

The premise instantly intrigues me, and does not disappoint. Penny Dreadful is fantastically dark, expertly weaving psychological and classical horror together to leave me absorbed and definitely creeped out.

While the plot is fun enough, it is the compelling characters that drive the story for me personally, and both the re-written and original characters drag you screaming eagerly into their world.

I particularly love Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), the darkly mysterious woman with a past tying her to Mina Harker, and something evil stalking her even as it seems to lie within her. The wit and drama she delivers are flawless, and her harsher scenes in ‘Seance’ and ‘Possession’ left me genuinely disturbed, difficult even for me to watch, and I revel in good horror!

Sir Malcom (Timothy Dalton) intrigued, but frustrated me. He has his secretiveness, and his ulterior motives, such that when they come to the light, leave you feeling less than warm and fuzzy toward him. But his tenacity is admirable and he admittedly has his redeeming moments.

Ethan (Josh Hartnett), our American sharpshooter with serious Daddy-issues, is a strange one. His own emotional moments had me tearing up myself on occasion, while certain points of his intensity had me very suspicious – that is, until it finally clicked. If you watch very closely, you’ll figure out fairly quickly what’s going on with Ethan and his secrets, and if not, it’s a wonderfully grim revelation that has me very excited for his story-lines in the future.

Brona Croft (Billie Piper), savvy but sickly Irish prostitute, was another that had me in tears. Though she is slowly and painfully dying of consumption as she struggles to make enough money just to eat, she falls for Ethan, and him for her, it would seem. I felt as helpless as he did, knowing there was no help for her – but her story is far from over.

Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway). Well, I bet you know where this is going! Some time after his disastrous first creation was brought to life, we see him feverishly trying to again pierce the veils between life and death (a very big theme of Penny Dreadful as a whole), and his past coming back to haunt him. I love Victor’s characterisation; he is naive, but dark, young, but with horrors in his eyes. He is an easily lovable character, even as he is a total walking disaster.

Speaking of walking disasters… Dorian Gray’s (Reeve Carney) story is well known to us all, and he certainly lives up to it in this incarnation of his character. He is free, pleasure-seeking, has an obsession with portraits, and seduces or sleeps with anything with hip-gyrating capabilities, but I cannot dislike him. It’s his vices that seem to make him, and I actually find myself cheering him on a bit, just to see how far he can go before things inevitably come crashing down around him. And it seems Vanessa may be a large part of that crashing. Sadly, his portrait has not yet been seen from the front, so we can only guess at how much he has eroded his soul, but his actions within the series and his overall character suggests that it’s probably a hell of a lot.

One of the show’s greatest virtues, outside of these characters, is its sincerity. It takes no joy in outsmarting viewers, or even taking itself too seriously. It is what it is, and doesn’t dance around that.

I’ll admit that the first two episodes may leave you a little confused as to what the heck is going on, which is often a pet peeve of mine. I don’t always enjoy shows that make me work for it. But stick with it – things do come together, and it is very much worth it when they do. And yes, some of it’s pulpy shock-factor can be a little over the top.

Despite this, its silliness adds to its charm for me, and makes the weird ride that much more fun!

Here’s to the next season being as successfully creepy, fun, dark and sexy as the first! And to finding out what’s up with that mysterious Sembene (Danny Sapani)??

4.5/5 Stars! Only 8 episodes long this season, but so very worth the watch!

– Meg

How to Train your Dragon 2, Review

I’m back, baby! I can only apologise for my long absence from Mondays here at Picklepants. Family issues, travel, illness… life just happens. But, hey, I return triumphant! I saved the village, I slayed the dragon – or, I at least saw a really good movie about dragons.

You have the heart of a chief. And the soul of a dragon.

Everyone got hot!

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a long-awaited sequel from Dreamworks after the brilliance of the first film. In this follow-up feature, we yet again find Hiccup on the run from what’s expected of him. To avoid giving an answer to his father, Stoick, about becoming the next chief of Berk, he’s off flying around the surrounding uncharted lands, mapping them out with his dragon, Toothless, until a group of dragon trappers and a mysterious Dragon Rider show up and he finds himself about to be thrown into the middle of a war to keep the peace.

This film is beyond exciting, and not just because I and so many others have been waiting for it for so long. The story is enthralling, the characters are endearing, and the pace never lets up, although I admit it did, uh, ‘hiccup’, in a few places. Heh heh. Geddit?

Ahem. Anyway. The movie definitely evokes a lot of emotion – I laughed, I cried, I got really, really mad! It’s a real rollercoaster this time around.

