Max Gladstone – Three Parts Dead

Even without the John W. Campbell nomination, it has been impossible to miss the buzz surrounding Max Gladstone on the internet. He is almost universally praised and caught my eye especially with the gorgeous covers that grace his books. I couldn’t wait to jump into this secondary world lawyering story where gods can die and gargoyles move. Did I mention how much I love gargoyles?

three parts deadTHREE PARTS DEAD
by Max Gladstone

Published by: Tor, 2012
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Craft Sequence #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: God wasn’t answering tonight.

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.
Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.
When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.
Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs.

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This was such a blast. Meet Tara Abernathy, kicked out of magician college and promptly picked up by Ms. Kevarian to work for the renowned law firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao. Because a god is dead. Yep, this starts out with a bang and just continues on from there.

Abelard is a priest of the now-dead fire god, Kos, and helps Tara figure out what happened and whether the priests are to blame for his death. This is where the law-meets-magic mumbo jumbo comes in. The world building is difficult to grasp at times, but when it comes to gods and their contracts with the living, it’s pretty straight forward. Power comes in, power goes out, and if you tip the scales too much, bad stuff happens. It is obvious that Kos spent more power than he had at his disposal but the records show that this shouldn’t have been possible.

On their investigation, Tara and Abelard are helped by Cat, a vampire blood addict and a servant of Justice. I could ramble on about Justice, this other goddess who basically keeps the city safe with her police force, but I would inevitable get too excited and stop making sense. Justice’s Blacksuits made for amazing imagery, though, and are probably the most memorable part I’m taking away from Three Parts Dead.

So let me talk about something else instead. I am stunned and surprised and insanely happy about the gender balance of this book. I didn’t exactly keep count but the main characters are three women and three men. Tara is also a woman of color and the protagonist. It’s lovely to see that the cover isn’t just a pretty picture chosen without much thought but it actually depicts the main character. Note the awesome suit and the craft markings on Tara’s arm, please. The artist did such a great job, I want to send a hug their way!

tara abernathy
Three Parts Dead
is Max Gladstone’s debut novel and I now see why he is nominated for an award. The pacing is spot on, even the side-characters are multi-layered and genuine, the plot is engaging and offers a few nice surprises along the way. I did have some minor problems with the world building in that there could have been more of it. But the author avoided exposition to such an extent that I was left confused at times. At which point the characters or plot put their hooks back in me and I had to read on anyway.

My slightly bigger qualms were about the magic. Tara is a necromancer and can do all sorts of cool stuff with her magic. But I still don’t quite understand how at court, magic battles between two opposing lawyers are supposed to decide on the truth of the matter. Maybe I was unattentive or missed an important line, but I just rolled with it, without really getting it. The battles were well told and with a bit more background knowledge about the working of lawyers in Alt Coulumb they could have been great.

Lastly, I loved how Max Gladstone worked in characters and creatures that have become genre tropes. He gives them a new spin. He has vampires, but they’re neither the sparkly kind, nor the mopey Anne Rice type. He has magicians but no Gandalfs or Harry Potters. Other than in a lot of fantasy books, becoming a necromancer is not something I would immediately jump on if I had the chance. There is a price to pay for being a magic user and it gave me a lot of food for thought. Flying sure is cool, but do I want to become something less-than-human for it? See, it’s not that simple, and that is precisely what made Ms. Kevarian so intriguing.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series to find out what new trouble is brewing in the city of Alt Coulumb and I hope I will meet Tara and Abelard again. They have grown on me quite a bit, as have Cat and Captain Pelham. Max Gladstone has created a wonderful world that beautifully sets itself apart from what used to be considered fantasy literature. I’ll check out the other Campbell nominees but they already have very tough competition in Max Gladstone.

(P.S.: Happy Towel Day, everyone!)

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The Craft Sequence:

  1. Three Parts Dead
  2. Two Serpents Rise
  3. Full Fathom Five

craft sequence

Nalo Hopkinson – Sister Mine

Last year, I was pretty blown away by Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber as well as her short story in Unnatural Creatures. I couldn’t wait to read more by this amazing author, especially anything that involved gods and mojo and a cover as stunning as this one.

sister mineSISTER MINE
by Nalo Hopkinson

Published by:  Grand Central Publishing, 2013
Hardcover: 346 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: “Score!” I said to the scruffy grey cat sitting on the building’s loading dock.

We’d had to be cut free of our mother’s womb. She’d never have been able to push the two-headed sport that was me and Abby out the usual way. Abby and I were fused, you see. Conjoined twins. Abby’s head, torso, and left arm protruded from my chest. But here’s the real kicker; Abby had the magic, I didn’t. Far as the Family was concerned, Abby was one of them, though cursed, as I was, with the tragic flaw of mortality.

Now adults, Makeda and Abby still share their childhood home. The surgery to separate the two girls gave Abby a permanent limp, but left Makeda with what feels like an even worse deformity: no mojo. The daughters of a celestial demigod and a human woman, Makeda and Abby were raised by their magical father, the god of growing things–a highly unusual childhood that made them extremely close. Ever since Abby’s magical talent began to develop, though, in the form of an unearthly singing voice, the sisters have become increasingly distant.
Today, Makeda has decided it’s high time to move out and make her own life among the other nonmagical, claypicken humans–after all, she’s one of them. In Cheerful Rest, a run-down warehouse space, Makeda finds exactly what she’s been looking for: an opportunity to live apart from Abby and begin building her own independent life. There’s even a resident band, led by the charismatic (and attractive) building superintendent.
But when her father goes missing, Makeda will have to discover her own talent–and reconcile with Abby–if she’s to have a hope of saving him . .

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This is going to be one of those love/hate reviews. If I were a better organised person, I would split it into two neat parts, but the way my brain works I’ll just throw the good, the bad, and the ugly at you all mixed up. Which is pretty much how this novel works, too.

Makeda’s story starts out with her seeking independence by moving out of the house she has shared with her sister. She moves into a building called Cheerful Rest (yes, really) whose inhabitants aren’t only a pleasure to meet but have so much potential for later. However, all except the attractive Brie are dropped completely. One side character gets to show up once more for a brief cameo but Brie’s bandmates, whom I liked immediately, are never seen again. But I liked Makeda enough to overlook that waste of character potential. Being the daughter of a human mother-turned-seamonster and a celestial (a sort of demigod), her life is far from ordinary. However, when she and her conjoined twin sister Abby were separated at birth, Makeda got two working legs, and Abby got all the magic. You see where this is going.

