Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1), Illona Andrews

Title: Magic Bites
Author: Illona Andrews (author website)
Release Date: March 27, 2007
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star5 star

I had a pretty good idea of what to expect coming into Magic Bites: the typical urban fantasy in a slightly different version of our own world, tough heroine, and sexy alpha male to add a romantic twist. While, in some ways, I was right, I was wrong. Magic Bites is something different entirely.

From Goodreads:

Atlanta would be a nice place to live, if it weren’t for magic…

One moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters. Here skyscrapers topple under onslaught of magic; werebears and werehyenas prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst of knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds. In this world lives Kate Daniels. Kate likes her sword a little too much and has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing and remain safe or to pursue his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy …

Now, normally I’d write up my own summary of the book, but I’m just not sure how to manage. Magic Bites is complex and dark and, at times, confusing, if not deliberately cryptic. The book left me with a myriad of unanswered questions.

Real Urban Fantasy

I think the key thing here, is that Magic Bites is urban fantasy. Have you read any of those books with with swords and monsters and dragons, and worlds so foreign and vast you can only just begin to wrap your mind around them? For me, Magic Bites was this, in an modern, urban environment. The creatures that inhabit this place are different, and so are the humans. The paranormal beings that inhabit this world are darker, more complex, and complicated than what I’ve come to expect from this genre. The world’s familiar, sure, but so very unlike our own. I had recurring impressions of a low-tech version of Blade Runner where instead of technology, magic has taken hold, and become the world’s driving force. Instead of androids, we have shifters and other creatures we can’t quite understand. The magic here is like… real magic, somehow. Dark, twisty, dangerous and sinister. Not evil, but a perversion of the current order–a sentient force stretching and reaching out in all directions, a beast gnawing away at the world we currently live in and recognise. Imagine if technology stopped working–cars, phones, televisions–and was replaced by an equally powerfully medium that you couldn’t begin to understand, one that was slowly taking over and changing the way we live.

Kate Daniels:

In the middle of this world is Kate Daniels. An enigma. Equally as mysterious, strange, and well realised as the world she exists in, Kate’s a freelance mercenary. Need someone found, killed, or captured? She’s your lady…  but she’s not just any lady. And I really don’t know much more than that. The authors are playing their cards pretty close to their chest. Here’s what I do know: the girl is a trained warrior. She’s tough–really, really tough–and hard as nails. She has a problem with authority. And she’s hiding something huge. In Magic Bites we learn she has very powerful magic running through her veins, one that she’ll do anything to keep hidden, but we’re not told what it is, why it’s so important to hide that she must burn anything that holds a trace of her blood, or where it came from. We’re given tantalising hints and elusive clues, but this doesn’t mean it’s unsatisfying.

Romance?

Kate has a cast of fascinating, compelling men in her life, but she’s not a flirt, and no, they’re not all falling at her feet. In fact, let me say right here and now: Magic Bites is not a romance. In fact, there’s little-to-no romance in it. There is definitely a very faint spark of something that could grow into a romance, but it’s barely hinted at.

The Verdict:

Magic Bites is, well, incredible. I’ve never encountered an urban fantasy so dense and complex, and in such a detailed, real world. It’s gritty, it’s strange, and it’s utterly compelling. So basically? Despite an alarmingly ugly cover, Magic Bites is awesome.

Books in This Series:

  1. Magic Bites
  2. Magic Burns
  3. Magic Strikes
  4. Magic Bleeds
  5. Magic Slays

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American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Title: American Gods
Author: Neil Gaiman (author website)
Release Date: June 19th 2001 by Headline
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star5 star

It’s no secret I’m completely, utterly and blindingly in love with uuhhhh, a most ardent fan of Neil Gaiman. I know this isn’t the type of book I’d normally review here, but a few weeks ago I mentioned I was a fan of mythology-based stories, and I seriously, seriously am. And Neil Gaiman is a master of it. He has such an unique grasp on folk tales and stories, and when you read Stardust and American Gods, you’ll love the vaguely perverse way he weaves these stories. Both familiar and profoundly strange, they have that feel of ‘real’ old fashioned fairy stories and verbal-mythologies. Dark, twisted, and not necessarily with a Disney ending. But I digress: I love Neil Gaiman, and I just couldn’t…. not, share my thoughts on this book with you. While perhaps not the most accessible of Gaiman’s work (try Stardust or The Graveyard Book), American Gods is a modern masterpiece.

