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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Review: The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johanssen

I've been looking forward to and somewhat dreading the arrival of Johanssen's final book in equal measure. Excited, because there were so many questions to be answered and I couldn't wait to read what Johanssen did with them. Dreaded, because the natural deadlines of writers of trilogies can sometimes make the ending underwhelming (see Allegiant - or don't).

Thankfully, for me at least, this book does not disappoint in any way.

So, where did we leave off? Kelsea, Queen of the Tearling, is now a prisoner of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, having driven a bargain for the Red Queen to retreat and leave the Tearling alone.

The Mace, Head of the Queen's Guard, has been left as Regent in Kelsea's place.

And the Fetch and Row Finn are battling as much against each other as they are for their vision, centuries old now, of what the Tearling should be.

It's a lot to sort out. Meanwhile, Kelsea is still going through her fugues, travelling back to the past, to the time of William Tear, to see if answers to the present can be found there.

The story is well plotted, equal time given to past and present, and sometimes the answers just dangling out of reach before moving on to the next POV. It's the kind of book that I carried around with me while doing chores, cooking dinner, making a cup of tea, and staying up well into the night. It is the best fantasy/dystopian trilogies I've read since the Hunger Games, and as a trilogy overall I think it's stronger. I would recommend for readers of fantasy and dystopian fiction.

There is one issue, however, which I can't discuss too much without giving away the ending. There is a deus ex machina of sorts, and I can see how the ending would be divisive.

On a more current affairs note, the undercurrent all the way through is what kind of governing is best for a population? Socialism, meritocracy, or straight authoritarianism? All are explored throughout the trilogy, none left without criticism. The resolution of the book is as much about how we should govern and lessons learned from the past as it is about Kelsea's end point.

Review: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

From the hot plains and sprawl of Addis Ababa, to the jungle of New York, Cutting for Stone is a novel that sweeps through time and continents.

Shiva and Marion, twins birthed by a Nun and Nurse, Sister Mary Joseph Praise, late in September 1954 - a time coming to huge political revolution - turns the lives of everyone around them upside down merely by their arrival. Dr Thomas Stone, Missing Hospital's only surgeon, is so shocked and horrified by their birth that he flees. The raising of the twins is left to a willing Hema, the hospital gynaecologist, and Ghosh, another doctor at Missing.

Shiva and Marion, so close when they were boys that they were known as ShivaMarion, grow up bound together but the ripples of life start to drive them further and further apart, until the ultimate betrayal seems to threaten their relationship forever.

The book is neither sparing in the gory details of the more intense side of surgery and medicine (the author himself is the senior associate chair and professor for the Theory and Practice of medicine at no less than Stanford University) nor skimming over the details of the twins' lives; in fact, not just them, but the characters who surround and support them. When you get to the end of the novel you think how on earth did Verghese manage to cram so much into one novel without it ever feeling too much.

Vast in scope and intense in character, it is a hugely ambitious novel that moves, surprises and absorbs its reader. Would thoroughly recommend - but save it for a holiday when you have the time!