Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I only really discovered Neil Gaiman’s books last year but I’ve been catching up since. I probably would have overlooked Coraline except that the film is coming out soon (it’s already out in the UK) and I like to read the book first.

Coraline has just moved into a new flat with her parents. An only child, she gets lonely when she feels her parents are ignoring her and finds little entertainment with the eccentric actresses from downstairs, or the man with the mouse circus from upstairs. One day she finds a door that appears not to go anywhere, but in fact leads to a much larger-than-life replica of her home, and her Other Mother really wants her to stay…

I got the impression at the beginning of the book that it took a while to get into the swing of it; it was quite abrupt initially. It didn’t take long to start flowing much more smoothly though. It’s not violent or gory but it is creepy and, just when it seems to have wrapped up nicely, it gets even creepier. I’d have been terrified as a child (though I was a particularly wussy child), and was slightly freaked out as an adult to be honest (so nothing much changed really).

This is a great book for older children, you’d probably have to be either  big Neil Gaiman fan or a fan of children’s books to get on with it as an adult, unlike The Graveyard Book which I think is aimed at slightly older children and is less of a change of style for adults. As a fan of both Gaiman and well written children’s books, however, I recommend it. Unless you’re on your own in an otherwise dark house, in which case I’d wait until morning.

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

This is the first book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, a series about Nathaniel,a young magician’s apprentice, and the djinni (Bartimaeus) he summons, initially for a spot of personal vengeance and then, in the way of these things, to try to sort things out when he ends up way out of his depth.

This book will definitely appeal to Harry Potter fans but has a very different tone; darker and with more humour. The point of view switches between Nathaniel and Bartimaeus, and the djinni’s chapters definitely stand out. He’s self-serving, sarcastic and the footnotes cracked me up. His chapters reminded me a lot of the Discworld books. Nathaniel’s chapters aren’t narrated by him but do move the story along and are often where the action is. There’s magic, demons, really bad guys and a huge adventure.

Recommended, especially if you need a giggle.

Tithe by Holly Black

Tithe is another young adult book and again is about a teenage girl who can see faeries. I suspect the recommendations for this and Wicked Lovely probably came from the same place.

Sixteen year-old Kaye has spent her life moving from town to town with her mother’s band. When her mother is attached by her boyfriend they return to Kaye’s childhood home to live with her grandmother, a place were Kaye used to see faeries. She finds herself drawn back into their world and, as with Wicked Lovely, we see that the faerie world isn’t all (or even mostly) sweetness and light.

Though there are obvious similarities with Wicked Lovely the tone is quite different, and Kaye’s story is very different from Aislinn’s. Many elements of Kaye’s real life are as seedy as the faerie world, it’s quite gritty in comparison to Aislinn’s and I’m clearly become very shockable in my old age as I was surprised to read of a sixteen year-old smoking (quite why I don’t know, apparently you really do forget what being a teenager is actually like. This is probably a good thing). She is drawn to the faerie world rather than resisting, being a more willing participant in her adventures, although she does get more than she bargained for.

For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as Wicked Lovely – I warmed to the characters in the latter a lot more and felt like I knew them better by the end of it. However it’s still a very good book – I enjoyed it a lot and will be seeking out the sequel.

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr

Again this was one of those “if you liked x, you may also like” type recommendations, I can’t remember where it came from but was probably based on some of the urban fantasy stuff I’ve been reading.

This is another book I really enjoyed. I was immediately drawn in by the blurb (well, that’s what it’s for, but this particularly grabbed me) describing the three rules Aislinn, our heroine, has been taught to live by:

Rule 3: Never stare at invisible faeries.

Rule 2: Never speak to invisible faeries.

Rule 1: Don’t ever attract their attention.

Aislinn has always been able to see faeries but has carefully built up the ability to pretend she can’t, because she knows how dangerous they are. Unfortunately she does unwittingly attract the attention of Keenan, the Summer King, and once she does there’s no going back really.

The faeries in this world aren’t the happy fluffy tree dwelling type at all and that’s one thing I really liked about the book. Aislinn is great, her relationship with Seth is really well described and you do end up rooting for them. The faerie world is great, creepy but in a way that makes you want to learn more about it.

