The Pirate’s Wish by Cassandra Rose Clarkea book I loved when I read it last August. The Pirate’s Wish does not disappoint on the pay-off that was set up in the first book.
The Pirate’s Wish picks up not long after The Assassin’s Curse ended. Given that these were originally one volume, the second book can’t really be read without reading the first beforehand. This review contains some spoilers for the first book. Blurb:
After setting out to break the curse that binds them together, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island in the north with nothing but a sword, their wits, and the secret to breaking the curse: complete three impossible tasks. With the help of their friend Marjani and a rather unusual ally, Ananna and Naji make their way south again, seeking what seems to be beyond their reach.
Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must still face the repercussions of going up against the Pirate Confederation. Together, Naji and Ananna must break the curse, escape their enemies — and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.
At the end of book one, we learnt what Naji must do to break the curse that binds him to Ananna. Now the two of them, plus Marjani and a new character I don’t want to spoil, need to complete Naji’s three impossible tasks. The story is full of action and adventure and Ananna kicking arse. Quite frankly, it’s a fun read.
My biggest qualm with book one was Ananna’s voice — first person pirate speak — which took me a while to get used to. I had a similar issue in The Pirate’s Wish but I got used to it much more quickly. I enjoyed the dialogue, however, between all the characters. And the new characters, most notably the one that features somewhere on the cover. Ahem. The other semi-issue I had with it was that one of the impossible tasks Naji must complete had a possible unsavoury resolution and I spent some time worrying about how it was going to come to pass. It didn’t go that way, but ultimately I didn’t like that it could have. (Although for some reason this didn’t occur to me when the tasks were given out at the end of the first book.)
Awesome female characters continue to be a strong point of the story. We learn more about Marjani and see Naji learn more leadership skills which I enjoyed. There is also a bit about the realities of piracy, which I thought was nice, instead of romanticising it too much. Not that it’s really gritty or particularly dark, but the reader does confront the fact that piracy involves stealing things and killing people.
Overall, The Pirate’s Wish (and The Assassin’s Curse) is an enjoyable, quick read. I recommend the series to any fantasy fans that like adventure and great female protagonists. And if you haven’t already, read my review of The Assassin’s Curse, in which I wax lyrical about navigation. And then go read the book.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Series: The Assassin’s Curse, book 2 or 2
Format read: eARC on my Kobo
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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Fairytales for Wilde Girls by Allyse Near
There’s a dead girl in a birdcage in the woods. That’s not unusual. Isola Wilde sees a lot of things other people don’t. But when the girl appears at Isola’s window, her every word a threat, Isola needs help.Isola can see ghosts and fairies and other magical beings and often roams the woods by her house. At first she reminded me a little bit of Luna Lovegood sans Hogwarts, but as we learn more about her we see that there is more to her character than meets the eye. Magical creatures aside, in the real world Isola has to deal with a severely depressed mother and an increasingly distant father. She goes to a nun-run school and has a few ordinary human friends but her struggles to cope with her aggressive haunting make her withdraw further into herself and away from her human friends.
Her real-life friends – Grape, James and new boy Edgar – make her forget for a while. And her brother-princes – the mermaids, faeries and magical creatures seemingly lifted from the pages of the French fairytales Isola idolises – will protect her with all the fierce love they possess.
It may not be enough.
Isola needs to uncover the truth behind the dead girl’s demise and appease her enraged spirit, before the ghost steals Isola’s last breath.
Fairytales for Wilde Girls is not a book to read quickly. Although it’s not that long, I found it took me longer to read than another book of comparable length might have because there is so much in it I had to pay careful attention to try to catch all the nuances. Isola has a particular attachment to a book of fairytales her mother used to read from when she was younger — darker fairytales than the usual Grimm and Andersen — and throughout the text we’re treated to several of the stories from that book. I’ve found those sorts of interludes jarring in other books, but in Fairytales for Wilde Girls they flowed and tied in with the overall story nicely. The transitions between contemporary teenage life (parties, mobile phones) and the magical world provided a change of pace that kept things fresh. This is a book I want to re-read at some point because I’m sure I’ll pick up on things I missed the first time through.
