Summer Bird Blue – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Genre: Contemporary
Publication year: 2018
Audience: 12+
Content warnings: Character death, loss of a loved one, grief/loss, car accident, abandonment by a parent (temporary), depression and violence.

Synopsis

Following the loss of her sister in a tragic accident, 17-year-old Rumi is sent to Hawaii to live with her aunt. She begins to pick up the pieces of her broken heart and heal, with the help of friends, old and new.

What I liked

  • Writing style
  • Emphasis on friendship and family
  • Diverse representation
  • Deep exploration of grief
  • The questioning sexuality storyline / aromantic and asexual representation

What I disliked

  • Under-developed characters
  • Lack of plot
  • Over emphasis on emotion/grief in places

Plot and Structure

The story follows Rumi as she deals with the loss of her best friend and younger sister, Lea. It’s not a particularly plot heavy book, it’s an intense look at grief and loss, and how we can begin to rebuild ourselves when our world has been completely shattered by the loss of someone that is fundamental to who we are and to our lives. It focuses mostly on Rumi’s emotions and healing process. Despite not having a strong plot, narratively, it was strong and had a clear focus. It felt like Akemi Dawn Bowman knew exactly what she wanted to achieve with this book and that every part of it was intentional.

It opens with the tragedy that sets the scene for the rest of the book. It’s mostly set in the present where Rumi is living in Hawaii with her estranged aunt and follows Rumi as she battles against the grief of losing her sister and her mother’s absence. Alongside that, we see the development of the relationships that she forms in Hawaii and how these people help her to heal. There are also flashbacks scattered throughout of Rumi’s life growing up with her family which help to flesh out Lea and the significance of the sister relationship that is at the heart of the story.

Writing Style

I really liked the writing style. Whilst this is clearly a YA book aimed at a younger audience, it had some beautiful metaphors and prose that conveyed the intensity of emotion present throughout. There were a lot of quotes I resonated with and found to be very meaningful. However, there were some metaphors that were a bit cringe and the writing was repetitive in places. The main weakness of the writing for me was that the emotion was emphasised too much. Grief is an overwhelming and all consuming emotion but the emotions were over-written and it bogged down the narrative too much. There needed to be more space from the raw emotions to enable the characters and other aspects of the story to breathe. The character development and plot was hindered in part because the grief was inescapable and constantly brought to the forefront. Nonetheless, I appreciated how Bowman was able to get to the crux of the intense emotions that teenagers often face and how lost in their own feelings and thoughts they can become. Rumi’s grief isn’t any ordinary grief; it’s heightened by her age and the lack of self that often happens to teenagers who are figuring out who they are.

And maybe that’s like life. You live for a moment—one single moment. And then you don’t matter. Because there are years of the past and years of the future, and we’re all simply one tiny blip in time—a surge of water waiting to leave our mark on the sand, only to have it washed away by the waves that come after us.

Characters and Relationships

I adored what Bowman did in terms of centring platonic relationships and how she really took the time to delve deep into Rumi’s inner-most thoughts and feelings. Rumi’s relationships with her sister, elderly neighbour, male friend, aunt and mother are the most important relationships in this book and it was so refreshing to read a contemporary YA that wasn’t focused on romance. As a character, Rumi was perhaps one of the most relatable characters I’ve read in a long time to the point that it felt like I was reading about my teenage self at points. Unfortunately, the other characters never felt fully realised to me and were rather one-dimensional. Their purpose was to serve Rumi’s development and journey in supporting her through her grief. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just means that the wider cast of characters were lacking in any real depth or development.

The depiction of sibling relationships was one of my favourite aspects of this book. As the eldest sister myself, I could see how shaped Rumi was by being the eldest sister and how that informed the relationship she had with Lea. Throughout the book Lea is considered to be Rumi’s soul mate and the most important person in her life. Just like Disney’s Frozen this book subverts expectations that a young girl’s “one true love” is a romantic male love interest and instead portrays it as being sisterhood. I also loved reading about Rumi’s relationship with her friend Kai and seeing her battle against the blurred lines between friendship and romance, and how this impacted her exploration of her sexuality.

Generally, I loved the exploration of sexuality throughout and how Rumi’s character and her relationships were all tied up in a wider story of her exploring aromanticism and asexuality. It’s the first time I’ve read a fiction book that explores this so succinctly. It can be difficult to write storylines that involve questioning sexuality without it feeling forced, but in this case, Rumi’s questioning of her identity and sexuality fitted well with the wider story of loss. Losing Lea is what put Rumi in a real position to truly start exploring those parts of her that had always been there but that she had brushed under the carpet. I plan to do a separate post about the depiction of aromanticism and asexuality in the book soon, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested in hearing more of my thoughts on this 👀

Generally, the relationships were very sweet and drove the story forward well, but the characters (except for Rumi) lacked the necessary depth to enable me to connect to them on a deeper level. So whilst I enjoyed reading the character dynamics they weren’t as satisfying as they could’ve been. I think if Bowman had invested more time in developing the characters and less on the grief part of the story, it would’ve come together much better. Since the relationships were so pivotal in helping Rumi to begin to heal, it felt like they deserved more time and attention.

Concluding thoughts

Summer Bird Blue is a heart-wrenching and heartwarming story of loss and healing. It’s an ideal read for young readers as it explores so many of the painful things teenagers face such as unexpected death, identity crisis, abandonment by a parent, anger, having complicated feelings for friends and questioning your sexuality. The focus on platonic love and relationships is a breath of fresh air and the exploration of identity and sexuality an important conversation to be had in any YA book. Undoubtedly, the depiction of an aromantic asexual character is what will continue to draw readers to this book and is what shines most about it, but this book is so much more than that and is fully deserving of the credit it receives. It tackles such a hard and heavy subject with sensitivity and grace, balancing the hopelessness of death with the hope of healing.

I’d recommend Summer Bird Blue if:

You’re looking for a YA tale on the theme of grief that centres sisterhood, friendship and family and features an aromantic asexual main character.

Have you read Summer Bird Blue or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Farseer Trilogy – Book Series Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy
Books: #1 Assassin’s Apprentice; #2 Royal Assassin; #3 Assassin’s Quest
Publication year: 1995-1997
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: Death, animal death, grief, child abuse (mentioned), torture, drugs, trauma, depression, PTSD, sexual assault, suicide, parental abandonment. Since this trilogy is high fantasy and explores complex themes, there are likely to be other genre-typical content related to violence and death etc.

Synopsis

The Farseer Trilogy is the first trilogy in the epic fantasy series, Realm of the Elderlings. It follows FitzChivalry Farseer, the bastard son of the heir of the ruling family of the Six Duchies, on his journey through childhood and adolescence. Along the way Fitz grapples with the political tension surrounding the throne, his magical abilities, the conflict between family loyalty and duty, and being an orphan in a dark world.

What I liked

  • THE CHARACTERS!!
  • Character relationships and dynamics
  • Focus on familial and platonic relationships
  • Strong character development
  • Attention to detail
  • Writing style and prose
  • World building
  • Interesting magic system

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Lack of plot
  • Unsatisfying endings
  • Unrealised potential
  • Lack of focus on certain characters and relationships

Plot and Structure

The general plot underpinning this trilogy surrounds the Farseer family, Fitz’s paternal family and the royal family in the kingdom of the Six Duchies. The bastard son of the King’s eldest son, Fitz’s presence in Buckkeep Castle creates tension with his youngest uncle, Regal. Solely told from the first-person POV of Fitz, this trilogy is an intense character study of Fitz. It’s not plot heavy, it’s the story of Fitz’s family and kingdom through his eyes, and explores themes of loyalty and duty, family and sacrifice.

