The Wheel of Osheim

Title: The Wheel of Osheim

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: All the horrors of Hell stand between Snorri Ver Snagason and the rescue of his family, if indeed the dead can be rescued.

For Jalan Kendeth, getting out alive and with Loki’s key is all that matters. The key can open any lock an possession of it may enable Jal to return to the three Ws that have been the core of his debauched life: wine, women and wagering.

But the Wheel of Osheim is turning ever faster, and it will crack the world unless it’s stopped. When the end of all things looms, and there’s nowhere to run, even the worst coward must find new answers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: From my review of the previous book in this series, The Liar’s Key:

“[I’m] very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.”

Let me tell you… I was not disappointed.

Jalan is just… one of my favourite characters ever, actually. His self-deception is like nothing I’ve ever seen. He’s convinced himself he’s a coward who’d give up his nearest and dearest to save his own skin, while continuing to never, ever do that, and he’s just so likeable for it. Seeing him really, truly come into his own and show people what he’s capable of (even if he’s not one of those people) was satisfying to see. And Snorri… the big, beautiful, bozo that is Snorri. Continuing to see and believe only the best in Jal, being so righteous and noble and good, and just having the biggest heart and the loudest roar.

The friendship between Jal and Snorri really shines in this book, after seeing them bond over so many adventures in the previous books. And the fact that they’re not together for a portion of the book only made me appreciate their interactions and how they work together all the more. It also was wonderful having some of Snorri’s story when he was alone, and getting to see what Snorri really thinks of Jal and no i did not tear up with happiness about it, shut up.

Unfortunately Kara and Hennan still feeling too much like tacked on extras and plot devices, rather than fully realised characters. Kara still comes across as very suspicious and not wholly likable, which disappointed me. Hennan is too quiet and not utilised in enough (or in any?) ways until he proves useful towards the climax of the book (see: plot device). It was nice getting to appreciate more characters that had been painted as worthless or horrible by Jal, most notably the genuine connection Jal finally recognises and acknowledges with his father and brothers. The Red Queen continues to be a kick arse and formidable woman, along with her twin siblings. I loved Jal letting his mouth run, standing up to her and instead of giving her the key, giving her what for! The sudden respect that earns him from her, and how that leads and affects the rest of the story is brilliant.

Talking of the story… it is non-stop. What Liar’s Key lacked in a plot to keep the book moving, this book improved on tenfold. There is never a dull moment… almost to the point of wanting a dull moment. Almost. It was unnerving at first, Jal reappearing from Hell without Snorri and no explanation. I was worried about Snorri until his magnificent reappearance that literally had me whooping. There was just no let up… Jal’s meeting with Jorg, his rescue of Lisa, how he conclusively dealt with Maeres Allus, how he earned everyone’s respect by being a freaking incredible general (after convincing himself he’d done a half-arsed job of it up until they were attacked)… just. So much. And that’s only in the first half.

There was a lot packed into this book, and even though I knew there would be confrontations for Jal with Edris Dean and his Unborn sister… when they came they surprised me. With so much going on I stopped thinking about what might happen and just needed to keep reading to actually find out. I was a bit ‘meh’ on the ending of Lawrence’s first series The Broken Empire, but this one was brilliant. It was satisfying with enough possibility to keep me guessing. It had relief without compromising on emotion and genuinely high stakes. It was pretty perfect.

Other than the witty, clever, and endlessly quotable writing, the genre of these book is my absolute favourite thing about them. It’s a perfect science fiction and fantasy meld. I love it. Set a thousand years after a nuclear war that happens in our conceivable future, it hints at a history and technology the characters don’t fully understand. I had so much fun trying to figure out what Jal was describing, because they don’t have a clue. A white cube with “ghosts” inside. The builder’s wheel that’s been turning all this time and bringing magic into the world. And my personal favourite… a freaking iron pineapple!! This is such a good, niche genre, and I want 100 more books written in this vein immediately.

I read this book in a week which, along with Prince of Thorns, is the quickest I’ve read any of the books in either series. I could barely stop reading it, and when I did I was only thinking about reading it. It’s incredible how everything ties up with The Broken Empire series and I really want to re-read both series with the insight I now have. Of course, who has time for that when I need to be getting on with the next series?

The Liar’s Key

Title: The Liar’s Key

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave.

For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hel to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: I read and loved Prince of Fools last year, and I was determined to read this series quicker than I managed to read The Broken Empire series. Which is why The Liar’s Key was the first book i picked up this year. Lawrence’s writing is always clever and an effortless mix of humour and heart. This book was no different.

