Thursday, 30 August 2012

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare is the first book in the Infernal Devices series, set in the same universe as The Mortal Instruments but in 1870s London instead of 2000s New York.

Tessa follows her brother from New York to London after her aunt dies but when she arrives it isn’t to find her brother waiting for her. Instead she captured by a pair of warlocks who torture her to force her to use a power she never knew she had. Then she is rescued by a dashing young Shadowhunter — one of the part human, part angels who act like the supernatural world’s police force and protect humans from them — and taken to London’s shadowhunter Institute. And so begins the quest to find her vanished brother and discover why she was captured and where her mysterious power comes from.

I very much enjoyed Tessa as a main character. First, her fascination with books automatically makes her appealing to this book lover. Second, although she can’t run around kicking arse like many YA heroines (because she doesn’t know how and also impractical dresses), she is clever and manages to use that to her advantage as much as (or more, really) than her power. I found it realistic that her attitude at the beginning, when confronted with female Shadowhunters, was “golly women need men to look after them” and enjoyed watching this change throughout the book.

The two male leads, Will and Jem, are both appealing. Will for his alternating snark and charm and Jem because he’s so damn nice. While I know I have at some point been spoiled for which boy Tessa ends up with, I couldn’t actually remember while reading which made it more exciting, particularly since it’s not yet resolved by the end.

Overall, Clockwork Angel was a great, steampunky read which I enjoyed more than I’ve been enjoying the Mortal Instruments series (which is also good). Recommending for lovers of steampunk, YA fantasy, or evil automatons.

4.5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

New Booksies

Since my last New Booksies post a while ago, I bought:

  • Blackout by Mira Grant - already reviewed

  • Bridge of Swords by Duncan Lay - already reviewed
Both were books I earned through my read-three-buy-one restriction.

Then presents. I got
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • The Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan (last book in the traitor spy trilogy - interesting fact, all three books I own in different formats: book 1 is AU trade paperback, book 2 is an ebook and book 3 is hardcover. If you can’t get them to match, make sure they’re ALL DIFFERENT.)
  • Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare (first of prequel series to The Mortal Instruments - reviews here)
  • The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C Hines (a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while but never got around to)
Yay, books.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Bridge of Swords by Duncan Lay

Bridge of Swords is the first book in Duncan Lay’s second trilogy, Empire of Bones. It is set about three hundred years after the Dragon Sword Histories (The Wounded Guardian, The Radiant Child and The Risen Queen), however you definitely need not have read the first series for this one to make sense. Given the large time gap, there are no common characters and in the interim the face of the world has changed significantly so that even those who have read the first series will find it relatively unfamiliar at the start.

There are three central characters in Bridge of Swords: Sendatsu the elf, Huw the bard and Rhiannon the dancer. Sendatsu found himself inadvertently at the centre of a conflict among his secluded people and travelled into the human world to help resolve it. Throughout the story, he misses and pines for his young children whom he was forced to leave behind. The focus on the relationship between father and young children is not something that is often a strong element of fantasy writing, perhaps to its detriment — in fact the only other example I can think of is in Lay’s Dragon Sword Histories. Lay’s writing shows that positive father figure and heroic fighter need not be mutually exclusive characteristics.

Huw, the bard from Vales, travelled to the Forlish king’s court to play the lute. While there he became enamoured of the talented dancer Rhiannon and also learnt about the king’s plans to subdue and conquer Vales. Compelled to leave court and warn his homeland, he convinces/tricks Rhiannon into coming with him. In the course of events, they team up with Sendatsu and find themselves helping Velsh villages mount defences against the Forlish.

I liked that none of the main characters were perfect people and enjoyed watching them grow throughout the book. As I’m one for moral shades of grey characters, I enjoyed the two men more than Rhiannon. Although she definitely grows during the story, she goes from naïve to more worldly without really doing anything morally ambiguous, unlike the other two.

Something Lay does well is write about the minutiae of battles. I don’t mean the blow by blow account — although that’s good too — I mean the details of the preparation and organisation. I noted in in the Dragon Sword Histories and it shone through again in Bridge of Swords. I really appreciate the attention to detail and the research that obviously goes into the world-building.

All in all, I definitely recommend Bridge of Swords to fantasy lovers, especially those that enjoy fight scenes. And enjoyable read which left me hanging for the next book — especially after that cliffhanger ending, yeesh.

