Rosie Reviews: Darien by C.F. Iggulden

Darien

Title: Darien

Author: C. F. Iggulden

Publisher: Michael Joseph

Genre: Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

C.F. Iggulden is a well-known historical fiction author; Darien is his first foray into fantasy. It revolves around the city of Darien, where powerful magic is a thing of the past but remnants remain in objects and as knacks in a few select people. The novel follows a number of these gifted people as they all converge on the city for Reaper’s Eve. By morning, everything has changed.

Plot

The novel follows multiple point of view characters, and so covers a wide range of plots and sub-plots. Ultimately, however, all the threads come together to shake the foundations of Darien’s ruling class. It is a novel in two parts and, ultimately, I much preferred the first part of the novel and felt it could have ended when part one ended. The first part is, admittedly, slow in places, but it does a brilliant job of capturing the magic of the world and introducing the characters, all the while building to the climactic scene where all the threads come together. The second part, unfortunately, just did not work for me – by the time I got to it, it felt like the novel was nearly over. Instead, I was  to embark into another extended climactic scene. It almost felt like it could have been a sequel if expanded slightly.

Characters

As I’ve mentioned, the first part of the novel does a brilliant job of introducing the characters. Of them all, Elias and Nancy stood out to me as the most interesting, two sides of a coin. One only wanted to save his family while the other was purely motivated by revenge. Unfortunately, once the novel hit the half-way mark, I felt like the characters lost a little bit of what made them special in order to allow the more battle-filled scenes to occur. The two female characters, while brilliantly crafted, were also subjected to romances which felt both forced and sprung out of nowhere.

World/Setting

That being said, Iggulden’s experience with historical fiction has led to creation of a world which feels deep-rooted in the novel as well as our own world. I felt I was present in the novel from the beginning, experiencing everything alongside the characters. The set-up of the city felt like you could walk the streets. The only trouble I could find with this was that Darien is supposedly the heart of an empire, yet it felt more like an individual, solitary city than an empire. Even so, it was a city which jumped off the page and I have a feeling that we will see more of the empire in future books.

Final Thoughts

While it is not going to a be a favourite book of mine, I did enjoy Darien. It captured a world built on magic, but where only remnants survive. It introduced me to a number of intriguing characters. It’s also a novel with spectacular writing style – Iggulden can write incredibly well. The novel wasn’t perfect and I was not particularly hooked throughout but I think there is enough in it to make me curious to read the next book in the series.

Darien is out now.

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33245839-darien

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Darien-C-F-Iggulden/9780718186463?a_aid=rosienreads

Rosie Reviews: The Fire Sermon series (Books 1 and 2) by Francesca Haig

It is a rare thing for me to read a sequel immediately after finishing a book; normally, I like a break, a chance to take a breath, before continuing on with the adventure. For this series, however, the second book was in my hands within seconds of the final page of the first being turned. That series is The Fire Sermon series by Francesca Haig.

I actually first got my hands on the series about a year ago; I bought the first one and received an arc of the sequel for free at YALC last year. That being said, it’s taken me a year to read them and, with the finale out now, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The Fire Sermon is set in a world obliterated by fire, implied to be nuclear warfare. Technology is a thing of the past and only twins are born. Of these twins, the Alpha twin is perfect yet the other, the Omega, receives the brunt of radiation damage, being born with anything from an extra arm to missing limbs. Alphas rule while Omega’s live in abject poverty. Despite this, their lives are intrinsically connected – when one dies, so does the other.

Cass, the series’ main character, is born an Omega. Yet, her imperfection is mental rather than physical – Cass is plagued by visions of the blast that destroyed the world, but within that are also visions of the future. These visions guide her as she embarks on a journey to find her own freedom, but ultimately being caught up in something which could see the past repeat itself.

Everything about this series has worked for me so far. Even from the very first pages I was captivated, thinking about the story and everything it entails even when I was not reading. What I particularly enjoyed about the book is that, while it explores so many themes that are so applicable to today’s society, it does so in a way that you don’t realise that’s what it is doing – the themes are perfectly woven into the story.

Haig’s writing melds the story, the characters and the ideas together beautifully, creating a story that requires no thought to get into but will keep your mind active from the moment you’re sucked in. The balance between action and breathers allows you to read without being overwhelmed by all that is going on and the characters are really enjoyable to read (even those which aren’t particularly pleasant).

