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: Heroes – Stephen Fry

003 - heroes

003 - heroes

★★★★

After listening to Mythos last year and really enjoying it I knew I had to have Heroes as soon as it was announced. It was one of the few audiobooks I preordered last year. So naturally it’s one of the first books I picked up in 2019 as I knew it was going to be good. I really wasn’t disappointed.

Heroes follows the everyday people of Greek mythology – not that the everyday people were ever less interesting. But rather than Gods themselves it’s their children, and demi-gods that this book focuses on. What I love about Greek myth, and especially how Stephen Fry has reworked them, is how much they all interlink in to each other. It’s often hard to tell where one narrative ends and the next begins because the transition happens so seamlessly.

There are so many myths that are familiar in here; the labours of Hercules/Heracles, Theseus and the Minotaur and the story of Oedipus to name but a few. The way Stephen Fry has reworked these and put an almost modern narrative on top of them is really a joy to read (or rather listen to in my case!) I also appreciated how interspersed throughout the stories are little bits of fact which explain discrepancies in the story through time and geography. I believe in the print version these are footnotes, but in the audio version it’s just like listening to him going off on a tangent of “oh but did you know this…” and it was great!

I think it’s also worth saying that the audiobook for this (and also Mythos) is incredible and one I would very highly recommend. Stephen is one of those people who it is so easy to listen to, and there is one bit which was just made magic for me simply because it was an audiobook I was listening to. Were it a print copy I’m sure it would be entertaining, but hearing Stephen Fry once again say “Yer a wizard, ‘Arry” in Hagrid’s voice in the middle of a very-important-factual-footnote-bit of the book while explaining the tragic orphan trope in fiction and it’s origins in myth just made me laugh. It’s worth it just for that.

So, for anyone interested in ancient myth I think this is a great place to go to. Stephen Fry is a brilliant storyteller, and much like with Mythos this was a joy to listen to. I enjoyed it just as much as it’s predecessor, and rumour has it that he’s going to be tackling another piece of myth or history in the future to add to the series. I for one can’t wait.

Review: Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman

051 - Norse Mythology

051 - Norse Mythology

Rating – 2*

I love mythology. I’ve always had a keen interest, and it’s been something that I often come back to on occasion, in phases. My first love was Egyptian mythology, and then I moved on to Greek (and to a lesser part, Roman) but I have to admit I never really stumbled much upon Norse myth until I was older. So before going in to this book my knowledge of Norse Mythology was quite lacking, and in all honesty it’s still quite lacking on the other side.

Neil Gaiman can tell a good story, of that I’m certain. I’m just starting to wonder if I read his work in a completely different way to others. I’ve honestly never read a Gaiman book that I’ve loved and there are a number of reasons for that, and it always seems to come back to one key feature – he’s really, really bad at writing female characters. There are some incredible women in Norse mythology, and yet all they do in this book is stand to one side, flicking their golden hair and pouting. While I understand that most current understanding of Norse myth comes from MCU, there is more to it than Thor, Odin and Loki – yet this book didn’t seem to cover all that much of it. In fact, it was just one big ole sausage fest and as many of you dear readers may know, I don’t do sausage.

But this book confused me, at times it read like a children’s book but then there were moments which were certainly not for children. I found as the book went on it became all very monotone, even as an audiobook I found it flat and found myself getting more and more disconnected as it went on.

I recently read Stephen Fry’s retelling of Greek Myths and this is pretty meh in comparison. I can only imagine how incredible Stephen Fry’s Norse Myths would be based off of that.

So I gave this 2 stars, because there were moments of brilliance but they were few and far between for me unfortunately. And I think it’s fair to say I’m not going to be reading any more Gaiman because, honestly, every one of his books I’ve read I’ve been disappointed by.

 

Review: Mythos – Stephen Fry

054 - Mythos

Rating – 5*

When I saw this book on Audible I knew I had to get it – it’s one of the few audiobooks I’ve actually preordered this year. My thoughts were it is Greek mythology and Stephen Fry; sounds like a perfect combination. I wasn’t far wrong.

