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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Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

36678391.jpgOn the night of the winter solstice in a pub on the Thames, the regulars are telling stories as they do most nights, when a stranger bursts through the door carrying the dead body of a little girl. A few hours later, the girl wakes up. Nobody knows who she is and, when multiple families come forward to claim the child as their own, nobody knows who to believe.

Once Upon a River is a magical fairy tale, but it has a very long-winded plot. There’s a lot of build up to “something’s about to happen”, ending in comparatively little actual climax. The book isn’t actually especially long, but it took me ages to read and I would have found it impossible to read in one sitting. It just didn’t flow particularly well and was quite hard work to get through.

There are loads of different characters, to the extent that we don’t really get to know most of them properly. The only ones I got to know well enough to particularly like were Rita and Daunt, because they appear in multiple threads of the story. Most of the other characters were very forgettable (in fact, as I sit here writing this, I can’t remember the names of any others).

I liked the way the story was told, from the point-of-view of a narrator who was not part of the plot but felt like an integral participant in the book. It is written in a way that feels as though the narrator is telling you the story, but without ever explicitly inserting themselves in the narrative. This has the effect of drawing the reader in and, had the story been more engaging, would have been a wonderful style.

Once Upon a River had a lot of potential to be a great book but, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to it.

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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Blog Tour: Star-Touched Stories – Roshani Chokshi

36396341.jpgStar-Touched Stories is three magical stories set in the world of The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes. You don’t need to have read either book to enjoy this one, but it would help in order to understand some of the characters. Roshani Chokshi’s writing is pure magic. I don’t think I’ve ever read any books quite as magical as hers (and I read a lot of fantasy).

All three stories are special in their own way, but my favourite was the first one: Death and Night. The Lord of Death and the Goddess of Night meet by chance and, contrary to their natures, fall in love. As their romance blossoms, both begin to question if they could be made for more than they’ve believed. Death and Night are both completely brilliant characters, and the setting of this story is just the best (especially the Night Bazaar). I loved the romance between these two, and all of the supporting characters were great as well.

Poison and Gold was my least favourite of the three (although, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it). In this one, Aasha is sent to train to become the kingdom’s new Spy Mistress. However, she has lost control over her power to kill and can’t understand why. That particular aspect of the story really got on my nerves, because it was SO OBVIOUS why she’d lost her control. She’s not a stupid character, so why dumb her down so much in this story? I also didn’t really like the romance between Aasha and the Spy Mistress (whose name I can’t even remember). It just came across as too forced and unnecessary.

Rose and Sword was a nice addition to the book. Vikram falls ill and is on the brink of death, so Guari travels to the land of the dead to retrieve his last breath and save his life. I was so happy to read more about Guari and Vikram (mainly Guari) that almost anything could have happened in this story and I would have enjoyed it. Just to make things even better, Kamala – the lovable demon horse – is back and as brilliant as ever. It was a lovely ending to Guari and Vikram’s story.

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

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The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

37759491.jpgIn Orleans, beauty is valued above all else. People are born grey and plain, and only a Belle can make them beautiful. Camellia has always wanted to be the Favourite; chosen to tend to the royal family and their courtiers. But once at court, she quickly learns that everything is not as she has been told.

The Belles didn’t have as much depth as it could have. The kingdom is clearly unhappy with the prospect of Princess Sophie becoming queen (understandable – she is a piece of work) and poisonings are mentioned, but we get no insight at all into political matters or any attempts to stop her becoming queen. Instead its all about beauty and the belles. I get that the entire concept is kind of shallow, but the book didn’t have to be too.

The other big thing I didn’t enjoy was the pacing, which is rather slow. The plot isn’t particularly complex or detailed so I’m not entirely sure what all those pages were actually used for.

However, there were a couple of good things as well. I especially liked that, despite being all about beauty, there are no set ideas about what is beautiful. The people of Orleans change their hair, skin, body shapes and everything in all different ways without one being considered prettier than the other (outside of trending periods).

I’m not entirely sure if I liked it enough to pick up the next book. On the one hand, I found it pretty boring on the whole. On the other hand, the ending was EXCITING and I do want to know what’s going to happen next.

