The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2) – Erika Johansen

the invasion of the tearingWith each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

Rating: 4/5

For all my criticisms, this was bloody brilliant.

The Invasion of the Tearling, or In Which Queen Kelsea Gives Zero Fucks, was superbly entertaining and compelling despite my criticisms of the series. I finished the book in two days and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Many people, myself included, had issues with the worldbuilding, namely the modern world going post-apocalyptic and then transitioning into a medieval type fantasy world with horses and magic just didn’t sit right – so many plausibility issues, and dystopia and fantasy don’t mesh particularly well together. That said, I can give points for originality, and I got over that aspect for the sequel.

The pre and post-Crossing world is brought to the forefront of the novel, as several chapters are dedicated to the perspective of Lily, a seemingly insignificant woman living at the end of the pre-crossing era, just before the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Her chapters do feel a little jarring, as they deal with her life in a recognizably modern world.

Readers should be aware that there are either descriptions or mentions of rape, sexual assault and abuse. As uncomfortable as they were, they didn’t feel gratuitous to me – men in positions of power who know they won’t face consequences for their actions, coupled with a lack of structure and law, make for a dangerous world for women, whatever era they may be in.

This installment essentially focuses on the impending invasion of the Tearling army after Kelsea stopped the slave shipments in the previous book. Her forces are greatly outnumbered, there is dissent amongst some of her citizens, especially the Church and the nobility, and overall there is a growing sense of doom and inevitability.

I like that Kelsea isn’t a likeable character – as I mentioned in the beginning of the review, she gives zero fucks in this book – with impending war, she has to make some ruthless decisions – she’s not an overly friendly or sweet-natured person, but she gets things done and generally tries to do what’s right. (With some notable exceptions.)

One thing that does irk me is the whole appearance saga – in the previous book, it was mentioned how plain Kelsea is – in this one, she becomes prettier and loses weight because OF COURSE we can’t have a heroine who stays overweight and average.

I also felt the romance, if you can call it that, came out of nowhere. I’ll be interested to see what the author does with it in the next book.

Finally:

-Who the hell is Kelsea’s father? We’ve managed to eliminate some suspects, but the mystery remains.
-I ship Mace and Andalee. Make it happen!
– What happened with William Tear when he first arrived? Who killed him and his heir?
– Are the Fetch and Rowland Finn more closely connected? And what role does the Fetch have in all of this?

Some kickass quotes:

“Do you honestly not know the right thing to do, General, or do you just pretend not to know because it’s easier that way?” 

&

“Indeed, Your Holiness, the sexual freedom of consenting adults is the greatest threat this kingdom has ever faced,” Kelsea replied acidly. “God knows how we’ve lasted so long.” 

In fact, the entire scene between Kelsea putting the priest in his place is utterly fantastic and had me cheering.

&

“It’s a gallery of your ancestors Majesty. Timpany said that when the Regent was drunk, he liked to go down and scream at your grandmother’s portrait.” 

&

And Kelsea wondered suddently whether humanity ever actually changed. Did people grow and learn at all as the centuries passed? Or was humanity merely the tide, enlightenment advancing and then retreating as circumstance shifted? The most defining characteristic of the species might be lapse. 

***

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof, and may change prior to publication. 

Review: Greta and the Glass Kingdom – Chloe Jacobs

greta and the glass kingdomGreta the human bounty hunter never quite fit into the shadowed, icy world of Mylena. Yet she’s managed to defeat the demon Agramon and win the love of the darkly intense Goblin King, Isaac. Now Isaac wants her to rule by his side—a human queen. And the very announcement is enough to incite rebellion…

To make matters worse, defeating Agramon left Greta tainted with a dark magick. Its unclean power threatens to destroy her and everything she loves. With the Goblin King’s life and the very peace of Mylena at stake, Greta must find a cure and fast.

Her only hope lies with the strange, elusive faeries in the Glass Kingdom…if she can get there before the evil within her destroys everything.

Rating: 2/5

Unfortunately, this book just wasn’t a winner for me. I think with the three year gap between when I read the first book and when I read this one, my tastes changed rather substantially. I really did enjoy Greta and the Goblin King upon its release, but the series has lost its magic for me.

Things that irked me in the previous book were exacerbated in this one, namely:

1. The very colloquial/slangy language in a high fantasy setting. While it makes sense in that Greta is from the human/modern world, it’s a personal dislike of mine. I found it quite jarring.

2. Greta is impulsive and makes reckless decisions based on her emotions at the time. She goes from hating people to loving them and back in the space of a few minutes, which make her a rather overlyemotional and (for me at least) an unlikeable narrator.

3. The plot in this one was quite convoluted, with everything turning upside down in the last two chapters. But it felt messy, instead of clever and twisty.

4. Greta’s “oh I’m not beautiful I have scars and I’m a bounty hunter” shtick got old, fast. It’s a cliche in YA literature where the heroine always needs other people to tell her she’s attractive.

5. Finally, some of the writing felt a little clunky to me. Many words where used to describe something when fewer would suffice.

