#FallIntoFantasy: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

Zacharias Wythe hasn’t been Britain’s Sorcerer Royal for long, but he’s already close to buried in problems: The dangerously dwindling supply of magic in the country, the government pushing for him to involve himself in foreign affairs, and the Society of Unnatural Philosophers itself ready to revolt over having a black man as their leader. And the sudden entry of Miss Prunella Gentleman – prodigiously talented, despite her lack of training – into his life brings a whole new set of problems… but perhaps a few solutions, too.

Zacharias and Prunella are incredible protagonists; both charismatic and compelling, both talented magicians, both somewhat tenuous in their positions, and with completely distinct voices. I was drawn first to Zacharias’ dogged desire to do the right thing – whether he’s considering the good of British magic, or how to best honour his predecessor’s memory – but Prunella was quick to win me over with her ambition and nerve. She’s quick to see how to get her way, and won’t hesitate to manipulate good-natured sorcerers like Zacharias, if that’s what it takes. 😋 The relationship that builds between the two of them is lively and unpredictable, and frequently hilarious.

I also really enjoyed Zacharias’ heartwarming relationships with his guardians (particularly the wonderful Lady Wythe, who is his greatest supporter), as well as Prunella’s conflicted feelings for Mrs. Daubeney, to whom she was something in between a daughter and a servant. And their London friends – and enemies – were a brilliantly colourful lot (but the practical Damerell and the charming Rollo were my favourites).

The plot, too, is a delightful whirl of intrigue and backstabbing, social reform, magical experimentation and learning, and near-death experiences, all while somehow managing to retain its coherency. And with so many different threads of storyline going at once, I thought a few of them might get lost or be neglected, but instead they all came together, not neatly, but in a wonderfully chaotic manner.

I picked this up hoping that it would be somewhat like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, only more readable, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least. Conceptually, the two books are similar – as is obvious just from the synopses – but Cho’s novel is considerably shorter, much more immediately engaging (in terms of both story and characters), and has no less rich a world. And I say this as someone who enjoyed Clarke’s novel immensely (eventually), despite my struggles with it. Certainly, more time could have been spent exploring Fairyland, or the vampire-infested Janda Baik, but it seems likely that these will be expanded upon in the sequel, The True Queen, and for now I am content to wait for its 2019 release.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Done for today, but excited to spend the whole of tomorrow reading The Dark Prophecy, since I have the day off work. 😊

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 371
Challenges Completed: 4/8

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Library Scavenger Hunt: November

My tiredness laziness overcame me somewhat while assigning this month’s challenge, which was to read a book chosen by someone else, but thankfully I have good friends who are willing to put up with this kind of nonsense. 😊 I prevailed upon my friend Grace to pick something for me to read, and she very kindly came up with (and lent me) a set of journal entries from her favourite Antarctic explorer, which had a couple of advantages, those being 1) extreme shortness, and 2) ticking another continent off on my personal challenge to read a book set on every continent this year… The journal in question (from the anthology The Ends of the Earth, Volume 2: The Antarctic) is:

MAWSON LIVES
Douglas Mawson

In January 1913 – towards the end of the Australian Antarctic Expedition, which he led – Douglas Mawson found himself stranded on his return to the Hut (the expedition’s base of operations) only a few days before they were due to leave Antarctica, his companions and dogs dead, and the vast majority of his food lost. For the ten days chronicled in this extract from his journal (Home of the Blizzard; 1915,1930), he struggled his way through the snow on foot, alone and starving.

I always find it somewhat challenging to review non-fiction, as there’s no way to talk about plot or character development in regards to real people and events. What’s left is the writing – something that Mawson does very well. He is well-spoken, his descriptions are vivid, and paired with the life-or-death situation that he was in, the journal is both gripping and engaging. Personally, I could have done without the stomach-turning description of the condition of his feet, but my reaction to it certainly proves its effectiveness. I’d definitely be open to reading more of his journals, though, realistically speaking, I don’t know if it’s something that I’d ever get around to.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

#FallIntoFantasy Readathon | TBR

With autumn soon coming to an end, Penguin is launching the aptly-named Fall Into Fantasy readathon, which will run from 18th-25th November, and challenges us to read at least four fantasy novels over the course of the week. There are more specific challenges as well, of course (which I’ve used to tailor my reading list), as well as a FallintoFantasy_Challenges_InstaFB-1024x1024collection of official buddy reads (which I haven’t; some of the books do look interesting, I just don’t have any of them…), all of which can be found on Penguin’s site (linked above), and in the infographic to the right. 👉

