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.
Laini Taylor’s recent trilogy, which began with Daughter of Smoke and Bone, was a terrific 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.
This was a recommendation, and I sadly chose to get it on audio – a big mistake. The Hidden Empire is the first in a detailed and engaging fantasy series. It has a range of narrators – which is what made it so difficult to listen to rather than read. I kept feeling like I was missing details. But here are the essentials.
Set sometime in the future after humanity has discovered star travel and only one other sentient race – the Ildirans. The Ildirans are advanced, but have lost the thirst for new discovery. The only other race that has been detected are the ruins of a race known as the Klikiss, survived only by their robots who claim to have no knowledge of the past.
The novel begins with humanity testing an ancient Klikiss technology that can turn gas giants into suns – thus creating new worlds to be populated. But after the experiment it become clear that they have disturbed an invisible race which declares war upon them. They mainly focus their attacks on locations that produce ekti, a substance required by humans an Ildirans for space travel.
There are a variety of fascinating characters – a kidnapped boy whose identity is altered in preparation for him to become a figurehead king to the humans, a green priestess who can speak to trees and a variety of other clans and groups.
This will no doubt be epic in scale and probably worth a look in the future. But not on audio! It’s such an incredibly detailed and well-realised fantasy world.
There’s been a fair bit of press about this new fantasy series because Emma Watson (who swore she would never do another franchise again) admitted to “staying up all night” to read it, and has already put herself in the lead role in the upcoming movie. So just months after release, there is already a film adaptation in the pipeline, as well as its own wiki.
I guess the question is – is it worth the hype?
I’m going to say yes. With the popularity of Game of Thrones, audiences are primed for another epic saga full of magic and mystery. But this is also incredibly well done. The characters are well-rounded and the premise interesting. The basics of the well-constructed plot involve Kelsea, the 19-year-old queen of a land called Tearling, who has lived her whole life in hiding. Later we find out this was also a kind of training. Upon reaching her majority, her deceased mother’s loyal Kingsguard come to take her to the capital to take her proper place on the throne. On the way though she discovers some hard truths. Her uncle the regent is trying to kill her to take the throne for himself, and the mother she imagined was so beneficent was a vapid and vain woman who sold her own people into slavery to stop the neighbouring country of Mortmesne from invading.
Instead of being defeated by this knowledge, Kelsea rises above it and shows her mettle. She immediately puts a stop to the slave trade and quickly becomes beloved by the people. But the dangers around her continue to grow and she has to wonder who she can trust.
This is a coming of age story set several hundred years in the future but it’s also impossibly backwards. Several centuries ago the people of the Tearling removed themselves from the modern world, so it is a medieval society with some knowledge of modern customs. While much is new to Kelsea, allowing us to learn with her and share her responses, there is still clearly more to learn in subsequent books, starting with the magical jewel of the Tearling royal line, which appears to have bonded to Kelsea and offers her unknown magic and insight. Then there is also the handsome brigand known only as The Fetch, has won Kelsea’s heart.
I like Kelsea – she’s none of your pretty princess types, but describes herself as mannish and heavy-set. Even The Fetch remarks that she is too plain for his taste. So it is the quality of her character that wins people over. Each chapter begins with a snippet from a history book written some time in the future – one which alludes to the great changes made during Kelsea’s rule. This new fantasy series is definitely one to watch.