“Dreams are for mortals.” “Why?” “Because they must die.”// Review of “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: Gods of Jade and Shadow
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Genre: Historical fantasy
Intended audience: Adult
Date Read: 22/08/19 – 16/09/19
Rating: ★★★★★

Review:

This is one of those books that I completely loved in spite of having a few quibbles with it. It has a beautiful, poetic style that deserves to be absorbed all in one sitting, rather than the dribs and drabs I read it in. I loved it anyway, but I did read it at the wrong time.

Moreno-Garcia really captures the atmosphere of 1920s Mexico. I felt like I was there. The haircuts and the architecture and the dances they did, it was all there.

I really loved both Casiopea and Hun-Kamé and I enjoyed watching their relationship develop. I wasn’t really sure which direction it was going to take at the end – a happy ending seemed unlikely but I was maybe secretly hoping a bit. In the end, I think their story ends the only way it can, and I can assure you, I definitely smiled as I read the final pages.

did feel sometimes that the battles were won quite easily. The main characters got the upper-hand and immediately their foes just handed over the prizes… but in a way, I felt that added to the mythological feel, and the way the prose is written to make you feel like you’re listening to a story being told to you by someone who had it told to them… So after it’s been passed down a few times it’s just “look, this thing happened, don’t question it. that’s the way the story goes.”

I have no idea if I’m making any sense…

Anyway, read this book for atmospheric, slow-burn romantic, poetic historical fantasy. It won’t disappoint.


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Book Review: “The Nowhere Emporium” by Ross McKenzie

Title: The Nowhere Emporium
Author: Ross McKenzie
Audio Book Narrator: Monty d’Inverno
Genre: Fantasy
Intended audience:
MG
Date Read: 06/07/19 – 09/07/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book reminded me a lot of The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern and going by the reviews, I’m not the only one. Obviously, this is for much younger readers, and it has its differences. I still enjoyed the idea of a magical shop with infinite rooms containing Wonders drawn directly from imgination.

Daniel Holmes lives in present-day Glasgow, but when he comes across a mysterious  shop where the owner doesn’t expect him to remember his time inside, he is taken on as an apprentice to Mr Silver of the Nowhere Emporium. But Mr Silver has a long and sad past, and his sworn enemy is still looking for him. Daniel finds himself in the middle of this fued, and in a race to save the Emporium and the staff he’s come to love.

There are some really wonderful rooms described throughout the Emporium. Many of them were whimsical and delightful and made me feel nostalgic for childhood. And I’m all for a tragic backstory, so the fact that that was at the heart of the conflict was really enjoyable for me, too.

I did think that some of the running around to try to stop Vindictus Sharpe from destroying the Emporium did get a bit tedious, especially when it was a case of “Go to this room – no, that didn’t work at all” followed by the same again. It seemed only to serve to throw some more backstory in, because some of these rooms turned out to be no use at all.

Still, I did appreciate how the challenges that Sharpe and Daniel set each other at the end played into fears and biases that had been set up for each of the characters earlier on, and they had to face them in the only way they knew how. The ending may have been a little rush, but I still felt that it was satisfying. I got through this is only a few days and really appreciated a simply, whimsical story with a lot of heart.


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“For dreams, too, are ghosts, desires chased in sleep, gone by morning.” // Review of “Lair of Dreams” by Libba Bray

Title: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 09/06/19 – 06/07/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book had a lot to live up to after I enjoyed the first one so much. I’ve got to be honest, there were times when I was just plain bored, and as you can see from the dates above, it took me nigh on a full month to get through. But it did pick up in the final quarter, and that’s why it still gets the rating it does from me.

There are a number of different threads through this book. First, Henry and his new friend, Ling Chan, are both dreamwalkers, and they meet as a mysterious sleeping sickness is taking over New York. So much of this storyline was devoted to character back stories and world building. I sometimes felt these parts were very, very slow.

Evie, Sam and Jericho are still about. Evie has become a sensation with her own radio show, The Sweetheart Seer, but to be honest, I found her a bit irritating in this book. In the first book, she was superficial but you could see what she was using that superficiality to mask. But there was less of that hidden vulnerability here, and she got a bit tiresome. The fact that there is a love triangle developing between her, Sam and Jericho also made me a bit weary.

Having said that, part of this aspect of the story is the search for Sam’s mother, which is hinted at, at the end of book one. I did find this stuff intriguing, and the extra information we got about Project Buffalo. I’m still not sure where the oft-mentioned King of Crows comes into that, but I suppose that will be revealed later in the series.

