Bored Of The Rings – The Harvard Lampoon

45298617.jpgThis funny, rude parody of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings tells the story of Frito the boggie and his friends, Goodgulf, Arrowroot, Legolam, Gimlet and the rest as they head off to destroy a magic ring in the pits of Fordor.

Honestly, the best thing about this book is that they managed not to overdo it. The entire Tolkien trilogy is covered in less than 200 pages and, somehow, no vital aspects of the story are left out. The first book is parodied in a lot more detail than #2 and #3, but that’s really for the best because, although it’s funny, Bored of the Rings would have dragged if it had been much longer.

The humour in this book isn’t subtle in any way. It is silly, rude and childish, often falling back on the simplest forms of wit (Uncle Dildo being a prime example), and yet it is somehow very clever. There are quite a lot of cultural references that are out of date (e.g. Goodgulf is apparently a reference to a brand of gasoline), but enough of it has withstood the test of time and will be amusing to most generations.

The funniest parts were almost definitely the character names and their altered personalities. Arrowroot, son of Arrowshirt, a useless dolt instead of the handsome, heroic Aragorn and Tim Benzedrino (Tom Bombadill) as a drugged-out hippie were my favourites.

I’d never read a parody before this, and I can see both sides of why people do or don’t like them. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I’ve gained anything having read this book. But on the other hand, it did make me laugh.

I received a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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To Kill a Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

37541225.jpgPrincess Lira is siren royalty, feared and revered throughout the ocean but living in the terrifying shadow of her mother, the Sea Queen. Prince Elain is heir to the golden throne of Midas, dedicating himself to hunting down the elusive Prince’s Bane – a siren known for stealing the hearts of princes all over the world. The pair’s paths cross when the Sea Queen curses Lira with humanity, banishing her from life in the sea until she returns with the heart of the great siren hunter.

To Kill a Kingdom is inspired by The Little Mermaid, which I didn’t realise until I started reading and picked up on all the similarities. The story is very different, but some aspects are clearly taken from The Little Mermaid (Lira’s red hair, the Sea Queen’s tentacles, Lira being turned human and losing her ‘song’, etc). This was actually a really exciting feature for me because, although fairy-tale inspired books are common, The Little Mermaid is quite a rare one.

The book is generally well-written, but I did struggle to picture one or two aspects. I found it really difficult to visualise the difference between sirens, mermaids and mermen, but I’m not too sure why. I’m not going to blame the author’s descriptions, because it could simply be that the image of mer-people is one so ingrained in my brain that I can’t visualise an alternative. However, this didn’t hinder my overall enjoyment of the story.

There are a lot of great characters. Lira and Elain are both decent enough protagonists, but the side characters really stole the show. Elain crew, especially Madrid and Kye, are fantastic and entertaining while even much smaller characters like Khalia play important roles within the plot.

It’s not perfect, but the excessive sassy banter that fills this book really makes up for it’s flaws. The flaws are minor and difficult to pick out; there’s just something about this book that stops it being a work of genius, but it’s a good read.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Empress of all Seasons – Emiko Jean

41435393.jpgIn this Japanese inspired fantasy, a competition is held every generation to find the next empress of Honoku. The winner will be the woman who survives all four seasonal rooms: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Al are eligible to compete, except Yokai – supernatural beings whom the emperor is determined to destroy. Mari is a Yokai with the ability to transform into a monster, and she has spent a lifetime training to become empress. As the competition progresses, Mari finds herself torn between duty and love.

Empress of All Seasons is a very strong YA fantasy. I absolutely loved that this is a standalone novel, not part of a series. Every YA fantasy I read seems to be part of a series these days and it was wonderful to be able to read a full, complete story in just one book for a change. It has potential to grow more stories in the same world with some of the same characters, but this particular story, at least, is finished.

I liked the concept of the seasonal rooms and the competition. It’s quite Hunger Games-esk, but the contestants only have to survive, rather than kill each other. I actually would have liked more of the book to have been focused on the competition instead of the wider rebellion.

My other favourite aspect of this book was that the Japanese features were so fully integrated into the story. I recently read another Asian-inspired fantasy – The Girl King – and was sorely disappointed by how western it actually was. In this book, the world is filled with words, creatures and scenery that are clearly inspired by Japanese culture. It was fantastic.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Ravencry – Ed McDonald

36666672It’s been four years since the events of Blackwing when Nall’s Engline drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but all is still not well. A new power is rising: a ghostly apparition known as the Bright Lady has developed a fanatical following, and an object of great power is stolen from Crowfoot’s highly protected vault. Galharrow and his Blackwings must recover the object before it can be used, a mission which takes him deeper into the Misery than ever before.

