The Mime Order

9781408857397

“Some revolutions change the world in a day. Others take decades or centuries or more, and others still never come to fruition. Mine began with a moment and a choice. Mine began with the blooming of a flower in a secret city on the border between worlds.
You’ll have to wait and see how it ends.
Welcome back to Scion.”

NB: This is a review of an ARC won in a giveaway by @say_shannon .
The hardback of The Mime Order is published on 27th January 2015 by Bloomsbury.
Warning: This review will contain mild spoilers for The Bone Season.
You can read The Bone Season and my review of it here.

* * *

The Story So Far:
In The Bone Season we met Paige Mahoney: a young clairvoyant, a dreamwalker, working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Kidnapped and taken to a prison camp in Sheol I, she was chosen by the mysterious Warden to be trained for purposes as yet unknown. But Paige was determined to break free and in The Mime Order we have returned to London, where she is suddenly a wanted fugitive, in hiding from her captors, many of her friends, and the all-seeing eye of Scion.

*

The Mime Order:

The Bone Season was one of my favourite reads last summer, and it was with eager anticipation I awaited the chance to get my hands on it’s follow-up, The Mime Order. After the high-paced action in Sheol I, we are left hanging at the end of the novel with Paige, thrust into a train with Nick, and Warden vanishing before her eyes. They’ve left Sheol I, but we don’t know yet if they are safe. What is going to happen to Paige when she is flung back into Scion? And what will the Rephaim do about their escaped harvest?

What I loved about The Mime Order was that it picked up precisely where The Bone Season left off, and it felt like a very smooth continuation. Yes, there were occasional drops of information to remind us about what had come before, but none of the “summary of the last book in a few hundred words” that can happen at the start of books in a series (one of my pet peeves). What Paige knows of the world gradually broadens in The Mime Order in comparison with The Bone Season, but it feels very much like Shannon is carefully pushing the world further out within Paige’s control – she’s not going to be stood there overwhelmed by everything all being opened up to her at once. And I really enjoyed that. I find with some fantasy that there is that tendency to go “epic” really quickly, especially with a second book in a series, but the slow-burner effect created in the Bone Season series so far has been far more successful. It makes the projected seven books very realistic, as we are left to assume as readers that things will get bigger and grander. After all, we are yet to learn much about the world outside London, so who knows where that might lead?

As in The Bone Season, the setting is fantastically brought to life. This is a place the reader can explore as if it were here in front of us: no inconsistencies, no places where it feels anything other than fully realised. Much as we learnt our way around Oxford in The Bone Season, here we explore more and more of London and it becomes familiar to us as it is familiar to Paige. We get an idea of her knowledge of the city what life must have been like for her before her adventures in The Bone Season. We see the workings of Scion, of government controls, and what it must be to live in Scion London. And most of all we find out what life is like working for Jaxon Hall, and the workings of the syndicate, which previously we had only spent a little time on. The underworld that Shannon creates is fascinating reading as we discover how the mime-lords and mime-queens govern their territory out of sight of the increasingly authoritative Scion.

Paige grows as a character too: she avoids the trope of the “strong female character” (don’t get me started!) whilst simultaneously being an excellent protagonist. She has weaknesses, she has characteristics that sometimes land her in trouble, and she treads the line between “I will beat this” and “I’m about to die” very thinly indeed! She keeps us on our toes but in no respect pretends to be a flawless character. After everything she experienced in The Bone Season, there are plenty of fears and worries and unanswered questions that she has to deal with, but in London there aren’t people she can really speak to about what has happened. Warden is nowhere to be found, and Jaxon is hardly the first person Paige would trust. Watching these concerns manifest themselves in an environment where she is on the run from Scion and not necessarily trusted by those she has returned to in the syndicate is intriguing and tells us a lot about her character. I also liked how Shannon played out the repercussions from Paige’s relationship with Warden – it’s not a traditional situation, trying to find the man who was your ‘keeper’ in Oxford – as there were plenty of opportunities to jump down well-worn storylines and they were avoided. This has made the relationships impacted upon as a result of this feel far more realistic, and avoids the pitfalls of other YA novels where certain dynamics can then overrule the entire plot, to the detriment of the story.

