A Court of Wings and Ruin (Sarah J Maas)

5 stars

Spoilers linger ahead, turn back if thou hast not read ACOWAR.

“I would have waited five hundred more years for you. A thousand years. And if this was all the time we were allowed to have… the wait was worth it.”

I think that, luckily, I didn’t go into this book expecting ACOMAF. Why? Because it’s the end of an arc, there’s war, destruction, pain, whilst ACOMAF was about healing, and joy and wonder. I also went into this with my heart in my throat, wondering whether, as a bisexual wlw, I would find this book as offensive as the internet had been saying. I was actually in quite a dark place starting this book, my grandmother had just died, I was 1000 miles from home and horribly homesick, I could feel my anxiety as a constant pressure in my chest. The ACOTAR series has always been like a comfort blanket for me, too many times I’ve curled up with ‘don’t let the hard days win’ on my lips. The thought that had been planted in me, that this book could hurt me, made me feel ill, I desperately didn’t want it to be true. I made sure to read it critically, listening to what people had been saying, but, personally, as a bi woman I didn’t find any of it offensive (though I agree, the acephobic is painfully acephobic). There are definitely one or two things I would love to just sit down and educate Sarah about, namely NB genders, but I felt that there was a real effort made to include more diverse identities in this book. I’ve seen a lot of people saying that Sarah ignores the comments made about her lack of diversity, but I think this book really does show that she’s listening.

ACOWAR begins maybe a week after ACOMAF left off, with Feyre infiltrating the Spring Court, now allied with Hybern, and gathering information for the Court of Dreamers. Feyre is playing the part of a ‘perfect Bride of Spring’, painting, helping organize festivals…sowing unrest and discord in the Court. When commanders from Hybern arrive in the Court, alongside the dastardly Jurian, so begins a dangerous game…

I will start by saying that I know this book, or indeed any of Sarah’s books, are not for everyone. This entire series is about love, romance and sex, so if that’s not your cup of tea then you might as well pick up another book. There are lines in here that I find incredibly beautiful and others find incredibly cheesy. I’m pretty sure that a couple of years ago I would not have enjoyed this series as much as I do now. How we enjoy books is never based entirely on the books, but also on things we have experienced, things that have happened to us…

‘Night Triumphant- and the Stars Eternal. If he was the sweet, terrifying darkness, I was the glittering light that only his shadows could make clear.’

If you don’t subscribe to the soulmate philosophy, then I can just tell you straight off the bat that some parts of this will make you want to scream. I am, however, an enormous romantic; the idea of finding a partner where both of you are the better for your partnership, just makes me well up. The relationship between Feyre and Rhysand across this series is just so perfect, so secure and safe and heartfelt, it’s really going to be hard to find another couple that can even come close. They’re just so good for each other, both feeling able to lower their masks and open their hearts to one another. The mating bond is definitely a magical extension of the intuitive nature of some relationships. I also really enjoyed that there were some times where the two of them stepped on one another’s toes, where they annoyed or worried the other. I honestly don’t think a relationship is as strong as it originally seems until you’ve seen it weather a storm, or ford a river crossing. Arguments are natural, expected, it would be bizarre if couples didn’t disagree about some things.

Feyre
Feyre’s growth as a character in this book was just incredible. Watching her embrace her fears and say and do the things that had always lived somewhere deep in her heart was just so gratifying. Feyre, the woman who had survived homelessness, starvation, torture, accepting her past, accepting herself and mastering the mirror…wow, I was so impressed with her arc. I also enjoyed that she wasn’t instinctively good at flying, did not master the skill in an unbelievable time frame and would probably need to keep working on it even after the end of the book. Watching Feyre grow into a true High Lady, and how her relationships blossomed with the other members of the Court of Dreamers, drawing out the truth of each of the characters…ah, I’m so ready to reread and experience that all again.

Rhys
I’d seen some comments that Rhysand seemed out of character, ‘too soft’, in this book and I have a lot of thoughts and opinions about that. In ACOTAR we saw only the mask, in ACOMAF the mask slipped away, in ACOWAR we saw the heart of Rhys. I honestly believe that, from the end of ACOMAF, Rhys knew that he would die, that his gentleness in this book came from constant integration of every possibility and the realization that all of them ended in his death. He takes every moment of happiness he possibly can, makes sure, with every moment, that Feyre knows that he loves her and would spend every second of eternity with her if he could.

“The great joy and honour of my life has been to know you. To call you my family. And I am grateful – more than I can possibly say – that I was given this time with you all”

I know that a lot of people relate to Feyre, but, personally, I relate more with Rhysand. Feyre’s depression is very visible, very obvious, whilst Rhys hides his behind a mask of half smiles and glib comments, isolating himself from those he loves because he considers himself a burden. Feyre wastes away, Rhys is actively reckless with his life, spending every ounce of himself and his self worth upon those he loves. Even his beast form, with its cruel talons and inhuman face, seems like a metaphor for internalised self loathing, a part of himself that he really hates to let others see. You feel as if Rhys has always been hiding parts of himself, well before Amarantha’s torture, that from a young age he was aware of the suffering around him and that it pained him.

‘Everyone insists Rhysand is soulless, wicked. But the male I knew was the most decent of them all.’ (Jurian)

He was written so well, so honestly, that I could almost know what he was going to do before he did it. The respect that he has for Feyre, his trust in her and her abilities honestly made me well up in places. Feeling and caring, sensitivity and gentleness and love does not make someone weak, and I didn’t really like the implication that Rhysand was in this book. If you think that a man dealing with trauma and fear and the coming of war is ‘weak’, then you’re part of the problem and you can come and fight me to be honest.

