Review: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

Title: Nevernight {The Nevernight Chronicle #1}

Author: Jay Kristoff

Published: 19th June 2017, HarperCollins

Status: Read December 2020

++++++

My Thoughts:

I was gifted Nevernight by bestselling Australian fantasy/SciFi author Jay Kristoff, in 2019 from my Secret Santa (thank you again Little Miss Starr) via the Aussie Readers + Bloggers Secret Santa Exchange, and had hoped to have read it long before now, but better late than never!

“Never flinch. Never fear. And never, ever forget.”

In a land of three suns, where darkness falls just once a year, a young girl hides amongst the shadows. Mia Corvere, the orphaned daughter of a highborn family, is determined to avenge the murders of her parents and younger brother by the corrupt members of The Republic, no matter the cost. Chance leads her to the door of a mentor who prepares her to join the Red Church, a secretive organisation of assassins where she may earn a position as a Blade of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and thus the skill to vanquish her enemies, if she can survive among a hall of killers to graduate.

Nevernight is an entertaining fast paced read, offering plenty of action, intrigue and interesting worldbuilding. Though the main thrust of the plot isn’t particularly unique, Kristoff does add his own imaginative touches so that the story doesn’t feel stale, and I was quickly engrossed in the tale from the first few pages.

Mia is plucky, pragmatic, deadly and determined, but it’s her gift of weaving shadows that gives her an edge as an assassin. Mis doesn’t really understand her ability, she thinks of it as something that found her, in the form of Mr Kindly – a cat made of shadows that also feeds on her fear, rather than something that is part of her. I liked Mia a lot, like all fantasy heroines she has a streak of idealism that conflicts with her ability to create mayhem and murder. The cutthroat competition of the Red Church apprenticeship isn’t always easy for her, especially when it pits her against those she has befriended.

Nevernight is both more violent and more sexually suggestive, and explicit, than I expected, as I was under the mistaken impression it was considered a YA novel. This wasn’t an issue for me, but it’s perhaps important to note that despite its teenage protagonist, Nevernight is written for an adult audience.

The overall tone of Nevernight is quite dark, what with deaths and monsters, but there is also plenty of wit and sarcasm which I appreciated. I confess Nevernight occasionally feels a touch overwritten, but not so much that I cared, I enjoy a creative metaphor and Kristoff supplies plenty. I can take or leave the author’s fetish for footnotes though, I found it easiest to read through them at the end of each chapter.

An exciting tale of love and loss, bloodshed and betrayal, dark and light, Nevernight is the first book in the Nevernight Chronicle trilogy. Godsgrave and Darkdawn are already available, I hope to read both soon.

++++++

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Review: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Title: A Deadly Education {Scholomance #1}

Author: Naomi Novik

Published: 29th September 2020, Del Rey

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse Australia

++++++

My Thoughts:

In its simplest terms A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik could be described as a cross between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, but this imaginative, darkly funny fantasy has a magic all of its own.

Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins is in her last term of her second last year at Scholomance, a sentient school built in the void to educate the children of the magical community’, an education only one in four survive thanks in part to its gruelling and competitive nature, and the maleficaria who roam the halls. To make it to and through the school’s most deadly test, Graduation Day, the students need to make alliances, something which is proving difficult for El whose very being, not to mention her snarky and abrasive attitude, seems to repel her classmates. That is until the class hero Orion Lake saves her life for the third time.

In this first book of the Scholomance series, Novik has created an imaginative and complex world full of magic and monsters. I’m not going to even try to explain the details of how the school operates because discovering them for yourself is part of the fun. Suffice it to say, navigating every activity within the Scholomance from bathroom visits to classroom assignments is a matter of life and death. Such an intricate setup does result in a bit of info-dumping, but I think Novik tempers it by using the first person perspective.

It took me a little while to warm up to El, in the initial introduction she’s complaining about her life being saved and appears ungrateful and abrasive, she never really loses that edge, but it didn’t take long til I developed some empathy for her, and even grew to like to her quite a lot. El has some pretty good reasons for being who she is, not the least of which is being in possession of a magical strength that could level the entire school and everyone it.

El’s fellow classmates are a mixed bunch, as in any highschool there is a clear social hierarchy with groups, namely the children born in magical enclaves (communities), that have distinct cache and advantages, and ‘independents’, whose best chance to survive Scholomance is to gain an invitation to join an enclave, or form a strong alliance with other independent students. El is essentially friendless when A Deadly Education begins despite her best efforts so she’s shocked by the notice of Orion Lake, the hero of the much sought after New York enclave. Orion’s attention indirectly helps El to connect with several other students, most importantly Liu and Aadhya.