The two sister eventually grew apart, because jealousy and feelings of inadequacy, etc. I would have loved if this had been the center of the novel. Two sisters who used to be closer than anyone can even imagine, and who have to find a way to grow close again. But here’s the thing: This novel had no focus. It starts with one thing, then jumps into another (and don’t get me wrong, both these things may be awesome), then drops both of them in favor of something completely different.

So we jump from one type of story – Makeda’s coming-of-age, if you will – into another. There is even one chapter that shifts character perspective. One sole chapter right at the beginning of the book introduces a little girl named Naima, whom I loved immediately but who – again – never really shows up after her job in that chapter is done. Then there are infrequent flashbacks that show us Makeda and Abby’s past, that tell the story of when they were born, their first sexual experience with a pair of demigods (and also each other). It all felt very haphazard and just needed some structure.

When their father disappears suddenly, the sisters and their friends must try and find him – so now there is a McGuffin, some sort of red thread to follow. But even on their quest, for lack of a better world, they still seem to forget about it and suddenly Makeda is all about finding her mojo again. If she has any. At random, family truths are revealed, by Abby or the girls’ awesome Uncle Jack. Jack, the god of birth and death and some other things in between, was a fantastic character who gets to show up pretty consistently throughout the book. I was also rather fond of Lars, an inspirited instrument… look again at that book cover. See the guitar? Yeah, that’s Lars.

As great as the ideas were and as much as I loved the writing style, I still don’t quite know what the author wanted to achieve with this book. Is it supposed to be the story of two estranged sister growing up and trusting each other again? It kind of failed in that. I found the bickering and sisterly fights utterly realistic but there weren’t any moments of bonding as far as I’m concerned.  Or was it maybe supposed to be a coming-of-age and coming-into-your-magic story for Makeda? Because that plot also got lost along the way. The growing up part is what started the book, with Makeda thinking about how to pay rent on her burger flipping job. After a while, that doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore and it’s all about I MUST HAVE MOJO TOO – WHAT IS MY MOJO?!

sister mine snippet

There is also a very understated potential romance developing between Makeda and Brie. I quite enjoyed that part because it’s just there on the sidelines and never takes center stage. A smile here, a compliment there… What I did find a bit strange was that Abby and Makeda were once lovers. Or did I read that wrong? Now I would totally dig if either or both of the sisters had been lesbians. Having a foursome with their two celestial god-cousins (who are about 10000 years older than them) – fine, I’ll suspend my disbelief. But having sex with your own sister? Regularly? Uhm… that made me feel uneasy, to say the least. If gods do it (just look at Greek mythology) it’s different than if humans do it.
Apart from that, I loved the way Abby and Makeda deal with sexuality. It’s something they enjoy, there’s no problem in loving more than one person at once, and it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking straight or queer relationships. But the incest still leaves me queasy.

Add to all of this yet another subplot of switching parts when Abby suddenly loses her voice before a big music show, and you’ve got the crazy melting-pot that is this book. It comes complete with motorcycle chases, flying carpets, and feeding oranges to your polyamorous seamonster mother.
Despite the lack of structure and order, Nalo Hopkinson’s writing style is still exquisite. She gives her characters personality just through the way they speak, her protagonists are Women of Color, people with disabilities, and generally people of all shapes and sizes. As a bonus, she doesn’t shy away from a bit of humor. Uncle Jack made me laugh on more than one occasion, and even Brie gave me a chuckle or two:

Tiny LED bulbs in the sconce lights lining the walls of the entranceway. The sconces themselves were black mesh in the shape of small pouched triangles. “Those seem kind of Martha Stewart for you,” I said, pointing at one of them.
“So I have a gentle side. I made those things out of screen door mesh, though, all manly-like.” He made fake bodybuilder muscles.

The characters and prose have earned all my love but the plot was all over the place. I would have really liked, after this rollercoaster ride, to end up with a bigger picture that makes sense. Instead I got snippets of great story ideas, some of which never got to develop their full potential. I’m still hoping for a spin-off novel about that little girl Naima. The fact that she grew on me so much during the short chapter that she shows up in speaks for Hopkinson’s writing ability.

While it was too chaotic for me, this is still a good book. I look forward to reading more by Hopkinson. I only hope the next novel I pick has more focus.

MY RATING: 7/10  – Still very good

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Other reviews:

Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves

Six long years we have waited and now it is finally here. The last time I was this excited about a new book in a series was when Dance With Dragons was published (and I still haven’t finished that one). Scott Lynch didn’t let us down and I am now more hooked than ever on the Gentlemen Bastards.

republic of thievesTHE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES
by Scott Lynch

Published by: Spectra, October 2013
ISBN: 0553804693
ebook: 800 pages
Series: The Gentleman Bastard #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, put them under the supervision of one partly crippled old man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.

***WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 AND 2***

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke’s body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him – or finish him off once and for all.
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmagi’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival.
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

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I am a sensible reader. The Lies of Locke Lamora was so incredibly good that I knew I would die if I read the second book right away. So I waited, knowing that Red Seas Under Red Skies was sitting comfortably on my shelf, ready to be picked up at any moment. When I did (last year), I was glad I had waited. Because that cliffhanger was EVIL! Needless to say, it was the first thing that needed to be resolved in this third volume of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence.

Locke and Jean are neck-deep in shit – again. Only this time, it’s serious. Once the first and biggest obstacle of Locke’s imminent death is overcome, they find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of politics that doesn’t only involve the Bondsmagi but also a certain red-head we’ve heard a lot about in the previous book. If this were a friends episode it would be called “The One With Sabetha”.

republic of thieves part-cover

As with the previous books, there are two major story arcs going on, one in the present and one in the past. This grants us a much-needed reunion with the Sanza twins (oh how I miss them) and, what’s more interesting, finally lets us meet the legendary Sabetha in the flesh. I loved the new glimpses into Locke’s childhood and training under Master Chains but I must say that I didn’t buy the love story. At all. Sabetha, most of the time, was a rather shallow and very difficult person. I do like that she’s a complicated person with severe mood swings but it seemed to be her one defining quality. Locke’s obsession with her may make more sense at the end of the book – and I’m very much on the fence about that – but I truly didn’t understand their teenage romance. There was no chemistry, there were no sparks, and the whole thing felt incredibly one-sided, even when Sabetha finally comes around.  I’m not sure if this is just my reading of it or if she has simply been overhyped as a character, but Sabetha, as a person, was a grave disappointment to me.

