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Tales from the Great East Road

Welcome to Tales from the Great East Road, a book review blog that features fantasy, sic-fi, dystopic, steampunk, young adult, and more. Find me on my primary blog: talesfromthegreateastroad.wordpress.com

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The Great Hunt: Wheel of Time Book 2
Robert Jordan
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea - April Genevieve Tucholke

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

(Contains some minor spoilers.)

Violet White spends her days in a dreamy, tranquil haze: reading books in the sun, relaxing on the beach by her home, or exploring the old mansion that has been left to her family since her grandmother died. Sure, her parents have used the last of their family fortune to run off to Europe to pursue their art, leaving her with a brother who can’t seem to stand her and a house that’s slowly falling apart. In fact, money is so tight she’s resorted to renting out the guest house in her back garden. Which leads River West to her door, and into her life. With his charming smile, easy nature, and striking good looks Violet is powerless to resist him.

But something strange is happening in the sleepy town of Echo. Children are in the graveyard at night, hunting the Devil with stakes, Violet’s friend Sunshine sees a monster eating human flesh in a cave in the woods, and the town drunk suddenly slits his throat in the town centre. This horror couldn’t possibly be linked with River, but as mystery surrounds him and his lies build up without him caring whether Violet knows or not, she finds herself doubting him. Is he evil? Does he care? And, to make maters worse, does she care? Violet’s grandmother used to warn her about the Devil, but she never thought she might be holding his hand, sleeping next to him, or kissing him. She knows she should listen to her grandmother’s teaching but she can’t help herself – because despite everything Violet is falling for River.

It’s clear that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is going to be a book that you will either love or hate. It has elements that will seriously frustrate some readers, like the slower pace, the what some have called ‘insta-love’ romance, or the deceitfulness and arrogance of the character River. Other readers, however, will love it. I am one of the latter. With it’s gothic atmosphere and slower pace which added to the feel of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But that’s not to say it’s without any problems.

What April Genevieve Tuchoke does best is the timeless feel to the town of Echo and Violet’s mansion. The novel uses almost lyrical descriptions and feels like it could be set in almost any decade from the 1930s onwards, with classic movies in the park and comments on art running throughout. This is also used with the character of Violet, who wears her dead grandmother’s clothes and love to read and paint. There is also a strong gothic tone, especially in the scene with the children in the graveyard armed with stakes to fight off the Devil, which was delightfully creepy. This book has also been accused of using the dreaded ‘insta-love’ trope, but I disagree –  there is no ‘insta-love’ in this book. What there is is the intense, unpredictable, and sometimes scary attraction or first love that teenagers often experience at least once. There is no declarations of love, no talk of fate, no promises of being together forever and ever. Violet falls for River, even as she knows it’s a bad idea, because people can’t help who they fall for, especially when you’re a teenager and not only are your hormones going crazy, but you have little to no experience about what love actually is. I believe everyone has fallen for someone who is bad for them at least once, and this book perfectly captures the feeling of fierce passion mixed with helplessness, fear, and slight self loathing.

I only have two reservations with Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Firstly, considering it mentions the Devil in the title, and the official blurb emphasises the idea that River may actually be the Devil, this book had very little religious overtones. The idea of the Devil was barely used at all, the only real mention is with the kids who freak out in the graveyard. I was hoping for a book that looked into the idea of religion and had an actual Christian devil, instead of an ambiguous paranormal creature who is still pretty much a mystery by the end of the book. The other problem was the portray and subtle slut shaming of Violet’s friend Sunshine. Sunshine is a character who embraces her sexuality – she loves flirting with boys, enjoys drawing attention to her body, and choices to act in a way she thinks boys will notice and enjoy. I personally have no problem with this. Women enjoy sex as much as men and should feel no shame in this, however they decide to show this sexuality, and had she been left alone, Sunshine would have been a perfectly fine character. However, compared to the virginal Violet, who’s narrative subtly condemns her attitude by comparing them both, and Sunshine association with Luke, Violet’s brother, who is sexist, messes around with several girls at once and treats Violet like crap, Sunshine is portrayed as a slut. This word is only ever uttered by the villain in this book, but his accusations are never challenged. What’s worse, after the trauma of having her parents being tricked into unknowingly nearly killing her, Sunshine changes – she stops flirting, becomes more serious and begins reading, like Violet. It’s often that people who have a near death experience decide to change their life for the better, but this is just another way of showing that Sunshine was in the wrong and needed to change. The slut shaming in this book is not obvious, and is similar to the problems that are common in real life, so it may have even been unintentional, but it is there and this is a problem.

These problems aside, I am very interested to see where the next book goes, and hope the sequel keeps the amazing writing and ambience.

4 stars.

On a slightly unrelated note, I keep thinking that the title of this book is Between the Devil and the Deep Dark Ocean, I song I really enjoy by a gothic metal band called Nightwish.

Antigoddess  - Kendare Blake

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Athena thought that being a god meant she couldn’t die, but choking on the owl feathers that cut through her lungs are proving her wrong. She’s not the only one: Hermes is wasting away slowly, Hera’s flesh is turning to stone, and Poseidon has become a mindless monster, eating his own creatures. What could be killing these gods? In their hunt for answers and a way to stop their slow destruction, Athena and Hermes are pointed towards a young woman called Cassandra – the reincarnation of the prophetess Cassandra of Troy, who was cursed by her lover Apollo so no-one would believe her visions. Somehow, they believe she will save them.

