The Kingmaker’s Daughter

The Kingmaker’s Daughter

9781451626087

I was really excited to read this one. I love Philippa Gregory. She is one of my favorite authors, and definitely my favorite writer of historical fiction. Every so often I crave the world of royal intrigue, and Gregory almost always delivers.

Unfortunately, this book falls into the “other” category.

“In this New York Times bestseller, Philippa Gregory tells the tale of Anne Neville, a beautiful young woman who must navigate the treachery of the English court as her father, known as the Kingmaker, uses her and her sister as pawns in his political game.
The Kingmaker’s Daughter–Philippa Gregory’s first sister story since “The Other Boleyn Girl”–is the gripping tale of the daughters of the man known as the Kingmaker, Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters, Anne and Isabel, as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right.
At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family.” — Indiebound

I did not enjoy this book much at all. I felt it was very hurried, with very little character development and almost no substance or emotion. I did not care for the characters at all, and I didn’t feel any emotion when they were in danger or trouble. It was so hasty that their problems developed and were solved almost on the same page.

Toward the end, things got a little more detailed, and the story engaged me more. But truthfully, I only bothered to finish the book because I paid for it and felt I had to. That said, I will still read the rest of the books in the series because I feel that this is a fluke on Gregory’s part, and I am interested in the saga of the Cousin’s War.

Sabriel

Sabriel

Sabriel_Book_Cover

I am not good at remembering things. Maybe I “live in the moment too much,” or am just oblivious. Maybe there’s a little something wrong with me. Whatever it is, I have very few memories, when I compare myself to those people who seem to remember everything from their past very vividly. One of the things I do remember, and love remembering, is the way I felt when I first read one of my favorite books.

I therefore remember with great fondness my first reading of Sabriel by Garth Nix. It’s one of the books that served to cement my love of reading. I first read it in eight grade.  My parents had just split up, and the library was a refuge that felt consistent and safe when everything in life was (I felt) crashing down around my ears. These were the formative years, when I began to really understand what growing up meant: life is hard. I was going to have to eventually make tough choices. I was going to have to decide on a direction. I was going to have to say yes or no to bigger things than pizza for dinner. The books I read and loved at this point in my life were very important, and each one was a stepping-stone on the path to the person I am today.

Enter Sabriel: spine crackling with the plastic protection of hardbound library books, smelling faintly of dust and age. Only maybe seven years old, but already showing the first faint red spots of foxing. It would be very difficult to describe the way I felt when I first read this book. Perhaps it was the shiver at the first mention of the darkness of Kerrigor, or the swelling feeling of my own adventure and heroism as I read of Sabriel’s courageous exploits. Perhaps it was the first feeling of being a grown-up, seeing the words “penis” and “sex” written blatantly on the page. From the first page to the last, I loved Sabriel, the girl and the book, and have always held her in the back of my mind.

On a recent excursion to Half Price, I found a relatively nice mass market copy of Sabriel hiding on a shelf in the very top corner (being tall has its benefits), with the original gold foil title and gorgeous painting of the original cover. Immediately, seeing her name on the spine and Kerrigor’s dark form lurking behind her blue-garbed figure, I felt the shiver of adventure-to-come, and knew I had to have it. Just a day later I learned that Nix was just about to release the 4th book in the series, and I knew it was time to re-read.

The reading was twice as good as an adult. I’d forgotten all the details and nuances that make it such a lovely book, in the decade plus since I’d read it last. Mogget, the sardonic white cat who is much more than he appears. The stoic yet handsome Touchstone, the faithful Paperwing, and the ever-present buzz of fear that lurks with the dead in the shadows. The magic of the Charter. The perversion of necromancy, and the benevolently protective power of the Abhorsen. If you’re looking for an adventure that will stand out both for the beauty of its prose and the creativity of its story, this novel is a great place to start. And if you do fall in love with the world of the Old Kingdom, there are three more books to enjoy when you finish Sabriel. Good news for lovers of magic and adventure.

13.12–The Child Thief

13.12–The Child Thief

This book is CRAZY.  Based (loosely) on the story of Peter Pan, this novel written and illustrated by Brom is insane, dark, and a little bit terrifying.