Much more intriguing was the plot. As usual, Locke and Jean set out to achieve a certain goal and everything goes to shit. Do not fear (too much) for our Gentlemen Bastards, we all know by now they find some way or another to get out of trouble alive, if not always completely intact. Their third big adventure takes them to Karthain, home of the Bondsmagi, and deep into the magicians’ schemes. Charged with manipulating, by legal means only, the upcoming election, and given a very clever opponent, Locke and Jean need to come up with new ways to apply what Chains has taught them.

In the past, once you get through all the childhood drama and teenage tantrums, the entire troupe is sent to the city of Espara, to act in a play. The eponymous Republic of Thieves proves to be more difficult to put on the stage than you can possibly imagine.

republic of thieves1Both storylines combine what Lynch does best. There are heart-stopping moments of suspense, intricate plans, political intrigue, banter, and lots of cursing. By showing us a very young Locke juxtaposed with Locke at present, the author highlights his development as a character and a master thief. The last third of the book was so good, you will not want to put it down, while the beginning can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace with lots of setting up the new adventure and flash-backs into Locke’s early childhood – as far back as his time before the Gentlemen Bastards.

It did feel quite slow at the beginning and frequently, I found myself in one timeline when I’d rather be in the other one. Around the middle, both plots pick up so much pace that I didn’t care anymore because either story line had stopped on a cliffhanger and I needed to know what happened next. As a part of the series, this was the weakest one for me, but Scott Lynch being Scott Lynch, it’s still a damn good book that did not feel like it was 800 pages thick. If you have read the previous books, it’s a no-brainer: Pick this one up, too, if only for the shocking revelations about Locke Lamora himself. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, what are doing reading this review? I said there were spoilers! Go and pick up the first book now. If you like fantasy and heist stories, you really can’t go wrong.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent

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The Gentleman Bastard Sequence:

Terry Pratchett – Witches Abroad

It appears that, despite my reading resolutions, half a dozen ongoing challenges, and recommendations from friends and fellow bloggers, I am making my way through the Discworld series without so much as a pit stop. So it will come as no surprise that, after jumping around in the series rather wildly, I picked up the next (chronological) Witches novel.
When Terry Pratchett says “Witches are abroad”, they literally go abroad. With Granny Weatherwax’s practicality and Nanny Ogg’s immesurable knowledge of how to say things in “foreign”, what could possibly go wrong…?

witches abroad1WITCHES ABROAD
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 2013 (1991)
ISBN: 0552167509
Paperback: 368 pages
Series: Discworld #12
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: This is the Discworld, which travels through space on the back of four elephants which themselves stand on the shell of Great A’Tuin, the sky turtle.

It seemed an easy job . . . After all, how difficult could it be to make sure that a servant girl doesn’t marry a prince?
But for the witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick, travelling to the distant city of Genua, things are never that simple. Servant girls have to marry the prince. That’s what life is all about. You can’t fight a Happy Ending. At least — up until now.

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It’s fairy tale time. If you think that Witches are the only female magic-users on the Discworld, you forget a very important branch – fairy godmothers. Young Magrat inherits one late fairy godmother’s wand and the job that comes with it. There is a princess-turned-scullery-maid in Genua who must be kept from marrying the prince. Of course, this is Terry Pratchett, so expect every single fairy tale to be turned on its head, every cliché subverted, and every witch in Granny Weatherwax’s coven to be smart enough to see the bigger picture and realise that a Happy Ending isn’t necessarily what’s in the story book.

This is part travelogue, part mystery, and part crazy fairy tale. When the witches set off on their broomsticks and fly to Genua, there is much fun to be had. Little things like Nanny Ogg’s travel provisions, the fact that she brings Greebo, the cat, along, and Granny’s broomstick trouble make the journey all the more delightful. I was particularly enchanted and amused by Nanny’s ability to speak “foreign” and (more or less) translate words into English. On one of their stops, Granny Weatherwax once more shows her skill in playing cards, this time the famous Cripple Mr. Onion. Also, Nanny Ogg accidentally invents postcards and the little notes she sends home to her son Jason are hilarious. Misspelled words included.

Nanny Ogg sent a num­ber of cards home to her fam­ily, not a sin­gle one of which got back be­fore she did. This is tra­di­tional, and hap­pens every­where in the uni­verse.

witches abroad full cover

Terry Pratchett knows his fairy tales. While this Discworld book focuses mainly on Cinderella, influences of other well-known and not so well-known stories slip into the witches’ adventure. Take Mrs Gogol’s house, for example. You can see it in the (very green!) full cover illustration above. Anyone who’s ever heard of Baba Yaga will recognise that house on chicken’s legs immediately.

But even if you’re not a friend of fairy tales, classic or obscure, there are many more things to amuse and delight. If you’ve ever wondered, for example, if Discoworld had its own Casanova, search no longer. That is all I will say on the subject because he is best enjoyed without bias. I also loved Discworld’s take on racism. There is none. Because the inhabitants are too busy with speciism, nobody cares what color your skin is, just so long as you’re not a goblin. Of course, this is meant to be taken with a grain of salt, but I believe it shows Pratchett’s amazing gift when hiding real-world issues in Discworld without wielding the morality hammer. Sometimes when I read his books I feel that he just gets it.

Another pleasant surprise was that we find out a bit about Granny Weatherwax’s family and her upbringing. She is still a mysterious (and absolutely wonderful) character, but I believe she became much more human in this novel. Nobody needs worry, though. She is still a fond user of “headology” and her success rate remains incredible.

Some­times Ma­grat re­ally won­dered about the oth­ers’ com­mit­ment to witch­craft. Half the time they didn’t seem to bother.
Take med­i­cine, for ex­am­ple … Granny just gave peo­ple a bot­tle of coloured water and told them they felt a lot bet­ter.
And what was so an­noy­ing was that they often did.
Where was the witch­craft in that?

