‘The Beast’s Heart’ – Review

This read was a bit of a mixed bag. I’m a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast, it was my favourite fairy tale as a child, I love the Disney version, I actively seek out retellings, hence why I read The Beast’s Heart. My love of the fairy tale is what kept me reading past the start of the book which was trying to say the least.

35667081When I first picked this book up I didn’t know it was a debut, but the writing style definitely gave it away. Leife Shallcross’s prose was self-consciously superfluous, with every description in the first few chapters utilising every adjective possible, which made it a bit hard going to begin with.

Eventually, though, this over the top description fades away and we’re left with a much more simplified prose style that is more reminiscent of middle grade books. This made me second guess who this book was even aimed at but it is marketed as YA though I wouldn’t class it as such, it doesn’t meet most of the criteria of YA, and it seems to only be placed in YA because that’s where fairy tale retellings thrive.

I’m going to go into the plot a bit now so there will be some spoilers ahead.

Okay so, most fairy tale retellings have a twist, right? Little Red Riding Hood fights werewolves, The Princess decides to live with the dragon rather than be saved, The Little Mermaid fights off people polluting the sea and so on. The Beast’s Heart is told from the point of view of the Beast, Isabeau’s (Belle) sisters are not the spoiled brats in the original tale but become self sufficient and have a much more interesting romantic arc than Isabeau, and there is a hint that the fairy that cursed the Beast was in love with his grandmother.

Having the story told from the Beasts POV was uncomfortable, but that made it a little more interesting at least. I was disappointed that the sisters were much more well rounded characters than Isbeau but I chalked this up to the fact that the Beasts narrative voice was so infatuated with Isabeau that she became just another boring Mary-Sue.

The thing that irked me the most was the fairy’s motives for cursing the Beast. Apparently the fairy loved the Beasts grandmother, an idea I liked as it makes sense that the fairy would know of the Beast before cursing him. Her motives were questionable though, apparently the Beast’s cold heart and his unwillingness to love (due to his emotionally abusive father who he watched abuse many women) caused his grandmother pain, and so the fairy cursed the Beast to wear his beastly form until someone loved him.

This is honestly ridiculous. I just couldn’t see this motive giving the fairy any closure at all about her love dying, she wasn’t presented as particularly evil so I can’t see her as the cruel sidhe type fae to take children leave changelings etc. Not to mention she laid no such curse on his horrible abusive father but instead laid a curse on his abused son? This along with Isabeau’s father attempted suicide happening then literally never being mentioned again I found the whole approach to mental health a bit surreal.

I did enjoy the book in some places, it was sweet, and I was looking forward to seeing the love story unfold. However, the ending seemed to happen all at once, much like the Disney version, and everything was wrapped up in a couple pages, which is satisfying on screen but falls very flat on the page.

Honestly, I’d recommend this book to any young kids that are particularly into Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as it’s almost identical, but aside from that I really didn’t get much out of it.

Thanks to the author and NetGalley for giving me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

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‘The Chrysalids’ – Review

So I read The Chrysalids by John Wyndham way back in March. I didn’t review it immediately because really, I wasn’t too sure what to say. I did love this book and I have thought about it regularly since, but it wasn’t as life changing as the other Wyndham’s I’ve read, and honestly I was a little disappointed. Clearly I put too much faith in Wyndham, but let’s start with what I really liked about this book.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

img_2693As always with Wyndham I just loved the eco-critical nature (excuse the pun) of this book. The Day of the Triffids, and The Kraken Wakes definitely prove that Wyndham enjoys analysing man’s relationship with nature and this was particularly well done in The Chrysalids. The world has become a post-apocalyptic mess, humanity has devolved into small, rural settlements, with devout religious leaders who are obsessed with perfection. Specifically genetic perfection. Any plant, animal, or person with the slightest visible abnormality is destroyed. The main characters of this book do have genetic abnormalities, but not in any visible way, they are able to talk to each other telepathically.