I would have classed The Bone Season as adventure fantasy, but in The Mime Order we begin to stray far more into dystopian territory. It definitely doesn’t go all Hunger-Games on us, but naturally by being back in London, and being closer to Scion, we see more of the iron first of government taking action of the everyday lives of its citizens. The very existence of the underworld syndicate is testament to Scion’s determination to be rid of all clairvoyants, as are the introductions of yet more methods in The Mime Order by Scion to identify and exterminate its clairvoyant citizens. But with the focus on the syndicate, we see less of Scion than we might, which works well as it means we are still focused on Paige’s adventure. It hasn’t upscaled into dystopia rapidly in the way that books like Divergent have, which plough the characters straight into the massive, overwhelming, dystopian situation where only the big things have to matter and you don’t have time to explore how the little things interconnect. The Mime Order is very carefully weaving the web of Scion, strand by strand, and so far it’s going excellently.

And then, the ending. The ENDING! I am keeping this entirely spoiler-free, so suffice to say that it was unexpected and brilliant and I certainly couldn’t have called that! And I am now DYING to find out what happens in book three.

Which is exactly how it was supposed to feel at the end.

 

Things I liked about this book: The smooth continuation from The Bone Season; the setting (again); the balance of dystopia and adventure.

Things I was less keen on: These are only tiny things now, but I would have liked to have seen more of Nick and Zeke. While Paige’s relationship with Nick may not be the most important one to her now, as it was at the start of The Bone Season, he’s still a really interesting character and him and Zeke have a really interesting dynamic that I would love to see more of!

 

The Mime Order: 9.5/10 (because there is no such thing as a perfect book!)

 

If you liked this, try:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Slated by Teri Terry
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Slade’s Children by Garth Nix
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

Graceling

9780575085305

“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?”

 

Cashore’s novel Graceling is exactly what a fantasy novel should be – a tight plot, fantastic characters who you travel the novel’s landscapes with, and whose journey is constantly one of fascination and interest.

Our protagonist is Katsa, niece to King Randa, who is Graced with killing. She is a master assassin, used on missions to kill those that the King needs killing. But Katsa has also formed her own council of companions, and after they discover a kidnapping, the mystery only starts to increase – and Katsa is the one who decides to figure it out.

One of the strongest parts of Graceling is the characters. Especially in stories with long journeys, characters have to be brilliant to keep you engaged with the lesser action. Katsa is very distinctive very quickly and while some may think that Katsa’s manner fills the trope of ‘feisty female character’, I think Cashore has armed her much better than that. To me, having a ‘feisty’ character is only a problem if the character is two dimensional and that is their only distinguishing feature. Katsa has a depth to her character that continues to grow and change as the novel goes on: from the girl whose Grace is manipulated by her uncle to someone who realises what she wants and goes about getting it. For Katsa it’s a fight for her independence and she is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast. Her friends at Randa’s court are engaging, and Helda is a particularly well-worked contrast – especially given she’s the only real female friend Katsa has. Katsa’s fighting grace has not gained her many female friends in the court and we sympathise with her loneliness when nobody wants to go near her when they hear of her Grace. The culture of her uncle’s Kingdom towards Graced children never feels too info-dump-y, and is always linked back to Katsa. The part I admire especially about Cashore’s characterisation is that every character feels vivid and real, and like they have their own fascinating stories to tell – even minor characters, some of whom might not even be named beyond ‘innkeeper’! They really are alive instantly as people, which must be very difficult to do; to bring life into even the most minor characters is a rare occurrence, I’ve found. It’s this that I think helps Cashore’s prose run so beautifully – characters who might only show the tip of their iceberg feel like there is a whole iceberg underneath that might have a story hidden inside. The even greater skill is keeping the iceberg submerged if it’s not needed; fantasy can occasionally show every detail just because it can – but these details should work for their place on the page.

