Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 2 – Blade of Fortriu (N)

The Blade of Fortriu

Juliet Marillier

Ana of the Light Isles is to be sent to make a strategic alliance for King Bridei with the Caitt in the North. Little does she know not everything is as it seems in Lord Alpin’s domain and the one person she will have to rely on is someone she cannot stand. Bridei’s right-hand man, Faolan.

Again there is a very clear romance throughout this book. However this time we have a love triangle set up between Ana, Faolan, and Drustan. Though it’s clear relatively early that the partnership will be Ana and Drustan. Again the threads of romance are wonderfully woven between the characters with enough time spent on each that we have an excellent understanding of the characters motivations and the growth that occur. Even with the new character on the scene in Drustan. Honestly, even with how wonderful Ana and Drustan are together, my heart ached for Faolan. His character growth was the best of all – even though it is clear he has more growing to do later.

Early on when Ana was being courted by Alpin it was a bit nerve wracking. But the more that the story progressed the clearer it was that he wasn’t ending up with him, snake that he was. An immense relief really.

The other part I liked about the romance, because that really was a focus of this story, was how even though Faolan had Feelings for Ana there was always a clear line of respect Faolan had both for Ana and Drustan. A respect that was reciprocated. The way Ana and Drustan loved each other didn’t preclude other ties. Even though it wasn’t the bond that Faolan wanted, he saw and respect the bond they shared in return. the complexity of those interactions towards the end of the books were marvelous and enthralling. It’s not a wonder I went on a binge of reading this author when this is the level of interaction the characters have throughout her books. Another 5-stars.

 

Review: Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 1 – The Dark Mirror (N)

The Dark Mirror
Juliet Marillier
Bridei is being raised for great things, but he doesn’t know enough about them yet. When he rescues the foundling Tuala, he doesn’t know how this will change the course of his destiny. There is a very strong and clear romance to this book. Some of the moments you don’t see coming, and others you do, but all of them blend into each other in a gripping tale.
There is just enough information from the various perspectives to allow insight into the important characters. Enough for you to see how their actions reflect their motivations. Granted there are some you know far better than others Bridei and Tuala for instance get plenty of insight into how they feel and why the actions they take make sense.
I went into this knowing that its a trilogy so when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an ending I wasn’t too surprised. Thankfully I had the next two books to dive right into. The ending pace feels urgent – not too surprising given the events that are unfolding. That urgency communicates to the reader effortlessly. During that last section of the book I could not put it down at all. I just needed to know!
I also loved all the small details into Pictish history. Granted this is historical fiction not fact but it was clear that Marillier do her due diligence. It left me with a desire to dive into the history to learn more. The only reason I didn’t is because I had the next two books to read! 5-stars from me

Review: Juliet Marillier – Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves) (N)

Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves)

Juliet Marillier

Dreamer’s Pool

If you were given a second chance at life from an executioner, even if it meant putting aside the one thing you were surviving for and abiding by rules that go against the grain of who you are for seven years, would you take it? This is the choice given to Blackthorn. She chooses life, bitter and regretful with the only thought of getting through those seven years to come right back to the same place to fight for justice. In return for her freedom from an unjust imprisonment by her enemy, Blackthorn has promised the Fae noble Conmael to use her healers gifts for good, answer all calls for help she hears, and seek no vengence. It honestly seems a little random that this comes at the beginning and its clear that Blackthorn will struggle to adhere to the restrictions set.

Once she gets to a place where she will be safe from re-imprisonment and sets up shop so to speak with her cell-mate Grim who was the first to ask her help without words no less. She is presented with a puzzle in the form of the Prince Oran’s betrothed, Flidais, who has recently arrived and appears to be so completely different from the maiden the Oran courted.

Overall the book was an excellent read to me. I liked how there was a deep platonic support between Blackthorn and Grim. That while it was clear she was frustrated she was bound to help him from her promise, his presence gave her someone who understood that hellscape of a prison they both escaped. Together they unravel the mystery of Flidais and the connection to the Dreamer’s Pool. Throughout the book there are enough hints that you can figure out the mystery right along with Blackthorn and Grim and the PoV switches between them both allowing a good insight into how their thoughts work.