Near weaves some interesting social commentary through her story. Isola’s magical friends are brother-princes, including the female ones, because princes in stories are the ones who protect the princess. Quote:
Isola had never learnt to call them sisters — a sister was a wicked nun who smacked Mother’s hands, and a sister in a fairytale was almost always evil. And so, Ruslana, Christobelle and Rosekin had remained brother-princes to Isola.The fairytales Isola cherishes most tend not to be the kind where the princess needs rescuing, instead they are the kind of stories about girls who kill, and girls who are killed. They are more empowering to Isola than Disney-fied fairytales. Her Rapunzel isn’t rescued, but hangs herself with her hair. Those kinds of stories. Perhaps not a book for someone looking for a happy fluffy read.
Honestly my only complaint is that I would have liked to have seen a bit more resolution between Isola and her friend Grape. Things are sorted out between them, but the denouement focussed more on Edgar rather than Grape. Not that I had a problem with Edgar, but I sort of wanted to be reassured about Grape as well. Definitely not something which marred my overall enjoyment.
Allyse Near is an author to watch. I will not be surprised if Fairytales for Wilde Girls makes next year’s Aurealis shortlist. I look forward to seeing what Near writes in the future. I highly recommend Fairytales for Wilde Girls to all fans of dark fairytales and gothic fantasy. It’s not a terrifying read, but it is dark and there are definitely elements of horror throughout. Readers of YA and adult fantasy alike will find much to enjoy in this book.
5 / 5 stars
First published: June 2013, Random House Australia
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Aussie Horror Reading Challenge
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Tankborn by Karen SandlerShaheen recommended it, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Part of the blurb (last paragraph omitted because spoilers — why do publishers do that?):
Best friends Kayla and Mishalla know they will be separated for their Assignments. They are GENs, Genetically Engineered Non-humans, and in their strict caste system, GENs are at the bottom rung of society. GENs are gestated in a tank and sent to work as slaves as soon as they reach age fifteen.
When Kayla is Assigned to care for Zul Manel, the patriarch of a trueborn family, she finds secrets and surprises; not least of which is her unexpected friendship with Zul’s great-grandson. Meanwhile, the children that Mishalla is Assigned to care for are being stolen in the middle of the night.
The most prominent aspect of Tankborn is the rigid class structure that segregates the society. Natural-born humans are ranked from the rich, land-owning high-status trueborns down to the servant class low-borns. Beneath them all are the GENs — genetically engineered people with small amounts of animal DNA included in their make-up giving them extra talents and making them less than human. As one might expect with the main characters being GENs, a lot of the social commentary revolves around non-GENs being varying degrees of horrible to the GEN main characters. However, there’s definitely more to it than that.
For a start, the GENs have a different religion to trueborns. The trueborns follow a religion that is implicitly vaguely Christian (or at least monotheistic and involving worshipping a similar god), while the GEN religion involves worshipping the Infinite, who whispered to the prophets how to create GENs and whose plan for GENs involves servitude. It’s a case of using religion to control the masses, hardly a new idea, but not one that I think I’ve come across in YA. It was done well, even as it unravelled, and Sandler didn’t pull any punches.
She knew it was the Infinite’s will, that a GEN’s trial of servitude was the only way back to His hands.The GEN religion is very much based around keeping GENs in their place. A further example:
But liberation for GENs on Loka [their planet] would violate the Infinite’s laws. It would only be right for GENs to taste true freedom in the palm of the Infinite’s hand.And so forth.
As with any dystopia, we see the fabric of the society start to unravel, partially at the hands of our main characters. Despite this being the first book in a trilogy, I was pleased to see that it’s story was self-contained, hooks for the sequel notwithstanding, as I was half expecting the main action not to be resolved. Since book one merely described the first step in the (standard YA dystopian trend of) dismantling of society, I look forward to reading how it all progresses.
I had only two small peeves with Tankborn. The first is that both the romantic couples liked each other a little too suddenly and their relationships became serious a bit more quickly than I would have expected. I can see why it fit with the plot that way, but it did make me go “Hrm.”
The other thing is the technology. Tankborn is set on a colonised planet with the GENs being invented (for lack of a better word) some time after the colony had been established. (Incidentally, I hope we learn more about the colonisation process in the future books. I am deeply curious and would be disappointed if some form of Conspiracy didn’t surround colonisation.) So it’s a future where interstellar space travel has been perfected. But the technology they were using on the planet — aside from the GENs who had fancy artificial neural networks — consisted mainly of readers similar to iPads and smartphone-style wrist watches. Which isn’t exactly bad per se, but that’s kind of he level of technology we’re at now. It struck me as a bit unimaginative. On the other hand, the Author’s Note did mention that the story originated as a screenplay in the mid-80s, which could account for it.