4.5 / 5 stars

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Retro review: The Second Sons Trilogy by Jennifer Fallon

Jennifer Fallon is one of my favourite authors and I have enjoyed all of her books. You can read my review for The Dark Divide, her most recent release, here.

The Second Sons trilogy was Fallon’s second trilogy, after The Demon Child Trilogy. It was first published by Voyager AU between 2002 and 2003. It has since been released in the UK in 2005, the US from 2004 to 2005, and I think also in Germany. The covers I’m using in this post are the original Australian ones. And for the record, I’m pretty sure I’ve read the series at least three times.

Book 1: The Lion of Senet
Book 2: Eye of the Labyrinth
Book 3: Lord of the Shadows

Second Sons is set on a world with two suns — a red dwarf and a yellow star more like our sun. The unusual celestial setup means that there is a lot more volcanic activity than on Earth and that it’s never really dark. At night the red sun shines and during the day the yellow sun lights up the world fully. At this stage I should point out that the physics isn’t 100% accurate which bothered me when I first read it but which was easier to ignore on subsequent rereads. I suspect the fact that this is billed as fantasy rather than science fiction (even though there is zero magic and 100% strange other planet) helped me not be as annoyed. That and the excellent story.

The main characters are mostly their parents’ second sons (apart from the women/girls, of course), hence the series title. My favourite was definitely Dirk the main character. In fact, he is one of my favourite male characters in any series because unlike the traditional fantasy hero, he saves the day through wits not by running in swinging his sword wildly. He’s also a bit of an anti-hero, but I’ll get to that.

At the start, Dirk, second son of a duke, is apprentice to the duke’s physician. He is uncommonly smart (can do difficult maths in his head) and really wants nothing more than to pursue his studies. Since his older brother is set to inherit, this doesn’t seem to be an unrealistic hope. Until a wanted pirate washes up on the shore and Dirk gets caught up in other people’s political scheming.

Dirk’s virtue is that he is smart enough to turn the tables against those in power and that he doesn’t mind doing morally questionable things for the greater good. Throughout the series he falls in with groups generally considered dishonourable like drug runners and religious sects. I like morally ambiguous characters (mostly because I tend to find them more realistic and less grating). To top it off, Dirk’s final coup/day saving climax is to die for (well, after you get past the wait what is happening oh my poor defenceless knowledge of physics… oh… OHH. Ahem).

Of course, Second Sons wouldn’t be quite as great without an excellent cast of supporting characters. Jennifer Fallon is great at writing complex and difficult characters in all roles. The Lion of Senet — a king-like ruler — has being blatantly manipulated by the High Priestess of the Shadowdances (an upstart sect that formed in the wake of a time of turmoil when the second sun stopped shining — honest, the physics could be worse) ever since she convinced him to sacrifice his first-born to bring back the light. Now she desperately needs to work out when the suns will do something unusual again and has been trying to crack the mystery left behind in an ancient labyrinth. Cue her interest in Dirk and his mathematical prowess.

My favourite supporting characters were Alenor, crown princess and cousin to Dirk, and Marqel, acrobat cum social climber. Alenor I liked because of her strength in dealing with the people around her, most of whom didn’t really have her best interests at heart. Marqel I didn’t so much like as a person, but I very much enjoyed reading about her antics. She was the kind of character you want to throttle for her blind ambition. In my opinion, any character that makes you want to scream at the page (because of the emotional connection, I mean, not because they’re poorly written) is an excellent character. I particularly liked how polarising she was with the other characters — some loved her and bought into her scheming while others saw through her straight away, but of course they couldn’t convince the former of that.

Thematically, the Second Sons series explores the nature of belief and the whether the end justifies the means. I’ve noticed that most of Fallon’s books interrogate religious ideas (eg Demon Child has atheists encountering gods/magical beings they don’t believe in, Tide Lords is about a suicidal god/immortal) and I always enjoy the way in which she does it.

I highly recommend the Second Sons trilogy to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, especially of the unconventional variety and to anyone who doesn’t mind their science fiction not being strictly scientifically accurate. Also to anyone who enjoys intelligent main characters.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Talisman of El by Alecia Stone

Talisman of El is Alecia Stone’s first novel and the first book published by Centrinian Press. I received a review copy through Netgalley. It’s marketed as YA, but the protagonists are on the younger side for YA (14 years old), so I expect a younger reader would enjoy it more than a 16-18 year old.

