Alex and Tansy pull apart the recent school-set Doctor Who spin off TV show Class, with its YA tropes, teen diversity, squicky alien creatures and fascinating parent-kid dynamics. But mostly we rave about the awesomeness of Quill. Because she is the best.
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This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost. It’s being published in February 2017; RRP $16.99.
I have to say first off that I think the title is naff. It doesn’t tell you anything and it also doesn’t relate to anything in the story. So that’s my whinge.
The promo material for this book suggests 12+. I would say 14+, personally; I can’t think of a 12 year old I would deliberately give this. Some 12 year olds would take it for themselves and cope quite nicely, I suspect, but that’s a different issue.
Zoe’s father died a few months ago; her brother goes out in a snowstorm and she has to rescue him; she meets a stranger with tattoos and apparently some sort of extraordinary power. He has no name; she calls him X. He’s a bounty hunter; things of course do not go well for him or for Zoe and her family.
It’s not the most original-sounding narrative, but there are some remarkable aspects to the book. Slight spoiler: X is from what would be best described as hell, but the Lowlands are quite different from any other incarnation of hell that I’ve come across in fiction. It’s an intriguing vision of the place and of how it might be used. There’s no explanation of the Lowlands and how it operates; instead the focus of the narrative is on relationships, and the work of bounty hunters… it’s all about the vibe of the thing. And overall that worked. Certainly there are a myriad of unanswered questions about the mechanics, but they don’t really matter for the story itself.
The human world and especially Zoe’s family are beautifully realised. The different expressions of grief are portrayed sensitively and realistically. Jonah, Zoe’s brother, has ADHD; it’s just a fact of life and oh my goodness he’s a cute terror, as little brothers usually are. Mum is vegan and a bit nuts and fierce and has always struggled to hold the family together: I adored her so much. Zoe’s friends Val and Dallas are a delight (Val made a Tumblr of her girlfriend’s feet) and although I thought it was going to veer into dodgy love triangle territory Giles avoids that neatly. Dad… well, he was a struggler, and the way mum slowly revealed a bit more about what he was like to Zoe over the course of the book was heart-breaking and, again, intensely realistic.
Into this human world comes X, quite accidentally, and in some ways – although a third or more of the book is from his perspective – he’s the most opaque of all of them I think. Partly this is because he almost has no personality, thanks to how he has grown up; he really only starts to live after meeting Zoe. I was reminded of those suggestions of how Matt Smith’s Doctor ‘imprinted’ on young Amelia Pond, as I watched X and Zoe together. I was initially a bit squeaked by their budding romance because I thought he was much older than her; turns out he’s maybe 20 to her 16 (which is still a bit squick for me). The intensity of their attitude towards one another, especially his for her, was the main eye-rolly bit for me. It all seemed a bit too intense too fast.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that this is the start of a series. It felt to me like the sort of intense story and relationship that ought to be encapsulated in just one, say 450-page, book. I don’t know how it could have been resolved but I definitely would have preferred that.
Overall this is a well-paced and intense book that I read in the course of one day. I enjoyed most of the relationships and I was genuinely surprised by a couple of the revelations. I’m not sure whether I want the sequel because I’m afraid it will lose the intensity, but that’s a problem I’ll just have to deal with.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children’s, at no cost. It’s on sale now; RRP $19.99.
The promo material that comes with this says it’s for 12+ years. Me, I wouldn’t give this to a 12 year old that you wouldn’t give Lord of the Flies to – and I’m guessing that’s most of them. It’s been a while since I read Lord of the Flies but there are definite overtones of that scenario in Carthew’s book, especially in the second half. I rather feel a kid would need to be a bit robust to read and enjoy this, because it’s certainly not all rainbows and cupcakes. I know dystopia is (was) all the rage but this feels a bit closer to home than that…
The set up sees Trey, as a small child, hiding in a cupboard while his parents are murdered. What a cheery opening, right? And then the story skips forward eight years and Trey is getting himself into a farm camp for juvenile criminals, in theory intended to train the adolescents in useful skills but in reality more like forced labour. Trey has willingly gone there in order to try and find the man responsible for his parents’ deaths. Which is a bit messed up I think.
There are some really interesting ideas here, but for me some of the better ones are the ideas that get mentioned and then lost. It becomes clear int he second half that society outside of the camp isn’t exactly the society of Britain (I think) in 2016… but exactly what’s going on and how it got there is never explored. It’s just mentioned in passing, almost for no reason, and then ploop… disappears. The entire set up of the farm isn’t explored or explained in that much detail, so it just sort of… exists… as a place for things to happen.