Having read Maskerade first, I had assumed certain things as facts without asking myself where they came from. Here was the genesis of one character’s transformation and it goes to show the author’s talent. I didn’t feel like anything was spoiled. Sure, I knew beforehand what would happen to the character but going back in time felt more like a privilege and a pleasure rather than catching up on a spoiled ending. Well done, Sir Terry!

I am getting to the point where I try (in my head) to rank the Discworld novels I have read so far. Tiffany Aching is still way ahead of anyone else, but Witches Abroad may just be my favorite Witches book yet. Let’s see if Lords and Ladies can kick it off its throne. Did I mention I’m already halfway through that one? What I’m saying is: Read the Discworld books.

RATING: 8 –  Excellent

divider1The Witches novels (Discworld):

  1. Equal Ritesgranny and nanny
  2. Wyrd Sisters
  3. Witches Abroad
  4. Lords and Ladies
  5. Maskerade
  6. Carpe Jugulum
  7. Tiffany Aching (sub-series)
    1. The Wee Free Men
    2. A Hat Full of Sky
    3. Wintersmith
    4. I Shall Wear Midnight

Catherynne M. Valente – In the Cities of Coin and Spice

You know the deal by now. Whatever Cat Valente puts on paper (or a computer screen) I am bound to love. After the amazing Deathless I didn’t think another of her books could get me this emotionally riled up. But The Orphan’s Tales took it to a whole new level. I didn’t just get one heartbreaking story, I got dozens! In this second part of the duology, we get more of the same – brilliant writing, fantastic characters, a structure that makes your brain smoke – but also a little bit more…

cities of coin and spiceIN THE CITIES OF COIN AND SPICE
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Spectra, 2007
ISBN: 9780553384048
Paperback: 516 pages
Series: The Orphan’s Tales #2

My rating: 9/10

First sentence: The paths of the garden were wet with fallen apples and red with their ruptured skin.

Her name and origins are unknown, but the endless tales inked upon this orphan’s eyelids weave a spell over all who listen to her read her secret history. And who can resist the stories she tells? From the Lake of the Dead and the City of Marrow to the artists who remain behind in a ghost city of spice, here are stories of hedgehog warriors and winged skeletons, loyal leopards and sparrow calligraphers. Nothing is too fantastic, anything can happen, but you’ll never guess what comes next in these intimately linked adventures of firebirds and djinn, singing manticores, mutilated unicorns, and women made entirely of glass and gears. Graced with the magical illustrations of Michael Kaluta, In the Cities of Coins and Spice is a book of dreams and wonders unlike any you’ve ever encountered. Open it anywhere and you will fall under its spell. For here the story never ends and the magic is only beginning….

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When In the Night Garden took me onto its long, winding journey, I didn’t think I would fall in love with it as hard as I did. The nameless girl with stories tattooed on her eyelids continues to tell her tales and they, in turn, continue to go deeper and deeper until a tapestry of mythology evolves, and not a single character remains nameless or faceless. Getting into this part was easier because, first of all, I knew what was waiting for me, structurally. I knew that whenever a character would meet another, I would get to hear their story and the stories contained in that story. Secondly, by now I was familiar with a lot of the settings – we return to cities we visited in the first volume, and meeet known characters, much to my delight. In the Night Garden wrapped up its stories neatly, for the most part, but I couldn’t help but wonder whatever happened to the firebird or the goose. Well, we find out here.

If I talk any more about Valente’s gift with words, my readers will run away screaming. But it is true that she magically paints pictures that are so vivid they followed me into my dreams. Within a short paragraph, she breathes so much life into her characters that you feel like you know them, you can understand them, and – most of all – you come to love them. Whether it’s a unicorn (they’re not white, by the way), a spider looking for her vocation, a djinn who is made queen, a girl born from a tea-leaf or a Gaselli who is friends with a manticore, I feel like I’ve met a whole cast of unforgettable characters who each follow their own path. And when their paths intertwine, something beautiful happens.

Saturated with mythology and fairytales, Valente puts a new spin on what we expect. Creatures that we would consider ugly or evil turn out to be the gentlest, kindest characters, unicorns – pure and white and lovely – are drawn to innocence for a very different reason that one may think. My knowledge of mythology is not wide enough to know if all the characters are inspired by folklore or myth, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The monsters represented here feel entirely original and it was a pleasure to find out an ostensibly evil character’s reasons for doing what they do. There are at least two sides to every story and they all seem to lead back to the Stars, expelled from their home, walking among humans (and monsters), yearning for a place that is lost to them.

What makes this second volume so interesting is not just that Valente delivers more of the brilliance we’ve come to know. It’s that the story is pushed forward, that in the real world, where a girl tells a prince her stories, the story progresses. I will admit I have suspected the twist at the end, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful. What I didn’t expect was how much the prince’s sister Dinarzad grew on me, but then, Valente does that to her readers. Introduce characters that are merely interesting but will steal your heart within a chapter or two.

I cannot recommend these two books enough. Anyone who enjoys stories based around mythology, who likes a wide, diverse range of characters, or someone who has a soft spot in their heart for monsters and outcasts, will find nothing but joy within these many pages. Sure, personal taste dictates that somebody will prefer certain stories to others (Saint Sigrid is still my favorite, although the Gaselli and the Manticore are close seconds) but the overall quality of these tales can’t be disputed. I wish more writers would dare something this intricate, would give their characters so much life. And by now, I have started hoping that Cat Valente will write a lot more – and fast.

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THE GOOD: Vivid settings, beautiful language, full-depth characters, and a magic that connects them all.
THE BAD: If you’ve come this far, the structure probably doesn’t bother you. I wasn’t a huge fan of the hedgehog story but that’s the only “bad” thing I can think of.
THE VERDICT: I have sung with manticores, danced with the Gaselli, opened cages that held vibrant creatures, lost something in the city of Marrow, met a spider seamstress, a firebird’s child, and a girl made of tea. These two little books have sent my head spinning with imagination and wonder. And I never want to let it go.

RATING: 9/10  – Close to perfection

BONUS: Michael Kaluta’s illustrations (while they could be more numerous) were even more gorgeous than in the first part.

SECOND BONUS: I have talked about S.J. Tucker before. After enjoying her album for the first novel in The Orphan’s Tales duology, there was no way I was missing out on the second. This time, the songs offer a wider range of styles and themes, but they fit perfectly with their corresponding stories in the book. Again, we get snippets of text read by S.J. Tucker (that I skipped until I had finished the book – my fear of spoilers was unfounded). Most of all, this music created an added layer of atmosphere. Valente certainly doesn’t need help with that, but listening to the sad, beautiful, wild songs on this album made this a wholly immersive experience.