Our main character, Jalan, was just as much a delightful prick as he was in the first book. Self-declared squeamish coward, but with so much self-deceit he almost has no idea who he really is. He continues to do brave and noble things, while convincing himself he’s selfishly just trying to make his own life easier. I kind of adore him. Snorri is… still very much Snorri. Self-assured, headstrong, and… the regular kind of strong. Dragging his friends across Europe on a dangerous quest to open the door to Hel and find his dead family. Tuttugu i didn’t remember clearly from the first book, but i adored in this book. A kind, soft heart following his countryman and friend into dangerous situations because it’s the right thing to do.

We also get a couple of new characters. Kara, a witch who joins their journey and helps them along the way, but who clearly has something to hide. I loved having a main female character join the group, and i loved her immunity to Jal’s “charms” and advances. Her secrets and unclear motivations were intriguing, but also made me wary of her. Hennan, a young boy they pick up almost randomly and pointlessly along the way… for a long time he was a bit part, barely speaking and adding nothing to the plot. But he grew on me by the end.

Now, this book took me the entirety of January to read. That’s not usual. Most other of Lawrence’s books i’ve finished in 2-3 weeks. But this one… this one took a while to really get going for me. The first half… nothing really happens. Nothing of larger consequence, anyway. It’s a meander. A travel blog. They get into some hairy situations, meet a few folk along the way… but there is nothing significant driving the plot. Only Snorri’s desire to use the key to open the door to Hel and find his family… which isn’t shared by our main character… or any other character. This led to there not being much drive for me to pick up the book to keep reading. I still read regularly, but I didn’t read much each time–only one chapter or less.

I really enjoyed Jal’s dream-jaunts into his family’s past. Seeing his grandmother, the Red Queen, as a young girl so ruthless and ready for action. His great aunt and uncle by their sister’s side, the three of them an almost unstoppable force, even at such a young age. Those snippets gave Jal and the reader so much more information about the war being fought, the motivations, and actions, and just how long the game has been in play.

It wasn’t until about halfway through that things really seemed to pick up some. When their journey brought them to Red March, and Jal saw his home town as the end of his travels. Of course, as the reader, it was obviously anything but. But seeing him trying to slip back into his old life, while finding nothing quite the same as it was and not deriving the same pleasures from it… that was brilliant to watch unfold. The story culminates in Florence, and the last 200 pages were where this book really shone for me–I couldn’t read those last 10 chapters quick enough!

As much as a lot of this book seemed too slow and meandering, it ended on such a high, with a great final showdown of wits and smarts and conversation. It has me very keen to read the last in The Red Queen’s War series. I hope Jal continues to acknowledge his own skills, courage, and caring. I hope he and Snorri get into some wonderfully dangerous adventures. I hope he kills Edris Dean with his own goddamn sword. I hope he just generally saves the fucking day, honestly.

Prince of Fools

Title: Prince of Fools

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: I’m a liar and a cheat and a coward, but I will never, ever, let a friend down. Unless of course not letting them down requires honesty, fair play or bravery.

The Red Queen is dreaded by the kings of the Broken Empire as they dread no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendreth–womaniser, gambler and all-out cad–is tenth in line to the thrown. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures.

Until, that is, he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axeman, and dragged against his will to the icy north…

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: After loving Lawrence’s first series set in The Broken Empire, of course i was going to read the second. I’m just surprised it took me so long.

I just really love this setting. This is a fantasy story, with necromancers, magic, and horse riding… but it’s set in a Europe that’s 1000 years post a nuclear war. There’s a trusty map at the start of the book, but the shapes and names are recognisable and familiar. I get so much more into the world of this book, knowing it’s this world–or at least, what this would could become. It has fantasy themes and tropes, but when they are set in a foundation of speculative science (pseudo as it is), it excites and interests me infinitely more that straight fantasy.

Almost immediately i was reminded just how brilliant Lawrence’s writing is. It reads as if it was effortlessly written (though was no doubt anything but), with quick wit and turns of phrase dropped is so smoothly it might slip past without you noticing. But i loved to notice. At least once in every page or two was a sentence or a paragraph that stood out as just damn good writing. I underlined and posted to tumblr so many quotes. Also had to stop and read several out to my partner, who didn’t really care but indulged me anyway.

So okay, the characters. There are two main characters: Jalan and Snorri. I adored them both. Snorri the affable and imposing Norseman, making friends just as easily as he breaks bones. He’s both the more serious and the more light-hearted of the two. And Jal, our anti-hero of sorts. I found him fascinating. A self-proclaimed coward and damn proud of it. He gets himself into the stickiest of situations but always finds a way to slip himself right out of them. He constantly tells himself he needs to find a way to get out of the mission he finds himself on, to get home to his creature comforts, but never seems to try very hard at all. He’s an excellent liar, and the most successful of his lies is convincing himself he’s a coward.

“I’m a good liar. A great one. And to be a great liar you have to live your lies, to believe them, to the point that when you tell them to yourself enough times even what’s right before your eyes will bend itself to the falsehood.”

