Hunting by Andrea K HöstAnd All the Stars, The Touchstone Trilogy), Hunting is definitely fantasy, not science fiction. The blurb was what really got me keen to read this one:
Ash Lenthard doesn’t call herself a vigilante. She’s merely prone to random acts of derring-do, and occasional exhibitions of tomfoolery. Her friends, the Huntsmen, have never stepped over the line while patrolling the streets of Luinhall.
That was before the murder of Ash’s beloved guardian, Genevieve.
Now, Ash Lenthard is out for blood and even when the hunt sends her to the palace, on a collision course with a past identity she would do anything to forget, Ash cannot, will not, back down.
I have to say, when I first started reading, I was a little bit disappointed. Not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t as funny as the blurb sounded like it would be. Mostly, this is because things start on a sombre note, with Ash’s aunt dying and Ash’s circumstances being turned on their head. It wasn’t boring, it just wasn’t what I expected. But then! From about the halfway point it really picked up and I found myself laughing out loud several times. I enjoyed the second half a lot more. (If I rated them separately, I’d give the first half 4 stars and the second half 5 stars.)
Ash is a runaway who dresses as a boy. Before the opening of Hunting she was living with Genevieve, a herbalist who took her in when she was younger (she’s now 20 but dresses as a 17 year old boy). When Genevieve is killed, Ash swears vengeance but isn’t allowed to go at it alone, partly because others think she’s an underage boy. She is taken in by a foreign noble, Thornaster, who is investigating a spate of herbalist murders, and becomes his page-like servant. A lot of the humour comes from the banter and interactions between Ash and Thornaster, and there were some very amusing moments. I also liked that Höst didn’t make Thornaster a strict or cruel person, because that would have changed the overall tone of Hunting significantly.
The world Höst has built is detailed and not limited to the one city most of the action takes place in. It was a little tricky at first to keep all the places and titles straight in my head and I think the earlier parts of the book could have been improved with more backstory/descriptions. On the other hand, the full details of Ash’s past don’t come to light for a while, and I quite liked the circumstances in which the full story was revealed (and of course I had some idea of what was coming from hints earlier on).
An aspect I particularly liked was the way in which so many little threads all came together in the end. There were some things which I took in stride as “just” being part of the set-up or backstory which turned out to be relevant to the main story. Hard to say more on this without spoilers. Also, a small thing but the fact that the main character’s mentor was female not male was gratifying. And even though Ash was a girl dressed as a boy in a male-dominated society, there were actual other good female characters in the story (and only one of them was a laundry maid) who showed us other roles women could play in the society without having to dress as a man.
There was one particular aspect of worldbuilding that I found quite fascinating and that was the matter of religion. The gods in the world of Hunting are associated with the sun and moon (the two main gods) and planets (the minor gods which aren’t important). When people die, one of three things happens: their soul goes straight to heaven carried by the sun god’s butterflies, their soul is taken by the moon god’s moths for cleansing before later going on to heaven or the gods decide the person’s soul is beyond redemption and they’re damned — trapped on the mortal coil indefinitely, before eventually deteriorating into nothing. Somewhat painfully. What this means is that after you die, assuming you don’t die alone where no one finds you quickly enough, everyone knows what the gods ultimately thought of you. There was one character who was a horrible person and, as part of the backstory, was damned when he died. The repercussions on the family members that survived him, who generally weren’t terrible people, were not insignificant. This aspect made me think a lot about how people might change or police their behaviour if they knew there were real afterlife consequences for them. Food for thought.
Finally, there was a romantic storyline but it didn’t start until a good chunk of the way in. I liked that there were several possible love-interests and that it wasn’t until Ash realised she had a crush on someone that I knew which way it would go.
I ended up enjoying Hunting a lot and, as the length of this review may suggest, getting more out of it than I necessarily expected. I recommend it to fans of fantasy, particularly the kind of fantasy that is confined to one city. I’m tempted to call it “ye olde urban fantasy”. I think readers of Tamora Pierce’s earlier books (I haven’t read her later stuff) will also enjoy it, although I admit my reasoning may start and end with the “girl dressed as a boy” element.
4.5 / 5 stars
Series: No. Although there would be scope for another book in the same world.