Despite getting off to a relatively slow start in the first book, I enjoyed the plot, particularly in Royal Assassin (Book #2). There was lots of tension built across the three books and conflict between the characters was expertly woven in a multitude of ways. Although each book focused on different stages of the overall plot, there was a continuity that made it felt like one cohesive story. The type of action I’d typically expect in high-fantasy wasn’t present here, nonetheless, the complex character dynamics, how this intersected with the fragility of the Farseer’s power in Buckkeep and other character sub-plots, was more than enough to keep me invested in the plot.

Structurally, each book is divided into multiple chapters beginning with sections of narration about the history of the Fareer’s, Buckkeep and other world-building information. The fact that Fitz is the sole POV character is perhaps unique for a high-fantasy trilogy like this but it worked incredibly well. Fitz is at the centre of everything that happens throughout the three books; it is his existence and presence that shakes the foundation of the Farseer’s future and the events that unfold involve him. It’s interesting to reflect on how the singular POV impacts the perception the reader has of the world and the other characters, and the extent to which Fitz can sometimes be an unreliable narrator.

World Building and Magic

The world building in this trilogy was a slow-burner. Apart from the small sections of world-building at the beginning of each chapter, Hobb managed to generally avoid info dumping. Instead, details about the world were scattered throughout the three books and revealed when necessary. Hobb isn’t one to tell the reader every single thing about her world just because, it’s always intentional and with purpose. This has its pros and cons. On the one hand, I liked that the world-building was introduced slowly as it became relevant to the plot and the characters. On the other hand, even after reading three books set in the world, there’s still a lot I don’t know and mysteries left to unravel.

Although it didn’t bash me over the head with world-building, I felt grounded in the world. I could mentally picture the setting and experience the world through Fitz’s eyes clearly. But despite feeling connected to the physical appearance of the world, I didn’t feel very connected to geography, cultures or social structures that exist in the world. Because the story was so centred on the royal family and rather insular with geographical location (particularly in the first two books) there was little time spent on exploring fabric of the Six Duchies or other kingdoms outside of the Six Duchies.

The magic system is one of my favourites that I’ve read in fantasy. There are two main magics that form the system – the Wit and the Skill. Both magics are based on concepts of telepathy with the former relating to animals and the latter being exclusive to humans. Like the world, the magic system doesn’t have any hard and fast rules and the information about how these magics work is slowly built on throughout the trilogy. The Wit is a simpler form of magic which is easier to grasp, but the Skill has many complexities which I’m still grappling with. It’s a magic where much of the knowledge and understanding of it has been lost, so there’s still lots to discover. The magic is a central component of the story throughout because it’s part of Fitz and how he perceives and interacts with the world. As the plot developed, magic became more of an integral part to the plot rather than just a character trait of Fitz’s. I’m excited to continue learning about the Wit and the Skill, and also other types of magic that might emerge throughout the rest of the Realm of the Elderlings series.

Writing Style

Robin Hobb’s writing style is absolutely stunning and her technical ability in writing is phenomenal. This is an author that knows how to write and does it well. Her prose made me feel like I was submerging myself into a hot tub under the stars; a beautiful combination of physical warmth and beautiful visuals, that I could linger in all day long. It immersed me into the fantasy world, but also Fitz’s inner mental and emotional world. Her writing is very character focused and I reaped the rewards for that, because of how connected I felt to Fitz. There are few authors that can capture every single thing that goes into making a person, but with Fitz, Hobb did exactly that. His every thought, emotion, desire and motivation was meticulously crafted and laid out. There’s a clear stylistic tone to the way Fitz perceived and processed the world that was present throughout the writing. There was also an emphasis on emotion; a melancholy and to an extent depressive tone, that permeated through. I’m a huge fan of emotion in writing, so this was probably one of my favourite aspects of Hobb’s writing style, but it may not necessarily be to everyone’s tastes, particularly fantasy readers that prefer plot and action over character work.

Outside of character writing, the descriptive style of the writing also brought the world to life in a very vivid way. Although the descriptions of the physical surroundings weren’t unnecessarily long, they were detailed enough to enable me to build an image of the setting in my mind. Generally, Hobb has easily made her way onto my favourite authors list and I can’t wait to read more of her work.

Stop thinking of what you intend to do. Stop thinking of what you have just done. Then stop thinking that you have stopped thinking of those things. Then you will find the now. The time that stretches eternal, and is really the only time there is. Then in that place, you will finally have time to be yourself.

#2 Royal Assassin

Characters and Relationships

Unsurprisingly, the characters are the heart of this trilogy and character driven fantasy readers need look no further than Hobb. As the POV character, Fitz received the most attention and was consequently the most developed. An argument could easily be made for Fitz being one of the most complex and well-written protagonists in fantasy. So much was invested in him that it felt like he could walk off the page and into the world. He’s a character that I feel that I understand very deeply and relate to. Fitz was a joy to read about and I think it would be unlikely for anyone to read this trilogy and not come away in love with him. I’m excited to read more from him in future trilogies.

Although the other characters in the trilogy weren’t as well developed as Fitz, they all had nuance and some were even more likeable or intriguing than Fitz. The core group of characters mostly remained the same throughout the three books with some minor changes, particularly in Book #3. As a whole, the supporting characters were fairly complex and whole-rounded people. I wouldn’t necessarily describe them as morally grey but certainly flawed. My personal favourites were The Fool, Nighteyes, Patience, Burrich and Chade, all of whom are intriguing characters with complex backstories and motivations that were sometimes explored, but not always given the time and attention they deserved. The Fool, in particularly, had me glued to the page. The mystery surrounding them and the part they play in the wider plot and Fitz’s life story was fascinating and I cannot wait to read more from Fitz and The Fool.

As with any character driven book, the character dynamics wrote themselves and were bloody brilliant. There was lots of emphasis on familial and platonic relationships and although there were romantic relationships featured, they were never a huge focus. Fitz’s familial ties with his grandfather, Shrewd and his uncle Verity, along with his surrogate father-figure, Burrich and great uncle Chade, made for some of the most interesting and enjoyable dynamics to read about. These men shaped Fitz and were hugely influential in his life in different ways. Likewise, his friendship with The Fool and Nighteyes, are so fundamental to his character that meeting and knowing these characters only deepened the connection I felt to Fitz. It’s these and the other character dynamics that shaped Fitz and drove the plot forward. Most of the relationships, although characterised by love, were fraught with tension, uncertainty and resentment. Many of these relationships weren’t plain sailing or easy for Fitz to navigate, but felt all the more authentic and relatable because of that. My one criticism when it comes to the characters and relationships would be that I felt that some characters and relationships were dropped in Book #3 that I really enjoyed reading about in the first two books and wanted more from. However, I’m willing to compromise with this since I know I’ll be returning to Fitz in later trilogies and will likely hear more from the characters that were sidelined in Book #3.

Concluding thoughts

The Faresser Trilogy is a melancholic, character driven fantasy set in a unique universe underpinned by political unrest and tension. Despite the slow pacing and lack of plot in some areas, it’s a captivating story of family, duty and sacrifice. Its first-person POV narrative provides an intensely emotional journey and connected me deeply to the protagonist, Fitz. Whilst the slow pacing was off-putting in places, this was balanced out by Hobb’s stunning prose and complex character work. The quality of the characters resulted in incredible character dynamics which explored the nuance of familial and platonic bonds and how this can shape the people we can become. The simplistic but intriguing magic system played a vital role in developing the characters, character relationships and plot, and was fun to learn about. Although the plot was at times neglected, the political tension and intrigue underpinning the trilogy was well developed and reached satisfying conclusions for the most part. These components came together to create a riveting and unforgettable fantasy story and character journey which took me on an emotional rollercoaster and left me feeling deeply connected to Fitz and his loved ones. I’m highly anticipating reading more about this world and to returning back to Fitz after finishing the next trilogy in the series.

