Book Review: “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

 

Title: Uprooted

Author: Naomi Novik

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

This is one of those books that’s been on my radar for a while, but for some reason it kept getting pushed down my TBR pile. Having finally gotten to it, I seriously regret the hold up.

I grew up on old, Germanic fairy-tales, courtesy of my Grandma who lived near Hamelin for almost twenty years. She put me to bed with myths and legends of The Black Forest, and the stories of the Brothers Grimm, and not the nice, cutesy versions, either. I found the echoes of those stories throughout Uprooted, worked artfully through the plot, the language, and the characters, and I fell in love.

The premise was one that felt familiar to me as a lover of both folklore and fantasy novels; a plain, village girl who lives on the outskirts of an enchanted and dangerous forest faces an enforced selection day by the local lord to live for ten years in his service. Everyone expects the lord to choose the beautiful, clever, and multi-talented best friend of said girl, but, shockingly, he does not. He takes the awkward, plain girl instead.

It doesn’t sound exciting at all when you say it that way, but trust me, that’s only chapter one, and from there onwards Naomi Novik turns all preconceptions of the plot on their head. The story is dark and woven with magic and mystery, and it kept me guessing throughout. Nothing was how I expected it to be once I got past the safety of that first chapter, and it utterly thrilled me.

For example, the main character, Agnieszka, begins the book being clumsy, messy, and afraid. What I liked most about her progression through the story was that rather than changing these aspects about her until she became more like her best friend, Kasia, she harnesses her flaws in a positive manner instead. By the end of the book she is still clumsy, messy, and afraid, but she embraces these parts of herself and becomes strong in all the very best ways.

Kasia herself was a wonderful side-character who defied my own expectations of what her role in the story would be. It would have been unrealistic to expect that there would be no jealousy between the two girls, given the situation they grew up in together and how it all ended. I was pleased when that jealousy was addressed as something completely natural, and that their relationship only strengthened from the experience.

I had half expected it to be a romance, but was pleasantly surprised to find that while there was a definite sub-plot, that was all. The dynamic between Agnieszka and Sarkan was interesting and I didn’t dislike it, but I was much more invested in the relationship between her and Kasia. I felt like the love between them was so genuine, it was a shame that the romantic subplot wasn’t theirs. Honestly I was disappointed by the missed opportunity, but perhaps that’s just me.

Aside from that, the book was perfect. The pace was quick, the plot gripping, the characters enchanting, and the language beautiful. I’ll definitely be looking up more work by this author.

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Book Review: “The Service” by M.A. Ray

Title: The Service (Saga of Menyoral: Book 2)

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

The more I read of the Saga of Menyoral, the more I want to shout very loudly for all to hear that everyone needs to read these brilliant books. How these works aren’t already widely known mystifies me.

Of course the writing style is just as beautiful as book one; fantastic imagery without being dull or droning on, snappy prose that draws you in and keeps you reading, wonderful narrative voice. The world-building is one of my very favourites in recent years, simply because Rothganar is so vast, and still so mysterious. The story premise itself is fantastic, and by the end of this book we have a lot of hints as to where this may all be going in the future, making it very difficult for me personally not to sit my butt down and not move until I’ve read all of the books currently available.

All this already high praise aside, there is something even better that makes these books so enjoyable, and that is the characters.

Dingus, the complex and easy to relate to hero of the story, has undergone such fantastic development, made me as a reader so proud of all he has accomplished for himself. I love how he’s not been written as they typically “perfect” protagonist, because it makes him so much more real. He’s awkward and angry, but he’s also shy and funny, and his progress already has been an absolute pleasure to read. He’s still learning who he is, still recovering from everything that’s happened to him, but his courage and determination are endearing, just as much as his flaws are. Personally I think it makes him that much more likeable.

The relationship he has with Vandis is far and away my favourite thing, because it always is so heart-warming and natural. The masterful way their interactions have been written makes the reader feel their trust in each other and know that Dingus will always be safe with Vandis, just as Vandis will always be safe with Dingus. The crusty old knight has made a huge difference in his life, but equally the other way, too. The father/son love they have for one another is by far one of the best I’ve ever read.

All in all, once again I’d like to say that if you enjoy the fantasy genre then you should definitely be reading these books. The author, M.A. Ray, has a bustling Facebook page, and a great website, should you want to have a gander.