All in all, I really wanted to like this one, but sadly didn’t work for me.

ARC received from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Perfectly Good White Boy – Carrie Mesrobian

perfectly good white boySean Norwhalt can read between the lines.

“You never know where we’ll end up. There’s so much possibility in life, you know?” Hallie said.

He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she’s off to college, and he’s still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and “possibilities” isn’t exactly comforting. Sean’s pretty sure he’s seen his future and its “possibilities” and they all look disposable.

Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left.

Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job.

Like everything good he’s ever known.

The only hopeful possibilities in Sean’s life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he’d go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

Rating: 4/5

Let me preface this by saying that I have not, nor will I ever be, a teenage boy. However I think Mesrobian really depicts an authentic teenage boy’s voice – yes, there’s a lot of reference to boobs and sex and his penis, which he has named ‘The Horn’ (facepalm), but those aren’t the only things our narrator Sean cares about.

He wants to get out of his dead-end small town and make a life for himself outside of a world that presents very few opportunities. He’s not the stereotype of a tail-chasing dude – yes, he can be kind of pervy and obnoxious, but he also has strong romantic feelings. Sean’s the first one to say “ I love you” in the relationship with Hallie, and is incredibly hurt when they break up when she leaves for college.

When getting physical, he checks to see if his partner is still okay with what they’re doing, and in his internal monologue during one scene, he mentions not carrying on if he hears ‘stop’ or ‘no’. CONSENT, YO. IT’S IMPORTANT. And I’m glad to see it depicted, especially from a boy’s perspective.

This isn’t to say Sean’s an angel – he still has many flaws. But he’s human, and I found him loveable despite this. He cries when he’s emotionally hurt (in secret, in his room). He adores his doggie. He’s also kind of funny – take this description of his swearing in to the Marines:

Though it felt like a wedding. A wedding with dudes. A dude wedding with no party afterwards. 

I loved watching the relationship develop between himself and Neecie.

I didn’t care what she thought about me, because clearly she didn’t care about what I thought of her and that was nice, because normally, when I liked a girl, I was so tense around her I could barely speak. So this was all nice, because I thought she was cool, in all these different ways, like her hearing thing that made me have to think about what I said, whether I meant it, whether I wanted her to really know it. 

It’s abrasive, but real, and as the second novel that I’ve read from this author, I can definitely confirm that I love her writing style, although it’s not for everyone.

“I get kind of blank when I think about the future,” she said. “There are so many things, you know? How do I know what to pick, when I haven’t seen any of the things out there?” 

PREACH.

Review: The Mime Order (The Bone Season #2) – Samantha Shannon

the mime orderPaige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London…

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

Rating: 4/5

I read the entire book in one sitting (albeit with necessary bathroom and food breaks), and stayed up till 3am to finish it. I think that really says all you need to know about the book.

I am seriously impressed with the scope of the author’s imagination. Samantha Shannon has created an intricate world, and as readers we get the sense that she’s only showing us the tip of the iceberg. I love the details of all the different clairvoyants, the different factions within factions involved in power plays, and hints of the world outside Scion London.

The Mime Order picks up where The Bone Season left off, with Paige & co on a train committing their great escape. The book essentially deals with Paige’s status as underdesirable number one in Scion London, the ramifications thereof, uneasy alliances with unlikely figures, and most of all, the dealings of the various cohorts in London and Jaxon Hall’s Seven Seals gang.

It’s especially great to see the development of Paige’s character throughout this book – while she does spend quite a lot of time contemplating and debating and generally trying to figure things out, in the end she makes some pretty groundbreaking decisions. And may I just say – holy cliffhanger?

Sidenote: If you’re read Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Jaxon Hall really reminds me of Arobynn Hamel. Running their own criminal organisations, manipulative, never letting their underlings forget just how they owe their leaders for saving them from a worse fate.

While the book is not without its flaws – some slow paced sections, and the fact that Paige Mahoney, number one wanted criminal, seems to gallivant around London quite a lot and not get caught for all the extra security measures put in place – I am still incredibly invested in the series.

I think the worldbuilding is carefully cultivated, with favourite characters that I’m hoping will reappear later on in the series, clues that I think will also make sense later on, and let’s not forget a slow-burn, forbidden romance. With five more books to go, there’s so much that the author can do with this series and I’m excited to see where she takes us.

Review: The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

the bone seasonThe year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing.

It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.

The Bone Season introduces a compelling heroine and also introduces an extraordinary young writer, with huge ambition and a teeming imagination. Samantha Shannon has created a bold new reality in this riveting debut.

Rating: 4/5

This was a good book, there’s no doubt, but I think comparisons to JK Rowling are unfair – invariably, everyone will fall short when it comes to the Queen of Magical Literature. Quite frankly, apart from the British-ness and the proposal for 7 books, I don’t even see the similarities at all.

The Bone Season is set in a futuristic London, where those with clairvoyant abilities are despised and ostracised by the general population, and either end up on the wrong end of a noose, locked away in prisons or working for the criminal underworld. The overbearing corporation-type government regulates aspects of everyday life, all for the good of the people – a standard dystopian concept, it appears.

