It’s strange to look back and realise that my entire reading list for last month was fantasy books. I read a fantastic darker fantasy novel – unlike anything I’d read before, most of a young-adult fantasy series with elements of adventure, steampunk and alternate history, and a series of fantasy books that defy their placement as young-adult novels (more on that later!).
- Century of Sand – Christopher Ruz
The Graceling Realm series – Kristin Cashore
The Laws of Magic series – Michael Pryor
- Blaze of Glory
- Heart of Gold
- Word of Honour
- Time of Trial
This is not the type of fantasy novel I would normally read. Generally I prefer my fantasy to be set in forests, with plenty of pre-established back-story and characters who are determined to do `good’, no matter the cost. Century of Sand is not that kind of fantasy. In some ways it is much, much better. Like the desert in which it is set, this novel is dark, gritty and dangerous. The history of the characters and the world are slowly revealed in a spectacular way that keeps you wanting more, and while neither Richard nor Ana are traditionally `good’ characters, I couldn’t help but cheer for them, hoping they would succeed against all odds. Christopher Ruz does a fantastic job, balancing mystery, horror, history, fantasy and adventure perfectly, and leaving the reader wanting more of the same. At the end of the novel there are many questions left unanswered, and I can only hope that the next two books will answer them as brilliantly as Century of Sand posed them. A great first novel, I’m looking forward to reading more! (See more HERE.)
Katsa is a Graceling, set apart by her preternatural fighting ability and her different coloured eyes (one green, the other blue). Her Grace means that she is a useful tool for her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, but Katsa is also a strongly determined and independent young woman who wishes to be in control of her own life. It is this determination that sets Katsa on a path towards independence as she, accompanied by the mysterious Prince Po, seeks to uncover a secret that could change everything. I quite enjoyed Graceling – it is a remarkable debut fantasy novel, set in a world that is brilliantly described and filled with characters both likeable, and detestable. Katsa is a great female protagonist – she is strong, determined and kind, yet she is also stubborn, temperamental and occasionally indecisive. Not everything in Graceling is as it first seems, and I really enjoyed the element of discovery within the book. It did take me some time to really get into the storyline, but I am interested in reading more about this intriguing world and these entertaining characters.
Fire is set some 30 years before the events of Graceling, in a kingdom undiscovered by the people of the Six Kingdoms. There are no gracelings within the Dells, but there are monsters – creatures of exquisite colour and beauty who are able to control and manipulate weaker minds. Fire is seventeen years old, and the only monster of human form alive. To Fire, her appearance is a curse and a constant reminder of the many evils committed and encouraged by her father, the monster Cansrel. When the threat of civil war increases, Fire must decide whether the cost of using her abilities is worth saving the kingdom her father almost destroyed. Fire is a great fantasy adventure novel and easily stands apart from Graceling – though if you plan on reading them all I would strongly suggest you read Graceling first (SPOILERS!). Fire has a superb cast of characters, and the intertwining (and unravelling) of their lives makes for a fantastic backdrop for the more political and fantastical aspects of the story. I loved the concept of the monsters, and particularly Fire’s struggle to come to terms with her own nature. A great fantasy novel, though probably for readers aged 16+.
Bitterblue takes place eight years after the events of Graceling, and deals specifically with the long-term effects of Katsa and Po’s actions. At eighteen, Bitterblue is Queen of a kingdom she doesn’t understand. To learn more, Bitterblue leaves the castle at night and travels the city, discovering a world of secrets, puzzles, confusion, and people desperate to heal from the pain of the past. Bitterblue is a more complex and darker book than either Graceling or Fire. As Bitterblue tries to find the answers to her puzzles and unearth the secrets being kept, she enters a world of ciphers, lies and madness. The secrets at the heart of her kingdom are dark, painful and mind-shattering – definitely not for younger readers. I enjoyed reading Bitterblue, but it does tread a very fine line between understanding and confusion. With a story that revolves around secrets, lies, confusion and ciphers, it is easy for the reader to be just as confused as Bitterblue is – though it is amazing how everything all comes together in the end. It was great to see how Bitterblue develops throughout the novel, changing from a young girl who allows others to make her decisions, to very much a Queen in her own right. This was a really enjoyable book, despite its darker focus. I would look forward to reading any other novels by Kristin Cashore. Recommended for readers aged 16+.