Cassandra knows nothing of the gods’ affairs. To her these names are nothing more than ancient legends, most of which she doesn’t even remember. All she worries about is her relationship with Aidan and her ability to see into the future – until what used to be a way to freak out her school mates by predicting the outcome of coin tosses shows her visions of people dying horribly. Aidan realises that she is being hunt by his family, for he is in fact Apollo and his beloved has no idea. But like it or not, Cassandra will soon find out the truth, for Hera is hunting down the other gods, in an effort to kill them and prolong her own life. And to her, Cassandra is nothing more than a weapon.

Antigoddess is a very enjoyable book, but with a couple of reservations. Whilst full of interesting characters, lots of action, and links to Greek mythology that was used very well, I feel that the book suffered somewhat from its modern setting. The few scenes of Athena reminiscing about her life as a full goddess were some of the most interesting, but the rest of it felt a little detached from the original mythology the book is based on. It would have been amazing if we had seen Mount Olympus, and met Zeus and Hades, and I can only hope these ideas are used in the next book. The character of Athena, who was pretty awesome anyway, also suffered from this modernisation. She spent a little too much time thinking along the lines of ‘once I would have turned a mortal to stone for less, but times have changed’, which felt like Kendare Blake was telling rather than showing how badass Athena is supposed to be. Despite this, Athena was a very likeable and interesting character, who is strong enough in her own right to face the threat of death by both Hera and the mysterious curse that has claimed all the gods, but also struggling with the self appointed role of battle leader.

Most of the other characters were also interesting, though not quite as much as Athena. Odyssey and Hermes were enjoyable and stood on their own fairly well, but I felt Cassandra could have been expanded more, and Aidan/Apollo seemed solely concerned with his relationship. It’s interesting having the male character preoccupied with his love life more than the female, but it still isn’t particularly interesting to read about. He is meant to be the God of the Sun but just seems two-dimensional and a bit boring. Also, he is never held to account for his original cursing of Cassandra – she gets mad at him, but the action never gives them a chance to actually talk about what happened, so he’s never really punished for it.

These few problems within Antigoddess are not enough, however, to deter from the pleasure of the book itself. The action and mythology are captivating, and I am definitely coming back for book two.

4 stars.

The Raven Boys (Raven Cycle, #1) - Maggie Stiefvater

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

 

On a cold winter night, Blue stands with her mother and watches as the ghosts of the soon-to-be dead cross the graveyard. Not that she expects to see anything – unlike her mother, Blue is not a clairvoyant. But this year she sees a boy, which can only mean two things: “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.” 

His name is Gansey, and he and his friends have already gained a reputation in Aglionby, their private school. Known as The Raven Boys, Blue is sure they are nothing but trouble. Obsessed with finding the burial ground of the Welsh King Glendower, Gansey is following lay lines that could lead to his fortune and convinces Blue to help. As the daughter of a family of psychics, who is Blue to think him crazy? Despite herself Blue is drawn to the Raven Boys, even though she knows it can’t end well: all her life she has been told she will cause her true love to die.

Despite the synopsis, The Raven Boys is not the story of a romance between Blue and Gansey. Though romance is featured in this book, this arc seems to be for the whole series rather than just this story. What The Raven Boys actually is is so much bigger and better: this is no typical YA paranormal romance. It’s been called a cross between Edgar Allan Poe and The Dead Poet’s Society, and is in fact a tale of magic and quests, and the bonds of friendship between a group of young men. The Raven Boys themselves and their relationship plays a major role, and each of the boys work so great together, as well as standing on their own. Though each is noteworthy in their own right – Gansey with his passion for the supernatural, Ronan who hides behind his anger, and Noah who is more than meets the eye – the best character has to be Adam. The boy from a poor family who gained a scholarship to an expensive private school, Adam struggles with both feeling that he is not good enough and resentment towards his other friends who never have to worry about money. The flashback scene where he can’t afford to buy food is just heart-wrenching. Blue is also an awesome character, the only non-seer in a family of clairvoyants, she doesn’t let this bring her down and doesn’t hold this against her family. Her relationship with her mother was encouragingly positive, and her caution and tentative friendship with the boys is a refreshing change in YA books – she is so much more interesting than the stereotypical ‘too-stupid-to-live’ heroine, and her budding romance with Adam was charming. It’s just a disappointment that this romance can’t fully develop, as the synopsis clearly states that the romance will be between Blue and Gansey.

The magic featured in this book was just brilliant. A great mix of ghosts, psychics, tarot cards, lay lines, and more (there really is a bit of everything). The Welsh folktale this is loosely based on (Doomed to Die on St. Marks Eve) and the use of King Glendower is very original, a nice change from the over abundance of Greek and European folklore used in fantasy today. As a huge fan of magic, I found the ideas used to be fascinating and endlessly entertaining, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next. The writing itself was also beautiful, especially one description of an abandoned car in the middle of a woods, and it speaks to Maggie Stiefvater’s skill that she can make something so beautiful out of a simple image.

This was a truly great book, and I cannot to read the sequel.

4.5 stars.

Lord of the Flies - William Golding

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Stranded on a desert island, with no adults, a group of young boys must learn how to survive and function as a society. Ralph, a natural leader, gets nominated as chief and pushes all their efforts into keeping a signal fire lit. Not everyone thinks this is important; Jack believes that hunting is the key to survival, and he will do anything necessary to take power from Ralph. But there is something out there, hiding in the forest. The boys know it only as ‘the beast’ and laugh at the idea of a monster, but in the dark of the night they only know something is coming.