All in all, Tankborn was a good read. I highly recommend it to fans of dystopias as well as fans of general science fiction. Although it’s marketed as YA, I see no reason for readers of all ages not to enjoy it.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, Tu Books
Series: Tankborn, book 1 (of 3?)
Format read: ebook on iPad
Source: US iTunes store (ebook not available outside of US, paper book only available as an import, as far as I can tell)
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School Spirits by Rachel HawkinsHex Hall, Demonglass / Raising Demons and Spellbound). You definitely don’t have to have read the Hex Hall books to enjoy this new series, however. The blurb:
Fifteen-year-old Izzy Brannick was trained to fight monsters. For centuries, her family has hunted magical creatures. But when Izzy’s older sister vanishes without a trace while on a job, Izzy’s mom decides they need to take a break.I enjoyed this book a great deal. Izzy’s inner monologue had me laughing out loud many times, particularly as she tries to work out how to be normal (often comparing the situations she finds herself in with a teen soap opera she bought as “research”). It had me from the first chapter, in which Izzy fights a vampire pretentious enough to wear body glitter (best Twilight jab I’ve read so far).
Izzy and her mom move to a new town, but they soon discover it’s not as normal as it appears. A series of hauntings has been plaguing the local high school, and Izzy is determined to prove her worth and investigate. But assuming the guise of an average teenager is easier said than done. For a tough girl who’s always been on her own, it’s strange to suddenly make friends and maybe even have a crush.
Can Izzy trust her new friends to help find the secret behind the hauntings before more people get hurt?
School Spirits has shades of typical new girl and new school YA, but with the twist that Izzy has never actually gone to a school before. And before moving to Ideal, Mississippi she didn’t even own a TV. So fitting in and pretending to be normal is slightly more of a (hilarious) challenge for her. And although Izzy doesn’t have any magic powers (other than an ability to sense magic/magical creatures) she does have a lot of skills that normal teenagers don’t. Like vampire fighting and a knowledge of ghosts.
On a side note, I liked the way the love interest plot line played out. There was mercifully no love triangle and while there wasn’t much mystery about which boy was in fact the love interest, it was enjoyable to watch it play out.
While most of School Spirits was light and fun reading, it took an unexpected serious turn at one point which added some depth and, dare I say, reality to the story. I can’t elaborate further without spoilers but for me it was that moment that took the novel from pure fun to something a bit more serious. Also, the ending was a bit unusual and I’m dying to see how that plays out in the sequels.
All in all, I found School Spirits quite an unputdownable read. It was fun, hilarious and over too soon. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for an enjoyable quick read and, of course, to fans of paranormal YA.
5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Disney Book Group (US edition — no word yet on UK/Aus release dates)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of ? (3?). Same world as the Hex Hall trilogy, but does not have to be read after Hex Hall.
Format read: eARC
Source: the publisher, via NetGalley
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The Eternity Cure by Julie KagawaThe Immortal Rules. The premise of the series is: when a virus threatens to wipe out humanity, vampires come out of hiding to protect their food supply and more or less set up “safe” areas where humans won’t die of the plague (which causes rabid zombie-like creatures) and can provide uncontaminated blood for their vampire protectors.
I enjoyed The Immortal Rules a lot. I thought the writing was cinematic with just the right amount of action and tension. By contrast, when I first picked up The Eternity Cure I was very disappointed. The writing was much more pedestrian and lacklustre. After about 60 pages I put it down and read something else. When I came back to it, about six weeks later, with severely lowered expectations, I found I was ultimately still able to enjoy the book. There were some descriptive and action passages which I found myself skimming over to get to the dialogue which was more enjoyable to read.
The mundanely written action scenes were a particular let-down since there was so much action in the story. And a lot of twists. It was nice to be surprised by expected developments but by the end there had been so many twists and turns, it was wearying. It did keep me turning the pages because the tension rarely let up, but many of the developments had me groaning.
