#FallIntoFantasy: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan.

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the first book in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of The Hidden Oracle.]

Betrayed by his demigod master, and still shockingly mortal (even after all the uncomfortable questing he’s already been subjected to), Apollo sets out with the demigod Leo Valdez and the (also newly mortal) sorceress Calypso in search of one of the most dangerous Oracles of all, the Cave of Trophonius. But their journey is a tricky one, and Commodus – former Emperor of Rome, and Triumvirate member – will stop at nothing to keep them from reaching their destination.

After reading The Hidden Oracle, I remember thinking that Apollo was probably my least favourite of Riordan’s protagonists so far. He grew a lot, however, over the course of the book (and I definitely liked him a lot more by the end of it), and I’m pleased that this continued in The Dark Prophecy. He is still incredibly arrogant, but I found that the relationships he formed in this book and the last humanised him a lot. That includes his friendship with Meg, of course, but we are also introduced to several characters in The Dark Prophecy who were important to him before he became mortal, which made his backstory a lot more sympathetic.

I also thought that Leo and Calypso made excellent companions for Apollo. He and Calypso, in particular, provided an interesting contrast to one another; both of them former immortals, but reacting to their new mortality in very different ways. Additionally, it was just nice to be spending time with Leo and Calypso again. Theirs is one of my favourite romances in any of Riordan’s books, but it’s also one of the least-showcased, so it was wonderful to see them develop as a couple.

It took me a long time to finally pick up this book, as I was really worried that I wouldn’t enjoy this series as much as I usually do with Riordan’s work, but I’m happy to have been mistaken. I didn’t quite mesh with The Hidden Oracle, but my enthusiasm for The Trials of Apollo has definitely been re-invigorated by this book – and hopefully it won’t take me nearly so long to get to The Burning Maze!

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Well, this is up later than it should’ve been! 😅 But no matter! Next up is The Smoke Thieves, which looks pretty promising from the first thirty pages, so I will be spending (what’s left of) today immersed in that. 😊

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 772
Challenges Completed: 7/8

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#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

#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… 😓

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 4 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Bright We Burn by Kiersten White.

[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t started it at all yet, beware.]

Lada has reclaimed her throne, but holding onto it will be another challenge entirely, and one she’s not nearly so suited for. Radu, meanwhile, returns to Mehmed’s side after the siege of Constantinople, haunted by his experiences there – only to find himself once again caught in-between his sister and his beloved friend.

An excellent conclusion to an excellent trilogy! Lada and Radu are such great characters, and their differing world-views balance out the story perfectly. I’m not usually a fan of very dark stories (and it’s probably not a surprise to anyone that I like Radu more than Lada), but White does a great job of showing how her actions affect people differently; a scene that is horrifying to Radu and his Ottoman companions in one chapter, is a glorious show of defiance to Lada’s Wallachian fighters in the next…

Lada is also a very sympathetic character. While I’m sure that nobody really agrees with her actions, it’s still very easy to understand where they come from: Pure rage at a world that refuses to take her seriously, whatever she seems to do (and a fair amount of bloodthirstiness, too). Lada is the phrase “great and terrible” given form, but she still manages to be human at the same time.

Radu’s chapters provided a much needed respite from his sister’s anger, though he is not without his own conflicts; they are mainly political, where Lada’s are military, but they are no less thrilling for being less action-driven. His internal struggles – of which there are many – are also incredibly heart-wrenching, from his attempts to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, to his complex feelings about both Lada (now his enemy) and Mehmed (who he may finally be accepting can never be more than his friend)…

Beyond its primary characters, the plot escalated and concluded in a very satisfying way, and the story as a whole remained as fast-paced and surprising as its predecessors (i.e. a lot). Unusually for me, I don’t think I have a favourite book in the series, as they were all truly fantastic.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Finished, and dead tired. 😪 I didn’t manage to get too much reading done yesterday, as I spent most of the day on a bus (and even thinking about reading on the bus makes me a little queasy), failing to sleep. But I did manage to finish off an audiobook while I was packing (An Ember in the Ashes, which I started before the readathon, hence the “.5” in my book count… though I shan’t be reviewing it, as I already did so for Booktubeathon 2016), and start on another: The Secret Life of Bees.

Books Completed: 4.5
Pages Read: 1402
(+ Hours Listened: 8:34)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: White Fang by Jack London.

White Fang tells the story of a wild wolf-dog, who is taken in by three human masters in turn, each of them with very different motivations. He is first a sled-dog, and then a fighter, then a sled-dog again, before finally getting a chance at an easier life, with a master who loves him.

This is an excellent story, as gut-wrenching as it is heart-warming, but it has a very slow start. It’s divided into five parts – the first following a two men being pursued across the snowy wastes by a hungry wolf pack; the second showing us White Fang’s puppyhood; and then a section with each of the wolf’s three owners (Grey Beaver, then Beauty Smith, and finally Weedon Scott) – the first of which is vaguely interesting, but entirely superfluous, and the second of which is even duller, but at least does the service of introducing the main character.

