Jeff Vandermeer – Annihilation

The Vandermeers (Jeff and Ann) are a name that everybody in SF knows. So far, I’ve only come in contact with the anthologies they edited. There are many of those and all of them fantastic. Assuming that someone who chooses other writers’ stories so well, must be at least a decent writer himself, I bought a couple of Jeff Vandermeer’s books. However, it wasn’t until now that I finally picked one up. The reason: I am shallow and totally love the covers for the Southern Reach trilogy. There you have it.

by Jeff Vandermeer

Published by: FSG Originals, February 2014
Ebook: 208 pages
Series: Southern Reach Trilogy #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.
This is the twelfth expedition.
Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

A biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor make up expedition 12 into Area X. What sounds like the beginning of an elaborate joke is really a wonderfully creepy story with riddles upon riddles. If you like your stories resolved and your questions fully answered, then this is probably not for you. This is a book for people who enjoy not knowing or at least not knowing all they’d like to know to understand the puzzle. Area X is just there, we don’t know why or since when. We aren’t told what the expeditions are for – but the professions of the group members lead me to believe that the reasons are scientific in nature. Study this strange place and the creatures that inhabit it.

None of the four protagonists are ever named, they are simply known by their profession, which lends the already eerie narration another layer of distance. The first person narrator, the biologist, gives little personal information but manages to paint a picture of the surroundings without turning to clunky language. With the discovery of a “tower” that leads down into the earth rather than up at into the sky, the group start examining strange writing on the wall that seems to be composed of living matter. With this begins a journey into Area X as well as into the psyche of the biologist – who I’m sure is one of the more brilliant unreliable narrators out there. This would be a very different book, had it been told by any of the other expedition members.

AnnihilationAnimation_2Area X may be the real star of this book but its characters do come to life slowly. Despite narrating, the biologist’s personality is a mystery for the most time. It becomes clearer and clearer with little flashbacks into her childhood and her obsession with an uncared-for swimming pool-turned-frog-paradise. But it is the handful of memories of her husband and the time before the expedition that show different aspects of her and make her feel like a real, vivid person. I’d hazard anyone can relate to being passionate about something. I’m passionate about books, the biologist is and always has been passionate about life and how it works. She spent hours watching the frogs and fish and dragonflies living in and around her swimming pool as a child, I spent all my pocket money on fantasy books. It’s easy to identify with her in that respect, even though our passions may be widely different.
But showing aspects of her personality that don’t make her likable is the real sign of a three-dimensional character. The biologist is highly introvert and the crass opposite of her sociable husband. The way she thinks about him in general distanced her from me again. I could never think about my husband as clinically and scientifically as she does – passion is something she only has for her work.

The other characters get varying degrees of the same treatment, but this being a first person narrative, part of the enjoyment of this book is that, most of the time, we just don’t know who these people really are. The psychologist obviously exerts some power over the others – the group entered Area X under her hypnosis – and in a potentially hostile environment, being with a person like that would make me more than a little bit queasy.

The idea and plot reminded me, at first, very much of the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic, which starts on a similar premise. An area once visited by aliens that now holds all sorts of shenanigans, messing with physics and time, enough to give you nightmares. Area X isn’t exactly the same and neither is the plot. But if you like the one, you’ll probably like the other. But what makes Area X so intriguing is that we are left in the dark about pretty much all of it. How did it come to be? Was there a natural disaster? A human-made one? Did aliens come visit and leave their space junk and/or extraterrestrial fauna? Why did the previous 11 expeditions all end the way they did? It’s a mystery within mysteries and, trust me, it is enormous fun trying to figure even one of the out.

That said, part of the fun is hoping for a nice payoff at the end. There were several moments that made me gasp and sent my brain into crazy-speculation-mode, but the big bang I was hoping for didn’t arrive. Then again, I have high hopes for the second and third novel in the trilogy to shed some light on all the weirdness and I’m quite alright spinning my own theories until they come out later this year.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very good!


The Southern Reach Trilogy

  • Annihilation
  • Authority
  • Acceptance


Joe Abercrombie – The Blade Itself

“Late to the party” doesn’t really cover it this time, does it? I remember when everybody was reading and recommending the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I went out and got the first volume. Then it sat there, on my shelf, sad and forgotten. Until I kept coming across interviews with the author on Sword and Laser, Tea and Jeopardy, and other places on the internet – that gave me the necessary kick in the butt to do it. I finally read the infamous Lord Grimdark’s first novel.

blade itselfTHE BLADE ITSELF
by Joe Abercrombie

Published by: Gollancz, 2006
Paperback: 517 pages
Series: The First Law #1
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Logen plunged thorugh the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding on the wet earth, the slush, the wet pine needles, breath rasping in his chest, blood thumping in his head.

