Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – J K Rowling

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Rating – 4*

When I saw they were re-releasing this, I knew I had to have it. When I found out that Eddie Redmayne was narrating the audiobook, I pre-ordered it (and also purchased the kindle edition because the cover on it was much nicer than the British hardback).

It’s always lovely to dip back in to the Potterverse, I love all of it. And Fantastic Beasts has stolen my heart. This didn’t disappoint me, it was exactly what I was hoping it to be. This book is just great fun – and the audiobook even more so.

The audiobook is just under 2 hours, and it’s fantastic. It’s a encyclopaedia of beasts found in the magical world, and is a textbook referred to in the Potter series. Obviously in this you read about beasts familiar to us from Potter, and general folklore, but also this covers off so many more – not just those explored in the Potter series, or indeed Fantastic Beasts (although, given it’s a series I’m really hoping they include some more of these in the future!) I really just loved how this ties in muggle stories, and has footnotes from Newt and gah, I just really loved this okay?! I know it’s not much more than a fictional encyclopaedia but it really was good fun – and Eddie Redmayne reading it just made it even more so!

Something which surprised me in this, and I found very nerdily exciting, is the introduction. In the introduction there is information on policy and politics behind the classification system of magical beasts which is used in the book (and wizarding world in general!) and for me that was really interesting. I love looking in to the wizarding world from that perspective and getting that insight in to the workings of the Ministry of Magic (and MACUSA).

This is definitely a book for a Potterhead, and I think it’s a fantastic companion to the movie – especially as they’ve revised it to tie in. Also, it’s worth noting that all proceeds from the book (physical, eBook and audio) are going to Comic Relief or Lumos, the charity JK Rowling set up herself. The original edition was written specifically for Comic Relief, and it’s really nice to see that even after all this time the proceeds are still going to a good cause. So if you were in doubt, it’s for charity, and that should sway you!

Review: In the Labyrinth of Drakes – Marie Brennan

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Rating – 4*

In the Labyrinth of Drakes is the fourth book in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series. I love this series, I really do, so far none of them have let me down – this one is no exception. I’ve been putting off picking this book up as the fifth and final book has not yet been released, and I didn’t want the wait to be too long between this book and the next one. As it stands, the next book is due out in April – but when the audiobook will be released is anyone’s guess. I absolutely love the audiobooks for this series, they’re read superbly and I would really highly recommend them to anyone who is after something engaging and easy to listen to!

This book, much like the previous books, follows Isabella on her quest to understand more about dragons. The focus of her academic study in this book is breeding dragons in captivity, but as can be expected that’s not the only element of this story; the whole arc of this series is becoming something I cannot wait to see resolved in the final instalment.

In this book we also have the return of some characters from previous books, and the introduction of some new ones. I really love this series because Isabella’s best friend is a man, Tom. It is so refreshing to read a book where there are two people of opposite genders who are just friends. Especially when there is some romance in this book, it’s a breath of fresh air that that part of the book doesn’t go down the trope of a love triangle. I will forever love the fact that Isabella and Tom are able to remain friends, they completely ignore the rumours that go around, the inevitable scandals their friendship causes. Honestly, it’s one of the most genuine friendships between characters of opposite genders I’ve found in a book!

But, on the subject of romance, if you liked the undertones in Voyage of the Basilisk then the developments in In the Labyrinth of Drakes will make you very happy. I won’t say too much, to avoid spoiling it, but needless to say I am very happy with how it all came together.

My only disappointment with this book is how it ended. Abruptly. I was ready to keep going, they had this massive discovery and then it just ends. I know it was building up to the fifth book, and I really hope that the finale to this series doesn’t disappoint because, how this one ended, just aggravated me.

Needless to say, I will be picking up the final book in this series – and I may even forgo the audiobook to read it sooner!

Review: Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb

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Rating – 3*

Unpopular opinion – I didn’t much care for this book. There is no denying that Robin Hobb can build an incredible world, and I really enjoyed book 1 but this was just a really hard slog for me. I was hoping that the pace would really pick up in this book, but if anything I felt it slow down from the first book. Reading other reviews of this, many people do say that “you have to get through this trilogy and then it becomes amazing in the next series” – and I find that really hard to swallow. I wanted this book to be amazing, not a precursor for something amazing – nearly 2000 pages building up to another series, which is itself between 3000 and 4000 pages seems like I’m being cheated a bit!

 

I listened to this as an audiobook. While from the clip I listened to of the first book had me quite dubious about the narrator, I have come to find him quite easy to listen to, and would seriously recommend this on audiobook.

