Fantasy

Book Review of The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

la belle sauvage

The long-awaited prequel to Phillip Pullman’s classic YA series, His Dark Materials is finally here. And fans of the original series will not be disappointed with not only a return to the world of the beloved main character Lyra Bellacqua, but a return to Lyra herself.

Just an infant, Lyra is still driving the narrative of La Belle Sauvage.  Hidden away with nuns, Lyra is already being pursued by a number of groups, and especially the real villain of this novel, Gerald Bonneville, a man so evil he torments and savages his own daemon (remember the charming quirk of this world is that each person expresses a part of their soul as a small animal).

The main character of this series though is Malcolm, a young boy who stumbles onto adventure whilst working in his parents’s pub.  Malcolm hears both about the existence of the hidden baby Lyra, and those pursuing her and takes an interest in her prospects.  This also leads him to connect with a group opposing the Magisterium – a rapidly growing group of religious zealots which we know take over the political landscape from His Dark Materials.  The closest relationship he forms is with Dr Hannah Relf, who reads Alethiometers.

Malcolm’s tender heart is captured by the baby, and when a flood occurs, he decides to take her to Oxford to seek sanctuary.  He is joined by Alice, a plucky girl he meets in the kitchens.

The two spend the second part of the novel hiding the baby from a variety of magical and non-magical foes.  This meanders a little, and feels a little like padding out the real story.  But all is clever and engaging.

A delightful return to a beloved magical world – it’s undoubtedly going to be popular with fans.  Pullman has given them more of what they want.

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Impressed Review of Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor’s recent trilogy, which began with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was a Strange the Dreamerterrific foray into fantasy fiction.  So I grabbed this first in a new series with some interest.  It’s always difficult to begin a new series, letting go of old characters who you might not feel quite finished with, and embracing a whole new world and storyline.. but Taylor has created yet another compelling fantasy world here.

Strange the Dreamer starts with two stories that soon become intertwined.  Laszlo Strange (Strange being the name given to orphans or unclaimed children in his land) grows up in a terrible monastery before finding his first real home in a library.  A lover of stories and fairytales, he makes a particular study of a land known only as ‘Weep’ – the real name being obscured by magic.  So when citizens of Weep appear – he begs to go with them and make his dreams come true.

But Weep has many secrets… including a history of rebellion against evil Gods that threatens to arise as teenage Godspawn test out their powers high above the city.  One has power over dreams…

This is a love story, an adventure and the start of something special.  I loved the story, the characters and the symmetry of not one, but two Strange Dreamers in the novel.  Clever plotting, intricate characters and overall a roaring tale.  You’ll love it.

Book Review of The Left Hand of God

the-left-hand-of-godI’d heard a lot about The Left Hand of God, and had it marked on my to-read list for some time. But I was disappointed with the plot, which wasn’t really epic in scale.

Thomas Cale was raised a Redeemer, a soldier for fanatic religious zealots. He was abused and mistreated from childhood and eventually turns his back on the order when they murder and rape women.

He and his friends make their way to a safe city where he meets and falls for the princess he eventually is sworn to protect.

Cale’s military prowess and the love story dominate the narrative, although interests develops in the very last portion of the text, when the Lord Redeemer most responsible for his mistreatment reveals he is the centre of a prophecy. By forcing the princess to betray him, he lures Cale back to his cause, ultimately leaving the pathway open for more interesting things (hopefully) in subsequent books.

Heartfelt Book Review of A Monster Calls

lt91o1jl2pnflThere is something really special about this Patrick Ness novel, a passion project he picked up after the death of Siobhan Dowd, an author he admired.  The concept of the novel is entirely hers, the execution his.

At the centre of the novel is a young boy called Connor.  Connor’s mother is battling cancer and he is doing what he can to look after himself and keep life together. His father is largely out of the picture and his only other relative, his grandmother, is strange and distant.

One night he is visited by a Monster.  It doesn’t look too scary – after all, it has taken the form of a Yew Tree, but it does tell some unsettling stories.  In fact, it promises Connor three stories in exchange for Connor telling him one true one. If the story Connor tells is not true – he will eat him.

