Review: The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth #2) – N.K. Jemisin

the obelisk gateThe season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever.

It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy.

It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last.

The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

Rating: 4/5

Ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to report that there is no second-book syndrome here. The Obelisk Gate is just as rich and pacy as its predecessor – revealing more of the mysteries of the world building that were introduced in The Fifth Season.

Firstly, on an utterly shallow note, the covers for this series are incredible. This one in particular really caught my eye with its pleasing purple shades. Deceptively beautiful, considering the rather dire situations contained within.

As far as the plot is concerned, we pick up directly where the previous book left off – Essun and Alabaster have been reunited, with Alabaster on his way off this mortal coil. He has much knowledge to impart, although an understanding teacher he is not. However, it is only around halfway through the book that Essun finds out what, exactly, he intends for her to do.

You want me to catch the fucking moon?

Oh, I had to chuckle at Essun’s profanity-filled proclamation.

I was reminded, yet again, of the breathtaking scope of the originality and world building. It’s utterly refreshing to have a fantasy setting that isn’t a poor imitation of medieval Europe. Most of the people populating the novel are varying shades of brown. Women aren’t oppressed, at least not because of their gender. In fact, most of the characters are women who are adept and powerful in their own rights, whether they are leaders, physically strong, magically talented or mechanically skilled – to name but a few examples.

I also found this instalment much easier to follow, in terms of perspectives. We follow Essun as she adjusts to life in her newfound community, with increasing responsibilities to prevent civil war, save her own skin, and master her powers over the floating obelisks in the sky. The second perspective is that of Essun’s daughter, Nassun, detailing her flight from her home with her father and the events that follow. Finally, we have short interjections from a third, mysterious narrator, whose identity you can figure out as the book progresses.

But if you stay, no part of this comm gets to decide that any part of this comm is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.

One thing that has stood our for me throughout this series is the dark, wry humour. The kind that comes from situations that seem so hopeless that if you don’t temper it with sarcasm you’ll end up crying instead.

You’re the one who has to explain to Tonkee that Hjarka’s decided, through whatever convoluted set of values the big woman holds dear, than an ex-commless geomest with the social skills of a rock represents the pinnacle of desirability.

Finally, I was really drawn to the depiction of platonic relationships that form the heart of the novel – mainly between Essun and Alabaster, but between Essun and the other supporting characters as well. The somewhat begrudging relationships that turn into real care and concern, sometimes despite Essun’s intentions – understandable, considering the staggering losses she has faced in her past. The role she takes on to protect the people of her community, despite how they may treat her, and her attempts to preserve life, despite her abilities to wipe out everyone surrounding her.

Creative, powerful, entertaining and at times philosophical, The Obelisk Gate is a fantastic continuation of this effortlessly blended-genre series.

Advertisements

Review: Caraval – Stephanie Garber

caravalRemember, it’s only a game…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. Nevertheless she becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic. And whether Caraval is real or not, Scarlett must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over or a dangerous domino effect of consequences will be set off, and her beloved sister will disappear forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval…beware of getting swept too far away.

Rating: 2/5

Black sheep alert! I say, BLACK SHEEP ALERT. I was so looking forward to this one, but I have to say it’s my biggest disappointment of the year so far.

At first, I thought it was because it’s YA and I’m not the target audience – it did feel really juvenile, which is obviously not the book’s fault, but mine. But then I saw almost every other adult reader of the book raving about it – so that couldn’t be the reason!

The biggest issue for me was the writing. The overly descriptive, purpliest-prose that I have ever read. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for description – but every single object encountered by our protagonist is described. Every. Single. Object.

And described in excrutiatingly flowery detail, but using incredibly simplistic imagery. See the following examples:

“The isle on the horizon looked nothing like her familiar Trisda. Where Trisda was black sand, rocky coves, and sickly looking shrubs, this bit of earth was lush and alive. Glittering mist swirled around vibrant green mountains – all covered in trees – that rose toward the sky as if they were massive emeralds. From the top of the largest peak an iridescent blue waterfall streamed down like melted peacock feathers, disappearing into the ring of sunrise-tinted clouds that pirouetted around the surreal isle.”