Blurb nabbed from Goodreads:

One Planet.

Two Worlds.

Population: Human … 7 billion.
Others … unknown.

When 14-year-old Charlie Blake wakes up sweating and gasping for air in the middle of the night, he knows it is happening again. This time he witnesses a brutal murder. He’s afraid to tell anyone. No one would believe him … because it was a dream. Just like the one he had four years ago - the day before his dad died.

Charlie doesn’t know why this is happening. He would give anything to have an ordinary life. The problem: he doesn’t belong in the world he knows as home.

He belongs with the others.

Plot-wise, I was hoping for a fun read with some adventure thrown in. It started promisingly with Charlie, an orphan, living with his new foster-father. At the start he’s mostly concerned with fitting in at school and the adoption going well. That is until the social worker’s back is turned and his new guardian abruptly turns nasty. Then confusing dreams and mysterious strangers lead Charlie and his friends on a quest to find a mysterious world hidden inside the Earth (a la Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne but with more magic).

The writing is clunky and unpolished. At times there were completely wrong word choices (more than just typos, I mean), but the main thing was the lack of flow in the prose, sometimes within individual sentences. Also, the dialogue was unnatural and at times awkward. In the middle, large chunks of dialogue were info-dumps. A stronger editorial hand might have improved the writing, but on the other hand, a crit group might also have helped. As it was, I wanted to get a red pen and start scribbling on my Kobo. Your mileage and sensitivity to language may vary.

The plot started out all right, and I liked Charlie’s grungy friend Alex. She added contrast to both the school bullies and the other girls who liked Charlie (but of whom he was oblivious).

Once the weird things started happening, I didn’t feel that the story hung together as well, most notably the section set in the other world. I liked the way in which Charlie’s abandonment issues are explored in relation to Derkein, an adult that gets involved in the magic quest.

Overall, the book started all right, flagged in the middle and the ending was nice. It had potential but didn’t quite reach it.

2.5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


I’ve been having a blast (mostly) reviewing books I’ve read since the start of the year. However, some of my favourite authors haven’t released any books since I started or have a back catalogue that I read close to publication that I can’t reread (because the books live elsewhere).
Since I still want to talk about these authors and books that I’ve loved in the past, I’ve decided to do a series of “retro-reviews” to talk about them. I won’t be rereading before each review (mostly because my copies of the books are in a different country) and instead will be talking about what most stuck with me most. Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to review books that I don’t remember. On the contrary, a lot of the list I want to do I’ve read more than once!
 And you know what’s handy about reviewing things that aren’t new releases? The entire series will already be out! Not that I only review new things, but it’s still nice not to have to wait.
So that’s what I’ve got coming up. Stay tuned. :-)

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond

Blackwood is Gwenda Bond’s début novel, out from Strange Chemistry, the YA imprint of Angry Robot, on the 4th of September.

I loved it.

It’s a dark fantasy story about mysterious events on Roanoak Island. After the original colonists had come from England to settle Roanoak Island, all 114 of them mysteriously disappeared (and that part is actually true, more or less). Now, in the present day, Miranda Blackwood and Phillips are caught up in events surrounding a second disappearance of exactly the same number of people. To top it all off, Miranda is cursed and Phillips hears voices.

I really loved both the main characters in this book. They work well together, playing off each other as equals. Rather than having one be the damsel in distress, both had different talents which together help them save the day. At the start, the transition from wariness to friendship is a bit rapid but I think given the circumstances (and especially since we actually get to see what’s going through both of their heads) it was justified. Both characters are sensible and both keep trying to trick the other into letting them keep them safe, which was endearing.

The other thing that made me happy in this book were the pop culture references. Often when (US) authors are trying to be “now” or whatnot, the references to non-universal brands go meaninglessly over my head, sometimes leaving behind confusion. Bond, however, has both her characters be a bit geeky so their references are to things like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Obviously, as a geek, I appreciated that, but I also thought they were grounded enough that if you hadn’t seen Firefly, you’d still get the point.

The ending of Blackwood was a bit heavy but all the more meaningful for it. No spoilers of course, but the difficult situation presented and the way it was dealt with is what pushed this book from an excellent 4.5 stars to one of my favourites of the year with 5 stars. The difficult obstacle was handled in a non-superficial way that I haven’t seen that often in YA.