Frankly, telepathy in books tends to annoy me a little. It’s usually forced in and formatted strangely, especially in the YA books I tend to read, but Wyndham wrote about this strange experience phenomenally as is to be expected. The descriptions of the group talking in their minds really was breathtaking, and it didn’t feel awkward or strange, and it even worked well alongside the physical dialogue.

As lovely as Wyndham’s use of alternative dialogue was, it leads me to one of the issues I had: there was just too much dialogue! ARGH! It went on, and on, and on, and despite the exciting action everything felt sidelined by Wyndham’s long, lamenting, philosophical speeches all of them as long winded as the sentence I am currently writing. I would have loved a little more world building and description, though there wasn’t a lack of it, it was certainly sidelined in a way that I found a little disappointing.

Another thing I felt a little let down on was the female characters. I know that Wyndham was “of his time” or whatever, but that’s no excuse Trouble with Lichen and The Midwich Cuckoos were wildly ahead of their time in terms of feminism (though they weren’t perfect I was still impressed) and I felt that The Chrysalids fell a little short in that respect. The female characters were mothers, or motherly, with the one variation being a woman who was depicted as a small-minded jealous shrew. It was an exhausting read in that respect.

Don’t get me wrong, if I’d read this book of Wyndham’s before all his others I would have been completely enamoured, but sadly I didn’t. If you’re going to get into Wyndham maybe don’t put too much stock in The Chrysalids, but honestly I do think it’s a worthwhile read for any SF fan.

‘To Kill a Kingdom’ – Review

First things first, it’s been an age since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been working through assignments for my masters and, sadly, it took priority sadly, but I’m going to be reading and researching a whole lot for dissertation so expect a surge in reviews and just terrible attempts at literary criticism. Okay, onto the review:

*I received this book free from netgalley for an honest review*

So I was sceptical about To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo. It comes across as just another standard fantasy retelling. But everyone knows I’m a sucker for retellings and to be honest, I loved it!

This book was just fun from start to finish and was the perfect way to end the uni exam season. It was a fast paced romp through a fantasy world where Sirens exist and they steal one heart every year to mark their birthdays, Lira only steals royal hearts being the princess of the sea herself. When her mother, the Sea Queen, reprimands her for taking a heart before her birthday she claims she must steal the heart of a sailor and tarnish her reputation as the Princes’ Bane. But Prince Elian just happens to be a siren killing royal pirate out for revenge.

I had so much fun reading this and I’m not sure how much of it was just relief at not having to do uni reading but even then I’d definitely recommend it as a fun, light read for any YA fantasy fans. It was fast paced, the romance was enjoyable and believable, and the take on the little mermaid story was fresh and interesting.

My favourite thing about this though was ugly monsters!!! Ugly mermaids, ugly mermen, the sirens were supposedly like horribly beautiful and that’s what I want more of! We need more ugly monster girls. I totally understand that not everyone will read the sirens as being monstrous but that was definitely my reading of it and I love it.

The only things I would complain about is that the world building felt a little lax to me. The characters spent a majority of their time sailing or in docks, and when they were on land visiting various kingdoms I felt like there wasn’t enough attention paid to the different cultures for me to find it believable. That might just be a side effect of the first person narrative though.

My one other problem was just that the ending felt rushed, I wanted more! I wanted to see how these worlds began to merge but there wasn’t enough explanation for me. I suppose it’s telling that my only problems with this book is that there wasn’t more of it!

To Kill a Kingdom took me back to my days of reading the Ingo series and obsessively watching every Pirates of the Caribbean film, I had so much fun reading it and it was the perfect palate cleanser to get me away from uni reading.

‘Binti: The Night Masquerade’ – Review

In January I woke up to find Binti: The Night Masquerade downloaded onto my kindle and I was so pumped (pumped is not a word I throw around lightly). I was eager to dive back into Nnedi Okorafor’s world, I wanted to know what the Night Masquerade was, I wanted a conclusion to the war, I wanted to delve deeper into the complexity of Binti’s dual heritage and her struggle to come to terms with her identity. So I set aside a few hours out of my day (not too difficult, as most of my time is dedicated to procrastinating uni work) and sat down to read the latest installment full of anticipation.