Greek Myths have an awful habit of being very dull reads – this however was not dull. The familiar tales were told in a much more modern, approachable way than the starchy collections I’ve read in the past. What I love most about this collection is how seamlessly he wove modern culture, and what we have obtained thanks to classical myth, in with the story – literature and music are referenced in abundance, but then there is also origins of elements and compounds in science which I had absolutely zero idea about prior to reading this! It’s both fiction and non fiction simultaneously because, actually, I feel I learnt a lot about what shaped humans (given that modern civilisation has a lot to owe to the ancient Greeks!)

The collection is told in a round-about chronological way, starting with the creation myth of Chaos, on to the Titans and the Olympians. The way the stories are put across is like a multi-generational saga, it makes it so much more modern than other collections I’ve read which are essentially the same stories. We get those familiar stories of Pandora and her box (or vase, as it was a mistranslation), Midas, Echo and Narcissus… so many of the stories which I adored as a child (and on reading this, love again).

Not only is it more modern, it’s so much more fun and I can’t help but think that’s entirely down to Stephen Fry as an author putting a bit off lightness in all the characters and having a bit of fun – and I loved it. I listened to this in the space of 2 evenings and it was a joy to listen to as he narrates it himself, making it twice as much fun as it would have been otherwise. I can only hope that he does more like this because, damn, it was so much fun!

I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes Stephen Fry, classical myth, audiobooks, or is generally curious because actually while this is fiction I feel I learnt a lot of (useless) information from it which I can now use to impress my friends!

Review: Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt – Joyce Tyldesley

33 - Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt.png

Rating – 3*

This month I have really been enjoying non-fiction, and as I have previously mentioned I absolutely adore the Ancient Egyptian period; I love the myth and the legend which is what made this book absolutely perfect. This book, while initially very dry and textbook-like, is actually a very rich and engaging read.

It tells Egyptian myth in four sections; Creation, Destruction, The Great Goddesses, and Heroes and Villains. Each of these is broken down further as there are a variety of stories associated with each myth and it is a perfect blend of the myth and the fact. Each story is interwoven with stories about every day life and how the story impacted on society, what it meant for them daily – she ties myth in to the unification of upper and lower Egypt, and makes comments on the legal system. While that may sound dry, to a not-so-closet Egyptology nerd it was awesome. One thing which stuck out to me is the particular attention paid to women in Egyptian myth and history which I wasn’t expecting but was pleasantly surprised by.

The reason I gave this 3* is that it just lacked something for me, I would have liked more of the myths and the stories and less of the fact (while I enjoy the fact, it does get a little dry after a while). I wouldn’t recommend this as a place to necessarily start with Egyptian myth and legend – it’s not a particularly bad place but it’s a book which requires a significant attention span!

Review: The Story of Antigone – Ali Smith

antigoneThis is a retelling of Sophocles’ tragedy about a young girl, Antigone, who after a brutal battle has lost both her brothers. One is declared a hero, the other a traitor.  The king of Thebes decided that his nephew, Antigone’s bother Polynices, was a traitor at the time of his death and as such doesn’t deserve a burial. Young Antigone can’t bear to leave her brother and, fully aware that the penalty for honouring her brother’s remains will be her own death, Antigone still goes out of the city to find his body and bury it.

Ali Smith reworks myth so well. Rather than rework this and give it a modern twist, as she did in Girl Meets Boy, she retells the original myth from the perspective of a crow. This, I have to say, is a stroke of genius on her part. It makes the events a lot more interesting and, in a way, more understandable. She even gets interviewed by the crow at the end which is a really great way to insert more back story. It is worth saying that this is aimed at children and I think the perspective it is told in really helps make it approachable for that younger audience – it’s still gory but not quite so gruesome!

I listened to this as an audiobook, Ali herself narrating it, and it was glorious. It really heightened the experience for me. It wasn’t a long audiobook by any stretch at just over an hour and was perfect to curl up and listen to before bed. I do, however, really want the physical book because I have seen it is beautifully illustrated.

This was easily a 5* book. I loved it.

