Tuesday, 2 August 2016

We Hide Behind; or, Aralorn: Masques

It has, in truth, been so long since I updated, that you could easily be forgiven for thinking that I had given up reading all together and you'd only be part wrong. I seem to have entered one of those stages in life where I never seem to have time to do anything and yet never actually get anything done either.

That said, my reading efforts have been slightly more fruitful since I last posted as, surprisingly, I am now reading my third novel hence (and am trying to make headway on the never ending 'to read' list). Of the two books I have completed, one is The Curse of the Gloamglozer, the (chronologically) first in my all-time favourite children's fantasy series, The Edge Chronicles. It's a re-read, as they are currently releasing new books in the series (after saying six-seven years ago that they had finished the series with The Immortals. I figured that, as I only owned the middle trilogy, it was high time I purchased the complete series and set myself up for being up to date with Doombringer.

That also links with the novel I'm currently reading; The Winter Knights, which, you won't be surprised to hear, is the (chronologically) second in the series. I do need to buy a new copy of the third book (Clash of the Sky Galleons) as, despite being described as 'in very good condition', even I don't love books enough to read or keep one teaming with mould.

As much as I love The Edge Chronicles and someday intend to write a post either as the series as a whole or on each trilogy, this post is actually about a different novel. About five years ago (or 1 BD; 'before degrees') I was in Waterstones and, as always, was tempted by the 'buy one get one half price'. I had gone in with the intention of picking up Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies, and figured, you know, books. So I ended up with a copy of a book I had never heard of, by an author I had never heard of (Patricia Briggs), with an attractive, if not inspiring, cover and the name Aralorn emblazoned across it. I was actually buying the two books version, containing Masques and Wolfsbane (so it felt a little like getting two books for one quarter price). Apparently, these are to two novels in the Aralorn series (would never have guessed from the title), although Wolfsbane is also the third novel in the Sianim series (I believe the Sianim series, while set in the same world, follows a different cast). Masques was actually the first novel Briggs ever wrote but, as seems to be common amongst authors, was not the first published, hence this sort of semi-broken series numbering. When Masques was eventually published, after the success of Wolfsbane, they were eventually published together.

So far I have only read Masques. My initial impression of the book is that it is glaringly obvious it is a first novel; that said, it is still significantly better written and more entertaining than a lot of 'bestselling' tripe that's pushed out on the shelves. I have read little more than the first page of Wolfsbane and already the superiority in tone and structure is apparent. On that front, I do look forward to reading the sequel.

Masques is the tale of spy and mercenary Aralorn who is mixed up in a sort of political intrigue. That is, the ae'Magi, the world's most powerful (both magically and socially) mage who, to the world, appears infallible and greater than good, deposes Myr, the King of a neighbouring country by framing him for murder. Of course, good-guy Mage, who reluctantly takes the throne from a man 'besotted by grief' (within the first few chapters Myr's parents meet an untimely end that is not at all suspicious) who, in his madness, has become dangerous, is, himself, the ultimate evil. Although we know he is the enemy from the beginning, the extent of his perverse nature and cruelty is unravelled throughout the narrative. Myr ends up on the run and is assisted by the oh so mysterious Wolf, who also happens to be Aralorn's travelling companion. Wolf is another super mage, although, like Myr, has been driven out of society, so lives on the edge, in the shadows. Wolf is also a shapeshifter and, as his namesake might give away, spends a lot of his time wandering around a wolf, which is most intriguing as 'human' mages cannot shapeshift. This is opposed to 'green' mages, whose primary magical ability is their shapeshifting. Aralorn also happens to be a green mage; this is what makes her such a good spy, as she often takes the form of a mouse when gathering information. So we have Myr, Wolf and Aralorn, who spend the book saving innocents, hiding from the ae'Magi and plotting a way in which to bring him down.

As I said, the amateur style to the novel does not make it unenjoyable. As a light, easy read set in a rather rich fantasy setting is actually refreshing. It's no Lord of the Rings, but it is not trying to be. I actually enjoyed having something that wasn't too taxing without being 'kiddy' or tacky and cheap (I'm looking at you, shelf of bit-rate thrillers!). If I had to describe Masques in one word, it would probably be 'fun'.

That is not to say that Masques is without its flaws. As I said, it is a first novel, so it lacks finesse and polish. One of my main gripes was that I did not feel that the prose was particularly fluid. Things just happened, they happened to progress the plot and there wasn't a huge amount linking them. Despite not being overly short, the whole novel was lacking somewhat in description. The plot itself was also a little wobbly and not, perhaps, as refined as it could have been. The intrigue and mystery that the back cover had promising was also about as surprising and shocking as The Beano; quite frankly, I saw plot points coming a mile off.

This brings me to the characters. Outside of Aralorn, Wolf, Myr and the ae'Magi, everyone else is just filler; even then, Myr gets very little page time (which makes me sad, as I am definitely a fan of Myr). Aralorn is actually rather well written; I say this with the air of surprise because, frankly, I find it rare to find well written female characters in fiction. She is neither the wet, damsel in distress stereotype nor the infuriating 'strong and wilful, needs no man (except the love interest)' character (the kind of character that authors mistake for good writing because they have a 'strong' female lead; in reality, a well written female character is one who just has a Goddamned character, even more so if that is regardless of her gender). Pfft. You have probably seen my rant about this before (I know I did when reviewed The Queen of the Tearling). Aralorn never takes anything too seriously and enjoys telling tales. Her strength (both physical and mental) comes from years of training to be a mercenary; that said, she is aware of her weaknesses. Her background is a little cliché and the novel could have done without it, but it is mentioned but a handful of times and plays no major role in the events of Masques.

Wolf is more disappointing. Wolf is every fantasy anti-hero. He hides his identity behind swathes of dark clothing, masks and a pseudonym, cold and menacing, strikes fear into all (except, of course, Aralorn), the mysterious loner; all this to ward off anyone who might ever be considered a friend, to protect his vulnerability caused by a tragic and violent past.

Sorry, Wolf, I know you have your fans, but you do not have one here.

Much of the book centres around the relationship between Aralorn and Wolf; although it's a fantasy, it's kind of a romance too. I'm not a huge fan of romance in my novels, but this was far from the worst; the novel is wonderfully absent of long descriptions of quickening heartbeats, longing gazes or tentative intimacy. Honestly, I have mixed feelings regarding the romance between Aralorn and Wolf. It works, it makes sense and as a couple, they just seem content rather than lovesick or infatuated. Their love is based of mutual companionship rather than lust. That said, some of the romantic interactions are just odd. Wolf grabbing Aralorn and kissing her while monsters try and break into the cave, before he stalks off; I'm not even sure they had made each other aware of their attraction by this point. Although the relationship was perfectly believable and quite tender, the interactions seemed rather forced and clunky; it was a peculiar mix and quite jarring to read.