And then the journey itself, the well-peddled trope of many a fantasy novel. It’s filled with many conversations and a lot of Katsa’s thought process but because of the nature of it (no spoilers!) that’s actually entirely relevant and necessary, as well as giving us the luxury of delving further into Katsa’s character. The fact she rides at breakneck speed doesn’t hurt either! There is not excess detail which is helped by Katsa’s practical way of thinking. If there’s a rabbit to be skinned, she doesn’t waste time telling us what it feels like. It’s a rabbit, it’s cooking, and she’s off getting on with something else. It offers a good pace to the whole novel that never wavers, which works really well. It means we’re not left twiddling our thumbs during any point of the journey. Nobody is hanging around in this story!

The other thing I loved about this is that at no point does Katsa either become reliant on one of her many male friends and colleagues, or throw away her story for the sake of a love interest. She says she’s not interested in marriage or babies, and the reaction within the novel isn’t one of “oh well maybe she’ll have changed by the end of the novel INSERT MALE INTEREST HERE”. I love that about it, and that it doesn’t ever say that Katsa is somehow wrong or crazy for not wanting to become a wife and mother. Without being too “and this is my opinion!”, Cashore explores Katsa’s opinion but doesn’t question it, which I think isn’t done enough when female characters go against their expected eventual roles, once they’ve finished gallivanting around whatever country in whatever story needs saving. And that’s shown as okay and there’s not a song and dance made about the fact that Katsa rejects the traditional roles the society of the novel has decided to hand down to her.

Other readers may consider Cashore’s writing sparse in terms of description, but I find it an excellent example of ‘less is more’. Cashore (and Katsa!) don’t waste words, and this is something that makes Graceling such a resounding success for me. Because it doesn’t waste words, the story is constantly ticking over and the reader, while not feeling rushed, doesn’t have chance to lose interest in any particularly descriptive passages, for example. No scene feels like it could be lost, as it all contributes to the overall plot arc. It’s a style of writing that I am both a great admirer of and greatly envious of at the same time!

Katsa’s story is one I absolutely adored, and one I’ll certainly return to. It reminded me of a cross between the Books of Pellinor and Magician’s Guild, two of my three all-time favourite series, and I don’t think I can pay it a greater compliment than that. I’ll be re-reading this many times in the future.

Things I liked about this book: The pace, the characterisation, the plotting… everything!

Things I was less keen on: If I was being indulgent I’d say it could have been longer, but only because I was sad when it was over and I wanted it to just keep going!

 

Graceling: 9.5/10 (I hear the sequels are EVEN BETTER :O )

 

If you liked this, try:
The Gift by Alison Croggon
The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Forging of the Sword by Mark Robson

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

Promised

13010211

 

 

Promised is the final book in the Birthmarked trilogy, the first of which I reviewed here. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, but as the third book wasn’t published in the UK, I had to wait for my local library to get hold of an American copy before I could finally find out what happened to Gaia and co. And when it did finally arrive in the library, I actually squealed with excitement! I don’t think the poor librarian behind me expected the surprise! But she was pleased I was enthusiastic, at least.

Warning: there will be mild spoilers for the first two Birthmarked books below.

Book three of the trilogy finds us with Gaia and co, leaving Sylum and heading back towards the Enclave. They can’t stay any more, and they plan to return to Wharfton and form New Sylum. Unfortunately, the Enclave rears its ugly head again, causing havoc for all involved.

I found the pace across this whole series well done, with the three books clearly being set phases of the overarching story, without being hammed in or unnecessarily extended. In terms of story structure and execution, it it done very well. Nothing feels rushed, and yet there is tension where tension is required, added pace where needed, and slowing down for moments that need dwelling on some more. This is one of the main reasons I have got on so well with this series, and I hope others have found this too. The first third of the book is Gaia, as Matrach, negotiating with the Protectorat. There is a moment where you think “so where’s the rest of the book got to go?”, but very quickly O’Brien unravels a few more layers of the Protectorat’s disturbing regime.