34386617Binti: Home left Binti in a bind, war was being declared, she was travelling across the desert with the knowledge of her new family to save her old family and her adopted family, and the clock was ticking. What a cliffhanger right? On reflection I think Home is my favourite installment of the series.

I don’t know if I built it up too much, but by the time I finished reading I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book, and I love this series, but I had a few, not even problems, but thoughts about the ending that have kept me up at night so here goes.

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

So towards the end of the novel Binti calls upon the ancient, awe-inspiring gifts of the Himba people and the oncoming battle between the humans and the Meduse hits pause to listen to her call for peace. I was drawn up into it, maybe a rational conversation could save the lives of black people and aliens alike; it presented such a beautiful and hopeful ideal for the future that I felt my heart expanding in my chest like when the Grinch discovers Christmas. Except unlike the Grinch, I got suckerpunched by Santa. Binti’s brave rally ended when mob mentality, fear, access to guns, and racism came for her in the form of an unnamed shooter from the crowd.

It got real. Painfully real. All that time, all that technology, all that pride, all that black girl magic and Binti was still shot. The war went on. I mourned with the characters, I came to gradually accept the harsh reality of the world, I remembered that as comforting and optimistic as these books had been, the world was still a horrible place and would still be in the future.

Binti’s body was placed in the child of the living ship that Binti travelled to Oozma uni aboard, the child of the ship where she watched her peers die.

THEN BINTI CAME BACK TO LIFE

I was relieved and happy and cheated. One of my biggest pet peeves in any kind of SFF book, film, radio play whatever, is when characters don’t stay dead! The emotional journey the reader takes with the death of a character is undermined and made a little cheap when the character just comes back, and it felt no different when Binti came back. But on the other hand I was relieved that this strong, feminine, flawed character wasn’t just another black character that died.

What I’m saying is I’m deeply conflicted, but nonetheless I loved this book, I’ll definitely re-read the series, and I will read all the Okorafor I can get my hands on. For all my qualms, this finale has stuck with me.

Innocence and Adulthood in ‘La Belle Sauvage’

La Belle Sauvage is the first installment in Pullman’s return to Lyra’s Oxford. The story follows Malcolm Polstead, a young boy who works in his parents inn. A mixture of a church led militant youth organization, a local scholar, and a baby named Lyra everything changes for Malcolm.

I loved this book. I was dubious when I first heard about it coming out. His Dark Materials was the ultimate series of my childhood, and given that Harry Potter has been soured for me by Rowling’s incessant meddling I couldn’t really stand to see another series I love be destroyed by 2017. Thankfully, Pullman is a genius and La Belle Sauvage lived up to the original trilogy. But there’s a couple points in the book I really want to talk about so SPOILERS AHEAD guys, prepare yourself.

img_2571First of all I was absolutely haunted by the League of St. Alexander, the militant youth group created by Mrs Coulter. Essentially they are a creepy organisation of school children dedicated to selling people out to the church, it escalates and becomes very 1984 very quickly. The teachers are scared, parents are scared, the readers are scared. Honestly, the thing I love about Pullman’s work is that he isn’t afraid to show how malicious children can be. (It sounds like I hate kids and I don’t, generally I hate all people and children are people.) I want to say that these children in the league are amoral, but that would be a gross oversimplification that Pullman himself would frown upon, these children aren’t amoral, they’re just innocent and that innocence lets them be ignorant of their own malice. Like I said, Pullman is a genius.

With the league Pullman shows the danger of complete innocence, but Pullman ruthlessly gives us the loss of innocence through Gerard Bonneville. Like in His Dark Materials Malcolm loses his innocence when he loses trust in the adults around him just as Lyra does. Malcolm finds out that Bonneville is a pedophile who has targeted his friend Alice who is helping him protect Lyra. Now aside from the obvious there are so many terrifying points in this sub-plot that Pullman pulls off so subtly it’s still making me uncomfortable. So first of all, Bonneville is known pedophile, but instead of any parents warning their children, they just say “keep away” and let things carry on, which of course is just a temptation to a child, reluctance to talk means that Malcolm and Alice’s transition from innocence to adulthood is jarring and sudden rather than something their parents can guide them through.