The Court of Dreams
I won’t lie, the moment we met Cassian in the snow of the Winter Court, I wanted to be the one to throw my arms around his chest. I missed my Court of Dreamers so much in the Spring Court, I missed their laughter, joy and support for one another. Seeing Feyre becoming an integral part of that circle, to see their love for Rhys become love for Feyre…eugh, my heart. I think the dynamic of the Court, watching as Nesta, Elain and, towards the end, Lucien, became enveloped to varying extents into their circle, was just…I loved it.

I liked Cassian and Azriel in ACOMAF, but, after finishing ACOWAR I adored them. Seeing how much they cared for Feyre, not just as Rhys’ mate, not just as High Lady, but as a friend…how they would die for her and for her sisters, I have no words for how much I felt about that. Azriel’s rage at hearing how Tamlin had turned violent around Feyre, his gentleness around broken Elain, Cassian’s desperation to save Nesta even when his body was broken…the depth of their love for those around them is just unbounded. I personally, would love to see Azriel and Elain happy together, multiple times throughout the book Sarah’s pointed out that sometimes the mating bond just doesn’t work, just isn’t right and I think even Lucien has come to see their bond as something strange and inexplicable. I ship Lucien with Vassa to be honest, I feel that would be one hell of a relationship, and I really think he deserves someone who loves him as much as he loves them, especially after all that Ianthe did to him. Gentle Elain with her green fingers, her love of beauty and her fierce loyalty to her family, Azriel whose life has been shadows and pain but has seen the joy of love from afar…I just want them to be happy. If that happiness is together or in another pairing I don’t mind, just let them be happy.

Nesta and Cassian were just…I already enjoyed their relationship in ACOMAF, but there’s so much more depth in ACOWAR, with even Nesta letting her own mask slip when concerned about the Illyrian General. I will be disappointed, to say the least, if one of the novels is not about these two, I think there is so much more to be said with them, bear in mind that they only met one another in a time of war when so much else was at stake. Does it matter whether the mating bond snaps into place for them? Not really, I always got the feeling that being ‘mated’ was actually not all that common, a little like finding your soul mate and, I almost wonder whether you kind of had to be looking for your soulmate for that to happen. I can’t imagine that was particularly high on either Nesta or Cassian’s priorities. Relationships are different for everyone and I don’t think a relationship without a mating bond is lesser to one with. But who knows, maybe it will snap into place at some point in the next few books.

I’ve seen some people say that they think the inner circle are a bit too blasé, a bit silly almost and I have some things to say about that. I’m a ‘military brat’, I grew up surrounded by battle hardened soldiers and one thing they have almost universally is the most childish sense of humour I have ever come across, sure it dips into darkness every now and then, but for the majority of the time eye rolling and tongue sticking out it entirely par for course. I mean, even for me as a Doctor, do you honestly think we’re serious all the time. Dealing with death painfully often makes you more likely to be cracking dumb jokes and not giving a crap what anyone thinks about it, because you know too much about the frailty of life.

I felt really bad for Mor in this book, really bad…it seemed that, whilst the situation was terrible for everyone, it was really unravelling for her. Being forced to interact with abusers…watching compromise having to be made with those abusers, I mean, there was no choice, without the Autumn Court, without Keir’s forces, they would not have won, but still, it would really have had a serious impact on Mor’s security. For her to maybe no longer feel that she’s safe in her own city, eugh, my heart hurt reading that part. My heart hurt when Feyre yelled at her about things she couldn’t understand, when she struggled to find a way to explain to Azriel that she could not love him that way, when Feyre tricked her into letting her go to the Middle…seriously, Mor really got dealt some of the most painful blows in this book. I just hope that Sarah gives her a wonderful, loving lady in later books, and I hope that the splintering of the relationship between her and the rest of the circle is healed with time.

Sexual Identity
Since Rhys’ mask came down in ACOMAF, I’ve read him as demisexual, someone who feels sexual attraction only to those they have an emotional bond with. The emotional bond doesn’t have to be ‘true love’, just emotional intimacy and trust. I don’t think Sarah wrote him that way intentionally, I just honestly think that lots of people are demisexual but maybe have never considered that part of themselves. It’s an identity that I’ve been turning over in my hands, trying to get a feel for, wondering whether it might apply to me for a while, and I read a lot of my own feelings in Rhys, his flirtations with those other than Feyre not filled with any real sexual desire. You get the feeling he’d never really act on anything without truly knowing them, truly feeling as if he could trust them. The idea that much of that had to do with his trauma at the hands of Amarantha, doesn’t make his potential demisexuality any less valid. Being hurt and betrayed by others can definitely impact on your romantic and sexual identities.

That leads very much into the next point that I’ve been thinking about a lot. I came into this book expecting that I might find problems with the way that Mor ‘being a lesbian’ was handled, only to find that she wasn’t even a lesbian at all! From what I understand as a bi wlw, Mor is a homoromantic bisexual, which means that she enjoys sex with more than one gender but is more often than not only romantically attracted to her own gender. ‘I prefer females‘ seems to be the line that has confused people. The thing is, it is perfectly valid as a bi person to be more attracted to a specific gender, bisexuality is a spectrum and it is perfectly normal to feel more attraction to certain genders than others and still consider yourself attracted to all. The fact that she seems unsatisfied after her sex with Helion seems more to do with the fact she was only having sex with Helion to avoid having to talk to Azriel than the fact that she didn’t like taking male lovers.