Review: “The Seelie Princess” by Jill Turner

Title: The Seelie Princess

Author: Jill Turner

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

Rating: ***

 

To be perfectly honest, I knew I was going to love this book from the moment I read the synopsis. Who doesn’t love a good faerie story, let’s be honest? Jill Turner does a fantastic job of weaving together old folk tales with a modern setting and with characters I had no trouble relating to almost immediately.

Clary, the main character, is a sweet little girl who I was mentally cheering for from the get go. She seems like a very ordinary child, even though it’s plainly evident from the events surrounding her that she is far from that, and her fragile humanity makes her such a fantastic character. She seems unable to protect herself through much of the book, mostly because of her young age I think, and as a reader you feel a very real sense of danger at her back throughout.

This is permeated by the very focal presence of her nasty teacher, Mrs De’ath, who while often comical in her attempts to sabotage Clary, is still a quite frightening antagonist. Her utter ruthlessness doesn’t become completely apparent until the second half of the book, but even without that I found her a well-written character that I think will resound with anyone who has had to deal with an unpleasant teacher at school. After all, as a child, what can you do if a teacher hounds your steps? It’s a cleverly written plot point, so I have to take my hat off to the author for that.

The magic of the tale is really beautifully scattered into the story, too. It’s subtle, but lends a sense of wonder to the whole set up. All of the supporting characters are wonderful too, and it’s interesting the way the perspectives swapped from that of a helpless child, to the almost equally helpless magical beings. The only one who seemed able to make any real difference was Clary’s mother, a particular favourite character for me.

I think this is wonderful story for older children to read and have on their bookshelves. It teaches a very important lesson about dealing with bullies and making friends, and I can’t wait to give a copy to my niece. It’s a very comforting read, even for adults, but I think any child who is suffering with bullies at school would feel very akin to this story, and to Clary, too. What lonely little girl doesn’t dream of being a fairy princess, after all?

Book Recommendation: “Flight Plan” by K.M. Herkes

Title: Flight Plan

Author: K.M. Herkes

Genre: Techno-Adventure

Rating: ***

 

Once again I find myself recommending another book by K.M. Herkes, and I don’t feel even the slightest bit sorry for it. Flight Plan is the sequel to Controlled Descent, which I really enjoyed reading some months back, and this follow up did not disappoint.

As I’ve said previously, K.M. Herkes has such a magnificent way with words, it makes me long for poetry written by her as well. There isn’t an inch of fat on anything she writes, but it is still so lyrical and emotive, it’s a striking style of writing that contrasts beautifully with the subject matter and genre, making her incredibly unique to read. Everything has purpose, every movement leads somewhere, and her language choices are always perfection. I always find her work a great pleasure to read; the writing itself never fails to speak to me.

She has a keen understanding of the human condition too, and as such her characters are always believable and interesting. Every action causes a reaction, and those in turn are always a fantastic way of showing us just what sort of characters we’re dealing with. Technically speaking the writing is flawless, but romantically speaking I sincerely doubt there will ever be a book written by this author that I won’t enjoy and find great pleasure in reading.

I do have to admit that I did struggle about a third of the way through this one, compared to its predecessor, but after a few chapters I was back in the story once again. This wasn’t any real fault in the writing at all, but rather my own expectations, I think. In book one the main three characters were Justin, Alison, and Tyler. Alison in particular was a favourite of mine, and I was a little disappointed to see her shunted off to the sidelines, along with Tyler. In Controlled Descent she was a force to be reckoned with, whilst still retaining a very human uncertainty and emotional vulnerability. In Flight Plan she was reduced to little more than “playing mother”, which was a shame.

That said, I did enjoy the new characters too, and after my initial realisation that Alison was not playing anything like a key role this time, I was settled back into the story once again. The new characters are all as unique and cleverly written as the original cast, and it was lovely to see Carl and Parker with much more prominent story arcs than in Controlled Descent. Of the new cast members I really enjoyed reading Serena. It’s not very often you get to read a female character quite like her without falling into old, boring tropes about mental health, and for that I think K.M. Herkes deserves further kudos.

All in all, I really enjoyed it. The story was fast-paced, and the setting different and smartly put together. I look forward to reading the next instalment!

If you’re interested in finding out more about K.M. Herkes and her brilliant writing, you can find her on facebook and twitter.