I quite enjoyed the idea of charting all the unmapped territories around Berk and finding new breeds of dragon. It sure is a better arrangement than making war on or with dragons, right? And it allowed for a really great flight sequence in which Hiccup tests his own flying suit.

Valka is a wonderful character. She’s beautiful, fun, awesome and a bit weird. You definitely see where Hiccup gets it from. However, though I understand her reasons, I still think it was extremely cruel for her to stay away without a word to anyone for twenty years. But hey, I live for flawed characters, we all know that.

Astrid and the other rider gang and their dragons got their shining moments, too, but I felt that Astrid at least had less to do in this film. She was still a strong, inspiring figure throughout, however, and her lesson about the loyalty of dragons gave me chills.

The villain of the film, Drago – original name, no? – was actually pretty effective. He was borderline insane and totally evil in this subdued, quiet, but undoubtedly threatening way. I think I almost felt sympathy for the guy at one point, but that was dashed quickly by how awful a person he was.

Eret the dragon trapper was certainly an interesting addition to the cast, and I look forward to his role in the next instalment!

One thing I particularly liked, at the risk of getting too political over a children’s film, was Ruffnut’s attitude and behaviour. She’s utterly open and free about her sexuality, who she wants, who she doesn’t, and she feels no need to make excuses or have excuses made for her. It’s a fair bit of comic relief, but it’s also never commented on or villainised just because she’s a girl – and that is highly unusual in any film, let alone a kid’s movie. Go Dreamworks!

The animation itself was astounding. Absolutely gorgeous in every way. I caught myself swooning more than once over bloody rocks and ice textures! The flight sequences are perfect and different for every dragon. The characters move like actual people. And look out for that scene where Valka dances over the wings of the dragons – it’s heart-stopping.

Prepare for some real emotional pain coming your way, too. Remember that one moment of tragic intensity from the first film, with Hiccup’s near-death? Yeah. It’s got nothing on the sequel.

Speaking of that, let’s get political again! Hiccup and Toothless are of course our heroes of the series, and it’s just amazing how they’re shown to work almost flawlessly together to be stronger, better, and never let their respective disabilities hinder them. Do you know how refreshing it is to finally get a film starring disabled characters finding strength in their disabilities? That it never stops them being who they want and need to be, and that their lives aren’t dictated and ruled by their disabilities? It’s beyond rare in film, and again, it’s a kid’s animated feature! Beautifully done.

Now, I did have a couple of problems with the film. Despite the diversity, we still have no non-white or non-straight characters. And do not preach historical accuracy at me. If you can have Scottish/American/English-speaking Vikings who ride dragons, you can have characters that aren’t straight and white, too. Instead of being true to history, let’s be true to people instead, okay? I mean, what are these films about if not overcoming prejudices?

I did adore the film, don’t get me wrong! But I was also left feeling as if it lacked some of the innocent charm of the first film. Perhaps because the characters are growing up, too. It has been five years since Hiccup and Toothless first met. The sequel had a new charm all on it’s own, yes, and I loved it. But I think there was something I just… missed. Boy, growing up is hard.

All in all, a fantastic film, and a definite must see for all ages!

4/5 stars! The soundtrack is beautiful, too, guys!

– Meg

Maleficent-Review, Why is everyone Scottish?!

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Hey guys sorry for the late upload, was planning on doing this for last week but kinda got a little side tracked. Anyhoo I went to see the new Disney film Maleficent and thought I’d share my thoughts on it with all of you!

 

Maleficent, for those who don’t know, Is a film where the well known version of sleeping beauty is taken and told from a different point of view, this being the antagonist in the form of Maleficent (Angelina Jolie). This kind of film has been done before but honestly I don’t think it has ever been done better on the big screen. Angelina Jolie, despite my initial worries, is absolutely brilliant in her role and really helps carry the film. Not to say the supporting actors are bad it’s just no one else really gets explored in terms of character apart from her. The pacing of the film is good although it does seem far shorter than the actual run time suggests, which I take as a positive but others may not see it the same way.

The film has a coherent storyline so those of you that fancy going to see the film without knowing anything about sleeping beauty fret not. One thing I would say though is that although this is a PG rated film and yes there isn’t any swearing, blood, gore or anything along those lines I don’t think I could recommend taking your children to see it. The film is quite gritty and dark and although it makes for a great engaging film for adults I could easily see children finding incredibly boring and then in turn being incredibly annoying as your trying to make them sit there quietly for two hours. So yeah, watch on your own if you can!