‘I do find pleasure in them. In both. But I’ve known, since I was little more than a child, that I prefer females. That I’m…attracted to them more over males. That I connect with them, care for them more on that soul-deep level.’

Homoromantic bisexual…that is literally what she is describing. She’s not bad lesbian rep because she’s not a lesbian at all. It is not homophobic for Mor to say that sometimes she wants male lovers, because she’s bisexual, and erasing that part of her identity is just gross, please stop. I actually found Mor’s story heartbreaking because I see so many similarities with myself.

‘It was Nephelle and her lover- now her wife, I suppose- who made me dare to try. They made me so jealous. Not of them personally, but just…of what they had. Their openness.’

Because being in the closet off the internet can be so heartbreakingly difficult. Seeing people so open in their love and just not being able to find it in yourself to explain the way that you feel to family and friends because some part of you is so scared that it could tear everything asunder, destroy everything that you have. Even the part of Mor that can’t love Azriel, I relate to that so much…I once had a friend that I adored, one of the best friends I ever had, and he loved me in a different way to how I loved him. I tried a relationship because part of me thought that being lovers can’t be that different to being friends, but every time he kissed me or touched me I felt repulsed, because I just didn’t love him that way and in the end I had to explain that and it destroyed our friendship. It wasn’t that I didn’t love him that way that hurt, it was that I had lied to myself and lied to him about the fact I just didn’t see him that way.

So, I don’t think Mor’s story is bad rep, I think that it’s complicated rep, maybe too complicated for a YA book (not that I really think ACOTAR is YA) but at the same time, reading through ACOMAF I honestly think that Mor has been queer right from the start and I was really happy to see parts of myself in Sarah’s books where there had been very few queer identities before.

There are two more points about sexual identity that I want to deal with, Helion and that acephobic paragraph.

‘Dagdan and Brannagh had listened to her fawning with enough boredom that I was starting to wonder if the two of them perhaps preferred no one’s company but each other’s. In whatever unholy capacity. Not a blink of interest toward the beauty who often made males and females stop to gape. Perhaps any sort of physical passion had long ago been drained away, alongside their souls.’

Everytime I see that paragraph I groan because it is acephobic, I don’t think she intended it to be, I genuinely think she was probably horrified when she found out. It reads more like ignorance than malice. Two characters, evil, twins, probably incestuous…literally, this paragraph causes me physical pain because I can just see how hurtful it could be to people and I just honestly don’t believe that Sarah had any idea that it was the case. Being on the internet, learning about different sexual identities, having asexual friends has opened my eyes, but if you haven’t had that kind of awakening…I know lots of people who hold a lot of internalised bullshit that they’ve not yet worked through. This reads a lot like that, and I hope that it leads to some reading that stops it happening again. I honestly don’t believe that a single person exists on this planet who doesn’t hold some kind of internal bigotry, the important part is recognizing that and working to erase it from your thought process and prevent it from hurting others.

Now, Helion…I’ve also seen some very angry stuff online about how he’s a trope, how he’s a hypersexualised stereotype and biphobic, which I don’t agree with? Not all bisexuals fit into a nice little box, some of us really like sex, others not so much, some of us are poly, others not…saying a bisexual character is biphobic for enjoying sex or wanting a threesome is kind of hurtful. Is someone’s bisexuality less valid if they like these things? That sounds an awful lot like slut shaming. I can understand some people not seeing it as representative of their bisexuality but I think it’s disingenuous to say it is outright biphobic, not when other bisexual characters such as Rhy Maresh and Monty (A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue) also are shown as louche and flirtatious and don’t get half of the vitriol. Helion’s love of sex is literally mentioned once, at that point, and, if I remember correctly, not again after that. He has a really interesting character development, and a story that I hope Sarah goes into more detail in later books. I’m really fascinated to see how the news that he is Lucien’s father goes down!!

Diversity
So, one of the things that Sarah has been panned for in the past is her lack of diversity, and I agree, most of Throne of Glass was the whitest, most hetero thing I have ever read. You can tell from ACOWAR that she is really listening and trying. Many of the High Lords we are introduced to in this books are POC, Drakon and Miryam are POC, Lucien is biracial, Illyrians are confirmed as brown, not simply tan, making Rhys, the main love interest, not white. There are definitely some identities missing, for example, trans and NB characters and more varied sexualities, but this book was almost unrecognizable to the white out of TOG and is substantially more diverse than many fantasy books I’ve read recently.

Conclusion
I think it’s obvious from this enormous review that I have a LOT of thoughts about this book and what it does well and maybe what it does not so well. I knew when I started reading that it would not be another ACOMAF, this is book about pain, war and loss, about the fear of waking up one more to a world without the one you love. The ending filled my heart with joy. It was 3am and I was sitting in the dark, clutching my kindle and sobbing because I was just so satisfied and so excited to see more of the world that Sarah has created. Maybe not perfect, but complicated and beautiful.

Apprentice (Rachel E Carter)

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5 stars

So, if you were feeling a little ambivalent at the end of ‘First Year’, I’ll let you in on a little secret…’Apprentice’ is incredible.

I’m not usually the sort of person that writes gushing, overexcited reviews, but this book deserves one. So, we left Ryiah in emotional turmoil at the end of book one, ecstatically happy in one breath and desperately unhappy in another. She has gained both her heart’s desire and lost it.