Book Recommendation: “All From Dreams” by Bethanie F. DeVors

Title: All From Dreams (Book One of The Seodrassian Chronicles)

Genre: Fantasy

Author: Bethanie F. DeVors

Rating: ***

 

All From Dreams is very much the kind of book that makes me love this genre above all others, because there really are no limits on where your imagination can take you.

The world-building alone is expansive and epic, with details scattered throughout the story so skilfully that you know all about the land of Seodrass before you even realise it. The premise is clever, and while it could possibly be seen as “tropey wish-fulfilment” it’s just so well written that I defy a single person who loves the genre could ever look down on it for that. Who hasn’t wished their epic quest dreams wouldn’t come true in some way?

The writing itself is very beautiful. The story flowed from one scene to the next with such ease, there was never a dull moment. The descriptive work was solid, and the characters realistic, full of a wide spectrum of emotion and purpose that I always love to see in any book I read.

All From Dreams is the escapist fantasy we all long for, and I think it was very well executed. I look forward to reading more of the series.

If you’re interested in learning more about the epic realm of Seodrass or the highly skilled author who has brought it to life, here is a link to the facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/authorbethaniealongi

Book Review: “Silver Shackles” by Fiona Skye

Title: Silver Shackles (Book two of the “Revelations” trilogy)

Author: Fiona Skye

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

Fiona Skye’s stories are clever, intricate, well-paced, and beautifully written. I have a weakness for clever, resourceful, and fierce female characters, personally, and no one delivers quite like Riley O’Rourke. She is, to me, a standard for every well-written woman of fiction, and trust me when I say I can give no higher praise than that.

It’s no secret that there’s a sad lack of three-dimensional women in literature, most writers falling back quite lazily on the “she’s-a-strong-female-character-because-she-punches-stuff-and-so-she-doesn’t-need-any-actual-depth-or-developement” trope, which honestly died a death way back in the early 90’s as far as I’m concerned. Readers want more than that now, and Fiona Skye delivers where so many others lack.

As much as I love Riley – who is complex, caring, career-driven, and makes as many mistakes as she fixes – there is also a huge, diverse cast of other women, too. Both faerie queens are ferocious in very different ways, Penny is a kind-hearted human gauntlet, Orla the straight-speaking good witch, and even conniving Jenny, are all side characters that light up an already brilliant story.

And those are just the women! David, in particular, deserves honourable mention. His role in this book was crucial, and while I don’t want to give away any spoilers, it wouldn’t have been the same story without him.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Fiona Skye and her work, here is a link to her website (Here: http://fiona-skye.com/ ) and her facebook page (Here: https://www.facebook.com/fionaskyewriter )

Book Review: “Controlled Descent: A Story of the Restoration” by KM Herkes

Title: Controlled Descent: A Story of the Restoration (Adventures, book one)

Author: KM Herkes

Genre: Techno-Adventure

Rating: ****

 

Controlled Descent was a fantastic read, and one I’m glad I already own the sequel to so that I can dive right back in again soon. This isn’t the first book I’ve read by the excellent KM Herkes –a few months ago I picked up her novella, “Extraordinary”- so I already knew that this was going to be good. Needless to say I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Her prose is always so beautifully written, with a lingering darkness that adds a weight you don’t often get to read these days. It flows so easily, and with such a fantastic pace that you genuinely won’t want to stop until you’re done. It makes me want to pack nothing but her books and go off on a reading holiday for a few weeks, because being brought back to reality while reading her work isn’t dissimilar from a hard kick in the chops. Her writing never fails to draw me in, to sweep me up and deposit me right in the middle of the story as though I were really there. It doesn’t feel forced or contrived in any way, and you don’t even realise that you’ve been dragged in so deep until you have to come back out again. It’s truly masterful.

The world-building is fantastic, too. It’s an almost dystopian society, but still very closely aligned with the “real world” that sometimes the line between blurs and you feel like it’s all very possible. I think that’s very clever, myself. So many writers try so hard to distance themselves from current society, probably to make things seem scarier, but the world created by the KM Herkes’ Restoration is probably more frightening precisely because you can see such a close resemblance between our world and the fictional one depicted.