The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” Homer

Inquisitor Glokta, a crippled and increasingly bitter relic of the last war, former fencing champion turned torturer extraordinaire, is trapped in a twisted and broken body – not that he allows it to distract him from his daily routine of torturing smugglers.
Nobleman, dashing officer and would-be fencing champion Captain Jezal dan Luthar is living a life of ease by cheating his friends at cards. Vain, shallow, selfish and self-obsessed, the biggest blot on his horizon is having to get out of bed in the morning to train with obsessive and boring old men.
And Logen Ninefingers, an infamous warrior with a bloody past, is about to wake up in a hole in the snow with plans to settle a blood feud with Bethod, the new King of the Northmen, once and for all – ideally by running away from it. But as he’s discovering, old habits die really, really hard indeed…
…especially when Bayaz gets involved. A bald old man with a terrible temper and a pathetic assistant, he could be the First of the Magi, he could be a spectacular fraud, but whatever he is, he’s about to make the lives of Glotka, Jezal and Logen a whole lot more difficult…

His twitter handle is the name of an entire subgenre of fantasy: (Lord) grimdark! The definition, if I understand correctly, is dark fantasy where blood and violence are an everyday occurence, where things that can go wrong invariably will go wrong, where nobody is completely good but some people may indeed be completely evil. From what I have read on the internet, this seems to include a lot of female characters getting mistreated, assaulted, and raped. I expected gratuitous violence, just to show how few fucks the hero gives. But prejudice is a tricky thing. If your expectations can ruin a perfectly good book because it has been overly hyped, so can negative prejudice make you enjoy a book more – if only because it does not deliver all the bad things you came to expect. I believe this is what happened with The Blade Itself and me.

Someone described the characters to me in three (and-a-half) words: Everyone’s an asshole!
I was all the more surprised when I found myself caring for these people. Logen Ninefingers is obviously a brutal badass fighter who will kill you without so much as a shrug. But he has lost his wife and children, barely escaped death only to find out that his closest friends have also died. His resignation is understandable. It doesn’t exactly make him endearing but I was intrigued enough to want to see what he would do to pick himself up and create the semblance of a life.

The same goes for Inquisitor Glokta, an asshole by definition of his profession. He is a torturer who really, really doesn’t mind watching others suffer, even former friends. But he is also plagued by the pain in his crippled leg, and the fact that he can only eat broth due to an unfortunate loss of teeth made me at least pity him a little… Don’t get me wrong. I hated him. But I kind of loved to hate him, in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

Jezal, the third major character, is an arrogant, vain moron who only becomes a little likable when he falls in love with a girl. He’s still an asshole, though. Then there was this one character I suspected may be an actual good guy. Major West, Jezal’s friend and superior, has come to a small measure of glory from the lower classes. He does not look down upon those socially inferior to him (having been there himself), he respects other people and honestly wants to do good. But then I read on and… wait. Yes, yes. He is also an asshole.

It was all the more impressive how invested I became in these despicable people’s lives. The plot isn’t riveting and, for quite a while, I had no idea where it was going to go. Epic warfare? Magic wreaking havoc? A quest for vengeance? The Union has just come out of a war and already a new one is knocking on the door. Logen’s home in the Northlands is overrun with terrible creatures named Shanka who pose an additional threat to the people. Then the First of the Magi, Bayaz, shows up and he seems to have an agenda all his own. Between Jezal’s embarrassing attempts at romance, Glokta’s terrible job, and Logen’s resigned following-along-someone-else’s-quest, I couldn’t stop reading. And that’s what makes this a good book for me. Sure, there is violence and blood and not exactly a lot of female characters (all of whom are abused in one way or another, btw).

first law cover detail

The world building isn’t groundbreaking, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the story by use of info dumps and bad exposition. What we have here is our average Medieval Europe setting with a hint of magic, but mostly warfare and politics. That said, the style and themes change drastically with the setting of each particular character. While Logen’s meanderings often tread in the path of danger and, thus, violent fights, Jezal and West’s storylines almost read like a fantasy of manners at times. These two live in the capital city where the nobility will judge every wrong step you take and make you pay for it dearly. I loved the social aspects of the world building, in all their gritty splendor.

But with that stereotypical epic fantasy world come its many failures. This is only book one in a trilogy but I very mouch doubt I will get to see LGBTQ characters, women who haven’t been through terrible abuse, men who aren’t assholes, or POC characters in the next two volumes. I’m not saying every book should have “one of everything” just for the sake of it, but if you write in a subgenre where the characters and their actions are supposed to reflect the reality of our world, then failing to include a major part of the population is a big issue. I’ve been reading fairly diversely this year, so I felt the absence of multi-layered female characters even more crassly.

I have little to say about the writing style. It is neither adventurous nor experimental, simply a window through which we see the story unfold. The fight scenes could have been shorter, but Abercrombie’s characters spring to life off the page and make you care, despite being horrible people. Plus, anyone who can pull off snarky dialogue that doesn’t sound idiotic gets a couple of brownie points. All in all, I would say, this is a very well written debut novel that leaves me with high hopes for what comes after. Joe Abercrombie strikes me as the kind of author who visibly develops as a writer with every book he writes. I can’t wait to find out for myself.

Despite my caveats, I still enjoyed the book and want to find out what happens next. This was neither as dark as I had worried (after American Psycho, nothing really is…) nor was it as bad as I feared. The mood for epic adventures has definitely struck me; and despiting disliking every single one of them, I kind of look forward to seeing what these characters are up to in the next book.

MY RATING: 7,5/10  – Very good.


The First Law Trilogy:

first law trilogy

  • The Blade Itself
  • Before They Are Hanged
  • Last Argument of Kings

Sarah Zettel – Dust Girl

I must congratulate myself on my choice of summer reading material. It has been so hot and dry this last week that I find myself desperately wishing for rain to cool down the city. Dust Girl takes place in Kansas which, I admit, may be just a bit dustier and drier than Vienna, but the atmosphere of the book went well with the stifling heat I’m experiencing in real life.

dust girl 2DUST GIRL
by Sarah Zettel

Published by: Random House, 2012
ebook: 304 pages
Series: The American Fairy Trilogy #1

My rating: 6/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, I was a girl called Callie.