‘Apprentice’ opens in the training ring, with Ryiah studying increasingly difficult combat spells and attempting to gain more control over her pain-casting. That in itself would be complicated enough did she not have to juggle interpersonal strife and her status as an apprentice battle mage in a country on the verge of war.

‘Apprentice’ covers the entire span of Ryiah’s training, through her every up and down, every failure and triumph. You follow her as she grows and matures, weaves and unravels friendships, and tries to work out exactly what it is that she wants out of life. She’s as bolshy and stubborn as ever, but there’s something about her particular journey in this book that meant I couldn’t put it down until I knew exactly what happened to her.

Her relationship with Darren is tumultuous, hot and cold, on and off, absolutely excruciating and yet, somehow, addictive. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where I’ve been so invested in the relationship between two characters, so terrified and yet excited to turn the page and find out what happens next. There’s pain, and joy, and more pain, a rising crescendo of it right up to the last few pages.

‘Apprentice’ does have a love triangle, but not in the traditional sense. I actually thought it was really well handled, showing the more painful aspects of young love, how it can be unrequited, and the pain of one party realizing that they just do not love their partner in the way they feel they should.

I felt that Apprentice was tighter and more emotional for having fewer central characters. The ending of ‘First Year’, the choosing of the apprentices, fed into an environment where every character is competing but also having to support one another, because in many situations, if one loses then they all do. It meant you learned a lot more about character motivation and saw relationships building between characters that you only saw the very hints of in the first book. Every character is vulnerable in their own way, even those who are ostensibly strong.

This book hurts, and, for a book set in a magical world, it feels very real. For all that they’re axe and lightning wielding combat mages, they’re also teenagers crossing the border into adulthood. They fall in love with those they shouldn’t, fall out of love with themselves and struggle to find their place in the world. They’re endearing, troubled and torn and you just can’t help but find yourself rooting for each and every one of them.

Many thanks to Rachel E Carter for a copy in return for an honest review.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Katherine Arden)

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“In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift – a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter. Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, willfull girl, to the chagrin of her family. But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.” (Random House)

5* stars

There are some books that are just meant to be read with the cold wind whistling down the chimney and a spiced cup of tea. This is one of them.

I’ve always been a big fan of Russian classics, reading wide-eyed into the night from tomes larger than my head, imagining Princes and Princesses fur bundled in sledges against the driving snow, or farmer’s daughters dancing around the kitchen bread ovens. I was unsure as to whether a modern author would ever be able to capture the wild, hard beauty of Russian history quite like a writer who had lived through it. But this book proved me wrong.

Rich, heady, and yet unyielding in its honesty, embracing the juxtaposition that is the beauty and bleakness of life in a rural northern Russian village far from Moscow. The breaking of bread fresh from the oven, the frail snowdrops raising their heads against the ice, the dull blue lips of a child who froze in the dark winter night.

I fell in love with the wildness of Vasya, our protagonist, and how she felt like a creature of the woods herself. Wilful, clever and obstinate, she was a character after my own heart.

Arden brings to life the elemental superstitions of Russian folklore, from the timid house spirits to the powerful godlike figure of Morozko, Father of the Frost and the Winter Wind. Even if you are not familiar with Russian folklore, Arden manages to gently explain mythological origins in text without the reader ever feeling overwhelmed. I was also impressed with how easily she managed to convey the increasing discord between the old ways and Christianity in the rural hamlets, where farmer’s left offerings to the house spirits to protect them and yet simultaneously felt guilt for looking beyond the church for help. It’s a fascinating time in history that Arden has managed to mould into the most beautiful story.

I feel I could probably ramble about how much I love this book for a good while. I can still remember curling up to read it on my kindle in the dark and just feeling as if I had stepped into another time entirely.

Rich, vibrant, and utterly scintillating; I recommend this book to anyone who is drawn to the winds of the winter, to the warmth of the open fire or the cavernous depth of the night sky. I recommend it to anyone with a soul.

Many thanks to Random House Books for an advance copy in return for an honest review.

A song for reading: Anuna- Noel Nouvelet 

Way Down Dark ( J P Smythe)

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4.75 Stars

“Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape. Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide. The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs. But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia. Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.” (Hodder Books)

 

When I think about this book, I’m reminded of the front cover, or, more specifically, of a less stylized central well of the huge ship Australia. The protagonist looks up into the darkness, at the layer up on layer of decks, crumbling down around her, at the stained and rusted metal of the hulk that she calls home. I have a lot of feelings about this book. Touching on science fiction and horror with a gothic vibe, think dystopia but in space.

Story: 4.5 /5

  • The premise caught my attention immediately. I am a huge sci fi fan, anything that takes me into the dark decaying outer reaches of space automatically ticks a massive box for me. This story focuses on the society that has been created by the environment of the ship; how people have changed how they live their lives, abandoning many of our social values to survive. It’s brutal, in many places quite gory, and touches on some dark themes but I do think that’s part of the appeal. I really enjoyed the direction that the story took and can’t wait to see how it continues.

Character: 3.5/5

  • The characters seem pretty uncomplicated, the book doesn’t delve any great depths in Chan’s soul. I felt that if we had replaced Chan, nothing much really would have changed. A bit like Darrow from Red Rising, Chan felt like a figurehead the story rode upon, rather than the central personality of the story itself. Not that I think that’s a problem, some books are character driven, others are world driven and this book just happens to be one of the latter.
  • That being said, I did care about the protagonist and those that she met on her way. This book wouldn’t have worked if you didn’t genuinely feel upset about the idea of Chan or those around her dying. Probably my favourite character of the lot was Jonah, a young man raised in one of the strange cults found at the very apex of the ship. Interestingly, there was no romance between Chan and Jonah, simply what could be counted as friendship in the increasingly uncertain environ of the ship.

