Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Name:  A Gathering of Shadows
Author:  
V. E. Schwab
Number of Pages:
  508 (Paperback)
Published:
February 23 2016 by titan Books
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

A Gathering of Shadows picks up after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, so beware potential minor spoilers below. It’s a long time since I read that book, and getting back into the world of alternate Londons was an enjoyable page-turning read.

Lila is all at sea, quite literally, as she has negotiated her way into the crew of a privateer ship, The Night Spire. The ship’s captain, Alucard Emery is intrigued by Lila’s appearance, and gives her a chance to prove herself as his ‘best thief’.

Back in Red London, Kell is adjusting to a somewhat more confined way of life after events of the last book saw his life become tied to that of Prince Rhy. Whatever befalls Kell also affects the heir to the throne, so Kell can no longer take endangering risks, or put himself in harm’s way, as he has his brother to think of too.

And whatever they encounter long the way, Lila and Kell still think of each other. It’s inevitable their paths will cross again, and I couldn’t wait to see how it happened.

There’s so much to like about this book. Alucard Emery has become one of my new favourite characters, the sea captain who is so much more than he first appears.
I also liked the magical tournament, the Essen Tasch, which brings certain characters together and allows for some great scenes of action and magic. While some characters attend through reputation and magical skill, others gain their place by various methods of subterfuge.
There’s also a dark threat from elsewhere, as White London is apparently returning to life, and someone will go to great lengths to ensure that the place thrives now.

A Darker Shade of Magic is well paced, mixing adventure, magic, danger and at least a hint of romance. This world of several Londons comes to life on the page so vividly, and as always Kell and Lila are at the heart of the tale.

That ending!! Let’s just say I’m very glad that the next book is already published, because I don’t think I’d enjoy having to wait to find out how all this is going to play out. I’m sure it won’t be long before I pick up A Conjuring of Light.

 

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Book Review: Year One by Nora Roberts

Name:  Year One
Author:  
Nora Roberts
Number of Pages:
  432 (Hardback)
Published:
December 5th 2017 by Piatkus
Genre:  Fantasy, Post-Apocalyptic

Goodreads

It began on New Year’s Eve.
The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed—and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.
Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magic rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river—or in the ones you know and love the most.
As word spreads that neither the immune nor the gifted are safe from the authorities who patrol the ravaged streets, and with nothing left to count on but each other, Lana and Max make their way out of a wrecked New York City. At the same time, other travelers are heading west too, into a new frontier. Chuck, a tech genius trying to hack his way through a world gone offline. Arlys, a journalist who has lost her audience but uses pen and paper to record the truth. Fred, her young colleague, possessed of burgeoning abilities and an optimism that seems out of place in this bleak landscape. And Rachel and Jonah, a resourceful doctor and a paramedic who fend off despair with their determination to keep a young mother and three infants in their care alive.
In a world of survivors where every stranger encountered could be either a savage or a savior, none of them knows exactly where they are heading, or why. But a purpose awaits them that will shape their lives and the lives of all those who remain.
The end has come. The beginning comes next.    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Year One offers up a post-apocalypse that is both worldly and other-worldly.
It begins with the Doom, a flu-like virus that takes hold incredibly quickly and wipes out a lot of the world’s population. Of those who survive some are immune, but there are those who manifest abilities and powers previously unknown to them, and this is the other-worldly element. Magic is alive and well in this world, although not everyone with power uses it for good, there’s dark and light.
There are witches, elves, faeries, seers. All manner of magic flows through the pages of Year One.
There are action scenes and moments of horror set against the development of new communities and the joining together of various groups of survivors, both immunes and Uncanny (the name given to those with powers).

I thought the balance was more in favour of the domestic scenes and the community building. I did enjoy this, because what else would you do if everything fell apart but try to rebuild if possible, but there was so much else hinted at in this collapsing world, like the threat to the Uncanny as they were apparently being rounded up to be studied, and there were the Raiders, groups who had only destructive purposes. These themes didn’t receive much attention and I’d have swapped some of the domestic/cooking scenes for more of the supernatural/action.

I found the dialogue occasionally disjointed in a way, and didn’t think it was always evident who was speaking. I found myself going back a few lines at times.

When Year One was good it was quite great. There were some really spooky moments, and the darkness and power setting brothers against each other, and the cost of these confrontations, was totally engrossing. I would have loved more of these high-stakes scenes, especially concerning the situation in the major cities as humanity fell apart, the conflict between the authorities and the Uncanny, and the places to which these special people were taken. Who knows, maybe that’s something to come in future instalments.