On to more positive things! The worldbuilding and plot were well thought out. Every time I though “hang on, that doesn’t make sense” it would soon be explained how that particular element fit seamlessly into the plot/world. Although the ending sets us up for an obvious showdown in the last book, it also left me keen to find out how the worldbuilding questions will be resolved. (Will there be a cure for rabidism? Will humans be able to live independently from vampires on a large scale? Will Allison and friends indeed save the world?)
The characterisation was also well done. Allison continues to be a believable character and her angst about pretty much everyone else is justified and not angst for its own sake. The character that got the biggest rise out of me was Stick. In the first book, he was Allison’s friend pre-vampirification, but then things change. When we encounter him in The Eternity Cure, his new situation makes him a massive prat and I really wanted to bash him over the head with something every time he appeared. He was so frustrating! But getting an emotional rise (on purpose) is a mark of good character writing.
Unfortunately, unlike in The Immortal Rules, there weren’t any female characters other than Allison which was disappointing. Hopefully that will be remedied in the sequel.
I recommend The Eternity Cure to readers who enjoyed The Immortal Rules, with the caveat of not having overly high expectations. I think the story is worth continuing with despite some of this volume’s shortcomings. I am looking forward to reading the last book and seeing how everything turns out. For readers who haven’t picked up The Immortal Rules yet, I highly recommend doing so, particularly fans of vampires or dystopias who might be sick of the usual stuff.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: May 2013, Harlequin Teen Australia
Series: Blood of Eden, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Zenn Scarlett by Christian Schoonexoveterinarian — a vet for alien animals (although they do treat Earthly animals too).
Part of the blurb (which, in my opinion, is a bit too long and too detailed but could be worse):
Zenn Scarlett is a bright, determined, occasionally a-little-too-smart-for-her-own-good 17-year-old girl training hard to become an exoveterinarian. That means she’s specializing in the treatment of exotic alien life forms, mostly large and generally dangerous. Her novice year of training at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars will find her working with alien patients from whalehounds the size of a hay barn to a baby Kiran Sunkiller, a colossal floating creature that will grow up to carry a whole sky-city on its back.
Zenn lives in a sort of veterinary abbey with her uncle, a nun and a small number of other workers. I wasn’t entirely clear why there was a religious order dedicated to caring for alien life forms, but I hope we’ll learn more about that in the sequel. Most of the other characters, namely the townspeople, where the abbey was set apart from the town, were very irritating. In a good way, from a writing point of view, but in a very “need a good slap in the face for being a bunch of red neck xenophobic hicks” way. A lot of the tension in the novel arose from the townies being afraid of aliens and barely tolerating the abbey’s continuing presence, even when the vets were actively helping them with their own pets and livestock.
In some ways, I felt the story didn’t tackle the issues of xenophobia and tolerance deeply enough. For a start, it wasn’t until a good way into the story that we learnt why there were so many hicks on Mars — it was used as a transportation colony — a point which rather baffled me up until then. To some extent, it boiled down a bit too much to “good guys nice to animals” vs “bad guys hate the good guys” although it did get more complex towards the end.
A lot of things about Zenn Scarlett improved towards the end. I felt the writing grew more readable as we went along, particularly since there were so many flashbacks near the start. I was also gratified that there wasn’t a very long gap between my guessing a plot point and it being revealed in the text. The last quarter or so was full of excitement, albeit the very end, after the main climax, culminated in a very frustrating cliff hanger, however. Frustrating because I could see it coming when there weren’t nearly enough pages to resolve new events. I want to read the sequel cliff hanger or not, but there’s something slightly soul-crushing about the looming inevitability of not having a proper resolution at the end. (I think I prefer the kind of cliff hangers that sneak up on you… or softer ones with less in the balance.)
I feel like I need to comment on the science in Zenn Scarlett, since that’s my thing. I can’t say much about the biology because that’s not my area, but as the blurb suggests, almost all the animals involved were quite giant. If they were on Earth I’d be questioning the biophysical plausibility, but with Mars’s lower gravity, there’s more chance of them being OK. There was one slightly creative physics moment that had be heckling the page, but in the scheme of things, it could have been much worse (it could also have been better justified…).
All in all, Zenn Scarlett was a fun read. I recommend it to fans of YA science fiction. I want to say it’s good for fans of something a little different, but I have to admit there were aspects which reminded me a little of Avatar (the James Cameron movie), more thematically than literally. I’m not sure I’ve read any YA on a similar theme, however. Anyway, fans of aliens and alien creatures in their SF will also enjoy this book, I think. I look forward to reading the sequel.
