Shadowsong by S. Jae-Jones – Book Review.

Title: Shadowsong

Author: S. Jae-Jones

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Fairytale


Feature Image Credit – MadReviews

These days, it’s a rare thing for me to find a good fantasy novel and really enjoy the romance that inadvertently seems to crop up within its pages. And last year, I was sent Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, and I immediately fell in love with the gothic world of the Goblin King and his conquest, the musical protegee Liesel.

Unfortunately, I didn’t review this book (but I’ll link a blog post from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books if you want to get up to speed with the gist of the tale) before I dive into the review of its highly anticipated sequel, Shadowsong.

Shadowsong is the conclusion of the Wintersong series and had quite a lot to live up too. At the end of the first book, Liesel had broken the old laws and had left the Goblin Underground and her husband to go back to the real world. However, it was obvious that this would have a ripple effect on the world, and I was excited to see how it would pan out.

Six months had passed since the end of Wintersong, and Liesel is just existing in her world. Stuck between missing her Goblin King and realm underground and coping with the running of her family’s failing tavarn in the backwoods of Bavaria, Liesel is trapped between the past and the present. Unable to compose or even really listen to music, she cannot find comfort in her day-to-day life. Along with this, Liesel’s closest confidante – her brother Josef – has been spirited away to the glittering social circles of Vienna and Salzburg, there is little to salvage once was the feisty, musically inclined Goblin Queen.

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However, when Liesel receives an emotional summons to join her brother, she quickly flees to his side to get caught up in the baroque decadence of the big cities. Yet, little to Liesel’s knowledge at first, The Wild Hunt is furiously pursuing her. And soon Liesel has to confront her demons, her past and the warped creature that was her austere young man that she left in the Underground.

As I said, this book was highly anticipated for fans of Wintersong. I know readers couldn’t wait to clamour all over the rich world that Jae-Jones had envisioned, and see whether Liesel and the Goblin King would ever get reunited again.

Yet, for me, this book fell incredibly short of the mark.

First thing. The romance wasn’t there. Like I said, it takes me a lot to actually enjoyed the YA/fantasy romance of books nowadays. But the tension and relationship between Liesel and her Goblin King were one of the main hooks of the first book. So much so that I couldn’t wait to read all about their exchanges and scenes again.

But in Shadowsong, it barely was there. The couple spent 95% of the book separated. So, soon I got bored of the plot.

Don’t get me wrong, the lyrical style of writing was present. S. Jae-Jones is a beautiful writer, and her descriptive passages are lovely to read. But I really wasn’t invested in the plot this time. I didn’t really care for the struggles of Josef (a fairly bland, angsty character in my mind) or the twists and turns of the novel. I very nearly put this sequel down a few times, just because I felt a little cheated. However, I did persevere. The ending tied all the loose ends together well, and I did feel that it sort of brought it back from the brink (although the plot line where Liesel was trying to discover the Goblin King’s real name should have been more prominent, I feel. To me, it was kind of lazy writing how it was just thrown in there at random points and rushed at the end) but I really did feel let down.

Perhaps, in a few months, I’ll pick up Shadowsong again and read it. But I know that for my first impression, it radically fell short off the mark. However, I would read more of S. Jae-Jones work, so I will give her that.

The Bear and the Nightingale – Book Review

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


As I think I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for anything Russian based. I love the history of this vast country, and it’s true that within history comes different cultures and tales. And the mythos around Russian folklore is just so far removed from the fairytales that I grew up with as an English girl, I feel constantly drawn to them.

So when I read the back of The Bear and the Nightingale in my local Waterstones, I knew it would be right up my street.

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Set in a village during the infancy of feudal Russia (nearly two hundred years before Ivan the Terrible) The Bear and the Nightingale has factual and fictional base around the culture of this remote part of the world – a time in which religion and the command of the land holds sway over the everyday Russian’s lives, and sorcery and folklore as real as breathing.

But for a young woman Vasya; the last daughter and child of the kindly but gruff boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich and his dead wife Marina, these aren’t just stories. As Vasya can see the house spirits that guard her home and surrounding areas, and she can sense when the growing forces of dark magic are breaking free from the wild forests of Russia’s landscapes.

There are a few things I loved about this book. One being that in the last few years, we’ve had a good spate of Russian inspired fairytales (see my review for Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon review) and I think this novel fits in very well with exploring this wonderful culture. The writing was very lyrical and the working in of the Russian words and terminology made the story come alive in a very real way.

I enjoyed some of the character depth – especially with Father Konstantin’s interest in Vasya turning into something far more than religious interest in the young woman, and his shame about these developing feelings (felt very Judge Frollo from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame here), along with Vasya’s transformation from a wild young girl into a young woman.

However, this book does have its negative points. I felt the story lost itself halfway through, and the jumble of different spirits and how Vasya affected the balance of the world made for quite a mess when reading it. Towards the end, when the climax and tone of the book should be at its most urgent and pronounced, there wasn’t any tension. It played it safe, and for a book that really could have been fairly violent and almost squeamish, it felt almost boring to read. The book seems to meander quite a lot, and never really hits home about the point it’s trying to make.

Unfortunately, the character of Morozoko (A Russian-esque Jack Frost character) gets lost with his characterisation. I felt like when he was explaining himself and his conflict with his twin (these two were supposed to be really central and important characters) his story never really made sense and didn’t make him memorable.

I wanted more of him and this sort of folklore and less of the house and stable spirits we were subjected too.

