‘Kindred’ – Review

So I’ve finally made a little more progress on my 2018 Must Reads list and picked up Kindred by Octavia E Butler. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this book. I have read Dawn (though I still haven’t read the rest of the trilogy) and Butler’s short story ‘Bloodchild’ but everything I’d heard about Kindred was different. And it really was.

51xp2-ed2b2bl-_sx323_bo1204203200_The other work I’ve read by Butler was very much hard science-fiction, and though Kindred was technically SF it had a very different vibe. The story follows Dana, a young black writer in the 70s who is suddenly transported to the 1800s to the antebellum south to save the life of her white, slave-owning ancestor. This becomes a recurring thing, with Dana becoming trapped in the past for various periods of time and becoming a slave whilst she is there.

Though the concept was amazing, the characters and subplots were crazy interesting, and the prose style was simple and effective, but there was no real explanation for what was happening. Whereas every question in Dawn and ‘Bloodchild’ were answered we just have to accept that Dana time travels to an ancestor for no real reason we know. This sounds pretty negative, but believe me it doesn’t hinder the story itself, and it’s a story about not having answers, even though Dana visits the past she still has huge gaps in her knowledge and has no means of really controlling what she sees or learns. The only small issue I had was that it put me off a little at the start, and that’s probably why it took ,me so long to get into.

Though there may be no explanation the narrative makes up for this in other ways. Dana’s relationship with her white boyfriend comes under a lot of strain when she begins to understand the history of race relations a lot better. Tensions just keep rising and rising throughout the narrative and you really start to feel Dana’s anger and frustration yourself.

Honestly Octavia E Butler is just incredible, even though I wanted a little more SF than I really got I was still just in love with the story.

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‘The Geek Feminist Revolution’ – Review

The Geek Feminist Revolution is a collection of essays, written by SF author Kameron Hurley, on everything geek, feminist, and writerly. Hurley has been a prolific feminist voice in the SF community, and has often been applauded for the representation in her books.

38441580_2149415255269993_2096340577598570496_nI recently read her novel The STars are Legion which didn’t have a single man in it, it was like the polar opposite of LotR, and though it was a little gorey for me I enjoyed Hurley’s style enough to give her essays a try.

It’s not often that I read nonfiction, and it’s not often that I enjoy it, but I certainly enjoyed this. Hurley’s voice is a rousing call to arms for all geeky girls who feel that the community might have overlooked them, taken them for granted, or objectified them. And, to be honest, that’s pretty much ALL geeky girls.

Now I didn’t get into SF seriously until about 2015/16 so I feel like I missed a lotta good stuff, but Hurley cleared a lot of it up for me, mostly Gamergate and the whole Sad Puppies nonsense, and why exactly Jonathan Ross didn’t end up presenting the Hugo Awards. Hurley explained it all concisely, clearly, and told me exactly why she was angry, so this book is perfect for SF veterans and SF newbies alike.

As well as explaining her anger (and believe me she is angry in the best possible way) Hurley gives a lot of damn good advice about writing. She won’t give you any easy life hacks, she won’t tell you you’re gonna make it big, she is honest, she is knowledgeable, and she should be listened to. As a (very amateur) writer Hurley’s words really gave me hope and drive, I feel ready to take on the long, long, looooooooong road ahead of me with a little more vigour whereas before I was very close to giving up.

Hurley is a treasure, and should be treated as such. Anyone with an interest in SF should definitely read this book. And if you still aren’t convinced I’ll leave you with the quote that made me scream with the force of a thousand incensed female warriors:

“Let’s be real: if women were ‘naturally’ anything, societies wouldn’t spend so much time trying to police every aspect of their lives.”

‘Spinning Silver’ – Review

Those of you who know me will know that Uprooted completely blew my mind. It was my favourite read of 2017, and Spinning Silver is already one of my favourite reads of 2018.

36896898The story follows three young women; Miryem, the daughter of a money lender who is reluctant to collect his debts, Wanda, the the abused daughter of a farmer, and Irina, the daughter of a Duke who successfully makes her the next Tsarina. These three characters are the main narrators (with a couple other characters occasionally thrown in). Their stories become more interconnected as the Staryk, the strange winter creatures in the forest, thrive in an unusually long winter. It was very satisfying to read this in the middle of a heatwave.