I’d recommend The Fareseer Trilogy if:

You’re looking for a character driven melancholic fantasy with an interesting but simple magic system, flawed characters, strong platonic and familial relationships and a plot of political intrigue that explores the theme of family versus duty.

Have you read The Farseer Trilogy or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

If We Were Villains – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: M. L. Rio
Genre: Mystery / Dark Academia
Publication year: 2017
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, PTSD, depression, suicide, self-harm, slut-shaming, homophobia (mentioned), transphobia (mentioned).

Synopsis

Following his release from prison, Oliver Marks recalls the events that led up to the crime that landed him in prison, making some shocking revelations along the way.

What I liked

  • Writing style
  • Plot
  • Setting and atmosphere
  • Shakespearean influences
  • Depiction of queer relationships/identity
  • The ending

What I disliked

  • Under-developed characters (in some instances)
  • Predictable plot

Plot and Structure

The story follows Oliver and his friends who are students at a prestigious Shakespearean acting university. Beginning with Oliver’s release from prison as an adult, it returns to the past to reveal the events that led up to the death that landed Oliver in prison and to uncover whether Oliver really was the murderer after all. The plot was somewhat predictable, but no less enjoyable for it. It was well-paced and thoughtfully mapped out, with enough clues scattered throughout to keep me engaged and well-timed reveals that ensured the mystery wasn’t dragged out unnecessarily. The conclusion was emotionally hard-hitting and tragic but satisfying in true Shakespearean style.

Structurally, it takes inspiration from Shakespeare’s plays and is broken down into acts and scenes rather than chapters. Those that are familiar with Shakespeare’s works will recognise how heavily influenced the book is by Shakespeare from the themes to the language, characters and structure. The majority of the story is set in the past when Oliver was at school but does alternate between past and present. The structure serves the plot which was constantly moving. Generally, it’s very plot-focused with the plot driving the characters forward rather than the other way around.

Writing Style

I loved M. L. Rio’s writing style. Her passion for language and Shakespeare shone throughout the book; her writing is beautifully emotive and authentically honest. The descriptive nature of her writing style created a vivid imagery of the setting and her ability to craft an atmospheric tension throughout reminded me of Daphne Du Maurier. Similarly, her capacity to convey human emotion through the internal processes, behaviour and actions of the characters is incredible. I felt deeply connected to Oliver because his emotions were tangible throughout the story. My one criticism would be that some of the dialogue between characters sometimes felt awkward or stunted, but I really put this down to the fact that the characters and their relationships weren’t always fully developed.

Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.

Characters and Relationships

As a character-driven reader, the characters were the biggest con of the book for me. There were 7 main characters that formed the friendship group that were at the centre of the story. Excluding the protagonist Oliver and his best friend James, the other characters were underdeveloped and felt like caricatures. Every character fit a stereotype whether it was the “mean girl” or the “nerd” etc. and this occasionally led to some troublesome prejudices and bigoted comments. However, these characters weren’t written to be fully-realised individuals, they were written to fulfil a purpose within the narrative, and that’s exactly what they did. This meant that I was able to overlook the lacklustre characters, even as a character-driven reader, because they fit within the type of story that they were in and served the plot well. Oliver’s development also made up for the other characters.

As the protagonist, Oliver was given the most development and despite being a deeply flawed and sometimes frustrating character, I connected with him and sympathised with him. I particularly appreciated the depiction of Oliver’s queerness which was presented as something that was simply part of him rather than something to be used as a plot-point. Although Oliver’s sexuality was never explicitly labelled, I felt it was one of the better portrayals of bisexuality that I’ve seen in contemporary literature and appreciated how M. L. Rio wrote the “love triangle” (I use quotations because it’s not technically a love triangle in the traditional sense) and Oliver’s romantic relationships.

In regards to relationships, most of the friendships within the core 7 were generally superficial and standard. There were a few friendships that received more attention and were endearing, such as Oliver’s friendship with Filippa, but there was one relationship which stole the show – the one between Oliver and James. This was a complex, well-written and tragic relationship. It’s this relationship which was at the core of the entire book and elevated it to the next level for me.

Concluding thoughts

We Are Villains is not typically a book I would reach for but was a pleasant surprise and one of my favourite reads of 2021. It’s a passion piece devoted to Shakespeare, drawing huge influence from Shakespeare’s works which are scattered throughout in the writing style, structure, plot, style and characters. This created an atmospheric, fast-paced dark academia steeped in drama, with a well-built mystery and satisfying ending. These components came together to make up for the shortcomings of the underdeveloped characters, which were used to serve the plot rather than being fully realised individuals. I appreciated the inclusion of queer characters and that these characters were able to exist as people without their identity being used as a plot-point. The plot is well written and well-paced with a fantastic pay-off. Overall, I immensely enjoyed reading If We Were Villains and feel that the book does a fantastic job at taking Shakespearean works and adapting them into an original story that appeals to modern audiences.

I’d recommend If We Were Villains if:

You’re looking for a dark academia with a well-written mystery, lots of drama, Shakespearean influences, queer romance and a tragic ending.

Have you read If We Were Villains or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Song of Achilles – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2011
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, slavery, abduction, abandonment, torture, rape (mentioned), human sacrifice, human trafficking, self-harm, child abuse, and war.

Synopsis

A modern retelling of the Greek myth the Trojan War from The Iliad told from the perspective of Patroclus and Achilles.

What I liked

  • Patroclus’ characterisation
  • Patroclus and Briseis’ relationship
  • Historical elements
  • The depictions of love

What I disliked

  • Writing style
  • Slow pacing
  • The ending

Plot and Structure

Since the book is a retelling of a popular and widely known Greek myth, as expected, the plot and structure is largely based on The Iliad. Madeline Miller definitley put her own spin on it, but the core essence of the story is the same but written for a modern audience and exclusively from the perspectives of Patroclus and Achilles. It’s structured chronologically, beginning with Patroclus’ childhood. It builds his backstory and traces the origins of his relationship with Achilles before progressing to the events of the Trojan War. It includes the major plot points from the original myth but tweaks some things, particularly at the beginning and end. As all retellings should, it takes a popular story and gives new insight. The emphasis on romance was a little excessive for my tastes and I would’ve preferred more plot. This was particularly apparent towards the end where the tragic romance story took front and centre stage.

Whilst I generally enjoyed the plot and most of the changes that were made, it did feel slow throughout. This isn’t necessarily a disavantage, because it allowed space for me to get to know and connect with Patroclus, but there were parts that I found boring, particularly in the first half. Futherore, although Patroclus and Achilles’ perspective brought new insight, it hindered the story in other ways, leaving little room for some other significant characters.

Overall, the book wasn’t very plot-driven and was very focused on setting, themes, characters and relationships. Generally, these are the aspects of books that I enjoy most but there was something that just didn’t quite sync up in the way I expected to, but more about that in the Characters and Relationships section.

Writing Style

I struggled to connect to Miller’s bland and simple writing style. The tone of the writing didn’t match the tone of the story and pulled me away from the story multiple times. Whether it was the use of short sentences, lack of fluidity or plain language, it didn’t sell the story in the right way. It’s an epic tale and Miller portrayed Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as a tragic love story, yet the writing was just okay. It achieved what it needed to but didn’t evoke the emotion from me that truly great writing usually does. It was clear and concise, but I would’ve liked more flower, this is a retelling of The Iliad afterall.

We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.