Tower of Thorns

The second entry in the Blackthorn & Grim series. Both Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their life at Winterfells and have the support and goodwill of Prince Oran and his wife Flidais.

Now its an outside mystery that comes calling and ends up taking Blackthorn and Grim along for the ride. A noblewoman from the west comes looking for help and while Blackthorn is reluctant, the appearance of a friend from her past sways her decision to help. Again this book has hints of a standard fairytale. You can see how the threads are progressing as the story develops but as ever there is a slight twist away from the expected that just makes for a satisfying ending all around.

This book gives us more details into both Blackthorn and Grim’s past before they ended up in that prison together. Those details are a heart-rending as you would expect for two people who basically deemed themselves irredeemable. Together they seem to slowly get through their pain together. But there were some instances where I just which someone would give one or the other a shake to wake them up to what they were doing. It’s so clear throughout that Blackthorn and Grim rely and support each other in equal partnership. There isn’t romance in the traditional expected way but that level of support just shows how deeply important they have become to each other that they really would be a little lost without the other there.

Den of Wolves

The final book of the Blackthorn and Grim series. Again they are drawn into solving a mystery but unlike the previous mystery this time they are left having to solve the different part of the mystery separately. It makes for additional strain on their relationship but in the end the distance makes it so very clear that they what they share together is more precious then they ever would have thought.

This time we have a young woman caught up in a mystery of her birth and a man who has been returned from the fae realm. Again it’s up to Blackthorn and Grim to solve the mystery. But this time they are having to do it separately. The most frustrating part of this as the reader is because we get both viewpoints we know the information that would be so useful for them to share if they could just a get a moment to indeed share it. It made for a much more thrilling read than I would expect. And it demonstrated that both Blackthorn and Grim are very clever in that they can get most of the way through a mystery on their own. But there were key details that they each needed from each other for the whole story to become clear.

Overall it was an excellent read and I loved the development between Blackthorn and Grim in how they supported each other and so clearly wanted each other. This was seen in the little moments rather than the big events. In how they left unintended messages for each other when they kept just missing the time they needed together. Those moments and their reflections on those moments were poignant. Because it happened alongside this mystery rather than separate from it. Often this is missed in fiction is that the big events are the focus and the small detail that build a relationship and let it grow aren’t shown at all. Not so here, the small details a woven in wonderfully.

 

This series was my second exposure to Juliet Mariller and they were all so very satisfying. I loved Tamora Pierce as a teenager and Marillier hits the same notes that I loved then as an adult. It was a complete pleasure to read the Blackthorn and Grim series. The slow development of their friendship and partnership was just enjoyable between their adventures and problem solving. More than that the solid depiction that just being there together helped them made me happy. Solid 5-stars and I will no doubt come back to these books in the future when I’m craving a read that plunges me into another world so thoroughly.

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Final Empire (K)

The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson

This is an extraordinary book. I already had high expectations, as it was a Sanderson, but this truly reminded me of just how immersive and wonderful books truly can be.

This book – at least in the first half – has very few major plot elements; the book is focused mostly on introducing the characters and the world. This is something that would usually cause me to put down a book quite early on, as I often get bored when not much seems to happen. However, this was absolutely not the case in this book. The characters and their interactions were so interesting that I quickly found myself immersed.

This book was able to Riot my emotions in an extremely powerful way – there were many times when I had to put the book down, just to pace and think about what was happening. Although it may seem like a criticism that I was capable of putting the book down, it is far from it. The events in the book pulled at my emotions so much that I simply needed to take a break to calm down and think about them.

I have nothing negative to say about this book. The characters were amazing, their arcs felt realistic, and the world immersive. I’m already making plans to start the second book.

Review: Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke – Pan’s Labyrinth (K)

Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

 

A year after her father’s death, Ofelia and her mother move in with her new Stepfather. The dense forest surrounding her new home provides a perfect hiding place, both for the resistance fighters her stepfather is trying to defeat, and fairies, Fauns, and a magnificent labyrinth.