Callie LeRoux is choking on dust. It settles on the food in the kitchen. It seeps through the cracks in the hotel that Callie and her mother run in Kansas. It’s slowly filling her lungs. Callie’s begged her mother to leave their town, like their neighbors have already done, but her mother refuses. She’s waiting for Callie’s long-gone father to return.
Just as the biggest dust storm in history sweeps through the Midwest, Callie discovers her mother’s long-kept secret. Callie’s not just mixed race—she’s half fairy, too. Now, Callie’s fairy kin have found where she’s been hidden, and they’re coming for her.
While red dust engulf the prairie, magic unfolds around Callie. Buildings flicker from lush to shabby, and people aren’t what they seem. She catches glimpses of a tail, a wing, dark eyes full of stars. The only person Callie can trust may be Jack, the charming ex-bootlegger she helped break out of jail.
From the despair of the Dust Bowl to the hot jazz of Kansas City, from dance marathons to train yards, to the dangerous beauties of the fairy realm, Sarah Zettel creates a world rooted equally in American history and in magic, where two fairy clans war over a girl marked by prophecy.


Callie LeRoux hast two secrets. The one she knows is that her father is dark-skinned, which is why she isn’t allowed out in the sun too much. Her mother does her best to keep Callie’s skin as pale as possible. The second secret is that Callie is a half-fairy. The story starts out very well with Callie witnessing the biggest sandstorm ever, loses her mother in that storm, and returns to the hotel to find the Hoppers waiting to check into some rooms. That family rivals any thriller writer in creepiness. I guarantee chills down your spines when you read about the Hoppers, especially the children (why is it that children in horror movies are always the scariest things?).

When Callie meets Jack and decides to go and find her mother, he joins her on a journey through Kansas and the dust. They find out about Callie’s heritage as a half-fairy, about fairy politics (and real-world ones) and are on the run from one person or another throughout the rest of the book.

What I loved wdust girlas how several strands of story are set up throughout the beginning, how side characters were introduced that pushed all of my mythology buttons, and how Callie and Jack are portrayed. I did have a huge problem placing them age-wise. Callie behaved like a 12-year-old but was treated more like a girl of 15 or even 16. Jack being described as “no older than Callie” didn’t help either. Goodreads tells me Callie is supposed to be 13 and that’s what I settled for. But it was not apparent through the writing and my brain wasn’t sure whether to picture a little girl or a young woman.

While I enjoyed the ideas and themes in Dust Girl, I was sad that they were left mostly unexplored. As for world-building, the author kind of wrote herself into corners. The magic is never really explained but it seems to follow no rules at all – a matter of taste, surely, but I like boundaries to my magic. Otherwise, the heroine is all-powerful and where’s the fun in reading about someone like that? Callie being mixed race should have had a much deeper impact on her life. After a few days on the run, being exposed to the hot desert sun, Callie’s skin grows visibly darker and she receives sidelong glances. It is mentioned but not really explored. So yes, racism exists, and it existed in the 1930s. But I was hoping for much more than a few throwaway remarks.

Sarah Zettel writes action really well. Callie and Jack stumble from one problem into the next, a repetition I didn’t mind because every time they were being hunted, I was on the edge of my seat, worrying for them and hoping they would get out of it. I expect that young adults will enjoy this book a lot because it is fast-moving and engaging and keeps things simple.

That simplicity is one of my qualms. I realize that, as an adult, this book was not written for me or my age-group. But all the best children’s fiction can be read by adults and enjoyed on a different level. Take Harry Potter or Terry Pratchett’s YA novels – children will mostly read for pure story, adults may choose to look deeper and find what additional levels the author has hidden in what only seems like a simple story. I was missing that element completely in Dust Girl.

Towards the end, I felt like the plot strings and world-building were a big fat mess. Not only does Callie not know whom to trust and what to do with her powers, the readers are left hanging as well. It is clear that this is the set-up for a trilogy or series because 90% of the story arcs introduced are left unresolved. The ending is rounded enough so you don’t want to throw the book against a wall and scream because you want to know what will happen next. But of all the strange things that happened to Callie, of all the things she has found out about herself, the Seelie and Unseelie people, where her mother and absentee father are, we don’t really get any answers.

This sounds a lot more negative than I actually felt about the story while reading it. It is competently written, was very engaging and fantastically creepy at times. For me, the style was a bit too child-like, the story a bit too messy in terms of structure, and while I did enjoy it and read it quickly, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I will pick up the second book and see where Callie’s story leads me but I’m in no hurry to do so.

THE GOOD: Great ideas, wonderfully creepy, a page-turner. Nicely atmospheric.
THE BAD: Plot strings get tangled, no clear rules for the magic-system, messy world-building. Unresolved ending.
THE VERDICT: Recommended for younger readers (11+) or as a quick read between meatier books. It’s not a highlight, but it was fun enough to keep reading.

RATING:  6/10   Good.


The American Fairy Trilogy:

  1. Dust Girl
  2. Golden Girl

Other reviews:

Lavie Tidhar – The Bookman

Lavie Tidhar just won a World Fantasy Award for his novel Osama, but I felt more drawn to his steampunk trilogy about the mysterious Bookman. I started reading with high expectations but ended up having to plough through most of the novel due to its lack of depth, interesting language, and – most of all – character development. I am so disappointed I could cry.

by Lavie Tidhar

Published by: Angry Robot, 2010
ISBN: 9780007346615
ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Bookman Histories #1

My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Orphan came down to see the old man by the Thames.