Set in Albion (a country inspired by Victorian-era England), Blaze of Glory is a wonderful blend of magic, technology, intrigue and entertainment. Aubrey Fitzwilliam is ambitious, intelligent, determined and a little bit arrogant. Combined with his natural aptitude for magic, these traits always manage to get Aubrey and his best friend George into some interesting and dangerous situations. After foiling an attempted assassination of the Crown Prince, Aubrey can’t resist investigating further, leading himself, George and the surprising Caroline Hepworth into a world of dangerous magic, espionage and intrigue. My main issue with this novel was that I found Pryor’s writing too descriptive. Pryor obviously takes great pride in describing the world and the characters that he has created, however this did combine to take the impact away from important scenes and resulted in a novel that is, at times, rather slow. Blaze of Glory might have been spectacular if it had been another hundred pages shorter.
After the strain and danger of Blaze of Glory, Aubrey and George decide to take a relaxing holiday in Lutetia (Paris). But nothing is ever really relaxing around Aubrey Fitzwilliam. Soon enough Aubrey and George are caught up in a whirlwind of intrigue and mystery. Faced with a stolen national treasure and people turned mindless, Aubrey can’t help but get himself, and his friends, involved. Again, Pryor’s intriguing world and plot are diminished by his tendency to be overly descriptive. In addition, however, I found that there were simply too many plot lines within this novel, which made the whole escapade feel too rushed and hectic. I would have preferred perhaps one less issue for Aubrey to deal with, although it was interesting to see him attempt to juggle all of the intriguing (and interlinking) problems that arose. The novel has a fantastic cast of characters, each serving to assist or undermine Aubrey’s quest for answers. Pryor is definitely a master at bringing everything together, despite his tendency to pack too much into the story.
In Word of Honour, Aubrey and George find themselves involved in a world of intrigue as events unfold that could lead the country into war with Holmland. Surrounded by mystery, Aubrey can’t help but interfere, and soon – accompanied by George and the ever-astounding Caroline – he is caught up in sabotage, thievery and danger. And what does the return of Dr Tremaine have to do with it all? I enjoyed this adventure more than I did the previous two books. The plot was simpler (whilst still complex enough to pose intriguing problems), and the description less overwhelming (bar one or two notable exceptions). This was a well-rounded adventure novel, and I loved the larger emphasis on steampunk and the way that Pryor managed to intertwine it within the fantasy setting. Word of Honour provided a great adventure for Aubrey and his friends, I look forward to their next one.
This fourth instalment in the adventures of Aubrey, George and Caroline took me longer to get through then each of the previous ones did. I struggled to be absorbed in the unfolding story and found much of what happened to be so coincidental as to verge on the ridiculous. One aspect of Time of Trial that particularly disappointed me was the lack of any clear motivating plotline. The characters have a vague plan to confront their enemy (the vile Dr Mordecai Tremaine, intent on bringing the world to war), but much of what occurs during the novel seems to happen to them, rather than the characters being the controllers of their own lives. After foiling a particularly insidious plot of Tremaine’s, Aubrey, Caroline and George decide to travel to Holmland (Germany) and confront their enemy on their own terms. Along the way they get embroiled in various espionage plots, ghost hunts and assassination attempts, only to find themselves facing their enemy earlier than anticipated. This was an action-packed novel; I just would have liked it to be more focused and controlled, with more of Aubrey Fitzwilliam tenacity that I have come to enjoy.
(Note: I have the next – and final! – two books in the Laws of Magic series and hope to finish them early next month. Wait until my next Short Reviews posting, or keep track of my reviews on Goodreads.com!)