The main focus of the story is friendship and revenge. Friendship in this kind of environment is always going to be a bit fraught, what with sadistic overseers and bullies and a system aimed at breaking kids down. The friendship between Trey and a boy in his bunk room, Lamby, is believable enough but I didn’t always buy the friendship between Trey and Kay, a girl with whom he ends up doing farm work. It might have been a bit more believable if there had been other female characters with whom we got to see Kay interacting, or even Trey interacting with them.
The revenge aspect drives the initial part of the plot and again I didn’t entirely buy the eight year old boy turning into an adolescent so driven by revenge that it’s as if there’s a demon under his skin. This idea of a demon gets a few mentions – including on the back cover – but isn’t really explained; Trey occasionally talks to it but it’s not clear what we’re meant to think is going on. Maybe that’s left deliberately ambiguous but it didn’t work for me in this context. There is some resolution to this revenge plot but, again, it didn’t entirely work for me.
This all makes it sound like I hated the book, but I didn’t. I didn’t love it, but neither did I loathe it. Cart hew writes beautifully on a sentence level; the Financial Times apparently described her as using “vivid, imagistic language” and certainly a lot of the language is vivid. Some of the lacunae are obviously deliberate and evocative, which I liked, it just didn’t always sit well with the plot.
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen & Unwin, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $19.99.
When I read the first book in this series, Zeroes, I was a bit underwhelmed. I felt like it didn’t fully deliver on its promises – not quite dramatic enough, somehow, or heroic, or problematic. I didn’t hate it… I was just a bit disappointed. So while I was very excited to receive the sequel to review, I experienced some trepidation.
And then I picked it up. And then I couldn’t put it down. And I read the entire thing in an afternoon… and, ahem, evening; it’s been a while since I read past my bedtime in order to finish a book.
Folks, the sequel is better than the first. Shocking, I know. Continue reading →
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen and Unwin, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $24.99.
This BOOK! I’m so happy to have read this book! I’m so happy this book exists! (Spoilers for the other Old Kingdom books. Just go read them.)
I’ve been a fan of the Old Kingdom books for a long time. Not as long as they’ve existed – Sabriel came out about 20 years ago and I didn’t read it then – but long enough ago that when the prequel, Clariel, came out in 2014 I was a bit over the moon. So with Goldenhand being a direct sequel to Abhorsen, I’ve been pining for this book for a good while.
This is most definitely a sequel. I’m not sure how it would stand by itself – there’s not a lot of explanation of the whole necromancy by bells thing, nor of the Charter, and there’s a moment where Lirael is required to use her mirror and I was like wait, what? because it’s been a while since I read the other books. But really that’s all right because just READ ALL THE OTHERS ANYWAY.
Lirael is pining the loss of the Disreputable Dog, and trying to fit in with her newly discovered much older half-sister Sabriel and her family, and learning to be the Abhorsen. Something I loved about Lirael was how she always struggled to fit in as a Clayr, and I like that Nix hasn’t just made her magically (heh) well-adjusted. Meanwhile, of course, things aren’t entirely hunky dory in the rest of the kingdom: a nomad appears unexpectedly at the Greenwash Bridge, and even more unexpectedly proceeds to be attacked by other nomads and their awesomely freaky magical constructs. Cue mad flight down the river…
The book follows two tracks: Lirael, taking charge of Abhorsen business while Sabriel has a holiday (heh so cute), which means investigating a message about Nicholas Sayre and there being a magical creature on the wrong side of the Wall… and Ferin, the nomad messenger, whose endurance makes all the other characters look a bit weak and who just occasionally has a wicked sense of humour.
I love Ferin.
Nix’s writing is incredibly easy to read: it’s fast-paced, and it has lovely descriptions that allow you to imagine the place but not get bogged down in detail. I love the idea of the Charter and the additional development that the magic system gets here. In the interview with Nix that’s included in the book, he seems a bit bemused by how many people mention the gender balance in his books. But here’s the thing: when you’re reading about some guards being awesome in fighting and realise that any number of them are women, and that’s just so not a thing for this world, it still blows my mind. Multiple women in multiple sorts of roles: it can be done.
This is a wonderful addition to the Old Kingdom world and I’m so happy that it exists.
I received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost as an uncorrected proof. It comes out in October; RRP $16.99.
I abandoned this book, after reading just over half. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really wasn’t working for me and there are SO many books I want to read that I just don’t have time for books that don’t work.