This was a beautiful book. One of this book’s best features was its ability to inscribe wonder in my heart with the fantasy element, where it captured both the beauty and the danger of magic. I find there’s a big difference between fantasy which is simply ‘there are fairies and magic’ and the atmosphere and aura that a well-written fantasy novel can provide, and this book provided that perfectly. Part of the reason I think this is done so well was that the main character in the story is a child. This is the first time reading a book where the main character is significantly younger than I am, but I found that, far from being frustrated by annoying childlike decisions, the childlike innocence added to the atmosphere of the book.

The juxtaposition between the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather and the wonder of her secret world was outstanding. Both aspects of the book entranced me, and I never found myself trying to get through one part faster to move on to a more interesting story.

The worldbuilding of this book was beautifully done. The characters were vibrant and 3-dimensional, and the book pulled me in and refused to let me go until the very last page. I would definitely recommend this book, with a note of warning that there are some pretty extreme descriptions of violence, so it would not be ideal for younger readers.

Review: Maria V Snyder – Navigating the Stars (K)

Navigating the stars
Maria V. Snyder

Lyra is sick of leaving behind all her friends. She’s too young to make her own decisions, but every time her parents move to a new planet to continue their research, she says goodbye forever. The terracotta warriors – the subject of her parents’ research – litter nearby planets, but nobody has any clue why they’re there, or how they were made. When the entire population of a warrior planet is wiped out, Lyra realises she has much bigger issues.

Wow. This book was absolutely beautiful. The author clearly put a lot of time into planning the book and making sure that everything linked nicely. Events early in the book became important later on, and it felt like every word I read had a purpose for being there. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the beginning of the book being based around Lyra saying goodbye to her friends, but it ended up being a great introduction to Lyra, and the characters involved were important to the story, so it was well worth the initial delay in the action.

The relationships and characters in the book were amazing. Even neglecting the fantasy/sci-fi elements of the story, it was wonderful, and more than interesting. I felt invested not only in the characters, but in their relationships, and at times I felt heartbroken along with them. I felt like the characters were my friends, and at the end of the book I was sad to say goodbye.

The book wasn’t afraid of commitment, which made everything so much more exciting and adrenaline-packed. Right from the beginning, it was clear that the author would not shy away from saying goodbye to characters permanently, so when people were in danger, I was legitimately scared for them. I went through so much emotional turmoil reading this book, as I experienced the characters’ ups and downs along with them. It was an amazing book, and I’m already itching to get my hands on the sequel.

Review: Phil Stamper – As Far As You’ll Take Me

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper

Marty has always been the shy kid in the background, and he’s been happy like that. Being gay in Kentucky with a conservative community and Bible throwing parents isn’t exactly the best place to make waves. Marty decides to make the life he wants happen – he’s flying to London in order to play his beloved oboe and find a place to belong.

Did someone say that we needed more diversity in queer fiction? Even if they didn’t, this novel is a worthy addition to any gay teen’s bookshelf. It’s an accessible, friendly novel about Marty finally getting to live the openly-queer life he has always wanted since age six. The romance is a bit ugh, but I liked that it didn’t come to an obvious conclusion. Thank you, Marty, for not being a complete idiot.

I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and I could completely empathise with Marty that crowded spaces and new places freaked him out. However, the couple of times where he seemed to have a panic attack, and then had his new friends calm him down didn’t ring true to me. Thus, the ending to the novel seemed too neat.

Did I read this too fast, or something? I barely even picked up Marty’s disordered eating before his friends did. Yes, he seemed a bit obsessed about foods, but at the same time I felt like maybe it was harmless. I think that my sense of timing was off. The twelve weeks of summer seemed to go past faster than I realised. This was a complaint I had about The Gravity of Us as well.

I think that the blurb on this novel lets it down. I don’t think that Marty’s homesickness ever gets that bad, and he seems to be coping with his anxiety mostly ok. Also, I didn’t really get a sense of him running through his savings. And again, if it was so expensive to live in London, doesn’t that just mean that he should live at home with his aunt a bit longer? Certainly in Australia you are often expected to (or expect to) live with your parents for a while after you graduate high school.

