Ian Doescher – William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

I resisted this a long time, suspecting it may be just as cheap a rip-off as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was (never managed to finish that book…), but a friend convinced me that this is not merely a script of the movies made to rhyme but actually a bit more clever than that. While I don’t think this is a masterpiece of literature, it was truly fun to read and it’s a beautiful physical book to have on my shelf.

verily-a-new-hope

William Shakespeare’s STAR WARS:
VERILY, A NEW HOPE
by Ian Doescher

Published by:
Hardback: 174 pages
Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars #4
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: It is a period of civil war.

MAY THE VERSE BE WITH YOU!
Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ‘Tis a tale told by fretful Droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying… pretty much everything.
Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

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I am really glad I bought this book. It came in a lovely slipcase including the other two books in the trilogy (they may be numbered 4 through 6 but who’s the publisher kidding?) and it looks fantastic on my shelf. Apart from the obvious good looks of this book, the content offered some interesting surprises as well.

The story is the one we all know and love. Princess Leia hiding the secret Death Star plans in R2-D2, who is trying to get them to Obi-Wan. Luke Skywalker picks up R2 and C-3PO and gets dragged into this big adventure involving a dark-clad man with a breathing problem, furry co-pilots and a damn sexy Han Solo. There is nothing new here, story wise, so don’t expect any extra scenes or background goodies – although there was a quite funny comment about who shot first (Han did! It’s always been Han!).

So what makes this book worthy of your time is mostly the fun of discovering famous quotes Shakespeare-ified. Whether it’s “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for” or Han’s nicknames for Leia, seeing them in wrapped in iambic pentameter actually made me giggle. However, it was Luke that got to me in this book more than he ever did in the movies. I was genuinely surprised by how well his yearning for adventure came through. In the movie, I always thought of Luke as somewhat of a brat, you know, a whiny teenager who wants to leave home to lead his own life, never mind family responsibilities. But in Doescher’s version, Luke’s speeches actually touched me and conveyed in how much pain he is because he’s stuck on Tatooine (which, okay, I get it, it’s a pretty shitty planet).

There are also a few little gimmicks that made the book worthwhile. R2 may still speak droid (“bleep” and so on) but there are a few asides to us, the audience, in English. It’s nothing you didn’t already expect R2 to think but it’s nice to have the little guy actually get to talk in our language for once and voice his annoyance at his companion droid. Chewie is still Chewie and all we get from him is his famous growing/howling noise.

Even if this book weren’t as entertaining as it ended up being, I would have been happy about it just for the illustrations. Like the cover design, they show the characters in immediately recognisable shape, except wearing old-timey garb. Vader especially cracked me up, dressed in his suit (complete with breathing apparatus) plus super fabulous fur coat and puffy sleeves. Seriously, just look at this:

There are many more fantastic illustrations, some of which made me laugh (the Cantina band), others which were more of a nod to Shakespeare than Star Wars (Luke holding a Stormtrooper helmet much like Hamlet’s Yorick skull), and others still that I’m not spoiling for you. Let’s just say, Jabba makes an appearance in all his Shakespearean glory.

The one thing – and this was to be expected – that simply can’t be done properly in this medium, is the space battles. Whenever description is needed, the choir enters to set the stage for us. In the case of the final battle at the Death Star, the author even acknowledges that it’s impossible to reproduce this scene on a stage (or in a written play), so we just have to put a bit more effort into our readerly imagination. That’s totally okay and there was no way it could have been done differently, but of course it also made that last battle feel much less epic. When all you have to go on is the rebel’s comm messages, some randomly shouting “I’m hit” and others coming to their companions’ rescue, that’s just not very exciting if you don’t see the fight. But it was the only real shortcoming of this version of Star Wars, for which I will gladly forgive the author.

I’m sure a lot of work went into these books and they’re not just the money-grabbing merchandise that they first appear to be. There’s not much to discover here that’s new but if you like Star Wars, you’ll probably get some enjoyment out of this. I quite liked it.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Pretty good

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Okay, I can’t resist. Have another picture:

verily-a-new-hope-illustrations

 

 

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Leigh Bardugo – Shadow and Bone

I have resisted for a long time, guys. But you see, the covers and reviews for Leigh Bardugo’s new trilogy – the one with the crow and city silhouette on the cover, are so amazing that I thought I’d try them. Then I heard that they are set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy and, being obsessed with order when it comes to books (if not anything else in life), I had to start at the very beginning. And here I am, neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed. As Bianca said in 10 Things I hate about you: “Can you be just whelmed?”

shadow and bone.jpgSHADOW AND BONE
by Leigh Bardugo

Published by: Henry Holt and Co., 2012
Ebook: 368 pages
Series: The Grisha #1
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

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The reason I stayed away from this trilogy so long, despite the heavy praise from all over the internet, the (amazing!) fanart, and the thrill of reading a fantasy set in an alternate Russia, well… the reason is I expected it to be another idiotic romance with a love triangle, an oh-so-special and unique girl protagonist, and very little substance. And the thing is, this is a little bit of what I got. But not all.

Alina Starkov and her best friend Mal grow up in an orphanage – their childhood is wrapped up in a short prologue but that prologue was so well written that the bond between these two was immediately believable. The atmosphere, the Fantasy-Russia, the world are all set up just enough to get us by in that prologue. So I threw all my prejudices away and was positively surprised.

