Review: ‘Godsgrave’ by Jay Kristoff

A ruthless young assassin continues her journey for revenge in this new epic fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jay Kristoff.

Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church hierarchy think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending the men who destroyed her familia; in fact, she’s told directly that Consul Scaeva is off limits. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia suspicions about the Red Church’s true motives begin to grow.

When it’s announced that Scaeva will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end him. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between love and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

This is the second book in the Nevernight Chronicles (you can see my review of the first book here). Now, given that Jay Kristoff and co-writer Amie Kaufmann have a fabulous, bestselling YA series together, you might think this was YA. You’d be wrong. As I said about the first book, Godsgrave contains pretty much all those adult themes that make conservative school librarians faint: a bisexual main character, swearing, explicit sex and violent murder.

But if the idea of those things doesn’t bother you, and you love the idea of seeing a complex, dystopian fantasy world brought undone by a cold teenage killer, then this is the book for you.

If you took medieval Venice, mixed in some Ancient Rome, and added a daub of original World of Darkness Vampire: the Masquerade (but minus the vampires), you’d get the world of Godsgrave. Slaves, gladiators, masked balls, a looming and evil godlike presence, a secretive cult of assassins, a dissolute and entitled nobility that is either clueless or wilfully cruel — this book has it all.

And then there’s Mia. She was forced to watch her father hanged by her mother when she was a child, and was then taken in by a retired assassin who set her on that path. When you add in the fact that she can manipulate the shadows and is followed around by slices of shadow that eat her fear so she simply doesn’t feel it, she’s a little broken — although that spark of empathy  we saw in her in the first book is still there, buried deep.

The plot twists and turns like a twisty, turny thing. And I didn’t see most of them coming, which always fills me with glee. I can’t wait to see what Mia does next.

 

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Review: ‘The Slow Regard of Silent Things’ by Patrick Rothfuss

Deep below the University, there is a dark place. Few people know of it: a broken web of ancient passageways and abandoned rooms. A young woman lives there, tucked among the sprawling tunnels of the Underthing, snug in the heart of this forgotten place.

Her name is Auri, and she is full of mysteries.

This novella is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever read. Or listened to on audiobook, at any rate. It’s set in the world of The Name of the Wind, and focuses on Auri, an enchanting side character from the main story. In fact, it focuses on her to the point where she’s almost the sole character.

After a fashion.

Auri has a peculiar character trait in that she personifies the objects around her. She sees them as having names and moods and desires of their own, and believes her role is to make all the objects happy, to make the world “proper true”. As a result, there are objects in this novella, such as the light she carries around or a brass gear that she finds, that I was downright fond of by the end. And Auri, who cuts a very lonely figure, is never really alone.

As for the plot, well … there isn’t one. Not in the traditional sense. This novella is seven days in Auri’s life, as she prepares for a visit by Kvothe (though he is never named directly). She goes exploring, she searches for a gift to give him, she makes soap.

That’s it, in terms of the plot.

What the novella does do, and in a breathtakingly beautiful way, is explore the reality of someone who is entirely, utterly broken. Auri used to be a student at the University, and occasionally her educated vocabulary breaks through and gives a tantalising glimpse of the person she used to be. It’s never completely clear how many of her beliefs about the world around her are objectively true in Rothfuss’s world and how many are manifestations of her mental illness — and, at the end of the day, I’m not sure it matters. This story is from Auri’s point of view, and Auri believes these things with all of her being (while acknowledging in her darker moments that she herself isn’t “proper true”), so, as a reader, they were real for me too.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things isn’t a story in the traditional sense. It’s a set piece, a piece of art. The writing is gorgeous, like poetry. As a writer myself, I was humbled.

Rothfuss says in his foreword that, “If you haven’t read my other books, you don’t want to start here.” I can see why he said that, because this story isn’t typical of his style, and I guess he doesn’t want people reading this, being baffled, and not going back to the rest of his books. But, by the same token, you don’t need to have read his other books to appreciate the beauty of The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys beautiful writing and the exploration of the mind of a strange, wonderful character. (Or for those who want to learn how to make soap!)