The plot itself is simple enough. A journey across land and across sea, with a few highs, lows, and adventures along the way. The more important journeys are the personal ones, the ones that see the characters develop and bond and bloom. Considering the scope of this world and aspects of the plot, this is very much a character-driven story. And i’m totally on board with that.

There is are a couple of chapters that have a direct overlap with The Broken Empire series. These books are set at the same time, and here we meet Jorg and his brothers returning home to Ancrath. As much as i loved seeing these characters again–and from a completely new point of view–it seemed to drag a little. Jal and Snorri’s stop over in Ancrath felt a little too contrived, just so the crossover could happen. In the end it added little to either timeline, and i’d’ve much preferred a fleeting and memorable encounter with the Brothers on the road.

But yes, love. I loved it. I want to start the second book in the series immediately, but i’m going to hold off for a few books. Long enough to build some excitement and suspense, but not so long that i’ve forgotten all the details. I would really love more people to read these books, but i fear not enough people enjoy fantasy, or would enjoy this fantasy for the same reasons i do. Alas, i will love them all to myself.

The City Of Mirrors

Title: The City of Mirrors

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: All is quiet in the world. The Twelve have been destroyed, and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon civilization has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew–and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy–humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I went into this book with trepidation. I completely, utterly, five-out-of-five stars loved the previous two books in this series (The Passage and The Twelve), but i had heard of quite a few people really disliking the third and final book. So i cracked the spine with hope in my heart, but fully prepared for disappointment. Either way, i was half right.

This review is, in a word, long. It is also full of spoilers–i couldn’t express my roller coaster of emotions without talking about every damn turn in ride, i’m afraid. So read on at your own peril.

Things started out strong. Reuniting with these characters i have followed and loved over the first two books, discovering what becomes of them over the few years since the end of The Twelve, and finding the strings of where this book will take them. I loved it so far. I also really enjoyed the section of the book given over to Zero, Timothy Fanning, our antagonist’s tale of his back story. Told in the first person, he goes all the way back to his childhood, starting college, losing touch with his family and making a new one with his friends. I got lost in his story, and grew quickly fond of these new (and old…) characters. It was super interesting to discover how the virus had come about, and what people’s goals and motivations had been, even years before it happened. This was, however, also where the first crack appeared in my hope, allowing my disappointment to slip in. With Fanning’s history comes the slap in the face that everything–the entire apocalyptic mess–happened because of a love story. That just… annoys me, honestly. A man falls in love, it’s complicated, there’s a tragedy or two, and then he kills everyone. The moral of this story to me? Men are crazy dangerous and women should never fall in love with one.

The next section of the book skips ahead about 20-25 years, with our main protagonists now middle aged, and their children all grown up with children of their own. And honestly, this part… just… dragged. There was too much of the daily grind, people going about their every days, and too many characters i haven’t seen grow up and have nothing invested in. Action and excitement and development was severely lacking, and really i think the book as a whole would have benefited if we had jumped into the story at this part, with short forays back to see how they came to this point. Juxtapositioning the time lines as well as character- and plot-development that way would have kept the whole thing more interesting.

When things did kick off, with the virals finally making a reappearance and everything going to pot, my enthusiasm returned full force and i was ready for the rest of the book to be action-packed and making up for any lull in the narrative. And for a while, it did. The attacks on the city, the ambush, and the mad dash to the Bergensfjord. That was an example of this book’s story at its best, and i didn’t want to stop reading.

Despite loving the story at this point, there were other things i wasn’t enjoying so much. Plot is only a part of what makes a good book–the characters play a hefty part as well. Unfortunately, by this time, some were starting to wear on me. I’ve never been Peter’s biggest fan, but he was so blind to so much and making the wrong choices–i was left with very little sympathy or patience for him. The characters i did like were not in it enough–Greer, Michael, Lore, Amy. And even Amy sarted to frustrate me, when more and more of her love story with Peter is revealed. No matter how you spin it, she’s over 100 years old in the body of a young girl when Peter is a young man, and she’s still over 100 when she’s in the body of a young woman and Peter is a middle aged man. Despite the fact i get no ~romance~ vibes from their relationship at all and it feels entirely forced for the sake of having it–their massive, confusing, and altering age gaps just give me the creeps.

The single biggest disappointment i have with the entire book–the thing that not only failed to land for me, but actually make me rather angry and terribly, terribly sad–was Alicia. She is, hands down, my favourite character. But Cronin’s handling of her, her journey, and her conclusion is… misjudged at best, and just plain disgusting at worst. Her situation and condition is unique. The only person with any kind of understanding of it is Amy, and i loved the relationship Alicia and Amy share because of that (and honestly, i’d’ve bought a romance between them much more easily). Along with that, she went through some truly horrific events in The Twelve, coming out the other side a different person (again), but still with her heart and mind in the right place. In this book, she gets nothing but anger and violence from the people she once called friends, and the people she believed she was protecting for the last 25 years. At first i thought this anger was an initial reaction to people missing and worrying about her–that they would expunge it and welcome her back into the fold. Instead, it seethes and these people Alicia loves and is still trying to protect give no shits about her. She’s then severely wounded by friendly fire and reduced to a cripple for the rest of the book, kept around solely for information that barely gets used or considered. She gets no goodbyes, no validation for everything she has done, and only a single person caring enough about her to hold a conversation and help carry her trauma and her secrets. And it hurts me that she’s thrown away like that in this story.