The premise of the Birthmarked books is a deeply disturbing one. The idea that women are turned into harvesting machines feels both dystopian but horribly real at the same time. It’s a clear result of the Enclave having an unreasonably small population, which doesn’t allow for gene diversification. Everyone will grow closer, biologically. The introduction of the ‘baby farms’ that the Protectorat is starting, to get more and more genetic diversity into the Enclave, is awful, and there are other disturbing things occur too (but which I will leave for you all to discover, otherwise I will have spoiler-ed it!). The way O’Brien handles this is neatly done, with observations from both sides as to what has happened. We see the Protectorat’s view, and the need for diversification, but at the same time women are being held ransom, essentially, by their own reproductive system. It’s a horrifying thought that this might one day happen – but then, a good dystopia goes into that territory.

In other aspects, however, it is a journey/adventure narrative. This is no black-covered doom-predicting YA book about how the apocalypse is coming to get us. I don’t have a problem with those kinds of books, but the Birthmarked series is not simply a dystopia. It’s about Gaia’s journey from Wharfton to the Enclave, to Sylum and back again. It’s about the friendships she develops, and the systems she has to work with. Sylum itself, in the second book, has just as many issues as a settlement as the Enclave does – but flipped. Watching Gaia negotiate these challenges gives us a greater understanding of her character, and we are invested in her journey very quickly.

In an interview at the end of Promised, Caragh O’Brien says she chose the opening scene of Gaia giving a baby to the Enclave as “having [her] main character do something so henious right from the start, but [she] was hoping readers… would give Gaia a chance.” And we are rewarded by giving Gaia that chance. She is no born leader, and we see her struggles against people who clearly think they are there to rule. Her reluctance in leadership, however, pairs off very well with Leon’s skills, and the two balance each other out very effectively.

The Leon relationship is one that I think has been strong from the start: introduced excellently in Birthmarked, and then experiencing that relationship through the trials and tribulations of Sylum, gave us a deeper understanding of both their individual characters, which meant that as readers we go into the final book knowing them almost as well as ourselves. And this character-building through the series feels perfectly natural. Lots of show, and very little tell! The exploration in this book of Leon’s relationship with his father, building on our earlier knowledge, dovetails very well with the plot, and always feels relevant to the wider happenings of the book. There is no info-dumping, and no lengthy exposition. If only all books did this!

The only thing I was less keen on was how much things were unpacked. Especially with the end of the book, and the changes in the order of things, it could be far more unpacked than it was. We, as readers, got that satisfying ending which I was hoping for, but as a result the actual world-development was left to be skimmed over somewhat. I would have liked to read more of the fallout after the climax of the story, but we don’t get as much of that as I would have hoped.

 

The things I most liked were: The pacing and quality of the writing, and making Leon more substantial than simply a love interest.

Things I was less keen on: I feel like it could have been unpacked more, and that while it was very enjoyable the length it was, there were elements that were fractionally underdeveloped.

 

Promised:  7/10

 

If you liked this, try:

Slated by Teri Terry
Slade’s Children by Garth Nix
Half Bad by Sarah Green

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

The Bone Season

bone-season-cover

 

“Paige, you will have two tasks tonight,’ he said, turning to face me. ‘Both will test the limits of your sanity. Will you believe me if I tell you that they will help you?’
‘Not likely,’ I said ‘but let’s get on with it.”

The Bone Season is Samantha Shannon’s first novel, the first in a projected series of seven (seven! No more trilogies here!). It’s a sci-fi fantasy dystopia hybrid, and plays with these genres very effectively in creating the setting, scenarios, and driving the plot forward.

It’s the year 2059. The story begins in Scion London, where clairvoyants are prosecuted for their skills. We are introduced to Paige Mahoney as she works for the criminal underworld, unbeknownst to her father. She’s working for the rather scary yet charming Jax, but everything falls apart one day when she accidentally uses her illegal powers on a train. She’s spotted by Scion police, and runs for her life. But soon she ends up in Sheol I, a penal colony full of stolen voyants from the city. And they want her skills badly.