As a comment on the functions and breakdown of society, and how mankind is not much more than an animal if we allow ourselves to give in to our base urges, Lord of the Flies is an interesting yet extremely heavy handed book. It’s interesting that William Golding uses children to make his point, as it shows the gap between being a child and being an adult, but could also be seen as a comment on how children are more like animals – during our childhood we learn how to become more civilised, eventually becoming fully functioning members of society when we become adults. The fact that the stranded group were all young boys also makes a point. I believe this would have been a very different book if it had been only girls on the island – more discussion/arguing and less bloodshed, for a start. However, had it been a mix of both genders, I believe it would have been similar, only the competition between the boys would have been a lot more upfront and the attention from a girl would have indicated rank.

It is agreed that there is a lot of symbolism in this book, with the main characters representing Democracy, Dictatorship, Science, and Religion. Personally, I didn’t find this all to be very clear. Whilst I could see Ralph and Jack as Democracy and Dictatorship – with Ralph as the leader wanting to discuss issues, and Jack’s tactics of propaganda and scapegoating – the roles of Piggy and especially Simon weren’t as clear. To me, Piggy was just the voice of reason and I wasn’t sure what Simon was meant to represent. The scene with Simon and the pigs head seemed random and disconnected from the rest of the story.

As for reading and enjoying Lord of the Flies, for what is a very interesting plot the book itself is dull. I enjoy stories, and found this book to be too much about ‘The Message’.

2.5 stars

Some Quiet Place - Kelsey Sutton

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

People call Elizabeth Caldwell a freak, but they don’t know the half of it. Elizabeth feels nothing: no joy, no sorrow, no fear. Instead, she sees Emotions who are called to humans whenever they experience a feeling. Most Emotions have given up on trying to work out what she is. All except for Fear who loves to torment her, hoping for any sort reaction. Elizabeth is his obsession: what is she? What made her become so numb?Elizabeth ignores his pestering, until he shows up one day with a newspaper article about an accident she suffered when she was four years old. Fear is convinced that this accident had something to do with her condition, and though Elizabeth would love to deny him she can’t help but wonder if Fear is right. Could the accident have caused this? And is it connected to the haunting dreams she’s been having, and the feeling that someone is following her?

The idea of Emotions being human-like beings is a very original, and was the thing that attracted me to this book in the first place. However, I think it’s an idea that wasn’t quite as fully fleshed out as it could have been. Not only are there Emotions, but also abstract concepts like Winter, and Moss. There doesn’t seem to be a clear rule with these, which seems a little lazy (though this may be fixed in the next book). The Emotions seemed to just be people with power to influence feelings on people, invisible to all but Elizabeth, but surely they should be the embodiment of the emotion they represent? For instance, shouldn’t Fear be afraid all the time? Instead he’s confident almost to the point of being arrogant, which has become almost a stereotype in YA romance – the ‘bad boy’: good looking, arrogant, obsessive about the main character, and obnoxious. Luckily, Fear is a milder version of this cliche and doesn’t come across as a that much of a jerk after the beginning.

On the subject of characters, neither Elizabeth nor Fear felt particularly three-dimensional. Whilst they weren’t bad characters per say, they just felt a bit flat. Fear wasn’t featured enough to show more of his personality than his obsession for Elizabeth, and Elizabeth just seemed to repeat to herself how she felt nothing, but would then talk about how her ‘wall of nothingness’ would twinge. Surely this is an emotion, even if it is only a mild feeling? This is what I believe the fundamental problem of this book to be: how can anyone successfully write a character who feels no emotion, when all we ever experience is emotion? It’s pretty much impossible, and though some works have come close, this isn’t one of them. The only character I felt was close to being complete was Joshua, the other love interest, and in the end he just gets screwed over by Elizabeth.

On the whole, this book was mildly entertaining with a good premise (I was fairly entertained whilst reading, and only saw half these problems whilst writing this review), but ultimately it was forgettable.

2.5 stars.

The Eye of the World  - Robert Jordan

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

“The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again.”

Rand al’Thor is just the son of a mere farmer, believing his life to involve nothing more worrying about the harvest festival and winning the attention of the pretty Egwene, the inkeeper’s daughter. Then the attack came. In the middle of the night, Rand’s father’s farm is pillaged by trollocs – hideous part man and part animal monsters who swear allegiance to The Dark One. Rand and his father Tam flee to Emond’s Field only to find that the village has also been burned. While talking to Moraine Damodred, a member of a magic-wielding cult known as the Aes Sedai, it is revealed that though the attacks seemed random, Rand and two other young men, Mat and Perrin, are the targets. It seems that the Dark One has taken an interest in them, but why?

Moraine convinces them to travel with her and her Warder, Lan, back to Tar Valon, home of the Aes Sedai. Packing their bags as fast as they can, the young men set off, joined by Egwene and a travelling entertainer called Thom. None of them are safe from the Dark One, and Rand is consumed by worry he begins to visit Rand’s dreams. The Dark One claims “you are mine, or you are dead” by what does he want with them?

The Eye of the World is an ambitious tale. The beginning of a fourteen book series, set in a Tolkien-esqe fantasy world, it deals with grand plots – good verse evil, war and peace, magic and religion. Full of fascinating characters, each with their own detailed back stories, loyalties, and quirks, this truly is a great epic fantasy for those looking for a fully imagined world. ‘World building’ is a term that is use in reviews, but I believe this is one of those rare times it is accurate, as The Wheel of Time features an entire world, full of different cultures, creatures, and beliefs. Though there are a few obvious comparisons to Tolkien (the group of strangers on a journey, the main character starting as a simple village person, orc like monsters, and regions called The Mountains of Mist and The Mountains of Doom to name a couple), there are plenty of original and great ideas. I love the fact that magic is wielded by the women, giving them power, both magical and political. It’s great that it breaks away from the idea that women with magic are only ever healers and ‘wise women’. The Aes Sedai have really power, including fire and lightening strikes, tracking, and protection from the Dark One (and that is just one in the first book). All the women in this book are real people, not just a couple of characteristics and a pretty face.