The stories are unsettling and difficult for Connor to understand, but each helps him deal with his situation and release the feelings he has been holding inside.

There is a thoughtful beauty about the whole concept – imagined by Dowd during her own terminal illness.  Quite a good read for young adults too.

Book Review of The Fate of the Tearling

This Erika Johansen series began with huge promise, but failed to quite meet the mark towardsFate2.jpg the end.  While still an entertaining read, the excitement of the first book about the original characters and the promise of secrets revealed never quite panned out.

Although, there is still a lot to like about this book.  The ending is unexpected and somewhat original. After the storming of the second book, our hero Kelsea does – in general – become the person we hoped she would, and generally ends the series worthy of our admiration.  Plenty goes on and you won’t be bored.

However, the key secrets of the series are never really explained, and too many antagonists or too easily dispensed with or explained away.  It feels like Johansen changed directions somewhere after the first book, and we are still trying to find the connection even up to the end of the third.

I hear she is planning some more books set within this world from the perspective of other characters. I’m interested enough to have a look – especially if Mace or the Red Queen are set to be focal points – but not enough to be hanging on the edge of my seat.  A shame.

Book Review of The Left Hand of Darkness

LeftHandOfDarkness-ebookUrsula Le Guin’s classic science fiction novel is a re-read for me, but this is the first review I have posted on it. I remember enjoying it in my young adulthood and now – however many years later – it is a delight to find it equally as compelling. Travelling right now, it lured me back for a chapter or two on buses and trains – or curled up at some ungodly hour in a hotel room when I should have been sleeping. Clearly a powerful book.

The Left Hand of Darkness surrounds two characters – Genly Ai, an envoy representing an interplanetary body committed to peace and unity, and Estraven, a wily politician on the planet he is visiting. Gethen is a wintery planet, and the people there lack gender. Once a month, they go through a mating phase known as ‘kummer’ during which hey adopt male or female physical characteristics. They may adopt either over their lives, depending upon the gender adopted by their mate.

The relationship between the two characters is a fascinating one, seen initially only through the envoy’s eyes. As the narration changes (Estraven narrates alternating chapters and short spurts of Gethenian history and folklore are also included) we begin to understand how little the envoy understands the culture and politics of the world he had chosen to visit. His path is a dangerous one – and the one man he should trust is the one he is most suspicious of.

Le Guin’s world is fascinating and fully realised – the history and backstory are rich and realistic. Compelling and intelligent, The Left Hand of Darkness is more challenging than many modern science fictions. One that will provoke thought.

 

Book Review of Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days

41GwItZ4KsL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Rushdie is known as a master of magical realism, a genre inhabited by amazing authors like Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, both of whom I prefer. I like the magical elements of Rushdie’s books and appreciate his gift for political symbolism, but sometimes he loses me in ponderous plots and a lack of character development.

This was certainly the case for his latest novel, Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days. A little Math will quickly reveal this as 1001 nights, a clear reference to the old Arabian Tales that kept Scheherazade safe from her murdering husband. Rushdie attempts to modernise these here, creating a series of fables for future generations in which the Jinn of old rediscover a way to enter our world and wreak havoc. The hero of the story is the Jinnia Dunia, who holds a special affection for humans. Many years ago she left her magical homeland to marry the philosopher Ibn Rushd, to whom she bore miraculous amounts of children. In order to protect humanity against her brethren, she contacts her descendants and awakens their gifts. Many of them have already been affected by the chaotic spells of the attacking Jinn. The gardener Geronimo Manezes has begun to levitate and cannot touch the ground. Jimmy Kapoor’s comic character Natraj Hero has come to life. And spurned Teresa Saca has found a way to make men pay.

These are interesting characters who aren’t really explored in any great depth. Rushdie focuses on the Jinn rather than the humans. While there is plenty of magic in this story, I think this is a real weakness. If you aren’t already a Rushdie fan, I would pick up Midnight’s Children instead of this.