Tag Archives: fantasy

Emma Maree Reviews: Seraphina

seraphinaBook: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Why is it that the books I really loved are always the hardest to review?

I usually try to keep my reviews balanced with the good and the bad, but it’s so difficult for books like “Seraphina” when there really isn’t anything to fault with it.

The dialogue was snappy, true-to-life and very quotable. The plot twists were great. The usual issues I get twitchy about (gender equality and representation of different sexualities and races) were comfortingly absent. As for the world building… oh boy, I could gush about the world building for hours.  Every aspect of this book is richly written, from the background religions and cultures to the draconian species.

“Seraphina” is set in a world where, after a massive war between humans and dragons, a shaky treaty has brought peace and dragons now walk among humans in almost-human bodies. But when a member of the royal family is murdered in a draconic style, Seraphina (court musician, secret half-dragon, and generally awesome young lady) decides to help the young Prince investigate and find the murderer before the treaty falls apart.

It’s no secret that I love dragons, and this book handles dragons with style and grace. You won’t ever mix up a dragon character with a human one. They’re inhuman even in their human disguises, lovers of maths, and they avoid our confusing human emotions at all costs along with pointless niceties like saying “hello” or “goodbye”.

If you like dragons, pick this book up. If you like flawless high fantasy, pick this up. This is definitely one of the best YA books to come out of 2012.

A review copy of this novel was provided by Random House in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Random House!

Laini Taylor’s DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT UK Cover Reveal!

The cover for the UK hardback of Laini Taylor’s “Days of Blood and Starlight” (sequel to “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”) has been revealed:

I really enjoyed “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”, which has had some interesting cover redesigns.

But honestly, I’m not really feeling it with this cover. I much prefer the US cover set:

It’s not going to stop me picking this book up, because DoS&B was one of my favourite reads last year.

Readers, I’m curious — what do you think of the cover?

Emma Maree Reviews: Insurgent

US Cover

UK Cover

Book: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy, Book 2

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

One choice can transform you–or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves–and herself–while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

Tris’s initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable–and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

This review will contain spoilers for Divergent. You can view my original spoiler-free Divergent review here.

Back when I reviewed Divergent I was quite unhappy with the book, and not for the normal reasons — the writing was flawless, and the action was gripping. I kept the review free of a lot of that annoyance, thankfully, but the issue still weighed on me…

It was about Al. Al’s this big, bullied Dauntless trainee from a troubled home who falls for our main girl Tris. Tris is happy being good friends with him, but his romantic feelings make her uncomfortable and she tries to avoid facing them. Then Al messes up and helps some of the more popular guys attack her in the middle of the night. He leaves when he realizes things are getting serious, but not before he’s smashed their friendship to smithereens.

Afterwards, Al tries to apologize. He’s clearly in a bad way, and Tris sees this, but she refuses to forgive him even when he shows that he’s really torn-up and desperate. At this point, I’m seeing all the warning signs and making a face a bit like NoNoNo cat.

Al kills himself. Tris doesn’t react to this with any kind of sympathy, in fact, she gets outright annoyed when they hold a service honoring him. And this angered me. I’m touchy about how mental illnesses and suicide is handled in fiction, and I felt like the book was deliberately taking an anti-suicide viewpoint completely opposed to my own feelings as a reader. It alienated me from Tris, it even made me uneasy about the author and hesitant to pick up the second book.

But I picked up Insurgent, and you know what? It made me feel so much better.

The two big issues I had with Divergent where Tris’ apathy over Al’s suicide and some confusion over the worldbuilding, and Insurgent really digs into both of these. Tris’ realizes she messed up by not forgiving Al when he begged for it, she regrets her actions, and we get to explore some of the deeper, more problematic elements of a world where everyone’s divided by their strengths.

Insurgent really is fantastic: the combat is well-researched, the injuries play out realistically, the politics and strategies are interesting without getting boring, and the main pair Tris and Four have this powerful argument-fueled relationship where they both have to try and balance out each other’s differences. This is the first book in the series where I’ve really, truly liked Tris as a character, and supported her actions, and it was great fun watching the story unfold.

Insurgent was a great example of how to improve on a first novel without slowing down the action. Now I’m really looking forward to the third book in the series.