There is so much to this book, from characters to plot to world building, that it can become a little confusing. This is not a book you can skim through – but once you throw yourself in, it’s easy to get caught up in the action. It’s been said by other reviewers that The Eye of the World can be read as a stand alone novel, but personally I feel there are too many unanswered question. This could be seen negatively as you have to invest in all fourteen books to know what happens, but I enjoyed this so much I am diving back in with book two as soon as I can.

This is a novel truly deserving of the name ‘epic fantasy’. It is the beginning of an amazing journey and I cannot wait to read more.

4.5 stars

The Glass Republic - Tom Pollock

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Parva “Pen” Khan has survived a brutal attack from a living mass of barbed wire. Well, if you can call this surviving. Covered in scars all over her body, with a face that people recoil from, Pen is trying to get her normal life back. But it’s not easy: with her best friend Beth turned into a living embodiment of the city of itself, pressure from her fellow classmates to tell them what happened, feeling that her face is no longer her own, and the guilt of causing her parents pain. The only person who understands Pen is Parva, her mirror sister who lives in the reflected city of London-Under-Glass.

But when Parva is kidnapped, Pen knows that she must find her, whatever it takes. Striking a deal with the Chemical Synod, Pen trades her parents’ memories of her for entrance to London-Uner-Glass, where looks are currency and her sister is considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Posing as Parva, Pen is caught in a world of politics and terrorists, where beauty is everything.

The Skyscraper Throne is a series that takes the genre Urban Fantasy to a new level – the city of London literally comes alive in these books. Descriptions of living street lights who communicate by flashing light, Pavement Priests who are trapped in stone, creepy men covered in oil who collect and experiment with human emotions and memories (to name a few), are all fascinating and original, building a truly unique picture of the modern world. The new society of London-Under-Glass introduced in The Glass Republic mirrors and distorts the idea of beauty being connected to self worth that is so prominent in our culture, much like the way the river Themes reflects the city itself. The use of half-faces and the terrorists know as the Faceless are both creepy but sympathetic, showing the flaws in both worlds and our obsession as people with looks. But as great as the world build is, it is nothing when compared to the characters, especially the protagonist Pen.

It’s great to see the return of Beth, the hero of the first book The City’s Son, who is still just as brilliant. Her change into a daughter of the streets continues and her struggles with this transition, and the sacrifices made by Fil, the boy she loved, are realistic and moving. There is the introduction of another great character, Espel, a steeplejill with half a true face and half a mirror. She is in many ways Pen’s opposite, a beautiful girl who braves the hights of the skyscrapers in London-Under-Glass to clear it of raining brick and concrete in an almost reckless way, but she shares a lot of the same fears and self doubts as Pen. Then there is Pen herself – a character so raw with pain, anger, and fear, but so willing to throw her own safety to the wind to save the people she loves. Her struggles made me want to cry: watching her fight for a normal life any way she can whilst living with a ruined face, bullying from her schoolmates, and knowing that the teacher who abused her may be going free. All this doesn’t stop her, as she just keeps telling herself that “It’s still all you, Pen” – and it is. Pen is a truly amazing character, who does gain back part of her control over her body after her trauma. I love Pen with a passion.

The reason I’ve rated The Glass Republic 4.5 and not 5 stars? The cliffhanger ending was completely unexpected and shocked me, as I didn’t realise this series was in fact a trilogy. Waiting for the next book may actually kill me! What else can I say but read it, and read it now.

4.5 stars.

Broken Homes (Peter Grant, #4)

Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch

See my review of this book, and many more, at TalesfromtheGreatEastRoad.wordpress.com

 

(Contains spoilers.)

 

A car crash that kills a man who seems to have just murdered a woman with a shotgun to the face. The sudden and unexpected suicide of a man who seems to being controlled by magic. A man who has bust into flames from the inside out. All connected to a stolen rare book on magic. It's just another day in the life of Peter Grant: police officer and wizard apprentice.

 

Peter's investigations lead him to a tower block of flats in Elephant and Castle called Skygarden. Built by a German man as a way to enhance magic through the human activity happening within, Nightingale believes that the Faceless Man is up to something sinister here. Soon the tower block becomes a new home for Peter and Lesley, who go under cover to meet the residents and hunt out who is working for the Faceless Man. But danger lurks around every corner, and Peter soon discovers that no-one can be trusted.

 

The Peter Grant series is an odd one, and though I have enjoyed all the books (this one included) I can't help but find problems. First the positives: there are so many great ideas in these books. River Gods, wizards in the police force, a magic sensing dog, Inspector Nightingale a wizard who doesn't age and helped fight in WWII, and the series villain known as the Faceless Man. The police investigation side is very detailed and practical - if Ben Aaronovitch has never been a policeman then he must know someone in the force, as these are probably the most realistic books about policing I've ever read. In Broken Homes the plot is pretty captivating, new fascinating characters are introduced, and certain events at the end are complete game changers which mean the next book is going to be very interesting.