Firstly, the press release says it’s for children 12+. I’m not sure I’d be happy with a 12 year old reading this: the protagonist has spent eleven years in a mental institute – since she was six – and there are some bits that I think may be a little scary for less mature readers. Anyway, that’s not a reason for me abandoning it.
The protagonist is part of the reason. I did not at any point feel any empathy towards Snow. There’s a bit too much repetition about her immediate woes (not being able to see the boy she really likes, who’s also in the institution), and a serious lack of development about either her history (she walked into a mirror and that was enough to get her committed?) or her personality more generally.
This is symptomatic of the book as a whole, actually: there is so little development of anything. Characters and places and events all occur in a vague world, sometimes with connections spelled out and sometimes not. Things happen far too fast – strange dreams! strange boy appearing! lover boy disappears!! a Tree!!! – and I was left completely bewildered, and not in a shivery-anticipation kinda way; in a ‘what the heck just happened?’ kinda way. It’s a portal fantasy, eventually, but whereas Foz Meadows deals nicely with the sort of confusion this would produce, Danielle Paige has Snow being confused for about ten seconds and then basically comfortable, with no explanation for how this is possible (i.e. treating it as a fantasy or whatever).
Also, the writing does not help the reading process. It’s not actively bad, but I was aware of reading – rather than being sucked into a world and ignoring the process, which really awesome writing enables.
I’m sad that this didn’t work out. I think the Snow Queen story has a lot of potential for reworking. In fact the day I received this my mother was visiting, and she had just started Michael Cunningham’s retelling of the story (very different from this), and I’d seen Frozen only about a week before. So there definitely is potential. And this version had potential… it just wasn’t achieved.
I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages… like since it came out. Heh.
When I bought it, the sales assistant was very pleased for me. She warned me that she’d got to 200 pages, worried that she wasn’t enjoying it, gave it another 50 pages… and then finished it at like 3am the next morning. So it was good to know that at least one other person found it a bit hard going and then BANG it got better.
That’s kinda how I found it too.
The overview: this is written in a ‘found footage’ format – emails, reconstructed IM chat, reports, etc. It’s reconstructing the events which have happened over the last twelve months from the moment that a bunch of space ships suddenly opened fire on a colony, and just a few people manage to escape courtesy of a UTA (United Terran Authority) ship that happened to be nearby. The focus is Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra, whom she helps to escape because dude, she’s not that cold.
As I alluded to, there was definitely a bit of a dead patch for me; I was finding the interaction between Kady and Ezra a bit laboured. But it seriously picked up, and while I didn’t finish it in one sitting I came very close (about 80 pages one night, the rest the next day). I can completely understand why this has already been optioned for turning into a film.
I really liked the format. Although something I’ve very bad at is keeping an eye on the dates of things like emails or reports, it was an important thing to try and remember because checking the progress of events was sometimes vital, so I found myself going back a few pages sometimes to check on them. I loved the inclusion of things like the space ship specs, and there were a few sections where the authors and designers did some wonderful things with typography and format and it really added to the atmosphere and aesthetics. Giving the AI a very particular look – white type on black (except its direct speech, which was grey) was brilliant. Obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone, and it would be really dangerous to see this overdone – it would be so easy for it to become a cliche (maybe it already it is and I haven’t seen it? It’s still fresh for me) – but for now, I’m loving it.
As well as some fairly excellent action scenes, Kaufman and Kristoff also engage in some philosophical issues. The main one is that of AI sentience and how humanity might deal with it, deal with it going against their instruction/commands/ demands. It’s just slightly off-central – the plot doesn’t work without it but they could have had less introspection; I’m glad they didn’t, though, because for me it lifted the book just that bit into not-just-rolicking-fun.
Things I suspect Kaufman and Kristoff are fans of: Battlestar Galactica (the reboot); the Expanse series by James SA Corey; Arthur C Clarke’s 2001.
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Firstly, on formatting: having all of the names of the people who died on Copernicus actually listed? Slayed me. And then followed by pictures of the same? Magnificent touch. And then when I started picking out names of my friends from the Australian spec fic scene? SHEER BRILLIANCE I LOVE YOU.
So then there’s the twist. Oh. My. I really didn’t expect it: that the AI, AIDAN, has been mimicking Ezra for simply hours to lure Kady over to the Alexander to fix the problem it has that only ‘meat’ can deal with? That’s magnificent. I loved it. Because I’d been getting a bit sick of those two – and indeed I’m not completely over my annoyance at their relationship, although the revelation of why they broke up made it slightly better for them to get back together – and to then discover it was actually a ploy… Kaufman and Kristoff, NICE WORK.