From Goodreads:
The storm was coming…Shadow spent three years in prison, keeping his head down, doing his time. All he wanted was to get back to the loving arms of his wife and to stay out of trouble for the rest of his life. But days before his scheduled release, he learns that his wife has been killed in an accident, and his world becomes a colder place.On the plane ride home to the funeral, Shadow meets a grizzled man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A self-styled grifter and rogue, Wednesday offers Shadow a job. And Shadow, a man with nothing to lose, accepts.But working for the enigmatic Wednesday is not without its price, and Shadow soon learns that his role in Wednesday’s schemes will be far more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Entangled in a world of secrets, he embarks on a wild road trip and encounters, among others, the murderous Czernobog, the impish Mr. Nancy, and the beautiful Easter–all of whom seem to know more about Shadow than he himself does.Shadow will learn that the past does not die, that everyone, including his late wife, had secrets, and that the stakes are higher than anyone could have imagined.All around them a storm of epic proportions threatens to break. Soon Shadow and Wednesday will be swept up into a conflict as old as humanity itself. For beneath the placid surface of everyday life a war is being fought — and the prize is the very soul of America.As unsettling as it is exhilarating, American Gods is a dark and kaleidoscopic journey deep into myth and across an America at once eerily familiar and utterly alien. Magnificently told, this work of literary magic

A Storm is Coming.
The day before Shadow is due to be released from prison, he’s called to the warden’s office. His wife, Laura, is dead.

Free, and on his route home to Laura’s funeral, he encounters a strange old man who calls himself Wednesday. Wednesday–who claims to be a god–knows more about Shadow than he possibly should, and Shadow, reluctantly, agrees to work for him. Led by Wednesday, Shadow is taken on a profoundly strange journey across the USA. A journey to help Wednesday recruit fellow gods, mythical figures and culture heroes to his side of the oncoming storm: a battle of truly epic proportions.

There is something totally unique about Gaiman’s writing: instantly recognisable; utterly charming; and deceptively simplistic, when it’s anything but. American Gods is no exception. It’s brilliant, beautiful, and profoundly strange. The story starts off in an oddly detached fashion. For a while I wondered about this, until you learn more about Shadow. You’re experiencing the world through his lens, and detached is exactly what he is. With his wife’s death, he’s shocked into numbness. When he learns of a painful betrayal on her part, that numbness crystallises, leaving him encased in a protective shell he wears as goes about what’s left of his life. Nothing–and I mean nothing–shocks the guy anymore, as it never reaches his core. Nothing can shock him more than what he experiences in the opening chapters of the story.

“This isn’t about what is,” said Mr Nancy. “It’s about what people think is. It’s all imaginary anyway. That’s why it’s important. People only fight over imaginary things.”

In addition to Shadow’s tale, we also get glimpses into the back-story of other characters, with a chapter here and there telling the story of an immigrant to America arriving, and bringing their gods with them, or following one of the numerous gods who make up the story. Gaiman’s take on folklore, cultural stories and myth is extraordinary, and it grounds American Gods in a world that is tantalising familiar–one of stories and tales you recognise, you have heard, you’ve known, your whole life.

American Gods is a long story, and at times is confronting, meandering, fast-paced, slow-paced, funny and witty, deeply philosophical, or utterly absurd (which, of course, is Gaiman at his very best). It’s not always an easy read, but it’s a very satisfying one. I loved it, and it’s a story I can’t imagine having been written of anyone less than Neil Gaiman.As another reviewer observes, the book is the story of the “the battle for the soul of America”. Gaiman’s cutting observations of American culture and life are pure genius. The parts of the nation we visit are charming, and the back drop to the tale is a delightful country of contradictions and opposites: a world embracing modern technology, yet still deeply a product of a rich past. Do we embrace our past as a part of our future? Or do we push it aside and become a world of McDonald’s, Starbucks and chain stores? Is there room for both our past and our future in our changing world?

“We need individual stories. Without individuals we see only numbers: a thousand dead, a hundred thousand dead, ‘casualties may rise to a million’. With individual stories, the statistics become people–but even that is a lie, for the people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless…
We draw our lines around these moment of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearl-like, from our souls without real pain.”

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Brigid Kemmerer’s SPIRIT Blog Tour: Interview & Giveaway!

Brigid Kemmer's SPIRIT Blog Tour

The admission that I’m a big fan of Brigid Kemmerer, will surprise exactly no-one who knows me, and I’m super excited to have her here today as part of the blog tour for her latest book, SPIRIT. Those who follow the series will know that this is the third full-length book in the Elemental series, and stars Hunterwho I’ve long thought was one of the series’ biggest enigmas. Well, folks, the book is fantastic. Action-packed, exciting, and, in parts, unexpectantly heart-breaking. Brigid’s been kind enough to answer a few questions about, so buckle-up and have fun!