Book Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Name:  Into the Drowning Deep
Author:  
Mira Grant
Number of Pages:
  484 (Paperback)
Published:
November 13th 2017 by Little, Brown Book Group
Genre:  Sci-fi, Horror

Goodreads

The ocean is home to many myths,
But some are deadly…
Seven years ago the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a mockumentary bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a tragedy.
Now a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.
Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves.
But the secrets of the deep come with a price.    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

Do I think they found mermaids?
Yes, of course I do.
And I think the mermaids ate them all.
                                                  – Dr Jillian Toth

Seven years ago a crew set sail on the Atargatis to film a mockumentary about sea creatures of myth and legend, the mermaid.
That crew never returned home, and rumour and speculation was rife, especially since the ship was found with no one on board, a ghost ship.
What did emerge was disturbing footage that seemed to prove the existence of mermaids, but it painted them as monsters of the deep, rather than the beautiful myth that so many imagine.
Some called it a hoax, most agree it was a tragedy, but for Victoria Stewart, a marine biologist, it is personal. Her sister Anne was lost with the Atargatis, and Tory is dedicated to finding out the truth about mermaids and what happened to her sister.
Needless to say that when another trip to the Mariana Trench is proposed, Tory is definitely onboard, along with a large and mostly great cast of characters. The new ship, the Melusine, is off into dangerous territory…

They had sailed off the edge of the map, into the waters the cartographers had marked with ‘Here be monsters’ and a picture of something terrible and toothy…

The book works so well in that it delivers the goods about the horror lurking somewhere out in the vast ocean right at the beginning as we’re treated to glimpses of the Atargatis footage.
We know what is out there, there’s a great teaser, then the book goes into the development of some of the central characters.
There’s Tory and her friend and colleague Luis, who through vast amounts of family money funds a lot of their research and projects.
Dr Jillian Toth always claimed mermaids were real but refused a place aboard the Atargatis.  She lives with guilt, believing she sent all those people to their deaths, encouraging them with her claims that these creatures were out there but staying behind when it came time to prove it.
Jillian’s estranged husband Theo Blackwell works for Imagine Entertainment, the company behind both expeditions and also has a place on the new expedition.

Also on board are the Wilson family – twins Heather and Holly, and their sister Hallie who accompanies them as interpreter as the twins are deaf. All three have their own scientific specialties and I particularly enjoyed the roles that Hallie and Heather played in this tale.
There’s Olivia, the face of Imagine, who broadcasts news of discoveries and life aboard the new ship, and two big game hunters, the Abneys, determined only to make a kill and be the first to claim having killed a mermaid, hoping to make their fortune from their discovery.

While we’re longing to get to the monsters, by the time we reach mermaid-infested waters, chances are you’re going to care about the fate of at least a few of these characters. Some you may hope end up as mermaid food and some you’ll be heartbroken if they don’t make it out alive, and can anyone really make it out of this alive when faced with such a deadly adversary?

The setting, this vast well-equipped but still-vulnerable research ship out in the wilderness of the sea above the Mariana Trench, and the depths themselves, the trench and the Challenger Deep are bought to life in a great isolating and claustrophobic way. All these people are out beyond the easy reach of humanity, surrounded by monsters. It makes for tense reading when the mermaids start picking off their prey.

The mermaids themselves, I don‘t want to give too much away but they’re pretty nightmarish. All your traditional ideas about mermaids are soon destroyed. These creatures, they’re dangerous predators with big appetites….

Into the Drowning Deep blends science and fiction wonderfully. I was drawn in to descriptions of the work that various people on the ship were undertaking, and found certain parts of it quite fascinating. I actually found myself going online at one point looking up a certain point because I wondered how much of that was actually factual, but I won’t say more about that for risk of spoilers.
There is action, suspense, horror, even romance, and enough twists and turns that I found it so difficult to put this book down, even though I really didn’t want it to end.

 

Book Review: The Watcher by Ross Armstrong

Name:  The Watcher
Author:  
Ross Armstrong
Number of Pages:
  384 (Paperback)
Published:
September 21st 2017 by HQ
Genre:  Thriller

Goodreads

She’s watching you, but who’s watching her?
Lily Gullick lives with her husband Aiden in a new-build flat opposite an estate which has been marked for demolition. A keen birdwatcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbours.
Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars and soon her elderly neighbour Jean is found dead. Lily, intrigued by the social divide in her local area as it becomes increasingly gentrified, knows that she has to act. But her interference is not going unnoticed, and as she starts to get close to the truth, her own life comes under threat.
But can Lily really trust everything she sees?    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

Here’s something a little different from the type of book I’d usually choose.
I picked this one up totally by accident; I had time to kill at the library and didn’t have my current read with me so picked this up off the shelf.
It pulled me in right away, and I finished it in only a few days, so I must have enjoyed it.