Blackwing was an excellent, absorbing fantasy debut, and Ravencry is somehow even better. The story continues with one or two new characters as well as the wonderful ones we’ve already met.I loved following Galharrow again, he really is a brilliant main character and – after the loss of Ezabeth – he’s even more damaged and tormented than before. Luckily, this does absolutely nothing to make him weak or whiny. If anything, it makes him even more heroic.

The scene-setting and story-telling is exceptionally good. There is no extensive or excessive description of landscapes and events, and yet everything is super easy to picture. Another strong aspect is that there is no definitive ‘good’ vs ‘bad’. Apart from Galharrow who is the obvious hero, both sides of the fight seem to be relatively bad. Instead of working for anyone in particular (he’s under Crowfoot’s control, but is reluctant about it), Galharrow fights for the survival of his city and not a righteous ‘good’ side.

The story is emotional, funny, action-packed and addictive. It is a fantasy-adventure through and through, with some very dark, gritty elements. I am beyond excited for Crowfall.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Battlestar Suburbia – Chris McCrudden

41951951Battlestar Suburbia is a really difficult book to summarise in any way that makes sense, but I’ll give it a go… Humanity has been downgraded to a secondary life-form, living to serve the electrical appliances that are now in charge. When Darren’s charge-cart gets knocked off the Mars-to-Earth highway, he thinks his day can’t get any worse. That is, until he accidentally short-circuits a sentient lamppost and finds himself right at the head of a human uprising against the machines.

As you may be able to gather from the synopsis, this book is very weird. Almost too weird. It took a really long time for me to get into it, so much so that I came very close to giving up and DNF-ing it. However, I’m glad I didn’t. When I finally found myself settling in to the madness, I LOVED IT. The general plot was insane but well thought-out and the characters, well, they were the best part.

Freda (an old lady cyborg) and Pam (a bread maker refitted into the body of a flashy motorbike) were my favourites. They were sassy and quirky and I loved reading about them. But all the other characters were good as well, and there were plenty of butt-kicking females.

The comedy aspect of this book is very good. It reminded me a lot of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy but with a very different plot. It’s a fun, crazy space adventure with lovable characters and laugh-out-loud moments.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Girl King – Mimi Yu

41832496Lu is destined to become Emperor when her father dies – to become the dynasty’s first female ruler – while Min, her sister, is resigned to a life in her shadow. Then, in a shocking betrayal, their father names their cousin, Set, as his heir instead. Lu is forced to go on the run to keep her life and fight for her birthright. During her escape, she meets Nokhai: a wolf shapeshifter and the last of his kind. Together, they set off to find an army to retake Lu’s throne. Meanwhile, Min is left behind with Set and his mysterious adviser, a monk named Brother, who is determined to awaken an ancient power hidden within her.

I enjoyed this book. It didn’t particularly stand out in any way, but it was a standard, enjoyable YA fantasy. It follows the same formula as many other YA novels, with your expected characters and tropes, but it was still good.

Lu and Nok’s story line was definitely the best part. Lu was a strong character, because she really developed. She started out feisty and stubborn (and kind of annoying), but as the story progressed she grew into someone more caring and determined. She wanted to get back what she felt she deserved, but she also wanted to make things better for other people as well. I also found Nok very likeable. His relationship with Lu was predictable and unremarkable but very sweet and I liked reading it.

Min, on the other hand, I didn’t like so much. She had so much potential to be a unique character and really make the book stand out from the rest, but instead she remained childish and pathetic even when she’d discovered her powers. She didn’t grow at all, all that happened to her was that she got some magic and had a tantrum. I didn’t particularly enjoy her story line, but it did provide a necessary break from Lu’s thread, which would have gotten kind of boring without the cuts to the palace to see how Min was getting on.

Another point of note is that this is supposed to be an Asian-inspired fantasy, which I’m sure will attract many readers. Unfortunately, other than the characters having Asian names and a few mentions of Asian-style clothing, there isn’t anything about the culture integrated into the plot. If you changed the names of the characters, the story would read exactly the same as any Western-based YA fantasy, which was kinda disappointing.

My overall view is that The Girl King isn’t a special or unique book, but it is enjoyable and I will certainly be reading the next book when it comes out.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Quanderhorn Xperimentations – Rob Grant & Andrew Marshall

39801235The Quanderhorn Xperimentations is completely bonkers and difficult to describe without sounding crazy, so I think the best course of action is to take the synopsis from Goodreads:

England, 1952.
Churchill is Prime Minister for the last time. Rationing is still in force. All music sounds like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. People like living in 1952: it’s familiar and reassuring, and Britain knows its place in the world.
Few have noticed it’s been 1952 for the past 65 years.
Meet Professor Quanderhorn; a brilliant, maverick scientific genius who has absolutely no moral compass. With his Dangerous Giant Space Laser, High Rise Farm, Invisible Robot and Fleet of Monkey-driven Lorries, he’s not afraid to push the boundaries of science to their very limit.
Even when it’s clearly insane to keep pushing.
Despite the fact he’s saved the world from several Martian invasions, the attacks of the Mole People, the Troglodyte Shape-shifters and the Beatniks from Under the Sea, plus countless other sinister phenomena which threatened to rend the very fabric of reality, the Government would like to close him down. Why? Because they’re terrified of him. Of his reality-warping experiments, of the mysterious button on his desk which he’s constantly threatening to press. Of the unearthly secret locked in his cellar. And yet they’re even more terrified it might stop being 1952 and they’ll be out of power.

