Monday, 27 October 2014

Review: Clariel by Garth Nix

Clariel (Old Kingdom #4/0.5) by Garth Nix
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: October 2nd 2014
My Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilip. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.

With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her - and it is herself she must question most of all.
(from Goodreads)

I was so excited for Clariel. I absolutely loved the Old Kingdom series, so hearing that Garth Nix was writing a prequel about Chlorr of the Mask brought out my inner fangirl. To finally be able to read this book after waiting for it for so long...I was practically jumping for joy when it arrived. And I really enjoyed it! Perhaps not as much as the original trilogy, but I don't think anything could live up to that in my mind.

Clariel was a very different character to Sabriel or Lirael, and I really liked that. She was very sure of what she wanted, and hated being told what to do or that she would change her mind about it all in the future. All she wanted was to be left alone and live in the forest where she could fend for herself and avoid the kind of life her parents were forcing her into. She didn't want children or any type of relationship (and I LOVED this because it's so unusual to get a character in YA who isn't interested in romance in the slightest and who doesn't want to have children) and even though we were opposites in some ways (I hate the outdoors. I am very much an indoors person), I really liked reading from Clariel's point of view - getting into her head and seeing the world through her eyes. It was so interesting, especially the way she was tempted by Free Magic. You could see the way she was falling for it; even though she knew in her mind that Free Magic was supposed to be bad, she didn't understand why, and was curious as to why it worked better for her than Charter Magic. I just...ah. I was so happy to read this book. I also really liked the fact that Clariel wasn't the nicest person - she was anti-social and generally preferred being alone, and she was also brutally honest and often offended people without meaning to. She wasn't really close with her parents either and it was interesting to see how her opinions changed slightly throughout the book, especially when she learnt about the origins of her Fury (Fury being a consuming anger that sometimes took Clariel over and gave her extra strength but loss of control - which was another thing I enjoyed learning about).

Other characters I liked were Bel, Lirael's cousin (second cousin? I forget how it works) and Denima, and of course, Mogget, because I had missed him so much! Bel was funny and a bit awkward, and while he was a bit too persistent in pursuing Clariel for my liking, he did help her and risk a lot for her, and I am curious to find out what happened to him (I hope he married Denima, she was so nice and obviously cared about him a lot). Mogget was Mogget. I expected nothing less from him. He was as crafty as ever and I was just so excited that we finally got an explanation for how he knew Chlorr/Clariel. I also really like learning more about Free Magic creatures in general and how they interacted with humans and what the rules were for binding them and things like that.

Plot-wise, the funniest thing about this book was that if Clariel had just been allowed to do what she wanted to do right from the start, she would never had ended up in the situation she was in the end, and she probably would never have become Chlorr of the Mask. But of course, that wouldn't be an interesting story, so instead we got to see lots of cool action, and plots to try and overthrow the king, and Free Magic and so many other amazing things, including several twists I did not expect. I so missed this writing style - Garth Nix sure knows how to make his stories engaging - and I loved almost every part of this book! I did feel like some scenes were a little too descriptive and maybe dragged on a bit, but apart from that, there was barely a boring moment. I don't know what else to say without being very spoilery, but I do have to speak about the ending. The ending was kind of the beginning, really. It was the end of Clariel's story, but the beginning of Chlorr's, and it just stopped there. We never got to find out what happened next, what Chlorr did with her life, or how she eventually died. And while I would love to know, I think that was a brilliant way to end the book, because you can just imagine the kind of things that must have happened for Chlorr to eventually end up the way she was in the first trilogy. And the contrast to how different that kind of life must have been to what Clariel's first seventeen years were like was huge.

Overall, I really enjoyed Clariel and I am so happy this prequel exists. If you liked the Old Kingdom trilogy, you have to read this book. And if you've not read the Old Kingdom trilogy, you are seriously missing out. Even more excitingly (if that makes any sense), Garth Nix is writing another book that picks up on Lirael and Nick's story, and I am SO SO SO excited. No idea when it will be released, but I can't wait.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Review: After Eden by Helen Douglas

After Eden (After Eden #1) by Helen Douglas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: November 7th 2013
My Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Eden Anfield loves puzzles, so when mysterious new boy Ryan Westland shows up at her school she's hooked. On the face of it, he's a typical American teenager. So why doesn't he recognise pizza? And how come he hasn't heard of Hitler? What puzzles Eden the most, however, is the interest he's taking in her.