There is plenty of action in A Deadly Education given that a large number, and variety of, mal’s lurk everywhere eager for a tasty meal in the form of a careless or inattentive student. And as if monsters aren’t enough to worry about, the teens aren’t above sabotaging, or even killing, each other, and Scholomance itself is wholly indifferent to its charges survival.

Exciting, creative and fun, I found A Deadly Education to be an entertaining YA read, and I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.

++++++

Available from PenguinRandomHouse Australia

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Review: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix

Title: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Author: Garth Nix

Published: 29th September 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++++

My Thoughts:

In Garth Nix’s new fantasy title, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, eighteen year old Susan Arkshaw moves to the city in search of her unknown father. With almost nothing to go on she begins by seeking out a man she knows only as Uncle Frank, but before she can question him she witnesses a young man turn him to dust with the touch of a silver pin. Susan has every intention of calling the police but when a giant louse, and then a malevolent black smoke attacks, she instinctively follows the man, who introduces himself as Merlin, out of the window.

Susan soon discovers Merlin St Jacques is a left-handed bookseller, as opposed to a right-handed bookseller like his sister Vivian, one of many agents who are tasked with keeping the Old World from unduly affecting the New. Nix has created an unique setting in an alternate timeline, the details of which unfold as the story progresses, combining archaic myths and magics, and exasperated police, a devious Ancient Sovereign with a swag of mind-controlled minions, and, of course, booksellers who are more than they seem.

Just like the booksellers, Susan too is more than she seems, though nobody is exactly sure what that is. It is clear she is being targeted by someone with inimical intent, and Susan, Merlin and Vivian find themselves fleeing a series of attacks providing plenty of fast paced action and excitement as they dodge, amongst other things, magical creatures, zombiefied kidnappers, and the odd bullet. There’s both humour, and a little gore, to amuse, and increase tension.

I really liked the main protagonists. Though Susan’s acceptance of the existence of the Old World seemed a mite too easy, I was quite happy to that Nix avoided the usual drama of denial and self doubt. As a left-handed bookseller, the androgynous Merlin is the brawn, wielding swords and guns, while his sister, being right-handed is the brains, and capable of basic magic that is useful in a tight spot. The three of them develop an easy rapport, and there’s even a little romance.

Imaginative and entertaining, though The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is aimed at a young adult audience, it will also appeal to adults who enjoy light fantasy. While the story is complete, there’s obvious potential for a series I’d be happy to continue with.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$24.99

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Review: Dead Man in a Ditch by Luke Arnold

Title: Dead Man in a Ditch {The Fetch Phillips Archives #2}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: 24th September 2020, Orbit

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

+++++++

My Thoughts:

“But Sunder City makes a few things without fail: hunger in winter, drunks at night and trouble all year round.”

Picking up a few months after The Last Smile of Sunder City ended, nothing much has changed for Fetch Phillips ‘Man For Hire’, but he is about to learn that his beloved adopted home, Sunder City, has been changing around him in Dead Man in a Ditch, the second urban fantasy novel from Luke Arnold.

When Fetch is asked by the police to examine a dead body in the Bluebird Lounge, and stunned to find the man has been killed with magic, since it’s been seven years since The Coda vanquished all magic from the world. Fletch believes the magic is lost forever, and he’s determined to prove it… but what if he’s wrong?

After establishing character and world building in the first novel, Dead Man in a Ditch has more action as Fetch moves between a variety of investigations, most of which lead him into trouble, from searching for an errant husband, to tracking the origins of a dangerous new machine, battling with a crazed unicorn, and hunting down a killer wizard. All roads eventually lead to a company looking to make their mark, and a battle to save the City.

That’s not say Arnold doesn’t continue developing both the world and his characters. New characters are introduced, most notably a grifting werecat named Linda Rosemary, but it’s the unexpected return of Fetch’s former mentor, Hendricks, that has the most impact on the plot. Suffering from the effects of Magic’s withdrawal Hendricks is not the man, in body or spirit, that Fetch remembers, putting the two on an inevitable collision course.

Though perhaps a little long, the story is fast paced, with an entertaining mix of drama and dark humour. The City, and Fetch, are still rather dirty and bleak but there is a little light breaking through.