I guess the main reason I struggled more with this book than the first is that the pacing is entirely different. In the first book, there is a race to find the killer before he attacks again. There is no such time pressure in this book. So many scenes are devoted to dream walking, but the dreamscape is the same each time. And the characters aren’t really doing much, just hanging out and chatting. No one actually knows how to fix the sleeping sickness, so they just sort of generally worry about it.

Libba Bray does do a very good job representing true realities of life in the 1920s, and the gap between the privileged and the marginalised. I loved that Ling is a disabled character, and that forms part of her identity but isn’t her whole story. She is also part-Chinese and the book doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the anti-Chinese sentiments that were alive and well at that time.

There are some characters I haven’t mentioned, such as Theta, Memphis and Isaiah, and that’s because while they’re there, I didn’t really feel their scenes/chapters added much to this particular story. As I said, there’s a lot of character and background stuff, and I’m sure some of things we learned about the characters in this book will play out in the next installments but… it made it long.


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“There is no greater power on this earth than story.” // Review of “The Diviners” by Libba Bray

Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
Author: Libba Bray
Audio book narrator: January LaVoy
Genre: Historical fantasy/horror
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 28/05/19 – 07/06/19
Rating: ★★★★

Review:

This book had everything I want in a book! 1920s New York, serial killings, the occult, ghosts. Not to mention January LaVoy is a fantastic narrator.

There is a large cast of characters, whose paths intersect in various ways, but the main ones are Evie O’Neill and co., who are assisting the police in solving a series of occult murders. In between these, we get spooky chapters detailing each killing (don’t listen to these after dark!), along with chapters introducing us to others with powers that will become known as Devining, making them Deviners.

Evie is pretty selfish and self-centred, though she has moments of vulnerability. She puts on a front to hide the grief of losing her brother in the war eight years earlier. But she and the others make a good team when it comes to solving the murders.

The rest of the ensemble cast all have really fleshed out characters, too. Even though in the cases of a lot of these  characters, the book is setting up for the sequel where they become central characters, their scenes never felt like filler. I really iked Mabel, Evie’s BFF, though I wished she would sometimes stand up for herself a bit more (though she definitely has potential to come into her own later). I had mixed feelings about Sam Lloyd and Jericho Jones, whom I am pretty sure are going to both become love interests.

I loved all the history involved in the mystery. There are fifty-year-old cults, and weird ceremonies, and prophecies and all sorts of fun things. And it’s so detailed. There are creepy murder scenes that were probably made extra creepy by the fact that I always seemed to reach them when I was walking after dark from the bus stop, or driving alone late at night. January LaVoy has a certain talent with voices, I must say. The climax is especially scary, with Evie mostly on her own against an army of ghosts.

There did seem to be about an hour at the end of the book where things were being either tied up or set up for  the next book. There are so many different characters, it really did feel like Bray was actively having to tick each one off to make sure she’d dealt with them. But I was still keen to start the second book as soon as this one was finished.


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“Magic was not something apart from her, something she could give up. It was the power of her deepest feeling, the power of who she was.” // Review of “Enchantée” by Gita Trelease

Title: Enchantée
Author: Gita Trelease
Audio book narrator:
Justine Eyre
Genre:
  Historical fantasy
Intended audience: YA
Date Read: 14/04/19 – 11/05/19
Rating: ★★★

Review:

I was super excited about a historical fantasy set at the outset of the French Revolution. This turned out to be a bit more character-driven than I was expecting, but I did like a lot of those characters, so I enjoyed it enough.

It does get a big samey at times. There is a lot of back-and-forthing from Paris to Versailles, and the main character, Camille’s, thoughts often get go around in circles.

I felt there were only three characters that were really fleshed out: Camille, her sister, Sophie and their friend, Lesar, an young engineer who is involved with building a hot air balloon to fly across the Alps.

There are a number of aristocrat characters that Camilile befriends, and I have to admit, that I couldn’t really tell them apart. When the eventual villain was revealed, I had trouble remembering if we’d met him before.

The descriptions are probably this book’s strongest point. Whether Trelease is describing the opulence of Versailles or the dirt and grime of the poorest parts of Paris, she immerses the reader there.

I don’t know whether it was actually that the book got more interesting, or that I simply got out of a slump/not being in the mood for audio books, but I did feel things picked up in the second half of the book. There is a definite shift in atmosphere after the storming of the Bastille; you could feel the unease rippling through the characters.  While this might not have been my favourite, I recommend it for historical fantasy fans.