 

However, there were some problems. Broken Homes is pretty slow at the beginning, with what seems like random murders and cases being investigated. It takes a while before we even see Skygarden and the Faceless Man's name is mentioned, and feels like Peter is moving aimlessly throughout the first 100 or so pages. It does pick up about half way through, but there doesn't seem to be a great sense of urgency, not even in the climax where the action really picks up. The biggest problem though is the character of Lesley. Throughout the book I couldn't help wondering why she doesn't have a bigger emotional reaction to the events around her. I don't mean to say as a woman she should be emotional, but it feels like we are only ever told her actions, not her thoughts. Especially after all she has gone through, and the damage to her face - at one point she is chasing a suspect and accidentally leaves her mask behind, and only realises when she is caught in the middle of a crowd, complete with people videoing her. But her reaction is never shown, she just swears, leaves with Peter and the scene moves on. When she reveals that she's sleeping with a petty thief who helps the police called Zach, we have no idea what exactly their relationship is - is it a real romance? Just a bit of fun? A way to vent her frustration at the world? The discovery that Lesley is in fact working with the Faceless Man seems put in more for shock value more than anything else. Peter assumes that it's to get her face back, but it could be anything since she never talks about her thoughts. Are these problems because she's meant to be a closed off character, or is Peter just too selfish to notice the woman he's meant to be friends with is struggling? It seems that Peter is a fairly self involved character, not just with Lesley, but with Nightingale and other characters like the River Gods.

 

Despite these problems, I will being reading the next book, but I know that it will be the one that makes or breaks this series. I have my hopes but, realistically, I know the only way to save it is to get inside Lesley's head more, and have Peter realise how selfish he has been.

 

3.5 stars.

The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

It's 2059 and London is being run by a security force known as the Scion, whose mission is to hunt out all clairvoyants hiding in the city. Paige Mahoney, a nineteen year old Irish woman, works in the criminal underworld as a dreamwalker. As one of the rarest clairvoyants, Paige is constantly on the look out, as there would be only one sentence if she was captured: death. At least that's what she always thought, until it actually happens.

Suddenly, Paige finds herself being shipped off to Oxford, a city that has been sealed off for nearly two-hundred years and renamed Sheol I. The city is ruled by a race of unearthly, humanoid creatures called the Rephaim, who view themselves as physically and intellectually superior to mankind. They use voyants as soldiers and servants, and are ruled by a woman called Nashira Sargas. Paige is soon claimed by the blood-consort to Nashira, Arcturus Mesarthim, known as the Warden, who will train her, care for her, and own her completely. Despite being his slave, Paige can't help but wonder whose side Warden is actually on, but she knows no matter what she is not safe here. Now, Paige must find a way to survive and escape, before her training in fighting monsters who eat human flesh or the attention from Nashira kills her.

The Bone Season is a entertaining book, with a lot of world building and interesting characters. The world created by Samantha Shannon is very detailed, stuffed full of information, almost to the point of becoming slightly overwhelming at the beginning. It starts out with a very heavy info dumping style - the world is described almost completely in the first chapter, and not revisited at all in the rest of the book. This can lead to some confusion, so it is recommended that the begin of this book is read fairly carefully so as to not miss anything. Luckily, once Paige is captured and the action picks up, the info dumping lessens (though doesn't disappear completely) and you get mostly caught up in the story. I say 'mostly', because I felt the book started to lag slightly in the last third. Whilst the story is still moving, there was just something that felt a little bit repetitive and slower that the rest of the book.

All the characters were enjoyable, and though the romance between Paige and Warden was obvious from the beginning, they were both interesting. The slow burn of the romance was the unexpected part, and I think this is part of what caused the lull in the pace, waiting for the romance to fully unfold. However having said that, this is a nice change from most book that focus heavily on romance, and seeing as this is a seven book series it gives the relationship time to develop properly. Warden was one of the most interesting characters as his motives are hidden throughout most of the book and it's clear why Paige doesn't trust him for a long while.

Overall, The Bone Season is entertaining and detailed book, that, despite a couple of problems, has captured my interest. I am looking forward to book two.

3.5 stars.

1984 - George Orwell, Erich Fromm

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

(Contains spoilers, if you wish to read this unspoilt, look away now!)

The year is 1984, and thirty-nine year old Winston Smith has just committed a thought crime. Hiding from the ever watching and listening telescreen in his home, Winston begins to write in a dairy describing the thoughts that could get him killed by the government: his hatred of Big Brother, the knowledge that news stories and facts are being altered, and that poverty exists despite everything the Party would have people believe. Soon Winston begins looking for the rebellion he desperately hopes is out there, and begins an affair with young woman called Julia, would hates the Party as much as himself and uses sex as an act of defiance. Hiding from the Thought Police, Winston and Julia both know that their days are numbered, before they are discovered and removed from all existence – no-one can hide from the Party forever…

The original dystopia novel, 1984 is a great example of a dictatorship who has taken control so fully they don’t even need to be subtle about their actions against their people. Winston is in the fairly unique position of working for the Party in the Ministry of Truth, thus being able to see how they alter news given to the public, but is not high up enough to be exempt from the hash realities of the country, like rations and living under constant surveillance. 1984 questions the nature of reality through Winston’s struggles to deal with the knowledge of the facts he changes, whilst also pretending that he never saw them and swallow everything the Party says as truth. What exactly is reality? Does your reality differ from other peoples’, especially if they believe in a different past than you? The Party’s motto “he who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future” is true, as they use their power to manipulate the public getting them to believe whatever they say, and through this ensure the public’s loyalty to the government. Struggling with questions like this and knowing you can’t think them without being hunted down by your own government, it’s easy to understand why Winston throws himself into his relationship with Julia, even knowing that it would almost certainly get him killed. The character of Julia is also an example of a common stereotype, especially in young people - the rebel who doesn’t know exactly what they are rebelling against as they can’t be bothered to fully educate themselves. They just know that the government is evil, and believes that everything they say is “bloody rot".