Review: ‘The Way of Kings’ by Brandon Sanderson

Speak again the ancient oaths,

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on the ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by the ancient text named The Way of Kings and troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

Brandon Sanderson is a world-building, story-crafting genius. I strongly recommend his works if you like your fantasy on the EPIC side of epic — Goodreads tells me the hardcover of The Way of Kings is over 1000 pages. I listened to this on audiobook and it was 45+ hours long. That is a lot of 30-minute commutes.

Still, the time commitment is worth it.

I started out a little concerned, because Sanderson does something a little unorthodox in modern fiction and starts you off with not one but two prologues. I felt a little dropped in the deep end, and wanted to get to the main character so I could begin to learn about this new world. But Sanderson came good. And, boy, do we get to know this world. With a book this big, he can immerse you in many of the cultures, let you see how different characters think, let the characters and their decisions and mistakes drive events.

It turns out there are three main characters — which I’d have known if I read the blurb rather than buying the book on faith and diving straight in. (I’ve read/listened to quite a few Sanderson novels now and he’s an autobuy for me.) But we get chapters from other characters too. Honestly, I could have lived without some — though not all — of the interludes, because they didn’t seem that relevant to the main story. However, Sanderson has tricked me before when I’ve thought details were interesting but not relevant. He’s the master of literary sleight of hand.

I enjoyed all three main characters: Shallan is very intelligent and quick of wit but also incredibly naive; Dalinar is a hot older guy (I’m showing my age) who is a true noble, big on honour in a society where war and betrayal are almost tenets of faith; Kaladin is young, determined and a talented warrior and leader, but struggles with depression and bitterness due to some awful betrayals in his past.

Although this is a hugely character-driven story, there is a big bad looming in the background, a force or deity called Odium (which I imagine is like the elemental force Ruin in Sanderson’s Mistborn series: something that seeks the destruction of the world and is resisted by a Preservation equivalent). The more you read, the more you realise how all-pervasive Odium’s influence is over the world of Roshar. I suspect from this first book that the disintegration of the Alethi culture of which Dalinar is a part can be attributed to Odium’s influence.

I’m super-excited to read the rest of the series to find out if I’m right.


Review: ‘A Tangle of Gold’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

The Kingdom of Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception has been revealed and the Elite have taken control, placing the Princess, Samuel and Sergio under arrest and ordering their execution. Elliot is being held captive by the Hostiles and Colour storms are raging through the land. The Cello Wind has been silent for months.

Plans are in place to bring the remaining Royals home from the World but then all communication between Cello and the World will cease. That means Madeleine will lose Elliot, forever.

Madeleine and Elliot must solve the mystery of Cello before it is too late.

A Tangle of Gold is the final book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Aussie author Jaclyn Moriarty. You can find my first two reviews here and here. I commented in my review of the second book that the series title didn’t quite work for me, because Madeline’s parts of the story in the first two books were the less engaging parts.

It’s fair to say that, in the third book, Madeline finally comes into her own. I can’t say much more than that, because it’d be spoiler-tastic, but at last she becomes more than bizarre homeschooling, her mother’s illness, and her quirky friends.  Events in Cello rather than in the World (what they refer to Earth as) are definitely where the story is at, and they drive events. But there’s a lot more crossover, not just a parking metre-based postal service, so the World side of things gets a lot more interesting.

There are things that you need to know about these books if you are considering giving them a go:

  • Moriarty’s prose is beautiful. It’s lyrical and strange at times, but always beautiful. I’m sad that she never truly described the Cello Wind (which is alluded to often but remains off camera, so to speak). It would have been glorious.
  • Her world-building is astonishingly detailed. As a result, sometimes the story feels like it’s dragging a little, but things are always happening — even if their significance doesn’t become clear till later. Which brings me to…
  • The plot twists. OMG. There are things resolved in the third book that were delicately foreshadowed in the first. And some of these twists blindsided me. I usually guess or at least suspect in the right direction of plot twists, but I was way off base on this one, several times.

