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.

Amazon

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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.

Angels of Music by Kim Newman – Book Review

Title: Angels of Music

Author: Kim Newman

Genre: Fantasy, Horror, Alternative History, YA, Teen Fiction

Rating: 5/5


One of my favourite fantasy authors has always been Kim Newman. I discovered him a couple of years ago, when I first started getting into The Gothic, and devoured his alternative history version of the Dracula tale – Anno Dracula – and I loved how he retold the canon in new and imaginative ways. Luckily, I was sent his newest book for review, and I knew from the front cover that I would love it.

angels_music_final_2Angels of Music is a retelling of Gaston Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera tale (note, very different from the Lloyd Webber musical), and follows the plot of The Phantom running detective/crime fighting underground syndicate made up of talented female agents who solve the crimes that the higher levels of society would like to keep out of the public eye. Basically bohemian Paris’ Charlie’s Angels. The toxic underbelly of Paris is revealed, and with automatons, vampires and mass murderers running riot through the city, it only takes one spark of a flame to ignite a terrifying series of events.

Angels of Music reunites some of Newman’s best loved characters, with Kate Reed and Irene Adler coming into play as one of The Phantom’s agent ‘Angels’, and gives mini stories throughout the novel that links together at the end.

Written in the traditional Newman style of different historical characters coming into play throughout the text, and different historical events being retold to fit the narrative, it felt like coming home to an old friend, and not forced or false at all. I also find myself Googling these events, just to read the real history.

I really enjoyed the different Angels, and with the plot moving forward in a linear fashion, girls leave and get replaced with others. All in all, Newman wrote 18 different Angels, all with different characteristics and back-stories, which provided an interesting read. None of them felt really left out and rushed, and none of them really seemed repeated. I particularly liked THE JAPANESE LADY and the vivacious CLARA.

All in all, this is another brilliant novel from Kim Newman. It hasn’t faltered in quality at all, and I love that he’s gone into another Gothic figure of interest and completely put his own spin on it.

Angels of Music is out now.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher – Book Review.

Title: On the Other Side

Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Rating: 4/5

Fantasy: Fantasy, YA, Teen Fiction, Contemporary Romance


It takes a lot for me to get excited about a book so much to pre-order it. So far, my pre-order history has mainly consisted of the Harry Potters, and that has been a lifelong love. But with Carrie Hope Fletcher, I’ve rushed to bookshops to get my hand of my copy, and happily put a deposit down.

I’ve loved Carrie’s YouTube videos and West End Performances for years, and after loving her self-help book, All I Know Now, I was very excited to hear t25744542hat she was publishing her first fiction novel. And by now, I can happily say, I wasn’t disappointed.

When Evie Snow dies at the grand age of eighty-two, she is surrounded by family and remnants of a pretty happy life. However, when she attempts to get in the door of her personal heaven, she is stopped. Evie’s soul isn’t light enough to pass through the doors, and she has to unburden herself of three deep secrets that she has carried around with her for nearly sixty years. Now Evie has to go on a journey through her life, and on her way, she learns more about her own life, and the love she lost, more than she knew was possible.

Firstly, can I say I loved the premise. The idea of personal heavens has always attracted me since I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Having a space where you feel you more comfortable and happy is such delightful thought. Fletcher has also obviously given a lot of thought into how she perceives a personal heaven, and how a soul must be unburdened from past strife to fully embrace it. I also loved how she dealt with the state of limbo, and how people adapt with their human deaths. The story featured a lot of magical realism which was fun and sweet to read, and it reminded me a bit of the worlds that Studio Ghibli create.

The love story was very sweet, and fairly powerful. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried in public whilst reading one particular moment, and I thought she captured the essence of first love and attraction very well. In my mind, Fletcher also incorporated people’s sexualities and preferences well in this text. The novel touches on homophobia well, and stories of ‘coming out’ is also dealt with grace and sensitivity. As the novel features bisexual, pansexual and gay characters, I feel that it fits well in with the contemporary YA market.

The story also has a deeper plotline. Despite dealing with lost love, it also deals with family issues and a strong-minded female protagonist who has to sacrifice a lot to help others. I really admired Evie Snow (the protagonist) as she decides to reject her parents controlling ways, and take control of everything for a time.

The characters were well thought out. Like I said, I enjoyed reading and learning about Evie Snow. Vincent Winters was a particular favourite too, as he was so sweet and thoughtful. To me, it was obvious that Fletcher had taken a lot of inspiration from her life, and even her and friend’s appearances, but it didn’t dampen or change the story. I also admired James Snow, for his kindness towards Evie.

The plot was also structured well, and I wasn’t bored when reading it. It sped through at a reasonable pace, and featured touching storylines. I liked how each of the secrets were split up in their own segments, and how they featured people that meant a lot to Evie. It was fairly-well written, but featured some metaphors and similes that were obviously targeted for a younger audience, and probably not a twenty-two year old Masters student.