A masked terrorist has brought London to its knees – there are bombs inside books, and nobody knows which ones. On the day of the launch of the first expedition to Mars, by giant cannon, he outdoes himself with an audacious attack. For young poet Orphan, trapped in the screaming audience, it seems his destiny is entwined with that of the shadowy terrorist, but how? Like a steam-powered take on V for Vendetta, rich with satire and slashed through with automatons, giant lizards, pirates, airships and wild adventure, The Bookman is the first of a series.

dividerSometimes I wonder if my expectations are too high or if, by covers alone, I hope to find something in a book that simply isn’t there. In the case of The Bookman, I was disappointed on pretty much every level. The story starts out interesting enough. Alternate London, a young man called Orphan, his friend Gilgamesh, a police inspector called Irene Adler, Prime Minister Moriarty, and the mysterious Bookman. I loved the initial whacky mix of classic literature that seems to have permeated this version of England. But what Jasper Fforde does brilliantly, Lavie Tidhar fails in a rather embarrassing way. It soon becomes apparent that no real world-building has been done. Names are thrown around, mostly so the readers will feel they already know a character and the author doesn’t have to bother actually giving them personality.

Nobody has personality! Orphan is the blandest, most passive, most painfully boring character I’ve read in a long time. The initial plot device – his girlfriend Lucy dying in a terrorist attack staged by the Bookman – is the starting point for his “adventures”. On these adventures, which take him to the mysterious Caliban’s Island, Oxford, the London underworld, a pub, a museum, and tons of other places, Orphan never does anything by himself. He is told to do things, threatened if he doesn’t do things, other people explain why it would be a neat idea to do yet another thing, you get the idea. Most of the time, things happen to him. And the worst thing is: There are certain mysteries (painfully obvious, might I add) that Orphan finds out is told and although they pretty much change every aspect of his life, he just stores them away, never to be mentioned again.

The wonderful Lucy, dead from the beginning, is mentioned a lot in Orphan’s thoughts, but we never get to see why he loves her so much. She is a damsel-in-distress kind of stand-in, so he has something to do  be told to do. As for side characters, don’t even get me started. The handful I remember were there for exposition, info-dumps, and to nudge Orphan along when – again – he’s standing around passively and completely useless.

There is a fair amount of stuff happening, considering this is not an extremely large book. But stuff happening is still not plot, no matter how hard some people try to make us believe that. In fact, everything that happens to Orphan was so disconnected and so badly anchored in this strange, unfinished world, that it is nearly impossible for me to pick out the red thread of what this story was actually about. It’s not about the Bookman, despite its title. It’s not about the world – which would have had so much potention to be something great, what with lizard royalty and conspiracies and Jules Verne saving Orphan in a hot air balloon… none of it was realised.

Whenever there is the chance of a scene becoming thrilling, Orphan being in danger or something being at stake, the scene is cut or ended abruptly by “and then he got out”. Thanks for building up to nothing. To make things worse, the writing in general wasn’t stellar, either. Sentences are mostly short, when there is description, it is unoriginal, and the story and its setting lacked atmosphere.

He crashed into the warm water with a huge explosion. His lungs burned. He had the sense of dark, heavy shapes moving below him. He kicked out and broke back to the surface. He looked at where he was. He was in a large pool of water.

You see, writing like this is okay if it happens only occasionally and to emphasize how quickly something happens. But every school kid learns you don’t start every single sentence with “He”. Sadly, this happens a lot throughout the novel, much to my disappointment. This also shows nicely how Orphan’s “dangerous” adventures don’t really get a chance to become interesting.

The Bookman is crammed full of Stuff – we never get to fully enjoy any one thing, because there have to be Lizards and pirates and a ship voyage, and airships, and bombs and a shuttle to Mars and a secret island and the underworld and automata and Orphan’s secret history and characters that show up so they can tell him something, never to be seen again, and millions of references to other books. I was quite pleased that Princess Irulan’s book In My Father’s House was a real thing in this world. But that’s about it.

It felt like the author had a number of great ideas, threw them all into a pot, stirred lightly and dumped it on a plate, for me to enjoy. Unfortunately, I enjoy good characters, a story that makes sense, set in a world that at least adheres to its own rules. This was such a strange reading experience with only a few fun bits that aren’t enough to be called a silver lining on this drab, colorless, endlessly boring sky of a “story”.

THE GOOD: Some great ideas, incorporating fictional characters into this story’s reality. Great potential for world-building.
THE BAD: Potential completely wasted. Terribly bland, cardboard characters, the plot is all over the place, mediocre writing and, ultimately, nothing in this story makes sense.
THE VERDICT: What a vast disappointment! I won’t be reading the rest of this series (which, btw, is not really steampunk) but I may give Osama a chance. I can’t believe everybody else loves Tidhar so much. This book was in bad need of editing, world-building, tightening of plot, and – most of all! – characters who feel like they are people, not puppets.

RATING: 3/10  – Bad


The Bookman Histories:

  1. The Bookman
  2. Camera Obscura
  3. The Great Gamebookman histories

Laini Taylor – Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I know, I know. My forays into recent YA fantasy have been mostly devastating (with the exception of Patrick Ness, who is awesome) and it seems that I keep falling for the same kind of hype. But Laini Taylor has been praised not only by voracious YA readers but by pretty much everyone, and I feel reluctant writing off a new (to me) writer just because the hype seems insincere (again). You know the feeling, right?

daughter of smoke and boneDAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE
by Laini Taylor

Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2011
ISBN: 0316192147
ebook: 391 pages
Series: Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1

My rating: 2,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?