An imaginative and enjoyable sequel, I’m looking forward to Fletch’s next adventures in Sunder City.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: The Erasure Initiative by Lili Wilkinson

Title: The Erasure Initiative

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Published: August 1st 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Erasure Initiative is an absorbing and entertaining YA psychological thriller from Lili Wilkinson

“I wake up, and for a few precious seconds I don’t realise there’s anything wrong.”

Roused by the jolting movements of the self driving bus she is riding in, Cecily, who only learns her name from the sticker on her t-shirt (HELLO! MY NAME IS CECILY), realises she has no memory of herself. Neither does she remember where she is coming from, or where she is going, and recognises none of six strangers, of varying ages and ethnicities, accompanying her. As the group speculate about their predicament, the other passengers having admitted they are similarly affected, a message appears on the screens in front of them…

“You are in a moving vehicle. Before you the road forks. Ahead, there are five pedestrians. On the side road there is one pedestrian. You can press a button and the bus will turn off onto the side road. The bus will not stop. Do you press the button? YES/NO”

This is only the first of several tests that force the passengers to choose between life and death.

In this well-paced novel, fraught with escalating tension, Wilkinson offers an intriguing premise that explores issues surrounding identity, personality, and morality in The Erasure Initiative. With no past with which to define yourself, what sort of person would you choose to be? Are we shaped by nature or nurture? Can someone ever be anything other than who they are? How do you determine the value of a life?

Cecily may not remember anything about who she is, but she is certain she does not want to be on this bus which seems to be circling a deserted island, and is determined to do all she can to escape it. Though wary of placing her trust in her fellow passengers she is especially drawn to Nia, a dark-skinned, shaved-head girl with an anti authoritarian attitude, a high tech prosthetic leg and computer hacking skills, and Paxton, whose confidence, warm smile, and good looks help dampen her anxiety.

“What do you do when you learn that you’re the villain of your own story?”

I enjoyed the varied characters in The Erasure Initiative, though some have a larger role to play than others in the story, they each have a purpose. As the passengers struggle to piece together their identities, based on the few clues they are able to glean, their assessments of each other, and themselves, waver and shift. Cecily in particular is blind-sided by information that contradicts her perception of herself and who she wants to be.

Clever, compelling and challenging, The Erasure Initiative is a great read, sure to impress.

++++++

Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$19.99

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Review: Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco

 


Title: Wicked As You Wish (A Hundred Names for Magic #1)

Author: Rin Chupeco

Published: March 3rd 2020, Sourcebooks Fire

Status: Read March 2020, courtesy Sourcebooks/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

While browsing for a novel to suit the SwordsNStars challenge, the publicity tagline for Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco caught my attention.

“An unforgettable alternate history fairy-tale series about found family, modern-day magic, and finding the place you belong.”

The story begins in The Royal States of America, where Prince Alexei of Avalon is in hiding from The Snow Queen, waiting until he is found by the Firebird, so that he at last will have the power to renter his lands and claim his throne. When the Firebird finally appears, Alex, along with his best friend Tala – who has a rare ability to repel and negate magic – and a group of other young magic wielders, set out on a dangerous journey to Avalon to reclaim it from the Snow Queen’s deadly magic.

There’s a lot to like in Wicked As You Wish. It offers plenty of fast paced action, a diverse cast of characters, humour, intrigue, and a unique mix of political and cultural elements taken from both the modern world and the world of fairytales and legends.

But the world Chupeco has created is very ambitious and to be honest I struggled to make complete sense of it. Eventually I just had to sort of overlook the finer details and simply go along for the ride.

If you are willing to do the same, I expect you’ll enjoy Wicked As You Wish, as I did, but I think it’s fair to say it won’t be for everyone.

++++++

Available from Sourcebooks

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Review: The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

Title: The Last Smile in Sunder City (The Fetch Phillips Archives #1}

Author: Luke Arnold

Published: January 28 2020, Orbit

Status: Read February 2020, courtesy Hachette Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Imaginative and entertaining, The Last Smile in Sunder City is the first book in an urban fantasy series from debut novelist Luke Arnold.

“The magic had vanished and the world that magic had built was tearing itself apart…”

Six years ago, a war between The Humanitarian Army (representing the humans) and The Opus (representing the world’s magic creatures) destroyed magic. Known as The Coda, the event resulted in catastrophe in Sunder City. Without magic to sustain them, Elves rapidly aged and died, Were’s were left as half-transformed freaks, Vampires withered as they starved, while other creatures shed scales, or fur, or skin, and to the disadvantage of all, machinery and technology, once infused or forged with magic, stopped working. Arnold has created a bleak, gritty and imaginative world, with ‘Man For Hire’ Fletch Phillips at its center.