I also rather enjoyed Briggs' description of how magic works in the world. The setting seems interesting, if not wholly original, from the few glimpses of background she gives, and there are some hints at intriguing history. I would like to know more about the world that Aralorn lives; this is something I found a little lacking in the book.

Overall, I enjoyed Masques and would recommend it to anyone who is already a fan of Briggs' work or wants to indulge in some light hearted, easy reading fantasy. It would be interesting to see how this book would have turned out have Briggs written it now, but, as I doubt we'll ever see that, I shall just have to look forward to the sequel. From this book alone, I can tell that Briggs had potential; clearly, she did, as evidenced by the novels she wrote hence. Masques is definitely worth checking out as it provides a certain amount of mindless enjoyment, even if Wolf does make me occasionally sigh in disappointment.

This book in facts and figures;
My rating: 6/10
Pages: -
My Format: Paperback
Published: 2012
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group Ltd.
ISBN: 0356501647

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Invasion and Invective; or The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, Book Two)

 I feel a little like I've wandered into an abandoned library. Bit dusty here, this old blog, isn't it? As always, apologies for not updating more often but I've barely been reading. Somehow, although I finished The Queen of the Tearling in very little time, it has taken me literally months to finish the sequel. In my defence, after a brief glance at my previous post, since then I've become significantly less employed, quit that job and taken up another one.

Full time work will suck up any reading time, alas. I've also been mostly maintaining my tea blog, so feel free to head over and have a read if you haven't already.

So, as I said. The sequel to The Queen of the Tearling, the second in the trilogy, The Invasion of the Tearling. It is not a book that deserved to be read over several months and one where my enjoyment certainly suffered a little because of it. That's not to say that I did not find pleasure in reading the book, but it is true to say I did not find as much as I had with its predecessor.

The Invasion sought to answer some of the questions about the world and the history that were set out in The Queen but somehow created as many new questions as it answered. The way that Johansen chose to narrate the history was through a sort of time travel where our heroine Kelsea finds herself transported back in time and into the life of Lucy, a 'pre-Crossing' housewife-turned-rebel. This particular narrative style wasn't inherently problematic and, perhaps when Johansen has more writing experience she'll write it more fluidly, but ultimately is felt a little muddled and incoherent. I didn't like jumping from a pending invasion of the Red Queen into the Tearling, to a fairly slow paced tale set in futuristic America. It didn't help that I happened to find Lucy rather two-dimension, dull and with little discerning character outside of 'storyline fodder'. The world seemed to move around her and she could have been anyone. Lucy was not the heroine who I wanted to lead this novel. I felt her entire arc was confused (although this may have been, in part, due to me not sitting down and reading the book in one sitting) and somehow lacked the spark that I had loved so much with The Queen.

Spoiler warning ahead; skip the next paragraph and two sentences if you don't want to read it.

Another thing I particularly disliked about Lucy's arc is, despite how well written Kelsea was and how (as I have said in previous posts) her gender is not defining, I found Lucy's gender was. Lucy is abused by her husband from the minute she appears on the pages and right through to the end. It starts off as physical abuse and ends up with her being raped more than once. The scenes are, fortunately, not graphic, but somehow still came across as distasteful. For me it felt, rather than a poignant narrative on domestic abuse and surviving, like 'this female needs trauma to run from' and 'how best to show the world has gone to shit and how barbaric society has become'. I have no issue with reading about domestic abuse or rape within books (however distressing it may) but the overwhelming majority treat both of them so trivially and as a convenient plot point rather than the serious cultural and societal problem they are. To be fair, there is only one book that I can think of where the rape scene was pivotal and removing it would have lessened the story, and that is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. Every other book, removing the domestic abuse or rape would not weaken the prose, or make the plot confusing and muddled. Furthermore, with the exception of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, every book I have read that deals with domestic abuse or rape, has it done towards wet and useless characters who need 'saving', as if strong women (and men) can't be victims, which is simply not true. Abuse is far more complex than simply targeting 'weak' people.

(Help, my Criminology degree is showing.)

Long story short, I feel that there are better ways that Johansen could have demonstrated the points she was trying to make about how her world's society had descended into barbarianism in the guise of civilisation.

Spoiler over.

One thing I did enjoy was getting to learn a bit more about some of the minor characters. We learn more about Lazarus, the Dark One (who is briefly introduced in The Queen) and the Red Queen is portrayed as far more human (however cruel and tyrannical) rather than just a powerful and inevitable enemy, than just 'the impending evil'. I found myself not so much sympathising with the Red Queen, but understanding how she came to be as callous, as broken, as she is. The sides still are fairly black and white (Kelsea and the Tearling are the good, while the Red Queen from Mortmense is the bad), but it has, perhaps, made the shades a little more grey.

The one character who did develop, who became an unlikely hero, who fought for justice and found their strength despite their weakness (in stark contrast to Lucy, who seemed lost) was Father Thomas. His actions took me by surprise; his refutation of everything he lived by, believed in, for what his guts told him, for what he felt was right. I never thought the ageing (and later crippled) man of God would become my favourite, but he has. His arc also leaves on a cliffhanger, and, without a doubt, it is his story I anticipate most eagerly. Father Thomas' actions will change the future of the Tearling.

While on the subject of characters who develop, Kelsea's character went through a significant change and not all of it welcome (although it made sense in the context of the novel).She becomes far more angsty in this novel, although it's not unwarranted; being a teenager is difficult at the best of times, let alone when you're fighting wars as well as hormones. Although Kelsea has been stubborn and belligerent from the start, she has always been just; however, this book sees her become brutal and sadistic. I think this dramatic change in personality is supposed to reflect the growing power of the sapphires she owns, to blur the line between just who is controlling what. Likewise, we see Kelsea transform from plain to stunning, which I have seen criticised in other reviews (being that women are worth nothing unless they are beautiful and Kelsea's change reinforces this idea). However, although I'd rather have a plain lead that one who makes all the men swoon for the sake of realism if nothing else, I see that this change is more of a visual narrative for corruption. Kelsea's sapphires are powerful and she thinks she controls them. Kelsea's sapphires can do anything, including making her wishes come true (and, let's face it, who hasn't at some point wished they were taller/shorter, thinner, that their eyes were wider, their nose narrower and so on?) Ultimately, Kelsea is a vulnerable young woman who is suffering the angsts and agonies of being that age on top of everything else. When she looks in the mirror (as with most teenagers) she's not happy with what she sees; the sapphires can change this, 'fix' it even. Rather than seeing it as a convenient way of making Kelsea attractive, I see it more as showing her weakness and that her allure is linked to her power and, more importantly it's corruption of her. The more attractive Kelsea becomes, so she becomes crueler. The sapphires grant Kelsea her hearts desires, but at a price. It'll be interesting to see if her beauty lasts or, assuming she gains better control of the sapphires and more confidence in herself, if it fades back to who she really is. Potentially, it is a clever allegory.