This novel is excellent in providing a terrifying example of what the world could become. With increases in CCTV cameras and surveillance through technology like GPS in smartphones, it’s easy to see why 1984 is often referenced by people when talking about how much we are being watched by the powers that be. This in itself earns the novel four stars in my eyes. However, upon finishing the novel my first thought was “well, that was depressing!”. After all that Winston goes through, discovering a man he thought was his friend was actually working for the Party, he and Julia being arrested by the Thought Police, Julia betraying him, and being tortured until he “loved Big Brother”, the only options left to Winston were to either become indoctrinated or die. Though indoctrination is the only way for George Orwell to keep his character alive, and to show the absolute power of the government, in the end this message was almost too depressing to read, and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Since this is such a difference in feelings between these two aspects in the novel, I’m cheating with my ratings here. As a comment on the power the government can have over its people and would life could be life if we’re not careful, this novel is excellent. As a novel about characters rebelling and trying to find peace, it is just plain depressing.

Intellectual Rating: 4 stars

Emotional Rating: 2 stars

Elysian Fields - Suzanne  Johnson

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

(Spoilers for books one and two.)

Only a few weeks after settling the mermaid feud and losing the closest thing to a mother she’s ever had, all DJ really needs is time to rest and recover. Most certainly not an historical undead serial killer known as the Axeman come back to reek havoc on New Orleans. During the investigations, DJ discovers that he is being controlled by a necromancer, one of her own wizards, and now the Axeman is after her. Trying to survive being hunted by a serial killer is really not being helped by the elves’ interest in her being taken to a new, worrying intensity. It seems like everyone is after a piece of her, and they don’t care how many pieces she breaks into.

The phrase “action-packed” seems too tame to describe Elysian Fields, which is stuffed full of so many great different plots, that all tie off nicely at the end. More happens in this book by the half way point that most others in entire series, and it’s very impressive how Suzanne Johnson fits so much into one book. Watching DJ struggling with everything that happens is quite moving, and shows her strengths as a character. It’s also great to see progress with the romance, which is still no where near a boring “happily ever after” as events in this book will definitely cause further issues and more entertainment. One of the best parts of this book is the extended world building. The Elves’ culture is a very interesting one, their political systems and nature are the cause of a lot of the conflict, and it’s interesting to see where exactly DJ, as both part elf and wizard, fits into this. Many of these issues are left open to be further explored in the next books.

The only real problem with Elysian Fields is that other than DJ herself, there seem to be too few women in this world. Other than her human friend Eugenie who doesn’t know anything about DJ’s world, two elven woman (one who is barely featured before she is killed off in what felt a little too much like a plot device), and a vampire who does nothing but seduce and corrupt a wizard, there are next to no women. Eugenie was the only real positive female secondary character in this book, and it is good to see her taking a bigger and more active role in the story. Men, on the other hand, see to be everywhere – from romantic interests, to friends, colleges, enemies, even to nameless background characters. This just doesn’t reflect real life, and I can’t help but worry that this is a subconscious decision to make DJ look all the more special – she’s the only woman who is not a bitch, a slut, or is naive.

This one issue aside (which was more of a musing after I finished the book), Elysian Fields is a non-stop, action packed book that will keep you captivated throughout.

4.5 stars.

River Road (Sentinels of New Orleans, #2) - Suzanne  Johnson

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

(Spoilers for book one.)

It’s been three years since Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, and through DJ’s life, but she has come to terms with what happened and is settled with her life working for the Elder wizards along side her close friend and FBI enforcer, Alex. But when, out of the blue, undead pirate Jean Lafitte contacts DJ about conflict between two clans of merpeople and the debt she owes him for saving her life, DJ must investigate before poisoned water spreads and harms the humans of the city. Whilst breaking up fights between the mermen, and judging whether to trust Jean and his advances on her, DJ also has to juggle a werewolf who likes her but may not be able to control himself, her parner Alex who is suddenly acting funny around her, and the elves who want to meet (and probably use) her. Maybe running off to the Beyond with an undead pirate isn’t the worst idea in the world…

River Road picks up three years after the events of Royal Street, and though the time gap may seem a little much, the main characters have, thankfully, not changed. This book is in fact an improvement over the first: the pacing is a lot more even, the events are better connected to each other and don’t feel hastily thrown together (as the last book suffered a little from), and DJ on the whole felt more sure of herself without losing any of her humour, stubbornness, or practical mindedness. She is a character who is not afraid to get her hands dirty or push her limits. Though this is a trait often found in Urban Fantasy heroines, DJ doesn’t fall into the trap of being too headstrong to make rational decisions that end up putting herself in danger. When danger does arise, she uses the backup help Alex offers her, without insisting she doesn’t need him or taking his offer to mean that he thinks she isn’t strong enough.

The world of this series is expanding, be it slowly. River Road heavily featured merpeople, nymphs, and their relation to the human world, but also mentions the River Styx (a place in the Beyond), the fact that the Beyond has links to different time periods, and the elves (who seem to be becoming an increasingly bigger part of DJ’s life as she tries to research her own elven heritage). Once again the Beyond is visited, but only briefly, giving the reader an almost infuriatingly small glimpse of this huge world. As DJ learns more about herself, and discovers yet more ways the Elders are trying to keep wizards from travelling to the Beyond, I can only hope that this means a greater amount of time spent there.

