Review: ‘Among Others’ by Jo Walton

Winner of the 2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel. Winner of the 2011 Nebula Award for Best Novel. Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

‘It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.’

Fifteen-year-old Morwenna lives in Wales with her twin sister and a mother who spins dark magic for ill. One day, Mori and her mother fight a powerful, magical battle that kills her sister and leaves Mori crippled. Devastated, Mori flees to her long-lost father in England. Adrift, outcast at boarding school, Mori retreats into the worlds she knows best: her magic and her books. She works a spell to meet kindred souls and continues to devour every fantasy and science fiction novel she can lay her hands on. But danger lurks… She knows her mother is looking for her and that when she finds her, there will be no escape.

I should note at the outset that I listened to this on audiobook; the main character is Welsh, and I have no doubt that having someone else pronounce all the Welsh place names etc made things a little easier for me. The accent was utterly delightful — and I had even more respect for the voice actor, Katherine Kellgren, when she slowly transformed Mori’s accent from pure Welsh to something with a hint of posh English (Received Pronunciation?) the longer Mori spent in an English boarding school. I can barely do my own accent, let alone manage a feat like that!

Set in 1979 and 1980 and told in diary form, this book straddles a few genres: young adult, certainly; historical fantasy; magical realism; possibly urban fantasy if you stretch the definition of urban (which I like to do!).

The main character is disabled and suffers chronic pain. She walks with a cane after she got injured in the same magical attack that killed her sister — an attack orchestrated by her mother. Mori likens her story to the Frodo’s after he returns home to the shire: the big battle is done; the losses have happened; the scars have healed, at least superficially; and now she has to learn how to live with what is left.

This story is, as much as anything, about coping and moving forward after loss.

The magic in this book is mostly very understated and almost always plausably deniable. Because I’m an old roleplaying geek, what it reminded me of most is the way magic works in the World of Darkness roleplaying game Mage: the Ascension — specifically coincidental magic, which doesn’t violate the “consensus” (or non-mages’ common understanding of how the world works).

But in some ways, magic in this book is also more powerful than consensus magic, because it can rewrite the past to ensure that a present event comes to pass in a way that the magic user wants it to. Mori spends a lot of time wondering about the ethics of using magic — more time than she does actually doing it. Because she has seen the effect on the world that a power-hungry magic user can have on others, she usually decides not to do anything at all.

As well as the supernatural side of things, Among Others also touches on other issues, such as puberty, sex and LGBT couples. (One of her relatives lives with another woman; Mori is refreshingly matter-of-fact about it, the same way she is about her cane use and chronic pain.)

The other delightful thing about this book is that Mori spends just as much time enthusing about books as she does talking about magic and faeries and her new crush. She’s a science-fiction and fantasy fan, and is buying books at a time when a lot of big names in those genres are producing their most famous works. Sometimes her review of a book might be “I liked it, though it’s a bit weird”, and other times she goes deep into the text and compares it to books by other writers in a way that would do an English teacher proud.

Unfortunately for me, my speculative fiction reading growing up was almost exclusively fantasy, so there are only maybe three or four writers that she mentions that I have actually read myself. I think if you’re a sci-fi fan, Among Others will be a much richer read for you.

But, despite that, this was still a five-star read for me. Thanks to my friend Barbara for recommending it!

Advertisements

Review: ‘Something’, ‘Nothing’ and ‘Everything’ (the ‘All the Things’ trilogy) by K. A. Last

Blurb for Something:

Katie has loved Levi, the boy next door, for as long as she can remember. He used to be her best friend, but now her heart breaks a little more every time he pretends she doesn’t exist.

He’s the popular, wealthy school captain, while she’s the poor scholarship kid. They’ve barely spoken in two years, so Katie doesn’t understand why Levi has started climbing through her bedroom window. Or why he’s telling her secrets he’s hiding from everyone else.

When the mean girls include Katie in their malicious game of truth or dare, she has a chance to get answers. To find out the real reason Levi is talking to her again. Will everything be as perfect as Katie imagined, or will the truth destroy her?

I’ve read this trilogy of novellas over the last month, and decided to post a combined review because I read them back-to-back, and because the story really is a novel in three parts, with cliff-hanger endings for the first two books. (Now, you know how I feel about that, but since I didn’t have to wait very long at all, I was all good … and now all three are out, you don’t have to wait at all!)