My favourite thing about this book is how completely bizarre and totally fantastic it is. Within the first few pages, Professor Quanderhorn’s team are attempting to stop a giant broccoli creature from destroying Big Ben, and it only gets madder from there. It is creative, unique science-fiction at it’s very best.

The plot is a little confusing and messy – the team jump from mission to mission without any kind of break in between, but it’s never boring or predictable. However, what really makes this book excellent are the characters: Brian Nylon, an unlikely hero with severe memory loss; the logical, semi-clockwork Dr Gemma Janussen; insect-brained Troy; and the Martian, Guuuurk. They’re the most incompetent, hilarious and lovable characters you’ve ever met.

I would recommend this book 100% to fans of Red Dwarf and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… and anyone who loves a Martian death ray.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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The Odyssey – Homer, translated by Emily Wilson

34068470.jpgThe Odyssey is one of the oldest known adventure stories in existence. It follows the epic adventures of Odysseus as he attempts to get home to Ithica after the Trojan war. Emily Wilson’s translation is the first English translation ever written by a woman, and it is truly fresh and modern.

How do you review a book like The Odyssey? The fact that it has been so popular for so long and has become one of the main go-to books for Greek mythology says everything you need to know about the story, so I won’t try to review that. Instead, I will focus on Emily Wilson’s translation.

I went into this book anticipating a challenge. In fact, it was a very engaging and surprisingly easy read. It is long (so, so long) and repetitive so it still took a long time to get through, but thanks to the modern language and style of translation, it was incredibly readable. I’ve never read another version, so I cannot compare this one against another, but having read this one, I honestly can’t see why anyone would choose to read any other version.

The book starts with an introduction from Emily which was, frankly, fascinating. It is, essentially, an essay on The Odyssey, outlining the reasons behind her translation choices and highlighting interesting points about the characters and the original author.

This book will definitely be in my top books of 2018, and I have no doubt it will become the modern must-read for Greek mythology.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Blackwing – Ed McDonald

36402955.jpgThe republic faces total annihilation at the hands of the Deep Kings. With Nall’s Engine failing, the only thing standing between the people of the Range and certain death is an unpredictable no-man’s land called the Misery. Tasked with the protection of a powerful spinner named Ezabeth Tanza, Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds himself wrapped up in a world of conspiracy, secrets and treason.

Blackwing is a piece of truly excellent fantasy fiction. It has everything you could possibly want (magic, adventure, epic battles), without any of the usual tropes or clichés. The plot is multi-layered, with the surface story of Galharrow and Ezabeth and the overarching fight between the Deep Kings and the Nameless. This two-tiered style of story-telling was excellently pulled off, without one overshadowing the other.

Galharrow is a brilliant lead character. He’s grumpy, gritty and determined; battle-hardened and flawed, in no way irritating or infuriating. I also really liked his mismatched team of soldiers, especially Nenn.

I liked the fast-paced and gritty nature of Blackwing. There is a romantic element in the book which, in my opinion, didn’t add much to the story but didn’t take anything away either. It is, frankly, shockingly good for a debut novel and an absolute must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

29748925Lazlo Strange, junior librarian, has always dreamed of seeing the lost city of Weep. For years he’s been obsessed with the Unseen City, so he can’t believe it when a hero known as the Godslayer arrives and offers him the opportunity, not only to see Weep, but to save it.

The dream chooses the dreamer. Not the other way around.

Strange the Dreamer is magical and magnificent. It delivers everything a reader could possibly want from a fantasy story. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so emotional about a book. Laini Taylor broke my heart with the ending.

This book is filled to the brim with wonderful characters (especially Lazlo, Sarai and Sparrow) who were really well developed and endearing. Even the ones we don’t actually get to know that well (like Eril-Fane and Azareen) and aren’t supposed to like (like Thyon Nero) are interesting and obviously complex.

During the first half of the book, I was completely entranced by Lazlo’s side of the story. However, Sarai’s parts were a little bit uneventful and the language was too flowery. Although description and scene-setting is important, I do like stories to get to the point a little quicker than they do in this book. But once things finally got going, wow, it was worth the wait. Immersive, romantic and completely irresistible.

It’s long, but I never lost interest and Laini’s writing is truly mesmerising. Book #2, The Muse of Nightmares, has already been pre-ordered.

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