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite Elementals character belowthere’ll be very exciting results if your choice winsand enter the giveaway!


OK, first up: Spirit is AWESOME. The most ‘actiony’ (totally a word) of the books so far. Was this a deliberate departure, or just how it happened? It kind of seems… on-theme with a pair of characters like Hunter and Kate. So. Was it a chicken or egg type of thing?

Brigid: Thank you! I think the books tend to follow the characters, and Hunter is definitely not a peaceful guy. His head is full of action and turmoil, so his life follows suit. It was a deliberate departure in that I knew his book was going to be full of drama, of all kinds. :-)

You’ve mentioned in the past that you’ve been writing about the Merricks, in various incarnations, since you were in High School. Was Hunter always part of this group, or is he a more recent addition?

Brigid: Hunter was always part of the group — but he was always the villain. (Side trivia: while the brothers’ names haven’t changed, his name has changed several times over the years. He’s been Trent, Gareth, Garrett, and finally Hunter.)

I’ve always thought Hunter was one of the series’ biggest enigmas–I could never quite get a read on him. In Spirit, we finally get to see inside his head. It’s a pretty dark place. What was that like for you to write?

Brigid:It was DIFFICULT. Seriously, the most challenging character yet. Sometimes I couldn’t even write on my laptop because it was too intense. I had to sit down and sketch out scenes in a notebook.

Maybe he just needs a big hug? Here, I have some volunteers…

Brigid: :-D

And Kate. She’s one hell of a heroine… and very unexpected. She’s a pretty big departure from ‘everygirls’ like Becca and Layne. Did you take a different approach to writing her? Was she a challenge?

Brigid: She was a bit of a challenge, because she’s nothing like me. She’s very ballsy and sure of who she is. (Though she’s not too sure of what she wants.)

For me, getting some insight into the guides was one of the coolest parts of meeting Kate. We’ve met Becca’s dad, but only in passing. Becca and Hunter are Fifths, but they’re not trained. Kate is a Guide, proper. You know, in practice, I get why the Guides exist. They’re a good idea, but they’re… not nice people. Why? What went wrong? You’d think they’d be able to relate to people like Merricks more than anyone else…

Brigid: This is a great question! The Guides have a connection to the spirit, so they have an empathetic link with people, in addition to being able to influence the four elements. In the beginning, they were the natural choice to police the full Elementals, because that empathy for humanity allowed them to see right from wrong. But that same empathy made it difficult to destroy full Elementals — they felt for them, too. So the Guides learned to turn off their emotions, to do what they felt was necessary. Unfortunately, turning off their emotions for so long hasn’t made them the nicest people…

I’m sensing we haven’t seen the last of super-villain, Silver, and the Guides. Any hints on what to expect?

Brigid: You definitely haven’t seen the last of them. There are some exciting times ahead in Nick’s book…


A HUGE thanks to Brigid for her time, and the lovely Wendy at The Midnight Garden for making this tour happen. If you haven’t had enough Brigid, well, you’re in for a treat.

Check out SPIRIT on Goodreads:

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Hushed, Kelley York

hushed kelley yorkTitle: Hushed
Author: Kelley York (author website)
Release Date: December 6th 2011 by Entangled
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

From Goodreads:
Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn’t protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he’s never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn’t matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another-Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed.Then along comes Evan, the only person who’s ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is.But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer’s committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn’t get what she wants… And what she wants is Evan’s death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.

My father once wrote a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of a major Sydney newspaper. The paper in question had run an article discussing the dangers of certain breeds of dogs. Now, my father was not a particular fan of the breed; he was, however, a big fan of dogs in general. Having owned many in his life, he argued that there is no such thing as a bad dog, and that those animals which are dangerous are so for a reason: Abuse; training; mistreatment—themes which all rear their ugly heads in Kelley York’s Hushed.

It recalls that well-worn argument of nature verses nurture. Take a child, a human being who is, for all intents and purposes, a blank canvas—a sponge. Expose that child to horrors; rob him of innocence, and what will remain? If that child reaches its darkest most desperate moments, what will he be capable of? Hushed looks at nurture: that we’re a product of our environments. But what it is far more interested with is a far more compelling question: how far is too far for redemption? Can a monster ever really change?