Worldbuilding: 5/5

  • Smythe creates a brutal world filled with humans returning to primeval states and end of day cults. Every moments of the characters lives are spent eking out survival on the dying hulk of the Australia. You have those who have reverted to a base state of violence, those who desperately try to keep the old systems of the ship alive for future generations, and those who believe their suffering has some kind of higher meaning.
  • I ended up having a really vivid view of the ‘Australia’ in my head, a sad semi-abandoned infinity-bound ship, whose inhabitants were many many generations removed from the first that had called it home. They had little choices in their life, with options growing ever and ever smaller as the ship begins to fail.

Ending: 4.5/5

  • Ok, I admit, the twist wasn’t all that shocking. I’m not sure whether that’s because I’ve watched too many sci fi movies, but regardless, I found I didn’t really care that it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I wanted to grab a copy of the second book immediately after reading it, partly because it ended on a strange pseudo cliffhanger and, partly just because I love Smythe’s writing style.

The Nitty Gritty: 5/5

  • Did I mention that I love Smythe’s writing style? It somehow manages to be stark, creepy and yet, at the same time, imbued with a dreamlike quality. Pacing was, likewise, impeccable. ‘Way Down Dark’ isn’t a fast book by any definitions but it never felt as if it was dragging, every moment felt tense and necessary.

Conclusion: A dark and gripping ode to survival in a world where what makes us human seems less and less clear cut. One to begin because you enjoy the old sci fi classics, and one to finish because you’ve fallen for it entirely on its own merits. Definitely a book I will be recommending to the sci fi inclined teenagers and adults that I know.

For readers who enjoyed: Red Rising (Pierce Brown), Illuminae (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff), Battlestar Galactica (2004 remake)

 

Thank you to Netgalley and Hodder Books for a copy in return for an honest review.

Timekeeper (Tara Sim)

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It’s pretty rare with my current study/ life balance to be able to sit down and read a book in a day. It’s definitely testament to just how good this book is that I managed to devour it in one go on a train the morning after an A&E nightshift. So good that I almost missed my connection…oops…


Danny is a young clock mechanic in an alternate London where the only thing keeping time flowing are enormous clock towers spread throughout the land. The failure of a tower causes time to grind to a halt, forming a bubble of stopped time which no one can pass into. It is effectively a death sentence, caught forever more in a stuttering loop of time only a few seconds in length. In the not too distant past Danny lost his father, himself also a mechanic, to a ‘stopped’ town. More recently still Danny was in a clock accident where he was almost caught in a loop of his own.

Anxious and afraid, but trying to build himself back to working on the clocks he loves, Danny is sent to fix a clock in a rural market town outside of London. There he meets Brandon Summers, his new clock apprentice, a young man with a smile that makes his heart stutter. Barely a handful of days later Danny is brought back to the rural tower to investigate potentially willful damage against the clock. Here he meets another young man who also claims to be Brandon Summers…utterly oblivious to who is standing behind him, with a grin like morning sunshine.  The young man that made Danny so swoon only days before.  With an injury to his body that curiously mirrors the damage to the clock face…

Danny knows now that he is in serious trouble…


 

This story is deathly cute. The romance is gorgeous. There are parts that will genuinely make your heart skip a beat. For me, it’s immediately become a book that I want to foist on any and all who will listen because I just want you all to feel the warm fuzziness (and periodic sheer terror) that this story brought me. It is the book equivalent of a warm morning with lazy sunbeams, though in places my heart decided it liked to sit in my throat. The ending is very, very tense I warn you.

The book is set in a 19th Century Britain which is a little more technologically advanced than our own was in the same time period, with the invention of air ships and early steam powered automobiles making the world a lot more open. Think steampunk-lite, but with more flowers and village greens. Sim actually has written a little history of her world and the things she decided to change from our world at the back of the book. I love hearing her thought process for designing her world.

Now, onto our two protagonists. One thing that really struck me, and that I really enjoyed, is that Danny knows that he is gay before he meets Colton, the love interest. Speaking as a bisexual reader, It was really refreshing to not have another romance overly preoccupied on the protagonist ‘coming to terms’ with being queer. I mean, those books have their own purpose but not every queer love story needs sexuality angst running throughout it. Heterosexual love stories can focus solely on the joy of falling in love, it’s really nice to see a LGBT romance being allowed to do the same.  Sim also makes the decision to place the love story in a world where being queer was never met with the same levels of puritanical hatred and violence as in our own. I do think that was an important decision, as an LGBT person, it can be wearing to read books where people like you are constantly subjected to derision or danger. We deserve a little escapism too.

Here we have a romance that is wonderfully tender and gentle, it truly is a young love story. Warm and deeply emotionally satisfying, every intimate scene between them is filled with sunshine and light. Just thinking about it makes me smile. As with the rest of the book, their story is filled with a fairy tale quality perfect for dim autumn days with short hours of sunlight and a warm cup of tea. It brings the glow even when there is no light around it.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I can’t wait for you all to read this. It’s a quick gentle read, doesn’t require a tonne of effort or a certain emotional state. In fact I’d say it’s the perfect book to read if you’re sick and feeling some of the less enjoyable effects of autumn. I just loved it and can’t wait for you all to get a hold of a copy for yourselves!