The first thing that struck me about this book, apart from being very tightly plotted and paced, was that the setting was absolutely alive. Shannon clearly has immersed herself in the setting of her book, which translates fabulously to the page. The world-building has been absolutely nailed. We have government systems (that are anti-voyant), we have rebellions, we have transportation systems, laws on recreational activities, sectioned cities, the sorts of jobs people do, and wider UK context with mention of Ireland, which leads back to more world history in terms of how Scion cities have been created and where the fear/persecution of voyants has come from. As an avid fantasy reader, I have put plenty of books down that have had woolly world-building, but as far as I can tell, Shannon’s world is watertight, and I am one very happy reader!

The opening is relatively exposition-heavy – after all, we are being introduced to another world – but by using first person, the pace keeps ticking over and it feels quite conversational between Paige and the reader. No encyclopedic info-dumping here! It gives us enough to tide us over and seems to tell us a lot. By the end of the book we know that really, we knew very little indeed. I always think that the cardinal sin of fantasy writing is info-dumping. It’s why I still stick to YA fantasy over adult fantasy. In my experience, adult fantasy books seem to think that now they’re writing for adults, they can give themselves the luxury of some unnecessary long-winded info-dumping exposition. This is not the case! I’d say that The Bone Season strikes the balance of world-building verses info-dumping generally very well. This is helped by the fact that Shannon uses very effective description in her writing. Certainly knowing your setting as inside-out as Shannon does has helped fantastically with this.

It’s when we move with Paige to Sheol I (formerly Oxford) that this expands further. One of the commonly regurgitated pieces of writing advice is ‘write what you know’. Clearly Shannon isn’t a persecuted voyant who’s been kidnapped to the penal colony of Sheol I, but her author bio tells us she has lived in both London and Oxford. The influence is clear, and well utilised throughout. There are hints of Oxford, with all its grand colleges, that we would see today, but at the same time she has made it so clearly ‘other’ and different that we as readers have no issue with the transfer between what we know and what we don’t.

Paige’s character develops gradually from the beginning, and I feel like I finally have a hold of who she is by the time she’s been taken to Sheol I. She’s not a voice that grabs you with the first sentence, but you get the impression that she has plenty to say about what’s happened to her, if only you’d sit down and listen to her properly. So I did! She comes far more alive as soon as she has stuff to react to, which in this scenario works to her advantage; it is even played upon by certain characters. And a good opener to react to is when she’s kidnapped by the Rephaim to live in their penal colony.

The Rephaim have come to Paige’s world from the Netherworld, the place between life (the human world) and death (the aether). They rule over Sheol I, essentially farming human voyants. There is a huge status divide between humans and Rephs, and even more so between the humans that succeed and pass their ‘tests’, and the ones who fail – doomed to be ‘harlies’ and yellow-tunic’d cowards for the rest of their days. The kidnapped voyants are taken on by important Rephs to be trained. Paige, unsurprisingly, gets picked by Warden, who just so happens to be the fiance (blood-consort) of Nashira (blood-sovereign), who runs the colony. Warden also has a reputation for not training humans. And yet he chooses Paige. Clearly there is something else at work here, but Paige is oblivious to anything other than the fact that she has been kidnapped and has been sold off to a master like cattle. One word to describe her, in a positive way, is righteous. She’s no saintly do-gooder, but speaks her mind when she can, but also knows when to stop to save her neck. One thing we definitely know about Paige is that she has an excellent survival instinct.

I was worried that all these test and training under the Reph (and Warden) would turn the whole thing into a wannabe-HungerGames book. But it doesn’t. It might also explain why there appear to be so few tests to hop up the ranks of Reph trainees; Shannon may be trying to avoid a HungerGames-esque scenario. It definitely doesn’t feel like The Hunger Games, and for me is written a whole lot better! This is no Katniss Everdeen, come to be the saviour of the poor; this is Paige Mahoney, determined to save her skin and the few people she cares about from Scion London at the same time. It makes her far more relatable and realistic, which does her plenty of favours with the reader. Paige hasn’t come to preach.