The other big part of this book is the romance, and all the male character are written so well, it’s hard to know who to choose. Though slowly taken, DJ has not one but three romantic interests, each with their own charms and faults. Her partner and friend Alex seems the obvious choice, as the relationship they have is both sweet and funny – in any other series he’d be the only guy to root for. Whilst his cousin Jake also seems sweet, his struggle to control himself since he became a werewolf makes him dangerous, but also sympathetic and vulnerable beneath his tough exterior. Lastly, Jean Laffite is the wild card, both dangerous and attractive. Though he (mostly) behaves in this book, the fact that he not only hurt DJ in book one but actually tried to kill her, makes him unstable and untrustworthy. Had that incident not happened, I would have been a big fan of Jean.

In summery, River Road takes everything that was good in Royal Street and makes it better. Add some more journeying into the Beyond, and the next book may even be a five star read.

4 stars.

Crown of Midnight - Sarah J. Maas

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

(Spoilers for book one.)

After nearly dying during the King’s tournament, Celaena Sardothien has been officially crown the King’s Champion and the Royal Assassin. She is the King of Adarlan’s mutt, his attack dog, doing his dirty work by killing off those who oppose or displease him. This was supposed to gain Celaena her freedom after a few years, but it feels more like slavery than ever. What no-one realises is that Celaena has a terrible secret – she’s not actually killing those she’s sent to dispatch of. Playing a very dangerous game, Celaena lives in fear that the King will discover that the people he believes dead have in fact gone into hiding, whilst also trying to help Queen Elena and bring back magic to the world. But magic may not be gone as everyone thinks, with an unnerving fortune teller from a camp of travellers and something menacing stalking the palace dungeons. If the King doesn’t kill her, this mysterious magic might.

Crown of Midnight is one of those books that has so many twists and turns you just can’t stop reading it, and will probably spend hours emerged in this amazing story without even realising it. Sarah J. Maas exceeds her first book, which is quite a feat in itself. Stakes are higher than ever, and gone is the flirty, somewhat easy going Celaena (at least compared to her attitude in this book). She is hiding her defiance of the King all by herself, and it’s clear the pressure, and having to act like a loyal dog, is getting to her. Still, her resilience is admirable, and her struggles also show the strength of the friendships she has with Chaol, Dorian, and Nehemia. The friendship with Nehemia was one of the best aspects of Crown of Midnight – it is deep and meaningful as not only does Nehemia support Clelaena, she isn’t afraid to tell her the harsh truth that Celaena needs to hear whether she wants to or not. The romance develops more and goes beyond the love triangle hinted at in the first book, with Celaena making a choice, but still staying close friends with the other man. There is still no happy ending in sight however, as issues and conflicts drive a seemingly inevitable wedge between the couple, in a heart breaking way that may not be salvageable.The other part of this book I thoroughly enjoyed was the discovery of further magic, especially the character Baba Yellowlegs, an iron-toothed witch posing as a fortune teller. She was both truly creepy and intriguing, and the nature of witches is something I hope to see far more of in the next books. The idea of magic returning is one that can cause endless adventures for Celaena and her friends. The revelations about her nature and identity make for a shocking ending that will leave everyone dying for the next book.

I loved Crown of Midnight, it was a constant twists in politics, magic, and characters. After that cliffhanger I cannot wait for the third book.

4.5 stars.

The Weight of Souls - Bryony Pearce

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Everyone knows being a teenager sucks. Especially when you’re bullied by the popular guys at school, even worse when one used to be your best friend – but when you are hunted by ghosts how can you be anything but a freak? Like all the women of her family, Taylor Oh is cursed, haunted by the ghost of murder victims only she can help. When a ghost touches her she has roughly three weeks to hunt out the murderer before she is consumed by a void known only as The Darkness. Taylor’s life consists of hiding at home where she’s safe from the ghosts, but not her father who thinks she’s suffering from a mental illness, and at school hiding from Justin and his friends who spend their time coming up with new ways to torment her.

But everything changes when Justin suddenly dies, and his ghost marks Taylor. Since Justin doesn’t know who killed him, Taylor must gain the trust of his friends by infiltrating the exclusive V Club, a secret society where members play true or dare with horrifying stakes.

It’s hard not to feel for Taylor, as Bryony Pearce pulls no punches in making her life almost unbearably hard. As the victim of such horrid bullying, where the teachers seem to be deliberately turning a blind eye, and having to hear her own father tell her again and again that she is crazy, and without her mother who also had the curse, it’s impressive that Taylor doesn’t fall apart. Having had personal experience with bullying in school, Taylor’s character resonated with me and I admired her strength to keep on struggling, even if no-one else understood or was on her side. For me, Taylor was the strongest part of The Weight of Souls, and her trials moved me.That’s not to say this was its only strength – there is a lot to love about this book. The curse itself was both fascinating and seriously creepy, with clear rules as to how exactly it worked and background knowledge that, unlike some Young Adult books, didn’t make it feel added in for the sake of it. Having said that, there was still enough mystery to entertain you throughout and ends with room for a sequel. Its origins to a exploration to an Ancient Egyptian tomb by Taylor’s ancestor and the god Anubis were very interesting and become a much bigger part of the story towards the end. Unfortunately, I can’t say more without spoiling the book.

It shows Bryony Pearce’s skill as a writer that the evolution of Justin from leader of Taylor’s tormentors to love interest feels natural and believable. He is a character you hate in the beginning, and his change could have easily felt forced and rushed, ruining the book – but he is more than the two-dimensional jerk potential boyfriend troupe that is commonly used in Young Adult. As Taylor gets to properly know Justin, he is shown to be a complicated boy caught up in the V Club, which has spiralled out of his control as their dares get more dangerous. With his realisation that he has in fact died without a chance to say goodbye to anyone, and his anger at being murdered, Justin is another very sympathetic character you came to love.