All in all, I enjoyed Blackwood a lot and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for Bond’s future works. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys spec fic YA or wants a short fantasy read.

5 / 5 stars

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Blackout by Mira Grant

Blackout by Mira Grant is the final novel in the Newsflesh trilogy. I have previously reviewed book 1: Feed, and book 2: Deadline.

This review contains spoilers for the ending of Deadline. If you haven’t read the first two books, I suggest reading the review for Feed and then reading the book yourself. The series is definitely worth reading.

Spoilers below.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Deadline by Mira Grant

Deadline is the second book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. You can read my review of the first book, Feed, here. If you haven’t read Feed, I highly recommend not reading this review because it contains spoilers for the end of book 1.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

When You Wish Upon a Rat / Careful What You Wish For by Maureen McCarthy

When You Wish Upon a Rat by Maureen McCarthy is the US edition of the book originally released in Australia as Careful What You Wish For. I’m going to refer to it as When You Wish Upon a Rat as I have a review copy from the US publisher ABRAMS. The US edition is due out September 1st while the original Australian edition was published in 2010 by Allen & Unwin.

When You Wish Upon a Rat is a story about Ruth, a slightly self-centred eleven year old who isn’t particularly fond of her family except for one favourite aunt, Mary Ellen. Mary Ellen gives Ruth a lifelike toy rat and hints that he’s somehow special. In the course of events the rat grants Ruth three wishes — three chances to change her life into the life she wants. Unsurprisingly, things go horribly awry.

As an adult reader, it was quite obvious from the start what lessons Ruth would learn (in short, to appreciate her family and her life as it is), but I didn’t feel that detracted from the story at all. It is, after all, about the journey not the destination and McCarthy takes us on an interesting and at times surprising journey. There was even an unexpected “Aha!” moment near the end.

I enjoyed the Australianess of the setting and was glad to see that not all the Australianisms were removed for the US edition. In fact, I think the only changes were spelling and one confusing sentence mentioning “liberal arts” and “math”. All the slang, as far as I noticed, was Australian, which was nice.

While When You Wish Upon a Rat is definitely a book for children, I don’t think it’s one that adult readers would find dull or simplistic, as with some books in the same age bracket I’ve read (not reviewed on this blog). Despite the pending moral, I found it entertaining and and enjoyable quick read. I definitely recommend it to kids/early teens. The fantasy element is obviously present but not blatant and the setting (sans magic rat) is entirely realistic so I think non-fantasy fans would also enjoy it.

4 / 5 stars

Monday, 13 August 2012

vN by Madeline Ashby

vN is Madeline Ashby’s début novel, recently released by Angry Robot Books. A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley for review purposes.

vN is set in a near future world where humanoid robots exist and have become complex enough that in some respects they are difficult to distinguish from humans. They are also able to reproduce autonomously, given sufficient food, hence the designator vN — von Neumann machine.

The back story of vN is quite interesting. They weren’t created as some sort of science or engineering experiment, but by a church that expected the rapture. The idea was, when all the good people transcended, the people left on (hell on) Earth would need someone to look after them. Enter vN. For this reason, vN were built with a fail-safe that causes them pain or malfunction if they witness a human being suffering or in pain, particularly in a violent way.

This ideas explored as a result of this are fascinating. vN have some semblance of free will, except for where interaction with humans is involved. They find themselves drawn to wanting to make humans happy, even if the humans treat them badly, the vN just can’t help themselves. Also, fair warning, some people want to have vN around for less than wholesome reasons. Paedophilia, while not central to the story, comes up a couple of times in passing.

The story is told from Amy’s point of view, a vN, and in my opinion Ashby had no trouble conveying Amy’s humanity even while she was dealing with vN aspects of her nature. Amy’s mother, the vN she looks identical to, decided to marry (albeit not legally) a human man. The opening prologue is told from Amy’s dad’s point of view while Amy is still about five years old and the size of a human five-year-old (vN grow according to how much they’re fed until they reach adulthood, then the extra food goes towards iterating a child). Amy’s kindergarten graduation ceremony is interrupted by her psychotic grandmother attacking her mother. In defence of her mother, Amy eats her grandmother and ends up with her as a partition in her memory banks (talking to her and telling her to kill people).