Format read: ePub on iPad
Source: Review copy courtesy of the author
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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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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Rise of the Fallen by Teagan Chilcott
Appearing as students at a local Brisbane high school, Emilie and Cael are centuries-old elementals on the run. Their inseparable bond starts to fray when Soul, an irresistible demon, comes on the scene and Emilie follows him into the savage world where she and Cael were once kept captive.
Emilie is enchanted by Soul and a new existence where nothing is sacred - where death comes in the alleyway and graveyard brawls are commonplace - and she has to find her way among the shape shifters and vampyres in a demon hierarchy as complex as algebra. At first Soul’s intentions seem honourable, but Emilie soon finds that all is not as it seems…
I haven’t had a particularly good track record with books featuring angels. Happily, Chilcott does not fall into the trap that other authors have with the portrayal of the angels (although the angels don’t get nearly as much page time as the demons, what they did get didn’t annoy me, so yay).
However, I didn’t find Emilie the most endearing of characters. At the very start she struck me as a bit stupid and I felt like she was relying on Cael and Soul to dictate her life for her. Fortunately, as I got to know Emilie better, I came to realise that wasn’t quite true. It turns out she’s just hideously naive, which caused a bit of face-palming but was generally less bothersome. I never quite understood what she saw in Soul though and why she kept following him around when she didn’t really have to. At first I thought magic, but by the end that definitely wasn’t true. Possibly it just took a lot of him doing morally reprehensible things to knock the naive out of her. In any case, it didn’t quite feel like romance to me. Emilie is very quickly convinced that Soul cares about her and loves her, and while that is evident in his actions, I couldn’t see a reason for her to want to be with him. At least a relationship with Cael would have been based on long-standing mutual trust. Not one for dedicated romance fans.
Which brings me to the writing. It was a bit rough. I felt character — particularly relationships between characters — was not very well developed and some of the conversations were stilted. I was a bit baffled by some of Emilie’s actions, despite her explaining some of them to us. There could have been more descriptions of setting, particularly the more mundane Earthly settings, to ground some of the action. Overuse of “seemed” and “strangely enough” and other adverbs was grating although it did improve as it went along.
The ending was strong, setting up the next book in the series well. I read that the last chapter was what inspired the author to write the book, and looking back, I can see how everything was leading up to that point. It was definitely the most clearly drawn scene.
I think teens looking for a quick adventure story might enjoy Rise of the Fallen, particularly if they’re into paranormal fantasy. It will be interesting to see how Chilcott’s writing develops in the future.
3 / 5 stars
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge
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Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman
The split worlds if the series title are the normal world (called Mundanus), Exilium, which is where the Fae live and follows usual fairyland rules, and the Nether, which is a semi-magical place between the other two worlds. Certain families of humans live in the Nether and are able to wield limited magic and age very slowly. Their society is old fashioned and vaguely Victorian.
Cathy is a scion of one of these families but she ran away to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage and generally treated like chattel. She was living in real world Manchester until events conspired, near the start of the novel, to drag her back into the Nether. I liked Cathy, mostly because she’s quite practical (flushing toilets are useful!) in her approach to both worlds and her place in them. Her main goal is always to escape, but it never felt at all selfish as it could have in another book.
I also liked how all the men living in the society had similar views and her (and everyone’s) place in life, even the nice ones. A common trap is making the sympathetic make characters implausibly feminist in a society which doesn’t really have the appropriate frame work in place. While I didn’t exactly enjoy the character’s I liked holding old-fashioned views, it made sense, and I enjoyed that and the accompanying conflicting emotions.
There are three of four (depending on how you count) story lines in Between Two Thorns and I found myself enjoying reading about each of the characters. My favourite was Cathy, but I also liked Max, the sort of soulless, sort of policeman who became embroiled in the main dramatic problem that arose. I had no idea how Cathy’s plot would intertwine with his until it came to pass.
My only complaint is that Between Two Thorns is very much book one of a series. Once the main action had passed and the mystery solved (with some questions left unanswered and some hints of deeper conspiracies yet to be addressed), I wasn’t quite sure exactly where the book would end. Unfortunately, it was on a cliffhanger. Not a particularly dramatic one (no actual cliffs), but bad enough to make me try to turn the page thinking there was more. It was an excellent book, but I wished it had ended in a slightly different spot. I will definitely be reading the next book to find out what happens.