There's also the case of Kelsea's developing relationship with Pen; I normally find romance tedious in novels (especially when they're not the main focus) but this was a little different. Their relationship is complicated and one in which Kelsea holds all the cards, and not just because she is Queen. Kelsea has physical needs (again, she's a young woman, conflicted by her body and her desires as much as anything external) and she finds Pen to be the perfect partner; however, this isn't mutual. Pen needs more from Kelsea. It leads to some interesting dynamics throughout the novel; Kelsea at times feels guilt for how she is treating Pen and Pen's actions start to become motivated by feelings rather than duty. It's a refreshing change from 'forbidden, hidden romances' where everyone is so wonderfully love, despite the trauma it inevitable creates. I don't think this relationship is going to end 'happily ever after' either; I can't see Kelsea falling in love with Pen. Kelsea is still hung up on the mysterious Fetch (who has a much lesser role in this novel than the previous one); not that I think that that is where Kelsea's final love lies. To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised if the Fetch, whose identity we are teased with but remains shrouded, turns out to be Kelsea's father (we still do not know who he is, just that many feel Kelsea would be better off knowing; I can't help but feel it's going to be someone she really wished it was not).

I have a few other quibbles with the story telling, particularly around the magic. Magic plays a much larger role in The Invasion, which is by no means a bad thing. However, the descriptions of the use of magic are confusing. Kelsea develops the power (which the Red Queen already possesses) to manipulate people's bodies against their will, usually in a violent way. However, it can get a bit murky sometimes as to what is being physically or magically manipulated. I feel that the use of magic could have been more eloquently and clearly written, but the magic itself is interesting. Kelsea's power also seems to grow at an exponential rate, rather conveniently for the plot. She goes from having a little magic in the first book, which culminates explosively and uncontrollably, to refined and forceful, with devastating potential. It is understandable that Kelsea's power will grow as the story progresses, but the time frame across the two books isn't very long at all; it's as if one minute she's struggling to control herself and the next she's the most powerful magic user in the world. It's odd, feels forced and, as previously mentioned, convenient.

Overall, this is not a bad sequel. Despite my criticisms, I still enjoyed the book and I do think Johansen has a wonderful way with words and is certainly spinning an interesting tale here. I feel I still have a lot of questions and that I am less satisfied with the conclusion to The Invasion than The Queen. Still, I am eager for the third book, assuming it final answers all my queries. I'm hoping the third book is in a more similar vein to the first than the second. Still, middle books in trilogies often seem the weakest to me, so I am not holding much against The Invasion. All in all, if you appreciated the first novel, you'll enjoy this one too. It's worth a read, if a little less polished than its predecessor.

This book in facts and figures;
My rating: 7/10
Pages: 528
My Format: Hardback
Published: 2015
Author: Erika Johansen
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780062290397

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Vivat Regina; Or The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling, Book One)

I am now officially a full time voluntary freelance reader. That's a much better way of saying unemployed, right? But it's true. Between searching for work my days are mostly delegated to any combination of reading, knitting, Netflix and Dutch, all accompanied by my obligatory cup of one of my one thousand different teas. I'm totally rocking the Assam Tippy Orthodox right now, which I only found again recently (I knew I hadn't drunk it all!)

Anyway, books. Books and tea. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I was bought The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen and its newly released sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling, as a birthday present. Although it took me a little while to actually get around to read the first book, once I started I found it very difficult to put down.

Wow. It's been a while since I truly thoroughly enjoyed an adult novel (as opposed to a novella, such as Winter's Bone, or children's books, such as Goth Girl or The Card Game series) like this. Mind you, I think my MSc devouring my leisure time like some sort of Apocalyptic hell spawn hasn't particularly given me chance to find, let alone read, thoroughly immersive fantasy books. According to Goodreads the last time I read a high fantasy novel, which was the Guild Wars 2 tie in, Edge of Destiny, was nearly two years ago to the day. That predates this blog by nearly a year (also, in case your maths isn't top notch, that means that I've been running this blog, albeit it with intermittent updates, for just over a year now. Awesome!)

No wonder I feel so utterly deprived of the fantastical imaginings of another mind.

So how does The Queen of the Tearling fare as my much needed reintroduction to the fantasy genre? Brilliantly, actually. I've read a few other reviews about it and it seems that this book is well and truly Marmite; you either love it or you hate it. One of the reoccurring gripes seemed to be with the setting.

You see, the world of the Tearling isn't exactly clear cut 'Medieval', D&D, Frodo-and-Sam-went-to-Mount-Doom type fantasy. At first glance it appears to be, but then there will be hints to things that suggest otherwise. By the end of the novel it is quite clear that this isn't 'fantasy' per se (although it still very much reads like it), but actually post-disaster Earth. It's a science fiction masquerading as something from Westeros or Middle Earth. Personally? I like it; it gives that same similar feeling of any well written, technologically deprived fantasy setting, while adding something different. I say 'different'; both The Arthurian Trilogy and The Demon Saga have similar 'we are the future, and the future is bleak' settings. I suppose it is what it is. For the most part, this novel shrouds the setting in mystery; we are given brief insights into how this came about, but nothing is, yet, explicitly explained. This does seem to be a common complaint of the book; people feel that the story can't quite make up it's mind and does a terrible job at 'world building' by never explaining anything in full. The way I see it is that the 'how' is meant to be a reveal (much like the two aforementioned series, where their futuristic setting is not even apparent until after the first book). The 'how' isn't wholly necessary to the events right here and now (?), and a long winded history lesson may very well detract. That said, if the setting isn't sufficiently explained by the time the series comes to a close, well. Then I might join the ranks of the disgruntled, as I feel that the way it has been hinted at, barely described, but still made overt, means that this setting seriously needs an explanation at some point. I think any 'after the end of the world' stories do.