By the end, and mostly by the time i became too disheartened by Alicia’s treatment, i just… didn’t care anymore. By the time they arrived in New York i was skipping ahead and see what happened. And not because i was so excited or engaged with the story that i had to know what happened and that everything turned out okay, but because i wanted to find a reason to want to keep reading–because i just wanted it over with. I was ready to give up on the last 150 pages, but the time and love i’d poured into the previous books gave me the determination to see it through, with the compromise of skim-reading the final chapters. By that time, though, i cared very little about anything i read.

Throughout the book, Cronin’s way with words shines through. His turns of phrase and imagery never failed, and i underlined with reckless abandon. I’m so happy this remained, even through parts of the book i didn’t enjoy, and even at parts of the book that made me numb with sadness and disappointment.

Some might have said she fell. Others, that she flew. Both were true. Alicia Donadio–Alicia of Blades, the New Thing, Captain of the Expeditionary–would die as she had lived.
Always soaring.

Honestly, in my heart this book gets two and a half stars out of five, but i rounded up based on my utter and undying love of the first two books. That love remains undamaged, and once i’ve posted this review i will try to wipe the memory of this book from my mind. For me, the series ends with humanity continuing on its journey to grow and rebuild itself, while Alicia heads off to New York to behead Zero and be the big damn hero she is.

Station Eleven

Book Review: Station Eleven. 3/5 Stars.Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Summary: What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still so much beauty.

One Snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again.

Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse. But then her newly hopeful world is threatened.

If civilization was lost, what would you preserve? And how far would you go to protect it?

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5

Review: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for a while. It has glowing reviews and the premise is spot on for what i love to read. I was so happy to finally pick it up and get reading. As happens far too often with books the general population seem to rave over, though… i was left a little disappointed.

There was plenty i loved about the book. I love the setting–20 years after an apocalyptic virus wipes out most of humanity. So often books deal with the very immediate fall out and/or 100 or more years after an apocalypse. It was interesting to see this 20-year stage. Long enough that there are children and young adults who remember nothing of “before”, there are adults who remember very little and have adapted easily, and there is an older generation who had jobs and families and remember everything of a life “before”. It’s the stage where things have changed, but the ‘old’ world is still very much remembered.

I loved (most of) the characters. My favourites were Miranda, Clark, and Frank. I loved Frank from the moment we met him, when his brother shows up on his doorstep with seven overflowing trollies of food and a stricken expression and Frank’s only comment is, “I see you went shopping.” Clark was slower to make an impression on me, as he is quite a side character for most of the book, but the more he showed up and the more i learnt about him, the more i liked him. Miranda was wonderful from the get-go. A strong, but wonderfully lovely character. She was kind and thoughtful, but never at the expense of herself. Her mantra–“I repent nothing”–are words i might start saying to myself more often.

I have two main issues with the book, and they are both simply personal preference. The first is the dual focus between the time lines–one 20 years post-apocalypse, one stretching back many years in the life of famous actor Arthur Leander. And the crux of my issue with this is that… i gave exactly zero hoots about Arthur Leander. The book is, on the whole, a character-driven narrative, and generally they just aren’t my favourite kinds of stories. I didn’t care about Arthur. I didn’t care about his life, his career, his multiple marriages and divorces. That his life served as a tenuous and improbable link between various characters in the post-apocalyptic time line was irrelevant to me. His life and its inclusion in the story felt simply like a device for that link and little more.

The second main issue i had was that… not a lot really happens? This typically goes hand-in-hand with character-driven stories–the focus is on the people and their feelings and experiences and growth, rather than on any circumstances or events. And like, okay, an apocalypse happens, but for the post-apocalyptic time line, there is not much tension or eventfulness. What there is, unsurprisingly, revolves around an individual–it is this character and his links to the past, to Arthur, and the other characters, that are the focus. And for me, that’s not enough. The story just never feels like it really gets going, but that’s because–for me–there just isn’t enough story.

The other niggle i can’t really shake is that the book is coming from quite an entitled place. The characters are rich actors, successful business people, theatre goers, classical musicians, and Shakespearean thespians. It didn’t sit quite right with me, and honestly didn’t enamour me to their post-apocalyptic plight. But honestly, with a name like St. John Mandel, a privileged upbringing on a remote Canadian island, and studying at a dance theatre… it shouldn’t be surprising that she’s writing what she knows.