This trilogy is one of those stories that reminded me of how awful it is to be an introverted teenager at the bottom of the social pecking order, and I really felt for Katie on those grounds. Katie is an art nerd, the smartest kid in the class, and — worst of all, socially — attending wealthy private school on a scholarship. Her parents don’t come across as truly poor, but they are maybe lower middle class and Katie’s in a school full of rich brats.

That’s not to say Katie doesn’t have any friends at all, because she does; her bestie, Karen, is wonderful: tough, a straight talker, and willing to leap in front of a bullet (or a bully) to protect her friends. Katie’s other friends, Jessica and Stacey, spend less time on screen (and for the longest time I actually thought they were secretly dating … alas, no). Still, they are a solid posse.

On the face of it, Levi is my least favourite kind of love interest: hot but with a troubled past, secrets, and a tendancy to be rude to the leading lady. But his rudeness mostly runs to ignoring Katie, rather than being outright cruel or monstering the main character (I’m looking at you, Daemon from Obsidian), and you can see he doesn’t really mean it. It’s more that he made a bad decision when he was younger — that Katie wasn’t cool enough for him — and now isn’t quite sure how to walk it back even though he clearly wants to. And it turns out he’s actually kind of a sweetie. So I forgave him.

As well as struggling with whether to trust Levi again, Katie is also wrestling with study and that most teenage of issues: what to do after she finishes school. Her parents want her not to “waste” her scholarship and expect her to study law or medicine, but Katie is less than keen. This was one issue that I thought deserved a bit more airtime in the third book — her mother does something that I considered a truly low act (no details, because spoilers), and Katie was far more forgiving than I thought she should be.

But maybe that’s because I’m a mean old lady. 😉

There are some other minor characters that I had mixed feelings towards, all of them Levi’s friends. Veronica grew on me, but I never really got onboard with his two male friends. (See above comment about me being a mean old lady. I don’t forgive as readily as Katie does.) On the other hand, Katie’s brother is amazing.

If you want to read a story about a teen girl learning to trust and finding her feet in the world, one that is an easy read and comes in digestable chunks, then this is the story for you.

Note that I received a copy of Something in exchange for an honest review (though I bought the other two books myself).


Review: ‘Heir of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas

Celaena has survived deadly contests and shattering heartbreak―but at an unspeakable cost. Now, she must travel to a new land to confront her darkest truth . . . a truth about her heritage that could change her life―and her future―forever. Meanwhile, brutal and monstrous forces are gathering on the horizon, intent on enslaving her world. Will Celaena find the strength to not only fight her inner demons, but to take on the evil that is about to be unleashed?

The bestselling series that has captured readers all over the world reaches new heights in this sequel to the New York Times best-selling Crown of Midnight. Packed with heart-pounding action, fierce new characters, and swoon-worthy romance, this third book will enthrall readers from start to finish.

There comes a point in a series — especially a popular series like this one — where I start to wonder whether writing reviews is actually worth it. Either you’ve read the books already, or you’re interested and don’t want to see the spoilers that can creep in with reviews of later books in the series. (I’ll try to keep it spoiler-light, but sorry in advance!)

For those that aren’t regular readers of my blog, I read the first book, Throne of Glass, here, and the second, Crown of Midnight, here. As you’ll see by my rating, this series keeps getting better. I hope that trend doesn’t keep going too much further, because I’m gonna run out of additional stars to add!

I love Celaena more in this book than in the previous two. Her bad-ass truly starts to show, and her instruction at the hands of hot elf prince Rowan leads to some interesting developments in that regard.

On the romance front, I confess I’m growing increasingly disenchanted with Chaol, the love interest from the previous book, and I have developed rather the soft spot for Dorian, who was the love interest from book one. I also wouldn’t object to Celaena and Rowan, although — like the other two fellows — he is a bit too jealous and overprotective for my tastes. I guess I’m ship-agnostic on this one. (I wonder if Celaena will have a different partner, or person she’s attracted to, in each book? How very Rachel Morgan of her!)

Story-wise, we get to see more of the evil king’s plans, which is great … and also broke my heart a little at one point (sob), even as I had to admire what a cold-hearted monster he is. There are a few new points of view as well. I was largely indifferent to Aedion, liked Sorsha, and loved Manon. Yes, her story is largely unconnected to the rest of the plot, but she’s training herself a flying mount. I am so there for that.