For all this praise, however, the highlight of the whole book is definitely the characters. The life that has been breathed into each and every one of them, their distinctive voices, their quirks and flaws, and their motivations are all so spot on. Even the side characters, the ones who don’t get very much page time all seem so very alive. You can tell that a great deal of effort went into constructing these characters, and I really think it was this aspect of the story that made it so very easy to become part of the story as a reader, too. Everyone seemed so very human, so very alive that you can easily get lost in the web of their lives and become incredibly invested in them emotionally.

All in all the book is one I think everyone should read. It’s got everything you could ever want from a story and it’s beautifully crafted, too. Trust me: Read it. And go check out KM Herkes on facebook (Here: https://www.facebook.com/dawnriggersden) or twitter (Here: https://twitter.com/Dawnrigger)

Book Review: “Dry Land” by Jennifer Anne Seidler

Book Title: Dry Land

Author: Jennifer Anne Seidler

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: ***

 

I really enjoyed this book. It was clever and well executed, and the length was just right. I generally don’t read a lot of SciFi so this was a bit of a gamble for me, and one I’m glad to report has paid off. I’ve read some Asimov, and of course the Star Wars books, but otherwise I prefer to watch SciFi, simply because I’m not scientifically minded and some authors of this genre can get pretty heavy with jargon which makes it awkward to read for the laymen amongst us. Thankfully Jennifer Anne Seidler isn’t one of them, and everything was explained in a concise and easy to follow style that didn’t have me stopping every few paragraphs to look something up. This left me blissfully to enjoy the story and characters as they should be, so that alone deserves a big kudos in my humble opinion.

The story revolves around astronaut Ted “Shakespeare” Hardison, who is part of a team going up to the moon indefinitely for a terraforming project. It’s hinted at pretty early on that the Earth is in bad shape, almost post-apocalyptic, particularly in America. We find out that Ted has played a very large role in the project, specifically designing the technology needed, and that his work is one of the two great loves of his life.

His other great paramour is his wife, Colby. She’s an intriguing character, and from the get-go you realise there’s something different about her, which is soon revealed to be that she isn’t entirely human – she’s an android. Because Ted doesn’t know when or even if he will be returning to Earth, the opening scene is the two of them saying goodbye and signing their divorce papers. Even with the relatively short appearance Colby makes at the beginning of the book, their relationship is a powerful one. As a reader I felt an immediate sense of how hard it was for them to part from one another, which in turn gave me an instantaneous connection to Ted, and an insight to his character and motivations.

I always enjoy a story where I feel sympathy for the protagonist, and more so when I don’t have to wait around for that. I was invested in Ted by the end of the prologue, and despite her brief appearance, Colby too. Despite that Dry Land isn’t exactly a romance, I found myself hoping they would be reunited again soon, a wish that was granted in a squiffy sort of way by the end of chapter one.

The writing was clean and easy to follow, the characters were deep, and the plot was unique and interesting. It’s definitely worth taking a chance over.

You can find out more about Jennifer Anne Seidler at her facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/drylandnovella

Book Review: “Hard Luck” by M.A. Ray

Book title: Hard Luck (Volume 1, Saga of Menyoral)

Author: M.A. Ray

Genre: High Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

It’s been a while since I last sat down to read a high fantasy book, and Hard Luck doesn’t disappoint. It has everything I look for in this genre: Magic, colourful characters, first rate world-building, and a nice gritty undertone that adds a sense of realness despite, well… the elves, if you see what I mean.

The story is set in Rothganar, a place that you are pulled into immediately as the opening scene unfolds in mysticism and a spell gone horribly wrong. The consequences of this short prelude mean very little at first, but you still feel a sense of loss despite that, something I think points to some very skilled writing. Four pages into the book, and I was already emotionally invested.

It stands to reason that in eliciting this sort of response in a new reader, the protagonist is also someone you find yourself immediately attached to. My sympathy for Dingus began from the moment I read his rather unfortunate name, and only swelled further as the full horror of his life became clear. The way the author deals with the prejudice Dingus faces is unapologetic and with such integrity that it brought a lump to my throat, and immediately had me firmly backing her protagonist to the hilt. In a show of yet more skilful writing, the fact that the situation makes you want to jump into the pages of the book and beat the living daylights out of Dingus’ antagonists also makes you immediately cheer for the first appearance of Vandis, a travelling knight who does just that.