There is also a fair amount of diversity, particularly with regards to physical disabilities, and, as far as I can tell, these are handled well. The Omegas are shown to be able to function just as well as the Alphas (if not better in some cases), and their disabilities are just facets of who they are rather than a defining characteristic. The book does fall down with regards to mental disabilities; the only one we see is Cass’ ability to see the future, which is not something we see in the real world. That being said, there is an interesting dialogue with regards to Cass’ struggles with fitting in due to her ‘defect’ being invisible rather than physical. The novel also includes prominent PoC characters, and a lesbian character (although, be warned, The Map of Bones does suffer from the dead lesbian trope, albeit this part of the story line is paralleled with a straight character).

On the whole, the first two novels in the series were just what I needed to read when I read them. They got me thinking while also bringing me into a story and world I was properly invested in. I fell in love with the characters, and the book just made me desperate to find out what happened to them. Unfortunately, I have yet to read the first – while the hardback of the third book, The Forever Ship, is available, I am currently on a book-buying ban and I would rather get the book in paperback to match the first two (that being said, the paperback comes out in January 2018 – I’m not sure I can wait that long!).

I definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys a good dystopian, realistic characters and a thought-provoking read.

The entire trilogy is out now!

The Fire Sermon rating (4.5/5): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18109771-the-fire-sermon

The Map of Bones (5/5): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26174866-the-map-of-bones

The Forever Ship: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35519886-the-forever-ship

 

 

 

The Books I Read in June 2017

June was a much better reading month than May and I ended up surprising myself with the books I read. While there was a lot of fantasy, it varied from high fantasy to more dystopian novels with non-fiction interspersed throughout. The books I read are all listed below.

For reference, the way I rate is as follows:

1-Unable to Finish ; 2-Did not enjoy ; 3-Liked ; 4-Really Liked ; 5-Loved

Paperback

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – 4/5

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman- 3.5/5

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin – 3.5/5

Jack the Ripper, the Works of Francis Thompson by Richard Patterson – 3/5 (review)

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig – 4.5/5

Kindle

Godlind by Anna Stephens – 4.5/5 (Review)

Audiobook

Work in Progress by Michael Eisner and Tony Schwartz – 3/5

It was also a very paperback-heavy month as I tried to focus on reading the books on my to-read bookcase. From some vantage, I was successful but from others, well, I’ve now had to make that bookcase double-backed. I also would have read more had I not had trouble with audible cloud player – for a long time the player could not get past the buffering point; this issue now appears to have been resolved so, hopefully, I’ll get a chance to listen to some more audiobooks in future.

As it is, I have gone into July with two books on the go: The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig (sequel to The Fire Sermon) and Just Kids, written and read by Patti Smith.

Rosie Reviews: Godblind by Anna Stephens

Godblind

Title: Godblind

Author: Anna Stephens

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Genre: Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

Intense, captivating and powerful; Godblind is the fantastic debut fantasy from author Anna Stephens. It is a novel that is filled to the brim with war, political intrigue and gods, capturing a number of different themes from free will to feminism, but all within the threads of the novel. It is set in a world where the Red Gods have been exiled and their people cast out, but now revenge is on the horizon and no-one can escape the call of the Gods.

Plot

I will admit, I really was not sure about this book when I began. The contents page told me that it would be told from a large number of character perspectives. The first page was full of so much world-building, it was near-impossible to take in. Yet, once the book got going, the daunting beginning turned into something which took you elsewhere, to the world within the pages. The multiple points of view worked well in creating a rounded narrative which both increased the intensity of the story and showed how a war can be fought on multiple fronts, with multiple perspectives.

My main gripe with the novel was the pacing, or rather the effect the pacing had on my reading experience. The pacing itself was perfect – it kept the novel moving and successfully navigated the balance between action and breathers. However, it also convinced me that I was reading a stand-alone novel. So much happened and it felt like Godblind was rounding up to a brilliant conclusion, and then the cliff-hangers began. This novel is not, as I first thought, a stand-alone fantasy novel, but rather the first in a series. The series, I have no doubt, will be brilliant, but it was such a frustrating ending to have gone through so much with the characters and then not have any conclusion at the end.

Characters

As I mentioned, this book features a lot of characters, both POV and secondary characters. This did concern me when I first started as I find that having too many character perspectives can be confusing and a bit of a turn off but Anna Stephens handles this beautifully. Each one has their own story-line, but at no point does it ever feel like the characters are there for no reason. Everything is inter-connected and every character feels integral to the plot. I also particularly enjoyed how even the more villainous characters got their own perspective, showing their motivations and how there are not just two sides to the war.

The Gods themselves are particularly intriguing. We only really see the Dark Lady in close detail, but it was fascinating to see her bring all her pieces into play, in her attempt to achieve her goals. The Gods’ interactions with the other characters was interesting to read, particularly as it made you question who really was in control at times.