Review: The Gospel of Loki – Joanne M Harris

gospeloflokiI have very little knowledge of Norse mythology but this book has me wanting to read more. The Gospel of Loki is a modern twist on the Elder Edda told, as implied by the title, from our very unreliable narrator, Loki. Having read this book I want to one, read more Norse mythology and two, read more books by Joanne Harris.

Mythology has been given a bit of a facelift in this book in that Loki is very modern. Loki is just awesome in this book, as could be expected as it’s the story through his eyes. He is sarcastic, witty, funny, sassy and very unreliable and I really loved the picture painted from that point of  view. Loki makes an entertaining unreliable narrator. In a running theme throughout the book, he warns us of various people we should never trust – a wise man, a relative, a friend – and it is inevitable that we as readers discover that no one whomsoever can be trusted, including Loki himself.

For me, this was more of a short story collection than a novel. Chapter to chapter this felt disjointed to me. There was no cohesion between chapters and I really wasn’t prepared for that, though I really ought to have expected it. That’s okay, I love short story collections but it did mean that losing myself in this for more than a chapter at a time was quite a challenge. I had to read it in chapter long instalments more often than not, breaking up each one with a chore or a cup of tea!

Of course, as I mentioned, I am not familiar whatsoever with Norse mythology so I really cannot account for how accurate a retelling/adaptation that this is to the original stories however I think it’s an interesting take. Any myth told through the eyes of someone who is often a background character is interesting. From what I understand this is a very twisted version of the original poetry from which it is based but, actually, it is probably a far more accessible way for people to read about the mythology. Of course Norse myth has become popular as of late thanks to Marvel films etc. (something I myself haven’t actually watched an entire one of) – Loki in particular has a cultish following and I think this would definitely be a hit with those fans who maybe want a different perspective on him. I think there is quite a deviation from what is told through Marvel and what is told in these pages but I think it is probably a more approachable way to look at Norse myth than some epic poetry. For that reason I’m going to pass this on to my sister who is likely to love it.

The main issues with this, for me, was that there was no real character development. Loki and Odin are the only two characters with any meat on their bones, everyone else is woefully underdeveloped and flat. Also, while this was a modern twist on mythology, I sometimes found the mix of old and new jarring; for the most part it worked but at other times I was very much “eh?”.

Overall this is a 3* read. It was good, I really enjoyed it, I loved the narration. Just some of it felt flat, and in parts it was disjointed. I think maybe had I had more background knowledge of Loki I would have enjoyed this more so it is likely to be one I revisit as I definitely want to read more Norse mythology! Also, I have to just say that bought this book on recommendation from my favourite former bookseller (who has gone on to be a librarian, those kids are lucky!) and I am very glad he put this on the pile of books that I ended up buying! He has assured me that she intends to write more in the series so I await those eagerly!

Review: Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith

GirlMeetsBoyI don’t think I can quite express how much I love this book. I first read this book in 2010 and I fell in love with it then. As a 16 year old, finding this book, a book that I identified so easily with I was captured and I have since read it once a year – it’s no stretch to say that this is one of my favourite books of all time. Every time I read this book I love it a little more, and in different ways. This time I took a bit longer to read it, rather than devouring it in one sitting and I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do but I decided to approach this a bit differently this time around as it was being read for the Classical Readalong.

Unlike reading The Odyssey before re-reading The Penelopiad, I don’t feel that reading The Metamorphoses altered my enjoyment of Girl Meets Boy. It didn’t change my opinion, it didn’t change how I approached it or how I interpreted it – maybe it’s because I was familiar with the myth of Iphis prior to my reading of The Metamorphoses. A lot of people say this book is just a long poetic ramble, and it is, but I love it.

 

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Review: The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

the penelopiad

Having read The Odyssey as part of a readalong, reading The Penelopiad was recommended as a complementary piece to Homer’s original work on which this is based. 

I originally read this book 5 years ago and, while I enjoyed it, I felt like I was missing something. Atwood’s writing is beautiful but there was a gaping hole in this book for me originally – I didn’t understand what was going on! Now, having read The Odyssey – I adored it and it’s probably skyrocketed to near the top of my favourite books of all time. Knowing the backstory just elevated this book completely.

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