4 / 5 stars
First published: (early) May 2013, Strange Chemistry (Angry Robot)
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 2?
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: the publisher via NetGalley
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Emilie and the Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie and the Hollow World by Martha Wells is the latest offering out from Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that I’ve loved almost everything Strange Chemistry have put out, and Emilie and the Hollow World is no exception. A blurb excerpt:
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.This is a first and foremost an adventure novel with a large dose of exploration thrown in. It’s maybe the sort of thing Jules Verne would have written if he’d written YA in modern language and had a tendency to include subtle feminist commentary (so, OK, not that similar to Jules Verne except for the exploration and adventure part). It’s also a more steampunkish setting, with magic and aether currents powering the vessels which travel to the inner world — the one on the inside surface of the planet’s sphere.
Emilie was a great character. She constantly compares her current situation with books (always nice to have something in common with the main character) and she takes the dangerous and outlandish situations in which she finds herself in stride. I also appreciated that she didn’t have a particularly morbid and depressing reason for running away from her aunt and uncle, but also that her reason wasn’t too trivial. She had a proper plan when she set out that could have worked if things hadn’t gone awry.
This is above all a fun read. If tales of adventure and exploration of exotic and completely unknown lands appeal to you, give it a shot. Equally, if you’re looking for lady adventuresses and some of the opposition they might face (mild sexism, nothing too hideous although a few of the male characters said and did punch-worthy things, in my opinion), definitely give this a shot. As well as Emilie, there’s also Miss Marlende, the adult daughter of a scientist-explorer who takes Emilie under her wing, and Rani one of the inner-world people, who seem to have different ideas about women and their place (whereas the outer-world people’s opinions are similar to real-world Victorian times, more or less).
I’m rather excited to discover that there’s another Emilie book in the works, Emilie and the Sky World, due out next year. I did feel the first book set things up nicely for an indefinitely long series of adventures with Emilie. That said, it stands alone perfectly well if series aren’t your thing (but I’m usually a fan of getting more of a good thing).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: April 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes! Book 1 with more to come, but reads as a standalone.
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley
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Caszandra by Andrea K HöstStray and Lab Rat One — before reading the rest of this review (and ideally, reading the first two books themselves too). The series is about Cass, a Sydney girl, who accidentally falls through a tear in reality onto another planet, meets psychic space ninjas, and discovers that she has some powers of her own.
Caszandra picks up where Lab Rat One left off. Which is good because there was a bit of a relationshippy cliffhanger at the end of the previous book. Cass’s relationship with Ruuel (now called Kaoren, his first name) progresses quite quickly in terms of seriousness, which made me a bit wary at first, but which turned out for the best in terms of story telling, I’ve decided. Another related aspect, which I don’t want to be explicit about because spoilers, also made me a little uncomfortable, bu ultimately I think that was more due to my own dissimilarity to Cass as a person than anything else.
Caszandra continues the overarching plot well established in the earlier books: learning about Cass’s power, fighting monsters and trying to learn about Muina’s past. Muina being the planet Cass was first transported to and which had remained inaccessible to the alien people for a thousand years until she came along. This book ups the danger levels and the stakes. The Setari (psychic space ninjas) and Cass were always trying to protect people but in the lead up to the conclusion, the urgency for definitive world-saving becomes extreme. And, unsurprisingly, Cass continues to almost die in new and exciting ways.
The climax might have lost a smidge of tension due to the diary nature of the narrative — we knew Cass survived because she told us about it all being over before regaling us with the tale. However it was still all very dramatic and didn’t loose any world-saving oomph. The end was satisfying in tying everything up nicely and I think other fans of the series will approve. (And for readers that want more, there’s always the Gratuitous Epilogue, which I admit to skimming and reading the last chapter of.)
I don’t recommend reading Caszandra without reading Stray and Lab Rat One fist. However, I can’t imagine why readers who enjoyed the first two wouldn’t go on to the final volume. I enjoyed this series a lot and I will definitely be reading more of Höst’s books in the future.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2011, self-published
Series: Touchstone, book 3 of three
Format read: ebook on my iThings
Source: Purchased from Smashwords
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge, Australian Science Fiction Reading Challenge
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