And a second readathon will also be going on at the same time: The Tome Topple readathon, which is all about reading big books – 500 pages or more – will be on from 16th-29th November. And since fantasy books tend to be more chunky than not, I think these readathons go together perfectly! 🎶 I won’t be jumping into this one from the start, as I have a couple of shorter things I want to finish off before I get carried away to fantasyland, but if I’m still in as much of a reading mood after #FallIntoFantasy as I am now, I’ll definitely be picking up a(nother?) tome to finish before the 29th. 😊

Here’s what I’ll (probably) be reading:

1) Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. The first book in the Sorcerer Royal series, which tells the story of Zacharias Wythe, former slave and distinguished sorcerer, who sets out on a journey to Fairyland in order to find out why magic seems to be running out. I’ve been getting serious Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell vibes from this book since I first heard of it, but I’m hoping that it will be a little more accessable, by virtue of being about a quarter of the length. 😋 This book will tick off challenges #1 (a new series), #2 (been on my TBR too long) and #4 (a diverse fantasy).

2) The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan. The second book in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series, which takes place in the same universe as the Percy Jackson books, but follows the god Apollo, who is transformed into a human teenager as punishment for annoying his father – the king of the Greek gods, Zeus – one too many times. Apollo is canonically bisexual, so this is (shockingly) the only fantasy I own (and haven’t read yet) that could possibly satisfy challenge #3 (and LGBTQ fantasy), but it will also do for #7 (a sequel), and is another contender for challenge #2 – though, to be honest, I could say the same for pretty much any of these… 😅

3) A Court of Wings & Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. The third book in the A Court of Thorns & Roses series, and the conclusion to Feyre’s storyline, I believe. I’ve been somewhat nervous about picking up any of Maas’ books since reading Queen of Shadows, so this has been lingering on my TBR for a while, but I am cautiously optimistic about it, as I really enjoyed the last book in this series… 🤞 This book will fulfil challenges #2, #7, and #8 (Booktube recommended).

4) The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green. Last but by no means least is the first in a new series by one of my favourite new authors of the last few years! I don’t know much about the story of this one, but I do know that it’s a high fantasy (as opposed to Green’s previous urban fantasy trilogy), follows four different protagonists, and was released earlier this year – thereby completing the last two challenges, #5 (multiple POVs) and #6 (a new fantasy). 🎉

A Court of Wings & Ruin will also count for the Tome Topple readathon, as it’s well over 500 pages, and although The Smoke Thieves isn’t, I’m still going to include it, as 494 pages is awfully close… Some of the other tomes that I might pick up when my fantasy sprint is over are: The Angry Tide by Winston Graham or Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling, both of which I’ve already started on, but still have well over 500 pages to go, or perhaps Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – something I’ve been meaning to read for years now… 😓

Series Review: Night World by L.J. Smith (Spoiler-Free)

    

    

Alongside the world we know exists the Night World, inhabited by vampires and werewolves and witches, and all other manner of supernatural creature, and ruled over by the incredibly strict Night World Council. And one of the Night World’s most fiercely enforced rules is that of isolation; no human can ever know of its existence, under the pain of death – a rule which causes huge problems when some Night World citizens begin to discover that they have human soulmates…

The Night World series is comprised of nine fairly short books, each following a different pair of unlikely soulmates, and vary in quality from great fun, to good fun, to somewhat mediocre. All nine are primarily romance-driven, but most of them also include some kind of stakes for the characters beyond the danger that is posed to them by their feelings for one another – those being the best of the lot.

Some of my favourite stories are:

  • Daughters of Darkness (#2), in which the three Redfern sisters (a powerful vampire family) come to live with their estranged aunt, only to find her murdered – which raises the question, who could possibly be able to kill her, in a town where no-one should even know that vampires exist? Meanwhile, their less-than-friendly brother Ash has been dispatched to bring them home, whether they like it or not, and their human neighbour Mary-Lynnette, is becoming increasingly suspicious of their night-time activities.
  • Soulmate (#6), in which Hannah Snow begins finding notes in her own handwriting, warning her of her own death, betrayed by a vampire who claims to love her. He has killed her countless times before, and in every life he is fated to find her again… But in this life, will she be able to break the cycle?
  • and Black Dawn (#8), in which Maggie leaves home in search of her missing brother, only for her search to lead her to one of the Night World’s most closely-guarded secrets: a hidden kingdom ruled by vampires, where the only humans are slaves. There she meets Prince Delos, and learns that she is his soulmate, but even that won’t guarantee her survival, or her brother’s.