As Eden starts to fall in love with Ryan, she begins to unravel his secret. Her breakthrough comes one rainy afternoon when she stumbles across a book in Ryan's bedroom - a biography of her best friend - written over fifty years in the future. Confronting Ryan, she discovers that he is there with one unbelievably important purpose ... and she might just have destroyed his only chance of success.
(from Goodreads)

NOTE: I wrote this review at 2am after a very bad day.

I don't know if it's because I was reading this book on a train that was both delayed and diverted, therefore making me suffer an extra hour of travelling, but this book annoyed me. So much. It claimed not to be pretentious, and yet the main character (who only approved of wine parties that involved political debate to change the world) kept banging on about Shakespeare with like, some year seven level interpretation of Romeo & Juliet that had me cracking up because she clearly thought this was some genius original idea she was having when literally it's like the first thing anyone is ever taught when they study that text. The whole fate vs we make our own destiny thing was SO cliche, it was actually painful. But of course despite having this wealth of knowledge on Shakespeare and even though she was supposedly smart (who doesn't know that other planets exist outside our solar system? REALLY?) she couldn't associate herself with the nerds either because that would just be so uncool. For eff's sake. And she was such a hypocrite. She made fun/didn't "approve" of this stereotypical mean girl character wearing short skirts/tight clothes to "impress guys", but as soon as there was a "worthy" guy in the picture for Eden, she had no problem changing her entire dress style to wear skirts and dressy tops herself, clearly in an attempt to impress Ryan/Orion/Jimmy No Personality, so just what was her issue in the first place? So it's okay when she does it, and when her skirt is just that tad bit longer? My GOD. Aren't we over this already? I am so sick of this "I'm not like other girls" mentality. OTHER GIRLS ARE NOT THE ENEMY. And not only that, but she was so goddamn stupid. Ryan, Duke of Boredonia clearly told her not to tell anyone that she knew his secret because it would have dire consequences, but then she just couldn't resist rubbing it in his sister/whatever's face that she knew and that Ryan told her, and then everything turned to shit because of that. You had ONE JOB, Eden. Ugh. And I'm not even including various other incidents, such as getting into some random stranger's car, not seeing the obvious etc. etc.

Ryan, or Empty Shell, as I like to call him, was completely devoid of personality. All he did was try to flirt information out of people. There was nothing beyond that, except his ridiculous lack of knowledge of the 21st century. I'm sorry but you really expect me to believe that hundreds of years in the future, they'll still be teaching Shakespeare (luckily for Eden), but not about Hitler? REALLY? We still learn about Henry the freaking VIII, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't take Hitler out of the curriculum. And even if they did, how could they allow someone, so woefully ignorant of 21st century history, to then go to a freaking school in which they KNOW HE WILL BE STUDYING 21ST CENTURY HISTORY?! Were they trying to fail this mission on purpose, or is everyone in the future just THAT stupid? Ryan was stupidly leaving clues all over the place like a trail of bloody breadcrumbs. It's like he wanted her to find out! Don't even get me started on the romance, because it was just the worst kind of insta-love and I seriously can't believe Ryan Boring McBoreason was willing to give up his entire life in the future, his whole family, everything he'd ever known, for some girl he barely knew in the 21st century. The boy was seventeen, and he and Eden had like, zero chemistry. This was not going to be an everlasting love. He basically just ruined his whole life.

Plot-wise, hahahaha. There were so many unexplained time paradoxes. Like, you usually have a few issues with time travel in books, but this was ridiculous. Nothing was explained at all about how time travel worked, or what the effects of changing events in time would be. And apparently people from the future caused the dinosaurs to be wiped out, and the bubonic plague? How does that even work?! If people went back in time and accidentally caused the death of dinousaurs, what caused them to be wiped out in the first place, before they went back in time? Because obviously they did not exist in the future of the people who chose to go back in time. And if they changed the past, could they even return to their own future? It would be so wholly changed. Their memories wouldn't match the events that happened. Were there multiple timelines? Was there some sort of Steins;Gate world line theory going on, or some kind of multiverse thing happening? I don't pretend to be a science expert but give me SOMETHING to work with, damn it, that's more than just "oh the flu killed the dinosaurs, hahaha, and we also caused the Black Death, whoopsie". And this whole finding the planet thing by accident - SURELY someone other than a random sixteen year old boy would have found this planet? And the whole trying to stop Connor from discovering it - what the hell was their plan?! He discovered it at the ball, so you know, maybe a good idea would be for him NOT TO GO TO THE BALL THEN? Not drag him there and relive events almost exactly as they previously occurred! It would have been so easy to prevent him from discovering it, I really don't know why they found it to be so troublesome. And Cassie - Cassie was there so that they wouldn't kill Connor to stop the discovery because she was his great-granddaughter and the death of Connor would have meant she would no longer exist (again, another issue with the timelines - this suggests just one which creates huge problems with the previous things I pointed out). But didn't she realise that Connor simply not finding the planet may have led to her never existing as well? He might not have gone to the same university because of it, he might never have done the things or met the people he would have had he discovered the damn planet - she couldn't guarantee he'd have children with the same woman - why would anyone risk this?! And the planet, Eden -__-, itself - Ryan the Unriveting said it was mainly uninhabitable and not an alternative for living on Earth - why the hell was he born there then?! There was never an explanation for that, it was just a plot device to make him some time-travelling super alien.

