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Sunday, 28 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #39 - Princeps' Fury, Jim Butcher

My overriding thought in this book was as follows: "How the hell are they going to get out of it this time?!"

The four books in this fantastic series leading up to this point have been full of tricky situations that Tavi, Amara and Bernard, and the First Lord himself, have fought their way out of - both with furies and with wits - but this is different. The Vord are back (well, they never really went away. They were just a little quiet for a while) and immensely powerful, with a weapon they hitherto never had.

And the power is split. Gaius Sextus is not in the best of shape; Tavi has taken a group with him to Canea to escort the Canim back to their homeland and hopefully lay low from any potential assassins since his announcement as the First Lord's heir. Not only are the Vord invading on two fronts - Canea and Alera - their is the ongoing battle with the Icemen as well - a conflict that has been fought for years and occupies some of Alera's most powerful legions.

The nature of this particular book meant it involved a lot more battle scenes, which were very well done, but also meant that the politics that have been so brilliantly worked on in the last few books are set aside. Alera needs to come together, and scrap the in-house politics, because in a few weeks, there may not be anyone to squabble anymore.

This book, like all the others, has been a great standalone story, but I can't wait to see how everything that has been raised in this book is brought to completion in the finale of the series.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #38 - Captain's Fury, Jim Butcher

Book 4 of the Codex Alera takes place two years after Tavi took command of the First Aleran and led his troops to their first victory against the Canim. Since then it's been a furious to and fro not just between the Canim and the Alerans, but pushing back against the rebellion of Kalarus. Tavi's Aunt Isana knows the time has come to tell Tavi of his true identity, but is terrified of the repercussions, not least because of her position as his mother, but also because Tavi will immediately become a target for those scrambling for the First Lord's seat.

Meanwhile, the First Lord himself has picked Amara and Bernard to come along with him on a secret mission to enter Kalare, Kalarus' domains, and essentially show Kalarus who is boss.

 This book goes into the politics of warfare at greater depth, and it's fascinating to translate the idea of these war committees into real life. Egos and agendas rage, and tough decisions about thousands of people's lives must be made. Tavi wants to save as many Alerans and Canim as possible - he suspects exactly why the Canim left their homeland in the first place, and it wasn't because Alera suddenly became oh-so-appealing - but Senator Arnos, officially in charge of the war committee, wants all-out bloodshed.

The character development I love most in this book is Kitai's. As we get to know her through Tavi, we learn more of her sharp and ready wit, her heart, her black and white view and her general bad-ass-ness. Similarly, Araris, who we met first as Fade, is finally allowing himself to drop his slave persona, as well (at least partly) letting go of his guilt and shame of the events in which Septimus', Tavi's father and the old Princeps, was killed. And for Amara, the veil is torn from her eyes as she sees exactly how far Gaius is willing to go in order to keep his realm together, at whatever cost. After implicitly trusting someone so much whom has sent her into mortal danger time and time again, this is a pretty significant part of the book, and it'll be interesting to see what she does from here.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer Challenge #37 - The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton

"...words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot."

Approaching a book like "The Miniaturist", which has been the subject of much hype this summer, is always a little bit tricky, because instead of just picking up a book because you liked the sound of it, there are pre-set questions in your mind, such as "Is it really worth all the hype?". It is so important to try and forget about this, though, because you won't enjoy the book as much as it is worthy of being enjoyed.

Nella Oortman, an eighteen year old girl, has come to Amsterdam on the brink of a new life. Naive, nervous, and with no idea what to expect, she arrives at the Brandt household, the owner of whom she recently married. She is met by the steely, cool Marin (Johannes Brandt's sister) and two servants - Cordelia and Otto. Confused by not being greeted by Johannes himself, Nella quickly learns that the life she expected is not going to be the life she will have. Johannes gifts her with a doll's house, a perfect replica of their household, as a "distraction" and Nella reluctantly proceeds to furnishing it. When she consults with a miniaturist, though, things quickly take a turn for the unexpected and fantastical.

It's no surprise that this novel has been getting rave reviews since it hit the bookshelves. Secrets, lies, feminism, money, power, religion, marriage... Burton weaves all of these threads, and more, into a rich, mysterious tapestry, of which the reader is only given a glimpse at the start before the lens zooms out and you figure out how the various colours blend together. You almost wish you never find out, though, as the book becomes deeper and sadder as it goes on. You feel Nella's frustration at her own powerlessness, at her lack of choice in her own life; you are provoked into anger by the hypocrisy and mercilessness of 17th Century Christianity; you wish for all the secrets to spill out into the open and yet remain behind closed doors at the same time because you don't know what would be less painful for the main characters. It really is a marvel of a story, and one that you wish to go on because you cannot bear to leave the characters to struggle on alone. Burton has created a wonderful work of art, here, and has depicted a vivid and imaginative version of life in 17th Century Amsterdam that displays itself richly in the reader's mind. Highly recommended.