I was also concerned with the character of Warden. My ‘oh god, a love interest which results in the lead losing the ability to think for herself!‘ klaxon was buzzing in my head. Thankfully, this fear was unfounded. Throughout the book, the relationship between Warden and Paige develops as student and teacher, with hatred – or at the very least, dislike – thrown in aplenty. It’s clear Warden has his own agenda going on, and we side with Paige in not wholly trusting him, but our curiousness as readers is also replicated in Paige. It’s this parallel with character and reader that is a real strength of the story, and keeps the reader hooked in what’s going on.

This was a book I could pause with from time to time, which was a refreshing change after both Half Bad and Cuckoo Song, which I practically inhaled. But I did reach that point where I just knew I must get to the end because everything was gearing up and I had to find out what was going to happen! Unfortunately, for me this was at about 1am when I had to be up the next day, which somewhat scuppered my desperate need to finish it. Such is the way of the late-night reader.

The only thing I did feel I wasn’t so keen on at the end was the way it flipped, in the last few chapters, from being something that I thought would be a stand-alone into something that clearly had sequels. I then expected a trilogy, so to discover a projected seven-book series was quite something! And to have a seven-book arc shows a heck of a lot of planning on the author’s behalf on plot, structure, etc. I think I’m just pining for a fabulously written YA book that doesn’t lead into a series.

 

The things I most liked were: excellent world-building, and tightly, well-executed plot. Everything felt relevant to the bigger picture. Causality rules supreme!

Things I was less keen on: I’m slightly apprehensive about sustaining this level of detailed plot and tight writing over a long series, but I look forward to the second book with curiosity.

 

The Bone Season: 8.5/10

 

If you liked this, try:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Slated by Teri Terry
Ashes by Ilsa J Bick

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

 

The Magician’s Guild (Audiobook)

“It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there. On the day of the Purge it whistled amongst the swaying masts in the Marina, rushed through the Western Gates and screamed between the buildings. Then, as if appalled by the ragged souls it met there, it quietened to a whimper.
Or so it seemed to Sonea.”

The Magician’s Guild is the first book in one of my all-time favourite series, the Black Magician Trilogy by Trudi Canavan. I’ve not reviewed the series on my blog, or the other two of my favourite series (Books of Pellinor and Chaos Walking, if you were wondering) because I don’t think a good review is written by me smashing my keyboard in a fit of wild enthusiasm as I tell you all how you must read them because they are the bestest books in the whole wide world, etc etc.

But I digress.

I was recently directed to Audible by the wonderful @hatteatime . I’m always after audiobooks, as I get travelsick reading in the car, and Audible seemed to fit the bill. For me, audiobooks should be familiar, comfort reads. My current library of audiobooks consists of Pride and Prejudice and The Fault in our Stars (as well as copious amounts of Shakespeare), for example. Therefore, The Magician’s Guild was an easy choice for my free first audiobook.

This abridged version is read by Kellie Bright, whose voice warmed on me very swiftly from the beginning of the tape. She has a soft and clear reading voice, which means you can get on with imagining the streets of Imardin, the slums, and the Guild. The way she plays with voices for different characters works well, with Sonea’s friends in the slums voiced with a cockney accent, rather than the sweeping gradiose tone of the Magicians. Fergun’s voicing especially makes my skin crawl – a real’ Bad Guy’ voice!

I did think that by choosing the abridged version, I would be losing out some of the detail from a book I really love. There were a few odd cuts, which didn’t sit well, but as this originated as CDs, I imagine this can be explained as the end of a disc. I didn’t, overall, lose any detail that I remember particularly from the book, although it has been a few years since I’ve read it. This meant I could sit back and enjoy the story, rather than being jerked out of the world by cuts I was extremely aware of.

There were also rather randomly arranged musical interludes, which don’t sit so well with my CDs theory, and which was considerably louder than the reading volume which made it a little uncomfortable to the ear. I like to stick to a volume and not be forced to chop and change when I settle in for an audiobook, and what was suitably good music regarding the tone of the story was too loud.