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

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The Beast’s Heart – Leife Shallcross

36273241In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the focus is on the Beast’s side of the story. A lonely beast, cursed and isolated, has a chance encounter with a lost traveller. In return for saving the man’s life, the Beast gains the company of his daughter, Isabeau, for a year, during which he finds both love and his humanity.

For the first half of this book, I felt a bit cheated. It wasn’t so much a retelling, but rather an almost identical version of the Beauty and the Beast story we’re all familiar with, from the point of view of the beast. To me, this felt like a bit of a cop-out and was a little disappointing. Fortunately, the second half of the book and the details of Isabeau’s sisters did take the story in a new direction.

The magical elements are enchanting. The book is very descriptive and beautifully written with a flowing plot and complex characters. Plus, how stunning is that cover, right?

It’s a classic story, and very well-written, if a little unoriginal. I enjoyed it a lot.

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

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Starborn – Lucy Hounsom

34114570.jpgOn the day she comes of age, Kyndra accidentally destroys an ancient tradition and gets the blame for an unnatural storm that targets hers town. Two strangers with powers fuelled by the sun and moon rescue her and take her to the hidden citadel of Naris. Once there, Kyndra experiences disturbing visions, brutal tests, and meets both fanatics and rebels all trying to use her for their own cause.

I really expected to love this book, but actually, it didn’t have a lot of the things I look for in a YA fantasy. Yes, this means it avoided most of the usual tropes and clichés, and managed not to be just the same as every other YA fantasy story, but it also made it kind of boring. Honestly, not that much actually happened, and it’s not a short book.

I wasn’t a big fan of Kyndra, and not liking the lead character is always problematic. She wasn’t too annoying or sassy, instead she was just kinda bland. She was obsessed with getting back to her family even though she knew that, realistically, she couldn’t return to her village (they did try to kill her, after all) and that was pretty much her only drive. Also, there wasn’t even a hint of romance to the story, which I do like at least a little bit of.

I did like Bregenne and Nediah. I could have happily read an adult fantasy book about them. Same world, some of the same characters, but an adult target market and less of the irritating and argumentative teenager.

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The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

34527740.jpgThe Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve magical, mysterious and unusual short stories, featuring a coffin hotel, spirits in jars, and replacement hearts.

Now, I liked this book. I’ve never read a book of short stories before (and to be honest, I’m not really sure it’s my thing) but this was a good first experience. ‘Short stories’ felt like a bit of a stretch; the twelves in this book are actually more like snippets – short chapters of something bigger. The open-ended nature of the stories added to this, because they felt sort of unfinished. In some cases this was frustrating, but in all cases it made me want to read more.

Each story was weird and whimsical, with a dark and slightly sinister vibe. I enjoyed some more than others, (my favourites were Jacob and Aunt Libby’s Coffin Hotel) but they were all good.

Interesting, snappy, and thought-provoking, I would definitely recommend this one.

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

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Frostblood – Elly Blake

32618150Forced to hide her Fireblood abilities from the Frostblood ruling class, Ruby has never had the opportunity to practise or develop her skills. When Frostblood soldiers destroy her village and murder her mother, she is suddenly thrown into a battle she has little time to prepare for. Her mission: kill the Frost King.

Frostblood is a classic, fantastic YA fantasy adventure. By far the best I’ve read in a long time. It is very well-written, with all the predictable but vital components of the genre: a feisty teen heroine, a rocky but passionate romance, and an epic battle between good and evil.

Ruby is a strong, volatile character. She has some serious anger-management issues and the tendency to jump to conclusions, but it’s all essential to her Fireblood personality which stops her from tipping over the edge into annoying (like so many YA heroines do). The rest of the characters, including love-interest Arcus, are also likeable and well-developed. I especially loved brother Thistle – what a babe.

The plot is really, really good. It’s super eventful and unpredictable. There were good amounts of plot development, character and world building in equal measure. The book was at no point boring, but also didn’t speed along too quickly or become too action-packed. Plus there were one or two plot-twists that genuinely took me by surprise.

Frostblood is a must-read for fans of fantasy and magic. I will be buying book #2, immediately.

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