The Raven Tower – Ann Leckie

39395857.jpgFor centuries, the Raven has watched over and protected the kingdom of Iraden. His power is sustained by the sacrifice of Iraden’s ruler, the Raven’s Lease, every generation. But when the Lease disappears without paying his debt and a usurper takes the throne, the power of the Raven appears to be dwindling. Is he even there at all? It is left to Eolo, loyal aide to the true heir, Mawat, to uncover the truth hidden inside the Raven’s Tower.

The writing style is really interesting. It’s written in the second person, from the point-of-view of The Strength and Patience of the Hill, to Eolo, the character who the story follows. This has the effect of placing the reader inside the story, using a really unusual technique. However, this was a bit of a double-edged sword because, while being new and different is both good and impressive, it took me a really long time to get used to the style which stopped me from being able to get into the story.

The lore in this book is very good. The system of the gods and their magics has been well thought-through, and I love gods and mythology so this really worked for me. It was interesting to be following the humans and the gods simultaneously, but it was sometimes a bit confusing because it took a minute to work out which thread we were on with each new chapter.

The Raven’s Tower is a good book, and a solid piece of fantasy-fiction. But the pace is slow and it took me a looooooong time to read, despite not being that long. For that reason alone, I can’t give it full marks, but it is worth a read.

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

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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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Crescendo – Becca Fitzpatrick

8900616.jpgIn the sequel to Hush, Hush, things are not going well between Nora and Patch, who is now her guardian angel. A few too many fights and secrets lead to them breaking up, and Nora becomes determined to find out the truth behind her father’s disappearance. Relying on the knowledge that she has a guardian angel, Nora puts herself in increasingly dangerous situations, but can she really count on Patch?

Honestly, this book is basically nonsense. I admit it’s been a while since I read Hush, Hush, but I didn’t expect to have absolutely no clue what was going on from the very first page. We’re sort of launched into the story, with Nora and Patch fighting and breaking up without any build-up, and then the rest of the story unfolding without ever recovering from its abrupt beginning.

Nora is the absolute worst. She’s needy and annoying and makes decisions that don’t fit with her character. She is a confusing and frustrating character, and not a good role model for young girls (even worse than Bella from Twilight). Patch and the other characters that fill out the book aren’t much better.

Yet, somehow, paranormal teen books are so completely ADDICTIVE. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to buy the next one. I keep having to remind myself that I actually didn’t enjoy this one at all, but I’ll probably still pick up book #3 at some point.

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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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Skyward – Brandon Sanderson

37635562Spensa’s world has been under attack by an alien race called the Krell for hundreds of years. Humanity are forced to take to the skies in defence of their lives, sacrificing pilots and cadets in the name of survival. Spensa has always dreamed of being a pilot, but since her father turned coward and deserted his team years ago, she hasn’t been able to escape from under his shadow. Finally, the opportunity arises for her to go to flight school, where she learns much more than just how to fly…

I haven’t read very many fantasies set in space – I usually prefer dragons and elves and other land-based fantasies – but I did really enjoy this one. Most of the plot unfolds in the air, while Spensa is flying or learning to fly, so in a way it was very similar to Star Wars, but with more of a YA feel.

The character growth in this book is very good. I really didn’t take to Spensa to begin with. She was annoying, whiny and aggressive, while her quirky violent outbursts felt very fake when put together with how insecure she was. However, as the plot developed, she changed. She became more confident and more thoughtful and considerate of others, and considerably more likeable.

Characters that I did absolutely love were Doomslug and M-bot. I also really liked Spensa’s flight mates. They were a witty and diverse group and *slight spoiler alert* the many deaths in this book are very sad.

This was my first Sanderson, and I would definitely read more.

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

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Slender Man – Anonymous

30653976Lauren Bailey has gone missing. Desperate to find her, Matt Barker logs into her iCloud and finds a hidden file containing photos of a mysterious figure in the shadows. And then the nightmares start…

The style of this book made it a very quick and engaging read, because the story is told through a variety of narrative devices, including journal entries, text messages, audio transcripts and newspaper reports – not your usual, straightforward narration. The unorthodox style was refreshing and made the book very easy to read.

My other favourite aspect of this book is the anonymous nature. Thanks to the style and the lack of author (and what actually happens in the plot) the story becomes very real and very possible in real life. Especially because it does take into account the fact that Slender Man was an online phenomenon, known to be invented and developed through fan sites and photoshop. The fakeness of Slender Man is commented on and pushed aside by the events that unfold in this story.

I haven’t read a horror this good in a very long time.

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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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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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Aphra’s Child – Lesley Glaister

41197734.jpgTula is a chimera: half human, half animal. She has lived her whole life hidden away in the forest with her mother, Aphra – the only other person she has ever met. That is, until marauders come and take Aphra away, leaving Tula scared and alone. In an attempt to find help, Tula sets off for the city; a place where she must hide her animal side and adapt to city life to avoid anyone finding out that she is an illegal chimera. Sucked into a world of harsh politics and lies, she must do all she can to not be discovered.

The story was a little slow to get started, which made it difficult to get into. It got more interesting towards the middle and did stick in my head after I’d finished, but I didn’t manage to get fully engaged in the story throughout the whole thing.

I liked the general idea behind the story. Depending on how you choose to read it, it is either a solid fantasy adventure about a chimera trying to find her place in a world that doesn’t seem to want her, or a social commentary on race reflecting our own society. I tend towards the former, because I read to escape, but it is worth noting that this is a book with potentially meaningful layers.

Lesley Glaister is an extremely talented author. She has a knack for writing about real-life issues within a diverting and engaging story. However, this is the first fantasy of hers that I’ve read and I didn’t rate it as highly as some of her other books. I’m a massive fan of fantasy, but I actually prefer Glaister’s less fantastical novels.

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

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