“Lush red carpet cushioned her steps, while soft golden lights licked her arms with gentle kisses of warmth. Heat was everywhere, when a blink ago the world had been covered in cold. It tasted like light, bubbly on her tongue and sugary as it went down, making everything from the ends of her toes to the tips of her fingers tingle.”

Now imagine this but for 400 pages. (You don’t want to know how many times ‘emerald’ or ‘silver’ are used to describe something. If I took a shot every time I read a jewel-toned adjective…it would probably have made it a more enjoyable reading experience, to be honest.)

And the figures of speech were also clumsy and cringeworthy. They didn’t even make sense.

“She remembered her first impression of him, tall, roughly handsome, and dangerous, like poison dressed up in an attractive bottle.” 

“And to her horror, rather than feeling distaste, a tingle of periwinkle curiosity prickled her senses.”

Now all of this, of course, would have been slightly redeemed if we’d found out early on that the heroine Scarlett has synesthesia. But the author leaves it until past halfway to enlighten us. So I was left trying to grapple with these bizarre colour combinations and smells and the rest of it.

But let’s have more awful examples of the writing.

This is how the love interest’s eyes are described: “Light brown, the colour of caramel and liquid amber list.”

“She pictured two hungry pools of liquid amber fringed by dark lashes.”

Excuse me while I roll my eyes…sorry, I meant pools of liquid.

“Around her, the people on the street were as thick as a murder of crows.”

and

“Her skirt and blouse were silver this time, with eyes and lips painted to match. Like a teardrop the moon had cried.”

Huh?

But let’s get onto the other things I didn’t like, since I appear to be on a roll!

In terms of the plot, everything is just far too damn convenient. Oh, Scarlett needs to find a clue? Oh look, there it is, conveniently waiting for her. Repeat times 5.

Scarlett as a character is also incredibly slow on the uptake – it’s not great form if the reader keeps guessing before the character figures things out. Her naiviety and prudishness can be excused as product of her upbringing, but she gives absolutely no sense of agency to her sister, who is only younger than her by a year. While it’s admirable that she loves her sister and tries to save her constantly, Tella is not some helpless baby.

Also, some delightful slut-shaming:

“…she was not going to let Julian make eyes at some tart in a bar…”

And the romance didn’t do it for me. There’s a lot of pressing together through layers of flimsy dresses, oh my, and plenty of mentions of Scarlett’s curves. While Scarlett has waxed lyrical about Julian’s eyes (see above quotes), his mouth is also a point of descriptive butchering – sly, sinful, immoral. How a quirk of a mouth can be immoral is beyond me.

To be fair, CLEARLY THIS ENTIRE BOOK WAS BEYOND ME.

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Windwitch (The Witchlands #2) – Susan Dennard

windwitchAfter an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Marstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

Rating: 3.5/5

As a result of the events of the previous book, Safi has been captured by the Empress of Marstok, Merik is presumed dead, Iseult is trying to find Safi, and Aeduon is on his own mission.

Unfortunately the momentum of the last book completely stalled in this one. While all our characters were on the move, it seemed like they were on particularly dodgy road trips, rather than having an end-goal in mind.

I suppose I should also have refreshed myself on what happened in the first book before delving into this one, because I was fairly lost on some of the major plot points and it took me a while to remember who was doing what and why.

I really do love the worldbuilding in this series, although we don’t have all the necessary information all the powers and the origin wells – I assume this will be delivered to us as we need it.

The characters and their relationships are what really make this series for me. I enjoyed Safi and Iseult learning how to compensate without the other one there – although I did miss their interactions, now that they are separated. Aeduan and Iseult have the world’s slowest of burns going on. I do wish there’d been more resolution to the Merik/Vivia conflict – it felt very abrupt at the end. And the newer cast members added some welcome flavour to the mix.