Cut to years later, when both Alina and Mal are in the army, Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. The second brownie point was collected by giving both characters interesting jobs and not making Alina a super fighter, as so many YA romances are trying to do. I don’t want a heroine who can (already) do everything, who is beautiful and skinny, but also secretly strong and a ninja. And probably a witch as well. No, Alina actually doesn’t fit in very well, unlike Mal. He is a natural and constantly surrounded by friends and girls swooning over him. Alina is on the sidelines. Until the Darkling arrives.

The Darkling was both an intriguing and ridiculous figure. First of all, he doesn’t seem to have a name as everyone calls him by his title – the Darkling. With a name/title like that, it doesn’t take much imagination to see him as a potential bad guy. He is the most powerful of the Grisha, the country’s magical army. And, as it turns out, Alina is a Grisha too. The middle part of the book is your average, and sadly unoriginal, girl learning her new powers and getting a makeover scene. Seriously, you’ve all seen it before. Alina comes to the palace, is suddenly treated like the special snowflake she turned out to be, gets pretty dresses and make-up, and flirts heavily with the darkly brooding, mysterious and gorgeous dude that everybody wants. I was both groaning at the familiarity of it all and at the same time delighted because the writing was actually good. So, Leigh Bardugo may have written the exact same story that we know from endless other YA books, but she wrote it well.

Alina herself starts as a great character but then she turns into a passive girl who’s just there to be pretty and special. She rarely does things because she wants to but is mostly passed around and told what to do. This does get better at the end but it doesn’t excuse her blindly trusting a man called Darkling or the first person who is kind of nice to her. My take on this is that it was meant to be her story arc – to turn from the passive, naive, lonely girl into a stronger woman with agency. I hope I’m not wrong.

My favorite parts suffered in favor of the sort-of love triangle. It is not as infuriating as most love triangle and it’s resolved pretty quickly – a refreshing change. But what really interested me was the world building, the way magic is used, the legends and myths of this place. The book has a great map at the beginning, showing the Fold, a sort of ocean rift in the country, full of terrible creatures. I want to know EVERYTHING about this! We do get glimpses and hints here and there and my guess is that Bardugo is saving the rest for the later books, so I’ll forgive her for telling me so little about it. But seriously, guys, check out this map. I totally love it.

shadow and bone map

The other interesting aspects are the magic, as I said, and social norms. Most things I just kept assuming, but I’d really like to know officially how this world works, more about the war that left Alina and Mal orphaned, more about the world at large. If it hadn’t been for training sessions and beauty regimens, there would have been time for that, but I get the feeling more and more that YA authors write books to become movies. Visually, there is a lot going on here and I think – with all the beautiful characters and the stunning imagery – this would actually make a good movie.

Plot-wise, the make-over bit is followed by an obvious plot twist (seriously, how could anyone not see this coming), and then things get better again. Alina and Mal’s friendship, although the two are separated for large parts of the novel, was definitely a strong point of the book. The romance wasn’t all that romantic, but if I can choose between embarassingly flowery love scenes (looking at you, Sarah J. Maas) or this understated love-from-friendship, I’ll take the latter any day.

The ending was both satisfying and frustrating – can you see a pattern here, do you understand why this book left me “whelmed”? I really liked the way the story ended, except it didn’t really end. I sort trilogies into two rough categories. The ones where each book tells its own story, but the trilogy tells a larger story. And the ones where a trilogy is just one story, chopped up into three physical books. The Grisha trilogy seems to be one large story where each novel is just a chapter. I am okay with this because not only has the trilogy been completed, Shadow and Bone also ends in a way that makes me want to pick up the next instalment. There’s no evil cliffhanger but things are far from resolved. So, fine, I’ll go along with it and hope the next book leaves out the high school-like court drama.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Good-ish

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T. Kingfisher – The Seventh Bride

T. Kingfisher is Ursula Vernon’s pen-name. I first discovered Ursula Vernon through her graphic novel Digger (which I still haven’t managed to buy anywhere but want so much!!!), then I read her absolutely charming short story “Toad Words” and knew I had to try all her fairy tale stuff. I was not disappointed. I believe, T. Kingfisher will become a new author on my auto-buy list.

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THE SEVENTH BRIDE
by T. Kingfisher

Published by: Red Wombat Tea Company, 2014
Ebook: 183 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Her name was Rhea.

Rhea is an ordinary miller’s daughter, engaged to be married under suspicious circumstances to a man not of her choosing. He has unknown powers and a manor house full of mysterious women.
Rhea has a hedgehog. It claims to be ordinary, but normal hedgehogs don’t act like that.
It’s probably not going to be enough.

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Give me a good Bluebeard retelling any day and I’ll be a happy camper. But take Bluebeard and twist it into something new and even more horrible, and I’ll be your fan forever. T. Kingfisher tells the story of Rhea, a 15-year-old miller’s daughter, who enjoys her quiet life, helping in the mill, battling that evil swan that tries to steal her food, and living with her family. Until one day, she is told that she is engaged to Lord Crevan, a powerful rich man to whom the miller family can’t really say no.

I immediately loved the voice of this story and Rhea as a character. The voice is charming, almost like a friend telling you about something that happened to them, and Rhea is wonderfully practical in her ways, unlike so many other heroines, especially ones in fairy tales.

She hadn’t expected to love her husband. That sort of thing almost never happened outside of ballads anyway, and it didn’t really bother her. You married well and you were polite to each other, and if you were lucky, you became relatively good friends because after all, you were both stuck in this together. That was all she’d ever hoped for.