Thank you so much to Skyhorse Publishing and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest Review. Timekeeper is available to preorder at Amazon and will be released on the 8th of November.

The Alchemists of Loom (Elise Kova)

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Her vengeance. His vision.

Ari lost everything she once loved when the Five Guilds’ resistance fell to the Dragon King. Now, she uses her unparalleled gift for clockwork machinery in tandem with notoriously unscrupulous morals to contribute to a thriving underground organ market. There isn’t a place on Loom that is secure from the engineer-turned-thief, and her magical talents are sold to the highest bidder as long as the job defies their Dragon oppressors.

Cvareh would do anything to see his sister usurp the Dragon King and sit on the throne. His family’s house has endured the shame of being the lowest rung in the Dragons’ society for far too long. The Alchemist Guild, down on Loom, may just hold the key to putting his kin in power, if Cvareh can get to them before the Dragon King’s assassins. 

When Ari stumbles upon a wounded Cvareh, she sees an opportunity to slaughter an enemy and make a profit off his corpse. But the Dragon sees an opportunity to navigate Loom with the best person to get him where he wants to go.

He offers her the one thing Ari can’t refuse: A wish of her greatest desire, if she brings him to the Alchemists of Loom.


 

☆☆☆☆☆

This is my first foray into Kova’s writing and the first thing I  will say is that I was not expecting the world of Loom to be SO big. The world of the Fenthri (Loom) and the world of the Dragons (Nova) lie one atop the other, only separated by a treacherous cloud bank. The Fenthri of Loom do not know the touch of the moon, the Dragons of Nova are a people so redolent with magic that they did not see the point in developing technology for centuries. The people of Loom live in Guilds, each continent and people specializing in a specific task, enforced by their Dragon overlords, whilst the Dragons of Nova stagnate in their strict, hierarchical and violent society, their magical strength alone letting them keep control of Loom with ease. But the Fenthri of Loom have their own methods of gaining magical strength. Through harvesting and transplanting Dragon organs, the source of their power, they create strange Fenthri/Dragon hybrids called Chimaera.

Our protagonist, Ari, is one such of these Chimaera, a shadowy figure intent on protecting her young apprentice and enacting revenge on the Dragon society that ripped her life from her. I immediately fell in love with Ari as a character, she’s unapologetically harsh, her every instinct centered on survival and the care of the one person she has left. (See also: canonically bisexual!!) I feel like she’s a fresh female equivalent of the male grimdark antihero trope.  (She also has a really cool harness transport system that I want in a video game STAT.)

Kova’s writing of women in this book is so strong. Other than Cvareh, pretty much every important character in this book is a lady, and a fascinating, multi-faceted lady at that. Florence, Ari’s young apprentice, is a tiny gunsmith and demolitions expert with a rather snazzy tophat; the Dragon King’s right hand ‘man’ is a brutal and utterly relentless woman who will stop at nothing to keep order and ranking within her world. There are also some really important moments of true female friendship and protectiveness, something I found really refreshing in a genre where connections between women are often lacking and not given enough page time.

The action is cinematic, I couldn’t help but think just how good it would look on a screen hooked up to my Xbox, with a mana bar and a wheel choice system of different gun canisters. If any of you are gamers, think a world reminiscent of Dishonored or Thief, full of crumbling quarters and sinister lighthouse prisons. The character designs are more adventurous than most, in fact, neither of the protagonists could be called human, one grey, the other blue skinned. Cultural and hierarchical differences are noted and shown through clothing and status symbols, such as the forelock of a dragon rider, threaded with a bead for every dragon defeated and heart consumed. It’s just so rich and wonderful, I felt thoroughly immersed.

I’m not entirely sure whether I would call this book young adult. Ari is in her twenties and has a very adult view of the world. I suppose I would slot it into the same age bracket as ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ (Schwab), not inappropriate for young adult readers, but not necessarily fitting smoothly into the young adult genre. Likewise, I wouldn’t say it was sexually explicit but, as in ‘A Court of Thorns and Roses’ (Maas), the main protagonist has a more adult view of intimacy and knows very much what she wants.

So, after much rambling, I will try to keep the recommendation short. I can see this book being much beloved by fans of the Mistborn series (Sanderson), ADSOM and Six of Crows (Bardugo). If you like incredible world building, small ladies with enormous guns and brutal action sequences (with plenty of heart eating), this is the book for you!

Many thanks to Keymaster Press for an ARC in return for an honest review!

Gilded Cage (Vic James)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I have a bit of a thing for dark and despicable books.

You only have to look at my favourites shelf to know that much. From the pseudo Roman, genetically-augmented Golds of Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’; the sin and smoke devoured pages of Dan Vyleta’s ‘Smoke’; to the wicked and wasteful young Aristocrat of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, there is a bit of a trend. So the moment I opened the first pages of ‘Gilded Cage’ and met a moonlit night and a young woman fleeing across a dark country estate, I knew I was onto something good.


NOT ALL ARE FREE.

NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.

NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED. 

 

Our world belongs to the Equalsaristocrats with magical giftsand all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world. 

 

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

 

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price? 

 

A boy dreams of revolution.

 

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution. 

 

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

 

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberateor destroy?”

 

(Del Rey)


 

If someone forced me to put my feelings for this book into two words I’d probably go with ‘contemporary Dickens’. Despite its modern setting you really do get the sense of smog and chimney sweeps. Indeed, we have children as young as ten put to work and a smug parliament filled with extortionately wealthy families all jostling for power.