Oh boy… it is at times like these that I am grateful I don’t have a lot of followers. Or at least not the kind of followers who will rip me apart for disliking a beloved book. Let’s do this! Karou is a young girl who goes to an art school in Prague. What her quirky best friend Zuzana doesn’t know is that Karou leads a second life. A life of running errands for the only family she has – a group of chimaera, monsters if you will, with bodies that are part human and part animal. Karou knows almost nothing about the chimaera or their magic which makes for a great premise and immediately drew me into the story. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t really focus on these interesting bits enough. Instead, she has other things in mind. Let me explain with this quote:

Karou was, simply, lovely. Creamy and leggy, with long azure hair and the eyes of a silent-movie star, she moved like a poem and smiled like a sphinx. Beyond merely pretty, her face was vibrantly alive, her gaze always sparkling and luminous, and she had a birdlike way of cocking her head, her lips pressed together while her dark eyes danced, that hinted at secrets and mysteries.

This is worrying for two reasons. One, nobody is that perfect. Personally, I like my heroines flawed – physically as well as otherwise – and except for photoshopped supermodels, I have never seen a woman who could be described like this. I only quoted this one part, because it shows just how über-perfect Karou is and how clunky the language in which she is described. But there are numerous occasions on which Karou’s perfection is highlighted. Her ballet-dancer figure, her shiny hair. Every single girl and woman I know has in some way suffered because she didn’t fit the current beauty ideal. Having struggled with my own weight and a pimply face for quite a few years, I find it much easier to sympathise with protagonists who are in some way like me. Give her too bushy eyebrows, a potato nose, crooked front teeth – something to make her more realistic. I should also mention, that everyobdy in this book is of otherworldy beauty. I’ll grant that some of these characters actually are supernatural and I’ll forgive them their perfection, but with everybody being beautiful, the word just lost its meaning.

The second reason this paragraph struck me as awful was that this is a third person limited narrative. Meaning, we see and know only what Karou sees and knows. That is essential to the plot, because for the most part of the story, she is rather clueless. Then I read this paragraph and wonder how full of oneself a person has to be to describe herself in such a manner. Had another viewpoint character spotted her and thought these things, everything would be peachy, it would be his perception of her. The way it was done? Not ok. On a sidenote, the other viewpoint character does see her and describes her in equally flowery, cheesy language. So there you go.

Having gotten the author’s obsession with physical beauty out of the way, there were other things that rubbed me the wrong way.  As the story progresses, Karou stops thinking about her love life and starts thinking more about survival. But there is a clear line between her adventures concerning the chimaera world and Karou’s real world life. The latter never offers more than conversations about boys, idiotic stereotypical girl characters and – you guessed it – more talk about how beautiful everybody is. This became worse and worse, especially when the male romantic lead shows up. It was at that point that the writing took a terrible spin for wanna-be-poetic, but ended up being clunky and, a lot of times, illogical.

[…]when I saw her smile I wondered what it would be like to make her smile. I thought… I thought it would be like the discovery of smiling.

Apart from strange and not very elegant sentences like the one above, there are tons of continuity and logical mistakes in this book. Remember, this is third person limited. However, when we switch between the two protagonists, Akiva knows things that Karou only thought to herself in the last chapter, never said out loud. He has information that he couldn’t possibly have – unless he’s also a mind-reader. Frequently, you will find moments of head-jumping in the middle of a chapter. Generally, that’s ok. It is the inconsistency that bothered me. The author couldn’t make up her mind whether to use a third person limited or third person omniscient perspective. The fact that you never know what you’ll get in a given chapter is massively annoying.

But speaking of Akiva… oh boy. If you’re a Twilight fan, you will probably find him cute and strong and protective and whatnot, but let’s face it. He is 50 years old. He stalks Karou, watches her sleep, and – without warning, by the way – falls in love with her. Well, the only “warning” we get is that Karou is beautiful. That’s enough, right? Apart from being a creepy, old stalker who falls in love with a girl who could be his dauther, this felt wrong to me on so many levels. If at least there had been an actual romance, a getting to know each other and slowly falling in love, maybe (though probalby not) I wouldn’t feel so strongly about this. But it’s insta-love. And just because it is insta-love on second sight doesn’t change that fact. Karou is also most taken with Akiva’s beauty. At least people are equally shallow in this story – men are worthless if they don’t look pretty just the same way women are.
The bottom line is: A 17-year-old girl and a 50-year-old man fall in love because of how pretty they are. I am disgusted.

At pretty much the exact point the “romance” starts, Laini Taylor apparently decided to entirely drop all plot. Everything that we get to read in the second half of the book is how two impossibly beautiful people are in love after only a few minutes together. The last third was definitely the worst, though. Not only because the prose reaches levels of cheesiness that I thought were impossible but because the story is interrupted for flashbacks. Flashbacks that tell us – in minute and achingly boring detail – things we already know! In somewhat decent foreshadowing, we were given all the information we needed. But it seems that we get the prequel included in this first of a trilogy. Needless to say, it slowed down what was already a very loose plot to a standstill.

Let me mention the few things that were done well. In the first half of the book (this is vital, the second half is pure torture), the story was actually quite immersive, and hard to put down. It promised to show us a world of wonder, a world filled with monsters and dark magic – all of which was unceremoniously dropped for a lame romance between a child and an oldish man and for flashbacks with more gorgeous people telling each other how perfect they are.

Another thing I liked (again, only in the beginning) was Taylor’s sense of humor. Zuzana, who was mostly there for comic relief, always had something funny to say. Even Brimstone came up with the occasional chuckle-worthy sentence.

