“The dragon within my heart stirred, shifting her wings, as if remembering they could be used to fly.” // Review of “A Natural History of Dragons” by Marie Brennan

Title: A Natural History of Dragons (Memoirs of Lady Trent #1)
Author:
Marie Brennan
Audio book narrator: Kate Reading
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Date Read: 05/06/20 – 22/06/20
Rating: 
★★★

Review: 

I have to admit, for a book with this title, I expected, well… more dragons. Having said that, I enjoyed the story and characters in and of themselves. Marie Brennan has crafted a really strong character in Isabella Camherst/Lady Trent, and Kate Reading’s delivery of the audio book really built on that.

The world Lady Trent inhabits is based on 19th Century England, and while it is perfectly crafted, the fact that she is an upper-class character did occasionally wear thin. The characters travel to a small village for their scientific expedition and Isabella is horrified when a) the woman helping them doesn’t have the manners of a proper ladies’ maid and b) the villagers don’t even seem to know what a wardrobe is!

I was hoping the attitude would change a little, but as with nineteenth century English explorers, the characters were quite convinced they were in the right about everything.

Sometimes it felt like the characters other than Isabella were a little bland, but I still ended up quite attached to them all, as I realised when one died just before the end of the book! I wasn’t expecting it at all.

As this series is set out as Lady Trent’s memoirs, written as an old woman, there is a fair amount of “authorial” intrusion. Often that bothers me, but I think the fact that it was still the character, rather than the actual author, meant that I could let it go. It might not be for everyone, though. It does of course, also mean that we know that she survives every danger she comes across, or else she wouldn’t be setting down this tale after the fact. So that limits the stakes a little, but I still found it to be entertaining.

As I said, there were fewer dragons than I expected for a book with this title. In this world, they are simply another animal predator, like bears or wolves, albeit a species little is known about. They are very much an object of study, rather than characters in the book, and a lot of the conflict actually comes from other humans. As I said, it was a good story in and of itself, but I can see some people feeling a bit mislead.

“How does the world end? It ends in fire.” // Review of “Burn” by Patrick Ness

Title: Burn
Author:
 Patrick Ness
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA
Date Read: 30/05/20 – 03/06/20
Rating: 
★★★★

Review:

the cover of the Patrick Ness novel Burn. It has a black background and the shape of a dragon emerges from flames at the bottom.

It’s not going to be easy to review this book in a way that does it justice. I do feel that it’s a story that only Patrick Ness could write. It has so many different components and could have been a huge mess but somehow he pulls it off.

I’m not going to go into the plot too much. Suffice to say this book is about a girl called Sarah, whose father has hired a dragon to work their farm in late 1957. The Cold War is going on, Sputnik is about to be launched, and an assassin is headed to their small town…

This isn’t some fast-paced action adventure like the Chaos Walking trilogy. If you want to compare to Ness’ other books, I think it’s much closer to A Monster Call. There’s lots of introspection and it’s very philosophical and it builds slowly to a climax rather than racing there.

It’s beautifully written because of course it is, it’s by Patrick Ness. I didn’t really feel any connection to the characters but I was drawn into this world and I didn’t mind that too much because the prose was engaging.

If you like dragons in your fantasy, I would definitely recommend this one. It won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s definitely worth giving a chance.

“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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