The Orphan’s Tales:

  1. In the Night Garden
  2. In the Cities of Coin and Spice

Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn

There is only so long you can go on being a fantasy book fan without reading Brandon Sanderson. I got the Mistborn box set for Christmas a few years ago and have been guiltily staring at it since then. When, a few weeks ago, I started watching Brandon’s lectures on writing, I reached the point where I couldn’t wait any longer to read his books. Recommended by masses of people as “that guy with the cool magic systems”, I have always been intrigued. Yet it is hard to live up to a hype this massive. Well, what can I say, the book did live up to it and Mr. Sanderson has one more fan.

mistbornMISTBORN: THE FINAL EMPIRE
by Brandon Sanderson

Published by: Tor, 2006
ISBN: 0765350386
Paperback: 657 pages
Series: Mistborn #1

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Sometimes, I worry that I’m not the hero everyone thinks I am.

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.
He failed.
For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably. Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

dividerWhat a book! Based on the premise that, a thousand years ago, that generic fantasy hero failed to save the world and the bad guy won and is now ruling as an immortal over the entire empire, the book had its hooks in me before I even started. Because that is a cool premise, you have to admit it. In the beginning, I found myself analysing Sanderson’s writing to see how he implemented all his tips and writing advice. But soon there came the point when I could no longer concentrate on his craft and was just so deep in the story that I just needed to get to the next page. There is so much going on and I came to really love the characters and needed to know that they would make it, that they could pull off their heist and overthrow the empire.

But let’s start at the beginning. It took me a while to warm to Vin, the protagonist. She seemed overly passive to me in the beginning, and although that passivity (and silence) is explained and makes sense, my interest rested firmly with Kelsier. I like my heroes a bit cocky and full of themselves. As the story progresses, Vin’s character becomes more dominant and her development more interesting. At a certain point, I didn’t know what my favorite bit was anymore. The characters, the mystery – There is always another secret – or the fantastic action scenes with ninja-like fights in the mist.

Which leads me to an important aspect – we have to talk about the magic system. At first, it seemed merely interesting. Allomancy, metabolizing metals in the human body to manipulate other people’s emotions, that’s a cool idea. But there is a moment early on in the book where Allomancy is used an a way that put a huge smile on my face and made me shout “This is AWESOME!”. It evoked the same kind of excitement in me that I felt when I first watched a Spiderman cartoon on TV as a child. It’s not an easy magic, it has its costs, and it needs to be practiced to be mastered. But when I read about Kelsier basically flying through the city of Luthadel (it is not actual flying), I was giddy with glee. And the magic enhanced any fight scene and turned it into a frenzy of awesome. It goes to show how good a writer Sanderson really is that these scenes played out in my head as a movie would – I hope that movie will be made.

mistborn trilogy

There were things I disliked. I would have loved more description of the world Vin lives in. Not just the politics or the history – I am sure the author held back on those for a reason and I’m fine with that – but just plain description of the surroundings. It takes a long time for the author to establish certain truths about this world that changed my imagination of the setting in retrospect. I don’t like having to do that. We know from the very start that ash falls from the sky, we get some of the architecture but often I had no sense at all of what things looked like. I realise that the book is large enough as it is and descriptions aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very minor point and didn’t really diminish my reading pleasure.

The quote you find over and over in the book – There is always another secret – sums up this story pretty well. Everything has another layer that you didn’t expect, the ending offers a few nice surprises and show off Sanderson’s talent for building up suspense even more. I was completely satisfied with the ending, but only because I knew there were more books to come. If this had been a standalone novel, I would have been disappointed. The main story gets wrapped up nicely although it doesn’t end happy for everyone. It also did something that a great first part of a series should do – it made me want to go back immediately and read the next book. Which is why you’ll be seeing a review of The Well of Ascension here very soon.

THE GOOD: Great characters, a brilliant magic system and a world full of mystery and riddles and suspense.
THE BAD: Slowish build-up and too little description of surroundings for my taste.
THE VERDICT: Brandon Sanderson deserves every bit of the hype that surrounds him. He knows how to write a gripping story that will make you go “just one more chapter, then I’ll go sleep” until it’s morning. Impossible to put down.

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

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The Mistborn Series:

  1. Mistborn: The Final Empiremistborn trilogy ppb
  2. The Well of Ascension
  3. The Hero of Ages
  4. The Alloy of Law

Jim Butcher – Captain’s Fury

Oh, where would I be without my nightly dose of the Codex Alera? With every single book, I find myself more and more surprised at how much the series has grown on me. From mere okay book one to quite good book two to great book three and even greater book four, the trend is going up. So yes, by now this is an absolute recommendation.

captains furyCAPTAIN’S FURY
by Jim Butcher

Published by:
ISBN: 1841497479
Audiobook: 20,5 hours
Paperback: 598 pages
Series: Codex Alera #4

My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Amara soared down in a slow, gradual descent through cold, heavy rain as she neared the camp of the Crown Legion.

Tavi of Calderon, now captain of his own Legion, has been fighting a bitter war for two years. Then he discovers the invading Canim warriors are harbingers of a far greater threat. The Canim are being hunted in their turn by a savage race that forced them from their homeland – and which has pursued them to the Aleran borders. With options fast running out, Tavi proposes an alliance with the Canim. But the Senate’s new military commander wishes only to wipe out the Canim ‘scourge’, and would also kill Aleran slaves that have sought freedom with these aggressors. Tavi must reconcile Aleran and Canim, slavemaster and slave, Citizen and Proletarian, if an alliance is to be forced. And he must lead his Legion in defiance of the law, against both friend and enemy – before the greatest army of all launches its assault.

dividerAh, Jim Butcher, how cleverly you have stolen my heart. That a story that came from “combine Pokemon with a lost Roman legion” would turn out to be this awesome is still baffling to me. While I took breaks between the first few books in the series, after Cursor’s Fury I didn’t wait at all to dive into the next Codex Alera adventure. And the trend of these books getting better and better continues.

