Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

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I’ve been binge-reading fantasy lately, and decided to re-read an old favourite from a series that I started but never finished for some reason. Retribution Falls is the first in a series of four books following the misadventures of the Ketty Jay and her crew.

At the helm is Captain Darian Frey, a charming rogue, trying to make his way in the world with a bit of petty thieving and smuggling but struggling to keep his ship afloat and his crew together; then there’s Jez the navigator, Crake the Daemonist (and his golem Bess), Silo the engineer, Malvery the Doctor, Pinn and Harkins the pilots and Slag the feral cat. With the exception of the cat, all of the crew seem to have their own mysterious or tragic background and they’re all trying to out-run their personal demons, yet along the way they learn to work together and develop a sense of camaraderie.

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The gist of the story is that the crew attempt a heist that turns out to be a set-up, and fed up with being pawns in a game of more powerful players, they end up uncovering a conspiracy.

Daemonism is a refreshing alternative to magic as daemons are enthralled to various objects like keys, teeth, cutlasses and golems to give them unique and special powers.

Retribution Falls is an action packed swashbuckler with plenty of twists, suspense, humour, and a lovable bunch of underdogs triumphing against some truly unfavourable odds. Have a lovely week! X

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The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

I’ve always been an impulse book buyer, easily persuaded by a pretty cover and an intriguing first chapter, so I picked up The Invisible Library on a whim recently, and I’m very glad I did.

The story follows Irene, a Librarian from a secret society known as the Invisible Library, which collects rare and unique books from alternate realities. Instructed to collect a specific version of a text, Irene and her apprentice, Kai, arrive to find the book’s owner has been murdered and the book has already been stolen.

Irene is such a likeable heroine, she’s curious, resourceful and self-deprecating, and I really enjoyed the interplay between Irene and the other characters from her charming and enigmatic apprentice Kai to her femme-fatale rival Bradamant, and the mysterious villain, Alberich.

The Invisible Library subverts a few fantasy norms, instead of the usual battle between good and evil, the librarians try to restore order to chaos-infested worlds; and instead of magic, the Librarians use the Language, which allows them to influence reality with specific commands and instructions.

This is a quirky fantasy-mystery with lots of humour and a few twists; The Invisible Library is a bit different from the epic fantasies I usually read but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Have a lovely week! X

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the story of Karou, a teenage art student living in Prague who also happens to run “errands” for her adopted father, Brimstone, a Chimaera that grants wishes in exchange for teeth.

This story had such an intriguing premise and I would’ve enjoyed it much more if it had continued to follow Karou as she tries to figure out why Brimstone collects teeth and her own identity along the way, but unfortunately it abruptly turns into a star-crossed lovers romance between Karou and Akiva, a seraphim soldier, caught up in an endless war between angels and chimaera.

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I’m not at all opposed to romances and I don’t even mind an enemies-to-lovers arc, but I prefer love stories where the couple fall in love over the course of the novel rather than just being pushed together by a combination of physical magnetism and the hand of fate. Daughter of Smoke and Bone had such a promising start, but I was disappointed by the way it developed, and I’m unsure about whether or not I want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Have a lovely week! X

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic

It took me a while to get into A Darker Shade of Magic as almost the first third of the book is spent setting the scene, introducing the two magicians, Kell and Holland, the last of the magical race known as the Antari – easily identified by having one entirely black eye – and explaining that there are four parallel Londons. There is Grey London where magic is waning; Red London, where magic is comparatively ordered and balanced; White London, where magic is chaotic and cruel; and finally the ruins of Black London, where magic became corrupted, and the city eventually had to be sealed off to prevent the corruption from spreading. One aspect of the story that I really enjoyed was that magic is not just a force to be used as in most fantasy stories but had a will of its own and could be downright dangerous to those who came into contact with it.

The story follows Kell, who acts as a messenger carrying correspondence between the rulers of each London until he is tricked into transporting a forbidden relic from one London into another. Along the way, we’re introduced to Kell’s counterpart and rival, Holland, who serves Astrid and Athos Dane, the tyrannical rulers of White London, and Lila Bard a thief from Grey London, who reminded me of the Artful Dodger in the best possible way. It takes around 100 pages for anything interesting to happen, but after that this tale becomes a gripping adventure as pretty much everything that possibly could go wrong for Kell and Lila does. The rest of the story is so full of suspense, action and humour that it more than made up for the slow start.

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The ending wraps up most things neatly, but there’s an almost throwaway comment about part of Lila’s appearance that hints towards the possible direction of her character development and somehow I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the antagonist Holland, I can’t wait to find out how the rest of this trilogy unfolds. Have a lovely week! X

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

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Dark and stormy evenings in our corner of the world have given me a lovely excuse to stay at home snuggled under a blanket on the couch with candles lit and books to read. I’ve had a few false starts this year – books that I’ve started but lost interest in – and I decided to re-read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson to refresh my memory before picking up the other books in the Mistborn trilogy, which have been on my TBR list for a long time.