Emma Maree Reviews: Good Omens

Book: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

An angel (who owns a bookstore) and a demon (who owns a Bentley) work together to try and stop Armageddon, while a witch hunter and a witch do the same, using prophecies that are hundreds of years old. The Anti-Christ grows up in a small English village. That’s about the size of it.

Just in case you’re new to this blog: Hi, I’m Emma. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are two of my favourite authors. My review of this book is unlikely to surprise you. Okay, now that’s over with…

I loved this book.

The entire cast is amazing, from the Horsemen of the Apocalypse (with a badass, redheaded journalist starting wars everywhere she steps), the book-loving angel Aziraphale (“gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide”) and the demon Crowley (“An Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards”).

Strangely enough, my favourite character wasn’t the dark-humored but kind-hearted demon Crowley. It was a much more minor character, the humble package delivery man who loyally brings packages to help bring about the end of the World.

If you’re a fan of either or both author, pick this up ASAP and find out what you’ve been missing.

 

Cover Reveal! “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” UK Paperback

On 16th August Hodder Books will publish the paperback edition of Laini Taylor’s brilliant YA fantasy novel “Daughter of Smoke and Bone”.

The book itself is wonderful, and you can find my review and the hard back cover over here. I have a bias towards the original cover, because it’s the cover I own and love — and I adore designs that use feathers. but there’s plenty of interesting aspects in this new cover. It seems to be aiming at an older audience (crossover?), reminding me a lot of some women’s fiction covers while still keeping the story elements obvious, and I like that the font is almost identical to the original.

Emma Maree Reviews: Divergent

Book: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Series: The Divergent Trilogy

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci-Fi/Dystopian

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

Divergent is set in a world where Society has divided into five factions in order to avoid war in the future. This is a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it concept, and I’m on the side of the room that loves it and the way it slightly echoes Harry Potter houses.

I particularly loved that Dauntless, the daredevil faction designed to protect the city from an unknown enemy, is visibly falling apart and straying from its roots. It did push past believability at times, though. Jumping from a moving train across a drop that actually kills a new initiate on your first day felt unrealistic. Punching each other into unconsciousness to prove you’re brave felt unrealistic. Blatantly ignoring a murder felt unrealistic.

A possibly fatal jump (with a net at a bottom) and computer simulations forcing you to face your fear made sense. They tested initiate’s nerve while still being in a controlled environments for trainees. But if you’re taking actions that are going to kill your new members, your system is broken.

It takes a lot for me to actually stop and say ‘this feels unrealistic’. It means the world-building isn’t holding up enough for me to believe life could be this bad, and it makes it harder to relate to the world and the characters. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, but it frustrated me.

The story is loaded with action and adventure, and the main character Tris is a really awesome, strong young woman whose struggles and conflicting thoughts are clearly shown as she tries to adapt to a very different new life.

The smart ways Tris dealt with people being harsh and cruel towards her was brilliant, and she’s refreshingly different from other YA protagonists in that she can be self-centred, manipulative, and cold. To the point where her viciousness towards a genuinely nice, but troubled character made me want to put down the book.

But on the flip side, there were so many things I loved. The book is very ‘clean’ – it’s hugely violent, and filled with action and romantic tension, but there’s no swearing or sex. I think this might be due to the author’s religion, hinted to be Christian in the acknowledgement, but the book has only minimal subtext and I really like how well the book managed to stay within the lines.

The romance is sweet and slow-moving, with no love triangle in sight, and the plot had more than enough twists and turns to keep me on the edge of my seat.

Despite all the conflicting feelings I had about the story, I was hooked from start to finish. I love the action, the adventure, and the world enough that I can look past my issues. It’s far too easy to overthink a story when you get that wrapped up in it, I think.

I’d recommend this book to any fans of YA dystopian fiction who like the concept of the world being split into factions, and who enjoy action-packed plots like The Hunger Games and City of Bones. I’m looking forward to picking up the second book in this trilogy, Insurgent, which comes out this year.

Top 10 Covers of 2012

After seeing this idea up on Jaime’s blog from The Broke and Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday, I had to join in.

“Throne of the Crescent Moon” by Saladin Ahmed

Just look at that cover by one of my favorite artists, Jason Chan. It’s beautiful.  Such a variety of awesome looking characters.

‘Mockingbird’ by Chuck Wendig

Loved the Blackbird cover, and love this one as well. Both remind me pleasantly of Death from The Sandman. I still need to read these.

“Shadow and Bone” by Leigh Bardugo

Beautiful, Russian-inspired cover art.

‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green

Deceptively simple, but instantly recognisable. Click the link above to read a review.

“Article 5” by Kristen Simmons

An all-round wonderful sci-fi YA cover.

‘Tempest’ by Julie Cross

There’s something wonderfully tense and dramatic about this scene. I adore the colour of the sky as well, and the slight “Hush, Hush” style to the poses.

‘The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight” by Jennifer E. Smith  

Super-cute, love the restricted colour scheme and how neatly they worked in such a long title.

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio 

This is the story of a boy with an abnormal face. What a tricky book to think up a cover for, but this simple image really blows the concept out of the water.

“What’s Left Of Me” Kat Zhang

This is a brilliantly illustration – it captures the title perfectly.

“Thief’s Covenant” by Ari Marmell

To finish things off, another Jason Chan – and this time it’s the story of Widdershins, a young thief. This is another cover which uses a restricted set of colours to beautiful effect, as well as negative space. I really like how confident and intelligent the young thief looks.

A few runner-ups that didn’t make the cut:

“Cinder” by  Marissa Meyer. The cover sums up the story perfectly: Cinderella, with cyborgs.

“The Way We Fall” by Megan Crewe. The bright, bold yellow really grabs me here — and I’m a sucker for image-inside-text covers like the original Delirium cover.

“A Million Suns” by Beth Revis. “Across the Universe” had a fantastic cover, and it’s sequel is just as artistically well-off. This spells out the sci-fi and romance clearly, and the covers fit well with the previous book’s cover.

Emma Maree Reviews: The Graveyard Book

Book: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Childrens/Paranormal/Horror

After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own. Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

If you’ve ever read Gaiman’s “American Gods” (and you should) you’ll have an idea of what to expect here. Neil Gaiman is a goldmine of mythology and history, and his knowledge leaks into the pages. Everything is infused with accuracy and research, everything is referencing old gods and famous moments in history. They call it a kids book, but as an adult reader you can get so much more out of all his subtle little nods to history.

The story starts out with each chapter being a self-contained ‘snippet’ from the main character Nobody’s life in the graveyard, following him as he grows up and makes friends with witches, steps through portals into other worlds, and deals with a teacher who might not be all that she seems.  Towards the end of the story, all the individual sections start to come together as the man named Jack picks up Nobody’s trail once again…

Neil has a real gift with characters. The Graveyard residents are made memorable with only a few lines of text, and they’re all so likeable. I didn’t even realise how attached I was to these characters, until 2am on Christmas Day rolled around and I was still reading, still desperate to know what happened next and what these poor characters were going to have to go through.

This is a great fantasy novel – an easy, fast-paced read with a lot of depth and appeal to all ages.

Emma Maree Reviews: “The Daughter of Smoke and Bone”

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well.”

This is one of those books that’s hard to sum up in a review because I am ridiculously in love with it. Laini Taylor takes the old story of an angel falling in love with a devil and makes it new and original. It’s not the only cliche she freshens up either – Taylor takes heroines with a secret, angels fighting demons, magic boy-meets-girl, and turns it into a vivid fantasy series.

But that’s not where I got hooked – it was the opening scene that got its claws into me. In a beautifully described, snowy Prague our protagonist Karou wearily shrugs off a man jumping out at her from the shadows. The man is her ex, Kaz, and he’s got a surprise in store to try a win her back… a surprise involving his appearance on stage during her life drawing class.

It’s just hilarious, watching Karou trying to deal with the whole class seeing her ex naked–and the humor doesn’t end there, with Karou returning to the shop of the demon she works for and wryly recalling the ram-headed demon’s last attempt at a sex ed talk.

And this is all before the real story begins:

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? – Goodreads

Author Laini Taylor

“The Daughter of Smoke and Bone” really shines at dropping hints for you to piece together – by the end of the story, all the little details slot into place and you see how Laini planned everything perfectly from the start.

The book is split into three parts – part 1 lets you fall in love with Karou and her life as an errand girl for a shop full of loveable demons, part 2 introduces a flame-eyed angel Karou can’t keep herself away from, and part 3 is full of surprises and secrets.

It’s coming out this week in the UK, and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s a captivating, stay-up-all-night-to-finish it fantasy story that takes everything cliche and tired and makes it shine. I can’t wait for UK readers to get their hands on this – and I can’t wait for the sequel!