Characters and Relationships

I liked Patroclus as the main POV Character. His characterisation was standard for the “average guy turned hero” archetype, but his empathy and desire to do the right thing. In a world where power and status was what men most valued, Patroclus defied expectations. He acted out of his conscience, love, loyalty and duty. His compassion offsets Achilles pride and their differences sets the underlining moral message for the entire story. Patroclus was the most defined and nuanced of all the characters. The other characters were in the background, and even Achilles himself suffered from a severe lack of development, feeling more like a caricature than a fully rounded character. This was most likely because most of what we learned about Achilles was from Patroclus’ perspective who had rose-tinted glasses when it came to Achilles.

Leading on from that, this is where the review gets controversial – I didn’t like the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. My issues with this relationship were in part because Achilles was under-developed but also because their love seemed to magically happen despite having nothing in common. It’s particularly unfortunate, because the romance was the main focus of the story and the emotional impact of the ending was very dependent upon how invested the reader is in Achilles and Patroclus’ love.

Interestingly, I was more invested in Patroclus’ relationship with Briseis. It felt more complex, nuanced and sincere, and explored the blurry and complicated lines between platonic and romantic love. It was built on genuine connection, companionship and a liking for one another, none of which Patroclus seemed to have with Achilles to the same extent. Patroclus’ dynamic with Briseis was definitely the most captivating to me of all the character dynamics.

Concluding thoughts

The Song of Achilles has receieved a lot of hype in the book community in recent years and although it has its merit, it didn’t blow me away. Madeline Miller has proven with this book and Circe that she’s able creatively take myths and adapt them for modern audiences, making them accessible and entertaining. By shifting focus to Patroclus and Achilles, Miller was able to add new depth and perspectives to the ancient myth. Whilst I enjoyed reading the book overall, it was lacking in a few areas. The emphasis on the romance was a barrier for me in emotionally connecting to the story because I disliked the way Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was written. However, I enjoyed the underlying themes around love and pride, and the exploration of different types of human love and bonds. Overall, it had all the ingredients for a 5-star book, but the execution fell short and the overtly cheesy romantic ending left me feeling luke-warm.

I’d recommend The Song of Achilles if:

You’re looking for a romantic, modern retelling of a Greek myth with a gay romance.

Have you read The Song of Achilles or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Woman in Black and The Haunting of Hill House – Snapshot Book Reviews

Snapshot reviews are short book reviews of around 200-250 words.

The Woman in Black

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Susan Hill
Genre: Horror
Publication year: 1983
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Death, death of a child, mental distress and trauma.

Review

The Woman in Black is a gothic horror which has been popularised over the last decade by the 2012 film adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe. It follows lawyer, Arthur Kipps, who goes to the small town of Crythin Gifford on a case. During his stay at his deceased client’s property, Eel Marsh House, Arthur has multiple eerie encounters with a woman in black. This is a slow-burn, atmospheric supernatural horror that is creepy and psychologically disturbing.

Whilst this novella is only about 200 pages, the story felt well-rounded and fairly paced. I was invested in the mystery of the woman in black and Arthur’s story. Arthur fulfilled many of the archetypes you’d expect for a protagonist in a Victorian classic horror novel, but despite his lack of originality, I felt a deep sympathy for him due to the impact the supernatural encounters he had had on his mental state.

Susan Hill’s writing style was immersive and perfectly captured the foreboding gothic horror atmosphere that I adore. The horror elements were simple but effective, relying on the setting and psychological elements to evoke feelings of dread and isolation. There was a strong emotionality throughout with emphasis on Arthur’s emotions and themes of grief and loss flowing throughout the narrative.

Overall, The Woman in Black was the perfect read for October. It had all the components I look for in horror novels and executed them well. Although it’s a very standard haunted house story, it was an enjoyable and gripping reading experience.

I’d recommend The Woman in Black if:

You’re looking for a Victorian horror classic that is a slow-burn, haunted house tale.

The Haunting of Hill House

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Author: Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror
Publication year: 1959
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Grief, death, suicide, mental illness, paranoia, gore,

Review

The Haunting of Hill House is another classic horror novel which has recently soared in popularity due to Netflix’s TV adaptation of the same title. But don’t be deceived; the book is its own story and very separate from the TV show. It tells the story of Doctor Montague, who sets out to investigate the presence of paranormal activity at Hill House. He is joined by three young guests, one of whom falls under the dark influence of the house. Unfortunately, this book did not live up to my expectations despite its promise.

I loved the setting of Hill House and the way that the house was crafted as a living, breathing entity entirely its own. However, the pace was meandering and the “big” moments were underwhelming. There was too much dialogue and trivial moments, making the action feel almost unearned. The supernatural scenes were too long and repetitive, and consequently ineffective at unsettling me. Although I related deeply to the protagonist Eleanor, and was interested in her descent throughout the novel, the other characters were flat and odd. In fact, that’s the word I would use to describe this book overall – odd.

I found the writing style to be disjointed and somewhat sloppy. The dialogue and the interactions between the characters felt out of place. Their immediate familiarity with each other and their sudden shifts in tone, mood and personality confused me. Whilst this was likely Jackon’s attempt to demonstrate the adverse affect the house was having on the characters, it wasn’t necessarily clear and I was lost multiple times throughout.

Overall, I liked the premise of The Haunting of Hill House, the setting and Eleanor’s character development. It was an entertaining read, but I’ve seen this type of haunted house tale done better elsewhere and found it to be very standard for the classic horror genre.

I’d recommend The Haunting of Hill House if:

You liked The Turn of the Screw OR are looking for a pschological haunted house horror story that will play with your mind.

Have you read The Woman in Black or The Haunting of Hill House or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Spooktober! 🎃

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Sword of Kaigen – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: M. L. Wang
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Theonite
Publication year: 2019
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: War, violence, gore, rape, trauma, depression, suicide, major character death, death of a child.

Synopsis

The Sword of Kaigen is a high fantasy novel inspired by 19th-century Japan. It follows mother and son – Misaki and Mamoru – from the powerful Matsuda family, all of whom are jijaka’s who have the ability to wield water for combative purposes. When conflict breaks out in their small town of Takayubi, the Matsuda’s must fight to protect what they love.

What I liked

  • Complex characters
  • Character development
  • World building
  • Exploration of family
  • Writing style

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Choice of POV characters
  • Dense worldbuilding

Plot and Structure

The plot was military-centric with elements of family drama, romance and female empowerment. The characters were more of a driving force for the plot than the plot itself. I did find it difficult to grasp exactly what the cause of the war was, who the enemy was and why they were attacking, so I wasn’t too invested in the plot for that reason. I was more invested in the themes surrounding the plot and characters rather than the plot itself. There were high stakes throughout, but the plot did feel quite disjointed. There were shocking moments and it maintained intruige throughout. However, there were lulls in the pacing numerous times. The beginning was a very slow start and around the mid-point it lost my attention and I ended up putting it down for a few weeks before coming back to it. Ironically, the last half of the book picked up hugely and I became more invested as the focus shifted more towards the characters.

Structurally, the tone shifted dramatically making it feel like there were three distinctive parts. In the first third, it was focused on the younger POV character and his time at school; the second third was focused on the war and battle; and the final third focused on the characters emotions and process of dealing with the aftermath of the fighting. Generally, it was chronological but with some flashbacks to Misaki’s past. Although I appreciated the flashbacks for Misaki’s character development, they did sometimes feel a bit haphazard and didn’t fit within the wider story. I also didn’t particularly like that her past mainly served as a romantic sub-plot which was unnecessary and didn’t add much to her character or the story.

World Building and Magic

Considering this novel is a standalone, the world-building was fantastic. So much was packed into the 600 pages but it rarely felt like there were info dumps. The culture, norms, hierachies and gender roles were well established, but
I would’ve liked more context for the history and politics of the world, particularly around the conflict and government structure. These things were hinted at or mentioned in passing but needed more focus. I struggled at multiple points to distinguish the different families, countries, towns, cities, languages and cultures in the world. Since it is Japenese-inspired I also struggled with more minor language uses and phrases. There was a handy glossary in the back, but reading the Kindle edition made this less accessible and more difficult to go between as I was reading. Nonetheless, objectively the world-building here was phenomenal.