Oh, possible slight spoiler ahead, but. So far all I really know is that there was a 'Crossing', presumably from the Americas (to where they now reside in the landmass that was Europe). Unfortunately during this time there was a accident, involving a white ship. This ship had all the doctors, nurses, technology and so forth, which explains why they lack proper medical care and much 'modern' technology by the time the events of the book unfold. Now, I do not know if this is deliberate, but the idea of there being a disaster involving a white ship that would result in the changing of history forever...? If this sinking results in, I don't know, some sort of 'anarchy' that broke up the settlements of 'Europe', then that's some clever foreshadowing. Even if it doesn't spark war, then the fact it's such a game changer in terms of how things were run after... Yeah, maybe it's accidental, but a White Ship Disaster? It made me smile.

Other than the enigmatic setting, there’s a host of deeply flawed characters. We have Kelsea, the titular Queen of the Tearling, plain (this is trait rather over mentioned) but fierce and determined. She’s certainly an interesting character and definitely a step away from both the wet and pathetic damsel in distress stereotype as well as the highly irksome so called ‘strong independent’ female lead who is ultimately neither and deserving of a good slap (‘strong’ does not equate arrogance, nor imperviousness to everything except the quickening of her heart around the love interest. No, that’s just shambolic writing). She’s stubborn and allows her political actions to be influenced far more by her morals than logic. Thing is, you know this will either make her a phenomenal queen or… An incredibly poor one. While I enjoy the character of Kelsea (for despite her determination, she stills shows weakness and acts like a human), I do think a shrewdly tactical monarch, who is playing the long game not only entertaining to read, but in many ways more clever. But then, that’s a monarch for a different story and not the one this is telling. (Fair warning spoiler; just like Joyse in Mordant’s Need.) Still, I find Kelsea interesting and a breath of fresh air in terms of being a genuinely well written lead whose character traits do not wholly rely on her gender.

Apparently, it’s been confirmed that the Tearling has got film rights, with Emma Watson being cast as Kelsea. As much as I admire Watson as a person, and cannot fault her acting ability, she’s just wrong for the part. I can’t really explain it, but in many ways Kelsea seems the antithesis of Watson. I don’t know; read the book, you’ll understand then.

Then there is her Queen’s Guard, all of whom were sworn to the previous queen (Kelsea’s mother); at first suspicious of the young princess who they’re not even convinced will survive the journey to her throne, but as the story progresses, so does their loyalty. At the head of the Queen’s Guard we have Mace, or Lazarus, who’s basically the tankiest tank that ever tanked. I feel like he’s Doomguy meets Altaïr meets Rytlock Brimstone. For those of you who don’t game, it just means he’s fucking dangerous and terrifying. He effectively removes his emotions from the situation and does what needs to be done and he does it well. This is not the kind of bastard you mess with.

I really like Lazarus for all of his dark, pissy brooding. I think that it probably doesn’t help that I was reading the Battle Royale manga before this novel and my mind has sort of superimposed Shogo Kawada in his place (to be fair, they are somewhat similar in characterisation); I’m a little bit in love with Shogo. I can’t explain it, but then, if you’ve seen the film or read the book, you’ll realise there is nothing to explain. I mean, it’s Goddamned Shogo. By the end of the book I was imagining Lazarus as a visually distinct character, but my daft brain picking up other characters may have inadvertently made me fonder of this guy than I might have been. Whatever, Lazarus is awesome!

A few other characters are introduced, but their parts are brief or small in this instalment. We have further mystery with the Fetch and complicating the political climate with Father Tyler, despite the Queen’s atheism. Despite these roles not being pivotal to the novel, it’s quite clear that we are being set up for something big in the sequels. In fact, most of this novel seems to be setting up for what comes next.

It’s interesting because not a huge amount happens in this book, but what happens is huge. The pacing of the book might be deterring for some but I found it moved well enough. I felt that this wasn’t a book that needed to move swiftly; too quick and we would have lost the significance and impact of many of Kelsea’s actions. It’s not Gormenghast slow, taking its time to describe in painfully elegant detail everything from the characters physiques and psychological processes, to the most insignificant tidbits of information, such as the exact colour of the bricks that build the monotonous and bleak surroundings. No, it’s a different kind of slow, slow in the sense that it makes sure to get its point across, to elaborate on the state of affairs, without dragging things out unnecessarily. I find the pacing ‘little bear’, that is, ‘just right’.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and am eagerly awaiting my start of the second in the series. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who wants something well written and compelling with a tenacious hero. The themes are similar enough to not be daunting as you begin reading, but introducing enough divergence from traditional fantasy storytelling to remain engaging. For a first novel, I’m impressed, and will certainly be looking for more works by Johansen, even once the Tearling series has ended.

This book in facts and figures;
My rating: 8/10
Pages: 434
My Format: Hardback
Published: 2014
Author: Erika Johansen
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780593072691

Monday, 26 October 2015

To Nether Netherlands; Or Alice in Wonderland

Today I am going to review my latest copy of Alice in Wonderland. Yes, I did say latest; it is not my first and I doubt it'll be my last. In case this blog's namesake didn't give it away, I do have a slight penchant for Carroll's two whimsical tales. However, it's not so much the content of these fables that I wish to share (presumably, given the much loved nature of these children's books, you're well versed in their stories; if not, then get out and purchase a copy, quick march).

No, no. I just want to review this particular copy. Why? Why have I now decided to buy a new version of Alice in Wonderland and why do I want to share it? Well, the full title of this particular edition is Alice in Wonderland & Alice in Spiegeland.

Wait, what. That's not right.

You see, that's the Dutch title for Wonderland and Looking Glass; the latter literally translating to 'Alice in Mirrorland'. Now why would I, a British woman, buy a Dutch language version of of my favourite children's book?

The answer is simple. I am learning Dutch and the Alice books are some of the most widely translated. After I found out, and subsequently bought, that Looking Glass had been translated in to Latin a few months ago (a language I began learning while at secondary school; although, unfortunately, I did not keep up my studies so now my comprehension is poor), I came up with the idea of buying a copy of the Alice books in every language I was learning. This was inspired by the fact that when I was learning Latin, our tutor gave us facsimiles of the first chapter of Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis to read and translate. The idea was that it is easier to translate text that you're already familiar with.

And with Alice being both highly translated and well ingrained into my mind, it makes sense to translate non-English editions to improve my language learning.

I've been learning Dutch (self taught) for about six months now; although that has been somewhat sporadic what with my dissertation overwhelming free time over the months of July, August and September. Anyway, my boyfriend and I had booked a holiday away to Amsterdam (his first time to the Netherlands, my third), so I thought it would be nice to continue my multilingual collection with a souvenir. After a little internet searching, I found out that de Spui square is Amsterdam's destination for any and all book related needs; a little more sleuthing told me that the Athenaeum Boekhandel had Dutch language editions of Alice in Wonderland (many of the bookshops sells English language books, which didn't exactly satisfy my needs).