World/Setting

The world in this book is phenomenal. Despite a rough start of intense world-building, it settles down quite quickly and the world begins to gradually rise around you as you read. The different character perspectives allow you to see a large number of different places and lifestyles of the world Anna Stephens has created and it is a fascinating one.

The cultures for both the Rilporians and the Mireces are well established, especially how their cultures have been built up around the traits of their gods. The interaction between the Gods and the mortals also added another layer to the novel, particularly with the similarities and differences between the worship of the Red Gods and the Rilporian Gods. I just wish I’d had a map, just to be able to better picture the distances and where the towns and cities were in relation to one another.

Final Thoughts

If you are to read any fantasy novel this year, this should be near the top of your list. It was unlike any fantasy book I’ve read recently and stood out to me both in story and writing. I do wish I had known it was the first in a series when I was reading it as the ended was a bit disappointing for me, especially since I’m going to have to wait so long for the sequel, but everything else worked brilliantly. Godblind is a fantastic novel and a remarkable debut.

Godblind will be released on the 15th June 2017.

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32072924-godblind

The Book Depository (I receive a small commission when this link is used): https://www.bookdepository.com/Godblind-Ann-Stephens/9781945863066?a=aidrosienreads

The Books I Read in May 2017

May was a pretty dreadful reading month for me – I found myself in one of the largest reading slumps I have been in for a while and just not in the mood to read. As a result, I only managed to read three books in May.

There are two reasons for this slump and both of them are the books I read. The first of these, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, as the one that was particularly instrumental in removing my desire to read. It took all my power to actually finish reading this book and is the one book that has actually made me really question my resolve to finish every book I pick up, regardless of quality. Essentially, I just found this book insanely dull and could not see the point of it. The book itself alternates between incredibly materialistic descriptions which exemplify Bateman’s obsession with wealth and status, and very vivid descriptions of the torture and murders of all Bateman’s victims. While the latter should have, at least, held some interest, there was no substance to it at all and just came across as an attempt to shock. It did not help that I actually listened to it as an audiobook and, while the narrator was part of the reason I was able to keep going with this novel, it is unlikely to be a book I will ever read again. That being said, I am tempted to watch the film and see how that takes the book and converts to a visual format.

The second book which contributed to the slump was How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott. It is slightly ironic that a book about productivity stopped me being as productive with my reading, but there are, again, to reasons for this. This first is that this book is non-fiction. It always takes me longer to read non-fiction and this book, in particular, took about three weeks to read. The second is that this book contains exercises and methods to include productivity so, while reading, I found myself more interested in putting the methods into practice and working through the book than reading other books as well. That being said, while it did get in the way of my reading, I do highly recommend this book if you want to get on top of work and life and reduce any related stress. It is easy to read and reads as something that is just there to help and guide rather than instruct.

Towards the end of the month, I started to get out of the reading slump and started and finished my favourite book of the month. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh is a young adult fantasy novel about the daughter of a samurai who, undercover, joins the people who tried to kill her in order to find out why and restore honour to her family (there are a lot of Mulan parallels as well). In the end, I finished this book and instantly wanted to pick it up again (I still do). For a longer review of this book, click here.

It was a fairly mixed month of reading, although I am feeling a little bit more confident about this month’s reading – not least because I have started reading Godblind by Anna Stephens and am loving it so far. Fingers crossed I will be able to read and enjoy a lot more books in June!

In summary, the books I did read in May are below with their ratings. For reference, the way I rate is as follows:

1-Unable to Finish ; 2-Did not enjoy ; 3-Liked ; 4-Really Liked ; 5-Loved

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – 2/5

How to be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott- 4/5

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh – 4.5/5

Rosie Reviews: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist

Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renée Ahdieh

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

Flame in the Mist is the story of Mariko, a girl who wants more than the role society has given her, who wants to do things on her own terms while still being honourable. She is also a girl who, in order to defend her family’s honour, goes running into deep, magical forest in search of the people who tried to kill her. Her path is one of confusion, both of the heart and mind, as well as one of magic, warriors and identity.

Plot

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It bares many similarities to Mulan, with its own twist on the tale (predictably so, since it’s set in Japan). The plot is one of surprises and, while there was the odd twist I could guess, there were plenty that left me surprised and ready for more. While the prologue was amazing and really drew me in, I found Mariko’s story-line slow to start off with. That being said, once it got going, it really got going. The only part which didn’t work for me was the big romance scene – this just came out of nowhere and felt like it was only in the book for the sake of being in the book.