Being a good person and a good daughter, she is still not happy about this marriage but she’ll go through with it. Up until this part, the story reads like a light-hearted fairy tale, one that could easily be enjoyed by kids. But the moment Rhea sets out to visit Lord Crevan’s mansion, that’s when the darkness begins.

I’d go so far as to call this a horror novel because the things Rhea encounters are straight out of nightmares. Some are actual monsters, other things are terrifying for different reasons. However, Rhea goes to Crevan’s mansion and encounters – surprise! – some of his other wives. Her practicality shines through again when she is shocked that a man dares to take more than one wife at the same time. She also quickly finds out that all of the previous wives have lost something to Lord Crevan. Sylvie is blind, Ingath’s throat looks like it was torn out by a wild animal, and Maria the cook… well, it’s not quite clear what Crevan took from her but she is definitely afraid of him.

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What follows is Rhea being Rhea. She tries to figure this whole thing out and is helped by a friendly and possibly magical hedgehog she picked up on the way. As animal companions go, this must be one of my favorites! I’d say they should make a Disney movie of this but they wouldn’t dare – because this is a seriously creepy book. Lord Crevan gives Rhea certain tasks to do to get out of the marriage. This is where that fairy tale feeling comes back.

Rhea is definitely my hero. Not only do I love how… normal she seems, but also that, when faced with horrible situations, she is actually scared to death. She isn’t some superhero who doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. When she meets a mosnter, she half pees her pants and wonders if she’s gone mad. Then she takes a breath and makes a plan on how not to die right now. It’s terrifying and beautiful at the same time.

Another thing I adored about this not too faithful retelling was that the side characters are fully fleshed out, and the ones that aren’t (because they stay on the sidelines) remain mysterious on purpose. Rhea isn’t on an adventure by herself, she has other women helping her the best they can. In the end, they all have to work together to defeat that monstrous man who has harmed them all in different ways.

Ursula Vernon has a knack for showing different sides of well-known fairy tales – she has proven that in Toad Words. But she is also great at taking a well-known tale and making it her own. I have always preferred retellings that don’t stick too closely to the original. This way, there are new things to discover, new riddles to solve, different ways to defeat evil. The blend of utterly charming voice and terrifying plot also worked surprisingly well. I’m definitely going to read all the other fairy tale retellings by this author.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good!

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Fairy tale retellings by T. Kingfisher:

  • Toad Words and Other Stories
  • The Seventh Bride (Bluebeard)
  • Bryony and Roses (Beauty and the Beast)
  • The Raven and the Reindeer (The Snow Queen)

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Brandon Sanderson – Shadows of Self

Aaaaand Mistborn continues to be great, although there is a clear departure from the light-hearted The Alloy of Law to this new story arc. While Alloy was just a bit of fun and can technically be read without any prior knowledge of the other Mistborn books, Shadows of Self is set deeply in the world that we first came to know through Vin’s eyes. The tone also shifts and is more serious again as Sanderson delivers one of his most heartbreaking twists yet.

shadows of selfSHADOWS OF SELF
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2015
Ebook: 384 pages
Series: Mistborn #5
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Waxillium Ladrian, lawman for hire, swung off his horse and turned to face the saloon.

With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson surprised readers with a New York Times bestselling spinoff of his Mistborn books, set after the action of the trilogy, in a period corresponding to late 19th-century America.
The trilogy’s heroes are now figures of myth and legend, even objects of religious veneration. They are succeeded by wonderful new characters, chief among them Waxillium Ladrian, known as Wax, hereditary Lord of House Ladrian but also, until recently, a lawman in the ungoverned frontier region known as the Roughs. There he worked with his eccentric but effective buddy, Wayne. They are “twinborn,” meaning they are able to use both Allomantic and Feruchemical magic.
Shadows of Self shows Mistborn’s society evolving as technology and magic mix, the economy grows, democracy contends with corruption, and religion becomes a growing cultural force, with four faiths competing for converts.
This bustling, optimistic, but still shaky society now faces its first instance of terrorism, crimes intended to stir up labor strife and religious conflict. Wax and Wayne, assisted by the lovely, brilliant Marasi, must unravel the conspiracy before civil strife stops Scadrial’s progress in its tracks.
Shadows of Self will give fans of The Alloy of Law everything they’ve been hoping for and, this being a Brandon Sanderson book, more, much more.

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Wax and Wayne are irrisistible (especially Wayne). And they’ve got another case on their hands, but this time, they don’t work nearly as alone as they did last time. Marasi has become a constable and helps them wherever she can, although her personal relationship with Wax seems strained, compared to their easy banter from the first book. Which is only natural, considering that Wax is coming more and more to terms with marrying Steris, Marasi’s cousin.

One surprise of this new series was that characters turn out not to be as one-dimensional as they seem at first. Steris in particular turned out to be more than what she likes to show in public. But in Shadows of Self, Wayne also gets to show a side of him that doesn’t fit with his cocky, fun, light-hearted side. It made him an even better character to know that – like anyone else – he has darkness in his past and he can’t just shake it off.

But the most tortured soul in Shadows of Self is definitely Wax. His past confronts him in several ways, but especially the loss of his wife in the Roughs haunts him with every move he makes. It was also Wax who was hit hardest by the ending. I cried big tears for him, that’s all I’m saying. And I am very curious to see how these new developments impact his character development in the rest of the series.