I enjoyed the concept and ideas in the book, and found the emotive use of language quite lovely–the book is infinitely quotable. But nice one-liners and being meaningful in isolation doesn’t a brilliant book make–it takes more to impress me. What i enjoyed here i enjoyed a lot, but i won’t be rushing out to read more of this author’s books.

The Twelve

Book Review: The Twelve. 5/5 Stars.Title: The Twelve

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Death row prisoners with nightmare pasts no future. Until they were selected for a secret experiment. To create something more than human. Now they are the future–unless a handful of survivors can destroy them.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: I read The Passage, the first book in this trilogy, over the new year in 2016/17. I (somehow) saved The Twelve for the 2017/18 new year period. I’ve loved both books so much, i’m not sure i’ll be able to wait a year to read the third and final.

I hadn’t expected to love this book at much as the first, honestly. I’d heard from a lot of people who were disappointed with the sequels, and i’d prepared myself for the worst. I told myself i’d be happy if it was at least 3 out of 5 stars. I think not assuming it would be as good as the first helped me love this one for its own merits, and not compare it to the first. It also definitely helped that i had no thoughts or ideas on how the story would progress. Just like when reading the first book, I wasn’t wondering what was going to happen or letting myself assume anything–i just let myself get swept up in the story.

But okay, where to start? Where the first book had me sobbing at the very start, and then again at the very end… this book had me welling up and blinking back the tears at the end of every other chapter. For the first half of the book Cronin spends time in several new narratives, in varying time lines, introducing new sets of characters. They all have depth and history and they are very quick to warm to, to root for. We follow their journeys and their stories for a spell, we get invested. But a narrative in the past of an apocalyptic novel has can only end in one way. Even knowing what has to be coming, i was on the edge of my seat for these characters i’d quickly come to love, hoping–futilely–things would turn out okay for them.

Despite the sombre end to these narratives, they hold the key to a lot of the story. It is in their characters and their stories that the main plot’s details are focused. Nothing is superfluous in this book. No character, no action, no back story’s back story. It all means something, it all leads somewhere. The details that went into plotting and completing that must have been immense, and just like the writing of The Passage, Cronin makes it seem effortless.

Talking of the writing, have some of the quotes i made a note of:

And yet the world went on. The sun still shone. To the west, the mountains shrugged their indifferent rocky bulk at man’s departure.

The only thing worse than the burps were the farts that came after, room-clearing jets of oniony gas that even the farter himself could not enjoy.

It’s so sad. But beautiful, too. So many stories are like that.

There were more–plenty more–but it was so hard to stop reading in order to write them down.

The characters I think i liked even more in this book. Here they were each given their own room to develop and reflect, and after the events in The Passage, and the several years since, they are all scarred and changed in their own ways. It was the women i was drawn to most. The old characters–Amy and Sara–and the new–Lore and Lila. The one closest to my heart, though, is Alicia. She was awesome from the start in The Passage, and what she went through and became by the end of that book was incredible. Here she is only even more so. I’ve read some reviews abhorring what she went through in this book, and I wholeheartedly understand that. It didn’t sit right with me either for a time. But ultimately it didn’t define her, it didn’t weaken or cower her–it gave her more to fight for. And fuck, but do i love her when she’s fighting. In the end it’s all only made me love her more.

I can admit that the book is not perfect. There are a couple of wrinkles that give me pause. Mostly centred on an age difference between two sets of characters. One brief in its occurrence, and one i think could have been easily dealt with with a touch more build up and foreshadowing and/or a slight reduction in the age gap. The other is much more complex, in that Amy has the body of a young girl and the life experience of over one hundred years. For a man in his 20s to want either aspect of her is… troubling. I do fear how that will play out in the final book.

Despite the minor troubles, i don’t hesitate in giving this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a book in which i got lost, barely noticed time passing, and knew whatever was going to happen was going to be brilliant. I loved it, and i can only hope i at least enjoy the final book in the series half as much.

Bird Box

birdboxTitle: Bird Box

Author: Josh Malerman

Summary: Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew.

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing.

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5

Review: I remember reading the synopsis for this book and being fascinated. What on earth could stop people being able to look outside? What happened if they did? I didn’t even speculate on answers to those questions, and jumped into this book without expectations, ready to find out.

The multiple narratives are great. We follow our main character, Malorie, during three stages of her life. In the present day she leaves the safety of her home with two children, blindfolded, to take a boat 20 miles down river. One flashback narrative is told in reverse, how Malorie trained the children to use their hearing, how she struggled being a new mother alone in a post-apocalyptic world, and how she risked her life gathering tools and provisions shortly after giving birth. A second flashback narrative documents the disaster, how Malorie arrived at the house and lived with her new housemates before giving birth. The two flashback narrative converge, completing the story’s history, just as Malorie is reaching the final stage of her journey down the river.