Archer is just such a monster, and saying as much is no secret. Hushed opens as he, ahem, supervises a ‘suicide’. He would do anything to free his best friend, Vivian, from the ghosts of her past, from those horrors, and if he has to murder to do it? Good. He’s never questioned his actions, until a boy named Evan forces his way into Archer’s life. Archer’s beginning to see that there’s more to the world than Vivian; that he’s capable of happiness, and not only that he’s capable, but he wants it. But is it too late for him to change and, perhaps more importantly, will Vivian let him?

Hushed is a tale with very few bright points. It’s bleak and cruel; a book about terrible people doing terrible things to one another. Its characters—Archer and Vivian especially—fascinated me, but I can’t admit to liking them. Archer draws to mind a teenage Dexter. He shows, and feels, no remorse for his actions until he learns to want something more for himself, and it’s rather heartbreaking to watch him doubt ‘more’ is something he can ever have, or deserves.

There are two key relationships are the core of Hushed: the sweet and tentative developing romance between Archer and Evan, and Archer’s toxic friendship with Vivian. The two prove rather antithetical of each other. The relationship and tangled history between Archer and Viv is complex and disturbing. It’s not co-dependent, exactly, but warped and twisted and rotting. While, in many ways, Vivian proves the narrative’s villain, she also represents Archer’s past and choices, and it’s not hard to draw parallels to any abusive relationship, where one party is terrified to leave. What is fascinating, here, is that it goes both ways, and as Vivian’s behavior grows more needy, callous, and cruel as the story progresses, it’s difficult not to step back and ask if Archer is really any better than she.

I’m sure I comment on this weekly, that a review is ‘hard to write’, but, truly, what makes Hushed so much so is the experience of reading it: I cannot admit to enjoying reading it. It’s compelling, fascinating, and I liked it immensely, but I took no sense of joy from it. No-one in this tome, even the ‘good’, is innocent, and no-one leaves with their hands truly clean in this story of manipulation, grief and horror.

The Verdict

Hushed is tense, bleak and gritty and boasts complex, layered characters. It offers a sweet, atypical romance worth reading for alone. But what Hushed does best is ask uncomfortable questions about the nature of redemption and revenge, and the difference between monsters and men, if, indeed, there are any.

Coverlicious Comparison: Love it or hate it with a PASSION?

 
Left: AU/UK/US   Right: Portugese

A recent comment entirely out of the blue brought this to my attention — a entirely different cover for Lauren Kate’s Passion.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, what initially drew me to the series was the utterly gorgeous cover of Fallen. I liked Torment less, and when Passion came out? It’s fair to say I hate the AU/US/UK cover with a passion. The girl looks skeletal, her arms are creepily thin and oddly re-colored, and the funereal veil of hair complete with 1980′s crimping (see the fully blown up version here for detail)? Make me shudder. And the dress! The lovely voluminous gowns from Fallen and Torment are absent, replaced with… well, you get the point.

I love the drama of the Portugese version —the passion. The feel evokes what I loved about the cover of Fallen, and the cover for Rapture.

My opinion’s clear, but what about you? Let the cover wars begin:
The version you know, or the version that could have been?

Biting Cold (Chicagoland Vampires #6), Chloe Neill

Biting Cold, Chloe NeillTitle: Biting Cold (Chicagoland Vampires #6)
Author: Chloe Neill (author website)
Release Date: November 1st 2011
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

I’ve long been a fan of Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires. The funny, relatable heroine, the very-human vampires, the utter obsession with food—all combine to create a world I love coming home to. We’re six books in now, and I’ve been there all along—but Biting Cold and I didn’t get off to a good start. I thought it was going through the motions, plodding along; meanwhile, it kept telling me to sit down, shut up, and buckle up for the ride.

I hate being told what to do.
It’s funny how that works out, because it always so happens that it’s best when I comply.

From Goodreads:
Clouds are brewing over Cadogan House, and Merit the vampire can’t tell if this is the darkness before the dawn, or the calm before the storm. With the city itself in turmoil over paranormals and the state threatening to pass a paranormal registration act, times have never been more precarious for the vampires. If only they could lay low for a bit…Then magic rears its ugly head when Lake Michigan turns black. The mayor insists it’s nothing to worry about, but Merit knows a panic is coming. She’ll have to turn to friends old and new to find out who’s behind this, and stop them before it’s too late for both the vampires and humans.