I still don’t entirely love Kady and Ezra as a couple. I think this is partly an issue with me being old and cynical, because I think “17? 18? really?” – which is mostly my problem. But I’m not going to not read the rest of this series. I fully intend to read the heck out of the next book, that’s for sure, and shove this book into the hands of whoever I can find that’s just about old enough to appreciate it.
This is another hugely enjoyable book from Carriger. Once again our girl Sophronia is thrown into difficulties at her alleged finishing school. This time she has a lot more to do with the supernatural element of her world, especially the vampires. Of course there’s a lot of discussion of dresses and fashion and hats and reticules; she must figure out how to carry a knife without it being obvious, she must learn to bat her eyelids effectively, and how best to carry the implements required of a young lady in her position. I’m still surprised by how enjoyable I find yet another school focused book.
Most of this book is spent on the dirigible of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school. Some time is spent in classes, learning about domestic economy, poisoning, fainting and how to properly address vampires. But for Sophronia, much of her time is spent on the outside of the dirigible – climbing – as well as with the sooties down below and the dressing-as-a-boy Vieve. Interestingly the plot follows on from Etiquette and Espionage, in that the MacGuffin here is the same. Of course this time it’s not so much about finding the prototype as it is about figuring out what it can do, how it will do it, and who will control it. There’s a surprising amount of politics for a book that seems at least on the outside as being solely can send with fashion. I guess that’s kind of the point; that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive and anyone who is thinks they are is likely to underestimates graduates of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school.
One of the big differences in this book compared to the original is that there’s a lot more boys. I’m not really sure what I think about this; on the one hand it’s obviously an important skill for girls like Sophronia and Dimity to learn – that is, how to deal with difficult yet handsome young man. And of course reappearing in this book is Soap, certainly one of my favorite characters although somewhat problematic given that he’s black and his nickname is Soap. On the other hand I really enjoyed the almost exclusively female cast of the first book; the fact that boys were not necessary for the book to proceed, the fact that the girls were perfectly capable of getting themselves into and out of scrapes generally without any male assistance (or hindrance) at all. While some of the ways that Sophronia dealt with her would-be suitors was entertaining, I did find myself enjoying the sections of the plot that solely involves the girls generally more enjoyable.
I continue to be fascinated by the development of this world that Carriger initially developed for the Alexia books. And of course I remain desperately keen to find out how this series will intersect with the earlier one. One of those intersections is quite obvious but I have no doubts that Carriger will provide some further surprises in the rest of the series.
I didn’t adore Rampant, the first book, but I was very curious to see where Peterfreund would take Astrid and her fellow unicorn-hunters. This sequel was a bit darker than the first, but overall has many of the same preoccupations: the difficulties of committing yourself to a life of killing and celibacy when you’re sixteen, the difficulties of being forced together with a bunch of girls you don’t know and have little in common with, occasionally having to deal with a crazy mother. So while I didn’t adore this one, either, I definitely don’t regret reading it.
The main surprise for me with the first book was (what felt like) its overwhelming interest in Astrid’s love life. By the end I could see why this was important – in terms of plot – and of course if Peterfreund was setting out to write a teen romance with killer unicorns then that’s totally cool; it’s just not what I had expected, which is my problem not hers. That continues into this book, naturally, with some neat (well, difficult actually) twists that meant it wasn’t simply rehashing the initial plot. Peterfreund is certainly not interested in making life easy for her characters. The romance didn’t work for me but I’m not a teenager, so maybe I’m too cynical.
I liked that Astrid got to experience life a bit outside of the Cloisters, and that she got to think through her difficulties with the whole idea of killing. There’s a nice, if simplistic, balance between Cory on the one side, all in favour of killing the lot, and Phil wanting to set up some sort of genuine conservation – and Astrid fitting between them. It did relieve me that Kill The Beast! didn’t become an overwhelming theme for the novel.
I’m surprised there’s no third book. … and I’ve just looked at Peeterfreund’s website which says that she’s hoping to write the third, Triumphant, “soon” (but I don’t know when the site was updated). I’ll probably end up reading it, although it’s not a preorder-in-a-mad-rush kinda thing.
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
Firstly? I do not love this cover. It’s far too old to be Sophronia, which I don’t remember being a problem with the other covers. The crossbow is appropriate, at least. I am also not wild about the yellow.
Fortunately I do not tend to judge books by covers; at least, not books in a series I have been enjoying and whose author I tend to trust.