Just remember though despite the grittier re-telling this is still a Disney film so of course they have comic relief characters, this time in the form of the three fairy sisters, and moments of slight cheesiness but other than the odd occasion the film does seem much more catered towards adults. The visuals in the film, especially in the introduction bits where everything is bright, are gorgeous and the CGI in the film is incredibly well produced, and without spoiling anything, especially in the fight/action sequences. On the same note with the costumes, they are terrific especially the work that must have gone into Angelina’s horns.

Sharlto Copley does an outstanding job as Stefan and his character progression was one of my personal favourite parts of the film. Another Actor who I have to mention is Sam Riley who plays a very well preformed Diavel, especially the on screen chemistry between him and Angelina Jolie. One strange thing though that my girlfriend pointed out to me after the film had ended was that almost all of the humans in this film had Scottish accents. Now it doesn’t really bother me but it is a little strange as it must have been a conscious choice by the director and writers as Copley was born in Johannesburg so it’s not like it  was a coincidence. But apart from that this is a great film that I thoroughly recommend going to see.

 

Maleficent gets an 8/10 and is highly recomended.

-Joe

‘Skin Game’ by Jim Butcher, REVIEW

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If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. It is easily one of my favourite book series’ and is still going strong upon the release of it’s fourteenth book. You’ll be hardpressed to find other long-running series’ holding up so well.

At midnight last night, Skin Game, book fourteen, was released and I’ve already completely devoured it. And it was mind-blowing!

After a very, very goddamn rough few years, in which Harry Dresden has actually died, Harry has had a year break away from magical beasties and bullies trying to literally eat his face, even as a parasite has grown within his head and risks bursting out of his skull any day now. But hey, small victories, right?

I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting from this book, but as the last few have been heavy and extreme and have put Harry through a lot of shit, I think I assumed that it would  be a kind of fast, funny and cool sort-of filler book for introspection on Harry’s life and experiences and a break in the increasing trajectory and pace of the series.

Boy, was I wrong.

Harry’s new boss, good old Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie, needs to settle a debt. And of course, she uses her new Knight to do that. This would turn out horribly for Harry anyway, because it’s Harry and because it’s Mab, but it just so happens that the debt collector is Nicodemus Archleone, host to a Fallen angel, old enemy of Harry’s, and all-around murdering psychopath.

And the job he wants doing?

Yeah, breaking into the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.

A lot happened in this book.

It was still hilariously funny, of course, and had me snorting and giggling out loud more than a few times. Of course, it also had me lapsing into tears a few times, though I think I did so more out of happiness than actual pain and sadness for once. Very unusual for a Dresden book, let me tell you. The book as a whole is beyond intense and I genuinely feared for the lives of some characters several times – cue panicked animal noises from myself – because of the very frightening circumstances they found themselves in, in quick succession. The pace never let up and the action and adventure was constant. I was never bored or felt myself skimming words, which I would rarely ever do in a Dresden book in any case, but the intensity of the story kept me utterly enthralled throughout and I’ve successfully bitten my nails to stumps. Despite that, Skin Game is an oddly uplifting book! Upon finishing it, I felt good about Harry’s choices, his losses and his victories. His ‘lost’ talk with Michael brought back a wonderful return of the ‘old’ Harry. He still has his scars and his past to battle through and carry with him, but there was something lighter about him and the return of something he lost through the hell of his recent years. Though I felt frightened,too, for what’s to come, because this is Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden we’re talking about here. I mean, come on.

A few things I very much enjoyed:

We get to see Subconscious Harry! Yay! The visual incarnation of Harry’s inner-self is a total dick, complete with all black outfit and goatee, but I really love that guy and his frank sass. Along with this, we get some serious insight into the parasite that Harry’s been harbouring. Talk about your bundle of joy, eesh! But I am way excited for what’s to come in regards to the ‘parasite’ after the end of Skin Game.

I was so glad to see the Carpenters made a great comeback, too. I adore that family, and Charity’s attitude to life is everything I hope to gain. What a badass. Molly shows up, too, more awesome than ever and seemingly recovering from her own hellish experiences. However, Harry hasn’t seen her in the year since she gained the mantle of Winter Lady, and there are some… changes. And worries. Molly is my baby and any possible harm to her character makes me want to curl up and cry. So just a warning on that. Still, she was awesome as all heck when we did see her in action, even if she didn’t get much.

Speaking of the Carpenters, Maggie’s appearance was surprising and yet not, because it was so long overdue, but suddenly Harry turned around and was faced with her, just there, and he couldn’t run from his daughter anymore. And I could not be more thrilled about how that turned out. You go, Harry. And you go, Mouse! Mouse, Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff-like magical, mystical Foo dog was as brilliant as ever. I would give so much for my own Mouse, let me tell you.