The author first brings us up to date about what has happened in the two years since we last saw the characters. He sets up where each of them is, with Tavi being Captain of the First Legion, Amara still doing Cursor work, Isana dealing with the secret that is no longer only hers, and the war between the Canim and Alera nowhere near the end. As I said in my review of the last book, I seem to love military fiction (I had no idea) which made this – again – the best book in the series so far. Because Tavi is now leading a Legion, we get a lot of military life. Ranging from big strategic decision-making to the everyday troubles of the soldiers, to Tavi’s trouble dealing with his new commander – everything is in here. And it is damn fun to read.

What I have come to love about these books is that our characters usually come up with very good plans, they get somewhat close to putting them into action, and then Everything Goes To Shit. These moments are heart-stopping and drove me almost crazy. How on earth are they going to get out of there? I decided to put my faith into the author and his wonderful characters, they will come up with something, right? Right. This time, though, the threats are more numerous and coming from all sides. The political situation in Alera is a bubblign cauldron of trouble, Amara and Bernard travel areas of the realm that are inhabited by terrifying creatures, and of course there’s this war going on, where humans and Canim engage in daily mutual slaughter. Jim Butcher does get better with every book. The action sequences – detrimental as they are to my sleep – were what I was looking forward to the most.

captains fury

That is not to say that the quieter moments are boring. By now, the world and its magic are so well established that the author gets to play with it. Some things that happened in the very first book tie in nicely into the larger plot of the entire series. It is amazing how Butcher keeps his characters and plot consistent but still offers us new interesting morsels with every story. His characters develop in a believable way and some of my least favorite characters from the first book are now closest to my heart. Others show different sides of their personality, giving them more depth and creating a sense of being real. Real humans sometimes change their mind on big things, their beliefs are shattered, their entire world goes upside down – in fiction, we usually find this kind of 180 degree turn to be not credible. But Jim Butcher pulls it off.

I couldn’t pick my favorite parts of Captain’s Fury. I loved Tavi’s cleverness, be it when he devised a plan to do very illegal things for a very good reason, or his talks with the Canim about politics and warfare. The Canim deserve a bonus point because, being an alien species, their culture was even more intriguing to read than that of the Marat – although Kitai is still one of my favorite characters and doesn’t cease to amuse me whenever she jibes at Tavi. Showing us the Canim the way he does, the author allows us to see that in a war, there are no bad guys. It is full of people who just want to survive, who have their own hopes and dreams.

The end of this volume leads me to believe that some large changes are about to hit Alera, politically. But it also sets up the beginning for the next book nicely which already got its hooks in me, without even having started reading. That’s how well Jim Butcher writes. I only started reading this series because it’s on NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books list – and I’m incredibly happy I did. Because tonight, at bedtime, I will jump 2 years into Alera’s future and see what my old friends have been up to.

THE GOOD: Great characters, some of the best action scenes I have ever read, great political and military aspects, set in a world that grows more interesting with every book.
THE BAD: The one big secret that is revealed in this volume was partly predictable, but tied nicely into the larger story.
THE VERDICT: A series that comes more highly recommended with every volume I read. There is something for everyone. Personally, I am really taken with the military and politics but there is almost always some romance, great action, and of course magic.

RATING: 8,5/10  More than excellent

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The Codex Alera:codex alera series

  1. Furies of Calderon
  2. Academ’s Fury
  3. Cursor’s Fury
  4. Captain’s Fury
  5. Princep’s Fury
  6. First Lord’s Fury

Saladin Ahmed – Throne of the Crescent Moon

In my attempt to read all the Nebula nominated novels this year, I have finally picked up this much praised novel by Saladin Ahmed. I had heard great things about how it mixes fantasy with an Arabian setting and falls into the currently trending category of fantasy-that-is-not-medieval-Europe. I agree that it would be nicer to have more diverse settings and characters in any genre, but just putting things in the desert doesn’t make a great book either. In this case, it worked well. The hype, though? As usual, overdone.

throne of the crescent moonTHRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON
by Saladin Ahmed

Published by: Penguin, 2012
ISBN: 110157240X
ebook: 288 pages
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1

My rating: 7/10

First sentence:Nine days. Beneficient God, I beg you, let this be the day I die!

The blurb: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawwaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

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I went into this with expectations based mostly on the cover image and what I’d heard in reviews. Which was Arabian Nights with zombies, more or less. Sometimes I ask myself why I still bother having expectations at all – most of the time they are not met, and I am happy about that. In Throne of the Crescent Moon, we are introduced to the ageing ghul-hunter Adoulla and his assistant, the dervish Raseed. Adoulla is more than tired of his life of demon-hunting, spell-casting, and generally living in danger. He is also somewhat foulmouthed and very likable. Juxtaposed to the zealot Raseed, the novel created a great dynamic between their points of view and I just loved how the author never lectures us on what to think. He merely presents people of very different beliefs and lets us choose whose side we’re on. Or not pick a side at all.

For a while, Adoulla and Raseed, who go out to hunt a group of ghuls that killed a family, remain the two point of view characters. Until they meet the girl Zamia whom I absolutely adored. I loved how she complicated the group dynamics even more, bringing in an entirely different way of life and culture. Seeing certain scenes from each of their perspectives shone an interesting light on them and moved the story along even in the quieter moments. However, later on, other characters are introduced and they also get their own view-point chapters. It’s probably a matter of taste, but I felt disrupted and even a little betrayed. I loved the focus on that trio of unequal heroes, I did’t want to see into other people’s heads. Characters can also be established without having their own view-point chapter, after all.

throne of the crescent moonThe most interesting parts of this book were neither the plot nor the mystery. It was Raseed fighting with himself and with his belief and how to consolidate it with what he has learned of the world. It was Zamia, a girl who has lost everything, coming to terms with what’s ahead of her. And, of course, their feelings towards each other. Partly because two new viewpoints were introduced mid-story, I didn’t get nearly enough of Zamia – her character was almost dropped completely from the narrative. I actually think (what I consider) the three main characters suffered for it. Neither Litaz nor Dawoud were intriguing enough to replace Zamia or Raseed’s storylines. I would have preferred to read only the trio’s points of view, with Dawoud and Litaz as side characters – a state above which they never really rise, anyway.

Apart from my minor character issue, I also had a bit of trouble with the pacing. The beginning was fantastic, we are introduced to characters, the world and its magic at a reasonable but not dull pace. Then suddenly, during the middle-part, there is a slump, a big zone of let’s-tell-this-one-unimportant-scene-reeeeaaally-slowly, for which I saw no reason whatsoever. Then again, at the end, the book was impossible to put down. When action follows action, Saladin Ahmed is at his best.