The Athenaeum Boekhandel had three different editions of Dutch langauge Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass. Originally, I was going to go for the smallest copy (a plus, given that we had only taken hand luggage and so I had little space for trinkets), a hardback with the original Tenniel drawings and very much an equal to my other editions... Except, you know, it was in Dutch. It had a pale pink cover with a cute image of a bright eyed white rabbit in a stack of teacups on the dust cover. It was also nearly half the price of the other two editions, both hardback and substantially larger. One edition was shrink wrapped, so I have no idea what it was like inside, but the cover had Tenniel drawings and it proudly announced the 150th anniversary. Which leads us to the copy I did buy.

So what makes this one so special? Well, firstly it deviates away from the traditional Alice images; that is, they're not Tenniel, but distinctly modern. Normally, I'd go for the classic look, given that I already have that in English, it seemed apt to go for something a little different. Visually, it's striking; a black background with orange and green stylised leaves on the cover and a young girl sat at the base. In a font that mimics uncomplicated caps handwriting, it proudly states 'Alice in Wonderland', which is odd, given that the spine clearly declares 'Alice in Wonderland & Alice in Spiegeland'. Unperturbed, I flick through the pages, whereupon I am greeted with modest illustrations in a minimalistic palette. Some images spill background colour across the page, taking up more space than the text, while others are little more than an entry in the corner. The text, too, joins in the fun, with each verse of poetry being printed in bold tones.

As I flick further through the book, something changes. Suddenly, each page is upside down. After a moments pause, I close the book and flip it over; the back cover, where you would normally expect to see a short description of the novel in your hands, instead mirrors the front. More brightly hued leaves with a girl clambering through them and on a black title plate, it reads 'bnɒlɘǫɘiqƧ ni ɘɔilA'. I'm sure you don't need telling but, if you were to hold that up to a mirror it would read 'Alice in Spiegeland'. This book's way of presenting the second Alice story is a little (excuse the pun) novel and fits the quaint, nonsensical prose within. It is here that I noticed all poetry is highlighted in green, while Wonderland paints its text a vivid orange; the stories are colour co-ordinated!

I have yet to read this book; partly because I am still reveling in the whirlwind that is The Queen of the Tearling, and partly because, despite knowing the story, I feel that my Dutch is still a little too limited and that, even with an English copy perched on my other knee, I may struggle. As of such, I cannot really comment on the quality of the translation; I did try looking for The Jabberwocky, but it appears that the translation used here is so vastly different that I could not recognise it. I think I have found it, but without a full read through I cannot be certain. For sure, it appears that this translation sadly does not refer to the Jabberwock as the Krakelwok, the Wauwelwok or the Koeterwaal as I have seen it written in Dutch.

Still, I hope it will not be too long before I take on this challenge; it'll feel like a tremendous accomplishment to be able to fluently read something in a language other than my mother tongue (although the notion is also a little embarassing; native English speakers are notoriously terrible for learning more languages, and I can't help but feel that we sometimes look to them a little in awe (particularly those who are multilingual), when many non-native English speakers are bilingual from childhood). Even if I should give up in my attempts to improve my Dutch (I sincerely hope not), I am pleased to have added this copy of Alice in Wonderland to my collection. Visually, it is just such a delight and, I feel, it is a brilliant visualisation of the whimsy within. It's a nice weight and size, too, even if it is non-standard.

I'm glad that I decided to pay the €25 (~£18 at time of writing) for this edition, rather than opt for a cheaper one. It's not extortionate for a hardback; my leatherbound complete works of Poe cost more. Truly, this edition was worth every cent (although I think the cashier believed I was buying it as a gift, when I asked for it in English in my English accent). If you like Alice and can read Dutch, this edition is definitely worth adding to your collection.

So a few facts and figures regarding this book;
My rating (based on visuals alone): 10/10
Pages: 280
My Format: Hardback
Published: 2014
Translator: Sofia Engelsman
Illustrator: Floor Rieder
Publisher: Gottmer

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Return of the Master

It has been an awfully long time since I frequented this place. I feel like it needs a good dusting off and perhaps hanging out in my non-existent garden for some freshening up (maybe in a virtual garden?)

The lack of posting has not entirely been because of a lack of reading; although, honestly, there has been very little occuring. Since my last post, I've managed to read three novels and one manga volume. Months ago I began, and never finished, a post about Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, which I read on a trip to Guatemala; just prior to my last post. That trip is a story in and of itself. Unfortunately, time has done its merry thing of moving on, and, with so many other things to focus on, I have truly forgotten much of what I wanted to say about it and those that I've read since.

Furthermore, working on my MSc dissertation did more than erase my free time, it destroyed a lot of energy and motivation. After spending hour after hour, day after day, week after week, locked in my office staring deep into the dead glow of the screen, the separation of myself and my academia, I really did not feel much like spending time writing for fun.

But that's all done now. My MSc is officially over, although I am still awaiting the results of my dissertation (do you get the title now? Now I am a 'Master of Science', rather than just a 'Bachelor'). Now, I spend my days trawling job sites, generally being unemployed, poor, drinking copious amounts of tea and realising I can do all those things I wanted to do over summer and couldn't.

So now I can not only freely read but I also feel no disillusion from sitting at a computer for a little while and tapping away at keys, until something coherent materialises on the screen.

Rather than an in depth review of anything in this post, I thought I'd generally update people as to where I am in the realms of novels.

I feel I ought to give a short summary of those fleeting memories of books now gone. Best to start where I left off, before I start with the present, no?

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; I seem to remember this was much more enjoyable than I had expected. It tells the story of Richard, who accidentally falls through our capital city into London Below, a realm with demons and angels, a place stuck neither in the past nor the future, where mysticism runs riot. It felt refreshingly different; it was eccentric and the prose well written. The characters felt real, had dimension and made the story entertaining. I also felt the length was just right; it was short enough to not drag and feel like it was lasting forever, without rushing the pace or failing to explain important plot points in detail. It is a book I would both reread and recommend to anyone who wanted something a little unsual and step away from the cliches and rehashings that litter bookshops. I also read this on Kindle, as it was easier to transport across the Atlantic. On Goodreads I gave this four stars out of five, of a 'I really liked it'.

