Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

IMG_5349Young man,” he said, “understand this: there are two Londons. There’s London Above – that’s where you lived – and then there’s London Below – the Underside – inhabited by the people who fell through the cracks in the world. Now you’re one of them. Good night.

Intriguing in concept and full of imagination, Neverwhere tells the story of a fantastical world in which there are two Londons: London Above (real London) and London Below (full of magic and invisible to those above). Richard Mayhew has a successful career, a fiancée, and is relatively happy with his life, until one fateful night opens his eyes to a London he never knew existed. His encounter flips his world upside down and takes him on an unforgettable journey under the streets of London, which is filled with danger and adventure.

“You’ve a good heart. Sometimes that’s enough to see you safe wherever you go. But mostly, it’s not.”

I thoroughly enjoy Neil Gaiman’s writing style. There is a quality to it that provides an almost fairy-tale feeling and really brings back childhood memories of diving into great and fantastical stories. Neverwhere is written wonderfully and the world created is quite fascinating and compelling, however there is something about the story as a whole that just did not click with me and I never fully engaged with it. There is a disconnect with the characters that was there throughout the entirety of the novel, and I did not care for the main character, Richard who I found to be incredibly irritating. His journey is one that supposedly leads to growth but there is frustratingly little character development, if any. For this reason, Neverwhere is an okay fantasy novel rather than a great one.

The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst

IMG_4978“Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.”

The Reluctant Queen is the second book in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, with the first being The Queen of BloodI read the first novel earlier this year and it quickly became one of my favourite fantasy books, with its beautiful writing and memorable characters. The Reluctant Queen picks up about six months after the events of the first novel as the newly crowned queen has settled into her role, keeping the peace and protecting her people from the spirits that seek to harm them. However, she is hiding a secret that jeopardizes her position and affects the safety of those she is committed to protect; she is dying. Without anyone in line to take her place, the search begins for a new heir, but finding someone gifted and strong enough to take on such a responsibility is no easy task. The search leads to Naelin, who has spent her life denying her power, and who wishes to stay far removed from the business of the palace. The only problem is, she may be the queen’s only hope.

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As with its predecessor, The Reluctant Queen is wonderfully imaginative and inventive. It completely captured my attention from the beginning right to the very last page, leaving me wanting more and eagerly anticipating the next adventure. There is action and a bit of mystery, all of which is fun and enjoyable, but what really propels it all forward is the cast of compelling characters. There are returning favourites from the first novel, as well as new ones that add to the dynamic of the story with amusing dialogue and humorous moments. This is a great second instalment in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, and one I cannot recommend highly enough.

*Book provided by author for an unbiased review. Publication date: July 4, 2017.

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

BLOG“The deeds of men, as footprints in the desert.
Nothing under the circling moons is fated to last.
Even the sun goes down.”

A fantasy novel that sets the stage for an epic journey, The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a land with a violent past and the individuals whose paths and destiny intersect during a vital time. Al-Rassan is home to three very different cultures and faiths, which has led to years of turmoil and accounted for the violence and brutality of endless battles. Three notable individuals of different faiths find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and their choices have life altering consequences for themselves and the very future of Al-Rassan.

“It’s one thing to make war for your country, your family, even in pursuit of glory. It’s another to believe that the people you fight are embodiments of evil and must be destroyed for that. I want this peninsula back. I want Esperana great again, but I will not pretend that if we smash Al-Rassan and all it has built we are doing the will of any god I know.”

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From the compelling characters to the beautiful writing, I was completely taken with this novel. It is a wonderful fantasy that looks at divided loyalties, the clash between religion and politics, and the price of war. These themes are tackled in a smart and thought-provoking way that really elevates the story. The true heart of this novel are the characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, and who will stay with me for a long time to come. It does take a little time to fall into the rhythm of the story in terms of learning all the characters and where they fit in the overall layout of this conflict, however this did not take away from the enjoyment. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel full of humour, wit, tragedy, and a lot of heart. Truly a fantasy worthy of your time.

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

BLOG“We remember a time of such clarity. We were Beast, we ran with wolves and hunted prey, we lived on the wind and breathed the forest. We wanted nothing but to be, to run, to endure. Want didn’t exist.

And we remember another time, too, a time of longing and desire, where we existed as nothing but want… always the next unattainable thing. There was no joy in what we had, only in what might come.”

Yeva has always felt most at home in the forest, and most at peace while hunting with her father. But as she gets older, the expectations to be a lady of high society and to marry a wealthy gentleman have led to days of polite chatter with baronessas and taken her away from the solitude she cherishes. When her father loses his fortune and she and her sisters have to move to a cabin on the outskirts of the forest, Yeva is secretly glad. Relieved to be back in the environment of the forest, with all its mysterious and unspoken magic. But this new way of life may have cost Yeva’s father his sanity, and when he disappears she sets out to find him and hunt down the creature that her father had become obsessed with tracking.