Weirdly, I enjoyed Nicodemus’s role in this book. He’s as awful and horridly evil as ever, a true villain in every way, but weirdly enjoyable as one. He got no sympathy from me whatsoever, but I can’t wait to see his next appearance in the series. And to see his butt get kicked all over again, hopefully!  Though I have to admit, the Genoskwa terrified me a bit.

The many confrontations Harry found himself in the middle of (or starting, dammit Harry) started to show to what extent he’s beginning to exert control over the Winter in him. He pulled back the violent instincts a lot easier this time around, and seemed prepared for it. And Harry Dresden? Prepared for things? That’s character growth right there.

And if anyone is wondering about an appearance by the Lord of the Underworld himself, seeing as his vault is the target of the heist, then I’ll say yes. We get a little personal time with Hades himself, but I’ll say no more on that. It’s too cool to spoil.

I will say that I missed a few things, namely Thomas. He’s always a great character and I missed his snark and own brand of drama. Similarly, I also wished we’d seen more of Molly and Bob, though what little we did see was a promise of great things to come, I think. I do wonder what will happen with Bob now, what with Butters, his current boss, having this whole new position? Hmm…

The Outsiders and the Nemesis, too, were something I could’ve done with hearing more about, after that huge conflict Harry had with them previously. But a few certain things in Skin Game definitely promised more to do with them, and Mab’s war with them was referenced.

And the questions I was left with about that ‘parasite’! I will not be over that until the next book, which cannot come fast enough. I see many re-reads in the near and far future. Bravo, Mr. Butcher. Bravo!

5 / 5 Stars, easily!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Jim Butcher

– Meg

 

Mirror Sight, by Kristen Britain, REVIEW

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I’ve reviewed the first book of this series, Green Rider, before, and now I’m skipping right on ahead to the newly released fifth book, Mirror Sight, which I have been desperately waiting for since early 2011 after a horrifying cliffhanger ending from Ms. Britain.

In Blackveil, the previous book, we left Karigan G’Ladheon, seasoned Green Rider, fresh from a confrontation with Mornhavon. She’d denied him literally astronomical power and the fallout left her blasted through the layers of the world, trapped in a sealed stone coffin who knows where, injured, her air supply dwindling and supposedly no help forthcoming. Imagine waiting three and a half years for that to be resolved!

Thankfully, here we are picking right up where we left off. You know, our beloved Karigan about to die horribly and all that. She of course survives – where would we be without the heroine of the story? – and finds herself almost 200 years in the future where magic no longer seems to exist and an empire has all but erased Sacoridia and everything she knows and loves. Though this sounds pretty flaky for a high fantasy series, trust me, trust the writer, and don’t fret; Britain has integrated time travel shenanigans into the series before, and she continues to carry it on marvellously.

The previous few novels have explored the POVs of other various characters, which was fascinating, fun and important, but I have to admit that it was great getting back to Karigan more in this book, with just enough outside POV to spice it up and keep the other plot threads moving along. Despite this, I still rather missed hearing from a few well-loved characters as the book progressed.

As usual, Kristen Britain’s writing was brilliant, a great blend of intensity, drama, action and hilarity come together to make Karigan’s story shine. The description of so many new and amazing, if terrifying, things within her world was something I eagerly ate up, particularly the steampunk-ish elements of the magic-and-otherwise-powered technologies of this awful future in which Karigan has found herself. As a reader, the more you see of this future, the more you whole-heartedly agree with her urgent need to get the hell back to her own time and prevent it from coming to pass.

Although I adored this book, as I always will with anything Britain creates, I was left yearning for more. And not just because of the three year wait between books! Many questions were left unanswered, even un-attended to, from previous books. Though I totaly understand this, seeing as the heroine has been tossed into the far future by a death god who is up to – well, only he knows what. Still, I was hoping to hear more about Alton, Estral’s loss of her magical and evidently extremely important voice, the other Green Riders, their history, about what that awful Grandmother and her crew are up to in Blackveil Forest, about King Zachary, and about Amberhill, especially after his last chapter in the book in which he woke up them.

But, for anyone who has read Blackveil and was as interested in Yolandhe the Sea Witch as myself, boy are you in for a treat towards the end of Mirror Sight. It’s not morally right or pretty, what she does, but new personal idol? Hell, yeah. Talk about girl power.

Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I’m already sitting around pining for the next instalment.