The thing I love about audiobooks is the visual aspect and I think this audiobook does great service to Canavan’s descriptive skills. In many respects I found the audiobook visualised parts of the book for me that I had previously skimmed over, such as when Sonea and Cery are scrambling across rooftops, or when Rothen and Dannyl find her in the slums. I also felt like it gave me time to dwell more extensively on the different threads of the story, and it reminded me of characters I particularly love, and their relationships with other characters. Cery’s character springs to mind, as does Rothen’s and Dannyl’s relationship. The latter two’s cheerfulness and especially Dannyl’s sarcasm really appealed when I very first read the book, and the tone with which Bright delivers Dannyl’s character is particularly enjoyable.

The only quibble I would have with the reading of this audiobook is that, while it is beneficial to have such a range of voices for characters, some voices did slip. This happened especially in Cery/Fergun scenes, where the swing from cockney to villain was sometimes a little tricky. And Akkarin’s voice, which is intended to sound grand, came off as a little unnecessarily ghost-like. It was also very hard to audibly distinguish between actual speech and mind communication, as designated in italics in the hard copy, but that is something that cannot be helped. It didn’t impede my listening of the book, certainly.

Overall, a good first choice for an Audible audiobook! One I will be listening to again.


Title
: The Magician’s Guild
Author: Trudi Canavan
Read By: Kellie Bright
Run Time: 6hrs 32min
Released: 2006
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

The Grisha Trilogy: Ruin and Rising

grisha-trilogy-covers

Yay! I’m back! I’m blogging! And this time I’m reviewing another third book of a trilogy…! (so beware, there may be mild spoilers about the earlier books!)

Trilogy books, especially young adult books, seem to have only two ways of working. They either tie things up really well and finish the story with panache and style – and what I tend to refer to as “all the feels!” – or they crash, burn and ruin something you love. After reading Allegiant (warning, spoilers!), my faith in third books in a trilogy was rather worryingly shaken, but luckily it seems to have just been a bad egg. So, onwards and upwards!

Ruin and Rising is the third and final book in the Grisha trilogy. I reviewed its predecessor, Siege and Storm, after finding it in my local library. However, a new bookshop opened near me, there were deals on young adult, and before you knew it I’d bought my own copy of Bk2 and had preordered Bk3. When you’ve read two out of three, you just need closure on the plot, characters, and world.

The world of the Grisha has been ravaged by the Darkling’s forces, a man after Alina for her Sun-Summoner skills. He wants them to rule the world together; she’s not so sure. Now Alina and her best friend (and on/off love interest) Mal are off to find the third and final ‘amplifier’, to maximise Alina’s power to get rid of the Darkling for good.

I enjoyed this plot very much across the three books, and felt that the events were paced well and clearly all led up to the conclusion of Ruin and Rising, again plotted well. I love a story with a good structure, and I would say the Grisha trilogy is definitely it. I have read series that are too fast so I can’t keep up, and I’ve read series where nothing much happens until the end where it all gets so crammed in you wonder what the author’s been doing with the previous four hundred pages. The Grisha trilogy certainly wasn’t like that.

The one problem I did find, however, was that however well plotted it was, the story didn’t grab me as much as it had the potential to. There have been parts in this story where I should have been ecstatically happy or plunged into the depths of despair, but I never had those peaks and troughs when reading. It feels like Bardugo is skimming the surface, like giving us and outline of the characters but leaving us with just a little too much to colour in for ourselves. This definitely isn’t true of all the books all the way through, as there are glimmers of strong characterisation, where the characters are so real to you that they are practically dancing off the page. But it was not nearly as sustained as I would have liked, and I felt for large quantities of this series I never quite grabbed a hold of Alina and Mal and their story as I wanted. But with a story this well thought-out and paced, it was not as much of a detraction as it could otherwise have been.

Overall, I enjoyed the series and would recommend it to someone who wants an easy fantasy read. At least the first two books are in my local library, and most libraries are very accommodating with recommendations if they are able. If buying/borrowing for a young person, I would suggest a 12-16 age range.

*

Ruin and Rising: 7/10

*

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

The Hits, Part 2

siegebcs-Birthmarked nsunwind

In this post I’m bringing you my October reads: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo, Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien, and Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Siege and Storm is the sequel to Shadow and Bone, which was published in the UK as The Gathering Dark. I borrowed the first book from the library and liked it – the fantasy element was well worked and the two main characters, Alina and Mal, were intriguing. So when I spotted the second on another library trip, I had to pick it up. It carries on from where the last left off: Alina has been living with the Grisha, but the events of The Gathering Dark have left her on the run with Mal away from the evil that has risen from within the Grisha Palace.