There are many little things wrong with the book – I suppose more prolific critics call them “first novel problems”. I was disappointed in the magic system and the revelations at the end, but despite all that, I still got some enjoyment out of it. This is a fun adventure story with a cool setting where religion is involved in practically everything the characters do or say. It didn’t live up to the massive hype, but it was a book I’d recommend for a quick, light fantasy read that isn’t set in alternate medieval Europe.

THE GOOD: Great characters who face (mostly inner) conflicts that kept me interested. A cool setting and fantastic action writing.
THE BAD: Two unnecessary POV characters, dragging middle-part.
THE VERDICT: A fun fantasy novel in an Arabian setting that suffers some first-novel-problems. Recommended.

RATING: 7/10  – Quite good

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The Crescent Moon Kingdoms:

  1. Throne of the Crescent Moon

Mary Robinette Kowal – Glamour in Glass

Why did I read this? I had mostly lukewarm feelings about Shades of Milk and Honey, the first part in this series. But Mary Robinette Kowal is so likable and seems so clever in her interviews and podcasts that I wanted to give her a second chance. If the first novel was – and such a thing is possible, I’ve learned – too much like Jane Austen and read like all the characters were ripped off, this one has its own voice and mood to it. Unfortunately, it was a mood that bored me almost to death.

glamour in glassGLAMOUR IN GLASS
by Mary Robinette Kowal

Published by: Tor, 2012
ISBN: 1429987286
ebook: 213 pages
Series: Glamourist Histories #2

My rating: 6/10

First sentence: There are few things in this world that can simultaneously delight and dismay in the same manner as a formal dinner party.

Mary Robinette Kowal stunned readers with her charming first novel Shades of Milk and Honey, a loving tribute to the works of Jane Austen in a world where magic is an everyday occurrence. This magic comes in the form of glamour, which allows talented users to form practically any illusion they can imagine. Shades debuted to great acclaim and left readers eagerly awaiting its sequel. Glamour in Glass continues following the lives of beloved main characters Jane and Vincent, with a much deeper vein of drama and intrigue.
In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison . . . and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.

dividerAfter Shades of Milk and Honey, I was hoping for many things to happen in the second novel. I wished Mary Robinette Kowal would be a little less like Jane Austen (who but Jane Austen can really pull it off, after all?) and more like herself. Check. I was hoping that the characters weren’t such obvious copies or amalgamations of Austen’s own Elizabeth Bennet or the Dashwood sisters. Check. I was hoping that her magic system, Glamour, would be further developed. Check.
Despite all of these good things that were delivered as per my personal order (or so it seems), there was one element this book was missing. Badly. It was drive, it was that thing that makes you go “wow” and get really immersed in a story. Frequently, the five-year-old that I secretly still am on the inside, wanted to shout out “This is BOOOORING” while I was reading. I shushed her and everything, pointed out the nice writing and the depth of research that must have gone into the novel. But five-year-old me didn’t care. She wanted a good story. And that’s where Glamour in Glass was truly lacking.

glamour in glassIt opens on a dinner scene where Jane, who, with Vincent, has just finished a magnificent glamural commissioned by the Prince Regent, describes the dinner conversations, all the rules of propriety that go with such and the separation of the sexes once the whisky and cigars are brought and the discussions start going in a political direction. This may be very interesting from a historical point of view but it lacks any wit that Jane Austen always provided in her work. And the plot (if you can call it that) meanders along in the same manner until the last quarter of the book, when finally something happens that requires action. I am by no means averse to slow-moving books that focus on characters. But let’s take a look at the characters we meet here.

Jane, for the most part, is incredibly sulky and passive throughout the novel. Until said event in the last bit makes her come out of her shell and become pretty awesome. I liked her a great deal in Shades of Milk and Honey, but here I found myself not caring very much about her and actually being annoyed with her a lot of the time. Vincent has lost his brooding mystery and what little we see of him didn’t excite me either. This may be entirely my fault or it may be due to the inconsequential conversations the newlyweds have. I don’t know. It just didn’t grab my attention at all.

What Mary Robinette Kowal does brilliantly is paint a picture of the era. I’m no expert, not even an amateur, in the field, but everything just feels right. The way people behave, the differences between England and France and Belgium, the clothing, the carriages and horse-drawn carts… simply guessing from what I’ve read in her two Glamourist Histories, I would say, Mary has a firm grip on her research. The afterword gives us a clue of how thorough she has been, creating a list of words with all the words Jane Austen used in her works, and eliminating or rephrasing any words Mary used to fit the vocubulary of 1815.

I was also very happy to learn more about Glamour and see Jane come up with new ways to use it. It is like reading steampunk – you read about inventions that could have been made in the past. Only this is glamourpunk. The scenes where Jane and Vincent work on their theory and try to put it into practice were the first ones that got me really hooked and that offer a myriad possibilities for future novels in the series.

What did I think? In the end, the story left me rather cold. The fact that I didn’t particularly like Jane or Vincent for most of the book is surely a large factor in this. The lack of a driving force behind the plot made this, to say it in my five-year-old self’s words, simply boring. I need something to want to read on, be it characters, action, magic or world-building. None of these things were interesting enough to hold my interest. I am somewhat surprised to see this on the Nebula shortlist and I have the strong suspicion that, like with the Hugos, sometimes authors just make it onto that list because they are very present. Or because “it’s kind of their time to get an award”. Mary is a great writer, no doubt, and has a firm grip on her research and craft. But for this second Glamourist History the elevator pitch “Jane Austen with magic” does not work anymore. There may be magic in the shape of Glamour, but there is none of Austen’s wit or clever critique, there are none of her ridiculously funny characters. And so, for me, there wasn’t really much magic at all.

The Good: Well-researched, with perfect French (that made me squee a lot) and an ending that redeems some of the earlier problems I had.

The Bad: Three quarters of the story were painfully boring, except for one scene involving Glamour. Lacks the Austenesque humor and fun characters.

The Verdict: Slow burning historical piece with threads of magic woven into it.