Now, I gave this book 3* – but it was more a 2.5 if I’m honest – and in the goodreads term “I liked it”. It was a good story in parts, it does have merit and I can see why people love it but for me it really, really exhausted me. And, worst of all, everything still felt unresolved come the end. Honestly, I found myself a little disappointed. I don’t want to go too much in to the plot (though I struggle to recall anything of note as I’m writing this), as it is a second book in a series and in doing so some points of the first book would be ruined. But I found the romance (if you can call it that) quite irritating, the trials that Fitz went through could have been resolved in 200 pages less, and all was made worse for me by the characters. If they were better, maybe I’d have enjoyed the plot a bit more.

The primary issue is the characters, as I said above, and I can’t say I feel attached to any of them. Least of all Fitz. When a book is written in first person, I need a connection with the character, I need to have some sort of identification with them and with Fitz I just don’t have that. I found his character really monotonous, and didn’t feel like he grew at all through the course of this book. It wasn’t just Fitz though, I felt all of the characters were more like caricatures or puppets who I just didn’t gel with as a reader.

The fact it was an audiobook actually elevated the rating a bit as I rated the whole experience of the book, and audio definitely made the book a little more enjoyable for me. Without it, I would probably have rated it a 2*.

I just found it very difficult to read, and throughout I just became really despondent with it. I did finish it, I was in two minds as to whether to give up, but I’m a completist by nature. Because of that, I will read the final book in this series but I’m not in any hurry unfortunately. What I find most infuriating is so many people say that this trilogy is not reflective of the rest of the books set in the same world – that you just have to ‘get through’ this one and then it becomes amazing… but I’m really put off reading The Liveship Traders series after my rather rocky relationship with this first trilogy so far!

Review: Voyage of the Basilisk – Marie Brennan

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Rating – 4*

Voyage of the Basilisk is the third in Marie Brennan’s Memoirs of Lady Trent series, and while it was fantastic, for me a lot of it fell a little short of the mark. Don’t get me wrong, this series is great – I love the cast of characters we have, I love the world that has been created, and maybe I am being a little unfair as the book I read previously was absolutely amazing and this (however fabulous) could probably never measure up.

This third novel picks up quite some time after the previous book. We have a brief overview of what happened in the bridging time leading up to the action of this, but not all that much. Although, I would love a book which follows what happens in her library! Anyway, Voyage of the Basilisk follows Isabella Camhurst as she and her son (now 9!) and friends – both old and new – go on a 2 year voyage around the world to study all manner of dragons, on a ship named Basilisk. Of course, it isn’t as simple as that, and a little bit before half way we find our cast of characters stranded on an island and trying to adapt to their situation.

The thing which surprised me most in this instalment was the introduction of some gender-fluidity. Isabella has never conformed to societal gender norms, and the island they find themselves stranded on has a belief in the third gender and this is interwoven so seamlessly I was mighty impressed. One line which stood out to me regarding this was:

“So long as my society refuses to admit of a concept of femininity that allows for such things then one could indeed say that I stand between”

One thing I found in this one, which shone out more than in the others before it, was that the dry sense of humour of Isabella really came through. The previous books have been amusing, but parts of this actually had me laughing out loud.

I was torn as to how to rate this, mainly because while reading/listening to it I had the previous book I read still on my mind. However, it’s unfair to mark it down based on that – something it cannot help – so looking at it objectively I decided it was definitely in line with the previous books and was deserving of another 4* review. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next book but I’m going to have to pace myself before picking it up as the 5th book isn’t expected until 2017!

Review: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

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Rating – 4*

Where to begin with this book, I don’t know. It is a magnificent feat I will give it that. I liked this novel quite a lot, but I didn’t love it and for that simple reason I feel a little disappointed. Oh, this book did nothing wrong. It was beautiful. But for me there was just something lacking, and what that was I don’t know.

The Essex Serpent was right up my alley. Historical fiction, slightly fantastic, fabulously Gothic, and reads like a classic. Honestly, it really wouldn’t be out of place among books written in the period it was set. It’s really hard to say that it didn’t feel like a recently written book, because it was fresh and the ideas in it were fantastic, but stylistically for me I would compare it to work by the Bronte’s, especially Anne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

We follow Cora Seaborne, a young widow with a son, who moves to a village in Essex for a new start. She enters the parish as it is caught up in the myth of the Essex Serpent, a creature who is said to roam the marshes and take lives, who they think has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist, is convinced this creature is real and sets out to find it, and prove the myth true. Cora is, generally, a delightful character and her enthusiasm for natural history is awesome – I love a lady scientist, especially in a historical context! It is truly an incredible tale, with a cast of amazing characters (none of whom are too small or insignificant to be well rounded, though some fall a little flat for me). One thing I liked most is that often a historical novel, with a woman who has what we consider modern interests and ideals, seems out of place and contrived yet this really didn’t. In fact, it was done so sublimely that it didn’t feel forced, it was very believable and I really appreciated that.