The story is much improved for having Mal around some more. While Alina’s time with the Grisha in The Gathering Dark was good, for me it missed the opportunity to capitalise on the orphan learning how to use her powers, something that I’ve seen executed brilliantly in one of my favourite book series, The Books of Pellinor by Alison Croggon. As a result, Alina and Mal escaping that sphere and going on the run livens the narrative up for me. Alina is very much alone with the Grisha, and misses Mal greatly; by bringing him into the narrative there is more focus on driving events forward rather than reflecting on what Alina misses.

It is also, of course, the second book in a trilogy, which automatically gives it the challenge of that awkward in-between place. It is inevitably tied to the books either side of it, and badly done can be filler rather than an engaging novel of its own. The Grisha trilogy, however, doesn’t seem like something for three separate books. Its story carries on, and happens to be split in to three. In some respects it would be stronger with three distinct plots of its own, rather than one that just moves steadily onwards, but it is executed pretty well and has me interested in reading the final book if it appears in my local library.

The next book I read was Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien. This tells the story of Gaia, a sixteen year old midwife, who serves the women living outside the Enclave. The Enclave is the settlement inside the wall, and who take a “quota” of babies from outside the wall to bring in to their gene pool. One night Gaia’s parents disappear, and she has to go into the Enclave to find them.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While it can easily be marketed as dystopian, to me it is good solid YA fantasy adventure. Gaia is a compelling narrator, and brings the world both in and outside the Enclave to life. When she smuggles herself into the Enclave we are treated to her careful and determined exploration of its contents and why they are so desperate to advance babies from the outside. Its sequel, Prized, carries on with the same strengths, and the claustrophobia of one small settlement with rigid laws sees Gaia work from within a system and trying to break out.

Her dealings with Leon, a guard inside the Enclave, are well constructed and never has huge overtones of “here is the boy there must be romantic interest!”. The two characters stand equally well on their own, and neither becomes weaker for meeting the other. The initially awkward acquaintance develops well, and O’Brien never lets it overpower the story arc. Gaia is never lessened for meeting other characters. She remains strong and determined and it is one of the main things I love about this book. I am just gutted that the third book is only available in the UK as an ebook.

Finally, I read Unwind by Neal Shusterman. This particular read was a recommendation from a tutor and one I’m glad I came across. The premise is that there was a war between pro-life and pro-choice campaigners, and as a result they created the rules of Unwinds – children between the ages of thirteen and eighteen can be “unwound” and their parts be used elsewhere, meaning they haven’t technically died.

It is a controversial topic and one that creates a strong dystopia from the outset. The three main characters, Connor, Risa and Lev all have varying stories from their different social backgrounds, but all have one thing in common: they are going to be Unwound. Connor and Risa are determined to escape but Lev has been brought up by devoutly religious parents who conceived him as a “tithe”, a child born to be unwound. I found Risa and Connor stronger characters than Lev, but then again the reader is exposed more to them. The on-the-run narrative is hardly a new one but Shusterman makes it work well. The only problem I had with Unwind was that I always felt the characters never quite got into top gear. They were always good, but I wanted them to be pushed further and to really grab me by the scruff of the neck and pull me into their story.

I also read Unwind as a stand-alone novel, and as such it works well. It is part of a trilogy though – what YA books aren’t? – and I’m not sure I would pick up a sequel. As one book, it is contained and works effectively. The scene of the unwinding, for example, is especially powerful. But I’m not sure where Shusterman can go from the conclusion of Unwind. It is a good read, but I don’t think I’ll be going any further.

Recommendation: Birthmarked, by Caragh O’Brien

*

Siege and Storm: 7/10

Birthmarked: 9/10

Unwind: 6/10

*

The Gathering Dark: 6/10

Prized: 9/10

*

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks