Review: The Winter of the Witch – Katherine Arden

008 - the winter of the witch

008 - the winter of the witch


It is absolutely no secret that I love this series, and this book has been at the top of my most anticipated releases since I finished book 2 in the Winternight series. I will start with saying that the series as a whole from me would get 5 stars but this book didn’t satisfy me in a way I had hoped it would.

It’s hard to review sequels – especially in a trilogy as far spanning as this one – without giving any spoilers away. This book picks up right in the action where the second book ended, and it definitely started as a 5* read. It was fast paced, exciting, starting to tie up loose ends and I loved it but I feel that some of it was unnecessary and ruined the plot for me. There is a lot going on in this book and at times, the action felt drawn out. Other times, I wanted it to move a little faster.

I love how Arden has blended medieval Russia and her fantasy world so seamlessly, I love how history, mythology, folklore and fairy tales have all been blended together. I found the afterword and the historical context to the series genuinely really interesting – not something I can often say about an afterword. I just feel there was something missing here, or maybe it was that there was too much to cram in to one final book, which left it feeling unresolved.

Vasya continues to be a fantastic character in this book; all the things I’ve loved about her in previous books come to a head and I felt in this book she became herself. She embraced all of her powers, and she owned them. She made decisions and stood by them. Everything she did she did of her own volition. Yet throughout the book her family is her main driving force, and I love that. I will say that there are a couple of scenes in which characters die – and those were intense, Vasya’s reactions were intense and believable and I felt emotionally invested in her.

Overall I felt this wasn’t the perfect ending at least for me. I will say it was a fantastic read, and I read it in the space of an afternoon. I just think it could have done with a bit of editing down, or a fourth book to properly develop some ideas. As with all the books in this series I listened to this as an audiobook and followed along with a print version and would very highly recommend this series on audio because it, somehow, makes it feel cosier. Perfect winter afternoon read in my eyes and I can’t wait to reread the series over the space of a weekend next winter!

Review: Kissing the Witch – Emma Donoghue

057 - Kissing the Witch

Rating – 4*

What can I say about this collection other than I absolutely loved it? Some background first, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Emma Donoghue in that I either really love, or really dislike, her books. Room was amazing, so was one of her historical novels, then came along Frog Music which is one of the few books I have DNF’d over the years. This was definitely a hit, in spite of my trepidation going in to it.

Essentially this is a collection of fairy tale retellings – people like Kirsty Logan have cited it as a source of inspiration for their work. High praise like that really puts a book on a pedestal, but on reading it I fully understand why it is so highly regarded. All of the stories in this book, or rather snippets in to the characters lives, twist the well known version of the story in to feminist, slightly queer retellings which still (somehow) keep the character of the original. How Donoghue worked all of the fairy tales in to the same world, and had them seamlessly flow in to each other was genius and it made the collection flow absolutely perfectly.

Each tale is the story of a female character before they became the trope in the original fairy tale – their story before they were witches, stepmothers, crones or spinsters; their stories of being girls, sisters and daughters. Each story flows in to the next by the protagonist simply asking who they were, and we go through generations of women, and ending with the origin of the kiss-seeking witch.

Frankly, this collection is genius – and having read a lot of works which have been influenced by it, I can now see the influence it has had on some of my favourite authors (particularly Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter). It is definitely up there with my favourite short story collections, and one I will be reading again in the future for certain.

I listened to this as an audiobook and can’t recommend it highly enough – it was narrated beautifully and while it was the same narrator for each story, every character had their own voice, it wasn’t flat or monotone like a lot of short story collections, or multiple personality audiobooks suffer with!

Review: Uprooted – Naomi Novik

uprootedUprooted is a rather beautiful fantasy novel which I picked up with some Amazon credit. I’ve seen it mentioned a few times in various places and the cover was just too beautiful to turn down.

To summarise this book, we follow our young protagonist – Agnieszka – who at the start of this novel is taken by a wizard known only as the Dragon. There is a Wood, which is possessed with darkness which infects the people of the surrounding villages and the Dragon takes a girl every 11 years or something and protects the people in the valley from the corruption of the Wood. It reminded me very much of Beauty and the Beast, I think that’s really the best way to describe this book without giving anything away.

It read very much like a YA novel, a 17/18 year old girl as a first person narrator and it’s very fairy tale – it is a combination of Beauty and the Beast and Polish folklore with a bit of the story of Baba Yaga thrown in! It read beautifully, it was very flowery and gentle however it became a bit more sloppy in the second half and even though I was happy with how it ended, there were some big problems for me towards the 300-page mark.

The characters introduced in the first half were awesome. Agnieszka is one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve read in a long time, she’s clumsy and awkward but she develops and her confidence builds over the course of the novel and I just clicked with her. The friendship with Kasia was one of the most authentic friendships I had read. Even the Dragon was somewhat endearing and over the progression of the novel he developed too. Some of the side characters were great too, Alosha particularly I wish we had more on. The problem is that characters introduced towards the half way point or further are just thrown in, they receive very little time or words and there were times where I felt a little confused because I didn’t feel that they had the same depth of character to those introduced in the first half – they felt rushed, haphazard and just there. I felt the plot had the same problems in the third quarter of the book – the final 70 or so pages were beautiful but there was a middle section which I feel could have been either elaborated on or cut out entirely. Oddly, the romance in this book wasn’t something I was opposed to but it did, at times, feel forced.

So, this book was good. It has me wanting to read more fantasy, which is never a bad thing. It is most assuredly not a YA novel; there is sex in it, and also an attempted sexual assault at one point, which actually surprised me because I did feel it was a YA novel until those points occurred! I would definitely give Novik another go in the future because her writing is beautiful but, while this novel did have some really exceptional points it was just good. It wasn’t exceptional. So it’s a 3/5.

Review: Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales – Angela Carter

acftMy final book of 2014! I managed to get this one done just before the bells which was a great relief to me. I hate starting a new year on a half read book! Given that I started this on December 1st, it’s taken me the full month to get through – ideally I feel I needed more than that though.

This book was great, but I wish I hadn’t read it like I did. It is definitely a book that requires a longer period of time; or maybe not dedication but a casual dip in, dip out of stories when you feel like reading but you’re not sure what. As it was I read a couple each night before bed and that felt too much at times! So in future, I will definitely pick this book up and pick a story or two at random to read because I think following the chronology of this was sort of exhausting and I really don’t think that’s how fairy tales – or their adaptations – are supposed to be read.

I did love her writing though. This is the first experience of Angela Carter I’ve had and I can’t say I’m disappointed! I think I’ll definitely try some more of her work in the future. Her writing is just beautiful and really, so captivating. Also, with it being pretty heavy on fabulous female protagonists it was a very big pro! Nothing better than a good, feminist fairy tale!

Some of these stories were familiar; not many though as they came from all around the world. I loved the globe-trotting in this book. Fairy tales and mythological stories from other cultures is something that I’m really getting in to and being able to explore a culture through a traditional story – even if it’s a retelling – is, I feel, a really good way to get a taste. Being able to read stories from Iceland then one from Egyptian culture is just awesome. The compilation was thoughtful also as it’s by main theme of the story, rather than geography or origins or chronology which is often how short story collections are compiled. I really liked that!

So this is one I will definitely dip back in to when I feel like a little something to read but I don’t have much time or I’m not quite sure what to pick up. Definitely not one to read with your kid at bed time, there is a lot of sex and violence. I can’t get Blubber Boy (or whatever it was called) out of my head – that one had some pretty spectacular imagery!

Ultimately it’s a 4/5 – but I’m feeling particularly kind hearted and generous!