It’s been a long wait between Drink Deep and Biting Cold for me—a year or more—but time has not passed in Chicagoland, picking up immediately following the conclusion of Drink Deep. This is not a book for newcomers, nor is it easy to write a review on the back of the series’ last installment (especially given potential for spoilers). With five books of complex politics, training, and infuriating, addicting, stop/start romance, Merit’s back, as are the rest of the gang—the good and the bad. And the very, very bad.

Tasked with tracking down a threat not just to her vampire-family, Cadogan House, or even her city, but the entire world’s continued existence, we join Merit—graduate-student turned-reluctant-vampire—on route to secure a magical book that could prove the key to halting the world’s destruction. And “halt” is a word long-time Chicagolanders will learn to hate by the time Biting Cold is through. The blurb of Biting Cold tells as much as I have so far, but what you may not know is that you’re looking at a mere third of the novel, and it’s safety off, brake lines cut the rest of the way through.

Much of Biting Cold’s action happens in its final chapters, but there is more than one kind of action. Whether it’s sparring, bickering, eating ‘mallocakes’ (marshmallow filled, chocolate covered cakes, people!) or navigating the dangerous pathways of local and international politics—both human and those of a dangerous vampire Grand Poobah—there is never time for rest in this world. There is, occasionally, some time for other bed-bound activities, and fans will get their share of such carnal delights here, making Biting Cold the steamiest installment of the series so far. Finally.

On the topic of ‘finallies’ Neill offers more than a few of them, providing resolution and satisfaction in a number of key relationships, and—one of those most fulfilling points of all—long awaited answers. Specifically on the question of one of Chicagoland’s longest-standing riddles: ex-mayor of Chicago, the enigmatic Seth Tate.

Despite all this, I do hesitate to call Biting Cold action-packed. To be fair, well, it is, but for a large chunk, I was waiting, even while watching it happen. The complicated entanglements in Neill’s Chicagoland world are infuriating, stopping before they start, and they continue, here. While I can see the players moving towards their finales and happily-ever-afters, the series is hardly changing down gears, or moving towards a conclusion—Neill is not done yet. This was a book made, for me, by its thrilling final chapters, each of which left me a breathless, crazed mess. I keep finding myself staring off into space, daydreaming about Merit and her pals and itching for more. Well. Just as well House Rules is already on its way to my Kindle.

Biting Cold, I’m sorry I doubted you, darling.

Books in This Series:

  1. Some Girls Bite
  2. Friday Night Bites
  3. Twice Bitten
  4. Hard Bitten
  5. Drink Deep
  6. Biting Cold

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The Gathering Dark (The Grisha #1), Leigh Bardugo

the gathering dark leigh bardugoTitle: The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo (author website | blog)
Release Date: June 2012 by Indigo/Hachette Australia
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star5 star

Every now and then you fall in love with a book (I do, too, for that matter). The kind of love for which the stars align and angels sing on high. It may be perfect, or perhaps its imperfections make it so. Nevertheless, it calls to you, something inside it sounding in recognition, and you know the weight of true love. This book, the one you fall for, flaws and all, or despite its blinding perfection, is the hardest to discuss and review. How do you communicate the depth of that affection in a few brief sentences? Well, I suppose you gush—you’ve been warned.

From Goodreads:
Sweeping, glorious fantasy romance about an orphan who must save her kingdom from the seductive and terrifying Darkling. The most compelling romance since Twilight.The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite – the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can’t she ever quite forget him?

shadow and bone leigh bardugo‘Like calls to like’, is the mantra of the Grisha, the powerful mages reviled and worshipped in the country of Ravka, a reimagined, fantasy Russia. And so it is, like called to me from the heart of The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone, touching something deeper than an intellectual appreciation alone. Bardugo’s debut struck a chord with me, still humming with the long keening echo that remains after the sound.

We’ve heard similar stories before: Simple, ordinary girl discovers extraordinary powers and is drawn into danger and intrigue and Destined To Save The World, and, at its simplest, this is the tale of The Gathering Dark, also. Alina Starkov, orphan—cartographer in the King’s Army—and best friend to a boy who is not so different to herself, discovers a power her people have awaited for centuries. It turns out she is rather different, afterall—she is a Grisha.

‘Grisha’ are a part of life in Ravka, able to wield fire, water, or air; heal with a glance; or rip a heart from a chest. The most powerful of them can control darkness itself, and he stands alone, ruling them all: The Darkling. And the Darkling, powerful and compelling, has been waiting for Alina longest of all. He believes that, together, they will change the world.

He is not wrong. He seldom is.