The thing that is stand out for me, is how freaking creepy this book is. For the most part, the characters are locked up inside the house, which creates a claustrophobic atmosphere with tensions often running high; i was just waiting for something to kick off. The worst(/best) parts, though, were when the characters ventured outside. Blindfolded for protection against what they must not lay eyes on, the loss of such a main sense was palpable in the writing. I felt as anxious and on edge as the characters just reading. Most often i read in bed at night before sleep, and most nights i couldn’t read more than two or three chapters, because it would freak me out too much. (I loved it.)

It wasn’t until today, when i started reading during daylight hours, that i could plough through the book and got the second half finished in a matter of hours. Because that’s the other thing about this book: it kept me reading. I needed to know what happened. It’s the nature of the three time lines–i knew certain things of the future, but not how they came to pass, and i was desperate to find out.

The book isn’t perfect. The characters are somewhat lacking in depth; you have the main few who we’re supposed to like, a couple who are obviously supposed to be questionable, and the rest are pretty much filler without much individual personality. The writing is simple, but far from bad; it makes it an easy read, but (as above) still manages to create quite an atmosphere. None of these were so bad as to be off putting, just ways the book could be improved.

There was one question that i couldn’t help but ponder quite early: Where were all the blind people? In a world where seeing things proved deadly, surely there would be a higher proportion of blind folk still around, perfectly fine? Thankfully, this is addressed… but i wouldn’t want to spoil anything for you!

I loved the ending. I thrive on open endings, and this delivers that in the best ways, while simultaneously wrapping the narrative up nicely. If you’re reading to find out exactly why people can’t look outside, don’t expect a definitive answer. I’m still wavering between all the options, because i don’t want to have to settle on one. Aliens? New species? Parallel universe? Mass hysteria? I want them all!

The Passage

the-passageTitle: The Passage

Author: Justin Cronin

Summary: Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He’s wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is.

Unaware of each other’s existence but bound together in ways none of them could have imagined, they are about to embark on a journey. An epic journey that will take them through a world transformed by man’s darkest dreams, to the very heart of what it means to be human. And beyond.

Because something is coming. A tidal wave of darkness ready to engulf the world. And Amy is the only person who can stop it.

Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5

Review: It’s sort of a thing, now, that i read an epic apocalyptic distopian over the Christmas and new year period; this one was recommended to me by Claire over at Bitches with Books. The synopsis intrigued me, and though i was wary on the vampire front, i clung to their concept in I Am Legend and bought the damn book. So, going in i had very few expectations of this book. It blew me away.

I was literally sobbing by the end of the first chapter and i though, “Shit, this book is going to ruin me, isn’t it?” It did, and i loved every second of it.

Where to start? The book takes its time settling in. It introduces you to the characters mentioned in the synopsis, as well as a few others, before their paths cross. It doesn’t jump straight to the apocalypse, instead we follow its making as we meet our heroes, villains and those in between. This first part of the story is almost a book in itself. An extended prologue. It sets the groundwork for details and relationships and meaning that last literally all the way to the last page. At this point i was enjoying the book, but i wasn’t loving it.

Once the apocalypse comes, the narrative jumps almost 100 years in time, with a new location, a new cast of characters, and a new focus. I barely paused. I was fascinated by this new world and these new people. It was quite an experience leaving behind all the other characters, but i took the leap wholeheartedly, trusting that that first story i’d read would pay off, that the threads would meet. By halfway through the new story, i’m not sure i’d’ve been bothered if they hadn’t, but i was only more sure that they would.

I’m honestly finding it hard to articulate my feelings about this book, because it’s simply the entire book. I guess, with that, the key thing is the writing. I was immersed in it. It read as effortless, though i’d bet it was far from it. Nothing was spelled out, but everything was so clear. What some writers take paragraphs to explain, Cronin captures in a sentence or two. So many times i had to stop and marvel at the perfect simplicity in the writing. I even made note of a few my favourites:

“A blast of quiet that felt like noise.”

“An absence of torment so abrupt it was like pleasure.”

“…to his right, an abyss of blackness, a plunge into nothing. Even to look at it was to be swept away…”

“Courage is easy, when the alternative is getting killed. It’s hope that’s hard.”

I was just in awe of the writing, half the time. The other half i was swept up in the story. The story that encompassed so much, but seemed never to become muddled or confuse me. It was simple enough to follow, but interesting enough to keep me constantly thinking. I am a reader who is always looking ahead; i think about what facts and clues and hints i’ve been given, and where they might lead, what twists and turns are up ahead. With this book, though, i didn’t–i didn’t want to. I wanted to be caught up in the story, and i was. I didn’t try to guess what was coming, i just kept reading until i got there.