Plot-wise, this was a bit of a mess. Sanderson tries to juggle many, many plot-strings at once. There is the one started in The Alloy of Law with Wax’s uncle conspiring for his own ends, there are the terrorist attacks that Wax, Wayne, and Marasi are trying to figure out, the kandra make a new appearance and wrap up a whole of lot of history since last we saw them. There are labor strikes and unrests, there are politics and police procedures, several religions trying to gain the upper hand… you see what I mean when I say it was a bit too much for one book, especially one comparatively short for Sanderson. I commend him for making the best of every scene, getting out the most of each line, having his text do world-building as well as advancing the plot at the same time. But as a reader, it still felt a bit overwhelming, not knowing which aspect to concentrate on.

I think that piece of legwork was simply needed to give the next book in the series room to breathe. A lot of things have been established here that can be used later without re-explaining them. I appreciated that – despite the abundance of themes – there was still time for character growth and development. The introduction of MeLaan promises a lot of fun for future books, and meeting old (very old!) friends again gave me some readerly joy, even if it was bittersweet.

Although things are resolved at the end of Shadows of Self, this was one of the most devastating endings Sanderson has ever written (at least of the ones I’ve read). It’s a perfect balance between telling a story with a satisfying ending but leaving enough questions open for the next book. He’s always been good at that but this time, it’s the emotional plot strings that are left frayed and I worry for Wax as a person more than for the larger world and its fate. Well… I guess there’s no way around it – I’ll just have to pick up the next book and find out what else lies in store.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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If you haven’t read the the Mistborn Series at all, here are my thoughts on the other books.

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Bout of Books 17 – Updates

It’s time for another bout of books. I actually did really well last week with catching up on some books (reviews are coming), but hey, Bout of Books is always a fun challenge. Plus, 2016 has been a very good year with lots of interesting titles coming out and I haven’t even read half the new publications I wanted to.

Bout of Books

As I mentioned in my sign-up post, I will be doing things differently this time. Instead of daily updates I will simply update whenever I have time or something to say.  I’m curious to see how that goes but I think it will take some pressure off and give me more time to concentrate on the books. Speaking of books: I said I’d probably read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo but I kind of finished that book yesterday. Here’s some books I might be reading this week:


Number of books read: 1
Challenges done:

Books read:

  • Marissa Meyer – Stars Above

Here is the general update area where I will post my thoughts on current reads, challenges, the Twitter chat and anything else to do with Bout of Books. This post will remain a sticky until Bout of Book is over.

Monday

I’m reading Marissa Meyer’s Stars Above and while it’s nothing groundbreaking, this is just a nice world to flee into when reality is too depressing. I am halfway done with this book, but I admit I skipped the stories that I had previously read – some of them were available for free online or in Meyer’s newsletter. If anyone’s interested, I talked about them here.

Tuesday

I was just tired. All day, whenever you asked me, I could have fallen asleep on the spot. So I almost finished Stars Above but there’s still a few pages left. However, I also started another book – An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. So far, it was pretty good – a harsh and cruel beginning to what I hope will turn out to be a great story.

Wednesday

I’m really liking An Ember in the Ashes. Maybe since the Hunger Games, YA authors dare to write about darker stuff. The beginning was pretty grimdark. Stars Above continues to be fun and fluffy, just how I expected. A wedding is about to happen and the characters all behave pretty much exactly as they should. If I manage to finish this book today (and as I’m not as tired as yesterday I’m pretty sure I will) then I have to pick a new book. Aaaaaah, exciting!

Friday

I’m so excited!! Okay, first the book stuff. I finished Stars Above and, surprisingly, my favorite new story was the one about young Scarlet and her grandmother. That one actually got to me emotionally. The wedding story (not telling whose wedding) made me giggle, but overall it wasn’t very good. Kind of exactly what I expected and I would have preferred to be surprised. But oh well, it was fun. An Ember in the Ashes is still pretty good, although I didn’t read very much yesterday or today.

In non-bookish info (or only slightly book-related, at least), I got my very first subscription boxes this week. If I have time to take nice pictures, I may write a post or two about them, but in general, I love the idea of surprise boxes. I got The Bookish Box by Appraising pages and Nerdy Bookworm Box – both were filled with excellen things. A T-shirt, a Peter Pan necklace which I adore (it’s a thimble and an acorn that represent the “kisses” Peter Pan and Wendy give each other), a mug, wax melts that smell wonderfully like the outdoors, a Hunger Games themed coffee, adorable magnetic bookmarks… you see, I’m in book-lover heaven.

As it’s finally weekend, I can now properly dive into An Ember in the Ashes and read more than a couple of chapters per day. I have also picked my next/parallel read and, surprising probably nobody, it’s none of the books I planned on reading. It is Vigil by the inimitable, wonderful, original Angela Slatter. More on that tomorrow.

SUNDAY

So okay, An Ember in the Ashes has taken over. I loved the beginning of Vigil, but I need to read that other book first. There is now spying involved. I haven’t done any challenges this week (although I loved the idea of the headlines challenge), because – and I think that’s a good thing – I was reading most of the time.

I will use the rest of this Sunday to finish the second part in An Ember in the Ashes, and then call it a day. Since my goals for this read-a-thon were very modest, I am happy with the way it went. I finished one book, got way into another one, started a third, and I have some reviews in the pipeline. I already look forward to the next Bout of Books and I hope it will happen during a week where I don’t have to work. Then I can really set myself some ambitious goals.🙂

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Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff – Illuminae

This book has been surrounded by enormous hype ever since it came out. Without that hype, I wouldn’t ever have thought of picking it up. The cover, although I like the colors, didn’t really speak to me and the synopsis just doesn’t do the story justice. So thank you internet, once again, for pushing stuff onto me that ends up being just as awesome as you said.

illuminaeILLUMINAE
by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015
Ebook: 608 pages
Series: The Illuminae Files #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: So here’s the file that almost killed me, Director.