Lily is something of an unreliable narrator, and her viewpoint is quite fascinating.
It leaves us questioning what is real, because as the story plays out with a first person narrative the reader only experiences Lily’s own viewpoint, and Lily seems to be a fairly troubled woman. I really felt for her by the end, although in the first place I found myself wondering how on earth someone could go to the lengths she was. There’s definitely some fairly questionable behaviour, but then this also shows her driven nature.
Lily is convinced that one of her neighbours has murdered another resident of the estate across from her own apartment block, and she has a direct viewpoint from which to make her observations and find out who committed the murder. And so she finds her binoculars and trains them onto the people across the way, often making up narratives for each person she encounters whilst watching.

The action is fast paced, and towards the latter stage I couldn’t put the book down, I had to know how it was all going to end as Lily put herself directly in danger time and again in her bid to uncover the truth. The Watcher has a violent and exciting conclusion, and I’d probably be tempted to read more in the way of psychological thrillers in the future after enjoying this one.

Book Review: Strange Weather by Joe Hill

Name:  Strange Weather
Author:  
Joe Hill
Number of Pages:
  432 (Hardback)
Published:
November 2nd 2017 by Gollancz
Genre:  Short Stories

Goodreads

A collection of four chilling novels, ingeniously wrought gems of terror from the brilliantly imaginative, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Joe Hill.
“One of America’s finest horror writers” (Time magazine), Joe Hill has been hailed among legendary talents such as Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Latham. In Strange Weather, this “compelling chronicler of human nature’s continual war between good and evil,” (Providence Journal-Bulletin) who “pushes genre conventions to new extremes” (New York Times Book Review) deftly expose the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life.    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

Strange Weather is a collection of four short novels. I read and enjoyed The Fireman by Joe Hill earlier this year, so I wanted to pick up his next read.
I don’t usually read many short story collections, but I was glad I gave this book a try. It was so varied and unusual that I’m sure there’s at least one story most people will love.

Snapshot sees a young man take on a formidable adversary in the form of The Phoenician, a sinister character with an apparently memory-stealing Polaroid camera.

Loaded deals with a shooting in a shopping mall where a security guard is hailed a hero, but following him further he becomes increasingly disturbed, especially when journalist Aisha Lanternglass becomes interested in his past and bringing the reality of this ‘hero’ to light.

Aloft features Aubrey, a young man willing to undertake a skydive to impress a girl, even though he’s absolutely terrified and tries to back out. Circumstances mean he is forced to jump anyway, so imagine his surprise when he finds himself stranded on a cloud that is more than it first appears. This was such an unusual and memorable story.

And now for my favourite – Rain. This story offers a post-apocalyptic scenario as a storm of nails pours down in Boulder, killing thousands of people, and leaving Honeysuckle Speck determined to go and visit her girlfriend’s father, to tell him what happened to his daughter.
From the comet cultists across the street, to the young boy whom Honeysuckle sometimes looks after, and Honeysuckle’s risky journey to deliver a heartbreaking message, Rain is definitely the story that will stick in my mind for the longest now I’ve finished the book.

Strange Weather was a varied and enjoyable read, and I’m now wondering which Joe Hill book I should try next.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Name:  The Bear and the Nightingale
Author:  
Katherine Arden
Number of Pages:
  410 (Paperback)
Published:
October 5th 2017 by Del Rey
Genre:  Fantasy, Historical

Goodreads

‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’
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, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…    – from Goodreads

My Rating:

My Thoughts:

I was so sad to reach the end of The Bear and the Nightingale. The only positive thing about finishing this book is that I can now write about how wonderful the story is.
I came upon this book quite by accident; when it first came out somehow it passed me by, and it was the elegant, striking cover of the paperback that caught my eye.
Sometimes it’s a case of finding the right book at the right time, and that was true here, because as I was reading the snow and ice arrived, and I could sit inside, immersed in this vivid winter-world. It couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.

So, the story…
It’s a magical, dark fairytale with a spirited, brave heroine, dark spirits lurking in the forest, an alluring but dangerous frost demon, and so much more.
It is an atmospheric, slow burning tale, and one that you can get really lost in quickly.