However, this was warmhearted, whimsical read that I thoroughly enjoyed. To be honest, I didn’t want it to end, and will happily pick it up at a later date.

On the Other Side is out now.

Information –

 

Waterstones

Amazon

Author’s website

Author YouTube channel

Author’s twitter.

 

A Girl Called Alice by Christina Henry (Essay) – The Nightmareland Blog Book Tour

(Below is an essay written for the Nightmareland Book Blog Tour by Christina Henry for the promotion of her Alice and The Red Queen books. Big thank you to Christina for allowing me to be involved in this unique idea, and all those at Titan Books. Enjoy!)

A GIRL CALLED ALICE by CHRISTINA HENRY

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass is a tale beloved by millions, so embedded in our cultural memory that nearly everyone can conjure up an image of Alice – from the original story, a film remake, a game or one of many re-imaginings done by assorted authors through the years.

Alice has taken on the quality of myth, a character no longer bound to her creator or origin story but a modern-day legend open to interpretation like those other contemporary fairy tale figures from Neverland and Oz.

Many people have never read the original Alice but feel as though they have, because so many qualities about the Alice story have entered our shared lexicon – falling into a rabbit hole, for instance, is a phrase that’s taken on a meaning and life of its own quite apart from the original story.

And images from the story – the disappearing Cheshire Cat who leaves his smile behind, the Mad Hatter and the tea party – have become a kind of shorthand, s
hared experiences that make us feel like we’ve all been part of Wonderland for a very long time.

I asked my son why everyone loves Alice, and he immediately answered, “Because there’s adventure. And magic.” I think these are exactly the two qualities that attract children and adults to this story time and again.

There is something enchanting about a world that you can fall into, where there is adventure but somehow never any real danger (despite all of the Red Queen’s blustering about taking off Alice’s head I never worried, as a child, that such a thing would actually happen), and where magical things occur with matter-of-fact regularity.

Then there is Alice herself. She’s very pragmatic throughout the story, in a way that makes everything else real. The famous quote about believing six impossible things before breakfast was actually said by the White Queen in response to Alice’s remark that “one can’t believe impossible things.”

This is fairly astonishing given that Alice has already seen and done more impossible things than most people, but it’s her clear eyes that make her such an attractive character. Alice is very firmly rooted, and that fact roots the story as well. When a fantastic world has this kind of steady grounding it’s easy to believe in talking caterpillars and disappearing cats.

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Tour dates and relevant blogs to visit!

This Savage Song by V. E Schwab – Book Review.

Title: This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity Book 1)

Author: V.E. Schwab

Rating: 4/5

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


 

The world of Young Adult fiction is a hard category to break into if you’re an author, and equally hard to wade through if you’re a reader. There are categories within sub-categories within sections within communities etc, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming at the choice.

But, to me anyway, there always seems to be one theme and one consistent subplot through these stories, and that is of romance. And to be honest, this has become overused, over-tired and irritating. Especially when it drives the narrative, and without it, the story wouldn’t work.

So when I was sent this book to review by Titan Books it felt like a breath of fresh air. As when I picked up and devourted  This Savage Song, it had all the promise and familiarity of a well-written YA fantasy novel, but without all the use or plot-need of fated romances or even love.

In This Savage Song,  we are set into the world of Verity, a divided city where the violence of the streets has started to creat and manifest itself into real and grisly monsters. Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to this city, and both have their own agendas and ideas on how to survive in this dangerous world. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the inhabitants of his side pay for his protection. August just wants to be human, as good-hearted as his father – but his curse is to be what the humans fear. The thin truce that keeps the Harker and Flynn fathis-savage-songmilies at peace is crumbling, and an assassination attempt forces Kate and August into a tenuous alliance. But how long will they survive when the streets are safe, and the monsters no longer want to lurk in this shadows?

What I liked about this book is the easy flow of writing and the fact the plot never seems to dip or just go slow. The action is fast-paced, continuous and keeps you hooked from page one until you close the book. I haven’t read any of Schwab’s other books, but I’ve heard they’re equally as entralling. The two main characters were also fleshed out well. I felt that although August was my personal favourite, due to his selflessness and overall wish just to be human, Kate was also interesting. Schwab went indepth with her character, and by slowly exploring her weaknesses to the readers and the characters, she felt so real, and living through a mask.

The world-building was good in some parts. I really enjoyed the use of violence actually creating monsters, and how different levels of violence impacted on which sort of monster would manifest. I also enjoyed the political views of Callum and Henry, as they deal with the creatures in different ways. The end was also good to tease the reader for the next book. However, sometimes I needed clarification over which secondary character was which, and I would have loved to find out more about the history of the city and how the monsters came to be. I felt that a map of the city would’ve been useful, as I couldn’t really orientate myself as I was reading.

But one thing I did love was how it was just a good, well-written fantasy novel. When reading it I was so glad over the lack of romance, as another author could’ve easily put it in and just made it about two star-crossed lovers. Kate and August are just allies and friends who were trying to make the city better. Romance was never needed, and I didn’t miss it.

