“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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Book Review: “The Mesmerist” by Ronald J. Smith

Title: The Mesmerist
Author: Ronald J. Smith
Genre:
  Historical fantasy
Date Read: 08/02/2017 – 13/02/2017
Rating: ★★☆

Review:

This is a book that I may very well have loved as a 10 or 12-year-old, so I’m willing to accept that the low rating I ultimately gave it as a 27-year-old is a case of “It’s not you, it’s me”.  While the premise of this book sounded cute, it ended up falling flat for me.

Jessamine Grace and her mother make a living as sham spiritualists in Victorian England, until one day Jess discovers that she actually can talk to ghosts. Subsequently, she is thrust into a world of demons, ghouls, necromancers, fairies and angels, and sets out to avenge the deaths of those she loves.

My main issue was Jess herself. She was just so prissy and annoying. The book is in first person present tense, which is not easy to pull off, and I feel that the author did not manage it. There were also constant reminders to English-ness, or to being English – it seemed odd; I don’t think a regular English person would constantly be thinking “I’ll do that – after all, I am English.”

I also felt that there was a bit too much going on, so none of the world-building ever really got enough attention. As you can see from my summary, there are lots of different supernatural elements and they really all only get a bit of a turn to shine. On top of that, the book tries covering some socio-political issues of the time, as well as introducing a plague into the city.

Having said that, I did find that plot picked up in the last 25% or so. Before that, a lot of the action tended to be off-screen, whereas at this point, the main characters were really part of it and coming into their own.

As I said before, I do feel that a younger Emily would have enjoyed this more, so I recommend not writing the book off based on my review, particularly if you are interested in it for a younger reader. It just wasn’t for me.


(Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for providing me wi  th a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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“One look will steal your heart, but her touch will steal your soul…” // Review of “Votive” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Votive (Curse of the Bond Riders #2)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 17/08/2016 – 27/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book was good when it focused on the characters I cared about. Unfortunately, it spent significant portions of time with characters I wasn’t interested in at all, which made for a very long book.

Adopted by the Maleovelis, Tallow is now in training to become the city’s most celebrated courtesan. Believing Dante to be dead and everyone else she loved lost, Tallow hardens her heart and does as they  dictate. But various political factions are moving against one another, and all are on the hunt for an Estrattore, putting Tallow in more danger. Can she really continue to do what is asked of her?

A lot happens to Tallow in this book, and her character development followed a very good trajectory. There were a couple of events that took me by surprise at first, but actually made a lot of sense when I thought about it, and contributed to Tallow’s arc. I did feel that there wasn’t quite as much from Tallow’s first person POV as there might have been (Tallow often narrates the story, while the other POVs are in third person), and I was always glad when it finally did turn to this narration.

We also get to learn more about other characters such as Katina, and the politics of the Bond Riders’ community. Two other Bond Riders, Santo and Stephano, play a major role in this book, though unfortunately, they were two of the characters I really wasn’t interested in. Ditto Queen Zaralena and her emissary, Lord Waterford, who are plotting against Seranissima from afar.  The Queen actually made me quite uncomfortable in a couple of scenes, which didn’t help.

The plot becomes a lot darker in this book, and there is also a lot more political intrigue. This may once again be a case of the print book being better to read than the audio book, as I would have been able to flip back and remind myself who was invading whom and how they were betraying each other if I was reading the book. I’m really not good at keeping track of these sorts of intrigues, and to be honest, at some point I started skipping through the scenes with Queen Zaralena or Lord Waterford, as I just wasn’t interested anymore. However, wanting to know what happened to Tallow, Katina and a few others is what kept me going, and why I didn’t give a lower rating.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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Book Review: “Tallow” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Tallow (Curse of the Bond Riders #1)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 07/08/2016 – 16/08/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

tallowcoverWhile this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for bigger things to come later, the setting and characterisation were both fresh and original and drew me in completely.

Tallow has grown up as a candle maker’s apprentice in Serenissima, a place we now know as Venice. Her strange eyes have always bothered people, but it’s not until a stranger shows up at their door that she learns she is one of the last Estrattore, a race able to extract and distill the feelings of those around them, and who were exiled and killed by the Church hundreds of years before. Under  Katina’s tutelage, she begins to learn how to control her power, but she soon also learns that even using her powers for what she perceives to be good can have dire consequences.

The world-building is definitely the highlight of this book, and the books that follow. It is rich and sensual and makes the reader feel like they are really there, too. The descriptions of the various regions of Serenissima, the canals, Carnivale, etc, were all vivid. Italian language is peppered throughout the story, which also served to remind us where we were.

Tallow is a well-constructed character. She is eager to please, eager to help and horrified by the attention she begins receiving when people start attributing certain things to her (“his” – she is disguised as a boy for the majority of the book) candles. Her guardians, Pillar, the candle-maker, and his mother, Quinn, are also very thoroughly characterised, though I never especially warmed to any of them. Katina is really the only Bond Rider we meet in this book, and she makes a very good mentor for Tallow, and her world-weariness comes across well, too.

There is a bit of romance in the novel, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I usually do in YA books. I think this is because it is actually realistic – Tallow and Dante meet by chance, and there is no “I laid eyes on him and immediately knew he was the One/special/whatever else”. Instead, they continue to spend time together and slowly fall in love, though neither acts on it until right at the end, because Tallow is worried about revealing her powers to Dante, and Dante thinks Tallow is a boy.

There are also several subplots, including one with some Venetian nobles who go on to play a larger part later on in the series, and also with a queen of Farrow Fair (somewhere in Albion; on the audio book, she’s read with a French accent so I’m not exactly sure where she’s supposed to be from), who is also on the lookout for an Estrattore. The problem was, these characters were visited so infrequently that I tended to forget their side plots even existed when I wasn’t following them. They also made the book a lot more drawn out than it needed to be, especially as they were both being set up to play larger parts in the later books, rather than actively having much of an effect on the events of this book.

In spite of all that, the world and main characters did win me over and I had the next book downloaded before I had even reached the ending of this one.


(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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“Truth, terrible truth! Yet without it, how can one make sense of life’s madness?” // Review of “Nightshade” by Maryrose Wood

Title: Nightsahde (Poison Diaries #1)
Author: Maryrose Wood (based on a concept from the Duchess of Northumberland)
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Date Read: 21/06/2016 – 24/06/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

This book went in rather a different direction to the first one, and I’m still not entirely sure what I thought of it. Still, it was as easy to read as its predecessor, not requiring much effort to get through.

After the events at the end of the first book, Jessamine and Weed are separated, and Jessamine is quite sure she can’t trust her father. The voice of Oleander is still in her head, and she begins to follow his orders after he promises her that he can reunite her with her beloved. Meanwhile, Weed travels to Italy to a famous garden of healing, determined to find the right plants to cure Jessamine of whatever the Prince of Poisons has in mind for her.

In the case of both characters this time around, there was a lot of traveling and not much else happening. Some new characters are introduced, and there are certain events that increase the tension a bit, but these are generally addressed in a chapter or two and subsequently don’t have much effect.

It is only in the last third that a conspiracy affecting the larger plot arc really starts to take shape, making me think that this is another case of a second book really just setting up for a third. That, combined with the fact that reviews for the third book are scarce, and also that there was also a change of author, make me think I will probably leave this series here.