I was very keen for this novel to come and I started reading it in short order. However, I took breaks in reading it because some parts just seemed too real and upsetting. I’m not sure that’s a complaint – just a comment that this book could potentially be triggering for some people. I won’t read it again, but I’d highly recommend it for any musically inclined travel-hungry teenager, gay or not. 4 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 9th February 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer (N)

Oathbringer
Brandon Sanderson

The Parshendi of the Shattered Plains have fallen but at terrible cost. The Everstorm has come and irrevocably changed the Parshmen of the world. One success, they have uncovered the lost city of the Radiant Knights, Urithiru. Dalinar realises that his goal of uniting the 10 Highprinces was not enough and sets his sights on uniting the world in the face of the return of the Voidbringers. But to do this Dalinar must confront his past and all the pain therein.

I was lucky enough to basically read the first three books of the Stormlight Archive for the first time, one after the other right before the fourth book came out. So there have been a lot of connections and inklings made as I’ve read the books, much to the delight of the other Sanderson Fan in the house. Having the little details of the past filled in makes for incredible reading. Often my perception of a character got turned on its head as the details were filled in. The small quotes at the beginning of some chapters provide a little bit of insight though usually only in retrospect did I realise that they were offering that insight. It made for the best sort of game when i was able to catch those details.

Just like the previous two books provided backstory details on Kaladin and Shallan repectively. The backstory in this book was about Dalinar. And oh goodness, were there are ton of details. I had a perception of Dalinar before this book. And he wasn’t my favourite character. He still isn’t, but I can relate to him a little more. Some of his flashbacks were heart-rending. Mainly because there is a weight of experience to Dalinar’s memories. It does come to a a head towards the end of the book in the best possible way.

Interestingly, I’m still very on the fence on who my favourite character is. Because there are aspects of a lot of characters that I enjoy. Kaladin’s fierce desire to protect, Shallan’s struggle with her past and her mind, Adolin’s cheerful nature, Navani’s organised approach and scientific rigour. I think at the moment I appreciate Adolin the most because he knows he is only a person in the wake of the return of the Radiant Knights. But he still wants to be the best version of him.

The main part of a Sanderson book that I love the most is that it makes you think. And it give you the chance to catch the Easter eggs. I’ll definitely be re-reading these books again in the future. Because I know I didn’t catch all the hints and I look forward to catching them. If you haven’t read this series, or are on the fence about it definitely give them a try. They won’t disappoint if you are a fan of epic fantasy. These books fit the term in an incredibly satisfying way.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance (N)

Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson

The war on the Shattered Plains continues with no end in sight. Kaladin pushes to keep his people safe, even as he is conflicted between his anger and what is right. Dalinar seeks to end the war with the Parshendi while struggling to understand the path he must take to move forward. Shallan finds herself caught between lies and truth, all the while attempting to ignore the pain of her past. The Everstorm comes and will overtake them all if they cannot unite.

I don’t know where to even start with this book. It was a ride from start to finish. A little slow in places but each story line works parallel to the others. So while one story line might be slow the others may be filling in background knowledge or moving forward. Keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. I had trouble putting the book down at all since I wanted to know what would happen. We get to know each of the characters a little more, as well as getting insight between the characters now that they are in the same place. I couldn’t begin to say who my favourite is, since I love them all for different reasons. Kal is completely bull-headed but has the advantage of being the first character you get to know. Adolin could easily be put into the role of typical privileged noble, but isn’t. Shallan is the back story focus this time around. And I’m beginning to like her more for the twists and turns that her story takes. Her growing more of a spine on her own only helps there.

Sanderson as ever, takes the story line and twists it on its head. You can tell so much planning has gone into these books. Finding out that there was more going on behind the scenes with the Parshendi was a kick to the guts. That perspective makes it hard to totally side with the characters that you have known from The Way of Kings. Sanderson remains top class when it comes to trope breaking and I really cannot get enough of it.

One aspect of these books I adore are the interludes where we get a little bit of extra information about the world of Roshar in general, hints about what may happen with the actual narrative, and what I am sure in some cases are set-up for later books. Given that this is the second book of a planned 10, there is a lot that is only just getting set up to ensure a good flow from start to finish.

This is definitely 5 stars from me. I could not put these books down, and I loved the way these books made me thinks as the characters struggled and came to realisations about themselves and the world. I will definitely be reading them again in the future.