Between Two Thorns is an excellent read and I highly recommend it to fantasy fans looking for something a bit different, particularly in the form of merging modern day settings with fantasy worlds. It’s a concept that’s been done on paper, but Newman does it differently. I keenly await the next instalment.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: March 2013, Angry Robot
Series: The Split Worlds, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: The publisher via NetGalley
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Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black
Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black is a YA novel featuring the (imaginary) New York Ballet Academy and a demon.
Vanessa’s sister Margaret, three years older than her, went to aforementioned dance academy and, shortly before she was supposed to play the lead in the school’s production of The Firebird, she disappeared. The school told her parents she had run away or that she might be dead. Vanessa doesn’t believe Margaret would have run away, though, nor does she believe she’s dead. A ballerina like her sister, Vanessa applies to the same school Margaret disappeared from to try to find out what happened to her sister.
I had a few problems with this book. The first was that it moved a little slowly. From the start, it’s fairly clear to the reader that something supernatural and probably demonic is going on. And it takes Vanessa ages to see it. I get that it’s realistic to try to accept mundane explanations for what’s going on, but that doesn’t make for more exciting reading. I stress that it wasn’t boring, I enjoyed the peek into the world of dance (it reminded me a little bit of the girls in Bunheads crossed with <insert dance school movie here>), but the plot definitely moved slowly. There were some scenes which probably should have been compressed or cut because, even looking back, I can’t work out what their purpose was.
A bonus is there was no love triangle. The romantic elements were a bit confusing though. When she arrives, a freshman, Vanessa is immediately enamoured with the attractive senior lead dancer. That’s fine, it makes sense for her to crush on him, especially after he sprinkles a bit of attention her way and takes her out on a date (like, the day after he breaks up with his girlfriend). But later, when it’s blindingly obvious there’s something weird going on with him she STILL doesn’t see it and makes poor decisions which put everyone else in danger.
Vanessa isn’t a particularly active heroine. She is actively trying to find her sister and at times does take the initiative, but when it came to the crunch, she was a bit too passive for my liking (that and aforesaid poor decisions).
(Side note: the magic system/style in this is practised by necrodancers, lol.)
I enjoyed the journey the narrative took us on. I’m not an avid fan of dance or ballet, but I enjoyed reading about that aspect. I suspect fans of performance schools stories would enjoy that aspect, too. The prose was fairly competently written just, as I said earlier, a bit slow. The finally thing that bothered me was that the lead into book two (of a planned trilogy) felt really tacked on. Perhaps it was planned as a trilogy from the beginning, but I think it would have worked better and more powerfully as a standalone. (Also, as a stand alone some of the more baffling elements would have, by necessity, not been present.) Would that the YA spec fic industry didn’t suffer from trilogyitis.
I would recommend Dance of Shadows to YA fans interested in a slightly different setting. The speculative elements are most prominent towards the end, but when they come, you can’t pretend they’re not there. A warning for readers who don’t like that sort of thing. (But then, why are you reading this blog?) I enjoyed reading the book, but I’m not sure I’ll feel compelled to pick up the next book when it’s released. Maybe if it has a really exciting blurb.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2012, Bloomsbury UK & ANZ
Series: Dance of Shadows, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
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The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead
The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead is the third instalment in her Bloodlines series. You can read my review of the second book, The Golden Lily, here. This review contains minor spoilers for the earlier books in the series.
Sydney the Alchemist in charge of the small group protecting a teenaged moroi vampire (the living and not evil kind of vampire) who happens to be the moroi queen’s half sister. In the course of hiding incognito at a human school, many minor crises have popped up for Sydney to deal with. The Indigo Spell is no different. In fact, it continues to build on the events of the earlier books, adding layers of plot which will probably stick around in future books.
It’s not something I noticed when I read The Golden Lily, but from the first book, Bloodlines, Mead has been adding background plot elements which have persisted in the subsequent books with more relevance than the main (fairly self-contained) action. Arguably, the main plot of The Indigo Spell is the plot line that leads to the climax but there is so much else going on — in a good way — that one could argue for another thread being the most important. The world throws a lot of mostly urgent stuff at Sydney and, in true Sydney fashion, she manage to balance all the emergencies at once.
The Indigo Spell focusses heavily on Sydney’s issues with the Alchemists, secrets and magic, with some significant contributions from Adrian and Ms T the history teacher witch. But the other characters aren’t forgotten about. I liked how Mead had them running up to Sydney with their problems every few chapters and, even though Sydney didn’t spend much time fixing them, it let us keep up with what they were doing.