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.
This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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We all know the kind of book that isn’t written in prose but is made up of interview transcriptions, chat messages, letters and so on. Illuminae is one such book, but the format is used very cleverly, not just to create a visually interesting book but also to deliver a whole new level of emotional punch. Kady and Ezra had just broken up and now their planet has been invaded, they are refugees on big space ships and they both have bigger things to think about than their petty relationship fight.

So, fine. Relationship drama is sent backstage in favor of the more urgent threat of the BeiTech ship pursuing them (most likely to kill any survivors from the attack on their home planet, Kerenza), the space ships need to deal with all the additional people they are now carrying – you know, feeding them, treating wounds, giving them a sleeping place, and so on. Families have been torn apart, some dead, others separated with one family member on each of the ships. In addition, a disease is breaking out that nobody seems to be able to cure just yet. So yeah… things are looking pretty damn miserable.

The author-duo throws their protagonists into a horrible, horrible situation and then makes them deal with it beautifully. Kady, a genius with a computer, tries to figure things out by hacking into the system, looking for classified information, anything to make sense of what happened. Ezra, in the meantime, becomes a pilot and joins the fight in his own – much more immediately dangerous – way. And despite this, these two still think about each other and that stupid fight they had. Things just gained a new perspective and they realise that they love each other, never mind the fight.

Through e-mails, chat messages, surveillance footage (described in prose), and snippets of the Alexander‘s AI (the Alexander is one of the three ships carrying our refugees), a story unfolds that is both thrilling and exciting as well as heartbreaking. Actually, mostly heartbreaking. At some points, it was the things that weren’t said that kick you in the face the most. Both Kady and Ezra are suffering from PTSD, both have lost family members – or at the very least they have no idea if their families are still alive and whether they got infected with the Phobos virus. And the only way they can hold on to each other and to life itself, is by talking across two space ships, grasping at the last bit of the life they had.

Plot-wise, I am going to shut up here. There is a lot of potential for spoilers and I am steering right clear of that. But I can say that Illuminae started out incredibly exciting, a real page-turner, then hits a slumpy bit where things don’t seem to move forward, where conversations seem to repeat, where I was waiting for something new to happen. And then it does. And, boy, it doesn’t let off until the very end. There are some plot twists in store that actually made me cry, there are several crowning moments of awesome, and there were times when I was just so proud of Kady – as if she were my friend or sister or something – where I marvelled at her bravery. The same goes for Ezra but Kady was just my heroine. You know, the kind of character that makes you wish you were as brave as her.

Apart from epic space battles and a virus gone crazy, Illuminae examines several difficult themes. The way Kady and Ezra deal with their PTSD, how creating artifiction intelligence may or may not be a smart thing to do, how people with power have to make impossible decisions for the greater good. These characters, even the minor ones, are faced with terrible, impossible situations and in most cases there is no right or wrong answer. There is only death or more death. Morality, gut feeling, none of those help you when you are responsible for thousands of lives and on the run. It’s a hard book to read and I am all the more impressed that it got to me so much with the chosen style. Because we rarely – if ever – read about people’s feelings or thoughts, all of these have to be conveyed through other means. And pulling that off is an amazing feat!

Another great thing was that I was never sure how the book would end. It had that anything-goes-feeling to it, where it could end in complete disaster, or with a bittersweet half-victory, or even with everything turning out fine-ish (I mean, lots of people die way before the end, so “fine” is a relative term here). The ending chosen by the authors was better than I could have imagined. I don’t mean better as in “all was well” but better as in it makes a better story. I’m also glad I waited this long to read the book because now I won’t have to wait so long for the sequel. And believe me, after that ending, I am more than excited.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent!

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Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven King

This is it, guys. I know all of you have probably read this book ages ago when it came out but I’ve been drawing it out. Ending a book series is always hard, but when the ending seems to be pre-determined from the very first chapter of the first book, that makes it even harder. But, as I can’t keep away from Ronan and the other Raven boys, I did eventually read the book. I may not have loved it as much as The Dream Thieves (do I ever love anything as much as The Dream Thieves?), but it is a worthy and beautiful ending to a truly amazing YA series.

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THE RAVEN KING
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic Press, 2016
Hardcover: 439 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #4
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Richard Gansey III had forgotten how many times he had been told he was destined for greatness.

Nothing living is safe. Nothing dead is to be trusted.
For years, Gansey has been on a quest to find a lost king. One by one, he’s drawn others into this quest: Ronan, who steals from dreams; Adam, whose life is no longer his own; Noah, whose life is no longer a lie; and Blue, who loves Gansey… and is certain she is destined to kill him.
Now the endgame has begun. Dreams and nightmares are converging. Love and loss are inseparable. And the quest refuses to be pinned to a path.

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Don’t be me. Don’t try and draw out this book just to make it last longer. First, you will fail anyway because this book refuses to be put down, and secondly, it takes away from the emotional punch when you do force yourself to put it away. Because guys, this is it. This is the end. And it is an amazing, perfect ending to a brilliant series that defies all the tropes of YA books. As a long-time YA avoider, I can only say that – like probably any genre or type of literature – there are bad books and there are good books. And then there are gems like this series. Don’t condemn an entire section of the book store just because you had one (or ten) bad experience.