All in all, this was just a good urban fantasy novel. The writing didn’t annoy me, the characters felt three dimensional, and the premise was good and it didn’t failt to deliver a good story. It did help me revisit my fondness of the YA genre, and did give me some faith that not every book has to feature romance. So I’d heartedly recommend this novel to any fantasy fan.

This Savage Song is out June 7th – Buy it here!

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – Book Review.

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Magical Fiction, Fantasy, Phantasmagorical Literature


“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”

Now, if you’re like me, dear reader, you’ll have bookshelves in your room that are full to the brim with unread books that have never been organised, opened or touched past the initial removal from the Amazon packet or the Waterstones bag. In my tiny room at home, I have three floor-to-ceiling high bookshelves that are triple layered with books, and only about one-fifth of these have been read. There is even a Japanese word for this – ‘Tsundoku’. It is a real affliction for all us book lovers, and one that has no end, but just get progressively worst.

And, like me, I’m sure that you have little gems of novels tucked away that you picked up one day, bought and said ‘Yes, this is next on my list’, and whenever you rediscover it on your shelf, you have that little stab of guilt.

Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was one of these books. I could see it every single day, drawing my eye in with the bold title, and gorgeous cover, but it was only recently that I finally grabbed it, and tucked it into my bag to become my train companion.

Published in 2011, and compared significantly to Harry Potter or TwilightThe Night Circus is a phantasmagorical historical novel, set against the backdrop of a myste

rious circus that appears on the outskirts of towns without warning or promotion, and it entrances all those who wander in. Alongside this circus – which also has intersecting chapters where you, as the reader, is put into the novel and you get to walk through the circus and get all the sensory experience of the circus – the plot focuses on two magicians – Hector Bowen, a public personality who performs under the guise of Prospero the Enchanter, and the other man, figure who is only referred as ‘the man in the grey suit’ or ‘Mr. A. H-‘ – and their profound rivalry which has spanned over countless generations, and has been played out as a ‘battle’ between their appointed pupils. And in this novel, Bowen decides to appoint his only daughter Celia as his chosen player, and his rival chooses a nameless orphan, who decides to be called Marco Alisdair. Following tutelage, both Marco and Celia start to develop significant powers of illusion, and are permanently bound and aware of the competition that they both are involved in, despite not meeting their adversary.

And alongside this competition, the reader gets to know about the origin of the Night Circus. Initially a creation by a producer called M Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre and more subtly, Mr. A. H-, it becomes obvious that the workings of the circus, the magical draw of it, and even the structure and tents, all stem from Marco and Celia and their conflict which manifests itself in each creating spectacles in an attempt to outdo the other. But, when the inevitable meeting does happen, Marco and Celia both find themselves falling in love with each other, and their battle becomes not only a test of their powers, but also in whether they can escape their drawn-out competition and rewrite their own fates, together.

Now, the plot is promising. And whilst writing the summary down here, I was reminded how involved I was in the story, and how much I wanted Marco and Celia to get together, and how impossible it all seemed. Morgenstern wrote Celia to appear to be a fragile beauty, but the strength of her desire for freedom, and her powers, made the reader really warm to her. And the same with Marco. Their love seems boundless, passionate and sensual, and that makes for very enjoyable reading. But, it wasn’t necessarily the plot that kept me going through the book, or even the sweet side-stories about the red-haired circus twins, Poppet and Widget or the clock-maker, Thiessen, but the sheer beauty of the writing, and description. Morgenstern has created a beautiful world, and one that is equipped with all the sensory flavours that you, as a reader, wants to experience. The description of the circus, the food, the clothing, and the individual tents makes you desperately want to visit it, and it has the right level of Victorian-historical-whimsy that is befitting a YA novel. However, for some readers, it may be a bit too much of a whimsical novel, and so sweet it may be cavity-inducing.

Another thing that I felt slightly off-putting about this novel is that sometimes it felt a bit confusing and the writing wasn’t particularly clear, and unfortunately, all in all, the ending did not feel entirely satisfying when you consider it against the novel as a whole. With a climax of the novel, it should be wham-bam-clear-and-in-your-face-exciting, but this felt a bit short to me. It seemed as though Morgenstern had an excellent idea of what she wanted to do, but she couldn’t quite convey it in the right way.

But, this novel does focus on the dreamlike, illusion and magic, so it could just be Morgenstern tried to write in this fashion. However, for a young adult novel, this one doesn’t fall short to be a good and satisfying read, the magic doesn’t feel too whimsical or forced, and the characters are written in a good way. I’d thoroughly recommend it!

So, if you as a reader, enjoyed:

  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • Circus of the Unseen by Joanne Owen

Then you’ll love this!

Links:

To buy the book – Waterstones/Amazon

Author’s website: Click Here

Author’s Twitter: Click Here