The only thing that stops me giving this book the full five-star treatment is that I got a little bit tired of Celaena’s, well, self-loathing (what the blurb refers to as her “inner demons”). On the one hand, I can totally see where she was coming from. But the introspection and moping did slow the pace down a little at times, especially in the early portion of the book. (I suspect that makes me a bad person in the same way that loving her chopping people up in Crown of Midnight does.) Happily, once she gripped it up, things got much, much more interesting.

Anyway, I’ll just be over here, waiting for my next Audible credit.


Mini-review: ‘Crown of Midnight’ by Sarah J. Maas

“A line that should never be crossed is about to be breached.
It puts this entire castle in jeopardy—and the life of your friend.”

From the throne of glass rules a king with a fist of iron and a soul as black as pitch. Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become his Champion. Yet Celaena is far from loyal to the crown. She hides her secret vigilantly; she knows that the man she serves is bent on evil.

Keeping up the deadly charade becomes increasingly difficult when Celaena realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. As she tries to untangle the mysteries buried deep within the glass castle, her closest relationships suffer. It seems no one is above questioning her allegiances—not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemia, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.

Then one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena’s world shatters, she will be forced to give up the very thing most precious to her and decide once and for all where her true loyalties lie… and whom she is ultimately willing to fight for.

After I reviewed Throne of Glass, I had a few people tell me to persist, because the story gets better. I liked the first book well enough to continue (I just thought Celaena was all talk as far as the “greatest assassin in the land” thing goes), and I’m happy to report that my advisers were correct.

This book is better than the first one. There’s less focus on pretty dresses (although they do get a mention) and more on scheming, stalking, stabbing and snogging — not necessarily in that order. Also betrayal, magic and bad guys. I love the magic in this series, and the ancient mysteries. I am so there for those.

My main reason for not giving this book the full five-star treatment is that I occasionally found Celaena annoying, and more than a little dense. There is one point in the book where she’s given a riddle, and the first part of the answer is blindingly obvious, but it takes her an age to figure it out. (When another character mocked her for taking so long, there was vigorous nodding on my part. Although, to be fair, she had other stuff going on…) I also found her reactions to a couple of key events in the story a little … well, erratic? It’s hard to say more than that without spoilers, but I’m sure that those who’ve read the book know what I mean. 😉

Still, my initial complaint that Celaena was all talk as far as the killing goes was addressed to my satisfaction (though I don’t know what that says about me!). I’ve already downloaded the audiobook of the third in the series, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.


Review: ‘Dreadnought’ by Cherie Priest

Nurse Mercy Lynch is elbows deep in bloody laundry at a war hospital in Richmond, Virginia, when Clara Barton comes bearing bad news: Mercy’s husband has died in a POW camp. On top of that, a telegram from the west coast declares that her estranged father is gravely injured, and he wishes to see her. Mercy sets out toward the Mississippi River. Once there, she’ll catch a train over the Rockies and―if the telegram can be believed―be greeted in Washington Territory by the sheriff, who will take her to see her father in Seattle.

Reaching the Mississippi is a harrowing adventure by dirigible and rail through war-torn border states. When Mercy finally arrives in St. Louis, the only Tacoma-bound train is pulled by a terrifying Union-operated steam engine called the Dreadnought. Reluctantly, Mercy buys a ticket and climbs aboard.

What ought to be a quiet trip turns deadly when the train is beset by bushwhackers, then vigorously attacked by a band of Rebel soldiers. The train is moving away from battle lines into the vast, unincorporated west, so Mercy can’t imagine why they’re so interested. Perhaps the mysterious cargo secreted in the second and last train cars has something to do with it?

Mercy is just a frustrated nurse who wants to see her father before he dies. But she’ll have to survive both Union intrigue and Confederate opposition if she wants to make it off the Dreadnought alive.

This is the second book in the Clockwork Century series (I reviewed the first book here). You don’t need to read the first book before this one, though it wouldn’t hurt and will give you some of the backstory around characters we only see in passing in this one.

The series is an alternative version of the American civil war, but with steampunk tech and zombies. It’s basically made for me, you guys!

I really liked the first book, Boneshaker, but I loved Dreadnought. Part of that is because it’s not a split point-of-view book — I don’t mind those, but they aren’t my favourite. Another part is that we don’t have a sometimes-annoying teenage boy as one of the point-of-view characters. (Sorry, Zeke.) A third part was that the zombie threat is mostly the “creeping dread” kind than the teeming horde kind, which was sinister and chilling and kept me hooked.