The magic system was rooted in elemental magic and those that possess this magical ability are called Theonites. There are two types of Theonites – Jijaka that manipulate water and Fonyakalu that manipulate wind. The magic system wasn’t outlined in extensive detail, but anybody that’s read my previous fantasy reviews will know that I prefer softer magic systems so I was happy with this. Different characters wielded their abilities in different ways and had varying levels of power, which was used creatively in battle. I loved how the Matsuda’s magic was characterised as a part of them and how connected their magic was to their environment, connecting them to their heritage and homeland. I also liked that the magic wasn’t used as a substitute for combative skill, but to elevate their abilities. It’s not a unique magic system, but was fun, interesting and blended well within the wider world. Sometimes the use of magic in fantasy can feel clunky, but it seamlessly fit within the story here. It was an important aspect of the world, but didn’t dominate everything at the expense of other worldbuilding details.

Writing Style

As a self published novel, the writing style really impressed me. It was clean with few grammatical errors and was incredibly well-edited. M. L. Wang’s writing style was immersive and detailed. She created vivid imagery of the mountain setting and provided detailed worldbuilding. When writing about the characters, it was highly emotive and emphatic. This was a positive in regards to enabling me to connect with the characters and empathise with them. However, at times too much time was spent on dissecting the characters every emotion and thought, becoming repetitive and losing its impact. The tone was melancholic, focusing on the depressive emotions of the characters and hopelessness of their situation, although towards the end the tone did become more hopeful. Overall, I really liked the writing style. It was clear, detailed and descriptive striking a good balance between dialogue, exposition and description.

Power was born into a person and lived in the wordless depths of their soul.

Characters and Relationships

This is where this book truly shone. The two main POV characters – Misaki and Mamoru – brought a fresh perspective to the fantasy setting through the eyes of mother and son. Their internal struggles contrasted each other. As a child, Mamoru’s worries and perspectives are more innocent and black and white, whereas Misaki’s worries weigh heavily on her and we see how this impacts her as a mother, and how in turn, this impacts her children.

Misaki stole the spotlight. She’s one of the best written and complex female protagonist’s I’ve found in fantasy for a long time; a complex female character that is physically, mentally and emotionally strong, yet vulnerable, flawed and emotional. She can be hard and she can be soft; forgiving and vengeful; loving and hateful; compassionate and unempathetic; cold and warm. She’s a myriad of conflicting things and her development throughout the book was a joy to read. I appreciated that motherhood was such a core component of her character and that her love and devotion to her children paired with her personal struggles at times impaired her ability to be the type of mother she wanted to be. I wish that more had been done with her flashbacks that went beyond a romantic sub-plot, because I actually felt like this didn’t fit with her character.

Unfortunately, I didn’t connect as much to Mamaru, and would’ve preferred to have other POV characters, such as Misaki’s husband, Takeru. Takeru had a lot of valuable insight to add to the story and although we did get one chapter from his perspective, he should’ve been introduced as a main POV character earlier on. Takeru was a mysterious character during first half, but towards the end more was revealed about his character and he really grew on me. His relationship with Misaki was so interesting and their dynamic was one of my favourite aspects of the book. The focus on these two as individuals and a couple is what made the second half work so well for me.

The family dynamics between the Matsuda’s was another strong point of the book. Misaki’s relationships with her children, her husband and her sister-in-law, Setsuko. The female solidarity and sisterhood between Misaki and Setsuko was a refreshing break from the dreariness of the story. Their scenes were always coloured with love, support and compassion. Generally, I really liked the portrayal of community and family.

Concluding thoughts

The Sword of Kaigen is a strong high-fantasy standalone with detailed worldbuilding, an interesting magic system and well written characters. Although the plot itself wasn’t captivating, the characters relationships and development propelled me forward with the story, even during the lulls in pacing. Some more detail could’ve added to the richness of the world and helped me to feel more invested in the plot, but the shift in focus to the characters and their relationships in the second half made up for my lack of enjoyment in the first half. The writing style was succinct and meticulous, connecting me to the characters and setting. My favourite part of the book was Misaki and the relationships she had with her family. Misaki has immediately jumped onto my list of all time favourite female characters. Her relationship was her husband was a fascinating examination of a loveless, toxic marriage and was a unique and refreshing take from the usual romances that are in fantasy. I did go into reading this book with high expectations and not all of them were met, but it was an enjoyable read overall and I would highly recommend it for fantasy readers.

I’d recommend The Sword of Kaigen if:

You’re looking for an Asian inspired, military, fantasy standalone that gives you The Poppy War vibes, has high emotional stakes, a depressive tone and a complex female warrior character.

Have you read The Sword of Kaigen or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Outsiders – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: S. E. Hinton
Genre: Classic
Publication year: 1967
Audience: 12+
Content warnings: Abuse, neglect, gang violence, bullying, criminal activity, major character death, arson, violence, murder, grief, suicide.

Synopsis

Set in the span of two weeks, The Outsiders, follows 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis and his friends the “Greasers”. When a gang war breaks out between the “Greasers” and “Socs”, a series of tragic events follow.

What I liked

  • The social commentary
  • Fast paced plot
  • Character development
  • The friendships between the characters
  • The emotional stakes of the story

What I disliked

  • Nothing?

Plot and Structure

As stated in the synopsis, this book is set in a two week period and is structured chronologically. The plot can be best described as a gang war and friendship drama. The main character, Ponyboy and his friends, are part of the Greasers who are enemies with another gang, the Socs. After an altercation takes place between the Greasers and the Socs, a series of dramatic events unfolds with devastating consequences. The gangs are defined by social status and class with the Greasers coming from the working class and the Socs from the middle/upper classes. It’s a fast-paced, relentless plot which keeps building and building, creating high emotional stakes and multiple climaxes. Although I enjoyed the plot and it kept me invested in the overall story, it was the characters, friendships and social commentary which I loved the most.

Writing Style

Since S. E. Hinton was only a young teenager when she wrote this, the writing style is very simple and accessible. It’s a YA book and the writing style is accessible for all age groups and reading levels. I wasn’t in love with the writing style, but it was solid and in-keeping with the overall tone and plot of the story. It wasn’t very descriptive in nature but closely examined the characters’ thoughts and emotions, particularly of Ponyboy as the POV character. But despite the concise writing style, I felt that S. E. Hinton sprinkled in some wonderful quotes and metaphors which tugged on my heart strings. She was also able to convey the complexity of the class issues she was exploring in a beautiful and clear way. Considering just how multi-layered the themes were in this book, they were presented in a relatable and authentic way with little exposition.

It seemed funny to me that the sunset she saw from her patio and the one I saw from the back steps was the same one. Maybe the two different worlds we lived in weren’t so different. We saw the same sunset.

Characters and Relationships

The characters in this book stole my heart. Reading this for the first time as an adult enabled me to connect with the characters way more than I think I would’ve if I had read it as a teenager. I was able to put into context just how young these boys were and how awful the neglect, abuse and instability they were enduring was. I immediately felt a sense of love, protectiveness and empathy with these boys who were all lost in their own way and looking for a place to belong. I just wanted to give them a big hug!

Most of them are orphans or have absentee/neglectful parents, no positive adult role models and are school drop-outs (except Ponyboy). They’re living in an impoverished neighbourhood where there’s a lack of opportunity, high crime rates and on-going gang feuds. Although the characters are far from perfect, in many ways they’re victims of circumstance making them incredibly sympathetic. Perhaps the saddest part is that they’re aware that the lives they’re living were unfulfilling, miserable and toxic, but they don’t have the tools to break the cycle and choose a different path.

Each character is well-developed, authentic and has a different way of dealing with their situation. Darry sacrifices his own hopes and dreams to elevate those of his younger brothers (Ponyboy in particular); Soda masks his pain with his “free-spirit” attitude and optimism; Dally is apathetic and hardened to a world that he acknowledges is cruel and unfair; Johnny wants things to change but doesn’t know how to change things so goes along with it because the gang is all he has; and Ponyboy actively challenges their lifestyle and plans to escape by succeeding at school and moving out of the neighbourhood.

Ponyboy as a POV character was so insightful and relatable. Despite only being 14 years old, he has wisdom beyond his years and is able to reflect on situations from a fresh perspective. Where his brothers and friends are blinded by their prejudices, he tries to remain open-minded and optimistic even in the most hopeless of times. Seeing the world through his eyes was equal parts hopeful and heartbreaking. Ponyboy is the future and the potential for him to break the cycle feels close yet so far.

Dally, the typical “bad boy” archetype, had me rolling my eyes at the start. I’m not a fan of this archetype at all but S. E. Hinton exectued it so perfectly by creating a flawed, complex and sympathetic character. Dally being a “bad boy” is not just a mask to hide his vulnerability but part of who he is and a reflection of the philosophy he has developed as a result of the hardships he has faced. At no point is his behaviour or attitude justified, but we do get to see other sides to him and to understand his actions and motivations.

Obviously, it goes without saying that I loved the relationships every bit as much as the characters. They’re kids that have had it tough and deserve a chance, but to the rest of the world they’re delinquents and wasters. Nobody sees or hears these kids and nobody cares. It’s heartbreaking to see how little they matter in the wider world and how aware they are of that. For most of them, all they have to live for is each other. Since many concepts of masculinity are synonymous with detachment from emotion and a lack of intimacy with other males, I loved that the characters were sensitive, emotional and deeply connected to each other. These guys love each other and they might not always openly express it, but their devotion to each other is obvious from their actions. The loyalty, compassion and sacrifice that these guys make for each other made me cry…more than once! It’s a prime example of found family trope done right.

Concluding thoughts

The Outsiders both touched my heart and broke my heart. S. E. Hinton’s achievement in writng this at 17 years old cannot be understated. She captured the complexities of life in the wider context of class, inequality, violence and crime so vividly. It gets to the heart of what it is to be forgotten, side-lined and unloved, and through the stories of Ponyboy and the gang, reflects the lives of many young working class boys who are being left behind by society today. The complexity of the characters and their relationships with each other was palapable, and the heart and soul of the story. As the reader, you form a deep attachment to them because you see how little the world cares about them. Despite how short the book is, it’s so tragic, raw and honest that it makes for an unforgettable read and is one of my favourites. The characters will stay with me for the rest of my life and the injustice and the class inequalities that are explored resonated with me so deeply based on my personal experience and the work I do with disadvantaged young people.

I’d recommend The Outsiders if:

You’re looking for a short, face-paced modern YA classic which is full of drama, friendship and emotion, and explores complex themes surrounding social class and masculinity.

Have you read The Outsiders or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The First Law Trilogy – Book Series Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Fantasy
Books: #1 The Blade Itself; #2 Before They are Hanged; #3 Last Argument of Kings
Publication year: 2006-2008
Audience: 18+
Content warnings: War, graphic violence and injuries, torture, mutilation, gore, death, trauma, misogyny, kidnapping, imprisonment, explicit sexual scenes, rape. Since this trilogy is grimdark it contains lots of dark themes so there may be some I’ve missed from this list.

Synopsis

The First Law universe is a dark, politically unstable world characterised by war and unrest. The trilogy follows 6 POV characters on their respective journey’s as they navigate the conflict and political games that will determine their fates.

What I liked

  • THE CHARACTERS!!
  • Character dynamics
  • Strong character development
  • Writing style and prose
  • World building
  • Dark themes
  • Morally grey characters

What I disliked

  • Slow pacing
  • Lack of plot
  • Open and rushed ending

Plot and Structure

This trilogy is known for not being big on plot, but that’s not to say that there is a complete absence of plot. Similar to most multiple-POV fantasy stories, the trilogy has six plot threads running through it focused on the six main characters. At various times throughout the three books, the characters’ stories intersect with thrilling results. The plot is focused on two central conflicts – the one between the Union and the North and the second between the Union and the Gurkish Empire. It’s primarily a war-focused plot, analysing the conflicts that take place from military, political and social perspectives.

Despite getting off to a relatively slow start in the first book, I really enjoyed the plot. There were lots of twists and turns, political intruige and fantastic action scenes. The plot was built upon more with each book, but I personally enjoyed the plot in Before They Are Hanged (Book #2) most. Although the fantastical elements were low, there was enough to keep me intruiged and I liked learning about the world’s magic and history. The ending was somewhat underwhelming and rushed. It was too open-ended for my liking and I felt that there were some characters that were done an injustice and questions that remained unanswered, but I appreciated that the ending generally fit with the tone of the world. It was bittersweet to say the least.

Structurally, each book is divided into two parts with alternating POV chapters between Logen Ninefingers, Sand dan Glokta, Jezal dan Luthar, Collem West, The Dogman and Ferro Maljinn. It’s narrated in chronological order for the most part with a handful of flashbacks relevant to establish the plot and characters’ back stories. The diverse personalities of the POV characters and their different stations and locations provided a broad perspective on the world and plot as it unfolded. I enjoyed every POV character, which is rare for me, and an attestment to how well Joe Abercrombie writes characters.

World Building and Magic

The world building in this trilogy was incredible. It’s one of the most detailed worlds that I’ve been able to create in my imagination; from the side alleys to the grand buildings and vast deserts, I see it all in vivid detail and felt as though I was living in the world with the characters. Abercrombie took the time to establish the world, drip feeding the information throughout the three books at a steady pace. Yet from the very first chapters I felt anchored in the world and had a strong sense of how it looked, smelled and felt. Through his writing, Abercrombie drew on all of the senses which connected me to the world even more. Although it’s a very dark and unpleasant world, it’s one of my favourite fantasy universes that I’ve read to date.

There was a lot of ambiguity around the magic system. More was revealed about the function of magic and the First Law the series is titled after – which outlaws contact with the Other Side – in the second and third books. Most of the information about the magic system was established through history and a lot of it was left unexplained. As a fan of soft magic systems, I personally liked this. The magic was prominent at times but for the most part it was a low hum in the background; I could sense it but it wasn’t tangible. Overall, the magic system was a lower priority in comparison to the characters and world building.

Writing Style

Joe Abercrombie writes with intention and is meticulous with how he chooses his words. His writing is carefully chosen to match the setting and characters. Each character had their own manner of speaking characterised by different sentence lengths, colloquialisms, dialects, phrases and patterns of thinking. I am yet to read another author that so distinctly differentiates between their characters. His flair for writing dialouge is equally fantastic. It’s sharp, witty and engaging. The style wasn’t flowery but eloquently conveyed the tone and emotion of the story and characters. There was extensive descriptions of the setting which enabled me to build clear images of the setting and world but it wasn’t too indulgent. Description didn’t overshadow the other elements of the writing and the balance between the various aspects was balanced well. Abercrombie also has a talent for writing war and action. All action and battle scenes were detailed, fast paced and thrilling. Likewise, his ability to write gut-punching and captivating scenes is fantastc. There are so many memorable scenes from this series that will stay with me for a long time. Overall, the attention to detail in Abercrombie’s craft was apparent. From dialogue to descripton to prose, it was concise, strongly written and it immersed me in the world and story completely.