Characters

Mariko is a phenomenal lead in this novel – she is cleaver, stubborn, conflicted and endearing. She makes plenty of mistakes and, no matter whose side you happen to be on at various points in the novel, above all, you want her to come out on top. Unfortunately, the other characters did not have quite the same impact. We’re only introduced to a small number of other characters, which does fit with the tones of the novel nicely. However, of them only Okami and Kenshin makes any real impact, and that’s only towards the end. This does work in the sense of them slowly developing as characters and becoming more complex than Mariko’s initial opinions of them, however it did make them difficult to connect to at the beginning of the novel.

I also feel like, as interesting as the other characters are, I did not get to see enough of them for them to make a lingering impression. This was particularly so with Ranmaru – we got hints of a fun, intriguing character, but not enough to make him feel real. I also wish we could have seen more of the Black Clan members as, aside from Okami, we only really get to know three of the others which reduced the idea of the clan being akin to a family for me.

World/Setting

Characters aside, this world is amazing. Set in feudal Japan, it incorporates Japanese history and custom with fantasy elements, creating a world that completely draws you in. Some of my favourite parts where when we really get to see the magical elements in action and Ahdieh describes these all beautifully. My only wish was to have seen more of it towards the beginning of the novel as, when we do start seeing the magic later on, it does feel a little out of nowhere.

Final Thoughts

While there were parts of the novel that did not quite work for me, the rest of it more than made up for any issues I did have. The book was simply an incredibly enjoyable read – it required no effort on my part and I was just drawn into the story. Ahdieh has a writing style that is perfect for weaving images in your head and getting to read a novel with strong feminist themes and a brilliant female lead just made me enjoy the book more. I cannot wait for the second book in this duology – Flame in the Mist has raised a few questions which I would really like answered and ended on a couple of cliff-hangers. I would really recommend this book, especially if you’re a fan of Mulan, or just want a stunning cover on your book case.

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23308087-flame-in-the-mist

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Flame-in-the-Mist-Renee-Ahdieh/9781473664425?aid=rosienreads

Rosie Reviews: Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Dunstan

Title: Dunstan

Author: Conn Iggulden

Publisher: Michael Joseph

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: NetGalley

Review

Summary

Dunstan is a historical novel which demonstrates Conn Iggulden’s mastery of words. It takes a saint and makes him human and weaves an intriguing tale from the threads of history.

Plot

This novel follows Dunstan from childhood all the way to being an old man who had seen seven kings on the throne in his lifetime. As records from the time period are sparse, the novel does take some artistic license in what it describes; each addition or change really helps build the character of Dunstan that Iggulden wants to portray as well as moving the story along.

While it does take a while for the story to get going at the start, as we’re still being introduced to the characters, getting used to the world through the pages and watching Dunstan grow into adulthood, it is once Dunstan gets his first taste of power that this novel really takes off. The second half is so full of political intrigue, scheming and changes in kings that it made for quite gripping reading.

Characters

The strangest part of this book for me was that I both enjoyed reading about the main character, Dunstan, while also disliking him as a person. He is extremely misogynistic, manipulative and arrogant, caring mostly for his own personal advancement. Yet, there are glimpses of kindness in him, of guilt and sorrow that take the edge off of that hatred; it also helps that those he surrounds himself with are really likable. How Conn Iggulden has written Dunstan here is a lesson in writing complex characters and it helped make me see this figurehead as simply human.

Dunstan is the only character which remains throughout the novel; even his brother Wulfric dips in and out, so we only see glimpses of him from time to time. The other characters are there for such fleeting moments, yet each one stands solid and present in my mind’s eye. Despite their short presence in the novel, you really get the sense of how each one impacted Dunstan and of their own characters as well.

World/Setting

The world-building also added an extra layer of depth to the novel. By the end of the novel I was convinced that I could simply step back through history and understand what awaited me there. The only times where I struggled were at the abbey when Dunstan was a child and whenever the novel moved around the country. I really could have done with a map during those latter sections as I found it really difficult to picture how far or how close these places were. That being said, I was reading on my kindle so I’m not entirely sure a map would have been much help at all.

Final Thoughts

The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed Dunstan. I will admit, I was worried in the first half – I found Dunstan dislikable and there was little else for me to grab onto then; everything else was still setting up and I had not got to know the other characters yet. But, after having read the rest, that first section is really important for making sure future events make sense and it all takes on a lot more meaning. Conn Iggulden’s writing is beautiful; it’s a novel which I think would be a delight to listen to as an audiobook, if simply just from the writing. In all fairness, I would probably buy this book just for the writing ability, but the story within the pages really helps make it shine.

Dunstan is out now.

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32510568-dunstan

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Dunstan-Conn-Iggulden/9780718181444/?aid=rosienreads