For all The Gathering Dark’s treasures, from its ‘everygirl’ heroine, to its charming cast of secondary characters, it is this Darkling that shines the brightest, despite his name, and not for inspiring schoolgirl crushes alone. Compelling and enigmatic, he is, to quote another reviewer, “one of the most amazingly crafted, heartbreaking characters of YA.” It’s rare I find a character gets so deep under my skin I’m still feeling him hours and days later, itching like phantom limbs.

Darklings aside—especially when they are not our narrators—The Gathering Dark boasts a strong, admirable protagonist, as any good fantasy should, but her strength is internal, despite crippling self-doubt. Alina is likeable and capable, and the ease with which her voice flows through the novel’s pages adds to its pull. What captured me most was the intensity of feeling she shared with me, the reader; how she drew me into friendships and romances I felt passionately about.

While the world of The Gathering Dark is immersive and lovely, strange and foreign, it’s a largely character driven tale, but then, the beginnings of most heroes’ journeys are. That aside, the Russian inspiration of the world of Ravka lends it a new and exciting texture, unique from the European-themed high fantasies which have long dominated the genre.

The Verdict

I’m not sure I believe in perfect books, not really. For me, ‘perfect’ is utterly subjective; a feeling, not a fact. “Perfect”, to me, is the book which captures my imagination, and something deeper, more profound—the kind of book I would read as a child and search deep inside myself afterwards, looking for hidden powers, and perhaps still do in adulthood. Filled with mystery, wonder, magic and dread, The Gathering Dark is precisely such a book.

Books in This Series:

  • The Gathering Dark (AU/UK) / Shadow and Bone (US) June 2012
  • The Shadow Fold (AU/UK) / Siege and Storm (US) June 2013
An enormous thank you to Hachette Australia for providing a review copy of The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Through the Ever Night (Under the Never Sky #2), Veronica Rossi

Title:through the ever night veronica rossi Through The Ever Night
Author: Veronica Rossi (author website | blog)
Release Date: January 8th 2013 by ATOM
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Dystopian
My Rating:1 star2 star3 star4 star

Sequels are tricky things; even more so ‘middle books’. With a happy romantic union cemented in book one, how does the author sustain chemistry? With a journey underway, how does she maintain momentum on route to a distant conclusion? Is it time to answer questions? Pose them? Fans are demanding creatures—the more ardent, the more so—but, as readers, our favourite authors win our trust for a reason, a reason Veronica Rossi demonstrates in Through the Ever Night.

From Goodreads:
Aria has struggled to build a life for herself outside Reverie. It hasn’t been easy adjusting to life in the wilderness but that struggle has been worth it with Perry by her side.But Perry has other challenges. His people are looking to him for answers. Answers about what happened to his nephew and what’s happening to their world. And they don’t trust the privileged Aria, one of the enemy, in their midst.Soon he’ll be forced to chose between the tribe that looks to him for leadership and the girl that looks to him for love.

We left Aria and Perry locked in a joyous embrace in Under the Never Sky, and it is where we find them in Through the Ever Night. But their reunion is not to be a drawn out, happy thing. Peregrine of the Tides is now Peregrine, Blood Lord of the Tides. Where once he enjoyed unfettered freedom, the weight of hundreds of lives now rests on his teenage shoulders, and his people do not take kindly to a daughter of the people who stole their children sharing their home.

Aria finds herself no less entangled. Charged with the hope of those who exiled her, Aria must find the Still Blue, a fabled land free from the deadly storms of the Aether sky, or face the death of all she holds dear.

It’s a dark place to find Perry and Aria, and where Under the Never Sky ended with hope, Through the Ever Night quickly forms fractures and wears it down. Aria, exiled from her home, without family, and trapped as a pawn of the manipulative Consul Hess, is isolated, even from Perry. She’s strong and selfless, and, having developmed a quiet wisdom, finds herself torn between love and sacrifice. Though Perry owns her heart, Aria—an outsider amongst the Outsiders—can see her presence undermining Perry’s new and fragile leadership. She’s faced with difficult choices, and each direction leads to pain and isolation. It’s the first of many obstacles the couple faces, and creates a wedge, forcing larger cracks.