“The Daughter of Smoke and Bone” is released on September 29th!

Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing a copy of the work for this review. This review is based on the ARC, and may not represent the final content.

“Torment” Book Review

“Torment” by Lauren Kate Release Date: Out now! Genre: Paranormal Romance Publisher: Doubleday Children’s (Random House) I started off my original review of “Fallen” by gushing about how much I loved its cover. The sequel, “Torment”, doesn’t disappoint either – it keeps to the same gothic, monochrome colour scheme. Both covers avoid showing the girl’s face, and the hands in her hair hint at some of the confusion and worries that will be a key part of the story. There’s an excellent video on how covers like this are created here, showing 6 hours of work cut down into a 2 minute video. Here’s the cover blurb this time round:

LOVE NEVER DIES… It took Lucinda an eternity to find her beloved angel, Daniel. But he waited for her. Now they are forced apart again, to protect Luce from the Outcasts – immortals who want her dead. During their separation, Luce learns about her mysterious past lives. But the more she discovers, the more she suspects that Daniel is hiding something. What if Daniel’s version of the past isn’t true? Is it really their destiny to be together? Or is Luce really meant to be with someone else?

Lucinda Price returns as our protagonist, and we join her as she’s being sent to a new private school after the horrors she went up against in “Fallen”. Daniel demands that she stays in her new school for 18 days without any contact with him. Luce can barely stand the idea of them being apart, but what bothers her more is the nagging feeling that Daniel’s hiding something. Something involving strangers coming after her if she ever leaves the school, involving Daniel killing to protect her, and involving a truce that has Daniel working together with Cam, the creepy demon who nearly killed Luce before.

I know what you’re thinking. A girl whining about being separated from her boyfriend for a measly 18 days, ugh. I groaned as well, but after giving it some consideration and thinking back to my young-and-stupidly-lovestruck days, I probably would have been a bit unhappy too. Let’s not kid ourselves here, young people are dramatic through-and-through.

That’s where Lauren Kate excels – she captures that age group perfectly, from the desperation of my-world-revolves-around-you first loves to the vicious mood swings and irrationality that happen when you’re a confused teenage girl. (Especially if you’re a confused teenage girl who’s boyfriend it being a bit of a prick, and keeping you locked up ‘for your own safety’ without telling you why.)

“Torment” is a novel about Luce, following her as she grows a lot more independent, stronger and forms her own ideas about what it takes to have a healthy relationship. She’s wildly reckless, too – frustratingly so, as she ignores warnings from others along the lines of ‘don’t leave the school it’s dangerous’ because of course it’s not that dangerous. Of course.

It doesn’t let down on the action side either, though. The first few opening chapters, which nicely recap “Fallen” for the short of memory but don’t cover it enough for anyone who’s thinking of reading “Torment” without reading the first book, start off at a relaxed pace as Lauren builds up some impressive new settings and a new cast of characters. Before long, though, the suspense starts shooting up and the story gets a welcome injection of paranormal adventure and danger.

Another area Lauren is brilliant at is scenery descriptions – we go from the gothic graveyards and reform schools of “Fallen” to sunny California, with a schools on cliff-side, yachts of bright blue oceans, beach party bonfires and road trips across the land.

She’s still a great creator of a varied cast as well – I particularly like the way there’s no clear signs whether a member of the cast is or isn’t trustworthy, and after the end of “Fallen” it’s impossible to tell if any of them are going to survive the story.

I was slightly let down by the end, though – “Fallen” pulled out a powerful twist with Penn, but the twist in “Torment” felt too obvious right the way through and I was disappointed when it didn’t turn out to be a red herring. The actual resolution of the finale did come as a surprise, though.

The book’s definitely a huge improvement on the writing in “Fallen” – I wish it had answered a few more questions, but I’m hoping the third book “Passion” will resolve a lot of my nagging questions when it’s released.

[easyreview cat1title=”Overall” cat1detail=”The plot could have used more answers and less questions, but it’s a good improvement on Fallen. Lauren’s writing is particularly strong when it comes to description and characterisation.” cat1rating=”4″ overall=false]  

Other Books By This Author: Fallen, The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove.
For Fans of:
Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”, P.C. Cast’s “The House of Night”, Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Hush, Hush”

A copy of “Torment” was provided for this review by Random House.

I also have a review of Lauren Kate’s first novel, “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove