fantasy

Book Review: Rivers of the Sky

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with the opportunity to access a copy of this book!

This was pretty different from books I normally read, and it took a little getting used to. But once I was into it, I really was immersed in the world created by Liguori. I found myself growing fond of the protagonist (if you can really call him that) as his emotions slowly came out.

It had the feel of a traditional fantasy tale, a story of rogue outlaws travelling through cities and towns and wilderness. Their camaraderie builds throughout their journey, and the relationship between the three men is really quite heartwarming by the end of the novel.

Much of the novel seemed realistic, like an alternative universe somewhere that didn’t differ too much from our own. But then the real fantasy elements came into play – magic, almost. Deities and the River of Transmigration, not to mention Adrian’s ‘curse’. Soon, the original goal of the men is abandoned, and a new focus is attained; curing this curse of Adrian’s. This new journey brings about some unexpected revelations, which somehow even I hadn’t seen coming.

There are faults with this, but nothing that took away from my overall enjoyment. I’m giving this book 4 stars.

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Book Review: Dark Fantasy Stories

Dark Fantasy Stories (Illustrated) by S.S. WolffA huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with the opportunity to read this anthology!

I haven’t read a huge amount of anthologies but am becoming increasingly fond of them. I like having a collection of similar but unique stories all in one place. I was under the impression that these would be quite creepy/scary stories, but they were only slightly ‘dark’ in my opinion. They all had fantasy elements, as the title would suggest, and were all rather good.

Of course, as it’s an anthology, I’m not really reviewing the individual authors’ writing. Instead, I’m going to focus on the editing and the selection of the stories included. The chouces are definitely quite unique, all fantasy tales with supernatural elements. There were some that I especially enjoyed, and some I was not quite so fond of. Overall, I think there was a pretty good range of stories.

As for the editing, I did notice some strange mistakes. There was misplaced punctuation, for example, and I saw a few letters replaced by ‘lookalikes’ – such as replaced by rn. As the copy I own is a review copy, it is possible that the mistakes I noticed were edited out in the final publication, though.

It was a rather short book, which can be seen as both a good and bad thing. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: Rebel Song

First of all, thanks so much to the Hidden Gems ARC programme for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book!

Rogan Elwood is a teenage orphan who owns a vineyard in Arelanda. He’s pretty normal – his most noteworthy trait is being the son of a rebel martyr, who he is inevitably following in the footsteps of. The Cause, as they call themselves, are deeply unsettled. They want change, and were not disheartened by failed previous attempts at uprising.

And then along comes El. She’s beautiful, and definitely from a family with power (and money). Rogan meets her by chance, but the pair agree to meet again, and again, and again… The couple soon become close, and El decides it’s time for Rogan to know who she really is.

The heir to the throne. Princess Elyra Ballantyne.

They know that continuing their affair is dangerous – almost a certain death sentence – but they can’t stay away. And when things don’t seem like they could get any worse, Elyra discovers Rogan’s link with the rebels working against her family.

There’s a lot of politics and strategy, and no shortage of corrupt individuals in powerful positions. Sometimes there were a few too many characters and details to keep track of, but overall it was a thoroughly intriguing story. I felt genuine hatred for some of the characters, and sadness at the loss of others. I was even quite invested in El and Rogan’s relationship, which is rare for me as I don’t tend to like romance.

Elyra was perhaps a bit too naive and headstrong, but she exhibited fantastic character growth. Rogan was probably my favourite character, though he definitely had his flaws.

My main criticism is the grammar and punctuation throughout this novel. There are a lot of mistakes, and it was a bit frustrating at times. Other than that, I really enjoyed this. The writing was good, and I felt real emotion for the characters. 3.5 stars.

Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

I’m going to avoid discussing the plot too much so I don’t spoil any potential readers (and I do recommend you read this!).

This book is set in Dubossary, narrated alternately by Liba and Laya. Liba is the older of the two, the only children in their family. They are Jews, and while this book was hugely about their faith and discrimination against them, it is not only about that. This book was like a new fairytale. It had magic in every page, and was genuinely exciting to read. There were tragic elements, tons of romance, and even a sense of suspense.

The girls are left in their home alone when their parents rush off to Kupel in a family emergency. But just as they plan to leave, the girls’ Mami decides it’s time to tell her daughters who they really are: a bear and a swan.

As I said, I will not delve into the story too much. But I really loved the story involving Laya and the Hovlin brothers, as well as Liba’s own internal struggles. Laya’s romance at the end of the book was, in my opinion, a little rushed and unexpected, but that’s the only real downside I have.

The writing was lovely – it included Yiddish and Hebrew dialect, which was translated in the Author’s Note at the end. (A quick side note; I actually read the entire Note, which is

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really quite rare for me.) And Laya’s account, in particular, felt so poetic. She was definitely my favourite character, as much as I love Liba, too. And the relationship between the girls is so, so lovely. No matter how much they try to push each other away, they are always there for each other in the end.

As I enjoyed this book so much, I tried to talk about it with my boyfriend. However, I soon discovered that describing this story is really quite a feat. It was full of little details and twists that just made the story.

I really liked this book. As I only received an ARC and not a final edition, I didn’t have the official layout, which I can imagine may add to it also. Even so, I’m easily giving this 4.5 to 5 stars.

Book Review: Becoming the Dragon

This is a fantasy novel aimed at a young adult audience, following a young boy named Andy on a bizarre, out-of-this-world adventure. I received my copy via the Online Book Club.

From the start of the novel, it is clear that Andy is a bit different. After being struck by lightning on a school trip, Andy has a strange effect on electrical appliances. When Andy’s father left some important documents at home, Andy is responsible for delivering them to his workplace. However, Iliya (Andy’s father) is working on a sort of portal. Of course, Andy’s ‘condition’ has an odd effect on this teleportation device, and suddenly Andy finds himself in the middle of some strange woods. At first, he thinks he may be in South America. But South America doesn’t have GIANT ants, or another planet visible in the sky, or… dragons?!

So Andy finds himself being used as ‘prey’ for a royal hunting party, alongside several other intriguing characters. He accidentally attacks the princess, though, and ends up being held prisoner. He is tortured and ridiculed, displayed alongside a dragon. Together, they eventually escape, but Andy is badly injured. The only cure is to undertake a transformation – The Ritual – and become a dragon himself. However, this carries a lot of risks, especially for an older boy who is mostly grown.

While the premise of this story sounds exciting and unique, I found it quite dull when I was actually reading it. I was not really able to follow everything that happened. However, I must say that there was a great amount of detail when discussing the magical processes and the history of the people, which was very good. But when the history was being told, it felt a bit like a lecture. It wasn’t exciting or interesting, sadly.

The story takes a sudden turning toward the end of the book, involving a girl Andy meets. This all happens very, very quickly, but was possibly one of the most interesting parts of the book.

As for the writing, I did notice a fair few issues. There were inconsistencies in the tense being used, as well as the perspective. There was also a lot of language used that was never actually defined; while some terms are mentioned in a glossary at the end of the book, I do believe several were not. This left me feeling a little bit clueless and unsure of what was happening at times, which was a shame.

I also did not feel any emotion in this book. The characters were not particularly well-developed, nor did they display any emotion or relationships with one another. Andy rarely expresses any longing for his own family, nor does he make any attempts to return to Earth. His ‘love’ for the girl, Polana, comes extremely suddenly, without much development at all. The speech was all very artificial, lacking the fluidity of natural speech.

Overall, it was interesting and unique, but not particularly well written or exciting. 2 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Uprooted

I’ve been meaning to read this for a long time now and finally managed to do so. I’m so peased I did! It was such a great book, and I really did enjoy reading it.

Agnieszka is a seemingly ordinary young girl. Her best friend is about to be taken by the Dragon, a powerful wizard who routinely takes girls into his tower for ten years before they leave the village for good. Everyone’s prepared for Kasia to go – she’s the pretty one, the talented one, the one who everyone is drawn to. Of course the Dragon is going to choose her.

Right?

Of course, nothing goes to plan. Agnieszka assumed she was safe from being chosen, due to her clumsiness and lack of appeal or talents. But of course, she is chosen. Little does she know that she was destined for this role all along.

The Dragon is feared by most, including Nieshka. But she soon learns that he is not as terrible as she thought. She also learns some valuable skills involving magic that she never knew she was capable of.

Nieshka discovers the importance of magic in protecting her village from the Wood. The Wood is full of corruption, often taking unknowing passers-by and either never releasing them or returning them to their families changed beyond repair. The Wood has been a huge threat for centuries. The Dragon holds it at bay, but nobody ever dreamed of defeating it.

Until Agnieszka came along.

It’s quite a complex plot, and there are a lot of moments where Nieshka makes mistakes. She is driven by emotion, especially when her best friend’s life is at risk. She is a passionate girl and doesn’t always think rationally. I liked her for this – don’t we all let our emotions get the better of us sometimes?

There was a small amount of romance in this book that I felt was rather unnecessary, but it didn’t overtake the plot or anything. I loved how the plot and subplots twisted together, and how many turns they took. It was exciting and intriguing and very clever.

The ending seemed a little too simple to me, though. Had they never thought to look into the Wood Queen’s origin before?

Overall it was a fantastic book. Timeless. I can see why it’s so popular, and I’m sure it will be for some time. 4 stars.

Book Review: Carry On

Rainbow Rowell is a fantastic author, and when I heard she would be writing Carry On I was really pleased. Fangirl was a great book, and actually writing the novel frequently mentioned in that book sounded like such a unique idea to me. It is a romance, so it’s not my favourite book ever, but I still loved it.

Carry On is pretty much the Harry Potter of Rowell’s Fangirl universe. This did make this novel a bit of a rip off, honestly, but that was bound to happen. It actually kind of embraced it.

The plot was really interesting, and I really did find myself excited to see what happened next. I wanted to understand the Humdrum and discover how he would be defeated. It was also rather interesting to see how the Mage played a part in everything. And the use of magic was fantastic; I really liked how Rowell explained the basis of spells and how they got their power.