Dead Run by Erica Spindler; I can't remember a great deal about this, other than it being 'alright for a thriller'. There were themes of occult and Satanism, which other reviews had complained about, but I actually enjoyed as I felt they had been used relatively well in the context of the story. It's a very typical thriller novel set up; Liz (the main female lead) finds her sister missing, presumed dead, so she goes to find her. Cue police being difficult, telling her to go away and generally being all around unhelpful. There's some romance between her and the ex-cop, who is also the only one who'll listen to her, which feels horribly forced and unnatural. They go from being strangers to bed partners (and madly in love, rather than just needed physical comfort) in less than a week, I seem to recall. The police seem wholly inefficient and utterly useless at their jobs until (spoiler) it is revealed they're involved in some conspiracy. This wasn't really much of a twist, but it did make me feel better than the police being complete f*** ups had a reason other than incompetency. I also twigged the killer from the first time we meet them, which is always disappointing with a thriller.

Oh, the characters all had an awful habit of mumbling, even when it was an inappropriate adjective; I swear people were 'mumbling' even when the text suggested yelling. I'd like someone to buy Spindler a thesaurus, pronto, so that characters can have a range of ways of verbally expressing themselves. It was frustrating and made me want to yell at the characters to speak up.

This book was never going to be brilliant, bu then, nor was it the worst thriller I've ever read; it whiled away the time and provided me with something to do when my brain was on the brink of self decimation after too much dissertation. The twists were actually linears, and the characters were predictable and did not feel realistic in many instances. I'm not sure I'd read anything else by Spindler, but as far as throw away, cheap thrillers go? Yeah, I got what I paid for. For what it was, it was entertaining, I enjoyed the occult themes and the setting itself was a nice leap away from the grey monoliths of New York City skyscrapers. It was a good cheap thriller; I didn't expect much from it and, honestly, I delivered. On Goodreads I gave it three out of five stars, which equates to 'I liked it'. I would agree that 6/10 is a fair rating for this novel.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs; if you have never been disappointed in your life, pick up this book. This is the epitome of dissatisfaction. Looking at the cover, flicking through the beautifully designed pages, this book promises. This is a fictious tale interwoven with genuine photographs from lives long since passed. Visually, this book could easily score an 8/10; its dark and gothic and creepy; its wonderfully presented and invokes the questions what and why. Looking at this book you get shivers up your spine; it feels like wandering into a derelict, abandoned house and stumbling across the weird and bizarre. Visually, this book gives me the same sort of fascination I have with my Mutter Museum photographic book, although with less of a focus medical advances. It shares the same sort of wonderful, unnerving curiosity, where you want to delve further, but cover your eyes at the same time.

And then you actually read the text. The prologue starts fantastically with the perfect blend of action and mystery. And then it tails off. Nothing happens for the first two thirds of the book, other than the character repeating the same questions again and again. Then the last third feels more like it should be the middle of a story, rather than the end; resulting in a rather frutrating cliff hanger. Having already wasted precious time on this novel void of any redeemable plot, I'm not sure I want to waste further time on a sequel, when there are other, much better books to be reading. The entire plot can pretty much be summed up as; Jake (the irritating and uninteresting protagonist) can see 'demons' or whatever you want to call them. His family thinks he's nuts and it all results from the death of his secret harbouring gradfather. He eventually convinces his parents to take him to some tiny island off the coast of Wales where he spends chapter after chapter wondering what secrets his grandfather was hiding and wandering through sheep shit. Eventually he finds a house; this house is populated by children with super powers, caught in a time shift. Turns out those 'demons' are trying to eat the 'peculiars', which makes Jake pretty powerful as he's the only one who can see them. Now they must try and defeat them, only that happens in book two, obviously. The ending is also weird and not it a good way; when Jake makes the decision to sod off with the so called 'peculiar children', he tells his dad, who pretty much shrugs his shoulders and goes back to sleep without giving a toss; this guy also had zero feelings when his dad died at the beginning of the book and, along with his wife, was unsympathic to his son's grief?

Jake's parents are terrible; they seem more interested in their own lives than the metal health of or the support of their son. While I understand some parents are like this, unfortunately it was obvious his parents were written this way just so we, the reader, wouldn't feel too guilty about Jake leaving them at the end. His parents are two dimensional, and serve literally no purpose to the plot other than Jake 'needed' some as he was only fifteen (or how ever old). They're not poor parents, they're poorly written.

Then there's the bizarre romance, that's forced and unnecessary. So Jake meets this fire wielding chick who he gets the hots for. Turns out, she's actually his granddad's ex girlfriend (she's still a child because, you know, time loop), but that's okay. She can't have Abe, so she'll just get fiddly with his grandson instead, a relationship which no one ever questions the ethics or morals of at any point. Not only is the romance a little disturbing, it's horribly shoe horned in (as is most of what happens in this book) because, you know, books need romance.

From the cover I expected this to be an adult book; at the very least young adult. Instead, the prose feels more like it is aimed towards children. I was promised peculiar and instead got distinctly average. The photographs that pepper the text, although fascinating, are actually highly detracting. They are also far too often forced; a character is introduced and invented just so a particular photo can be used and, unfortunately, it shows. This mix of pictoral story telling and prose is far from seamless; it's clunky and badly done. The plot is far too simple to need such intriguing images and the images are far too curious to be lumbered with such abysmally normal prose. I feel like I was promised American McGee's Alice and instead got Tween X-Men. It feels a lot like any plot points or characters that Riggs felt were uninteresting, he put zero effort into, just so as to focus on the 'fun' bits, which, unfortunately, makes it awkward and unispiring to read.

I rated this book two of five stars on Goodreads or, 'it was okay'. At the time I thought the book was neither inherently awful nor great, just sort of 'alright'. Since then, however, I think I've grown a resentment towards the book; towards everything it should have been and really, really wasn't. I'd still say the book is worth a 4/10 though. The idea of taking old photographs and intertwining a fantastical tale is certainly interesting, but in this case was horribly and poorly executed.

I also read Malice in Miniature by Margaret Grace; however, as I only finished this a few days ago, my feelings and thoughts are fresh enough that I feel it can warrent its own post (although I'm not sure the novel itself warrents much of anything). There was also Battle Royale Ultimate Edition Volume 1, which was started after I had finished my MSc; however, as I own all five volumes I feel that it would be beneficial to review them as a set. So these are both posts you can anticipate from me in the future.

So where does that leave me now? Well, a month ago (today, even) it was my birthday, which resulted in a few additions to my 'to read' lists. This included a box set of The Legend of Zelda manga by Akira Himekawa (the first ones were actually badly damaged, so we had to send off for a replacement). I read the two Ocarina of Time manga way back before my GCSE's (nearly ten years now), when the only English translations were unofficial by fans. So I have never read them in physical format, nor the official translations. I have also never read any of the eight other books (all recounting the stories from various different The Legend of Zelda games). It will be fun to return to childhood, and I do look forward to spending a free afternoon or two following Link's many adventures.