It gets better as it goes on, however, and the second half of the book is incredibly engaging. The heart of the story is in White Fang’s relationships with his three owners, and how he is shaped by each of them, whether through affection or through violence (of which there is a great deal). The very end of the book felt somewhat tacked-on, with a sudden flurry of action just as everything seemed to be winding down, and this part of the book could probably have been removed without really effecting the story at all – but the episode was only a few pages long, and the ending was otherwise appropriately sentimental.

Unsure of how closely they were connected, I made sure to read The Call of the Wild in preparation for this book, and although I would recommend reading them as a pair, it is certainly not necessary. The two books are thematically similar, and make a great accompaniment to one another (White Fang following a wild wolf who finds himself keeping company with humans, while The Call of the Wild is about a domestic dog who is, well, called to the wild), so it is clear why they are so often published in one volume, but there is no direct connection between them.

The film:
The adaptation I chose to watch (due to its easy availability more than anything else) was the Netflix animated film that was released earlier this year. I really liked the art style of this film, and appreciated that the filmmakers chose to leave out part one of the novel in its entirety, but felt that on the whole it was over-sanitised in a way that robbed the story of most of its emotional impact. The strength of White Fang is in the contrast between White Fang’s awful treatment at the hands of Beauty Smith (and, to a lesser extent, Gray Beaver) and his rehabilitation (so to speak) with Weedon Scott, and reducing the severity of the former also reduces the appreciation for the latter. I can see why this was done, as the gratuitous violence of the original story isn’t really appropriate for a children’s film, but it’s to the film’s detriment. This adaptation also changes the story a lot; it adds some structure, but most of these changes only seem to serve to make the book more politically correct… and the new ending tries its hand at heartwarming, but is significantly less so than in the original.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Now onto my most anticipated book of the readathon, Bright We Burn! 💕🎶 Which was not included in my TBR, but would have been had I remembered that I was going to be going on a book shopping spree the day after writing it. 😅

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 1011
(+ Hours Listened: 4:12)
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas.

A slave in the fortress of the fearsome Godmother, Pin remembers nothing of her life Before, but she knows there must be something beyond the enchanted walls that surround her – and it’s likely to be better than what’s within. Along with Shoe the shoemaker, she makes a break for freedom, but the world outside the fortress is a prison of another kind entirely.

My expectations for this book weren’t super-high (in fact, I almost got rid of it unread just last week, but hesitated for unknown reasons), but I was happily surprised by what I read. Pin was a really entertaining protagonist; I enjoyed her very blasé form of defiance a lot (particularly in part two), and I thought that Prineas’ concept of the Godmother – and the Story that she is an agent of – being the book’s real villain was incredibly clever, as was the way that several different fairytales were all woven together. Primarily, Ash & Bramble is of course a Cinderella retelling, but other tales that I noticed being referred to included The Twelve Dancing PrincessesRapunzel, and (perhaps most prominently) The Elves & the Shoemaker.

Apart from Pin, however, most of the cast was quite bland (though still likeable), and the Godmother’s motives seemed rather unconvincing. The romance was sweet, but not very well developed (as Pin didn’t spend very much time with either of her potential suitors), and the end of the book felt somewhat rushed… I’m aware that this book has a sequel, but it doesn’t cry out for one; it stands alone quite well.

CURRENT BOOKTUBEATHON STATUS: Starting on White Fang, with hat at the ready.

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 765
(+ Hours Listened: 2:27)
Challenges Completed: 4/7

#BookTubeAThon2018: Update 1 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

Bored with her very ordinary life as a twelve-year-old in Omaha, September is delighted to be spirited away from her home by the Green Wind and his steed, the Leopard of Little Breezes. They bring her to Fairyland, where she sets out in search of adventure and fantastical friends – but Fairyland’s problems may be interfering with her plans far more severely than she expected.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this for quite a while, but was initially a little disappointed with it. I enjoyed the writing style, as well as all the characters, but found them to be flitting in and out of the story a lot more rapidly than I was expecting, and the story didn’t immediately grab me. (Structurally – and also thematically – it’s reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that I like in theory, but don’t actually enjoy reading.) However, I got much more into it as the story went on, and by the time September met the Marquess I was fully invested; the book had by that point taken a slightly darker tone, and September had also found a companion who seemed to be sticking around. 👍

I really, really loved the ending, but my favourite thing about this book was September, and her relationships with the other characters she met. I’ve complained that many of the side characters were fleeting, but even so, they were still very memorable, and left their mark on September – and the characters with bigger roles were even more so. In particular, the friendship that grew between September and A-Through-L (or simply Ell) was wonderful to read about, and the inclusion of Saturday made for some incredibly heartwarming scenes.

With Fairyland, Valente has created a tale with the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, the heart of The Little Prince, and the adventure of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and yet somehow entirely original. Her writing here is not quite as breathtakingly beautiful as it was in Deathless (the only other one of her books that I’ve read), but her unique style is still very noticeable, and adds a lot to Fairyland’s narrative; and Ana Juan’s charming illustrations make a perfect accompaniment to the story.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Already started on my next book, which is Ash & Bramble (this post took me a little while to write). 😊 And also an audiobook for car time (An Ember in the Ashes) – though I was already halfway through that before the readathon started.

Books Completed: 1
Pages Read: 328
Challenges Completed: 3/7