The book is young adult fiction and there are a couple of places – but only very minor points, where that shows. Towards the beginning the exact track that Aislinn chooses is mentioned which jarred a bit, it’s a really minor thing and I’m not sure why it stood out so much but it did. Aislinn’s concerns about her virginity stuck out too, although again I’m not sure why, probably because I’m much older! But they’re realistic concerns for a girl of her age. However I wouldn’t let the fact that it’s a YA book put you off – it’s really well written, a good story and gets pretty dark in places. I was initially surprised at the age recommendation on the back (13+) but I ended up thinking even 13 might be a little bit young (it’s a long time since I was 13 though).

I’ll probably be picking the sequel up over the weekend, and am now following the author on Twitter, so definitely hooked!

Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

I can’t remember where I got the recommendation for this from, but it popped up on the basis of me liking the Sookie Stackhouse books.

Elena is a journalist living in Toronto with her boyfriend Philip, living a reasonably normal life. At least, as normal as you can when you’re the only female werewolf and somehow have to balance that with city life, a job, a relationship etc. Elena left The Pack, rebelling against the whole werewolf thing, but they need her help and summon her back.

I really enjoyed this book, possibly even more than Sookie Stackhouse. It’s a bit darker than that series and Dead Witch Walking, and somehow I warmed to this more than Dead Witch Walking although I can’t really put my finger on why. Elena was great, similar personality traits to Sookie and Rachel Morgan (the aforementioned witch) but equally she has her flaws, so you don’t always approve of what she’s doing. Her relationship with Clay does a great job of holding your interest without getting too sappy, and the central plot is definitely gripping. I did get slightly frustrated waiting for Elena to come to the fairly obvious conclusion about what she’s really looking for out of life, but that had to wait until the end of the book really and, intelligent though she is, she’s also really stubborn, so that delay isn’t particularly unbelievable.

I recommend giving this a go.

Conjugal Rites by Paul Magrs

I’ve been waiting for this to come out in paperback for ages, and I rushed out to buy it at the first available opportunity, which was yesterday, and finished it today. It was definitely worth it.

Conjugal Rites is the third in a series of books starring Brenda and Effie, two formidable old ladies who live in Whitby and find themselves drawn into solving mysteries, usually involving supernatural goings on. Throughout the books you learn more about Brenda’s mysterious past along with the mysteries, and get to watch Brenda and Effie’s friendships develop, and there’s a lot of humour alongside the supernatural stuff.

The three books are very different. The first does have a story running through it, but each chapter is also a mystery in its own right. I often describe it as being structured a little like the Treehouse of Horror episodes of The Simpsons. It sounds disjointed but actually works very well to introduce Brenda, drop some hints about her and prove that Whitby really does attract some odd things. Books 2 and 3 revolve much more about one central story, with 2 delving much more into Brenda’s history and 3 more on her future.

This book has been my favourite with 2, although very good, probably the weakest in the series. There is the return of some familiar love-to-hate characters, some old friends and one long-awaited appearance. I can’t go into too much detail without giving a lot away but it’s a brilliant adventure and Whitby is the perfect setting, with Brenda (especially) and Effie being some of my favourite characted ever. I can’t wait for the next one (but I’ll have to).

Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

This is the third book in the Temeraire series, and probably my least favourite so far. It’s still very good, though, and I still recommend the series.

No sooner has their adventure in China finished when Laurence and Temeraire receive orders to go to Istanbul and carry three dragon eggs, one of which is fairly close to hatching, back to England. Needless to say this doesn’t go entirely smoothly, and they spend a lot of time caught up in the Prussian conflict against Napoleon which, again, isn’t all that successful.

This book is a bit more disjointed than the others, and there’s a point where I really dislike Laurence. I’d more or less forgiven him by the end though. I still love Temeraire, and there’s one intriguing new character I think might crop up again and one delightful one. It gives a new perspective on the war in comparison to the first book, one that gives a growing sense of frustration and hopelessness, which is interesting.

Another very good read, although I’m holding off on book 4 because a) I have a huge pile of library books to get through, and b) I don’t want to run out of Temeraire books too soon.