Another present that was bequeathed upon me were stunning copies of The Queen of the Tearling and it's sequel, The Invasion of the Tearling, from a wonderful friend of mine. Both hardback and a delight to have on my shelf. I know at least two of my friends have read these books and have had nothing but positive things to say, which makes these books highly anticipated. I finally dug into the first novel last night and so far, have not been disappointed. Although I am only one chapter in, I am pleased to be, after many months, once more reading a novel by someone who can string together intricate and compelling sentences. It has been a while since I read anything that truly captured my attention (it was probably Neverwhere, which was way back in April), so hopefully things from here can be nothing but fantastic.

I am very much relieved to no longer be fighting with myself over university commitments and to actually have the time to endulge in some serious reading for leisure, rather than as a distraction. Based on the books in the near future, I think I'm going to have an enjoyable few months ahead and look forward to sharing them with you.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Apt For The Goth Girl; or Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

It has been an inordinately long time since I have updated either blog; that's not for lack of caring. I have not thrown this blogging lark to the winds, another forgotten past time left to fester in times gone by. No. I haven't updated because I have had anything to write about.

Haha, what? According to Goodreads, this time last year I had read nineteen books (hardly an admirable amount, I know, but it was third year of uni; I was busy!). This year? I've managed to read four. Two were Spider-Man comics at some point in March. One I started in April. The other I started last month.

Dear Lord, if I had known that undertaking an MSc would sap every minute of my free time I'm not entirely sure I'd have undertaken it. Until relatively recently I've honestly not had a great deal of time to sit down and do the things I enjoy; sure I've probably had the odd ten minutes here or there where I could probably catch a few pages of a book, but they come so far and few between that I lose track. I mean, I started A Call For Crusade on January 1st and I still haven't finished it (and really can't recall what was happening any more).

But, anyway. A few weeks ago I just sort of... Decided bollocks to my degree. I can waste away my life on it and get brilliant grades or... I can get a reasonable grade and actually continue to do the things I enjoy and not be down right miserable, lonely and frustrated with life. I mean, seriously, is a life without books really one worth living? From experience, I concede that it is not.

That, and my work load is tailing off somewhat. Despite the fact all of my third year friends (oh, to be young once again) are wrapping up their final exams/art pieces/assessments, I'm not going to be done with university until October. However, I have finished all of my modules, meaning only my dissertation is left. Which I have to hang about for a month waiting for it to, uhm, 'progress' by its own, natural biological devices (which should have started at the end of last month but, ah, uni. That is another story.)

Anyway. I went away for two weeks to Guatemala on a field trip; now, as tends to happen when you're the other side of the world, people tend to pine for your company (well, at least one person did), as much as I did theirs. Now, as tends to happen with my boyfriend, being himself, when I returned, he had bought me a 'welcome home' gift. He had intended to buy me a colour copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland; we had been in Waterstones just before I left and they had a display dedicated to 150 years since its publication and I happened to mention that I'd love a fancy copy of my favourite children's classic. Unfortunately, when he went to buy it, he could no longer see it.

Fortunately, my boyfriend had recalled many, many weeks before hand (another trip in Waterstones; I don't know why I visit, given my significant lack of disposable funds; it's akin to the most depraved forms of masochism) I had pointed out a couple of children's books I hoped to buy in the distant future. This was the Goth Girl books by Chris Riddell.

How Ten Year Old Me, Wishes She Dressed
Now, there's two reasons I yearned for these books. One, because Chris Riddell is, without doubt, my all time favourite illustration. I love his work. It is truly beautiful in its (quite often) grotesqueness. It is so intricate and detailed; it doesn't just tell stories, it creates worlds. So any book filled with his wondrous delights is worth owning. In many ways, the prose was largely irrelevant.

Secondly, I adore attractive books. Long ago I gave up pretending that I don't sometimes buy books just to look at, to display like the finest gilt china upon my multitude of bookshelves. This is bibliophilia. I like pretty books, damn it, and I'll collect them if I want! And the Goth Girl books? They are stunning to behold. They are genuinely some of the most gorgeous modern books I have come across in a while. If you're a fan of pretty gothic style books, you need these in your collection.

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a hardback book with an appropriate violet and umbra colour scheme; most of the cover is a matt black with the title and illustrations highlighted with a shiny overlay. The page edges are gilt with metallic amethyst, with an onyx hued ribbon bookmark concealed with in. A pattern of shimmering silver skulls entwined with leaves adorn both the spine and the endpapers. Then, of course, there's the illustrations, which include maps, 'footnotes' (as provided by the amputated foot of a famous poet) and a splash page of a vampire engaged in a duel with a pirate using naught but an umbrella. It's such a delightfully absurd, yet epic, drawing that makes me giggle even more for its near irrelevance to the story (it illustrates one sentence that, had it been omitted, the plot, chapter, dialogue of that page, would still have made sense. I'm glad it was not.) The cover features an image of the titular character, dressed in a way every Victoriana baby bat can only aspire to.

I could go on. Visually, this book really does fill me with joy. Aesthetics alone would get this book an easy 10/10.

It's So Shiny...
But appearance is only part of what makes a good book (and there are many who would argue it has zero value); a good book also requires substance. I was going to say it needed to be stimulating, too, but I'll confess that I've read some brilliant trash in the past, which has had less stimulation than a dead goat. Not everyone can be a Tolkien or a Peake (or a Danielewski).

The story begins with Ada Goth being awoken by the ghost of a mouse. From this (and the title), you expect a spooky romp through this incredulous manor house with our little Goth girl and her new friend, the ghost of the mouse.

Well, names can be misleading. Don't judge a book by it's cover. Ishmael, the titular mouse, is actually barely in the prose. He is such a minor character; which is a little bit of a shame, as it would have been fun to have had more time with the ghosty himself. (It's a bit like the Akira film which, bizarrely, cuts Akira's primary role in the manga to five minutes on screen.) Still, there's a whole host of characters who turn up in the book, many of who are entertaining and quirky enough to make you forget about the mouse who should have been. That said, it does feel that there are quite the number of characters so, with the exception of Ada, none of them are really fleshed out to the extent I would quite have liked. Perhaps the sequel will improve on this, by adding further depth to already established characters.