Round and round in circles we go, clutching at successes we never grasp, endlessly tripping over the same old failures. Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

#3 Last Argument of Kings

Characters and Relationships

The characters were the triumph of this trilogy. They were simply phenomenal. Each one was complex, morally grey and awful yet oddly sympathetic. I couldn’t help but develop a love-hate relationship with them. They were compelling and unpredictable, but also completely consistent and fully fleshed out. Even when characters took turns I didn’t expect (which happened a lot!), it was authentic and believable. Each character had a complete arc and journey across the three books which was well written, developed and executed. Their development wasn’t linear, and some characters regressed in many ways, but that was very fitting with the nuance of the characters and is also reflective of the reality of being human. Growth is hard and messy and doesn’t happen easily. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all.

There wasn’t a single poorly written character. I loved every single one of them. The only character that felt a little weaker to me was Ferro, which was disappointing since she was the only main female character. In fact, my biggest critcism of Abercrombie’s characters is that there was a complete lack of female characters and the ones that were featured felt less developed than the male characters. However, having read two of the First Law standalones (Best Served Cold and The Heroes), I know that this is something he improves on later on in the series.

Admittedly, the characters won’t be to everyone’s tastes because they are so terrible. Unless you really enjoy characters that are genuinely terrible and morally corrupt, you won’t connect with these characters. They did awful things, sometimes for survival but sometimes simply because they could, because they wanted to or because it was the easier choice. They’re not the type of characters that are relatable or that readers can necessarily empathise with, but I became invested in them as people that were unfortunate to be born into such a volatile world that forced them to extremes for the purpose of self preservation.

I could take the time to individually analyse each character because there’s so much to say, but I will just mention my personal favourites – Logen, The Dogman, Jezal and West. These characters surprised me and developed immensely across the trilogy. Despite their flaws and darkness, there was a core sense of humanity that I connected with. That’s not to say the other characters weren’t as equally strong, because they were. The characters stand out in my mind as some of the best in fantasy. In the future, I plan to write character analyses on some of the First Law characters, so keep an eye open for that, if you’re interested.

Because the characters were so great, the character relationships wrote themselves and were so fun to read. Before They Are Hanged (Book #2) was my favourite book for this because of the new, unlikely friendshps that were made. I really enjoyed the dynamics between the Northmen – Dogman, Threetrees, Grim, Black Dow and Tul Duru. Despite their friendships being shallow on the surface, since their bond was formed on a need for survival, the dependence, loyalty and cooperation between them was touching. There wasn’t much emphasis on romantic relationships which I appreciated, since I can sometimes find that romance is shoe-horned into fantasy unnecessarily. I also liked that the romantic relationships that did form weren’t idealised and were actually quite un-romantic. It was in keeping with the tone of the book.

Concluding thoughts

The First Law is a dark, gritty, character driven fantasy trilogy set in a rich universe inspired by medieval Europe. Despite a slow burn plot, it’s a thrilling, compelling and encapsulating story with plenty of twists and turns. I was diappointed by the lack of female characters, but the trilogy makes up for it with the complex, dynamic and intruiging cast of characters it does have. It also makes up for this short-coming in other areas such as its attention to detail, world building, character development and well crafted writing style. Abercrombie’s sharp minded wit and dark humour makes for some brilliant dialogue, character moments and character dynamics. All of this comes together to create an immersive, exciting and unforgettable read which kept me on my toes and made me feel the broad spectrum of emotions from elation to sadness to anticipation and shock. Overall, this trilogy is centered on the characters and is a must-read for character driven fantasy readers like myself.

I’d recommend The First Law trilogy if:

You’re looking for a character driven grimdark fantasy with low magic, complex morally grey characters and a dark world akin to George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Have you read The First Law or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

Pride Month Wrap Up

At the end of May I shared my Pride Month TBR and I wanted to give an update on the books I read in June. So, I read five LGBTQIA+ books last month, four of which were from my TBR and one which was a birthday gift from a friend. Here are my summaries of the books and my thoughts on them all spoiler free .

In the Dream House

Carmen Maria Machado

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2019

In the Dream House is the first book I read from my TBR and it blew me away. It was an emotional and hard-hitting read with the author Carmen Maria Machado, recounting her experience of being a domestic abuse victim in a same sex relationship. The writing style was unique and encapsulating, and Machado’s voice swept me away in the story of her life. It’s value in raising awareness of abuse in queer relationships cannot be understated and this is one I’d highly recommend for everyone, particularly those interested in LGBTQIA+ topics and rights. You can read my full review for In the Dream House here.

The Passion

Jeanette Winterson

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Reading The Passion was a wonderful experience. I was swept away by Jeanette Winterson’s stunning prose, writing style and storytelling. Despite how short it is in length, I was invested and connected to the characters and story. Set in the Napoleonic Wars, it follows two characters – Henri and Villanelle – whose fates collide leading to an unlikely relationship and journey. The characterisation of Henri and Villanelle was incredible. Winterson was able to establish them so well within 150 pages that I came away feeling a deep affinity to both characters. Their dynamic was authentic, complex and emotional, and anchored the entire story.

It’s very steeped in metaphors, symbolism and thought-provoking prose, so I don’t think a book as complex as this can be fully comprehended or appreciated on one read. I plan to come back to it re-read it at a slower pace, taking the time to sit with the words and fully reflect on the language and meaning. I was so close to rounding this up to 5 stars, but it just lacked that full emotional gut punch that typically leads me to give a full rating. Nonetheless, I loved this book.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Fannie Flagg

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 1987

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of a small fictional town in Alabama called Whistle Stop. It primarily follows Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a reitrement home, and her daughter-in-law, Evelyn as they develop a close bond and Mrs Threadgoode shared the history of Whistle Stop and its residents. The story spans across decades, weaving together past and present with chapters alternating between the present with Mrs Threadgoode and Evelyn chatting in the retirement home, stories from the past from residents of Whistle Stop and articles from the Whistle Stop newsletter, “The Weems Weekly.”

Thematically, this book explored a lot of things that are of interest to me – family, community, identity, feminism, lesbianism, racism – but unfortunately, I found it difficult to connect to the story or the characters. I appreciated what Fannie Flagg was trying to achieve but it didn’t have the emotional weight it should’ve and was generally a rather underwhelming read as a result.

We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ rights

Amelia Abraham (ed.)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2021

This book was bought for me by a friend as a birthday present and I devored it within two days. With a diverse range of voices from within the LGBTQIA+ community, this anthology of essays is wide-reaching and explored a variety of issues that queer communities are currently facing and have endured throughout history. It’s an intersectional approach to LGBTQIA+ rights with queerness being explored in the context of race, disability, faith, culture and legislation. As with all anthologies, there were some essays that I connected to and enjoyed more than others, but generally the quality was high.

It was a very emotional read and I cried multiple times, but it was also hopeful and empowering. Although there was a lot of representation, I did feel that there could’ve been improvements with this. There was a high proportion of essays written through the lens of being gay, trans and non-binary, but a clear absence of multisexual identities including bisexuals, pansexuals, omnisexuals and polysexuals. There was also only one chapter about asexuality and none about aromanticism. Although ths is a lesser known identity, there are plenty of asexual and/or aromantic public figures and activists that could’ve contributed to the anthology. Nonetheless, I appreciate that with 35 essays there’s limited time and space and overall, it did a brilliant job at capturing the core issues in LGBTQIA+ activism and the diversity of the community.