Just like us, the characters in this story know that the end is coming. At least the end of something, of their search for Glendower, their quest, their big destiny. Blue and Gansey continue to be a lovely couple, despite their difficulties (no kissing, remember), but it was – again – Ronan who got all my attention. I’ve been in love with this guy since day one, but in The Dream Thieves, seeds for a romance started growing that I’d hoped so very much would work out. Having just read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I know that not all authors are willing to go with their characters’ “organic” love interest (if you’ve read the play too, you’ll know what I mean), but Maggie Stiefvater is amazing and just lets her characters be who they are. Whew, writing this without spoilers is becoming more and more of a tightrope act and if you haven’t read this series at all, I won’t make much sense. Also if you haven’t read this series, what are you doing here? Go read The Raven Boys!

Having established a larger cast throughout the previous three books, I found that some characters were left behind a little or didn’t get as much attention as I’d have liked. The inclusion of the fairly newish Henry Cheng felt forced, although I did end up liking him a lot. I don’t really see why, if he was essential, he couldn’t be introduced earlier or at least more naturally. It almost read like he was added as an afterthought. So I’m not quite sure about him, especially as his presence takes precious page time away from Noah, or Ronan’s brothers, for example. There were some great moments involving Noah and Blue in the previous books, and that was completely missing here.

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But let’s get down to what everybody’s been waiting for. The search for Glendower and – more importantly – Blue’s prophecy. No spoilers, I promise! Both plot strings reach a conclusion. I found both pretty satisfying, if you can say that when your heart has been ripped out a billion times along the way. But yes, of all the endings I could have imagined, Stiefvater deliverd one that both surprised me and didn’t make me mad. I honestly didn’t think that was possible.

However, with the subplots adding up throughout the series, something got lost as well. I believe The Raven Cycle reached its peak with The Dream Thieves, which had just enough going on to be fast paced but also put the right amount of focus on character development and the complex relationships between this group of young people. In The Raven King, with several threats raining down on these guys, and many other viewpoint characters who get their own chapters, there simply wasn’t much time for the quiet, more contemplative moments. Those are my favorite parts so I was sad to miss them. I would have gladly dropped some side characters – or at least chapters focusing on them – in favor of more Raven Boys and Blue.

Now I’m done bitching about this book not being exactly what I wanted it to be, let me repeat some things I’ve said about the other books in the series. Maggie Stiefvater is a wizard. She expresses more in one sentence than other writers do in entire books; her word choice is delicate and sometimes you only understand just how clever she is many chapters later. I can’t wait to re-read the Raven Cycle because I’m convinced this is the kind of story where re-reads pay off and let you see a whole different side of things.

The development these characters went through is honest and raw. They have each grown into themselves, they have sacrificed and learned, they have learned to deal with life when it doesn’t go their way (and when it does), and most of all they have all found each other. This chosen family with its many, many kinds and facets of love makes the Raven Cycle one of the best young adult book series I have ever read.

All things considered, I enjoyed The Raven King and how it toyed with my emotions. But most of all I liked it because it’s the final chapter in a bigger story that I ADORE. After all, it introduced me to the world of Aglionby sweaters and psychics, big flashy cars and sinister prophecies, ravens and trees that speak Latin. This series was my first foray into Maggie Stiefvater’s world but, boy, it won’t be my last. I’ll gladly let her break my heart over and over again.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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The Raven Cycle:
  1. The Raven Boys
  2. The Dream Thieves
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  4. The Raven King

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Bout of Books 17 – Sign-Up and Goals

It’s been very quiet around here. I’ve been reading some big books, and then some devastating books, and then some audiobooks – all of which were (and still are) hard to review. But it’s time to get back on track. My Goodreads page tells me I’m way behind on the reading challenge and my spreadsheet makes me do the shame-walk from Game of Thrones every time I check up on my stats. So it’s time for Bout of Books again.

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team

I am in again, ever the optimist, hoping to catch up both on reading books as well as reviewing some. As always, I look forward to the twitter chats and the challenges and being jealous of how fast some of you people read.🙂


Goals

I’ll be a bit more modest with my goals this time. The way I’ve lagged behind on… pretty much everything, I’ll be glad to read one book and write a couple of reviews. I’ll also change my update posts’ format, because writing those up every day takes away precious reading time, and sometimes I just don’t have anything to say.

  • finish current read
  • read one more book
  • review both
  • if there’s time, throw in a comic book

That’s it. These are my goals for the read-a-thon. I won’t specify a page number or pick the books I’m going to read ahead of time. I do have a feeling that Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone will be one of the books I read because I’ve been eyeing it for a while now and I’m really in the mood. But we’ll see how things go. Wish me luck and click the link above if you want to sign up also. It’s a lot of fun, I promise.

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Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings

This is a seriously big book! I mean really, really big. It’s a good 1000 pages long, it features one of the best character arcs I could have wanted and begins a huge, epic tale of war, finding truth, rediscovering history and, you guessed it because it’s Sanderson, intricate magic systems. While I started reading the hardback book, which also has beautiful illustrations by the way, I did end up buying the Graphic Audio audiobooks again. More on that after my thoughts about the story itself (but spoiler: it was totally worth it again).

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THE WAY OF KINGS
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2010
Hardcover: 1007 pages
Graphic Audio: 37 hours
Series: The Stormlight Archive #1
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast.

Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.
Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.
In one such war on ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.
Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by ancient text The Way of Kings, troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.
Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

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This is a very difficult book to review because there is so much going on, although the time covered in-world isn’t even that great. Since we’re following three protagonists, I’ll break this up into three parts, starting with my favorite. Because I can.