The set-up from the end of the previous book pays off well (ambiguity to avoid spoilers). One of the complaints I had about The Golden Lily (which I apparently forgot to mention in my review) was that Sydney failed to notice/work out a few obvious things until it was more convenient to the plot because she was so busy with everything else. I felt that again in The Indigo Spell, but to a lesser extent. This time it was only one thing she didn’t realise until later and there were better plot reasons for it. On the other hand, another thing I was expecting her to make the connection regarding didn’t happen at all but I can only assume it will come out in a future book. Or maybe I’m guessing wrong. Ambiguous paragraph is ambiguous. Sorry.
I think The Indigo Spell can be enjoyed by itself, but works better as part of the series read sequentially. I recommend it to fans of YA who have enjoyed Richelle Mead’s other books or who are looking for something a little bit different from a book that also involves vampires. I eagerly await the next instalment (especially after the set-up dropped in at the end — plenty of room for new shenanigans!).
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2013, Penguin Australia
Series: Bloodlines, book 3 of ?
Format read: eARC, on Kobo
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Harbinger by Peta Crake
Harbinger is Peta Crake’s debut novel out from Penguin Australia’s Destiny Romance imprint in August. A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher through Netgalley.
Ophelia is a modern Perth girl with a job that sends her travelling a lot: she’s one of the messengers of the gods. All the gods of all the pantheons. Mostly, the gods don’t trust technology (ever since Loki hacked the internet and bugged their phones), so they communicate through hand delivered messages. Never mind that Ophelia has no special powers and is forced to drive or hop on a plane at their every whim.
For some reason, I was expecting Harbinger to be a YA paranormal romance. It wasn’t. Ophelia is in her mid-twenties, hence too old for YA, and while there are romantic elements, they’re not central to the main plot. Instead, this is an entertaining read with lots of good banter and mysterious happenings.
There’s something going on with the gods, Ophelia soon comes to realise. It has something to do with her, but no one will tell her what or why. Instead she’s taunted, tortured and kept in the dark. Eventually all is revealed but in the meantime it’s a frustrating and painful world for Ophelia.
I liked Ophelia as a character mostly because she was so (comparatively) normal. She got kicked around by the gods and then she picked herself up and kept going, because what else could she do? My only issue in terms of plot was that it seemed she was a bit too tortured to survive as sanely as she did. It seemed a bit too much at times, although it made sense in the context of the story.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. There were some laugh-out-loud moments coming from the banter and some of the less life-threatening situations Ophelia finds herself in. Although Harbinger stands alone, I would probably read any potential sequels or other unrelated books by Crake. I look forward to seeing what she writes in the future.
3.5 / 5 stars
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
City of Lost Souls is the fifth book in Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. You can read my reviews of the rest of the series at these links:
City of Lost Souls continues to follow Clary and Shadowhunter friends as they (mostly) fight the good fight and try to stop demons destroying the world.
I enjoyed City of Lost Souls much more than the previous book, Fallen Angels, which fell a bit flat for me. It picks up immediately where the story left off in book 4, and I was worried it would be more of the same in a bad way. But it wasn’t. I spent a lot of time shaking my head at Clary’s poor decisions but they were entirely in keeping with her character and none of them were overly stupid (something I hate), just risky.
In the previous book, I started to warm to Simon, Clary’s best friend, after being fairly ambivalent towards him in the original trilogy. He continues to increase in awesomeness, as do most of the Team Good (hehe) characters, with the exception of Alec to whom I was previously ambivalent and now spoilers. Perhaps it’s just that Alec dulls in comparison with Magnus, who had the most amusing lines in this one.
Vague review is vague, but it’s difficult to review a book 5 without spoilers for previous books. I have enjoyed this series (admittedly not as much as the prequel series set in 1870s London) and I highly recommend it to fans of urban fantasy YA. This is the only series featuring angels that I’ve read which hasn’t annoyed me with its religiosity. (Also, it has a Jewish vampire, what’s not to like?) If demon killing and humour sound like they might be your thing (kind of Buffy-style humour, although Clary and Buffy aren’t that similar), give the Mortal Instruments series a go.
4.5 / 5 stars