In the course of events, Amy finds herself on the run from the authorities and teams up with another vN, Javier. Amy, who was coddled by her loving parents, finds herself suddenly a grown up (eating her grandmother gave her a growth spurt) and forced to deal with the harsh realities of the world. The story follows her and Javier’s misadventures as they attempt to stay alive and free.

I found vN to be an interesting and fresh take on robots. Although on the surface the fail-safe might sound similar to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, the way it’s explored and the consequences we’re shown are quite different and significantly grittier than anything Asimov ever wrote. I definitely recommend this read for science fiction fans. I would also recommend it to most fantasy fans as it’s fairly low on technobabble and it’s character-driven as well as idea-driven. And anyway, the robots are advanced enough that they’re practically magic.

4 / 5 stars

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett

I debated reviewing The Unadulterated Cat by Terry Pratchett and with illustrations/cartoons by Gray Jolliffe. It’s neither fiction nor narrative. It is hilarious however (as though we would expect less from early Pratchett).

The book reads as an information guide about Real Cats as opposed to, well, unreal cats. From the flap-jacket:

Real cats never wear flea collars… or appear on Christmas cards… or chase anything with a bell on it.

Cats with ears that look like they have been trimmed with pinking shears are Real cats.

Real cats do eat quiche. And giblets. And butter. And anything else left on the side if they think they can get away with it. They can hear a fridge door opening two rooms away.

Real cats don’t need names. But they often get called them. ‘Yaargeroffoutofityarbastard’ does nicely.

It’s divided into section such as “How to get a cat”, “Feeding cats” and “Schrodinger cats”. Each presents an entertaining and non-typical view of the subject. Interspersed anecdotes are what really make it.

It’s a very quick read and had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells is the first book in the Outcast Chronicles, which is being published around now (Solaris likes to release trilogies over three months). It’s set in the same universe as her Last T’en trilogy (which is out of print and difficult to find) but in that world’s distant past. You definitely don’t need to have read The Last T’en first (I certainly haven’t, what with being unable to get a hold of it). A copy of Besieged was given to me by the author for review.

I absolutely loved Daniells’s previous (and completely unrelated) trilogy, King Rolen’s Kin. The Outcast Chronicles (judging by the first book, anyway) is quite different in the way the story is told. Where KRK followed a few characters closely over a relatively short period of time, Besieged has a much larger cast of point of view characters and spans a much longer period of time — about 25 years. I felt it was as much the story of kingdoms/their equivalents and ideas as it was the story of the individual characters. They all play important parts, but the real story is in the overall tapestry, not each thread.

Of course, spanning 25 years means there need to be some time jumps and I was fascinated by the way Daniells managed them. Among other things (such as just jumping forward a handful of years when nothing happened), all the literal journeys are skipped. Given how much the travelling from A to B journey is a staple of fantasy, it was interesting to see them skipped. Of course, there was no reason not to skip them (the interesting things all happened after people got wherever they were going), but I found it unusual enough to warrant a mention.

The societies in this world were fascinating. There are the T’en who have magic powers and who live in a very structured society. Female T’en have stronger magic than males do and so their society is mostly controlled by women and men and women live segregated lives. Men are forced to give up their pure blood children (which might result from a couple consisting of a half T’en half human and a full T’en) to the women, who raise them and then return the boy-children when they come of age. Many of the men fear and resent the women for the power the wield over their lives.

Half-breeds, if they’re lucky, live with full-blooded T’en. They have no magic of their own but can sense it. They also look different (like T’en they have six fingers or toes on each limb) and copper-coloured hair. They are accepted as sort of servants in T’en society.

Then there are the ordinary humans who are old fashioned in their attitudes towards women and fear anything to do with magic. Occasionally a genetic throwback causes a half-breed to be born to two human parents and then the child is lucky if it’s given to the T’en and the mother is lucky if she isn’t killed.

The different power dynamics, especially the gendered ones, are in stark contrast between humans and T’en. But at the same time, there’s not that much difference in how the male T’en view women to the humans, they just can’t express it properly. Honestly, it’s an interesting read for the gender politics alone, but there is much more to the story than just that.

Like the characters! Although there was a large cast, I didn’t have any trouble keeping them straight in my mind. Even the few longish “fantasy” names used were distinct enough to avoid confusing. Each character was well drawn and realistic. Because there were time jumps, we got to see very clearly how the characters changed over several years, which added to their depth. In real life people do change, sometimes unpredictably, sometimes only to become more who they were always going to be.