The romantic choices were surprising, but enjoyed (if painfully), the ending was beautifully painful as is becoming the norm for Britain, the foreshadowing throughout the book had me shaking in fear but clueless as to where it would lead up until the moment it happened (‘Mirror sight’ – you’re not bloody kidding!), and the story was a fantastic adventure, even if it started of a teensy bit slow and had the vague feel of a ‘filler’ novel, though I by no means believe it unnecessary to the series as a whole. It is more that it has added a whole new urgency to it.

[4.5 / 5]

Please go read this series!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kristen Britain

P.S. Look at the breathtaking full image of the US cover art by Donato Giancola and check out his website and gallery!

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– Meg

Dreams of Gods and Monsters, REVIEW

 Whoo, well, here we are, after two weeks of nothing from me. But things pile up and work happens and we sadly have to deal with that. But now, here’s my promised review of Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor!

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It’s the final instalment of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, and boy is it a doozy. What began as a tale of an art student leading a secret second life as an errand girl for monsters has blown up into a realm-crossing war between angels and chimaera, the two inhabitants of the world ‘next door’ to Earth, Eretz. Yes, we know that’s Hebrew for ‘Earth’. The irony was not lost.

In the two previous books we’ve seen love, loss, death, war, betrayal, and back to love, only for the cycle to repeat.

Karou, after a vicious attack from the Wolf, leader of the waning numbers of the chimaera rebellion still left alive, has orchestrated an explosive betrayal and taken control of the rebellion, none of whom but a trusted few are any the wiser of which. Now she has to stop them from carrying on this futile war and inevitably destroying themselves out of a need for revenge that would prove pointless once they’re all dead. Never mind keeping her and Akiva’s respective rebel armies from tearing at each other’s throats, even as they attempt to ally themselves against the greater threat that Jael poses. We’ve heard nothing but how much chimaera and Seraphs loathe each other, and it was nail-biting, to say the least, watching them attempt to survive together.

What I love most about this series, aside from it’s fresh take on angels and fantasy, is the characters, and they do not disappoint in Dreams of Gods and Monsters. Every single character has a very distinct and unique personality that shines through in their actions. No matter how despicable they may be, I still find myself completely engulfed in the passages featuring the villains, because they are just wrote so well. This series definitely has some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever seen, made all the better when they interact among themselves.

I am always unsure what exact genre the trilogy is, my opinion hovering somewhere between YA paranormal romance and fantasy, and Dreams of Gods and Monsters certainly leaned more towards the latter in the final arc, but whatever it is, it’s done very well. I never quite favour one world over the other, desperate to know how Earth is faring in the wake of the Seraph invasion, even as I long to learn more about Eretz and how the war is progressing. At the same time, I’ve found myself heavily invested in the romances blossoming – and crumbling – throughout the books. Zuzana and Mik are the constants, never doubting one another, together through everything, and willing to sacrifice anything, even their fragile, human, mortal lives, to help Karou and Eretz. They kept me sane through the twists and turns, particularly when it comes to Karou and Akiva. Finally, finally, these two begin to see that they aren’t the monsters they thought themselves to be, and that they may deserve forgiveness, and even each other. But things are never easy for these two and while they’re beginning to reconcile with themselves and each other, there’s much going on behind the scenes, as it were, that may yet tear them apart again and forever.

A vicious queen Seraph and her magi are hunting Akiva after the massive release of power he demonstrated in the previous book, determined to put an end to the threat he poses that could destroy everything these near-mythical angels of the Far Isles have fought for over the millennia. Scarab, the queen in question, is young, but hard and brutal. Even so, she is sympathetic. Though they vowed never to get involved with the Empire’s wars and path of destruction, she actually saves the lives of our rebel armies. She sees the value in warriors fighting against something they could not hope to defeat, yet fighting with hope anyway. It’s time for her and her people to do the same.

It is Scarab’s arrival into the story that truly turns it on its head. Suddenly, much of Karou and Akiva’s troubles of the past seem horrifically insignificant in the larger scheme of things. I’m not going to spoil it and reveal this revelation, but I will tell you to go back in the series, and pay very close attention to Razgut, to the tales of their species origins that Madrigal and Akiva tell one another, and to the title of this particular book. It rocked my world almost as much as it did Karou, Akiva and everyone else’s. Then you’ll realise the full horror of the bruises spreading across the sky, and why the creatures of Eretz should never have crossed onto Earth or any new universe.

I had to put the book down for almost a full day, and nothing can stop me reading when I love something this much.