The Weight of Souls was a very entertaining book, with very sympathetic characters and a great idea done justice to. The story is left open, and I can only hope there will be a sequel.

4.5 stars.

Royal Street - Suzanne  Johnson

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

Drusilla Jaco, DJ to her friends, thought her job was hard – mixing potions, helping to guard New Orleans from supernatural creatures (including attractive undead pirates), and negotiating politics with the Elder wizards. When the city is warned to evacuate due to the oncoming Hurricane Katrina, her mentor Gerry insists DJ leaves while he stays to defend the city from whatever may come. DJ watches safely as her city avoids the worst of the hurricane, only to be severely damaged by flooding. As heartbreaking as it is to watch, DJ’s worst nightmare comes true when she gets a call from the Elders: Gerry has disappeared and the walls between the Otherworld and the mortal world have weakened.

Partnered with the stubborn, but good looking, Alex who works for the FBI, and hiding from the undead pirate she tricked who is back for revenge, DJ must help rebuild New Orleans and protect it from the supernatural monsters now unleashed. With a serial killer targeting wizards with voodoo rituals and the rise of disturbing questions about Gerry’s views concerning the Elders, DJ may have her work cut out for her.The use of Hurricane Katrina was very interesting, and justly done. Seeing the damage done to New Orleans through DJ’s eyes, and her relief and guilt as she realises just how lucky she was to have escaped and have her home undamaged, was almost painful to read. Her heartbreak was real and helped to make DJ a sympathetic character.

The descriptions of the city were also thorough, creating some very moving scenes. The few scenes in the Otherworld towards the end of the book where also very enjoyable. Hopefully, the Otherworld will be explored further in the rest of the series as it was isolated to Old Orleans, and had the potential to be far more varied in both setting and characters.

The romance in Royal Street is of the slow-burn variety, beginning with hostility between DJ and her partner Alex, slowly becoming friendship as they trust and confide in each other. Both DJ and Alex are likeable characters, despite their faults – namely both being stubborn, unnecessarily so at times. Jean Lafitte, the undead pirate and other half of the possible love triangle, on the other hand, was a character who was much harder to like and trust – though this does make him quite interesting. His motives are constantly unclear as he changes allegiances and plans with no notice. It is only obvious that he looks out for himself. Though this makes his character interesting and unpredictable, as a romantic interest it makes him unstable and fairly unbelievable, since he has tried several times to kill DJ. Other than his looks, there doesn’t seem to be any other reason to be a romance with.

The use of voodoo in this book was very interesting, but could have been expanded. In fact, this seems to be the biggest fault with Royal Street. Though a few ideas and especially the world building was not as extensive as it could have been, as this is just the first of the series, I can only hope that these great ideas are further explored in the next novels, which I will be reading.

3.5 stars

A Study in Scarlet -  Arthur Conan Doyle

See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.

After serving his country in the Afghanistan war, Dr John Watson returns to his beloved London looking for a home. Permanently injured during his service and with little money, John soon realises he’ll need a roommate. By chance, a friend introduces him to the world’s only Consulting Detective, Sherlock Holmes – a man of great intellect and almost terrifyingly accurate observations. Thus begins their many adventures together, starting with the body of a man found in Lauriston Gardens, and the word Rache spelt in blood across the wall. With the police stumped, only Sherlock can solve the puzzle.

Sherlock Holmes is undoubtably the most well known fictional detective in the world, famed for his amazing ability to decipher clues that no-one else can. We are repeatedly told of his genius, through the adoring eyes of Dr John Watson, and the joy of this entire series is the many mysteries and trying to figure out just how Holmes was able to solve them. It is stated by Holmes several times that he is not in fact a genius, but merely able to observe tiny details that other people nearly always miss. The big reveal in A Study in Scarlet shows that it was actually a fairly simple case had the police seen all the details – as Holmes himself says “I’m not going to tell you much more of the case, Doctor. You know a conjurer gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all”. Since the novel is written from Watson’s point of view, we are unable to notice what Holmes sees, as Watson is not an observant man – or at least, not as observant as Sherlock Holmes. The reader of this series comes to idealise Holmes as capable of solving anything because we see him through Watson’s eyes as an impressive genius beyond all doubt.

In terms of characters, both Watson and Holmes felt a little flat, especially Watson, which is odd considering he is the narrator of this novel. Watson spends most of his time marvelling at Holmes’ amazing abilities, and Holmes showing off said abilities. It seems that Conan Doyle wanted the reader to feel the same love for Holmes as Watson does, and what better way than to have the whole story narrated by a admiring (though not mindless) fan? This appears to be one of those issues with knowing the characters more through adaptations that through the source material itself. The relationship, which plays a huge part in practically all the films/TV shows, felt under developed as we were told, rather than shown, that they had become friends. This relationship is almost certainly expanded during the course of the entire series, but in terms of A Study in Scarlet, it seems to be sacrificed in favour of the mystery.

There were a few other surprises, namely that the story changes in both scenery and characters in the second half, to explain the mystery, and that the author’s political views aren’t exactly subtle1. On the whole, A Study in Scarlet is an enjoyable book, but I can’t help but feel that people’s love of Sherlock Holmes comes both from the entire series and the many different interpretations we have available.

3.5 stars.

1 Conan Doyle seemed to really hates Mormons. I wonder why?