My favourite at the very start was Vittoryxe but that quickly changed as her intended path unfolded. Not that I now hate her as a character, but she’s not a very nice person. Very few of the characters are particularly “nice” people, really, thanks to the societies they’re born into.

My favourite character was Sorn. Born the king’s unacknowledged half-breed son, he is taken away by the former high priest, Oskane, to be raised by the church in the hopes of one day using him as a spy against the T’en. I liked Sorn because he does what he needs to to survive even as his perception of what surviving means, and what price is too high, changes as he matures. I’d say he’s the character that grows the most from teenager to man (although he book starts with his birth) by the end of book and I really enjoyed his journey and his ability to make the best of things.

I also enjoyed Oskane’s character, partly because we have his as a viewpoint character and as seen through Sorn’s eyes. What I found particularly amusing is there’s one scene where Oskane and someone else are talking about how half-breeds always end up turning on their human masters, no matter now well they are treated, and siding with the T’en. They’re completely oblivious to the fact that not killing or maiming them is a) different to treating them well and b) doesn’t make up for the rest of society hating them. So there’s a bit of racial commentary thrown into Besieged also.

And then there’s Imoshen, who is a T’en born to a male brotherhood and kept secret from the sisterhood she was supposed to be surrendered to. The brotherhood’s plans were to use her to gain power. Unsurprisingly (because nothing is easy) it backfires. Imoshen is practically impossible to dislike as a character. There was many a moment when I thought she was going to do something silly, but every time she manages to make the sensible choice based on what she knows. It seems like she’ll be quite prominent in the next book, Exile, and I definitely look forward to reading more about her, especially since she only came into her own in the second half of Besieged.

I said before I started reading that I suspected this would be a book that would leave me pining for the sequel and I was right. While it doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, it definitely leaves much to be resolved.

I highly recommend this book to lovers of high/epic fantasy. If you like vast scales, lots of characters and intrigue, pick up Besieged.

4.5 / 5 stars

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

New Booksies

Deadline by Mira Grant

Countdown by Mira Grant

Talisman of El by Alecia Stone

Beneath a Rising Moon by Keri Arthur

Time for another post of new books I’ve acquired recently.

When I finished reading Rogue Gadda, I unlocked buying a new book in my read-three-buy-one scheme. The book I bought was Deadline by Mira Grant. Then I bought her novella, Countdown, because I wanted to test something about how ebooks worked and because we can’t work out how novellas fit into the buying restrictions (I’ve been counting them as books read when I’ve received them for review, but I had yet to buy one to test the restriction. We’re still not sure).

Then I received Talisman of El by Alecia Stone for review from the publisher on Netgalley. I remember this book catching my eye close to it’s release date (May) but I didn’t request it at the time because I was too busy, I think.

Finally, also via Netgalley, I received Keri Armstrong’s new book, Beneath a Rising Moon. I enjoyed Full Moon Rising (which is from a different series, don’t let the moon references confuse you) so I’m looking forward to reading this one too. (Even if it isn’t set in Melbourne.)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The Assassin's Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Assassin’s Curse by Cassandra Rose Clarke is the author’s debut novel, out on October 2nd from Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint of Angry Robot Books. I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this novel from the publisher for review purposes.

The (slightly truncated because spoilers) blurb from the publisher:
Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an allying pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together. 
First things first: this is a great book. The blurb ticks a lot of boxes of awesome (pirates, assassins, hilarious curses) and the book itself did not disappoint.

Annana is a 17 year old pirate, born and raised by her parents on a pirate ship. When she runs away from a marriage to a stupid pretty boy, her plan is to eventually get herself a ship (or a place on one to start) and return to her normal life. Instead, she’s stuck with Naji, an assassin, protecting her when she can look after herself well enough. If she wanders too far from him or gets into any danger, even the sort she can no trouble getting out of, he feels physical pain.

The interplay between the two characters was very interesting. They both end up protecting each other. Naji, particularly, needs more help from Annana than one might expect from a member of a secret order of magical assassins. Annana is mostly happy to fend for herself but is stuck with Naji and doesn’t actually wish him harm since he’s stopped trying to assassinate her. I liked that Annana can fight with a sword or knife competently and that this makes perfect sense (because she’s a pirate).