My Rating: 6/10 – Okay

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The Glamourist Histories:

Andrea Jones – Hook & Jill

Peter Pan has been one of my favorite books since I first read it in school. I had known (and disliked) the overly sweetened Disney version before I ever picked up the book and maybe it is because of this that the book touched me the way it did. I can’t get enough of this children’s adventure story, nestled within which lies  a dark tragedy of a boy. Retellings, sequels, prequels, and spin-offs have been on my radar ever since. And because I’m currently reading The Annotated Peter Pan by Maria Tatar, I felt like looking at Neverland from a different perspective.

hook and jillHOOK & JILL
by Andrea Jones

Published by: Reginetta Press, 2009
ISBN: 0982371497
ebook: 293 pages
Series: Hook & Jill #1

My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: When she woke, she was the woman in the bed on the ship in the sea, and she used to be Wendy Darling, who dreamt in the bed in the nursery of Number 14.

In this startling new vision of a cultural classic, Wendy intends to live happily ever after with Peter Pan. But Time, like this tale, behaves in a most unsettling way. As Wendy mothers the Lost Boys in Neverland, they thrive on adventure. She struggles to keep her boys safe from the Island’s many hazards, but she finds a more subtle threat encroaching from an unexpected quarter… The children are growing up, and only Peter knows the punishment.
Yet in the inky edges of the Island, the tales Wendy tells to the Lost Boys come true. Captain Hook is real, and even the Wonderful Boy can’t defend his Wendy against this menace. Hook is a master manipulator, devising vengeance for his maiming. Insidious and seductive, Hook has his reasons for tempting Wendy to grow up. Revenge is only the first.

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I love Peter Pan. James Barrie’s original children’s story is perfection to me but I am not at all averse to reinterpretations, retellings or darker versions of Neverland. Régis Loisel’s comic book series Peter Pan is one of my favorite stories ever, and this Andrea Jones series promised to deliver something similar. Wendy grows up – which of course is against Peter’s rules – and becomes partial to Captain Hook. The title and the blurb both led me to expect a sort of dark romance between the well-mannered yet ruthless pirate captain and the innocent girl. That’s pretty much what I got, but I still can’t decide whether I loved or hated the book.

The first thing I noticed was the language. I will not make presumptions about what the author intended, I can only state how I perceived her writing. The style came over as if she was trying very hard to sound poetic. It ended up clunky, at times even pretentious, and out of character. Because there is not much plot so speak of, the focus lies on the characters and their development. Wendy secretly wants to have a romance, her very own love story, with Peter Pan – a thing, of course, that he can and will never give her, because that is on the threshold to grown-up territory. Wendy’s inner turmoil was intriguing to read, even though the style got in the way of itself a bit. As the story progresses, we get to see other characters’ viewpoints, most intriguing among them Hook. It was for him that I kept reading. Andrea Jones’ Hook is menacing, sinister, and sexy all at the same time. I found myself wanting Wendy to go to him.

hook and jillWhich leads me to the characters. Their development begins slowly and is well-done. We start out with well-known characters who I personally found believable. Peter is selfish and arrogant and adventurous, Wendy caring and prudent, Tinker Bell moody. Hook’s plotting will eventually draw Wendy over to his side and explore her sexuality as well as her will to make her own decisions.

The reason I am so torn about this is because despite my misgivings about the writing style, I was (for lack of a better word) hooked. I didn’t want to put the book away, I wanted to find out where all this build-up would lead. In the end, the pay-off fell a little short of my expectations. Some of the dialogue, especially towards the end, put me off, some storylines were just dropped (maybe to be picked up again in the next book?), and the last third of the book was full of logical mistakes and strange time and point-of-view jumps that made it both confusing and annoying. For example, Wendy – at one point – points a pistol at somebody’s head and fires. This person (I won’t spoil) falls down and I assumed they were dead. A bullet to the head from about a meter away will do that to you, right? The scene stops there, we follow another character for a couple of pages, and when we return, the person who just got shot gets up like nothing happened. The Neverland is a universe of magic, so I’m fine with people miraculously surviving lethal wounds, but it wasn’t even adressed! Nobody wondered how Wendy’s shot didn’t seem to have any effect, nobody even mentioned it. I went back and re-read that bit, sure I must have missed a paragraph, but no. It’s just never explained or even alluded to.

hook and jillAs this is an alternate Neverland sort of sequel, I didn’t expect things to be the same as in Barrie’s original play. But there were some details that rankled. Peter Pan can only remain an eternal child because he forgets things extremely fast. Even if his body were to never age, if he remembered all his adventures, his Lost Boys and his fairies, he would still mature on the inside. It is precisely his lack of memory that allows him to stay a boy forever. In this book, Peter remembered a surprising amount of details that made for interesting stand-offs in the end but didn’t feel like Peter Pan to me. In fact, and I assume that was the author’s intent, I found myself rooting for Hook instead of Peter.

This is certainly a book full of atmosphere, of character development and of discovering that you want to grow up. When I say growing up, I mean that to include sex. There is a fair bit of sexy time but never graphic, usually alluded to or described metaphorically. If I’m completely honest, I think Andrea Jones would make quite a good vaginal fantasy writer. She kept it classy, however, and while I wouldn’t necessarily give this book to children, I believe the sexy bits could be glossed over easily.

quotes greyThen he woke her, and moving in Time to the rhythm of the sea, they began their dance.

What did I think? I was quickly sucked into this dark, yet recognisable version of Neverland and couldn’t wait to watch Wendy succumb to Hook’s charms. There are many good ideas and fantastic characters in this book, some of whose transformations were pleasantly surprising. That said, I found it to be overlong and unnecessarily drawn out. The ending, while satisfying in a way, lost a lot of atmosphere. I’d recommend this to fans of Peter Pan who want a dark and sexy twist on the beloved story and who don’t mind a slow-moving plot.

The Good: Character depth and development, surprisingly sexy yet subtle scenes, a villain to root for.
The Bad: Sometimes clunky, overly wanna-be poetic writing, logical mistakes, occasionally strange dialogue.
The Verdict: As a hardcore Pan fan, I wouldn’t want to have missed this. Even though I’m not a romance reader, I find myself wanting more Hook & Jill time and less repetition of people’s thoughts and feelings. Still, this is a good novel of an alternate Neverland, peopled by characters who dare to grow up.

Rating: 6,5/10 – Quite good

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The Hook & Jill Saga:other oceans

  1. Hook & Jill
  2. Other Oceans