Kaladin Stormblessed stole my readerly heart immediately. He is a slave who was once a soldier and he’s basically given up on life. We meet him as he is transported and then sold to a Highlord waging war on the Shattered Planes. The Shattered Plains by themselves made me go Woah! because it is such a cool world-building idea. The illustrations in the novel show a place that looks like wet earth left to dry in the scorching sun broke into lots of little pieces, almost a mosaic of ground with chasms between the single plateaus. It’s not just a piece of world-building for easthetics’ sake, but the premise for Kaladin’s entire existence in this book.

Twenty years ago, the king was murdered. An assassination ordered by the Parshendi, a race of human-like people who had just made peace shortly before apparently changing their minds and killing the king. So now there’s a sort of revenge-war going on that has warped into something quite different. With the use of bridges, the High Lords cover the Shattered Plains to meet the Parshendi and fight them. But on some of the plateaus, there are gemhearts – a sought-after type of riches and glory and whatnot. It’s way too much to explain here (which is why Sanderson wrote 1000 pages, duh). The important thing is that Kaladin becomes a bridgeman, a person who – along with other slaves – carries a bridge at a run, puts it down for the army to cross, crosses himself, then picks it up again and repeats until the assult is done. And then do the whole thing on the way back again. It’s absolutely gruelling but also has some of the best descriptions in the book. The utter hopelessness that takes hold of Kaladin permeated his early chapters and gave the novel some serious atmosphere.

Through the course of the book, Kaladin changes, grows, learns things about himself and faces his past. That’s all I’m willing to say, spoiler-free, but his character development was simply stunning and I looked forward to his chapters the most. He also becomes friends with a spren, a sort of Sanderson-esque Tinker Bell. She’s awesome!

Next there is Dalinar, a High Lord on the Shattered Plains, showing the war from another perspective. He’s got his own problems, apart from running assaults and fighting a war he no longer believes in. During Highstorms (oh boy, another bit of world-building too intricate to describe. It’s just a really big storm, you guys) he is haunted by visions. It’s the Stormlight Archive version of VR where Dalinar sees stuff and can interact with the people he is shown. Sometimes he “wakes up” in somebody else’s body. I won’t say I understood all of it – which was definitely on purpose on the author’s part – but it was damn thrilling to read. I liked Dalinar a lot, not just because he is basically a lonely Stark in a Lannister world, but also because his story line creates such a nice balance to Kaladin’s. Where we follow the lowliest of slaves, doing the hardest and most dangerous job during the war, Dalinar shows what it’s like on top of the food chain, being the man who commands slaves to run into their death. Except, Dalinar being a Stark, he doesn’t waste bridge crews the way his rival Sadeas does.

Dalinar’s story served pretty much to make sense of the societal norms. We learn things like reading and writing being a woman’s job. Men need glorified secretaries if they want stuff written down or written stuff read to them. I found this incredibly silly, but then again, so is the idea that people are “sorted” into castes based on their eye color. Lighteyes are aristocracy, darkeyes are on the bottom. I suppose it’s not much sillier than dividing people by their skin color, but picking eye color made it all the more obvious how arbitrary and stupid it really is – picking people’s station by physical differences. Dalinar’s story is the one that delivers the most exciting battle scenes and offers a seriously AMAZEBALLS epic ending. All balanced with a nice dose of world-building. Well done indeed.

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My least favorite story, I’m sad to say, is Shallan’s. The only female protagonist got the worst deal, if you ask me. She is far from the Shattered Plains, and she has a plan of her own. Shallan arrives in Kharbranth, a city hewn into stone, to become the apprentice of the notorious Jasnah Kholin (who’s related to the current king, who is thus related to the guys fighting on the Shattered Plains). Jasnah is a scholar, so much time in Shallan’s storyline is spent with books, in dusty rooms, establishing more of the world, this time from a woman’s perspective. Another silly bit of world-building is that women (at least aristocracy) have a “safe pouch” in which they keep one of their hands hidden. Showing that hand is equivalent to me letting a boob hang out in public, so one hand is always sewn inside whichever garment Shallan wears. I hope there’ll be some cool explanation for that because it seems incredibly stupid and hindering in daily life. Seriously, I need to use both hands all the time.

Shallan’s story takes a LONG time to pick up pace, but when it does, it is both weird and creepy, and wonderfully exciting. She is the one who discovers this book’s big plot twist at the end, and it wasn’t even a cheap one. I really liked how it changed my world view (for the world in the novel, that is) completely and puts things into a different light. Shallan’s story isn’t bad, but it felt to me like much less care was put into it compared to Kaladin. I fully believe Kaladin was Brandon Sanderson’s favorite bit to write and that shows.

Lastly, there is another character who shows up much less frequently, but who is another constant. Szeth the assassin probably has the worst job you can imagine. He’s an assassin who has to kill whomever he is commanded by his current master. The only person he can’t kill is himself. And he yearns to die! We know very little about Szeth, except that he’s got some seriously cool tricks up his sleeve but, boy, do I want to know more about him.

All things considered – also the ones I didn’t even mention here, like Shardblades and spren, stormlight-infused gems and Parshendi armour – this is one hell of a book. It has epic battles, great character development, the right amoung of flashbacks, plus interludes following completely different characters in different places. As a series starter, the book did a lot of groundwork for the world-building, and there is no shortage of that, but it kept a nice balance between plot and exposition. We are thrown just enough hints to get us intrigued but Sanderson skilfully leaves many questions open for later.   It is a long book, yes, and it’s only the first part of ten (!) but I honestly can’t wait to read on and find out more about this world, follow these characters and see how everything is connected.