However, despite all this, I am curious about the sequel – The Girl in the Tower – despite all my negative thoughts, so I probably will pick it up to see whether it improves. Expect a review on this too.

Overall, a good premise and lyrical book, but one that falls short on delivering.

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Feature image credit – TheGryphon.co.uk

The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman – Book Review.

Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust Volume One)

Author: Philip Pullman

Rating: 4.5/5

Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult


It has been decades in the making and has garnered legions and legions of new fans every week. In the world of YA fiction, this was going to be a revolutionary event. One that we, as readers of the original trilogy, had grown up adoring and clamouring for. And finally, a  few weeks ago, Philip Pullman’s long-awaited addition to His Dark Materials world was finally published, and I jumped at the chance to get it a day before the actual publication date (it’s handy to know people in the publishing industry).

And here is my official review for La Belle Sauvage: Volume One of The Book of Dust. 

Set 10 years before the start of Northern Lights, La Belle Sauvage follows the tale of the incredibly likable Malcolm Polstead and his daemon Asta and how he came to become acquainted with the heroic Lord Asriel, a baby Lyra Belacqua and help set the course of His Dark Materials. After living a quiet and relatively peaceful life in his parents’ pub, The Trout, on the outskirts of Oxford, Malcolm’s life soon turns upside down when a baby is snuck into the convent and put into the care of the nuns. It is then up to Malcolm to help shield this baby from the nefarious powers which want to cause harm to the child, and the lengths that he will go to protect Lyra.

Like with its predecessors, La Belle Sauvage is heavily influenced by Christian ideology and Biblical stories. Towards the end of the novel, there is an event that is very reminiscent of the Great Flood, and there is also an overlying story arc where the world that Malcolm lives in is controlled by ‘The Magisterium’ – known commonly as The Church. Fans of Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy will be familiar with this type of world-building, but I also don’t think it provides too much confusion for standalone reading. That is one thing I must stress about this book. La Belle Sauvage (despite being another piece of the world of Lyra’s world) doesn’t need the contextual read of Pullman’s other novels. It has strength and understanding on its own. The novel also deals with bigotry, persecution and the League of St Alexander – a group that is remarkably similar to the Hitler Youth and Orwell’s 1984. 

For me, this novel had its strengths in the first two-thirds of the story. I feel that with the introduction of giants, river gods and fairies in the last third/flood scenes, it became a bit too ‘Studio Ghibli’ for me to digest. I felt that if he had introduced them earlier, it wouldn’t have been so jarring. (Side Note: I love Studio Ghibli, but I feel that it doesn’t blend well when you push them into Pullman’s world without any backstory.)

Once again, the character writing is fantastic. Malcolm is a singularly brilliant and complex character. One so driven by his need to protect Lyra, that he is willing to leave his family and deliver her back to her father. However, we do see moments of struggle with him, which the reader see him for what he is: a mature and conscientious eleven-year-old. The other characters, like the plucky Alice really come into their own as the novel progresses and Malcolm gets to know her. Fans of the original series will also be happy to see the return of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter.

A return to the captivating world of His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage feels a bit like coming home. We, as fans of the original series, will love the journey back into the world where humans have daemons (visceral pieces of their soul living as animals) and new readers will be transported to a universe that is so unlike anything they’ve ever read before. With a perfect blend of new material and old favourites, I can’t wait for the next installment!

To buy the book.

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Our Dark Duet by V.E Schwab – Book Review.

Title: Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity Book 2)

Author: V.E. Schwab

Rating: 3/5

Fantasy: Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, Fiction, Adventure, Teen Fiction


Last year, I got the chance to review the wonderful kick off of the Monsters of Verity series, This Savage Song on my blog, and I loved it!

So when Titan Books sent me the sequel and conclusion to this series (without even requesting it, so a huge thank you to Titan Books for keeping me in mind), I was thrilled. Obviously, I had to do a reread of the first book, and I fell back in love with the world that Schwab created, along with the badass characters that she wrote about.

Without giving too much away, Our Dark Duet is set six months after the big climatic end of This Savage Song, and the world of Verity is thrown into chaos. With the monster issue really becoming a problem, and war between human and creature becoming an inevitable reality, we follow as our protagonists battle to save their cities along with themselves. August has become the leader he never really wanted to be, and Kate has become the hunter she always knew she could become. But when a new monster comes into a fold – a monster that seems unstoppable, uncatchable but reaping devasting power, Kate and August are thrown together again in a battle that will determine the real winners. Lives will be lost, blood will be spilled and sacrifices will be made9781785652769.

Our Dark Duet shows real character growth, as both August and Kate have to deal with relationship issues from newcomers, along with having to confront demon’s from their past. Schwab has maintained this easy flow of writing that I commented upon in the first book, and she has once again made the story very readable and addictive from the first page.

With a new monster coming into the fold, this gave the novel a much-needed kick that I was hoping it would have. This Savage Song did leave the story
off with a good cliffhanger, but I didn’t think it would be enough for the entire book to be based around, as I felt it would’ve weakened the storytelling. So to have a brand new nemesis mixing with the older ones became very effective.

However, I do have some criticisms about this novel. I felt the solution to the new monster’s death was a bit rushed and didn’t feel as strong as it could’ve been, along with the speed of the final battle. There were also character’s who seemed relatively important at first, and then really disappear without a trace. Having them come back into the narrative would’ve been a cool little reminder for me.

But this was a good conclusion for the Monsters of Verity series. I’m definitely going to be looking out for more from this author.

Our Dark Duet is out on the 13th June – preorder now.