Plot-wise was where the book let me down. As I mentioned, it just felt incredibly slow to me, and it took them all a very long time to do the things they needed to do. And since the main characters were separated from each other, some of the quick-witted chemistry was lost. Furthermore, Merik wasn’t the most riveting of characters, and this was technically ‘his’ book.

Despite this, I’m still invested in the series, and I hope that Bloodwitch recovers the pace and excitement that was missing from this installment.

Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay – JK Rowling

fantastic beastsJ.K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut is captured in this exciting hardcover edition of the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay.

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.

Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any reader’s bookshelf.

Rating: 3/5

Confession time – I haven’t seen the Fantastic Beasts movie – and I think I would have probably enjoyed this book a lot more if I had. After all, it’s in script format, which means that the content is meant to be performed. And without a visual reference, we’re fairly short on background detail, and it will naturally be a tad underwhelming.

That said, I was still curious about this one, the second Harry Potter-related release of 2016. I suppose part of what spoiled this for me, however, is my disenchantment with the author, in terms of her appropriation of Native American elements on her website, and her support for Johnny Depp in the movie sequels. I am a consumer reviewer, not a critical one, and therefore I don’t feel the need to separate the creator from their work.

With that in mind, the book was an enjoyable romp, but it didn’t blow me away. With a similar ‘meh’ reaction to Cursed Child, along with the aforementioned issues, I guess it’s now time for the author and I to part ways.

What I liked:

-The creativity and imaginative scope of all the magical animals

-Newt, badass Hufflepuff with a spine of steel and a heart of gold – although not always too considerate of the consequences for others

-Queenie, who is sunshine personified

-The moral of the story, if you can call it that. The fight against bigotry and ignorance, couched in the magical universe, has always been a staple of the HP world

-The sinister atmosphere that is evoked and simmers underneath the madcap hijinks that occur, coupled with creepy nursery rhymes and cults. *shivers*

Free copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – N.K. Jemisin

the fifth seasonThis is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

Rating: 4.5/5

An incredible, effortlessly original fantasy novel, well-deserving of its Hugo Award. This is the second book of the author’s that I’ve read – The Killing Moon was the first – and again, I was struck by how fresh Jemisin’s work feels. She doesn’t waste time rehashing the tired old fantasy tropes that we see over and over again. She also has absolutely no fucks to give, and it comes through in her work that has so many highly relevant messages to the world we live in today.

Tell them they can be great someday, like us. Tell them they belong among us, no matter how we treat them. Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Them them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at those contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.

First, let’s talk world building. It pairs astronomy with sentient rock people, as the author herself notes in the acknowledgements, which is such a fabulous, intriguing notion. Basically, there are a small group of people born who are able to control the earth’s geological forces, causing or dispelling earthquakes and other seismic activity. Rest of the world is terrified of these people, and the sentient rock people (its a catchy term, okay) are heavily discriminated against. And that’s all you really need to know going in.

There are so many intricacies and subplots going on in the background – you simply have to trust the author to reveal the information to you as relevant. Indeed, you’re thrown into the deep end when the book begins, with three different perspectives of three women in very different situations. But you’re able to piece things together without being spoonfed by the author. She makes you work for it, which is so  much more satisfying.

“I didn’t know.” She slurs the words around the back of her hand. The words don’t make sense but she feels compelled to say them. “I didn’t.”

“You think that matters?” It’s almost cruel, the emotionlessness of his voice and face.

The characters are … interesting. There’s no other way to put it. They are substantial, but the author has perfected showing, not telling, so there’s much we have to infer from their actions and words. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the diversity of characters. Female perspectives dominate, and they are kickass, intelligent, self-sufficient women. Almost everybody in this novel is of some shade of brown. Sexualities are fluid. Trans people exist without fanfare or furore. There are complicated relationships and not-relationships, which I will leave you to discover for yourself.

The moments of humour are few and far between, considering the subject matter of the book, but this makes them all the more valuable. The following exchange in particular had me cackling out loud:

“Don’t follow me.”

“Wasn’t planning to.”