About the Graphic Audio edition:

Graphic Audio is usually unabridged recordings with a full cast, great sound effects and background music. This time, I noticed that some bits were abridged, although nothing important. It’s clear that “Kaladin said” and “Shallan thought” were left out, because we hear their actual voices saying or thinking stuff (thoughts have a sort of echo to distinguish from regular speech), but sometimes when I read along in the book, I noticed that a sentence or two of description was dropped. Again, nothing vital, and I can’t fault Graphic Audio the cuts in such a long story. I did follow along in the book quite a bit, if only for the illustrations and chapter headings. I also recognised some actor voices from the Mistborn series, and I must commend them on the excellent job they did – although all I have to go on is their voice, they truly sounded like completely different people.
Now I’m facing the difficult decision of whether to wait for the next book to come out as a Graphic Audio or to start reading my hardback copy. We’ll see how long I can wait…

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Seriously excellent!

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Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home

This is it. It’s over. No more Fairyland stories with September. I took a good long while reading this book because if there’s ever a time to draw out a story, this is it. The Fairyland series has grown so dear to me that it was incredibly hard letting go, even though Cat Valente ended her series in the most perfect way imaginable.

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THE GIRL WHO RACED FAIRYLAND ALL THE WAY HOME
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2016
Ebook: 308 pages
Series: Fairyland #5
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a country called Fairyland grew very tired indeed of people squabbling over it, of polishing up the glitter on the same magic and wonder and dashing dangers each morning, of drifting along prettily through the same Perverse and Perilous Sea, of playing with the same old tyrants and brave heroes every century.

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland – but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo’s egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn’t want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation – and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September’s parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter…

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This is the last book in the Fairyland series and with it, the series comes full circle in many ways. September and her friends must participate in the Cantankerous Derby, a race for the crown of Fairyland, but of course, this being Fairyland, it’s not just any old race. Because what they have to find is the heart of Fairyland and you all can imagine that it’s not an actual heart lying around somewhere under the Perverse and Perilous Sea or deep in the Worsted Woods. But with Ell, Blunderbuss, and Saturday, September follows every lead she has to win a crown she’s not even sure she wants.

I felt sad the entire time I read this book, even when Blunderbuss made me smile and Saturday filled my heart with joy. Nailing the ending of a series is always difficult, and with this one especially I was wondering how it could possibly end without tears. But Cat Valente has proven herself to be a trustworthy author who knows exactly what she’s doing. After a wonderful adventure, with a particularly delightfull chapter under the sea (I want a Bathysphere, that’s all I’m saying), a trip to the land of Wom, and several encounters with bloodthirsty tyrants, we do get an ending and it is that rare sort of perfection that I wouldn’t have believed to be possible.

In many ways, it reminded me of Peter Pan, where Wendy’s story in Neverland may come to an end but that doesn’t mean that Neverland’s story is over. As the beginning of this book tells you, Fairyland has become a character of her own and she will live on, even after all the changelings and heartless children are done with their adventuring.

[…]a door is a door, and a door is always an adventure

I could tell you about all the wonderful new places and creatures we meet in The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All The Way Home, but that would take out part of the fun. We meet old friends (and foes, and in-betweens), we see lots of new faces, we discover new places in Fairyland and revisit some well-known ones.  The last Fairyland novel still keeps up that sense of wonder that’s made it so beautiful in the four previous books.

But what really makes this instalment shine is how clever everything falls into place. There are hints about the ending strewn all over the place but I, at least, didn’t make sense of them until I had read the ending. My biggest worry was always how September could possible unite the two worlds living in her heart – her family are waiting for her back in Omaha, after all, and September loves her parents. But come on, it’s Fairyland. Who would ever want to leave? It’s a big conundrum and I’m glad that Cat Valente solved it because so many others have failed before her.

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Aroostook is back!

I always hated stories where kids get swept into a magical world and the only thing they can think to do is find a way back home. Like, really? Is home always such a perfect place? Dorothy left Oz, Wendy left Neverland, and yes, I understand that these are all metaphors for growing up, leaving childhood behind you – that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Valente understands this and she also sends a powerful message with her book series. You don’t have to leave wonder and fun and silliness to be a grown up. Yes, there are difficult decisions to be made, and yes, the grown-up world can be an adventure as well. But there can still be stuffed combat wombats, and marids, and wyveraries. This is really all I can say without spoiling the ending.

There is one scene (there always is one, isn’t there) that was so beautiful and thrown in so seemingly carelessy, that made me well up again. September and Saturday’s relationship has been sort of fortold from the very beginning. With marids living all times at once, September has seen several Saturdays, at varying ages, throughout the series. But this Saturday, her Saturday still delivers the gut-punchiest speech of the book, and part of it only makes sense after you’ve finished reading all of it. Maybe I’m just a crybaby when it comes to books – yes, okay.. I definitely am – but man, that bit tugged at my heartstrings. I want to jump up and down and giggle and cry all at the same time.

The one thing I do have to say, however, is that the book felt a bit rushed at times. With the introduction of a TON of new characters, things get hectic. September’s journey through Fairyland also feels a bit too fast at times. While a nice number of pages lets us marvel at the underwater world that Saturday knows so well, other places and people barely get a full chapter. But it’s a minor quibble considering Valente has written such an amazing book series that can appeal to people of all ages. I have endless love for Fairyland… there’s a reason these books live next to Harry Potter on my shelves.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Most excellent!

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