The plot of The Final Empire follows a fairly typical hero’s journey as the charismatic Kelsier leads a daring group of rebels from a subjugated race in an attempt to overthrow the tyranical Lord Ruler and his oppressive empire. Along the way, Kelsier takes a thief called Vin as his apprentice and trains her in allomancy, the magic system Sanderson created and it’s easily one of the most original and well-integrated systems I’ve come across in a long time.

The Mistborn Trilogy

I suspect fantasy novels are often dismissed by many readers because they require too much suspension of disbelief and yet beyond the magic and battles, The Final Empire explores some universal and pertinent themes such as prejudice, persecution and even the injustices and atrocities that ordinary people ignore or accept every day, as well as the redeeming qualities of courage, resilience, loyalty and hope.

The biggest criticism I have of this story is that Sanderson doesn’t so much foreshadow the two major plot twists as shine a spotlight on them, and many readers will probably guess the Lord Ruler’s identity and the source of his power long before any of the characters do, while another character’s death carries a certain sense of inevitability. Despite this though, it’s still a gripping tale and I enjoyed re-reading The Final Empire just as much as I did the first time around, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next in the series. Have a lovely week! X

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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For almost as long as I can remember I’ve been a Star Wars fan, and my affection for the franchise is in no small part due to the sassy, blaster-wielding Princess who bossed her male counterparts around and was always at the forefront of the action.

Carrie was apparently inspired to write The Princess Diarist when she stumbled upon the diaries she wrote while filming Star Wars: A New Hope, and decided that forty years after the event, the public revelation of her affair with Harrison Ford would cause minimal damage to those involved.

The Princess Diarist starts with Carrie recounting her decision to step out of her celebrity parents’ shadows, and how at the age of nineteen she was cast as Princess Leia in a low-budget “space fantasy” simply called Star Wars. I sometimes wonder how faithful her recollection of events is but I can’t deny it’s entertaining to read about some of the changes in the original script, the process of finding that iconic hairstyle and various other behind the scenes moments between the cast and crew. However, for what is ostensibly a kiss-and-tell memoir, Carrie Fisher is remarkably tight-lipped about the details of her love affair with Harrison Ford.

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The mid-section contains poems and direct extracts from the diaries she wrote in 1976, and this part lags a little as the diary entries are rambling, self-indulgent and laced with Carrie’s teenage insecurities.

The final part explores the cultural phenomenon Star Wars became, and some readers might be offended by the way she describes the rabid fans and their sense of entitlement for autographs and selfies, yet I suspect she probably understood why the Star Wars characters are so beloved because she admitted that there were times throughout her own life when she wished she was more like Leia. I also found it interesting reading about the different ways male and female fans respond to her character, and she doesn’t shy away from sharing details of some of her experiences and observations about Hollywood sexism (and ageism).

I suspect that Star Wars fans may be disappointed that she doesn’t share more behind the scenes secrets and people expecting a more linear biography may also be disappointed, but Carrie’s inimitable style, humour and candour still make The Princess Diarist an easy and enjoyable read. Have a lovely week! X

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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Let me preface this review by saying that Kitchen is a book that shouldn’t be judged by the cover, as aside from the garish colours, the description and synopsis on the back cover are downright misleading. This slim book compromises of two standalone stories covering similar themes of grief and loss, Kitchen and Moonlight Shadow.

The first story, Kitchen, is narrated by a young woman, Mikage Sakurai, following the death of her grandmother – and last remaining blood relative. After her grandmother’s funeral, Yuichi Tanabe, a young man who knew her grandmother invites Mikage to live with him and his transgender parent, Eriko; feeling cast adrift and at something of a crossroads in her life, Mikage gratefully accepts. The title of the story refers to Mikage’s favourite room in the home, where she finds a sense of comfort and purpose preparing food for the people she cares about or even just cleaning and setting things in order in the midst of her own turmoil and upheaval.

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Kitchen explores the different ways that the three characters, Mikage, Yuichi and Eriko experience and react to grief. Rather than seeming macabre and depressing, Kitchen is an inspiring and thought-provoking reminder not to sleepwalk through life lost in our daily routines because our time is finite and every moment is precious. As the narrator wrestles with her own highs and lows, she also ponders if we can really appreciate joy and triumph without also experiencing sorrow and disappointment, and it is Mikage’s acceptance of her own loneliness and mortality that encourages her to consider new paths and possibilities.

Unfortunately, Moonlight Shadow is a bittersweet story with similar themes but it just didn’t resonate with me the way that Kitchen did.

This is a short book and so easy to slip into, yet it is one I savoured and will likely re-read. Have a lovely week. X