Ace: What Asexuality Reveals about Desire, Identity and the Meaning of Sex

Angela Chen

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Genre: Nonfiction
Publication year: 2020

This book was a fascinating and insightful read. It’s an journalistic perspective on asexuality within the context of Western society which is rooted in what she coins as “compulsory sexuality”. I wasn’t a big fan of the writing which felt clunky and jumped from one topic to another haphazardly, but Angela Chen opened up very important converations which apply to everyone regardless of sexual orientation. She uses asexuality to question the societal norms and expectations placed on people around sex and relationships, asking why sex is assumed to be such a focal point of all of our lives when for many people (asexual and non-asexual), sex simply isn’t a priority in our lives.

As a Chinese American, Chen adopted an intersectional perspective of asexuality looking at disability, race and religion and how those characteristics can interact with asexuality. She did a good job at capturing the diversity of the ace spectrum and debunking common myths surrounding asexuality. She also offered some food for thought and provided me with the opportunity to evaluate the ways in which socal norms and compulsory sexuality has impacted me as an asexual woman. However, it wasn’t a particularly mindblowing read since it felt like it was targeted more at non-asexuals as an introduction to the issues that asexuals can and do face. Having said that, asexuality is widely misunderstood, overlooked and stigmatised both in and out of the LGBTQIA+ community so to see books like this being published is essential for raising awareness and building momentum within the ace community.

Overall, I had a great experience reading these books and I’m looking forward to reading the other books that are on my Pride Month TBR but that I didn’t manage to get to in June.

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.

The Final Empire – Book Review

✨ Spoiler Free ✨

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Mistborn (The Final Empire, Book #1)
Publication year: 2020
Audience: 16+
Content warnings: Abuse, murder, violence, major character death, slavery.

Synopsis

The Final Empire is set in a dystopian world characterised by a red sun, showers of ash and rolling mists. Kelsier recruits a ragtag crew of allomancers to undertake the greatest heist in history to overthrow the Lord Ruler and free the oppressed peoples, Skaa.

What I liked

  • Vin’s character
  • Setting and world building
  • Unique magic system
  • Entertaining

What I disliked

  • Writing style
  • Prose
  • Slow pacing
  • Poor/slow character development
  • Complicated magic system
  • Too much exposition

Plot and Structure

The plot was a fairly standard fantasy heist plot – what you expect is what you get. A group of individuals are brought together and work to overthrow the Big Bad – the Lord Ruler – by using their allomancy and a cunning plot. There were some surprises along the way but overall it delivered on the premise very well. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it; it was good but not necessarily to my tastes. There were a lot of pacing issues until around the 70% mark, at which point the plot went into over-drive and the action soared. I really enjoyed the last 30%, but unfortunately, the first three quarters were very slow and dragged in parts.

There were two main POV characters – Kelsier and Vin – and chapters alternated between the two of them, with snippets from history books at the start of each chapter to familarise the reader with the historical context of the present. Kelsier takes Vin under his wing and mentors her, teaching her how to wield and understand her allomancy. Throughout the story the two develop a father/daughter type relationship which was very endearing, but more about that later on in the review. Generally, the structure was clean, despite the slow pacing and served the plot well.

World Building and Magic

Sanderson is most well known for his world building and magic systems, and generally, he delivered. Despite being introduced to the world Scadrial (which is not explicity named in the book), I developed a keen sense of the world and felt very immersed in it. The descriptions of the setting enabled me to build up an intricate and detailed image of the world, to such an extent that I felt like I was walking through that world with the characters. I also really enjoyed the dysopian setting which added tension throughout. The history of the world was well established and sprinkled throughout adding to the authenticity of the world and firmly grounding me in the world. It’s through the history that the reader is able to understand what is happening in the present and why. It was an interesting world and one I’d be eager to learn more about.

The magic system – Allomancy – is central to the world and consists of groupings of metals which are used in a multitude of ways by Mistings or Mistborns to enhance and unlock certain abilities. I found the magic to be very polarising. On the one hand, it was a unique and interesting concept unlike anything else I’ve come across in fantasy. On the other hand, it was overly detailed, complex and technical. This comes down to personal preference, but I’d generally prefer a softer magic system in fantasy and this was a very hard magic system. The rules, effects, boundaries and laws involved with the magic were clearly established and reinforced throughout. It became a tad repetitive and was sometimes confusing, particularly in the beginning, due to the number of different metals there are and the different abilities they unlocked. Generally, I appreciated the uniqueness of the magic and how much time went into developing it, but on a personal level, it simply wasn’t for me and there was too much exposition around it which constantly pulled me out of the story.

Writing Style

My largest critcism of this book is by far the writing style. Sanderson’s language use was simplistic and written like it’s targeted at young teenagers rather than adults. The prose was plain and dry and prevented me from being able to get into the flow of the story. It was also very expository, reading like a mechanical process, which created a disconnect between myself, the characters and the story. I was constantly pulled out of scenes by the clunky writing, especially during action scenes which were so clumsily written that I had no idea what was going on. They read like an instructon manual of, “He did X, and then he did Y and in response, she did Z. Next, he did X again until Y happened and finally did Z.” It was tedious and completely unimmersive. This really comes down to a creative choice by Sanderson to invest his time and energy into world building and magic systems at the detriment of his prose, tone and overall writing style.

Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.

Characters and Relationships

Like most other aspects of the book, the characters and relationships have mixed results from me. Generally, I liked the relationships and character dynamics more than the characters individually, except for Vin. Vin was the highlight of this book for me. Although her character draws on a lot of typical fantasy archetypes, her growth throughout this book was incredible. She’s a lovable character; sympathetic, brave and talented. A chosen one, but still real enough that she felt relatable. I also really enjoyed Elend – Vin’s love interest (who weirdly gave me Draco Malfoy Vibes) – for his charisma, intrigue and wit. He brought a freshness to the story that I enjoyed as one of the only other young main characters besides Rin.

Unfortunately, the other characters fell rather flat for me. Kelsier’s character was very underwhelming and I found it impossible to connect to him. I couldn’t even get a read on his character for at least the first quarter of the book, if not more. He seemed inconsistent and shady. The rest of the crew were all indistinguishable. I know their names, but that’s pretty much all I know about them.

Fortunately, I loved the character dynamics. I really liked seeing Vin and Kelsier’s relationship blossom. Kelsier acted as her mentor, teacher, friend and parental figure, and although I found it difficult to connect to him as a character in the moments he shared with Vin, he felt much more human. It was refreshing for the main female/male dynamic to be one of mentor and mentee rather than lovers. I appreciated not having the romantic entanglements between Vin and Kelsier. Speaking of romance, I adored Vin’s dynamic with Elend. Their relationship was well-built and the chapters featuring Elend were some of my favourites. Generally, I also enjoyed the dynamics between the crew, despite not vibing with them individually. The friendships felt authentic and I liked the way they bounced off one another.

Concluding thoughts

The Final Empire is a book I went into with high expectations because of how highly regarded Sanderson and Mistborn are in the fantasy world. In terms of plot, it was satisfyng and built to a fast-paced fun last quarter and epic conclusion. The world building met those expectations and was completely immersive, vivid and encapturing. The magic system was intricate, unique, well developed and central to the world. Although the hard magic system and general emphasis on magic was not to my tastes, I was impressed and intruiged by the allomantic magic. Sanderson’s writing was a rather significant hinderance to the story due to its exposition and clunkiness. My favourite aspect of the book excluding the world building, was Vin. I adored Vin as a protagonist and despite finding it difficult to connect to the other chracters, I enjoyed their character dynamics. Overall, The Final Empire was an entertaining read with lots of promise but fell short of meeting my expectations based on the hype surrounding it. My issues with the writing and magic system are personal preferences, but have led me to the decision to not continue with the Mistborn series.

I’d recommend The Final Empire if:

You’re looking for a smooth transition into epic fantasy with complex world-building, an intricate magic system and entertaining heist plot.

Have you read The Final Empire or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.