Out in the wilds of a village near the woods, Vasilisa and her family live as generations before them did; they appease the household spirits, who each protect hearth and home, horses and stables, and the surrounding area, and the lot for women is either marriage or the convent, so fairly limited.

But Vasya is special. She can actually see these spirits, which no one else can, and befriends them, from the water-dwelling rusalka to the vazila, the guardian of the stable and horses, and the little domovoi, who sometimes smoulders away in the oven as he watches over the household.
Vasya’s difference becomes more of an issue when her father remarries and brings Anna into the family home, for Anna can see the spirits too, but reacts with horror and fear, rather than the fascination that Vasya shows. She wants the spirits and Vasya gone, and wonders whether seeing such things is a sign of madness in both herself and her step-daughter.
What Anna fails to acknowledge is that the household spirits may offer protection for all against the far worse things lingering within the forest, just waiting for an opportunity to gain strength.

Another newcomer arrives in the village. Father Konstantin preaches that the old spirits are not to be indulged any more. He whips up fear and suspicion amongst the people, encouraging them to cease making offerings to the spirits.
Vasya holds a fascination for him that is repellent to him but undeniable, so as Anna schemes to have Vasya sent away, and whispers around the village call Vasya a witch, Konstantin becomes involved in her departure – if Vasya is not there, then he doesn’t have to face his true feelings for her.

There is so much real-world intrigue going on here, and the dynamics are exciting, but then we come to the otherworldly, and here the book really takes off, as Vasya develops friendships with the spirits, and communicates with horses until they teach her to ride beyond anything any would expect, which leads to an exciting moment when a suitor arrives to claim Vasya as his wife.
She is wild and free, and neither marriage or the convent are ever going to be the path that Vasya takes. She’s brave and resilient, and I loved her straight away.
She also catches the eye of two rather fierce demons, the Bear, who means to be free, and his brother the frost-demon.
I’m not going to spoil too much here, but I loved each and every scene that Vasya and Morozko shared. Just brilliant. Their dynamic was so good; she’s never too afraid to stand up to him, even when he’s terrifying and she knows she’s risking death. And him, well, he’s testing her to see how brave she is.

The Bear and the Nightingale is magical and engrossing, the perfect winter read, so if you haven’t already, definitely try to pick it up soon. There’s also the added bonus that the next book, The Girl in the Tower has just been published, so you won’t even have to wait for the next story. I’ll be reading it as soon as I get my hands on a copy!

Book Review: A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

Name:  A Pocketful of Crows
Author:  
Joanne M. Harris
Number of Pages:
  256 (Hardback)
Published:
October 19th 2017 by Gollancz
Genre:  Fantasy

Goodreads

Joanne M Harris has written a beautiful and powerful stand-alone novella which springs from the page as a haunting, lyrical and utterly compelling modern fairy tale. Inspired by the Child Ballads, it’s a superb tale of love, loss and revenge.     – from Goodreads

My Rating:

 

My Thoughts:

What a lovely book. Everything about it just hits the right note, from the gorgeously striking black cover with gold embossing creating an intricate design, to the beautiful illustrations appearing throughout the story. They really do add a little extra magic to this already magical story.
And the writing. The writing and expression is beautiful.

A Pocketful of Crows is a short but thoroughly engrossing tale of love, loss, revenge and experience.

A named thing is a tamed thing, observes our narrator early on, and so of course, she is nameless, for she is young, wild and free. She has the ability to go into nature, to travel within and experience life in other forms, from the wind and the trees, to the powerful creatures of the forest. She is one of the travelling folk.
But then she experiences infatuation and love, in the form of William MacCormac, a young heir who lives in a castle, and, reluctantly at first, she accepts when he names her Malmuira, the dark lady of the mountains.
Named is tamed, so from that point on, our heroine becomes an outcast to her people, and can no longer merge with nature and take any form. But, William loves her, and there is talk of marriage, so she is happy.
But it doesn’t end there, of course. For William may not be as true as the girl would hope, and pinning her future happiness on him may have been a mistake which will have a cost for more than just the girl herself.

But here I must stop. I could tell you so much more about this captivating story, but it’s quite a short read anyway, and it’s one you should definitely experience for yourself for the lyrical writing and beautiful illustrations. It reads like a fairytale, albeit a dark one, and I enjoyed it very much. I loved the passing of the seasons, and the change in the lead character as she learns of life, love and revenge.