Mercy was a delightful leading lady: a young nurse who is by turns ladylike and swears like a trooper (learned in the hospital, no doubt). She isn’t afraid to take charge when direction is needed, and she has a bedside manner that is both disarming and tough when it needs to be.

She knows how to shoot a gun, but almost all of Mercy’s involvement in the story’s action revolves around her nursing others as best she can in a war zone (or a zombie apocalypse). I found that part of the story fascinating and disturbing in turns — we aren’t exactly talking modern medicine here. And the story is so action-packed that Mercy definitely gets a lot of chances to work her trade.

Briar, the main character in Boneshaker, is still my fave due to the single mother solidarity thing, but Mercy runs a close second.

This series hasn’t contained any romance so far (though I’ve already started the third book and there a charming development brewing). But if you’re okay with that and love spec fic, Dreadnought is definitely worth checking out.


Mini-review: ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas

Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly.
Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

I’m coming to this series pretty late — I bought it a while ago because the cover was just that awesome, but it took a while to filter to the top of my tbr (and I actually ended up listening to it on audiobook, so the paperback never even got opened — oops).

I found the story engrossing enough, though the main character is nowhere near as tough as I thought she’d be, given that whole “best assassin in the land” thing. She talks the talk, but we rarely see her walk the walk. I mean, she has all of the thief skills associated with your typical assassin, and is good with poisons, but she isn’t cut-throat by any stretch of the imagination. I struggle to imagine her actually killing someone for money.

She also likes pretty dresses and parties. I actually like this about her, because I don’t think a character has to be unfeminine to be tough. But I can see that she gets a lot of hate from that, and it definitely distracts her at times when she should be focused on the competition.

I liked how bad the bad guys were, and the way that the fantastical elements were woven through. (There’s also a love triangle, which I didn’t mind — though I never really had a preference between the blokes in question — but others might find trope-y.) I’ll definitely download the sequel when I get my next Audible credit. But if you’re looking for a more-gritty story about an assassin, then I’d recommend Nevernight by Jay Kristoff over Throne of Glass.

 

 


Review: ‘Bitter Truth’ by Lauren K. McKellar

Book #2 in the Twisted Hearts duet

You can run, you can hide, but the truth will always find you.

Everly Jenkins knows darkness — but that doesn’t stop her living life to the max. Not until she meets Cameron Lewis, the tragic reminder of her past that she just can’t seem to shake.

Being “just friends” with a man who sends her soul flying and her body up in flames is near impossible — until her secrets come out, leaving her alone.

Will the darkness overcome her once again? Or will Everly fight for the man she loves and help him face the bitter truth?

I’m going to keep this review as spoiler-free as I can, which means being cryptic (and therefore fairly brief).

The first thing you need to know is that you really shouldn’t start with the second book in this series. You’ll be hella confused, and miss all of the good feels in the first book, which I reviewed here. That being said, the first third or so of Bitter Truth covers the same events as in Honest Love, but from Everly’s perspective. I really enjoyed this part of the book, with its glimpses into what Everly’s deal really is.

I enjoy Everly as a character. She’s gone through some pretty dark times and come out the other side with the willingness to fight, not just for herself but for Cameron and what he wants more than anything else as well — custody of his baby girl, Piper. She fights for him when he doesn’t even want to see her, and frankly I’m glad this part of the story was from her perspective rather than his, because I found his slump at the start of Bitter Truth a little frustrating (if understandable).

Lauren K. McKellar does what she describes as “romance with feels”, and one of the things that has made her an auto-buy for me is that her books never feel predictable even while they stay true to the romance genre (which can be rather formulaic). There was one moment in Bitter Truth where I was absolutely certain I knew what was going to happen next. I really struggle with super-cringeworthy moments in fiction (you know, the ones where you want to hide your face so you don’t die of secondary embarrassment), and I thought this was going to be one of them — so much so that I had to put the book down and gather myself in order to keep reading.

I should’ve had more faith, because not only did what I was expecting not happen but the whole story took a turn for the even-more-awesome.

This duology has a smoking hot couple, an adorable toddler, a conniving ex who still manages to be somewhat sympathetic at times, some tragedy, some steamy sex scenes, lots of beach scenes that made me hanker for my next coastal holiday, and a happily ever after. What more could you want?