I don’t know many rules to live by,” he said. “But here’s one. It’s simple. Don’t put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles – drug or tattoo – and… no inessential penises, either.”

I could rant much more because this could have been a great book. If somebody had dared to tell the author to stay on track with the plot and to tune down the descriptions of beauty and flowery language a bit, it could have worked. This way, the book was just horrible. A fresh idea wasted on somebody who lacked either the will or help to execute it well.

THE GOOD: A great idea and a thrilling beginning.
THE BAD: Every character is of unnatural beauty, the language is clunky, there are logical mistakes galore, the romance is revolting, the plot gets dropped mid-book. Plus, cliffhanger (for those who care what happens).
THE VERDICT: Not recommended. Dear YA authors. Not every story needs a forced romance, especially between an old man and a teenage girl. Age is not just about how old you look, it is about experience and maturity. This was a pretty terrible book.

RATING: 2,5/10 – Terrible

dividerOther reviews:

Terry Pratchett – Wee Free Men

It is official now. Discworld and I have become friends after all. I doubt I’ll ever become a big fan of the earlier Discworld books but ever since I started reading them at random, by pure whim, I have had nothing but fun in Terry Pratchett’s hilarious flat world.

wee free men¹THE WEE FREE MEN
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Harper Collins, 2009 (2003)
ISBN: 0061975265
ebook: 375 pages
Series: Discworld #30
Tiffany Aching #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Some things start before other things.

Up on the Wold, there’s a monster in the river and a headless horseman in the drive. And now Granny Aching has gone, there’s only young Tiffany Aching left to guard the boundaries. To stop . . . things getting through.

It’s her land. Her duty.

But it’s amazing how useful a horde of unruly pictsies can be – as long as they are pointed in the right direction and can stop fighting each other first . . .divider

Tiffany Aching is a practical, nine-year-old girl who has decided she would like to become a witch. Living on the Chalk, however, means herding sheep, making cheese and butter and – the one really bad thing – taking care of your useless and constantly sticky baby brother Wentworth. When Tiffany meets a scary creature in the stream and soon stands face to lack-of-face with a headless rider, she knows that things are afoot. Thankfully, the Nac Mac Feegle, little blue men in kilts and with a drinking problem, are there to help her wherever they can.

It is with utter charm and magic that Terry Pratchett allows us to enter Discworld once more. While Ankh-Morpork may be the center of the craziness, the Chalk made for a refreshing, rural setting and I couldn’t help but love Tiffany. A young girl who knows how to spell difficult words, how to cure ailments in sheep, and how to smack a monster over the head with a frying pan – she’s a heroine to my liking.

I found this book to be more obviously centered in the YA genre than The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents which is not to say that it is dumbed down in any way. I appreciate how Pratchett manages to keep the plot straight-forward (if not exaclty simple) and still respect his younger readers. He does not subscribe to the school of “that’s too hard for kids to understand”.

wee free men 2

The main story arc is Tiffany’s little brother getting lost and her trying to get him back. However, there is so much more to discover. This book is about dreams and magic and believing in yourself. Tiffany does not rely on other people to help her, and she is not a perfect little person. There are moments of self-doubt, a lot of self-reflections (her Second and Third Thoughts take care of that) and realisations about life. All of that is wrapped in a fun adventure story with cursing, sort-of-Scottish blue men who are six inches tall and whose swords glow blue when there are lawyers nearby.

You know that you will laugh when you pick up a Discworld novel and this one is no exception. It was not laugh-out-loud funny on every page, some jokes are much subtler than others. I believe that any child will adore the Nac Mac Feegles for the hilarious creatures that they are. But there is enough for adults to get out of this to merit a read. References to fairy tales or pop culture may not be understood by every child but they will add a chuckle or two for (young) adults.

I must say, Maurice blew me away more but it is really not fair to compare the two. Tiffany Aching is an engaging, strong heroine and I look forward to her next adventure. Her character arc alone made this worthwile and I highly recommend it to fans of Discworld or even someone completely new to Pratchett’s world. If you don’t know where to start, the YA books are good choices. And trust me, you will not want to stop there.

THE GOOD: A fantastic protagonist, a lot of fun, crazy adventures and terrifying creatures. Not a single boring moment.
THE BAD: A bit confusing at times, especially when we enter dreams-within-dreams. Also, the toad should have been allowed to talk more.
THE VERDICT: A highly recommended (starter) novel of Discworld that introduces a character the likes of whom YA literature needs more.

RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good (leaning towards an 8)


The Tiffany Aching Series:

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.

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


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

Review: Barry Hughart – Bridge of Birds

There are books that you love immediately. Then there are books that have to grow on you first but once you like them, they’ll never let you go. This clearly falls into the latter category. I started out not liking it particularly, only to have it charm the pants off me by the end.

bridge of birdsBRIDGE OF BIRDS
by Barry Hughart

Published by: Del Rey, 1984
ISBN: 0345321383
Paperback: 288 pages
Series: The Chronicles of Master Li
and Number Ten Ox #1

My rating: 8/10

First Sentence: I shall clasp my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.

When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox sought a wiseman to save them. He found master Li Kao, a scholar with a slight flaw in his character. Together, they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure. The quest led them to a host of truly memorable characters, multiple wonders, incredible adventures – and strange coincidences, which were really not coincidences at all. And it involved them in an ancient crime that still perturbed the serenity of Heaven. Simply and charmingly told, this is a wry tale, a sly tale, and a story of wisdom delightfully askew. Once read, its marvels and beauty will not easily fade from the mind.

dividerMy knowledge of Chinese mythology is entirely based on the two-part movie adaptation of Journey to the West (which is hilarious and wonderful and you should watch). Had I not had this very rudimentary basis of how these traditional, classic tales are told, I would have been terribly lost in this book. It is a combination of whimsical – almost silly – and serious, there is more plot than in many 800-page epic fantasies, the characters are strangely alive, and I found myself enjoying it more and more the longer I read.