Fletch Phillips embodies the traits of a traditional noir P.I. in that he is a morose, down-on-his-luck, functional alcoholic who sleeps on a fold down bed in his dingy office. An orphan who lost his parents in horrific circumstances, Fletch once lived in a caring but closed community which he fled at eighteen to explore the wider world he half-remembered. He is terribly flawed, but not quite yet irredeemably, and I found him quite likeable. His journey from curious runaway teen, to guilt-ridden Man For Hire sporting three significant tattoo’s on his arm, is the subject of several flashbacks through the novel, which also eventually explains his role in the death of magic.

It’s not (metaphorically speaking) a blonde bombshell that walks into Fletch’s office to launch the story, it’s the headmaster of a local school searching for his friend and colleague – a centuries old, and ailing vampire. Fletch’s search leads him through the seedy streets of Sunder City, occasionally getting in they way of the police, (whom mostly despise him), and generally making more enemies than friends. I thought the mystery was fairly well plotted, though not particularly complex, and I would have preferred Fletch investigate more actively than he seemed to. I was also perhaps a little disappointed with the lack of action in the plot overall, but am prepared to forgive that given the need for Arnold to create the foundation of both the setting and character.

The Last Smile In Sunder City is a robust beginning to what I believe has the potential to be a popular fantasy series. I found it to be an easy and engaging read.

++++++

Available from Hachette Australia

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Review: Infinity Son {Infinity Cycle #1} by Adam Silvera

Title: Infinity Son {Infinity Cycle #1}

Author: Adam Silvera

Published: January 20th 2020, Simon & Schuster Au

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Simon & Schuster Au

++++++

My Thoughts:

Infinity Son is Adam Silvera’s fifth book, but his first foray into the fantasy genre. It’s the beginning of a trilogy titled Infinity Cycle, featuring brothers Emil and Brighton caught up in a magical war.

The physical setting for Infinity Son is based in urban New York, and while the population of Silvera’s fantasy world is human, a small percentage are known as Celestials, who may act as Spell Walkers, whom are born with inherited powers that usually manifest during childhood, or Specters, who may act as Blood Casters, whom gain their abilities with alchemy derived from murdering magical creatures like hydra’s, basilisks or phoenixes.

In New York at least, the Celestials and Specters are enemies, and both groups are generally reviled by the current government, who seek to imprison or control them, so when Emil unexpectedly manifests extraordinary powers in defence of Brighton when attacked by a Specter, the brothers, along with their mother and close friend, are forced into hiding with a group of Spell Walkers.

There are more shocks in store for Emil, and he struggles to accept his new role, especially as the situation with the Specters escalates. Meanwhile Brighton, desperate to contribute, uses his social media savvy in an attempt to restore the Spell Walkers reputation, but the reflected glory is not enough to satisfy him long.

Though Emil and Brighton are the central characters, Infinity Son unfolds from a number of other viewpoints, including Spell Walker, Maribelle, and Ness, a Specter. It’s a diverse cast, which includes male and female queer characters, and persons of colour, who I enjoyed getting to know, but I do think it was perhaps a little ambitious of Silvera to introduce so many. There is a general lack of nuance, where the characters are defined by a single trait, rather than having a well-rounded personality.

The plot is fairly simple, Silvera utilises the familiar ‘chosen one’ trope with the inevitable battles between good vs evil. There’s a touch of sibling rivalry, a suggestion of star-crossed lovers, and unexpectedly for the genre, a whole lot of social media. Infinity Son also offers plenty of action, and the story is generally fast-paced.

To be honest, the magic structure of the world feels like a slightly messy mash up of Harry Potter, X-Men, and (CW channel) superheroes. I think in part this is because Silvera provides very little in the way of exposition, and I struggled at times to connect, and make sense of, the scattered information. I’m fairly sure I figured out the basics, but there were a few elements that remain inexplicable.

Despite its flaws, I did enjoy Infinity Son, and I think the Infinity Cycle trilogy has potential as long as Silvera (or his editor) can rein in the obvious enthusiasm, which is what has led to this somewhat scattershot result.

++++++

Available from Simon & Schuster Australia

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