Unfortunately, I worry that it might just be too big. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the plot twist, and the history behind it. A lot of things suddenly made a lot more sense, and made the rest of the series that much more poignant. But in the end I was left feeling almost as if Daughter of Smoke and Bone had been something of a prequel series. The plotlines that had emerged from book one and grew and twisted in book two were certainly resolved, which is far better than some series’ ever managed, but book three perhaps introduced something far too big and brilliant to just be left unresolved. I mean, read this entire series and tell me; can you believe we were worrying over Karou’s douchey ex-boyfriend in the first book when all along this has been hanging over them?! I mean, jeez.

Though I was left feeling like I had an unfinished series in my hands, I do understand the intention behind it. To paraphrase, “this was not a happy end, but a happy middle,” and it makes sense in that context. They’ve fought past most of their prejudices and bloody history, and now all of Eretz is ready to fight against the new – but very, very old – enemy, finally. Many YA series end in a sort of ‘happily ever after’ state, making me roll my eyes, because they’re still so young, and still have the rest of their lives. Where’s that happy ever after? This series manages to escape that trope, showing readers that their lives and loves are just beginning, even after so much strife.

I’m now just desperate to know what happens next in a trilogy that is over! Here’s hoping for a spin-off, or a sequel series, anything to give the closure so many readers now need. Though I’d rather Karou and Akiva be left alone for a while. They deserve some hard-won peace after their very long-lived, very rocky beginning.

But gods above and below, that was one hell of a beginning.

4/5 Stars. Kept me on my toes constantly!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Laini Taylor

– Meg

 

A Quickpickle on More Books!

Just a Quickie from me today, I’m afraid, even though it’s late AGAIN. Gimme a break, I’m sick.

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Recently I became invested in a new book trilogy, Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The first book goes by the same name, the second is Days of Blood and Starlight, and the third and final is Dreams of Gods and Monsters. I don’t want to give much away as I plan to fully review Dreams of Gods and Monsters next Monday, but this series has pulled me in like no other has for many years. We see two worlds throughout the books, earth and our nearest ‘neighbour’ in the next universe over, inhabited by the seemingly monstrous chimaera, a race made up of many tribes of people who are all mixtures of different animals – we see centaur chimaera, sphinxes, griffins, mostly human appearances with mixes of beast aspects such as gazelle, rams, wolves, even snakes! The chimaera and their variety is amazing.
Then there are the other inhabitants of that world, the ones who enslave and are at war with the chimaera. I know that dozens of books claim that their angels are ‘special’ and unique in recent years, but these angels, the Seraph, truly are in my eyes. They’re vicious, domineering, destructive and as we see more of them we realise how similar many of them are to the chimaera. Suddenly, somewhere around mid-book two, I realised I didn’t see them as this great enemy to destroy anymore, for all their atrocities against the chimaera. Likewise, some of the chimaera were too caught up in their war to even see the right choices any more, and have become the evil they were fighting to destroy.
At the centre of this war, we have Karou, a human girl raised by the chimaera Brimstone, a secretive monster who gives out magical wishes in exchange for teeth. She has only ever seen Brimstone’s ‘shop’ in the other world, and has grown up on earth feeling somewhat lost as the chimaera’s errand girl – there’s a particularly amusing scene in book one where we see Karou dragging elephant tusks across Paris.
And at her side, across the battlefield, and at times worlds away, is Akiva, an angel soldier seeking revenge for a lost love and trying to leave behind the dreams of a new world he and his lover once hand. Something that becomes near-impossible when he meets the mysterious errand girl who wished her hair blue.
Anyway, I’ll be reviewing the final book next week, so be sure to check back then!