We are first introduced to Number Ten Ox and his small village, Ku Fu. Within a few pages, all children between the ages of 8 to 13 are struck with a mysterious sickness that leaves them as in a coma. Number Ten Ox sets out to find a wise man who can help them cure the sickness and figure out how a plague can learn how to count. Master Li, who politely states that “there is a slight flaw in his character” joins Ox and they set out on an adventure. It reads very episodically at first and I missed a lot of depth and descriptions. The characters are archetypical but gain more layers throughout the novel.

chronicles of maste rliThis is one of those books that you have to continue to enjoy. The more I read, the more I got sucked in, and the funnier it was. Master Li and Ox meet a lot of characters – who also begin fairly flat. Again, stick to it because there are twists and suprises waiting along the way. As they make their way through labyrinths and enchanted cities, meet the most expensive woman in the entire world and lift ancient curses, I grew to care for the characters. At the end, I was surprised by how much.

The plot is fast-paced and very tongue-in-cheek. Barry Hughart doesn’t only put a spin on ancient Chinese legends and myths, he even mentions “that Russian fellow” Koschei the Deathless. I am sure I’ve missed more than half the references to mythological beings but even with my very limited knowledge in that area, I dare say even without any knowledge, this book is still simply fun. There are moments of wonder, there is action that kept me at the edge of my seat, and magic of some kind or another waits in every new place the protagonists visit.

quotes grey“The supernatural can be very annoying until one finds the key that transforms it into science,” he observed mildly. “I’m probably imagining complications that don’t exist. Come on, Ox, let’s go out and get killed.”

Because of the light-hearted style and the quick-moving plot, I did feel a little distanced from the story, but it was so refreshing reading a fantasy that is so different from most of the genre. I will continue the trilogy surrounding Master Li and Number Ten Ox without a doubt (I secretly hope that they will meet the Monkey King on their travels) and I can recommend this book wholeheartedly. Don’t expect Tolkienesque descriptions of landscape or George R.R. Martinesque depth of character. Instead, sit down with a nice cup of tea, enter the world of ancient China that never was, and you won’t stop grinning until it’s over.

THE GOOD: A funny, quick, fresh fantasy adventure featuring gods, a wise man with a silght flaw in his character, treasure coves, and flying machines.
THE BAD: It’s not your avarage epic fantasy. Epic in scope, certainly, but journeys are handled within one sentence, and you never get that deep knowledge of the characters that we are used to from modern fantasies.
THE VERDICT: If you’re tired of reading doorstopper novels, if you’re interested in exploring new settings in fantasy, or if you like Journey to the West, this is the book for you. It will make you laugh, it will make you roll your eyes, and it will keep you guessing at its riddles-within-riddles until the very end.

RATING: 8/10  Excellent


The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox:

  1. Bridge of Birds
  2. The Story of the Stone
  3. Eight Skilled Gentlemen

Review: Beth Revis – Across the Universe

It’s my own fault, really. I have had a good run with YA novels lately and I thought my streak of bad luck was over. But this was such a huge fail that I suppose I’ll stick to writers of young adult literature that I already know and respect. Or maybe I shouldn’t listen to people who recommend every book they read. This makes me particularly sad because it begins really well, only to throw all its potential out the airlock…

across the universeACROSS THE UNIVERSE
by Beth Revis

Published by: Razorbill, 2011
ISBN: 1595144544
Paperback: 398 pages
Series: Across the Universe #1

My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone – one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship – tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

dividerI will sum this up quickly: Great set-up, lousy story. The premise offers and promises an exploration of themes that just weren’t delivered.  Amy wakes up too early from cryogenic sleep, finds herself all alone in a strange society on the ship Godspeed and has to deal with the consequences of not being able to be frozen again. But the author opted for a crime/mystery story and an incredibly silly romance. There are several problems with that. As for the mysteries that keep the society on the Godspeed docile, it is blatantly obvious from the beginning. The villain can be spotted miles away. And the romance really isn’t one.

Across the Universe suffers from a severe case of insta-love. Amy’s entire life has been turned on its head –  by going into cryogenic sleep and leaving Earth in the first place, and then once again by waking up early and violently – and two minutes after being faced with a completely new environment, an almost alien culture, and the knowledge that she may only see her parents again when she is older than them, the one thing that she thinks about is the boy she saw for ten seconds! I cannot root for a “heroine” who is so dumb.

Elder, at least, has seen Amy twice before thinking about her constantly. And she looks so strange to him that I find his reaction much more believable. To Amy, though, all these people are simply strangers, one of which is Elder who happens to be her age. Other than that, I see no reason why, ten pages after seeing him for a minute, she should already miss him! Even without that “romance”, Amy isn’t among the brightest people. Which makes her perfect for Elder who is surprisingly dense. As I said, the solution to the “mystery” is obvious from miles away, yet our protagonists take the entire novel to figure it out – and even then, they have to be told.

The writing is okay, but not great. There are logical mistakes, flaws in the world-building, and even sentences that you have to read twice to understand.

quotes greyI am empty inside, frozen like before, and I see nothing, and I feel nothing, but that’s not true. Because as soon as I think that, I feel again, I feel everything, and I can’t see, I can’t breathe, but I do feel.