Their relationship is one the best I’ve read in a long time, and as Vandis takes Dingus under his proverbial wing, the progression of both characters as the story moves along is masterful. When they are later joined by Kessa, yet another stray with a horrific backstory, the three of them bounce so well against one another that they all come to life in a way I haven’t been privileged to read in quite some time. Their dialogue is spot on, each with a very clear voice and tone, and not ever forced throughout.

On that note, I wanted to address something I’ve seen criticised quite seriously in other reviews, and that is the swearing. Yes, there is a fair amount of cussing throughout, and mostly from Vandis. Vandis is a crusty old knight who quite happily drops the f-bomb, and personally I think it adds to his character that he does so. It would be bizarre for someone of his background and disposition to say “good heavens” or “whoopsie daisy” or whatever, and I don’t really understand why in this day and age, with writers like George Martin sprinkling the dreaded “C U Next Tuesday” like glitter, (So disgust. Much rude. Wow.) that anyone would be offended by such a thing. No one seems bothered by any of the quite vivid violence in the book, or the allusions the paedophilia for that matter, which is surely far more disturbing? These things mentioned, I also don’t understand why anyone would think the swearing is the only reason this book isn’t suitable for children, but apparently that’s just me.

This is not a children’s book. That much is evident before you even finish the prologue to be honest, but as to the parents looking down their noses at this excellent book because of the swearing, I’m afraid I have bad news: If you think your teenager doesn’t swear, you’re living in a fantasy world even more expansive than Rathganar, and that’s truly a grand feat of imagination.

That said, what I do think is important to point out is aside from Vandis’ characterisation, the swearing is there for another quite excellent reason. At the beginning of the book, Dingus is seriously downtrodden, and quite literally at that. He is understandably afraid and nervous, and very meek around others. By the end of the book, however, he is cussing right along with Vandis, and actually at him at one point, laughing and speaking his mind with an ease and comfort that shows the outward signs of his mental healing. If cussing offends you, that’s just fine. We’re all different – personally I’m very offended by beetroot, and I’ve yet to find anyone else who shares my deep revulsion for it – and that’s just fine. What isn’t fine is trash talking an excellent author for your own quirks, and implying that their differing use of language to yours shows some kind of want of skill or talent.

The book is far and away one of my favourite reads in the genre for quite some time now, and I can’t wait to jump back into the story for more of these fantastically written and intricate characters. The Saga of Menyoral has another three books currently available for consumption, and I would very strongly encourage anyone who enjoys bold, brassy fantasy to go and check them out, as well as the author herself, who can be located on facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/marayauthor

Book Review: “Extraordinary” by K.M. Herkes

Book title: Extraordinary (Rough Passages Volume 1)

Author: KM Herkes

Genre: Dark/Urban Fantasy

Rating: ****

 

At the risk of making a cheesy cliché, Extraordinary by KM Herkes really was an extraordinary book. (I’m not sorry!)

It’s quite dark, but beautifully so, the style of prose like a curling mist with the occasional sharp edge concealed and cutting the reader unexpectedly. I felt an air of “nightmare” through the whole thing, and while it isn’t a horror, it gave me a huge sympathy for the protagonist throughout.

Valerie Wade has come out of an abusive marriage, trying to raise two children, look after her disabled and bigoted mother, while holding down multiple jobs. As though this wasn’t enough, she also has a genetic disorder which threatens all she holds dear with the possibility of an untimely death. Despite all these tribulations, Valerie remains an optimistic protagonist, one who seems very much like she wants to believe the world is much better than she’s seen so far, and always looking for the positives of her life. She is forgiving and wants to please, and I think it’s these crucial characteristics that keep the story from descending into horror.

I felt a great sense of connection to Valerie throughout, and kept hoping right along with her that things would get better. She was believable, and as it becomes increasingly apparent through the story that her disorder could mean more than just death, the first-rate world building has dragged you into the story before you even realise what’s happened.

There’s a little subtle social commentary throughout, which I loved, regarding prejudice and, of course, abuse and the many forms it takes in people’s lives. I was sorry when I reached the end, and far too quickly, but as this is the first in a series and there are another two currently in print, I’m looking forward to experiencing more from this talented author.

Along with the “Rough Passages” series, KM Herkes has also written “Stories of the Restoration” of which I have the first book currently waiting on my e-reader, and along with a bubbling facebook page, a fantastic website which I recommend you go check out: http://storysculpting.blogspot.co.uk/