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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #30 - The Furies of Calderon, Jim Butcher

A few different people had recommended this book to me. Once I got hold of a copy from a friend, I could soon see why.

The population of Alera contains those with special abilities. They're called "crafters" and they can control elements - earth, air, fire, water, and metal, through a bond with an element's "fury". We meet Amara, a windcrafter, who is on a training exercise with her mentor, Fidelias. They are both Cursors, spies and messengers for the First Lord, Gaius. However, Amara soon finds herself tricked and betrayed by Odiana, a water witch, and Fidelias himself. She manages to escape and tell Gaius, who then sends her to the city of Garrison to spy out the land.

The story then switches to a certain steadholt in the Calderon Valley, owned by Bernard, who lives with his sister and their nephew, Tavi. Tavi is fifteen and furyless, which is pretty significant. When Tavi and Bernard set out to find a lost sheep, they come upon a Marat warrior. The Marat are a race who have fought with Alerans in the past, and the fact that they are in Alera is pretty alarming.

Fast forward and we find that Aquataine, one of the Lords, is the one organising the rebellion against Gaius. Epic battles ensue, and Gaius' side wins, though very narrowly.

The world building and history making in this novel is fantastic. Butcher sequences together complex politics and intertwining storylines brilliantly, so much so that it feels like you're reading something straight out of the Ancient Roman Empire - furies aside. The characters are diverse, genuine, and real, in that some are bent towards goodness and some towards evil, but are completely human in their actions and motivations. By that, I mean there aren't the typical all-good and all-evil - each of the characters has light and dark within them, and they choose their courses of actions - particularly Fidelias - for specific reasons.

This is the start of what is sure to be a brilliant series, and I'm very excited to see how the characters and politics - particularly the furyless Tavi -play out.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #29 - The White Princess, Philippa Gregory

Last in the series of the "Cousins' War", 'The White Princess' brings together the fascinating conclusion of the series detailing the Wars of the Roses and the reign of the Plantagenets, with the victory of Henry VII over Richard III at Bosworth.

The story begins with Elizabeth, daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, lamenting the loss of her lover, Richard III. She knows that she has to marry Henry, as part of a deal struck between her mother and Henry's mother, though the task is abhorrent to her. It seems equally so to Henry, who rapes her before they get married in order to see whether she is fertile or not. He would not waste his hard-fought victory, after being in exile for most of his life, on a barren wife. To the great relief of everyone involved, Elizabeth gets pregnant and gives birth to Arthur, who would later become betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. More babies follow, and the gentle softening of Henry and Elizabeth to each other, until they reach the point where they feel at peace and content with one another, and there is even love on Elizabeth's side, which she would have sworn at the beginning of their marriage would never be so.

Though Gregory uses many sources for her writing, she notes that still much of it is speculation, simply because there are certain things we can never know the truth about. She takes one plausible view and builds on that, and the story is no less intriguing or fascinating for it. And though it's fiction, the knowledge of history imparted is really interesting. For example, I had never known that Henry VII's reign was so fraught with paranoia, that plots seem to abound in every corner to put the Plantagenets back on the throne, including rebels presenting boys who claimed to be Richard, the younger of the Princes in the Tower who went missing. To this day no one knows for sure what happened to them.

Romance, political intrigue, interesting characters, and an easy flow - this novel has them all. A brilliant read, and a fantastic end to a brilliant series.

Until next time!


Thursday, 1 May 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #27 and #28 - Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince/Deathly Hallows

I finished the Harry Potter series on Tuesday evening. Books 6 and 7 are slowly making their way up to the top of my favourites in the series; they're so much more interesting than I thought.

First, book 6. Essentially, book 6 is a huge set up for book 7, and much of what we read in book 7 only makes sense because of book 6, but Half-Blood Prince is a fantastic book in its own right. We delve into Voldemort's past; Harry, Ron and Hermione make huge leaps in their magical education (their lessons are some of my favourite bits in the whole series); there is Quidditch galore, and characters like Luna and Ginny really come into their own.

Secondly, book 7. I felt a similar mix of anticipation and excitement as I did when I first read "Deathly Hallows", as it had been a good few years since I'd picked it up. As I was reading it I was disappointed with some of the choices the film made when adapting the book. Not because of the things missed out, but the things they had changed. Kreacher's arc, for example; in the book, you pity him so much more because of what he's gone through, and it's heartwarming to see how he eventually begins to trust Harry, Ron, and even Hermione, and pay respect to them because they are kind and respectful to him after hearing his story (Hermione was anyway, but that's a different story). The other major change, which I think was unnecessary, was with Grindelwald. In the book he tried to protect Dumbledore and humanity at large by lying that he never had the Elder Wand, though in the film he freely admits it. 7 overall is a brilliant read, and though there is a lot of camping and not much happening once they've stolen the locket from Umbridge, in my opinion it is no less interesting. Finding and destroying Horcruxes was never going to be easy, and Rowling does well in getting her readers to understand Harry, Ron and Hermione's boredom and frustration without getting bored themselves.

The deaths were obviously very hard to come to terms with all over again. Yes, the wizarding world was at war and Rowling does not kill needlessly; she just shows the stark realities of war and how those whom are most precious to us can be lost. The way she treats the deaths shows that she was probably every bit as heartbroken as us to say goodbye to those characters, yet we had to.

The epilogue was very polarising. Personally, I loved it. It was great to see the way the characters ended up, and the bit in which Harry talks to Albus about Sorting and his name was brilliant. It shows that Snape, the unsung hero, was not forgotten, which was extremely important. Despite what Rowling recently said about Ron and Hermione probably not being the best choice, I disagree and think that the pairings were perfect. Feel free to disagree with me!

Until next time :)

Empty Shelf/Mad Review Challenge #26 - Rebel Heart, Moira Young.

Rebel Heart is the sequel to the internationally acclaimed bestseller, Blood Red Road, by Moira Young. Having just defeated the Tonton and Vicar Pinch, Saba and crew (her twin brother Lugh; Emmi; Tommo and more) head out West in the hopes of finding a new life. Saba is loathe to leave Jack behind, but he says he needs to go back out East in order to tell his friend, Ike's lover/partner that Ike is dead.

As Saba and co head out East, they come across a disturbing sight - a family being thrown off their land, though it is clear that only the adults are intended for death. The children are to be taken away as slaves. The further west they go, it is clear that this is becoming a common occurrence, and they come across a whole camp of people thrown off their land. The Tonton, it appears, have not gone, but are resurrected and under new leadership of a man called the "Pathfinder" who hopes to create a "New Eden."

Some time into their break at the camp, Saba is visited by Maev, leader of the Free Hawks. Apparently Jack has joined the Tonton and cleared the Free Hawks from their land. Saba is confused by this and decides to go East, after piecing together bits of information for Maev and deciding that Jack is sending a message in code to her. She leaves secretly but the others soon follow her, much to her dismay, as she knows she is heading into danger.

This book is every bit as exciting as the first; well-paced and original. Certain people may criticise it because Saba, one of the most interesting and well-written characters in YA fiction, makes one of her main objectives to find Jack. However, in pursuit of Jack, we come across and learn much about their world, including the "Wreckers" of the distant past - us - who effectively destroyed the world. The Pathfinder is about creating this world again - hence the New Eden - though only certain people are permitted to have a place in this new world, bringing up issues of justice, class, and whether or not the choices we make are "right" in the eyes of other people.

I'm certainly hoping there's going to be another book in this series. It's refreshingly original and offers a frightening vision of the future that is not altogether impossible, particularly if humankind keeps being as careless and destructive as we are at present.

Until next time!