Amy, who has been a runner her entire life, who even trained for a marathon, is outrun by  a group of men who have been born and grown up in a space ship! Elder sometimes understands and reacts to references he shouldn’t really get, having been born on the Godspeed. I did like that the sheep-like behavior of the population is explained (and believably so) – and there was something that would qualify as a twist at the end. But at that point, I already didn’t care about any of the characters, I couldn’t find a plot in all the clunky writing and none of the ideas or themes were properly explored.

This book clearly tries to raise the issue of being different. Looking different, coming from a different place, living by different moral and social standards – but instead of showing us a good rolemodel, Beth Revis smashes us across the head with her message. Hating others because they’re different = bad! Thanks for the lesson. If it had come wrapped in a good story and with characters who show some depth to them, I would have been all for it. But if I want a lecture, I don’t pick up a book that is sold as a YA science fiction romance. None of the promises from the blurb were kept.

At least that’s one more YA series I won’t have to read and another writer I can cross of my list of interests.

THE GOOD: A great and gripping beginning, some nice ideas, the writing is acceptable.
THE BAD: Stupid, flat characters, not much plot to speak of, insta-love and wasted potential, plus badly-concealed lectures on racism.
THE VERDICT: If you don’t mind any of the negatives mentioned above, I guess this could be a nice popcorn-book. There is no substance to it, there was no romance and personally, I can only recommend the first chapter.

RATING: 3/10  Bad

I look forward to your comments. 🙂

dividerAcross the Universe

  1. Across the Universe
  2. A Million Suns
  3. Shades of Earth


Review: Patrick Ness – The Ask and the Answer

After enjoying The Knife of Never Letting Go as much as I did, and after its evil, evil cliffhanger ending, I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to Todd and Viola. This book, while different from its predecessor, was no less enjoyable.

ask and the answerTHE ASK AND THE ANSWER
by Patrick Ness

Published by: Candlewick, 2010 (2009)
ISBN: 0763648374
ebook: 528 pages
Series: Chaos Walking #2

My rating: 8/10

First sentence: “Your noise reveals you, Todd Hewitt.”

Part two of the literary sci-fi thriller follows a boy and a girl who are caught in a warring town where thoughts can be heard — and secrets are never safe.

Reaching the end of their flight in THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, Todd and Viola did not find healing and hope in Haven. They found instead their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss, waiting to welcome them to New Prentisstown. There they are forced into separate lives: Todd to prison, and Viola to a house of healing where her wounds are treated. Soon Viola is swept into the ruthless activities of the Answer, while Todd faces impossible choices when forced to join the mayor’s oppressive new regime. In alternating narratives the two struggle to reconcile their own dubious actions with their deepest beliefs. Torn by confusion and compromise, suspicion and betrayal, can their trust in each other possibly survive?


When I embarked on this journey with Todd and Viola, I never expected it to go this dark. During the first half of this middle novel – and those are always difficult – we do get a bit of a breather. Todd and Viola aren’t running constantly anymore, but neither are they safe. For the first time since the readers met them, they are separated and we get to see what happens to them from both points of view. Both Viola and Todd are amazing heroes who show surprising strength, bravery, and infinite loyalty to each other.

Arrived in Haven, which turned out not to be the safe haven they had hoped for, Todd has to deal with Mayor Prentiss and the tasks he forces him to do while Viola learns a new set of skills in the Houses of Healing. Not only does this open up the world of the trilogy a lot, it also gives us an opportunity to get to know an entire cast of new characters, some likable, some confusing, and some downright scary.

I must admit, I didn’t get into this book as quickly as the first volume but once the scene was set, I was all in and this was a real page-turner. The protagonists stay put in the same place most of the time – here, it is the psychological battles they have to fight that got under my skin instead of the thrill of being hunted. With Mayor Prentiss, Patrick Ness has created one of the most despicable, corrupt (and probably insane) villains I remember ever reading in a YA book.

ask and the answerApart from the psychological trials Todd and Viola are put through in the respective struggle to get back together, there is enough other stuff going on to keep any reader happy. Intrigue, torture, secrets, a cure to the Noise, Spackle, armies, impending war, and the bare struggle for survival. Patrick Ness manages to describe torture without being graphic but still conveying the idea of how terrible it is. As shocked as I was at some of the scenes, it was the manipulation and ruthlessness that scared me more.

We are shown an utterly disturbing scenario where two factions clash, ostentatiously fighting for peace and freedom. Excepting Mayor Prentiss (whom I loathe with all my heart), it is difficult to put characters into groups of black and white. There are many shades of grey, hard truths to be learned, and some amazing character development to be found here. I would never have thought I’d come to care about a certain character from book one but I did. A little. Which shows all the more how well-written the characters are.

In concluion, I am impressed – following up a hit like The Knife of Never Letting Go can not have been an easy feat. But Ness pulled off the middle volume of a trilogy with grace and without looking down on his young readers. While it is different from the first book, in setting, pacing, and theme, I loved reading every page and can only recommend it. If you’ve read book one, there is no way you haven’t picked this one up already anyway. Keeping with his tradition, the author leaves us with a cliffhanger, although not quite as brutal as last time. For my part, I’ll be picking up Monsters of Men very, very soon and I’m honestly curious if Todd and Viola will make it out of this trouble – or off the planet, if they have to – alive and in one peace. At this point, I have no idea what will happen.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent


The Chaos Walking Trilogy:

  1. The Knife of Never Letting Go
  2. The Ask and the Answer
  3. Monsters of Men