The story separates the couple quickly and, apart, Through the Ever Night shows Perry’s analogous strengths and weaknesses. It seems that, in story, nuance and detail, Rossi may be playing favourites with her children. There’s a weight given to Perry’s story, an extra layer of complexity which render Perry’s pages the most memorable. If, perhaps, Under the Never Sky was Aria’s tale, this is Perry’s. Perry is caught in an unenviable position between right and wrong, instinct and reason. Seen as ‘rash’ by his tribe, he is judged not entirely by his actions, but a violent undercurrent of desperation. He’s torn between the ability to act with the freedom he has always known, and his responsibility for hundreds of lives. It is a painful thing to witness, but Perry, as Aria, demonstrates remarkable growth over of the course of the story. Both battle very real internal foes, as well as external: doubt, fear, desperation and betrayal are demons they both face in varying degrees.

While Aria and Perry are separated by distance much of the novel, they are never far from each other’s thoughts, and each grows stronger individually. While second instalments frequently see couples breaking up and angst filled confrontations, the couple share something profound, and it shapes them, but they have purposes and goals. Neither abandons their friends and responsibilities because they cannot live without the other.

It seems as though Through the Ever Night could easily pose as a parable for the pressures of childhood and young adulthood in the modern world; the conflicting worship of youth, but the push to learn faster, grow faster, mature, absorb, and assimilate. The burdens its young heroes face are crushing and unfair, yet ultimately the story concerns itself more with love and friendship and family. There are messages to be found, certainly, but they are much like images seen in clouds on lazy days: there for those who choose to find them, regardless of their creator’s intent.

The Verdict:

With the final page turned and many months free for reflection (the trilogy’s conclusion is, after all, not expected for a year), I find myself reluctant to leave Aria and Perry’s world behind. The Aether sky shines and flows in my imagination, and its characters whisper, beckoning my return. Rossi proves a talent for creating hope, sweet and pure as, despite the tale’s darker moments (of which there are many), I find myself lingering not on the pain, but on its hopeful final pages, on reunion, smiles, and a wish for tomorrow.

Books in This Series:

  1. Under The Never Sky (2012)
  2. Through The Ever Night (2013)
  3. Into the Still Blue (Expected 2014)

Want it? Get it:

Amazon | Book Depository | Booktopia (AU) | Bookworld (AU) | Dymocks (AU)

Sanctum, Sarah Fine (Guards of the shadowlands #1)

sanctum sarah fineTitle: Sanctum
Author: Sarah Fine (author website | blog)
Release Date:  Oct. 16th 2012 by Marshall Cavendish Children’s/Amazon Children’s Publishing
Age Group: Young Adult
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating:1 star2 star3 starhalf star

In Sanctum, Sarah Fine’s début offering, nightmares walk the streets of a hellish city, normal girls can be fierce warriors, and tortured boys so much more. The world of Sanctum is terrifying and fascinating, the characters’ pain palpable, and the romance? Phwoar.

From Goodreads:

“My plan: Get into the city. Get Nadia. Find a way out. Simple.”

A week ago, seventeen-year-old Lela Santos’s best friend, Nadia, killed herself. Today, thanks to a farewell ritual gone awry, Lela is standing in paradise, looking upon a vast gated city in the distance—hell. No one willingly walks through the Suicide Gates, into a place smothered in darkness and infested with depraved creatures. But Lela isn’t just anyone—she’s determined to save her best friend’s soul, even if it means sacrificing her eternal afterlife.

As Lela struggles to find Nadia, she’s captured by the Guards, enormous, not-quite-human creatures that patrol the dark city’s endless streets. Their all-too-human leader, Malachi, is unlike them in every way except one: his deadly efficiency. When he meets Lela, Malachi forms his own plan: get her out of the city, even if it means she must leave Nadia behind. Malachi knows something Lela doesn’t—the dark city isn’t the worst place Lela could end up, and he will stop at nothing to keep her from that fate.

“Would you risk your afterlife to save your best friend’s soul?” I’m not sure I would if the friend was Nadia, but Lela would. Especially since she owes Nadia her life. Nadia helped Lela recover from the darkest point of her life; overcome a history of neglect, abuse and depression… Only to succumb to darkness herself.

When the seemingly perfect, sunny Nadia takes her own life, Lela is shattered, unable to comfort herself with thoughts of Nadia being in a better place, afterall, she knows better. She’s haunted by dreams of a shell-shocked Nadia wandering the streets of a place Lela knows all too well–the place all suicides go on their death. A place worse than the life they fled from. Lela will do anything to save Nadia from her fate, even risk death, itself.

But Sanctum is not Nadia’s story. It is Lela’s. And while it is a story of love, and a kind of selfless friendship that crosses worlds, it’s a little something more.

Sarah Fine approaches her story from a unique background — she’s a psychologist. Sanctum deals with suicide, and it’s done well, Fine capturing conflicting feelings of guilt, despair, anger and betrayal from its ‘left behind’ protagonist, but what sat uncomfortably true was its departed Nadia’s hopelessness and pain.