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

This is the second book in the Temeraire series, set in an alternative version of the Napoleonic War in which England has an Air Corps consisting of fighting dragons. Temeraire is one such dragon, and the one I completely fell in love with in the first book. Thank to the author I’m genuinely quite upset that dragons don’t really exist and I can’t ever have one 😉

I loved this book almost as much as the first. I say ‘almost’ not because it isn’t as good but because I was so excited at discovering a new series I knew I’d love when I read Temeraire, and as much as I loved this one it was less of a surprise if that makes sense. So no fault of the author’s there, the book is still fabulous and Temeraire is just as awesome. Possibly more so, because he can now speak three languages. There were also a few very minor editing quibbles I had which jarred a bit because I really can’t fault the rest of it. These are so minor, however, that it would be churlish to focus on them.

On to the good stuff: in this installment Temeraire and Captain Laurence must travel to China. China is not at all happy that a Celestial is in active service, as they are only intended to have royal companions, and demand his return. Neither Temeraire nor Laurence are at all happy with this and the journey is made in the hope that they won’t be separated. It’s a long and arduous journey, too far to fly and so made on an enormous dragon-transporting ship. The journey makes up most of the book, and just when you think it’s nearly over there’s the stay in China itself.

There’s so much packed into this book that again I had real problems putting it down. There are sea battles, sumptuous blankets, conspiracies, assassination attempts, gorgeous descriptions of China, meeting Temeraire’s family and an emperor, ghostly goings on, Christmas, Chinese New Year, a bit of not-so-friendly rivalry, a quite nasty skirmish on land and Temeraire’s growing realisation that, actually, his treatment in England isn’t all that great. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny  in places, and again managed to make me shed a tear (although admittedly I am soft beyond belief).

I definitely recommend this series and will be rushing out for the next one as soon as I can. Only being in a hotel in the middle of nowhere for the last few days has delayed me.

Knife by R J Anderson

This caught my eye about a week before I bought it on account of its shiny cover (I’ve been compared to a magpie on several occasions). Not only was it shiny, but the shiny was different colours when you held it up to the light at different angles. Book sold.

It’s the story of a fairy (of the occasionally prickly, too curious for her own good variety) in  a dwindling group living in The Oak. They no longer have much magic and, with the exception of a select few, are banned from leaving The Oak due to the dangers lurking outside, with humans among the greatest of these. She is curious about the outside world, and particularly the people – to describe it any further would be giving the plot away so I won’t.

It is very obviously a kids’ book, and is therefore a fairly simple and short read. The characters and story do have depth to them but it wasn’t as satisfying as an adult book would be in some ways. That said it was an enjoyable read, was always going to suffer a bit from being read directly after Temeraire but I liked the characters and the story, while a bit predictable in some places, kept me wanting to read more.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

I fell utterly in love with this book and will definitely be buying the rest of the series.

I’ve been looking at the series in the fantasy section for a while; it’s not a genre I’m hugely familiar with so, despite being attracted to the cover art (the basis for an alarming number of my book choices) I hadn’t bought it but decided to go for it, and I’m really bad I did.

The book is set during the Napoleonic War in an alternate version of history in which, along with the usual armed forces, there is also the Air Corps which uses dragons. They dragons are intelligent to varying degrees and can talk. There is no magic or other fantasy in the book so it all fits very well and you could almost imagine that dragons really did exist. It starts with a Navy captain taking possession of a French ship along with its cargo which happens to be a dragon egg. With dismay the crew realise it’s about to hatch – dismay because dragons will only imprint on one person who then has to remain as their handler, a role that pretty much giving up any life outside the force and is generally met with disdain by the rest of society. When the dragon hatches it imprints on the Captain (who names it Temeraire), and this first book in the series mostly tells the story of Laurence and Temeraire adjusting to their new lives.

I grinned almost the whole time I was reading, apart from one section that made me cry, and I defy anyone to get through the book without wishing for a talking dragon. I’m giving it 5 out of 5 despite the fact that it doesn’t have the same depth as, say, This Thing of Darkness. It’s a reasonably short and easy read but hugely enjoyable.

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