One thing in this book that really made me happy was Annana wanting to be captain of her own ship one day. I mean, on the face of it, it’s not unusual, but in the story world it is unusual for a woman to captain a ship. Better yet, she is keen to learn navigation and maths and she’s competent at these things when she learns them and enjoys them and this made me squee. Far too often, especially in non-SF books, characters (and, quite frankly, real people) say things like “oh, I don’t like/understand/know maths!” without considering the implications. Maths is useful and important and, as delightfully emphasised by Clarke, essential to certain tasks, like navigating a ship across the sea/ocean. <3

The Assassin’s Curse is set in a fantasy land, partly in a sort of deserty Arabian area, partly on a ship and partly on a northern island. The settings are broad and given the context, I was glad to see that the people were mostly shades of brown (as opposed to white people in the desert for no logical reason).

The only thing that I didn’t love about this book was that it took a little while for Annana’s voice to feel natural. Written in first person, there were a few times near the start where it felt a little bit awkward, but not for any definite reason I could put my finger on. She talks like a pirate (think Mal from Firefly or Jack Sparrow with less “Yarr!”) and by about half way through, I felt like her voice had settled into a rhythm and I didn’t notice it anymore. In any case, it definitely didn’t detract from the story itself.

This is an excellent debut and a great YA novel. I recommend it to all lovers of fantasy, YA and adult. Although it’s on the short side for an adult book, I still feel adult fantasy readers would enjoy it. It’s also a good place to start if you’re looking for a less conventional setting.

4.5 / 5 stars

Friday, 3 August 2012

Rogue Gadda by Nicole Murphy

Rogue Gadda by Nicole Murphy is the final instalment of the Dream of Asarlai trilogy. You can read my reviews of the first book, Secret Ones, and the second book, Power Unbound, at their respective links.

Rogue Gadda is definitely the best of the trilogy. Murphy’s writing has steadily improved over the three books, culminating in the the final instalment with the resolution of the over-arching plot. I found Rogue Gadda to have a more complex plot with more layers than the previous books including an unexpected twist in the middle.

As with the first two books, Rogue Gadda follows the stories of two characters, one of which is a Guardian of the gadda (the magic race based in Ireland) and the other a somewhat outside gadda. Being paranormal romance, of course they end up together after some plot-based ups and downs. This time, the male lead was Hampton who made some appearances in the earlier books and who is heavily involved with working with the other guardians to retrieve the forbidden texts that the villain stole in book 1. The female lead is Charlotte, one of the lost gadda who broke off from the main group centuries ago. She lives in Boston running an aromatherapy oil (sort of) shop and doesn’t know very much about the gadda until hers and Hampton’s paths cross. Because the main characters change from book to book, each of the trilogy could be read as stand-alone. Even though the over-arching climax takes place in Rogue Gadda, Charlotte is relatively new to the world of gadda and needs things explained, not in a repetitive boring way, but in a way that would probably help a reader who just picked up this book.

I have to say, I wasn’t a big fan of Charlotte. She wasn’t a poorly written character, nor did she behave stupidly or annoyingly, I just got the feeling that in real life we definitely wouldn’t be friends. Obviously, this is a completely subjective opinion that I wouldn’t particularly expect others to share, but I did get a bit sick of her towards the end.

Overall, I enjoyed Rogue Gadda the most out of the trilogy and I highly recommend it to lovers of paranormal romance, even if they aren’t able to get a hold of the earlier books.

4.5 / 5 stars

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

New booksies

vN by Madeline Ashby

The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby

Besieged by Rowena Cory Daniells

My Australian buying spree meant that books read in Australia or on the plane didn’t count towards the read three buy one restriction. So I have to finish one more book before I can buy more. However! I was lucky enough to receive three books for review in the meantime.

From Angry Robot on NetGalley:

  • vN by Madeline Ashby - about sentient self-replicating robots (the vN stands for von Neumann machine). I’ve made a start and am enjoying it so far

  • The Corpse Rat King by Lee Battersby - Out at the end of August, this is the first novel from a prolific Australian writer of short fiction. I’ve enjoyed some of his stories, so I look forward to reading his first novel
And then from the wonderful Rowena Cory Daniells I received her latest novel, Besieged. I absolutely loved her last trilogy, King Rolen’s Kin so I am very excited to read this. I expect to be unable to put it down and then pine that I have to wait for books 2 and 3 to reach me. Stay tuned for a review in the near future.