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“I have a story I was meant to live. And not even you can unwrite it.” // Review of “Romanov” by Nadine Brandes

Title: Romanov
Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre:
Historical fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 17/04/2019 – 19/04/2019
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Ah man. I was approved for this ARC back in November 2018 and I’d been really looking forward to it. I’d hyped it up a lot in my head. So imagine my disappointment when I re-read the blurb when I was about 20% into the book and realised that I had totally misread it the first time, and the reason it wasn’t quite meeting my expectations was beceause I was stupidly expecting something that was never promised to me.

For some reason I got into my head that the execution of the Romanov family would happen fairly early on, and that the book would be about Anastasia being on the run through the Russian wilderness.

There is far less adventuring than that. A good half of the book takes place before the execution, and depicts the exile of the Romanov family in Impatiev House. Apart from the occasional mention of spells, this first half felt like it was straight historical fiction. The fantasy is barely there. Then in the second half, the pacing speeds up the nth degree and everything is about spells and spellwork. It is almost two different books, and it was a little jarring.

In terms of characters, I really enjoyed the close-knit family dynamic of the Romanovs. I enjoyed the cheeky Alexei, and I actually was pretty into the forbidden romance between Grand Duchess Maria and Bolshevick soldier Ivan, which I learned after reading is actually historically accurate.

But apart from that, the characters all felt.. superficial, I guess. A bit shallow. I didn’t really buy the romance between Anastasia and Zash at all, except for one or two moments. And even I with my limited knowledge know that Tsar Nikolai II was not the loving, kind, beneficient ruler devoted to the Russian people that he is presented as here. I want to give benefit of the doubt, because it is from Anastasia’s first person perspective and she may well have viewed her father that way, but it would have been good to see her delve into the whys and wherefores of the revolution a bit more.

Still, I read the vast majority of it in one day, so take from that what you will. I have a copy of Fawkes, Nadine Brandes’ other historical fantasy, which I still intend to check out.


Thank you to NetGalley and the Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for a review.

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“We’re meant to go. We’re not meant to stay forever.” // Review of “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Audio book narrator: Katy Sobey
Genre: Historical fantasy
Date Read: 20/05/18 – 13/06/18
Rating:
★☆

Review:

This started of well. I was enjoying the language and the mythology that was beinig constructed around main character, Agnieszka, and her village. But the plot began to drag and I wasn’t invested in the characters and after I while, I was just very underwhelmed.

The writing is really lyrical and beautiful. I think when I started the book, I was in the mood for something fairytale-like, and this fit the bill perfectly. Katy Sobey’s very soothing narration helped a lot, too. At somewhere around the 50-60% mark, though, I suddenly realised that the characters had very little personality and I didn’t really care about them at all. And once you have a realisation like that, it’s hard to come back from it. 

I also felt uncomfortable with the inevitable romance between Agnieszka and the  Dragon. There is no basis for it. The Dragon only ever insults Agnieszka,  or scowls at her, or sighs at her, even when they’re working together. And how does 17-year-old Agnieszka manage to do what several centuries-old wizards haven’t with regard  to The Wood?

Speaking of The Wood, it was a bit of an odd villain? I felt the same about the Wood as I did with the villain in V. E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light… its presence was over the whole story, but I never found it particularly threatening. Even though it obviously was. It was just a little too easy for the main characters to save those they needed to, so I always felt it would all work itself out in the end and I just wasn’t worried.

I can definitely see what people love about this book, and I myself have really enjoyed some of Novik’s other work. This one wasn’t meant for me.


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“I was a newborn vampire, weeping at the beauty of the night.” // Review of “Interview with the Vampire” by Anne Rice

Title: Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1)
Author: Anne Rice
Audio book narrator: Simon Vance
Genre: Historical fantasy
Date Read: 19/05/2017 – 21/06/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

Interview With the Vampire had been on my radar for a long time, initially started listening to it on audio when I saw it available on Overdrive. The writing is beautiful and sensuous, but very little happens and some of the content is a little bit uncomfortable, leaving me not entirely sure how I felt about it.

In a darkened room, a two-hundred-year-old vampire named Louis de Pointe du Lac tells the story of how he came to be what he is, the life he built afterwards, and how that life was threatened when he went searching for his own kind.

This is one of my partner’s favourite books, and when I was about halfway through, I did say to him, “So… does anything actually happen?” He replied, “No, not really” and that is something to be aware of. The book is big on its themes, exploring humanity and human nature from the perspective of the two main characters, one who lacks it and one who is desperate to cling on to it. The addition of Claudia, a girl transformed into a vampire at age 5 and eternally trapped in the little girl’s body, also adds to this, as she develops her own ethics and moralities over the years; coming to vampirism at such a young age means that she never really had a chance to grow up with any other form of morality except what Louis and Lestat teach her.