Smith’s heroines tend to be spirited, pro-active (though always distinct) and likeable, and although her use of the soulmates trope means that much of the romance is a little on the insta-love side of things, the relationships do continue to deepen after being given the “one true love” label. And I particularly appreciated, given the bad-boy love interests that Smith seems so keen on, that the love of a soulmate wasn’t presented as something that would fix personality flaws, or wipe away the more problematic aspects of the characters’ pasts.

There is an overarching storyline that makes itself known in the last few books, but each one also stands very well on its own… which is probably for the best, as the series remains unfinished. The tenth book, Strange Fate, has yet to be published, and since fans of the series have been waiting for it for more than twenty years already, and there’s still no sign of any progress having been made on it, I don’t really expect it to ever be released (despite it still being listed on Smith’s website as “to come”).

Otherwise, the main thing that connects these stories together (apart from the backdrop) are a few character cameos from earlier books, which are nice if you spot them, but not essential to understanding or enjoying each book’s individual plot. Like many contemporary series, the Night World books can be read in pretty much any order (I personally started with #9, Witchlight), though naturally the later books expect at least a very basic understanding of the world…

Overall, this is a really fun romance series, with some really great highs and only a few lows. There was only one book which I found myself actively disliking (#4, Dark Angel, which had a truly frustrating main character), and even that one improved a lot as it went on. The series as a whole is let down by the unfinished state of its overarching plot, but each of the currently-published books has enough substance to stand on its own.

Library Scavenger Hunt: October

As soon as I decided what this month’s challenge would be (a retelling), I knew exactly which book I should be looking for, both because a retelling of a classic horror novel would be particularly seasonal, and also because this book keeps catching my eye when I’m at work (I work at a bookshop, if you didn’t already know), yet I never seem to be able to make reading it a priority. Well, I’m glad to say that that’s finally changed! And the book in question is…

THE HISTORIAN
Elizabeth Kostova

When a young girl discovers a strange old book in her father’s library, printed with the curious image of a dragon, she is compelled to confront her father about it… but she doesn’t expect it to lead to a tale spanning continents and generations, concerning a great evil that has haunted her father since his postgraduate days, and which may even be connected to the mysterious, long-ago disappearance of her mother.

I struggled quite a bit with this book, but it’s difficult to put my finger on why, except that it is a very long book that also feels very long, and the plot – though interesting – is not quite gripping enough to make up for its incredibly slow pace. The payoff at the end of the book was significant, and the last hundred pages or so were incredibly engrossing, but it was definitely more of a challenge to get there than it ought to have been.

The book is more concerned with scholarship than action (all of its primary characters are academics), and is full of interesting tidbits about the life of Vlad the Impaler, as well as vampire lore, which was of particular interest to me as I’ve been somewhat fascinated by this era of history since reading Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga – but it may not be quite so appealing to somebody less so. Kostova also pays a great deal of attention to the history and culture of the different countries that her characters visit (mostly in Eastern Europe, but a significant portion of the book is also set in Istanbul), and her descriptions are vivid and full of character…

I do think that this is a novel way of retelling the tale of Dracula. Like its source material, much of the story is told through letters, retaining the feel of the original even though the story is quite different. And lastly, it occurs to me how appropriate it is that I borrowed The Historian from the library, as so much of it is set in, and concerned with libraries and librarians. 😊

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Differently Great

(OR: ADAPTATIONS THAT CHANGE THINGS UP
WITHOUT SUFFERING FOR IT.)

When books are adapted for the screen, I tend to shove them into one of two categories, “faithful” or “rubbish”, and I suspect that this is a common trait among book lovers. After all, if I love a book enough to want to consume it as more than one form of media, I’m not likely to be happy about significant changes to the plot or characters (or even aesthetic, though that’s more forgivable, I think, as no two people are going to imagine something exactly the same, however well it’s described)… Of course, not all writing translates well to the screen, so changes sometimes really do need to be made – but this can often sour the opinions of the books’ biggest fans.