If you have the patience to read three 500-page books, and love parallel world stories with a truly unique alternate world and intense, intellectual and quirky characters, then this is the series for you.


Review: ‘The Cracks in the Kingdom’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

Princess Ko’s been bluffing about the mysterious absence of her father, desperately trying to keep the government running on her own. But if she can’t get him back in a matter of weeks, the consequence may be a devastating war. So under the guise of a publicity stunt she gathers a group of teens — each with a special ability — from across the kingdom to crack the unsolvable case of the missing royals of Cello.

Chief among these is farm-boy heartthrob Elliot Baranski, more determined than ever to find his own father. And with the royal family trapped in the World with no memory of their former lives, Elliot’s value to the Alliance is clear: He’s the only one with a connection to the World, through his forbidden communications with Madeleine.

Through notes, letters, and late nights, Elliot and Madeleine must find a way to travel across worlds and bring missing loved ones home. The stakes are high, and the writing by turns hilarious and suspenseful, as only Jaclyn Moriarty can be.

This is the second book in The Colours of Madeline trilogy by Sydney writer Jaclyn Moriarty. I finished it last weekend, and it’s taken me a while to sit down to write a review — largely because it took me more than a month to read, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on why.

Other than general life busyness and the danger of reading hardcover books in bed when you’re tired (ow), the obvious reason is that all the books in this series are quite long (and also heavy — ow). This one is almost 500 pages, and maybe my attention span isn’t what it used to be, but it just seemed like a lot. If you’ve read the first book in the series (or my review of same), you will know that the series is a parallel world tale where one of the two main characters, Madeline, is in England while the other is a boy named Elliot who lives in a magical modern-day equivalent of Earth that is called Cello. Moriarty puts a lot of work into world-building as far as Cello goes. Like, a lot. There are extracts from guide books, for example, and newspaper clippings, as well as the letters that the blurb mentions. They are relevant to the story, but gosh there are a lot of them!

There were some parts of the story that dragged and — despite the name of the trilogy — they are almost all Madeline’s sections. She doesn’t have as much to do in the second story other than live her quirky life, post some letters, and be increasingly interested in Elliot, who is (apparently) forever unattainable.

Elliot on the other hand is a very interesting character, as are the other members of the Royal Youth Alliance, Ko, Kiera, Sergio and Samuel. I far enjoyed reading about their meetings and efforts to rescue the royal family. That’s where all the action in the book is. (Sorry, Madeline.)

I realise this review might seem lukewarm, but I really did enjoy most of it — hence the four stars! I went straight into the last book in the series, and I’m hoping I can get it done more quickly than this one. 😉


This month on Aussie Owned and Read we’ve been doing a round robin series of interviews. I was interviewed by the lovely Heather Bosevski; you can find it here. I on the other hand interviewed spec fic author Sharon M. Johnston, and you can find that one here


Review: ‘A Corner of White’ by Jaclyn Moriarty

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The first in a rousing, funny, genre-busting trilogy from bestseller Jaclyn Moriarty!

This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).

Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.

As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…

At the end of last year, fabulous teen blogger Emily Mead did a huge post with a mini-review of the 100+ books that she read in 2016. I added a bunch of books to my TBR pile as a result (curse you, Emily), and the first of these was A Corner of White.

This is actually quite a difficult book to review. It’s a parallel world story  (partly set in our world and partly in a fantastical other world — think Alice in Wonderland or, well, a bunch of other books). But it’s even more of a parallel world story than usual, in that the main characters, Madeline and Elliot, live very similar lives. Both live away from their fathers and are missing them. Both come to see what they believe are problematic elements of their fathers in their own personalities. Both of them are dissatisfied with their situation and want to leave it for one reason or another. Both are charming and loved by those around them.