Novik is an expert at weaving fairy tale elements into a brand new shiny story. Spinning Silver has elements of Russian fairy tales, Rumplestiltskin, faerie lore, and tops it off with sinister acknowledgements of just how purely terrible human beings are, even when there is worse around. And there is plenty worse. Miryem, the young money lender, isn’t just coded Jewish like in most fantasy fiction I come across (it can get pretty dicey when moneylenders pop up in fantasy, see JKRs goblins at Gringotts for a particularly fun example) but Miryem and her family are explicitly referred to as Jewish! It shouldn’t have shocked me, but sadly it did, it occurred to me about halfway through that the only Jewish characters I’ve read about have been in war novels, so I’m gonna try to amend that in the future. But anyway, back to my point, the worst thing Miryem faces isn’t the Staryk, or demons from Russian lore, it’s the people that live in her town, who owe her money and blame her people for their own debts. It was just so horribly refreshing to read I just loved it and it made me consider how prejudice works in such an intricate way I just ARGH I love Naomi Novik so much.

img_2951Another thing I loved about Spinning Silver was the romance! I live for slow burn romances guys, and this book DELIVERED. I practically wept at every interaction that Irina and the Tsar had together, it was beautiful and so satisfying. I won’t say too much about this but the romance element of Miryem’s plot felt a little rushed at the end and I would have loved to see more of that, or even have it a little more open ended rather than wrapped up too fast. Wanda didn’t have any romantic plot, which I was glad of, she was the one character in straits too dire to really give that any thought and if she had that sort of plot I’d have been disappointed, but Novik can be trusted guys.

I’ve seen a few people complaining that it was a little bit heteronormative and I do have to agree. Uprooted didn’t have much prominent LGBT representation as far as I can remember, but, like UprootedSpinning Silver has just so many great women looking out for each other, looking out for themselves, being selfish, being kind, being human and it was satisfying. I’m excited to see what Novik writes next and I’ve got my hands on the first in her Temeraire series so I can see what she does wit dragons, because if she can write a book this beautiful just about money and debt then she’s gonna blow my mind with fire breathing lizards.

‘Vicious’ – Review

So this review is coming a little late, I actually finished Vicious a week ago but had some technical difficulties so I didn’t get a chance to record my initial thoughts here. Because of this I’ve had a little time to think about it whereas usually I just word vomit. Hopefully it won’t be too different though.

A friend of mine recommended Vicious to me and I put it off in favour of the Shades of Magic series, which I absolutely adored. Vicious, despite being very different from Shades of Magic, was just as well written and cleverly devised. I don’t think I’m the first to say it but V.E. Schwab is a genius.

img_2927That being said it did take me a little while to get into this book. It follows two friends, Victor and Eli, who have superpowers and a long history of competition dating back ten years. The narrative skips between the various timelines seamlessly, but the chapters are so short I didn’t really sink into reading it like I would with a more lengthy section. I ended up putting it down quite a bit until about half way through, when Eli’s narration becomes more prominent after Victor dominating the book.

I really enjoyed the way the superpowers worked in this book. I won’t spoil anything here but the gifts were believable and often terrifying, but the way they end up being linked to each individual is intriguing. At first I was sceptical about reading superpowers rather than watching them, the superhero genre has always rested firmly in the visual for me, but V.E. Schwab did a brilliant job of adapting the superhero genre to print.

In terms of plot I had sort of hoped that both Victor and Eli would be equally despicable people, but in the end I was quite happy with Victor turning out to be a gritty, realistic not-hero, just a person. Honestly, if you’re looking for a new fictional boyfriend Victor Vale is it, and reading his revenge plot play out was so deeply satisfying that I stayed up until 3am to read the second half of the book.

If you’re looking for something similar to fill the space left by the Shades of Magic series then Vicious isn’t it, but even though it’s drastically different it’s just as good.

‘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

‘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.