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(‘Scene of Huddersfield’ by LS Lowry)


The factory towns put me in mind of LS Lowry’s landscapes, the great belching chimneys and faceless, stick figure workers. Juxtaposed with the joyless lives of the indentured worker are the cold, elegant, horrible, and yet strangely fascinating overclass of aristocrats who wield the ‘Skill’. Chapters alternate between workers surviving day by day on the factory line and the gleaming, manicured world of the ‘Equals’, toxic with nepotism, narcissism and family secrets.


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(Chatsworth House, the closest I could find to how I imagined the great House of Kyneston)


‘Gilded Cage’ has broad swathes of that wild British darkness that I’ve come to love so much. Think of the iron sharp, back stabbing society of Bronte and Thackeray, but left to grow obese and wasteful on its own power. An upperclass that has begun to take its place in society for granted, a once strong muscle that has not had to work and has grown atrophied, leaving space for dissension and discontent.

Then add onto that the glittering, scintillating imagery of the skill, the strange ‘post Revolutionary’ glass buildings that seem to show shadows of another world.

It is utterly breathtaking, I can’t really say more than that. I adored it. It has taken me a good few weeks to mull and decide what exactly I want to write because, for a while, my thoughts were meandering all over the shop. How to decide whether to focus on character, world building, environment, the political wrangling, eugh…almost impossible. I loved it all.

So my one piece of advice would be to pick up a copy as quick as you possible can. The UK Paperback edition comes out on the 26th of January 2017, but the Kindle version comes out on the 1st of December this year…I will allow you to mull over that one.

 (I received an ARC from the Author and Pan Macmillan in exchange for an honest review)

The Edge of Everything (Jeff Giles)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I started ‘The Edge of Everything’ in a bit of a book slump. I’d set aside two books in the days beforehand and was generally looking for a novel with that special something to pique my interest once more.

The book opens in the midst of a snow storm with our protagonist Zoe venturing out to search for her little brother and their two dogs who have gone missing in the wild weather. Zoe has had a terrible year, losing her father in an accident and her elderly next door neighbours in mysterious and violent circumstances. The last place she wants to be is ploughing through the snow, looking for a little brother that she is petrified could be dead.

She finds her brother, freezing cold but alive in the snow, and they seek refuge in the abandoned house of their dead neighbours. You believe the worst has come, that the shelter they find will save them, that they will be allowed to wait the storm out in warmth and peace. But when is anything ever that easy?

A mystery assailant puts Zoe and her little brother in desperate danger. Terrified and alone she begins to wonder whether there is truly any way out of this situation. But she’s not expecting the entry of a nameless stranger with weird powers and a body marked with bizarre tattoos. She’s certainly not expecting him to go straight for her assailant’s soul…

What happens in the moments after changes everything for Zoe and the nameless stranger. Rules are broken, orders disobeyed and everything Zoe thinks she knows about the world begins to start crumbling around her…

This was a wonderful book, tight and dense and filled to the brim with fresh ideas. It’s a book that you read in a daze, utterly immersed in the bleak and lonely world that Giles has created. It raises questions about family relations, grief and what it means to sin.

Without spoiling too much, I loved Giles description of the Lowlands, the mysterious ‘underworld’ that our heroic stranger, X, hails from. The rules, the hierarchy, the bleak Norse melancholy. The ending leaves it wide open for a sequel and I can not wait to hear more about this particular part of the story.

Giles creates a great sense of place. Whether it be Zoe’s lonely mountainside home, the wide flats of the Lowlands or the remote inhospitality of a Canadian shoreline, you feel the atmosphere of each place spreading its tendrils through every scene.

The decision to limit the active cast of characters was also a great idea, it made the interactions between those who were present all the more vivid. The dynamic of Zoe’s family, grieving and fatherless, and the insertion of X into the mix creates some hilarious and heartfelt moments, especially those between our nameless stranger and Zoe’s lonely little brother.

My one qualm is the ‘ending’, it felt rather like it existed solely to make way for book two. The true ending of the book comes a little while before the final page in a twist that’ll make your heart suddenly a rather uncomfortable presence in your throat.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! I can imagine curling up under a blanket with it howling a gale beyond the window pane, book in hand.  It also doesn’t hurt that the front cover is gorgeous, I can’t wait to get a physical copy for pride of place on my shelf. A sequel couldn’t come soon enough!

‘The Edge of Everything’ is released on the 31st of January 2017 through Bloomsbury. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for the review copy in return for an honest review.

Six of Crows (Leigh Bardugo)

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☆☆☆☆☆

I give this book 4 MILLION KRUGE *cough* stars…

It took me way too long to get around to reading this book. I hadn’t actually finished the Grisha trilogy until a month or so ago and I wanted to save SOC for my summer reading. I’m very very glad I did.

Six of Crows is a book to be savored, to be devoured and thought about to the exclusion of all else. I read it on a balcony overlooking Lake Garda in the searing summer heat with a flute of cold Prosecco but I would have adored it even if I had been sitting in my room in wet, humid old Britain.

I will be honest and say that the concept of a heist, when I first read the blurb, didn’t entirely interest me that much. I was drawn in more by the beautiful graphics I’d seen on tumblr and the rabid praise of my friends. If you, like me, aren’t entirely drawn in by the Ocean’s Eleven style premise, I do suggest you put aside your prejudices and pick it up regardless. To me this book was more about characters and the relationships between them, which is EVERYTHING I am interested in as a reader. That and humour that is sharp as a whip crack.

