“Don’t you see? He wasn’t coming to pay your debt. He was coming to see if you’d returned to pay it yourself.” // Review of A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

Title: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: New Adult/Fantasy/Historical
Date Read: 29/04/2016 – 03/06/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

A Gathering of Shadows FinalIt didn’t actually take me a month to read this, I promise. But the distance between the two dates above just goes to show how easy I found it to put down this book when I had a pile of library books I had to finish first. I know that one of my issues was that it had been some time since I read the first book and I struggled to remember some of the details, but while I still love these characters and the world they inhabit, I have to admit that I found this book to be a case of Middle Book Syndrome.

In the four months since the events of the first book, Kell has been dealing with the aftermath of the sacrifice he made for his quasi-brother, Prince Rhy, as well as having lost the trust of most of the people of Red London. Lila, meanwhile, has found herself a ship just like she always said she would, but her captain, Alucard Emery, is returning to London to participate in the Element Games, an international magic tournament. But as our main players are reunited, others are on the hunt for them.

Kell, Lila, Rhy and newcomers such as Alucard Emery are as delightful as ever. Their relationships to each other, particularly in regard to the fallout from the previous book, were wonderful to read; you feel like you have been with these characters for a long time, and you can feel how deep their relationships with each other run. I think that one thing that made the story feel sluggish to me was the fact that for so much of the book, Kell and Lila were not having adventures together, as they had done in the previous book. Even once Lila is back in London, a significant amount of time passes before they are reunited.

The big buildup throughout the book is to that of the Element Games, but apart from giving us some very cool magical displays and revealing some of Lila’s newly discovered talents and Kell an outlet to let off some of the stress he’s been feeling, they do very little to advance the plot. It reminded me of the majority of Quidditch matches described in the Harry Potter books. While they provide a setting for events that might advance the plot, they are given too much time for something that isn’t actually advancing the plot itself. And the Games are won off-screen while our main characters are occupied elsewhere, so it’s not even like we got to witness the  big finale.

Some of the events throughout the book, along with the ending, have provided a concrete setup for the third book. I think that book will be back up to the standard of the first one. I should, perhaps, do myself a favour and re-read the first two in the lead-up to that one’s release.


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“Love is a kind of poison” // Review of “The Poison Diaries” by Maryrose Wood

Title: The Poison Diaries (Poison Diaries #1)
Author: Maryrose Wood (based on a concept from the Duchess of Northumberland)
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Date Read: 21/05/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

poisondiariescoverThis is the first book in a long time that I’ve had the chance to sit and read all in one hit, and that was wonderful. There were times when I wasn’t sure that I was liking it exactly, and I’m still not entirely sure it would have got published if not for its aristocratic connections, but I actually ended up really enjoying it in the end.

Jessamine Luxton lives with her father, Thomas, in an old monastery in Northumberland. Her father is an apothecary, obsessed with learning the secrets of the monks who lived there centuries before and whose library full of the secrets of powerful plants were destroyed. When a young man called Weed is sent to live with them, he and Jessamine fall in love, but when Jessamine falls ill, Weed has to use a unique connection he has with plant life, and face the horrors of Thomas Luxton’s poison garden, but will it be enough to save her?

I will be honest, there were times when I thought Jessamine more than a bit insipid and useless. However, given how controlling her father was (he wouldn’t even let her go into town for fear she’d be tricked into revealing his secrets), it made a lot of sense. Weed was a bit annoying at first, but he grew into his own. The romance was not insta-love, but that didn’t stop some of the language getting a little cringe-worthily over the top at times.

The fantasy aspects were a bit strange, and hard to describe without giving too much away. Basically, Weed’s connection to plants is supernatural, and on top of that, we also meet the personification of Oleander, the Princes of Poisons. I actually quite liked him as a character (he reminded me a bit of Morpheus from Splintered, but a bit more detached). I don’t want to give too much a way, but the main villain of the piece was also quite chilling in his determination.

While there is a somewhat abrupt change in POV at page 200 from first person Jessamine to first person Weed, after a while I got used to this. It was really the only way the story could move forward, with Jessamine confined to her sickbed. The climax was  quite gripping and had me turning the pages quickly. And it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger! Rather, the events of this book are resolved, though there is still story left to tell. I’m definitely keen to read the second.


P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for one of two signed paperbacks of A More Complicated Fairytale.

“A new dawn! A new desert!” // Review of “Rebel of the Sands” by Alwyn Hamilton

Title: Rebel of the Sands
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Genre: YA/Fantasy
Date Read: 10/05/2016 – 16/05/2016
Rating: ★★★

Review:

rebelofthesandscover I have to start by saying that I did myself a bit of a disservice in the lead-up to reading this book by forming some completely baseless expectations about it. Some of them sort of turned out to be the case, but I definitely made things up based on what I thought I was reading on the back cover (unfortunately, going into details about these expectations will give things away, so you’ll just have to bear with me). Unfortunately, it meant that I was busy expecting things that weren’t coming that it distracted me from what is actually quite a well-written YA fantasy.

Amani wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of Dustwalk, and when a mysterious foreigner turns up and gives her that opportunity, she takes it, even if it means leaving her only friend for dead. Soon she is caught up with a group of rebels looking for a better way of life, even if it means sacrificing themselves and overthrowing the Sultan to do it.

First of all, credit where credit is due, Alwyn Hamilton has created a flawed heroine who goes through honest character development. In her desperation to get out Dustwalk, she makes some honestly selfish decisions, and it was a breath of fresh air. I find often when we describe YA characters as “flawed”, their flaws are there, but minimal, and Amani was a great contrast to that. When she realises she wants to stay with her new friends and defend them, you can really see the change she’s undergone.

Amani is surrounded by interesting characters, namely Jin, the aforementioned mysterious stranger. His true identity is a spoiler, so I won’t mention it here, but we certainly find out things about him along the way that aren’t necessarily expected. As they travel with a caravan and then join the other rebels, we are treated to lots of colourful side characters who add a lot of depth to the world.

I liked some aspects of the world-building but found other parts fell a bit flat for me. The desert setting, with its history of Sultans and First Beings (djinn, etc), was exactly what I had been craving, but I could never quite put my finger on the time period it was supposed to be. It’s not steampunk, but the characters all wield guns and ride trains, so it’s definitely industrial. Some of the language they used felt quite modern, but it was clearly not set present-day (if they can’t take the train, it’s still camels).

The plot is well-structured and unfolds at a good pace. The only problem is that it never feels very exciting. I think this is partly to do with the writing style; it’s in first person, but as good as Amani is as a character, her narrative voice is not that engaging.

Overall, while I enjoyed this book, I am not dying for the sequel. I do recommend it though, if you want something a bit different from the typical YA fantasy.