I do question just who the intended audience for this novel is; certainly, it is written is a style that suggests it is for children (and I know that a younger me would have adored this series). However, there are literary jokes aplenty that I doubt many a youngster would appreciate. Characters such as Mary Shellfish (who steals the story of a naval monster), and even the manor being called Ghastly-Gorm. As a well read person, these sly little references cause more than the odd giggle. It would be tempted to suggest that, much like children's films, these jests have been put in place to appease the adult; however, I feel this book is aimed at children old enough to be reading to themselves, meaning many a quip would go undiscovered. This can only really lead me to conclude that Riddell is firmly aware that, post-Edge, he has quite strong adult fan base (that is, these books are written as much for me as for kids).

The word play and punnery are a delight. The plot, a little lacking in substance. I feel too much time has been spent creating a world and a slew of comical characters, that there's not really much space left for, you know, the story. I feel like the book itself could have been a little longer and dedicated more page time to its literary devices rather than it's flamboyant creations.

Overall, although I did find the prose somewhat lacking in substance, the visuals and the humour made up for it. In truth, I had not entirely expected a great deal (for although I am a dedicate fan of the Edge, I was aware that, being a children's book, it was never going to be as astounding as some of the more adult orientated books I have read; that, and I truly believe that Paul Stewart makes a better author), but all I really wanted was pretty, Riddell art. Which I got, with the added bonus of literary geekery (it felt a little like appraisal; 'your book smarts are rewarded with in jokes'). The book not only lived up to its expectations, it exceeded them wondrously.

Mouse Sized
Oh, and did I mention that the book contains a miniature bonus book, 'written' by Ishmael? It's a tiny little booklet, squirrelled away in a little pocket on the back endpaper. It details, in full rhyme, the adventures of the ghostly mouse, from birth right up until he settles at Ghastly-Gorm. It's cute and, too, made me smile. Once again, it is overflowing with literary references, although this time they are a little more discernible. It reminded me of my (very young) childhood days, reading many a Jolly Postman book.

I have recently acquired the sequel, Goth Girl and the Fête Worse Than Death (and the story of how is adorable in its own right), which I hope to begin in the not too distant future. Hopefully, this second novel will rectify some of the problems of the first; no longer do I need to be introduced to the quirky population of Ghastly-Gorm Hall, nor do I need long explanations of the world they live in. I certainly have high hopes for and excitedly anticipate its reading.

In short, if you are a fan of pretty books, books that are an easy but entertaining read, or jokes that only a book lover will appreciate, then you need Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse in your library yesterday. Oh, and any Edge fan will probably find comfort in the illustrations and writing style, too.

This book in facts and figures;
My rating: 8/10
Pages: 224
My Format: Hardback
Published: 2013

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Dead Man's Hand Again; or The Magic Trick (The Card Game, Book Two)

In December I posted about a wonderful book entitled The Silent Deal that I had read the month before. Two days later I actually started the second book, The Magic Trick and before the year was up I had it finished, devouring the prose like some sort of drug. It was truly addictive.

Unfortunately, that little thing known as 'Christmas' and 'New Year' got in the way of writing a blog and it's now close to a month since I finished the book. I apologise for this, not for this being late per se, but for the simple fact that a review of any media is much fairer when all is fresh in the mind. Since then many things have happened and I worry that this review will not be as complete as it perhaps would have been before Christmas.

When I began The Magic Trick I immediately felt that the style of writing was better than its predecessor. That's not to say The Silent Deal was poorly written; just that things were smoother, the pacing was more fitting and it really felt like Mr Stack was in his stride. This wasn't a cautious nudge into the world of books, this was a charge.

That said, I also felt that they actual content had taken a step back. I don't mean it had gone from an eight to a four, just maybe dropped to a seven. The previous book had been left after such whirlwind events, on the brink of something big, yet the second book began rather tamely. Several months had passed and although we are filled in on the details, the events are rather subdued.

It's still fun. It just feels very much like a 'kids at fantasy school' story (for early on Viktor and select members of the Crossbones Clan are sent to train as apprentices in Staryi Castle, the home of the enemy), à la early Harry Potter, with less wizardry. As I said, it's still entertaining, it's still a pleasure to read, it just feels like the The Silent Deal was the kindling to a great blaze and the The Magic Trick begins as embers.

About a third of the way through, however, things change. Those embers rapidly burn white hot. Things really pick up and I found myself loving the way the story was going. From here, not only writing style but also content supercede the first book. I haven't been so genuinely enthralled by a book in a very long time (I've had books I've enjoyed immensely, but for the first time since about February 2014 it was a book that I did not want to put down. It was a book that rather than reading to procrastinate my workload, I had to read to stop myself being distracted from my workload).

It's genuinely fantastic. There's many more wonderful puns, that make me smile every time I read them. There's still Masqueraiders and cards, but to add to my love of both there is 'traditional' Victorian magic. For those out of the know, as a Magician's Assistant, 'real world' magic is a new passion of mine. So, much like the masquerade masks and use of cards, this book felt like it was written around my hobbies and collections.

There's also a lot more violence; not so much graphic, but what happens is utterly brutal. I am usually fairly unattached to characters; when plethora after plethora of grisly things happen in A Song of Ice and Fire I shrug it off, nonchalant. Okay, so someone else is being horrifically tortured/mauled/killed; ah well! The Magic Trick? Not so much. Two scenes in particular had me reading, absolutely aghast, jaw dropped in shock. It made me squirm.

I mean this in absolutely the best possible way. That's the reaction those scenes are meant to illicit and they're written so marvelously. They shock without being unnecessarily bloody in description; I think, if anything, it's the lack of visceral prose that makes those scenes really stand out. The one critique I will give, however, it when one character is truly brutalised (no spoilers as to who or how), he spends the rest of the book acting as if he has not been physically broken. It's just a little strange, as if these new physical ailments have no effect on his being.

Still, it's a minor issue in an otherwise brilliant read.

Much like The Silent Deal, the questions you are dying to know go unanswered, but it strikes an excellent balance between answering and creating questions, so you don't feel frustrated at the end. Unlike The Silent Deal, there's a lot more action and things are creeping ever closer to an Armageddon. A lot happens in The Magic Trick, including a lot more page time of The Leopard (who is an utterly fantastically evil character) but it's clearly still the beginning. There's a lot more to come and I'm impatient waiting (the third book is not out yet).

I genuinely think Levi Stack had outdone himself here. Just like my last post, I really cannot thank him enough for bringing me such sheer enjoyment in book form. For me it's a perfect blend of flawed characters, in depth story and light entertainment. The Magic Trick is perfect sequel to The Silent Deal and a perfect opening for what is yet to come.

This book in facts and figures;
My rating: 9/10
Pages: 420
My Format: E-book
Published: 2014