But in some other ways, this book is quite baffling. I spent maybe the first third of it being dissatisfied and somewhat unengaged by Madeline’s real-world antics and her life, which was so quirky that it seemed, well, unrealistic. By comparison, Elliot’s life — in the magical kingdom of Cello — actually seemed more normal. Certainly he had more things going on than strange “homeschooling” classes and slightly deranged (albeit generally well-meaning) friends. His world and story were kept me guessing, whereas Madeline’s, well, didn’t.

If you’d asked me at 100 pages how I thought I’d be rating A Corner of White, it would have been three-star at best, despite the lovely prose and the unique world of Cello. Which made me sad, because I wanted to love it. Luckily for me, it turns out that once Moriarty got the bit in her teeth and got going, the story picked up and I raced through the rest of it. I didn’t see the plot twists coming, and I loved the way that Moriarty wove them all together at the end. I loved how Madeline’s introspective rambling about science and history drove Elliot nuts, but also taught him something valuable about his own world.

The way that the book ended, while not exactly cliff-hanger-y, definitely left me wanting more. Happily books two and three have already been released! Yay! (Now, hurry up, Mr Postman!)

Overall, this was a four-star read for me, based  on simple maths: three for the start, five for the end. I feel like Madeline would approve of that approach.

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Four stars


Review: ‘Nevernight’ by Jay Kristoff

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Destined to destroy empires, Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student.

The shadows love her. And they drink her fear.

Given the whole girl-goes-to-assassin-school vibe of the blurb, I had originally thought this book might be YA. You’d think the “assassin” part of “assassin school” would have tipped me off. Still, by the end of the first chapter I knew very well that Nevernight wouldn’t be for younger readers. Jay Kristoff doesn’t pull his punches.

The book is violent, and doesn’t make any excuses for that. There are sex scenes that are just shy of erotica in their level of detail, though I never found them gratuitous. And in the opening chapter we actually get both, the scene flipping back and forward in time between a sex scene and a stabbing, highlighting the, erm, rather obvious parallels.

There are a lot of flashbacks in Nevernight, especially early in the book. The main storyline picks up when Mia is 16 and seeking to be accepted into the Red Church (said assassin school), but we get glimpses into the formative events of her past. I found the flashbacks interesting, but they were presented in italics to differentiate them from the main story, and I found them harder to read as a result (physically harder; large blocks of italics are painful. Maybe I’m just getting old!).

The other stylistic quirks of Nevernight are the use of footnotes, where the narrator provides extra detail about the world — generally amusing anecdotes and trivia that don’t really have a place in the main story but give a glimpse into the narrator’s personality. The other quirk is that we don’t actually know who the narrator is, just that it’s not Mia herself. (My money is on her shadow companion, Mister Kindly.)

There is magic in the world of Nevernight, which is a lush combination of Ancient Rome and slightly less ancient Venice, but it’s the sort of magic that imposes a cost on the user. I really liked that as a mechanic; it stopped the various magic-users from being completely overpowered and silly.

As far as the characters go, Mia is — unsurprisingly — hard as nails. But there’s an empathetic side to her that is rather out of place in a school of murderers, and as a result she makes herself some good friends and snags a sort-of boyfriend among the other novices. Of course, there’s the obligatory mean girl (who has a very good reason for hating Mia, so she’s not your typical shallow archetype) and the Snape-like teacher (though he makes Snape look soft and cuddly). And the classroom politics and scheming tends to wind up with people dead.

Story-wise I won’t say too much, except to say that there’s a plot twist I didn’t see coming and all sorts of other awesomeness in there. I did have one head-scratching moment over Mia’s apparent inability to remember one particular event in her past — I wasn’t clear on the reasons for that, though maybe I missed something.

I’d recommend this book for people who like their fantasy gritty, their prose rich with metaphor and their heroines stabby.

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Four-and-a-half stars