We are introduced to a ragtag band of criminals and residents of the less than salubrious Ketterdam district of ‘The Barrel’. The amoral dagger sharp gang lieutenant Kaz, card loose, gun touting Jesper, and our ‘whisper on the wind’ assassin Inej of the ‘Dregs’. From there the plot thickens, involving some rather nasty experimentation with captive Grisha, a sketchy Merchant Lord and a prudish Witch Hunter who pretty much despises everything that makes up the ‘Dregs’ (and yet finds himself rather uncomfortably beholden to them). See also, our runaway, cake loving Ravkan Nina and the wispy haired demolitions man (*cough* boy) Wylan.

The characters in this book are everything. I can’t even begin to tell you how many hours I spent with my brother laughing at the idea of each of them in different situations. They’re so real, so rich and utterly hilarious. Of course, this wouldn’t be one of my favourite books of all time if they weren’t also all nursing deeply traumatic backstories.

This book will grab you by the scruff of the neck and leave you hostage to the need to just keep turning the pages. There are three sections that I call the ‘chapters of unmentionable pain’ and, I warn you, they are very much as horrific as they sound.

You do not have to have read the Grisha trilogy to read and enjoy this. My brother was my test subject in regards to this and he seemed to love it every single bit as much as I did regardless of having not been familiar with the world beforehand.

I utterly adored this book, I’m sure there are ten thousands things I could have talked about in this review that I’ve managed to miss (like the fact I literally ship everything and everyone, amazingly diverse characters and a disabled protagonist!!!) but I would rather just tell you it was bloodydamn amazing and that you should go and read it and then come back and yell at me in excitement!!

Ariah (B.R. Sanders)

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“When you’re very young and you’re different, you begin to believe that no one has ever been as different as you and that no one has ever felt that difference as keenly as you.”

When I sit down to write I review I usually make a list of likes and dislikes. It should tell you something about how much I like this book that the list, in its entirety looked like this:

“Likes: everything about this book

-Genuinely, everything”

The book begins with Ariah, a young elf, journeying far from his familial home to study with a mentor who will help him control his rather unusual gifts. He lives in a world where elves are looked down upon by their human compatriots. Ariah is part Semadran, an ethnic variant of elves with strict and conservative family values, and part Red Elf, a wilder, more carefree people who don’t hold with the same traditions as the Semadrans. Ariah is a mimic, a gift that allows him to learn language and the nuances of voice with ease, but he is also something more dangerous, something he tries very hard to play down and hide. He is part shaper, very in-tune with others’ emotions, able to manipulate the emotions of others and can find himself losing all sense of who he is the great sweep of others minds. It is a gift that is heavily regulated in the empire and is viewed with great mistrust.

He begins his training with Dirva, his mentor, but familial problems lead to Ariah travelling beyond the borders of the empire alongside him. There he meets Dirva’s younger brother, Sorcha, and comes face to face with the realization that he does not know himself at all.


This is a wonderful, beautiful book. I don’t think I’ve read a book that’s lingered with me after reading the last page quite like this in a long time. I want to read it again even though it’s only been a handful of hours since I put it down. I can’t tell you how long I have been looking for a book like this. Beautiful, beautiful fantasy world building with diverse incredibly written characters and relationships that are delightfully non-heteronormative. As a bisexual fantasy lover this was a dream come true.

‘Ariah’ is very much a character as opposed to plot driven book. That’s not to say that nothing happens because by the end of the book you feel as if you’ve been on an odyssey with the main character, but if you’re looking for page after page of action then you might be disappointed. In my humble opinion, this is honestly some of the best character writing I have ever come across. You feel as if you could reach out and actually touch the characters they are painted so vividly. I love Ariah, I love Sorcha, I love Shayat and Dirva, I’m having a very hard time putting into words just why and how. They are all imperfect people, you embrace every inch of them through Ariah’s eyes, every feature and flaw, every moment of affection or miscommunication. It is very intense and strangely comforting.

“For some of us, the places we come from are not the places we belong, and never were, and never will be.”


Sanders touches on some very important issues in this book, most notably the idea of ‘difference’ and what it means to be ‘different’. I adored the way they handled Ariah’s internalised homophobia due to his strict upbringing and the effect that has on his sense of self after he develops intense feelings for Sorcha. The fact that Ariah has very little sense of self to begin with, that he ‘loses himself’, molds himself to the wants and whims of others, damaging himself in the process, becoming whatever he feels the other needs. The book ponders the different types of love, the different types of need, and the different possibly configurations of personal relationships. It talks about gender, attraction, identity and race all smoothly bound within the narrative. It is an incredible rich book and I had a tear in my eye and a tight feeling in my throat for a lot of it. 

Sanders has incredible prose, it lulls you along, so smooth and rich, it honestly does not feel as if you’ve lost an entire afternoon in reading. I read part of this book on a train and I was very shocked when I realized I was at my destination and two hours had passed.  I may also have had a handful of very groggy mornings due to late night reading sessions…

(Also, have you seen that cover art?? Gods of cover art have truly blessed Sanders. I’ve been a huge fan and follower of C. Bedford ( @c-bedford)  for the last couple of years, so it was a match made in heaven to find their art on the front cover of my new favourite book.)


I can’t recommend this book enough. I already have plans to order a hard copy because I can’t wait to read it again, this time with the pages physically in my hands. Seriously, if you’re looking for a wonderfully written fantasy with diverse protagonists and sublime character development go and get a copy, I repeat, go and get yourself a copy now.

☆☆☆☆☆

(Thanks to Zharmae Publishing and Netgalley for a copy in return for an honest review.)