Also, I don't even get why Travis was so intent on killing Eden in the end. And present Connor got over Eden sooo easily whereas future Connor who got rejected in the past (?) pined for her his whole life and named a planet after her despite the fact that events for him didn't really change too much. But whatever.

My personal favourite line that really shows the writing style: "High above the school campus, two buzzards were circling anticlockwise, like the hands of a backwards turning clock."

I have probably missed out various other things that annoyed me, but oh well. I didn't like this book. Don't read it unless you enjoy headaches. Also, Southern is the worst rail service ever.

EDIT: I just found out this book has a sequel. Don't know what could possibly be worth adding to this story. I'm almost tempted to read it just to see if it's as bad, but unfortunately I've got a dissertation to write and not as much time to waste these days.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Review: Dread Eagle by Alex Woolf

Dread Eagle (Iron Sky #1) by Alex Woolf
Publisher: Scribo
Released: 25th September 2014
My Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

The year is 1845. France and Britain continue their long and bloody war for global supremacy. This breath-taking adventure introduces an alternative 19th century of fantastical, coal powered robots, aerial steam carriages, floating cities, giant mechanical birds and a new kind of secret agent.

France has a secret weapon – a titanic airship cloaked in an invisible Aetheric Shield. At the forefront of Britain’s defence are the Sky Sisters, a crack team of intrepid aviatrixes led by plucky 18-year-old Lady Arabella West. Sent to investigate reports of a giant mechanical eagle that breathes fire and is capable of snatching an airship in its talons, Arabella finds herself in a situation where she will need all her courage and ingenuity to survive against the enemy.
(from press release)

The first thing I have to say about this book is that it is lovely just to hold in your hands. Pictures don't do it justice. It has glossy fold out pages with really cool diagrams of the machines mentioned in the book and notes about how they work, and it's a clothbound hardback underneath the cover with gold lettering, and honestly, it's just really pretty. You have to see it for yourself.

In regards to the book itself, it was a really fun read! Not what I expected but I liked the characters and the way the story played out. Arabella was the main character, and while I think she could have been developed a little more, she was a great character to follow. She was a spy, following in the footsteps of her father, and was trying to gather information that could help the British forces defeat the French. But there was more to everything than there first seemed. I was really intrigued by the mystery behind Arabella's father. He was apparently a celebrated hero and a brilliant spy - or at least, that's what Arabella had always been told. However, a certain person implied that maybe that wasn't the case at all and I am definitely curious as to what is true and what isn't, and what really happened all those years ago. I hope to find out more in the next book.

Ben Forrester was the mysterious American who seemed to only work for money and had no loyalty to any particular country. I liked the way he and Arabella first met - he made quite an entrance - and I also liked the way they bickered. But even though they didn't get along at first, Ben and Arabella ended up helping each other out even though they weren't quite sure why they did. Arabella didn't respect the way Ben made everything about money, but she was drawn to him all the same. She did try to be professional about the situation though, which I liked, and while I didn't quite know why Ben tried so hard to help out Arabella, I did like his sense of humour, and the way he got on with Miles, who was a very clever and logical, though somewhat odd, automaton. I wasn't too surprised by the secret Ben was hiding, but I did like the way the book ended and I am excited to see what he plans to do next!

Plot-wise, I enjoyed the direction the story took, and the way a lot of the book took place in the sky. I liked reading about the cool machines and technology that existed in this world - Miles was of course my favourite because his logical, negative nature made me laugh. There were quite a few interesting twists, though I did guess a few; some things seemed a bit convenient at times. I'm not sure where things will go in future books but I hope we get to find out more about the other girls in Arabella's team and the things they specialise in, as well as more about Arabella herself, and about Ben.