Given the book’s quite philosophical nature, I did find it a bit long. I actually abandoned the audio book about two-thirds of the way through and picked up the paperback instead to speed my way to the end. The last quarter does have more action; no sooner do they find other vampires in Paris, but they discover they are considered criminals for their supposed murder of Lestat, and as they figure out how to deal with this, the pace picks up.

I mentioned earlier that some aspects of this made me uncomfortable. This was mostly to do with the way some of the characters, particularly Louis, engaged with Claudia. While I did remind myself that after a while, Claudia was technically decades old, the sexualised way that the characters often referred to her or engaged with her,  with phrases like “my passion for her” (that was Louis, and I could never work out whether he meant that paternally or not) being used… yeah, the fact that she was still in a five-year-old’s body made me a bit squirmy.

Apart from that, though, it was interesting to visit such a popular vampire narrative and see where it all began.


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“Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.” // Review of “Soulless” by Gail Carriger

Title: Soulless (Parasol Protectorate #1)
Author: Gail Carriger
Genre: Urban fantasy/historical fiction/humour
Date Read: 05/04/2017 – 13/04/2017
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was well-written and genuinely funny. I want to put that out there. But unfortunately I found that it was trying to do too many things to be really great at any one of them.

Alexia Tarabotti is a 26-year-old spinster with theh ability to render any supernatural power useless at her touch. When she is attacked by a vampire and accidentally kills it, she finds herself tangled up in a conspiracy where supernatural creatures are appearing and going missing at a rate of knots… not to mention, tangled up with the dashing werewofl, Lord Maccon, who is investigating by order of Queen Victoria.

I felt that the comedy of manners aspect of this book was the major player in the genre field. The steampunk and supernatural elements were almost window dressing. There was a great deal of witty banter, and that was where the laugh-out-loud moments came from. The plot itself, and the mystery contained therein, I didn’t actually find very engaging. That meant that when the comedy started wearing a bit thin, there wasn’t much left to hold my interest.

While the writing was overall strong, there were also some stylistic things that bugged me, such as the main character being referred to in the narration as Alexia in one paragraph, then Miss Tarabotti in the next.  Obviously, being the Victorian era, what the characters called each other was quite important, but when the narration was from Alexia’s point of view, it felt odd to hear her essentially refer to herself formally.

While it wasn’t for me, I do still recommend the book/series, as I know others have enjoyed it a lot more, and the genre blend will probably work for others better than it worked for me.


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“Life isn’t made of choices, it’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.” // Review of A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

Title: A conjuring of Lights (Shades of Magic #2)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: New Adult/Fantasy/Historical
Date Read: 17/03/2017 – 28/03/2017
Rating: ★★

Review:

That’s it. It’s time for me to admit that V. E. Schwab and I just aren’t meant to be. I’ve tried, I really have, but with the exception of A Darker Shade of Magic, none of her books have really worked for me. I’ll try to keep this brief, and not too ranty.

The thing is, she is a great writer. She has an amazing way with words. And I think she has great ideas. I think her plotting is where she falls down. In my review of This Savage Song, I noted several moments where I thought the plot or world-building were quite weak, and it was the same in this book. It was too long for a start, and there were so many sections from the points-of-view of characters we barely knew, because they had only ever been on the sidelines in the previous books, if that.

On top of that, this was one of those books where I never felt like the stakes were particularly high, even when I could objectively see that they probably were. The Big Bad is threatening, sure, but he never moves beyond that. He just sort of… hangs around and postures? I get that the idea was that he was robbed of his power source, but it just took the life out of him. And I found I had lost my love for the rest of the characters. I don’t know if that was because it had been so long since I read the previous books, because I was feeling slump-y while reading this, or because eventually the book got too long for me and I just wanted it to be done. But whichever it was, the fact was that I was no longer rooting for them. I’ve got to admit, I kind of ended up on the Holland bandwagon, just because he was more interesting (and I do like hardened characters who make bland comments at the others) though at the same time, I didn’t really see the flashbacks to his past as necessary.

Anyway. Obviously Schwab is a good writer and her books have rave reviews so don’t take my word for it. I honestly think it is a case of “it’s me, not you” and I feel like it is only fair to give an author a decent chance (especially when I did like the first of her books that I read). But now that I’ve concluded this series, it’s time to jump off that bandwagon.


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