It’s a dark book, dealing with dark matters, but, for the most part, it doesn’t feel like a book about suicide. It reads as Urban Fantasy, with all the dark, gritty hallmarks of the genre. What Sanctum does well is the creepy, the visceral, the haunting. Tortured souls wonder the streets of Suicide City, grasping at ‘things’ to fill their empty spaces; monsters hide within the shadows, and without. Nightmares grow and grasp like living creatures, and in one particularly disquieting scene, a building which feeds people their own fears in order to consume them left me with chills.

Sanctum’s heroine, Lela is tough, brave and damaged. At times she felt forced, and with her voice to guide me, it took me some time to fall into the story’s flow. But, once she held me her grasp, she did not let go. When she’s not posturing and telling the reader she’s tough and people don’t mess with her because she done time on the inside, yo, I liked her immensely. It’s the fragile, aching inside of her, not the tough girl exterior, I grew to love. She’s capable of great selflessness—as indicated by her willing trip to hell to save her friend’s soul—but there are times when her selflessness puts others on the line, teetering dangerously close to its antonym. There’s an interesting theme of choice here, or perhaps, if not choice, the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. The lines between both in Sanctum are vague, as they can be in real life.

Of course, at the core of Sanctum is a romance, intense and sexy as could be wished for. Lela falls for Malachi, King of the Underworld. Okay, okay, he’s not at all King or ruler. He’s a guard, a protector, with some very dark secrets. The two share an instant attraction and fascination with one another, and it develops, while alarmingly fast at first, into something far deeper. To put it succinctly, when I finished the book, my thoughts on the romance could be distilled into one word: phwoar. It’s totally a word, right?

That romance aside, Malachi himself was, for me, the story’s greatest draw, and as his long history unfolds in Sanctum’s final pages, I found it hard to look away.

The Verdict

So there you have it. Sanctum. Combine scorching chemistry and a creepy, living world, built of old and new. Add swords, knives, a kickass heroine and dashing, tortured hero. Then take another girl—a broken one; a friendship and loyalty powerful enough to reach across worlds, and you’ll have Sanctum. To quote another, far more eloquent, reviewer, Sanctum is “an amazing story of loss and redemption and courage and grief, but I know you’re all skimming this paragraph to hear about the boy, right?” Well, the wait was worth it, and I’m sure you, ‘dear reader’, will find it so, too.

Want it? Get it:

Amazon / Kindle Booktopia (AU) | Book DepositoryBookworld/Borders (AU)  Dymocks (AU)

Blogspiration (58): The End

Blogspiration is a weekly meme hosted by GrowingUp YA & Saz101. The meme was created to help spark inspiration among bloggers, readers & writers alike. An inspirational quote/picture/video is posted weekly, on the day of the author’s choosing, so that it may inspire creativity, conversation & just a little SOMETHING.

 

Ends are not bad things, they just mean that something else is about to begin. And there are many things that don't really end, anyway, they just begin again in a new way. Ends are not bad and many ends aren't really an ending; some things are never-ending.

Over a year ago, an idea took root in a blogger’s brain. An idea to inspire those around her, and, in doing so, inspire herself. To release something positive into the world.

I was not that blogger.

That blogger was Kristin of GrowingUp YA.  For the last year, and longer, I’ve been privilege to call Kristin one of best friends, or, as we prefer, my ‘boo’ (don’t tell her I called her that in public), and when she approached me this idea, and asked if I’d like to co-host, I said yes. Thus, Blogspiration was born.

Over the last year, it’s been an honour and a privilege to share Blogspiration with you. Seeing what everyone has to share, every week, the wisdom they offer, and the happiness and inspiration you have all brought me is a gift I cannot adequately thank you all for.

I do not believe all good things come to an end. The very best things — faith, friendship, hope and love — can be boundless, stretching out over our lifetimes, and long past them, to change the world, indelibly, and leave it a better place. But life and death, beginning and end, are the nature of most things, and Blogspiration, too, has drawn to its close.

As Blogspiration was Kristin’s dream, it seems fitting it reaches its conclusion as she, herself, takes her leave from blogging — though whether or not that is permanent is not for me to say; she may very well return!

So, today is the very last day of Blogspiration as it stands. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has made this little meme what it is, for your friendship, and for making our little corner of the blogosphere and better, more positive place.

More on Blogspiration and Linky sign-up below the jump!

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