A big part of the story i keep coming back to is the relationships–all the different kinds. Family, friends, romance, loyalties, responsibilities… this books has all sorts of relationships, and none of them hog the spot light. None of them are forced or over done or saccharine or meaningless. In a lot of ways, they are all quiet. They are all part of the story, rather than being a story in themselves. There weren’t two characters who were ~destined~ to be together from the start. The focus was never on anyone’s–or any one–relationship. They all simply develop over time, when you aren’t quite looking, until the differences in how people interact and what they mean to each other just make a new sense.

I feel like this review is all over the place and that i’m not making any sort of sense; i’m rubbish at explaining why i loved something–it’s not always able to be articulated (case in point: i wanted to use the made up word “articulatable”).

This book just hits all my likes: apocalyptic, dystopian, sci-fi/horror mix, strong female characters. It’s excellent writing, well constructed and followed through on every point to the final page. I sobbed at the start and i sobbed at the end. The ups and downs in the books were not a punch in the gut of my emotions–they crept up on me, then engulfed me.

I never imagined a book of this length could be this good. The longer a book is, the more chance there is of there being something i don’t like. I was not prepared for this. I was not prepared to love everything about this book. But here i am, ruined and in love. And with the sequel already ordered.

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Emperor of Thorns

eotTitle: Emperor of Thorns

Author: Mark Lawrence

Summary: The path to the thrown is broken – only the broken can walk it.

The world is cracked and time has run through, leaving us clutching at the end of days. These are my days. I will stand before the Hundred and they will listen. I will take the throne no matter who stands against me, living or dead.

This is where the wise turn away. This is where the holy kneel and call on God. Don’t look to me to save you, Turn if you have the wit. Pray if you have the soul. Stand your ground if courage is yours. But don’t follow me.

Follow me, and I will break your heart.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3.5/5

Review: The third and final book in the Broken Empire series. I’m sad to let Jorg go, but am pleased there are more books by Lawrence set in this fascinating post-apocalyptic universe. I already have the next one on my wishlist.

Emperor holds all the smooth, witty writing of the previous books. So much so I took to this books with a pen like no other yet, stopping every few pages to underline a line or a mark a passage. I cannot express enough how much a love the writing style. It’s subtle, and if you’re not paying attention you might slip past its humour and its poignancy (sometimes in the same line). Above the dystopian post-apocalyptic setting, beyond the characters, it is the writing itself that kept me reading.

Talking of characters though, okay, I have things to say. There was no one i hated, which, when almost all the characters are some shade of evil, might be a strange thing to say, but it’s no surprise, either. Excepting Jorg (the book is told in first person from his point of view, you’ve got to like him), my favourite character was Miana. However. I don’t think enough was made of her. She was introduced in the previous book and though her appearance was brief, she made one hell of an impact (quite literally). I finished King entirely enamoured with her, hoping she would be in Emperor. And, while she retained her strength of character she was very much “Jorg’s wife” and never really came into her own.

What other female characters were there to admire? Katherine? She’s nice enough, but a little too good for my tastes; she verges on dull. I don’t understand Jorg’s obsession with her, nor the point Jorg’s obsession plays in the story–it adds nothing but a poor attempt at a non-conventional love plot. And Chella, who is somewhat interesting, particularly as some of the chapters in this book are from her point of view. Seeing more of her back story and motivation was key in actually developing her character. I can’t help but wonder what happened to her, at the very end there, after… Shh, spoilers.

And Jorg’s brothers, well. Nothing much changes there. Makin remains my favourite, painted that perfect shade of grey. Rike comes full circle, and to end on absent-minded plundering and a last minute turn around in character was a pretty perfect conclusion for him. Gorgoth was, for all he is a troll, the most human of them all. There isn’t a single of his road brothers that i don’t love the relationship Jorg has with them.

The plot… it meandered a bit. Stories with a lot of travelling do tend to have that issue. It started strong, with action and intrigue. And some of the flashback narratives kept things interesting. But after a certain point, things petered out and i was left waiting for things to pick up again. Which they didn’t until the climax. And in comparison to the previous book, which was non-stop action–an entire battle told over the course of the book– this book doesn’t hold up, unfortunately.

It didn’t have to keep up the action, though. I did thoroughly enjoy this book, and all of miscreant Jorg’s adventures in death, revenge and power. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of Prince of Fools, finding out even more about this world, these places and meeting new characters–of which there had better be more, and more awesome, females. The glimpse we had of the Red Queen was enough to get me interested…

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Swan Song

ssTitle: Swan Song

Author: Robert McCammon

Summary: Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen—from the President of the United States to the homeless on the streets of New York City—will fight for survival.