I’ve been thinking about adaptations quite a bit lately, as the release of the new Mortal Engines film inches closer and closer; it’s one of my childhood favourites, and so far I’m feeling optimistic about the adaptation (which I will absolutely be seeing at the earliest opportunity!), even if they do end up making some changes… So I thought I’d share with you some films (and a TV series) that I thought bucked the trend, and managed to be great in their own way, despite diversions from their source material. 😊

1) How to Train Your Dragon

More inspired by Cressida Cowell’s series of novels than actually based on it, this film retains the heart and main character of its source material, but changes basically everything else. I can’t think of anything specific in the books that would make these changes strictly necessary, but since the result was so fantastic, I don’t really mind… The two are different enough that it’s easy to think of them as entirely unrelated, to be honest, but it’s absolutely worth reading/watching both.

2) The Little Prince

The 2015 adaptation (available on Netflix, if you couldn’t tell from the thumbnail!) of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s classic novel is actually remarkably faithful, but the original story only takes up about half of the film. A new storyline, where the book’s narrator is befriended by a new protagonist (a little girl who is rather more grown-up than one would expect from a child her age) plays out alongside the old one, to make a story-within-a-story that is incredibly well-executed. I couldn’t recommend this film more. 💕

3) Howl’s Moving Castle

Contrary-wise, fans of Studio Ghibli’s interpretation of Diana Wynne Jones’ novel (of the same name) might be surprised to know that parts of the book are set not in the fantasy world of Ingary, but in 1980s Wales, and that Howl is actually a Welshman called Howell, as this detail was cut entirely from the film. There are other (quite significant) changes as well, from the war that Miyazaki invented, to the modified roles of many of the supporting characters, and even the different aesthetic of Howl’s castle itself (described as a wizard’s tower in the book, but a beautiful steampunk monstrosity in the film) – but both versions are absolutely wonderful.

4) The 100

The CW version of Kass Morgan’s post-apocalyptic series The 100, is perhaps a slightly dubious addition to this post, as I found the books enjoyable, but not great. So I was very much in favour of almost all the changes that the TV series’ writers and directors made… and I also wouldn’t be at all surprised if die-hard fans of the books were less impressed by the adaptation. These changes, needless to say, are too numerous to list, but I did write a whole discussion post about them a little while ago, as I found it quite interesting spotting what changes were – and weren’t – made. You can find it here, but beware of (minor) spoilers.

5) Ella Enchanted

This last one  – which is a loose adaptation of Gail Carson Levigne’s Cinderella-retelling – is one that some people may argue against, as I know that the film of Ella Enchanted isn’t the most popular… but I really enjoyed it. It’s a much more light-hearted take on Levigne’s original story, and misses out a lot of important story moments, but is still great fun. It will likely appeal to a much narrower age range than the book, however.

Review: Frogkisser! by Garth Nix (Spoiler-Free)

When the flighty Princess Morven’s suitor-of-the-moment becomes the unfortunate victim of one of her wicked stepstepfather’s transformation spells, it is up to her younger sister Anya (who would really much rather be reading) to save him – and perhaps the kingdom as well!

Frogkisser! is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ The Frog Prince, in which a prince is magically transformed into a frog, and can only be restored to his original form by his true love. But Princess Anya is decidedly not Prince Denholm’s true love, and so the story instead centres around Anya’s quest to find the rare ingredients that she can use to make a magical lip-balm, which will negate the need for true love. Nix draws on many more tales and tropes than just the expected Frog Prince, and the unexpected ways in which each new almost-familiar character is implemented into the story is consistently entertaining. Frogkisser! also manages to set itself apart from many modern fairytale retellings (and even their source material) with its notable lack of romance! I kept expecting a love interest to show up, but there wasn’t even a hint of one, which was quite refreshing.

The characters are both varied and memorable. Our main protagonist Anya has a great character arc, and the people she meets on her quest all have unique roles to play in the story, as well as simply being great fun to read about. My favourite was the Royal Dog Ardent, whose every word and action was just so incredibly doggish that I couldn’t help but smile. 💕 (The Royal Dogs in general are a huge highlight of this book, and it’s definitely one that I would wholeheartedly recommend to young – and old – dog lovers.)

And the world, though small, is full to the brim with magic and whimsy, and enough different magic systems that this could easily have been an entry on my “interesting magic systems” list of recommendations, had I read it back then – but as it is, it may have be the first on a follow-up! 😁

I listened to Audible’s production of Frogkisser!, narrated by Marisa Calin, who gave an excellent performance, really drawing out the distinct personalities of each of the (many, many) characters with her incredibly expressive voice work.