– Meg

‘Green Rider’, by Kristen Britain, Review

I’m gonna talk about one of my all-time favourite book series this week. Or at least, the first book in that series.
Green Rider is the first book in the series by the same name following the adventures (misadventures? Is that too much of a cliché these days? Do I give a shit? Hmm…) of Karigan and the fate of Sacoridia, a kingdom spiralling ever closer to war even as they deal with the re-awakening of magic in a country filled with people who either don’t believe in magic anymore or, if they do, consider it to be an evil thing and only used for such. Green Rider introduces us to the basic principles and starting point for all of this.
Karigan G’Ladheon is the daughter of a merchant, and is running away from school. She never particularly enjoyed the famed school of Selium anyway, what with skipping classes and hating the aristocratic snobs who were her schoolmates; when she wins a fight with a bullying, snooty rich kid (who happens to be the son and heir of one of the Province Lords in Sacoridia. Ouch.) and is threatened with expulsion and must await her father’s arrival, just sees it as a way out. Not wanting to let the buttwipe of a school dean tell a skewed version of the events to her father, Karigan takes off on her own, running away to meet her father first and tell her side of the story. Instead, she finds a dying man – a member of the Green Riders, the king’s messengers who are highly respected by the king but very few other people, and carry a pretty intense risk of being killed by the receivers of their messages if they don’t like them. The dying Green Rider passes his seemingly vital task on to Karigan, because she’s the only one actually around, and more over, she can see the brooch he wears, something only those accepted by the brooch’s magic itself can do. She’s technically already being made a fully fledged Green Rider, here, and she doesn’t even know it. The magic of the Green Riders is very hush-hush.
Taking up the duty as the naïve and actually pretty honorble girl she is, Karigan is set off on a journey that will shatter everything she ever knew about her life. She longs for Selium after this. She now must race her away across the country to Sacor City and the king on a rather intelligently belligerent but ultimately loyal horse, defeating unnatural monsters, battling her new-found fate, coming to grips with the magic the brooch has given her and it’s side effects, all the while being pursued by viscous mercenaries and the Shadow Man, the killer of the Green Rider who gave Karrigan her mission.
And wow, what a journey that is. The plot is fast enough to keep you gripped but never so much so that you get lost, which is a good thing. As you may be able to tell, it’s a large book and a fair amount happens. Regardless, the story remains exciting and engaging almost throughout. There are several chapters from perspectives of other characters, villains included, which is interesting, but they can also slow the progression down a little and jar some readers out of the story, myself included in my first read-through; you just really want to get back to Karigan. But this insight into other characters is ultimately valuable, if not outright important.
One thing I love about this is we get a ‘Strong Female Character’ in high fantasy actually wrote by a woman. It’s a lot rarer in this genre than you might think, at least as far as numbers are concerned. And she’s not this girl who starts out as a badass and is kickass all the way through. She’s got a little bit of training with the sword, but is by no means a match for the people after her (and is constantly reminded of her lacking in swordplay later in the series), and some smarts to get her by. But for a good chunk of the novel she relies heavily on luck and the help of outside forces to get her by. And okay, to be honest, even my suspension of belief was strained in regards to some of her lucky escapes; maybe a slight case of Deus ex Machina here, but Karigan more than makes up with it as she goes through actual goddamn character development. Again, a rare thing for females in this genre.
The plot is interspersed with a lot of great side-moments too, such as Karigan finding a – ahem – magically-enclined house belonging to two elderly sisters who are charming in a Disney-esque manner but manage to retain some element of spookiness. Maybe it’s the cursed-invisible house servants? The house and sisters themselves are a fantastic point of foreshadowing for future plot points in the series, which is especially impressive when you consider that Green Rider was expected to be only a stand-alone and not do well enough to become a series (my arse)!
The book is full of wonderfully snarky humour and some ridiculous laugh-out-loud moments (the horse, anyone), dancing with some real hard-hitting and emotional stuff. The magic is cool and unusual, definitely limited and with consequence as we find out quickly with Karigan. And what fantasy novel would be complete without mysterious, ancient, magical wood-folk? But despite the opinion of other fans of the series, I don’t think these are just the same old ‘elves’. Etletians are beautiful and magical and at least semi-immortal and do live in a woodland kingdom of their own, thought dead or the thing of myths for centuries. They’re starting to re-emerge alongside magic and the growing evil. But there’s something inherently flawed and dangerous in these Etletians that I find different from traditional elves. Maybe it’s that pesky Shawdell…
Something that irritated me about Green Rider, if I’m being honest, is Karigan’s flat refusal to accept she was a Green Rider. She had the brooch. She had the Horse. She used the magic. Hell, she even wore the damn uniform. There’s only so much foot-stomping a person can take.
Overall, an amazing book and a strong start to a fantastic ongoing series. If it seems like a rehash of the typical cut-and-paste elements of old fantasy tropes, read Green Rider. The links to Lord of the Rings and other fantasy series only make it that much more charming, and you’ll see that it has it’s own wicked twist and shine that make it perfectly unique.

4/5 Stars!

Amazon UK
Amazon US
Kristen Britain

– Meg

‘Cinder’ by Marissa Meyer, Review

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Okay, so we all know there have been a lot re-envisionings of classic fairy tales in recent years, but Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles is by far one of the most interesting and, frankly, brave additions to the fairy tale fad. The story Meyer’s telling carries on over a series of four books (of which three are out), beginning with the Cinderella story.