In a wasteland born of rage and fear, populated by monstrous creatures and marauding armies, earth’s last survivors have been drawn into the final battle between good and evil, that will decide the fate of humanity: Sister, who discovers a strange and transformative glass artifact in the destroyed Manhattan streets… Joshua Hutchins, the pro wrestler who takes refuge from the nuclear fallout at a Nebraska gas station… And Swan, a young girl possessing special powers, who travels alongside Josh to a Missouri town where healing and recovery can begin with Swan’s gifts. But the ancient force behind earth’s devastation is scouring the walking wounded for recruits for its relentless army, beginning with Swan herself…

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2.5/5

Review: So, i’ve decided it’s a thing. A read an epic apocalyptic dystopian over Christmas and new year thing. It really cheers me up over the festive period. In 2014/15 i read The Stand, in readiness to read Swan Song in 2015/16. I felt i had to read The Stand first, because chronology and all that. And in the end, it’s turned out i did prefer The Stand, but now we’ll never know if that’s because i read it first (but really, it’s not).

I loved the start of this book. It got straight into the action of launching nuclear weapons and we’re introduced to the characters as the bombs fall. I loved the lack of messing about and getting straight into the story. I loved the gruesome, realistic descriptions of the characters’ post-nuclear blast wounds. I loved how nothing was easy, everything was a struggle and how much the tension was set high from the very beginning.

For most of the book, i enjoyed all the main characters. I didn’t necessarily like them (i’m looking at you, Ronald), but i enjoyed their storyline and their representation–they interested me. I don’t think there was anyone i was overly fond of; there was no one i favoured more than the others, and for that, the deaths that occurred throughout the book were sad, but not genuinely upsetting, which felt like a shame. As much as i liked the characters, i felt far enough removed to see the deaths as a device to the story and other characters’ motivations.

My problem with the characters began when the two main groups of ‘good guys’ finally met up. I had been waiting and getting excited for it, but it was quite a let down, and actually left me disliking characters i had previously been fond of. You choose to traipse all over the country for seven years looking for someone you see in a magic glass crown, that’s your choice. Don’t get all righteous and demanding when that person’s trusted friends are protecting them from you because you are pushy, potentially dangerous, strangers. I’m going to side with the sane, rational people looking out for each other, not the bossy self-important ones who think they deserve something. I never fully recovered my fondness, unfortunately.

The, perhaps very strange, thing i liked most about this book, was its ability to make me wince. I’m a fan of horror, i’m used to gross and disturbing things, and it usually takes a lot to get to me. But there was something about the simple, almost blasé way this book described disfigurements, violence and injuries that had me screwing my face up and hissing through my teeth. And i loved that. I loved being physically affected in that way, because i so rarely am.

Something that bothered me from the very first chapter, continually, right up through to the last chapter, was the choppy–dare i say sloppy–point of view. It switched from person-to-person without warning and in no discernible pattern. No chapter or even paragraph breaks to distinguish and prepare the reader for the change, just -bam- you’re in someone else’s head. It wasn’t hugely difficult to follow, it just interrupted the flow of the reading, particularly when it would flit to one person only for a line or two, then switch back, or switch between a multitude of people in a short space of time. I understand it was to get across more and relevant information to the reader, but honestly it was a sloppy way to do it.

About halfway through the book, time skips ahead. By seven years. I know it’s seven years, because the narrative makes sure to mention that fact several times, very clearly and extremely pointedly. And at this point, i suddenly felt very far away from the characters i’d got to know over the several months the first half of the book spanned. Could not, instead, those first several months have spanned several years? To take the reader, gradually, on the journey with these character over the years and showcase the key points of their growth and spread the plot points out over the years… rather than skipping ahead as if nothing of note had happened in seven years. It rubbed me entirely the wrong way and felt entirely like a quick and easy cheat on the author’s part. “Let me introduce you to all these interesting characters! Aaaaand… skip to the end.”

The major turning point for me and this book was towards the end. When the two teenagers are pushed together in an awfully sexist fairytale way. A kiss to wake sleeping beauty… i strained my eyeballs, i rolled them so hard. I very nearly gave up right there and then, on page 627, with only 229 pages to go. But i persevered, and was rewarded only with more talk of how beautiful Swan was, with how much Robin loved her, even though they’d barely spoken 20 words to each other. Forget all the violence and gore–this made me sick.

Overall, the ending felt rushed and unsatisfying; the threads of stories weren’t so much woven as tangled haphazardly into a knot. It was a case of moving things along too quickly to pack everything in, and in an 856 page book, that’s quite something. Suddenly war and defence! Suddenly prisoners of war! Suddenly weeks later on the road! Suddenly ‘God’ and the end of the world! And still other things weren’t explored or utilised enough. For seven years a magical glass crown is converted, protected and hunted. Its vital role in the story is stressed and pages dedicated to an exaggerated ‘crowning’ scene… only for it to have no relevance to the dramatic conclusion of the book. It becomes a trinket. And i’m left with the overwhelming feeling of, ‘What was the point?’

What was the point? That was the ultimate feeling i was left with when i closed the book. For all it galloped to the big climax, the very end–the ‘they all lived happily ever after’–dragged. At that point, i didn’t care that much. I was just wanting it to be over.