However, at this point I hear you saying “if you loved it so much, why only 4 stars?”. Well, I wasn’t caught up in all of it. While it was a beautifully written book, and I loved the main plot point, I found the interaction between some characters forced. I didn’t much like Will, or his involvement in the story, and because it heavily revolved around his interaction with Cora I then found myself getting frustrated at the book as a whole. I wanted to love this, so much; so many people I respect have adored this book, but for me it was just lacking that something to make it amazing for me. While on the whole it was great and beautifully crafted, in parts I found it a little dull.

But, I am glad I finally read it. And it is absolutely beautiful. So give it a go if historical, fantastical, lady-scientists do it for you because I think you’ll like it!

Review: The Tropic of Serpents – Marie Brennan

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Rating – 4*

I read the first in this series, A Natural History of Dragons, a couple of months ago and fell a little bit in love. My full review of that can be found here. Much like with the first book, I listened to this as an audiobook, I love the narration of these but I do intend to pick up physical copies as I know they’re books I want to have on my shelf.

If you haven’t read the first book, I really suggest you do. While I’ve tried to keep this spoiler free I can’t be certain! So I’ve suitably warned you now, and it’s on to the review.

This picks up a couple of years after the events of the first book. I really cannot convey enough how much I absolutely adore Isabella as a protagonist. She is the literary equivalent of Evie from The Mummy (my not so guilty pleasure) and therefore Isabella, as her literary counterpart, is my hero. There are so many reasons for this, as a character Isabella grows a huge amount in this book, without giving anything away she acknowledges her role at home and her standing in society. I also loved Natalie, and Isabella’s relationship with her; I’m really very happy with the hints that she will appear in future books!

The story itself was less focused on dragons and more focused on politics, anthropology and adventure. For me, that was awesome as while I love the dragons I absolutely adored Brennan’s world building. I was fascinated by the different people and cultures, the politics that Isabella and her group get thrown in to. It also focuses heavily on the roles of women in society, especially in academia, more so than the first book I feel. And it wasn’t until I was really in to this book that I realised that while the selling point is dragons, this are actually fictional memoirs about Isabella’s life – and while she loves dragons it isn’t the sole point to her life, just the driving force.

Needless to say I absolutely loved this book, I gave it 4* because for me it just lacked the ‘unputdownable-ness’ of a 5* read. It’s just something so different to read as fiction that it challenges the way I read and, in parts, I was hard pushed to even think of it as fiction as it was just so believable. So I encourage anyone to pick this series up, if only for the fabulousness that is Isabella Camherst, or Lady Trent.

If you want to read it, consider supporting my blog and purchasing the book through The Book Depository here

Review: Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb

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Rating – 3*

I have to say this is one of those books that I have wanted to read in what feels like forever. It came to my attention very soon after I discovered the world of booktube; I was introduced to the world by Sam (Sam’s Nonsense) and finally I have gotten around to it because she is hosting a read-a-long of all Hobb’s work (Hobb-A-Long on GoodReads).

So, I went in to this with very high expectations, maybe too high as I was a little disappointed in it.

Fitz is a fantastic protagonist, what he goes through in this book is brutal but in a relatively short space of time he is forged in to an assassin. The character development and world building in this book is pretty intense, and impressive. For what is relatively a short book, there was a huge amount of information packed in to it. I did have to sometimes pause for a little while and just read through the discussion group to put together the information that I had just read/heard.

However, for me this sincerely lacked in a lot of areas. It felt very much like a prequel to the real series, in a way it is – it’s the forging of Fitz and because it spans such a breadth of time it is bound to not cover everything. I can tell this is going to be an incredible series, and one I’m really going to enjoy. The ideas in this book are things that I really like the sound of and I am really, really looking forward to seeing how Fits – and the series – develops.

I listened to this as an audiobook, and read along with it on my kindle, and I really recommend the audiobook of this as the narrator is great. For me it was an audiobook I had to sometimes follow with the actual text as not everything settled in by just listening. But I did really enjoy it and I have picked the other two books in the Farseer trilogy up as audiobooks too.

So, on the whole this was a good book but didn’t quite live up to the image I’d built for it in my head. I can’t wait to finish this first series now!