I know some people complained about info-dumping in the beginning – and whilst it is true that there is a lot of information given to the reader, the worldbuilding is so well done that it didn’t bother me. Indeed, this is one of the strong points of the book – the author really has thought out her world – the location, the different types of clairvoyants, etc.

Of course, all is not what it seems, and things very quickly take a turn for the worse. Without wanting to give away a major plot point, you will end up not knowing which side to root for – both are equally despicable.

Another aspect of the book I admired was that our protagonist, Paige, was not infallible. She got the shite kicked out of her on a regular basis, and suffered for it. Of course, I’m not celebrating the fact that she took some physical abuse – its just that many authors seem to quickly dismiss any physical pain after a major knock, and on the next page the narrators bounce back, as good as new.

There were multiple options for love interests, and I thought I spied a love triangle, but thankfully the author didn’t go there. The slow-blooming romance is done well, I think – a bit Stockholm Syndrome-ish, but the protagonist acknowledges this.

I liked the fact that Paige wasn’t perfect. She kills people. Her actions of rebellion cause others to get hurt. She tries to escape repeatedly, even if her captor is a hottie. (Which for some authors I’ve read, would be an excuse to stay and have lots of babies because oooh look how his hair shines in the sun!)

All in all, I think the Bone Season has a lot of potential. The pace could have been improved somewhat, and I wish I could have gotten greater insight into some of the more mysterious supporting characters. What are their histories? Their motivations? Their loyalties?

Samantha Shannon has created an intriguing world, and is certainly adept at portraying the utter despair of her characters and the cruelty that they experience. Do give this one a go.

Review: The Body Electric – Beth Ravis

the body electricElla Shepherd has dedicated her life to using her unique gift—the ability to enter people’s dreams and memories using technology developed by her mother—to help others relive their happy memories.

But not all is at it seems.

Ella starts seeing impossible things—images of her dead father, warnings of who she cannot trust. Her government recruits her to spy on a rebel group, using her ability to experience—and influence—the memories of traitors. But the leader of the rebels claims they used to be in love—even though Ella’s never met him before in her life. Which can only mean one thing…

Someone’s altered her memory.

Ella’s gift is enough to overthrow a corrupt government or crush a growing rebel group. She is the key to stopping a war she didn’t even know was happening. But if someone else has been inside Ella’s head, she cannot trust her own memories, thoughts, or feelings.

Rating: 3/5

This book and I just didn’t have the chemistry I was hoping for. I found there was far too much telling, and not enough showing in the first quarter of the book. Furthermore, I think it could have been edited down quite a lot.

But nevertheless, the book does deal with a rather twisty and interesting concept: altering people’s memories. What happens if something’s been erased, but you’re not sure what? And consider the multiple possibilities, for both healing and nefarious purposes.

I’d find myself stopping at some parts, and wondering whether what our narrator was experiencing was real, or just inside her head, or something she wasn’t even recalling correctly. Certainly kept me on my toes.

Ultimately though, this book just wasn’t as good as I was hoping for. I’ll be interested to see how other people review it.

Review: Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

station elevenAn audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. 

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them. 

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave. 

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleventells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it. 

Rating: 4/5

Bleak but so worth the hype. This is how you write an end of the world story. Indeed, this is probably one of the most horrifyingly realistic tales of how humanity as we know it comes to an end.

If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it? Perhaps soon humanity would simply flicker out, but Kristen found this thought more peaceful than sad. So many species had appeared and later vanished from this earth; what was one more? 

In terms of the virus that wipes out majority of the population, Mandel gives us enough information to make it plausible without going into so much scientific detail that it can be picked apart.

And things fall apart – swiftly and ominously. When people stop going about their business, the cogs of everyday life collapse.

Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines. Jeevan was standing by the window when the lights went out.

Perhaps the most chilling passages for me were those describing the collapse of the newstations and media – in times of disasters, or indeed, at all times, the media is a constant, keeping us updated and connected. When these pillars of communication fall, we’re left truly stranded, isolated from what remains of the rest of the world.

The book consists of several interconnected stories and characters that weave back and forth in time, but it is easy enough to keep track.

Mandel incorporates the most believable of human behaviour in response to the near-apocalyptic conditions – some people pull together and create a semblance of normalcy and community, some turn to violence and pillaging – survival of the fittest, some hide in isolation on the outskirts and avoid the chaos that comes with other humans, and some turn to religious fanaticism.

We stand it because we were younger than you were when everything ended, Kristen thought, but not young enough to remember nothing at all. Because there isn’t much time left, because all the roofs are collapsing now and soon none of the old buildings will be safe. Because we are always looking for the former world, before all the traces of the former world are gone. 

I adored the tale of the Travelling Symphony, whose Star Trek motto, “Because survival is insufficient”, really forms the crux of this novel. Chilling, at times sad, and utterly terrifying in its realism, there are also sparks of hope for a new world that can be built on the graveyard of the former.