Given the flood Malcolm and Alice (along with Lyra) become completely separated from their parents whilst being pursued by Bonneville. They become a sort of pseudo-family unit which has its own implications and Pullman throws those implications around with gusto. Malcolm, who had previously adored Lyra and loved holding her, gradually starts handing her over to Alice, letting Alice change her nappies, and quickly takes it upon himself to protect them both. He also develops a crush on Alice that hints at a sexual awakening for Malcolm. The point is, a mixture of responsibility, having to act older than his age, and avenging Alice’s innocence by killing Bonneville all compromise Malcolm’s innocence and do nothing to restore Alice’s. However, they do manage to protect Lyra’s innocence.

I realise this has turned into more of an essay than a review, and the only conclusion I have is that this book is as nuanced and beautiful as the original trilogy. There’s more I could write about on this book and I probably will at some point, but if my enthusiasm hasn’t convinced you then the book itself definitely will. Once again, Pullman is a genius.

2018 Must Reads

Happy New Year folks! With a new year comes a new load of books I want to read (that comes with every day really, but you don’t want to hear about that). Last year I completed my Must Read list and found it a brilliant tool to get through some of my much neglected books and help me out when I was stuck for a new read, so here’s a list of things I want to get read this year in Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

1) The Lord of the Rings

first_single_volume_edition_of_the_lord_of_the_ringsThis one might seem a bit strange seeing as I’m a big fantasy fan, but I’ve never read the LoTR trilogy. However, I did read The Hobbit and I absolutely loved it, so I thought it was about time to catch up on these fantasy classics, mostly so I don’t feel like a fraud when I loudly proclaim my love of fantasy to the world.

2) Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Butler featured on my must read list of 2017 and so I read the first installment in her Xenogenesis trilogy and I loved it. This year I thought I’d pick up a stand alone book of hers so I wouldn’t feel bad for not finishing any series (I’ve still not finished her Xenogenesis trilogy and I feel awful). I decided on Kindred because it unabashedly discusses race, and after reading Ytasha L Womack’s Afrofuturism I need a bit more of that in SF.

3) La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

61f7iyjlzgl-_sx322_bo1204203200_His Dark Materials was the trilogy of my childhood. As a child I couldn’t understand why everyone around me loved JK more than Pullman, and after ten years of loving the series to the point of picking a whole module in uni just because Northern Lights was on the reading list Pullman has finally deigned to return me to my childhood. I got the book for Christmas and the only reason I’ve not read it is so I can use it as a motivational reward for finishing uni reading. I just can’t wait to read it.

4) Artemis by Andy Weir

I loved The Martian so much that I knew I’d have to follow Weir’s career as closely as possible. I’ve not read brilliant reviews of it, but let’s be honest after such a brilliant debut novel people are bound to have certain expectations. Despite the reviews I want to see for myself how Weir’s style has changed or not changed, not to mention the hardback edition is just beautiful so why not (I do judge books by their covers and I’m only occasionally wrong).

5) The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin 

I could only avoid this series for so long really. Not only is Jemisin the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, she’s also the first author to win it consecutively for the same series. Not only is she inspiring and witty on twitter, The Fifth Season has an original and interesting post-apocalyptic premise that seems to fit exactly what I want in a book, so obviously I’ll be reading this.

512tbfmt7al-_sx323_bo1204203200_6) Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky 

Children of Time won the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2016, which is when I bought it, and it has been gathering dust ever since. I’ve heard brilliant things about this book and I’ve been looking forward to a longer SF novel that I can really sink my teeth into.

7) The Chrysalids by John Wyndham 

I’m quite excited to give this one a read, Wyndham never lets me down. Once I finish this I’ll have read all the Wyndham novels I own then I can move onto his short stories and just generally on to buying more Wyndham!

8) Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett 

220px-monstrous_regimentI put a Pratchett on my list from last year after having not read his stuff for a while. The Discworld series is one of my favourite fantasy series ever, but it is around forty books long so basically as long as I’m making these lists I’m going to have to put a Pratchett on there just to try and get through them all.