Overall, Iron Sky: Dread Eagle was a good start to a new steampunk series and I will be continuing it. Recommended to steampunk fans or people starting out in the genre.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Review: The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

The Copper Promise (The Copper Promise #1) by Jen Williams
Publisher: Headline
Released: August 28th 2014
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

There are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel…

Some say the mages left their most dangerous secrets hidden there; others, that great riches are hidden there; even that gods have been imprisoned in its darkest depths.

For Lord Frith, the caverns hold the key to his vengeance. Against all the odds, he has survived torture and lived to see his home and his family taken from him … and now someone is going to pay. For Wydrin of Crosshaven and her faithful companion, Sir Sebastian Caverson, a quest to the Citadel looks like just another job. There’s the promise of gold and adventure. Who knows, they might even have a decent tale or two once they’re done.

But sometimes there is truth in rumour.

Soon this reckless trio will be the last line of defence against a hungry, restless terror that wants to tear the world apart. And they’re not even getting paid.
(from Goodreads)

I really enjoyed The Copper Promise. There were a lot of things going on and several storylines to follow, but I think everything connected together well and I loved the characters and how they developed over the course of the book. Definitely looking forward to the sequel.

There were a lot of characters so I'll only talk about the main few. Frith, I think, was the character who developed the most. At the start he was only concerned with power and revenge and didn't care much about anything else. He was a bit snappy and harsh (though it was completely understandable) and was basically just using Sebastian and Wydrin so he could get the mages' power. However, after spending time together and after saving the others as well as being saved from many terrible fates, the trio grew closer and Frith actually started to care about them, especially Wydrin. He risked his own life to help them out and he generally became more considerate, and less selfish and impulsive. I liked watching his character grow, and I especially enjoyed his training with Jolnir, though I think the secret surrounding Jolnir was kind of obvious from the start and Frith really should have figured it out (though I guess he was preoccupied).

Wydrin was a funny, slightly reckless character that you couldn't help but like, and she made me laugh a fair few times. I think she was my favourite character and I liked the way she handled difficult situations and didn't give up easily. She managed to get out of a lot of tight spots in her life (using a variety of creative methods), so you had to respect her for that. I also liked her friendship with Seb and how she was a loyal friend who was just trying to look out for him, even when he was being difficult and kept hiding things from her. She was worried about him a lot but didn't really know what to do to help, so mostly just used her sense of humour to try and make him laugh. Seb often made comments about her taste in men while obviously hinting about Frith and I must admit I did like reading about Frith from Wydrin's point of view because it was obvious she was interested but that didn't stop her from making sarcastic comments about Frith or pointing out holes in his plans. And for all her talk about not getting paid and having to risk her life for this dangerous mission, she never abandoned her task.

Sebastian was the most mysterious character. The reason he was kicked out of the Knights wasn't hard to guess but his attachment to them still after the terrible way they treated him, and also the way he always felt the need to help people no matter how fruitless it may be, showed he was a very courageous and honourable sort of person (though often too trusting; he and the rest of the group really should not have trusted Gallo in the beginning, it was so obvious something fishy was going on). So the weird link he had to brood army who were awakened by his blood and now slaughtering people everywhere was very interesting, and the way he was willing to do something he knew was wrong and stupid in order to try and save other people made it difficult to guess what he was going to do next. The link to the brood army wasn't shown as much in the second half of the book until the end but after the way things turned out I am wondering what Seb plans to do about it all in the next book.

Plotwise, there were a lot of separate stories going but I liked reading about them all. Frith's revenge and Wydrin and her brother and the mages and trying to find a way to defeat Y'Ruen and Frith's training and Seb and the brood army - I liked it all! Certain parts did feel a bit slower than others and I preferred the scenes where everyone was together to the chapters where they were apart. I did however really like the plan that was put together to try and defeat Y'Ruen and it felt like something that could actually feasibly work but could also fail as well instead of some random crap pulled out of thin air that you just knew would fix everything instantly. I would have liked to find out more about the gods though and where they came from, because the backstory we did get was very interesting. I also wanted to know more about the brood army, because Seb wasn't really their "father", his blood was just used to awaken them and yet it had a great and unexpected influence. [Spoiler, highlight to read] I liked reading about members of the brood army starting to develop individuals wills and taking on their own names but I did wonder why they kept on murdering people if they didn't want to and had to wait to be told to stop by Seb instead of stopping themselves, when they clearly could have since they had their own free will. Even if they didn't want to risk their mother's wrath for no reason, they did so anyway after Seb told them to stop so it was a bit weird [end of spoiler].

Overall, The Copper Promise was a really enjoyable fantasy novel and I look forward to continuing the series. Definitely recommend to fantasy fans.