“I mean it… You don’t know what I’m going back to. I could live in a walled compound with fifty other rusters just like me. We might have tooth-files and a ‘juicy stupid people’ recipe book.”

You get the impression that you are just skimming the surface of what is a deeply intricate, deeply layered universe. Kudos to the author, and highly recommended.

Review: The Masked City (The Invisible Library #2) – Genevieve Cogman

the masked cityLibrarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

Rating: 3/5

“Here’s to being a secret agent of an interdimensional Library!”

Which, I feel, pretty much sums up this book, and the series as a whole, thus far. I think one of the strong points of this book is it’s very in-depth, original and thought-out world building. The author has really spent time figuring out how things work in her imaginary world, and pre-empting many of the questions from her readers. The flip side of this is that sometimes the prose can feel a tad bogged down with detail – there’s some telling, not showing, taking place – but it’s an understandable catch-22.

In this instalment, the ever-unflappable Irene embarks on a rescue mission to an alternate Venice, where her kidnapped assistant, Kai, is being held. She’s pretty much on her own, as this mission technically involves breaking a number of official Library rules. I think the book suffers somewhat from the absence of Kai – the interactions between him and Irene were one of the highlights of the previous book, and without him, we’re subject to a helluva lot more of Irene’s internal thought processes. And while I am appreciative of her cool, calm demeanour – no hysterics or dramatics here – I felt very detached from her character and emotions.

It’s worth noting that the action takes place over two days, if I’m not mistaken – which can make things feel quite drawn out at times. And although this review seems full of criticism, I really am appreciative of the concept and the lack of urban fantasy cliches and tropes. It’s definitely worth checking out, both for the world building and the practical Irene, who adapts to whatever shenanigans are thrown in her way – of which there are many.

Review: A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J Maas

a court of mist and furyFeyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court—but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people.

Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms—and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future—and the future of a world cleaved in two.

With more than a million copies sold of her beloved Throne of Glass series, Sarah J. Maas’s masterful storytelling brings this second book in her seductive and action-packed series to new heights.

Rating: 4/5

I’ll admit it – while I find some aspects of the author’s writing problematic, she’s as entertaining as hell. I mean, I am rather tired of the manly muscle-y growly fairy men and I know she likes to switch popular love interests, which are two of the most common complaints – but there’s a lot to be praised as well.

For starters, I like how she depicts different kinds of female characters who represent different kinds of female strength – some use physical prowess or powers, others use their bodies or minds or wit or manipulation. I adore the sisterhood that is incorporated into her work. And the equally wonderful friendships. I like that her female characters aren’t relegated to sticking with their first loves, and that they are free to experience physical pleasure without shame or obligations.

Now, for the particulars of this book. MILD SPOILERS AHEAD.

I admit, I didn’t like Rhys in the previous book. And I don’t particularly care that he had justifications for his behaviour and actions, he was still sleazy AF. But I adore the new characters in this instalment. That’s another strength of this writer – she can introduce you to a new character and five chapters later they’re a new fave. I love the loyalty between the Night Court Crew, as I have officially named them. (But sheesh, does anyone NOT have a tragic backstory? Although I suppose that makes for a boring narrative, yes?)

I did like how the author handled the destruction of the relationship between Feyre and Tamlin. I thought the explanation made total sense, and was well depicted – how the person she was before her ordeal was completely different to the person she was now, and her needs and wants had changed accordingly.

I had loved the High Lord who had shown me the comforts and wonders of Pythian; I had loved the High Lord who let me have the time and food and safety to paint. Maybe a small part of me might always care for him, but…Amarantha had broken us both. Or broken me so that who he was and what I now was no longer fit.

I like how hints that were dropped in the first book came full circle. I was sucked into the story despite my misgivings, and it paid off. Maas is particularly good at vivid imagery, which really came through strongly in this book. Her love scenes are alternately scorching and cringeworthy, but she really knows how to bring the swoons. So yes, in short, while I am not blind to her faults, I think she’s also a strong storyteller, with fresh ideas and flawed female characters.