Lihn Cinder is a cyborg. She is essentially almost half mechanical; she has a robotic hand and a rusty old mechanical foot (in place of the famous glass slipper) and much of her internal organs are operated by wire and prosthetic nerve impulses – she even has a control panel attached to her CNS at the base of her skull, with fully synthetic eyesight. She can pull up newsfeeds and the net on her eyes. Are you thinking this is awesome yet? Let me keep going.

Set centuries in the future, the world is much the same but divided a little differently, not to mention the colony on the moon, known as Lunar, full of people who can control bioelectricity to manipulate people and change their own appearance. They’re scary as shit, by the way.

Probably thanks to her own cyborg body, Cinder is one of the best mechanics in New Beijing, the capital of the Eastern Commonwealth – made up of what was once Asia, and just so happens to be suffering madly with plague outbreaks. In the midst of this, the heir to the throne of the Commonwealth, Prince Kai, arrives at her stall to have his android fixed and if you think this is where everything changes for Cinder because the hot boy magically appears in her life, boy are you wrong. Sure, it stirs things up a little, but this meeting actually only sets up plots and reasoning behind certain decisions later in the book(s). Cinder’s life actually takes its horrifying change when her youngest and beloved stepsister contracts the plague, and Cinder is given up by her legal guardian (read ‘evil stepmother’) for testing in ever-failing attempts to cure the luetomosis plague, only to make a huge discovery about herself and, strangely, her doctor.

Suddenly Cinder is at the edges of multiple intrigues and quickly being pulled deeper into them, including finding a cure for the increasingly deadly leutomosis, fighting off an unwelcome attraction to a prince, and the fast approaching war between Earth and the moon colony of Luna, lead by their viciously beautiful Queen Levanna, who is desperate to marry Prince Kai for her own malicious purposes.

Cinder was definitely the most unique take on a fairy tale I have ever seen, and more enjoyable than most due to the depth Meyer went into, both within the confines of the original Cinderella story and the series’ world as a whole. She created a vivid and enthralling story filled with political intrigue, the beginnings of love, family, the consequences and fear of war and, maybe most importantly, how society ostracises those who are different. It is very impressive that Meyer manages to touch on all of these issues while building a beautifully varied world around it, constantly throwing in hints and clues as to the larger plot and promise of future adventures.

In terms of plot progression Meyer sticks close to the original story, but does still twist many points and gives the story some shades of grey rather than the black and white tale we are used to, particularly in the heroine herself. This results in more than a few heart-wrenching moments centred around the unexpected adoration between Cinder and her youngest stepsister Peony, the remarkably human-like house robot Iko who longs to be a beautiful woman, and Prince Kai’s loss of his father and too-sudden ascension to the throne.

Two faults I’ll pick at with this novel, though reluctantly, is that I wanted the worldbuilding to be a little wider-reaching in Cinder, as we only see the rather limited confines of Cinder’s personal world, and a few other scenes from other character’s POVs. This, however, is more than addressed in the rest of the series. Secondly, the ‘plot twist’ near the end? Yeah, I’m gonna say it’s not exactly world-shaking for the reader if they’ve been paying attention, and a bit anticlimactic as far as plot twists go. But, trust me, the rest of the novel more than makes up for it. In fact, it may even make it a little more exciting to read along having figured it out long before Cinder ever does.

The next two books introduce us to Cinder’s allies and the rest of the heroines: Scarlet, featuring Little Red-Riding hood, or rather, French, skilled pilot, shooter and all-around badass Scarlet in her red hoodie; Cress, the Rapunzel character, a Lunar computer hacker with an imagination as big as the galaxy and trapped in a satellite orbiting Earth; and finally, Winter, or ‘Snow White’. She is the terrifying Queen Levanna’s stepdaughter and Lunar princess, driving herself insane with the refusal to use her own Lunar abilities. This final book is unreleased, but there’s a lot of excitement surrounding it, not least because it’s the final instalment, and oh yeah, takes place on the moon!

Overall, Cinder is a fantastic début novel from Marissa Meyer and introduces a bloody wonderful story. It is an awesomely new take on fairy tales and carries with it the refreshing message that a girl’s ‘happy ever after’ is not so rigidly defined by a romance, that some things take precedence over it, like actually surviving to reach just your ‘ever after’, never mind the ‘happy’ part, and they don’t always need a flick of a fairy godmother’s wand – sometimes, a girl just has to get out there to the scrap heaps and build her goddamn carriage herself.

4.5/5 Stars, go read this book!

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Marissa Meyer

– Meg