“She wept because she did not know what she wanted, and because she wanted everything.”

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Hunted is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. I love a good retelling and Beauty and the Beast is my absolute favourite story for this. This take on the well known story is wonderfully done and I ended up happily spending the day completely engrossed in the adventure. There is depth and nuance to the characters that made me care about their situation and their fate in what was to come. The relationship between Yeva and her sisters is quite touching and was one of my favourite parts of the novel, along with the way the author perfectly encapsulated very complex emotions. With memorable characters and compelling writing, Hunted is a wonderful escape into a new take on a tale as old as time.

“The song wanted. It wanted in the way Yeva had always wanted, wanted not so much a thing as everything, something beyond naming, something more than, different, deeper.”

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

BLOGI am the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground,’ he said, mismatched eyes glinting. ‘I am wildness and madness made flesh. You’re just a girl’—he smiled, and the tips of his teeth were sharp—’and I am the wolf in the woods.”

Liesl has grown up hearing stories about the Goblin King, the Ruler Underground. While it all seemed so real to her as a child, the older she got the more it became a fantasy; things of myth and legend. However, odd sightings and strange occurrences raise many questions for Liesl, leading her to wonder how much of the stories are real. When her sister, Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl ventures into the world of the Underground on a mission to save her sister. But there is a price to be paid, and for the Goblin King, that price is a life for a life.

“What’s the use of running, if we are on the wrong road.”

Wintersong provided an interesting reading experience for me. Some things worked, others not so much, and overall I was left with mixed feelings. The writing is absolutely lovely, and the story itself does not follow the typical route of novels in its genre. This on its own fascinated me and kept me guessing as to how everything would develop and conclude. While marketed as a YA fantasy novel, it does feel more like an adult novel, which ads to what feels like a departure from the typical stories of the genre. The pacing of the novel is quite slow, which made it difficult to really get into the story and connect with the characters. Another thing that didn’t completely work for me was the romance aspect of the story that felt at times confusing and slightly annoying. However, certain parts of the plot did keep me engaged and I really liked the author’s writing style. She is a very talented writer and I look forward to seeing what she releases next.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

BLOG“There is a point when a man may swim back to shore, but he was past it. There was nothing left but to be swallowed by the enormity of the sea.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of one of my favourite books of 2015, Signal to Noise. This novel is quite different in genre, that being a paranormal thriller that tells the story of a clash between vampires in alternating points of view. We meet, Domingo, a homeless teen; Ana, a tough cop; and Atl, a young vampire who has entered a vampire-free zone in Mexico City. Atl is smart, dangerous, and on the run from a rival vampire clan. Atl walks into Domingo’s life and an interesting rapport develops, while Ana’s investigation leads her right in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

This is not a genre that I generally gravitate towards and not a book I would normally read, but as a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing I had to give this one a try. What is very clear is that she is a truly talented storyteller. The world-building is well crafted and it is easy to be drawn into this reality that the author has crafted. What really stands out is the characters, who are compelling and make you care about their stories and overall journey. The alternating viewpoints are well done, and I enjoyed them all, particularly that of Atl who is just such a badass. If you are a fan of this genre, then this book is definitely for you. However, if it is not something you generally read or if vampires don’t really appeal to you, I do recommend checking out Signal to Noise, which is a fantastic novel.

*ARC provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

IMG_4357“Inside a dream.
Within a lost city.
In the shadow of an angel.
At the brink of calamity.”

Lazlo Strange has spent most of his life dreaming of the lost city of Weep; a city that has turned into myth. As the years pass, his dream of finding the city that has become an obsession, gradually begins to feel like an impossibility. He is no one of importance after all, but a junior librarian and orphan who found his home among books. One day, a man known as the Godslayer and a group of legendary warriors provide a once in a lifetime opportunity, one that will answer all of Lazlo’s questions and uncover a long lost mystery.

Strange the Dreamer is a wonderfully crafted, page-turning read. From the opening paragraph to the very last sentence, the beautiful writing is downright captivating, as the story and characters are brought to life. There is a dreamy quality to Laini Taylor’s storytelling that transports the reader to the fantastical world she has created. The characters are interesting, each consisting of great depth and complexity, which brings up thought-provoking issues of morality and justice. It also explores complex emotions given the circumstances and situations the characters have encountered.

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“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“So they layered cynicism atop their longing, and it was something like layering laughter over the darkness — self-preservation of an uglier stripe. And thus did they harden themselves, by choosing to meet hate with hate.”

There are a number of layers to this novel, all of which work wonderfully: the story of Lazlo’s life growing up, the mystery surrounding the mythical city of Weep, the story of gods and goddesses, the intriguing characters, the magic, and of course the dreams of a dreamer. This is the first book in what is to be a duology, with the second book expected to be released in 2018. Now I wait. 🙂

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming?”