So there we go, hopefully over the next year I’ll have read and reviewed all of these books. Happy reading in 2018 folks!

My Best Reads of 2017

With the new year I’m feeling a little nostalgic for some of my great reads from 2017, so I thought I’d compile a few that I’d recommend to any SFF fans. Most of them aren’t exactly obscure books, or ones you won’t come across on any other list like this, but they were my best reading experiences of the last year and I love them so here goes:

1) Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Uprooted was an amazing book and was actually my first read of 2017. It follows the tale 9781447294146of a young girl taken hostage by the local village dragon, seems pretty standard right? Except the dragon is actually the name of the local wizard, and though he seems terrifying, the haunted forest creeping ever closer each year seems more so.

Okay so this book has everything you could possibly want from fantasy, it has interesting characters, believable magic, enemies on every front, stunning sub-plots, a royal family in distress, a young farm girl in even more distress, and some raunchy scenes. This is the first of Novik’s work I’ve read, but she also has a nine part historical fantasy series Temeraire about the Napoleonic wars, except with dragons, so obviously I’ve got the first of that. This year though she has another stand alone novel coming out; Spinning Silver based on the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, which I am definitely looking forward to.

2) The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky  Chambers

This debut novel from Chambers was astounding. Despite it being her first book 20150213_long_way_1400Chambers has a brilliant awareness of her craft, and somehow manage to pull me away from my usual post-apocalyptic reads to a much more light hearted and comforting brand of SF that I never knew existed. The story focuses on the crew of the Wayfarer as they travel the galaxy creating wormhole super-highways through space with fraught political tensions only being half of their problems.

Fans of Star Trek or Firefly or any SF that has a plucky gang exploring space will love this book, and seeing as we all love plucky gangs exploring space you will definitely love this.

3) Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng

Back to some fantasy here, Under the Pendulum Sun follows Catherine Helstone as she underthependulumsun_covertries to find her missionary brother Laon. The only problem is Laon hasn’t travelled to Africa to spread the word of god, he’s travelled to Arcadia, the land of the Fae where a faerie queen has taken a liking to him.

This tale weaves folklore, history, and the gothic tradition into a tapestry of horror, unease and suspense that I just couldn’t put down, this combines with a beautiful insta-worthy cover meant it was definitely a big favourite of my year.

4) The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

I loved Ursula Le Guin from the moment I read The Left Hand of Darkness I thought there 51o2eg2qw2bl-_sy344_bo1204203200_was no better book on this planet. Of course I was wrong, The Dispossessed follows Shevek a young physicist as he leaves his anarchist utopian planet in favour of a planet much like our own, ruled by money, borders, and power-hungry governments.

The utopia Le Guin creates is unlike anything I’ve come across in my studies in that it is entirely believable, flawed, and somehow still a better option and still a utopia. The main character even willingly leaves the utopia because it is restrictive, only to find the alternative just as restrictive. Le Guin’s understanding of humanity and its flaws are unparallelled in the SF genre, and The Dispossessed is definitely a must read.

5) The Copper Promise by Jen Williams

18667112Jen Williams in general was an amazing find for me this year. I first heard about her work when she was interviewed on the Breaking the Glass Slipper podcast and knew I had to read her, she didn’t disappoint. This first installment in The Copper Cat Trilogy follows two sellswords and their mysterious employer into the citadel, a makeshift prison for the old gods, can you guess what they unleash there?

This book was fun, well paced and packed in so much brilliant stuff. I’ve already read the second book The Iron Ghost and have bought the first book in her new series Ninth Rain and I’m so excited to read more of her. Aside from her books though, Jen Williams is just a treat to follow on social media, you can find her delightful tweets @sennydreadful where you’ll become as addicted to her as her books.

So that’s about it for my list, I could go on but I’d end up telling you about every book I read last year which you can easily find out about on my goodreads if you have time to waste and for some reason want to waste it on me.

I hope at least I’ve helped you find some reads for 2018. Happy New Year!