Review: A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

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Rating – 4*

I feel I have to thank Cinzia (C.A. DuBois) for bringing this book to my attention because I absolutely loved this, and it isn’t a book I would have picked up if it wasn’t for such an enthusiastic review. I actually downloaded this as an audiobook (which I would highly recommend) and devoured it in a day. I hate to repeat myself, but I absolutely adored this book. I’m only really starting to get in to fantasy, and I’ve never been someone who was drawn in to a book by the premise of dragons; this book was both and it really worked for me in spite of my habit to be dubious!

This book is set in a Victorian era, and our protagonist Isabella is fighting against society – she’s a scientist, and she loves dragons; that is simply not the done thing for a proper girl of society. This is told as Isabella writing her memoirs and that worked so, so well and A Natural History of Dragons focuses on her childhood interest, how that was nurtured, we hear how she grew up, how she fell in love, and then went on her first adventure with the dragons. I have to say it was one of the most loving – and healthy – relationships I’ve read between Isabella and Jacob. I really enjoyed how this was a fictional memoir, it really enabled me to connect with Isabella and honestly, it felt so real!

The reason this book is so incredible for me is the science. I really loved the depth of the science and I have no doubt that in the next books there will be more and that excites me so very much! One criticism is that there wasn’t all that many dragons, but I have a strong feeling that there will be more of those in future books.

As for future books, I will definitely be reading them, or listening to them. I would really like to pick this up as a physical book as I’ve heard there are beautiful diagrams and things scattered throughout which I would really love to see – while I love an audiobook there are a lot of things you miss out on! The narrator for this – Kate Reading – was perfectly suited for the book, and more importantly Isabella’s voice as she really came to life with this narrator. I would happily recommend her as a narrator, and will definitely be checking out more of her work in the future, aside from this series!

Buy This Book

Review: The Well of Ascension & The Hero of Ages – Brandon Sanderson

Well I’ll be honest – I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this series as much as I did. I really wasn’t expecting to devour the whole series in under two weeks, and certainly didn’t expect to read the final, 725 page book, within two days. But I did and I have only one regret, I read it so quickly that I’m now bereft that it’s over. I intended to write separate reviews for each book but I put The Well of Ascension down and picked up The Hero of Ages immediately afterwards.

My review of the first in the series, The Final Empire, can be found here and needless to say this one is going to contain spoilers; I’ll try to keep it to a minimum/vague!

My first statement is though I rated all of these books at 4* – the series as a whole is definitely a 5*. Each book was lacking something but as a whole, as a series, it was incredible. The story that spans the entirety of the series is one of the best I’ve immersed myself in; the world, the characters, the plot, the subplots. I really don’t know I to do this series justice in writing a review, but I’m going to try.

It’s a Masterpiece.

Every single character was thought out and different, they developed over the course of the trilogy as I anticipated they would from reading the first book. They all had different motivations, different strengths and weaknesses. Each of them was an individual with quirks and flaws that I grew to love. Vin grows up so much, as does Eland – her learning to trust in the second book, while a bit convoluted and drawn out, was so important. The growth in Spook was much needed, I think his name was perfect, he was a peripheral character who came in to his own. Sazed remained my favourite character throughout the series, his internal struggle in the the final book and his subsequent resolution of that was frustrating in some respects but frustratingly realistic. The important thing is I cared about them all, I cared so much.

The intricacies of the magic system where impressive. Some reviews mainly criticise the whys and wherefores of the magic system but even as a scientist I accept it. It’s a bit rough around the edges but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility when the whole story is taken in to account. It’s no more absurd than having a bunch of Wizards living in and amongst us in Harry Potter! I loved the exploration of new metals, the combinations of metals, the open end to explore further. The three different branches of the magic system were also quite interesting to explore in depth and understand.

What I loved most about this series is that it kept me guessing. Come the end, everything added up, everything that happened had reason and I understood but it was just great that it wasn’t overly predictable like many series can be! Even the bits that involved battle didn’t bore me, which is an achievement in itself! And it made me well up a bit. I didn’t want it to be over. I couldn’t cope with some of the final scenes. I spent two weeks in this world and I wasn’t ready for it to be over, I wasn’t ready for the end, I wasn’t ready for the inevitability of what was going to happen to some of my favourite characters… It was hard but equally great.

Truly, this is one of the best series I have read, I aided it with listening to an audiobook for all three books which helped enormously with the rate at which I got through it! I’d seriously recommend them to you if you like audiobooks! So yes, on the whole this is a 5* series, each book had issues for me but the pros outweigh the cons overall to give this the title of Second Favourite Series Beaten Only By Harry Potter.

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.