The writing – as always – was fantastic. So easy to read, but very hard to put down! Even though it was cheesy (I mean, the hero falls in love with his best enemy. Who’s a vampire. Seriously.) I just enjoyed reading it so much. I even kind of shipped Baz and Simon.

The ending was… not disappointing, but I wasn’t overly pleased with it. I thought it was a bit too simple of a solution – surely they would’ve considered something along those lines? It’s not like it was particularly hard to see the connection. (I’d go into more detail, but I don’t want to include any spoilers.) I did like the bittersweetness of it, though. I liked how realistic it was, despite being a fantasy novel.

It was definitely a bit of a cheesy novel, but I kind of loved it. Rowell writes so well. It was a long novel, but I could’ve just sat down and read it from cover to cover without even realising. A strong 4 stars.

 

Book Review: A Song for Ella Grey

Sorry I waited so long before writing this. My life is a bit hectic at the moment.

I found this book really quite strange – but then everything I’ve read by David Almond has been a bit different. It really teeters on the line between the real world and fantasy, and I honestly couldn’t be sure whether some of the story was metaphorical or actually literal. It was a really interesting read.

Claire is the narrator of this book, telling us the events of the past. The story isn’t told entirely chronologically but more like a person would speak, with tangents and relevant contextual events thrown in.

Ella Grey is Claire’s best friend and possibly the protagonist of this book. Claire tells the story of how she met a strange boy called Orpheus on a beach one day, and how he turned up outside their school for Ella. The couple had a marriage ceremony soon after, but the day ends in tragedy.

Claire’s affections for Ella seem to blur the line between friendship and romance, which was definitely an interesting aspect. Her opinions of Orpheus seem a little mixed, and she is clearly looking out for her friend’s welfare.

Orpheus’s ‘journey’ at the end of the novel was especially strange; as was the way it was told through Claire. The entire book – especially when describing Orpheus and Ella – was extremely lyrical. The language was all very romantic and poetic, which I guess was to emphasise the musical quality that surrounds Orpheus’s character. It also really added to the sense of fantasy and mystery, giving the whole tale a strong ethereal quality.

This book was fantastically written, and definitely unique. I must say it was a little too romantic and poetic for my personal tastes, so I’m giving it 3 stars out of 5. I can definitely appreciate the beauty of Almond’s writing, though.

Manga/Graphic Novel Review: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Several of my friends are into manga and so I have an extensive to-read list compiled, yet I found this on a whim instead. As Midorikawa mentions in the little asides throughout this book, it is an episodic manga. This made it a nice quick read to pick up on impulse, and not too much of an investment.

As it is episodic, there is no singe plot to really summarise. The main gist is Takashi Natsume seeing strange creatures – yokai – that nobody else can. After inheriting his deceased grandmother’s strange notebook, he discovers that she had the same ability. Due to being such an outcast amidst her village, though, she takes her frustrations out on the yokai. Natsume’s Book of Friends – the book Takashi inherited – is basically a collection of contracts signed by various yokai pledging their ‘devotion’ to her. Owning this book gives Takashi complete power over them, and naturally many of the yokai are eager to take it. Instead, Takashi sets out to return the names of all the yokai. He is accompanied by one yokai who he accidentally freed from a shrine, Nyanko Sensei – who, after being trapped inside a ceramic cat, usually takes the form of a cat. Takashi likes to remind him of this frequently (and Sensei is definitely not amused).

The episodes can each be read as a standalone, though they do connect in some ways. Takashi slowly begins to understand what he’s doing, and the relationship between him and Nyanko Sensei develops somewhat. While most of Takashi’s interactions are with yokai, there is one particular chapter in this novel where he meets another human who he can relate to. There is also a touching chapter – the final in the novel – where Takashi helps a yokai to meet the human that saved her in her past life.

The art is lovely and the relationship between Sensei and Takashi is really amusing. There isn’t a huge amount of character development or depth due to the episodic nature of the novel, but Takashi is likeable and kind. I would definitely recommend it for a quick/light read, and I may have a look for the rest of the series. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Adamant

I can’t remember how I came across this book but I read it on the mobile Kindle app.

It alternates between two narrative voices: Ada and Kay. At first, their two narratives seem completely disconnected but they soon merge together in one single plot.

In this multiverse, there is a sort of political agreement amongst the dozens of different worlds. Ada helps smuggle runaways from other planets onto Earth, while Kay has only just graduated from the Academy and got himself a job at the Alliance. When Ada and her friends break in to the Alliance to steal some bloodrock – an important ingredient for their magic disguise formula – Kay happens to be on duty. He arrests Ada while the others escape. But there are murders happening within the Alliance, and Kay and Ada both realise that they don’t know their friends as well as they thought.

I wasn’t all that keen on Ada as a character, personally, but Kay was okay. (Haha.) Their “budding romance” was a bit strained, I think, and forced into the story too much. The sort of negative connotations around magic was quite interesting, though.

It was quite a good book, with a ton of plot twists and deception. Ada’s trust issues are really not going to be any better after all this! 3 stars.