A word to the wise: do not read this if you have a weak stomach.  Brom is really fond of violence and gore.  I wished that he’d toned it down a bit, but it really wouldn’t have been the same story without it.  The Child Thief is the story of Peter and his quest to save his home.  In this tale, which takes place in the mythical land of Avalon, rather than in Neverland, Peter cannot fly.  He is lightning quick, having been suffused over his lifetime with the magic of Avalon.  But Avalon is threatened by a race of creatures called Flesh-eaters–beings that used to be human, but whose evil, cruel nature, combined with Avalon’s magical air, has warped them to reflect the demons they are inside.  Peter recruits children from the human world, taking in the runaways, homeless, and unwanted youth and turning them into his own private army to save Avalon.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages because the blurb on the jacket made me incredibly curious.  The book was awesome, but not in the way I was expecting.  The beginning dragged for me a bit, but a little way into it the story picks up and it’s nearly impossible to put down.  Brom’s prose is engaging but nothing special; at times it feels a little youthful and inexperienced.  Perhaps it was simply his subject, as most of his characters are under 12 years old.  And Peter…

Peter takes some getting used to.   He isn’t the boy we know and love from popular culture. Brom includes an afterword that gives some idea of what inspired him, including a bit about a more violent, much darker story that was the precursor to the Peter Pan story that is common today.  The first glaring difference is that Peter cannot fly.  He is grounded, and though he is extremely quick, both on his feet and with a blade, he is still subject to the same weakness as his band of Devils.  Though Disney has much altered the way most people think of Peter, in the book he is actually rather selfish. In this respect, Brom has Peter pinned.  This Peter is extremely egocentric and self-serving. His sole purpose for living and striving to save Avalon is to save the Lady, or the queen of Avalon.  He is smitten with her, seemingly both as a mother figure and as an object of lust (odd), and over the centuries has sent hundreds of his Devils to their deaths for the sake of one woman.  Granted, if she dies, all of Avalon dies as well, so it’s a valid goal.  But his single-mindedness is the cause of death and destruction for the children he tricks into Avalon.  The reader has a difficult time deciding to love or to hate him.  At times he seems a worthy leader, and at others reveals himself as the selfish child he truly is.  Despite this, he inspires incredible loyalty in his band of Devils, for having saved them from their tragic lives in the human realm  and for giving them a purpose.

The plot is drawn-out and complicated, but incredibly worth reading to the end.  Events escalate quickly, and the final battle for Avalon between the Devils–aided by the magical creatures of Avalon–and the Flesh-eaters takes a turn no one would expect.  All the while, Peter must also protect himself and his Devils from a man with a burning hatred for Peter–a man who, though of Avalon, would bring his own world down around his ears to destroy Peter.  Brom takes the conflict much farther than the reader would expect, diminishing almost all hope in the reader for a happy ending.  Rather than there being one plot twist, there are several, and the reader cannot help but devour the book, desperate to know what happens and with a wretched desire for things to somehow end well for Avalon, Peter, and the Devils.

Parts of the novel made me grimace in disgust, but for the most part it was a wickedly delightful novel.  Brim-full of magic and suspense, it’s nearly 500 pages of gripping intensity that sucks its reader in and leaves them reeling with wonder.  And Brom’s illustrations only add to the delight of reading it.  I highly recommend it to fans of both horror and fantasy, for it is an expert blending of both genres.


12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

12.27–Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I finished this book this morning and I’ve been freaking out ever since. It is insanely amazing.  I have heard nothing but good things about it, and when I picked it up at BookPeople on Sunday I couldn’t put it down.

Karou is an unusual girl, currently living in Prague, who was raised by a strange clan of inhuman beings.  Her world is shattered when her connection to her family is severed, and a mysterious stranger simultaneously appears to whom Karou is magnetically drawn.  He is the key to her true identity and is the only being who can reveal the secrets of her past.

This is one of the most wildly creative books I’ve ever read. Yes, the basic narrative arc has been done a million times (which arc hasn’t?), but the premise is entirely unique. Karou’s story takes place (mostly) in our world, but it is a world that somehow also exists outside of the reality of most human beings.  Her sketchbooks are filled with fantastical characters which everyone believes are figments of her imagination, while only she knows that they are actually entirely real.  She lives a double life, and the creatures with which she interacts are a welcome break from the out-of-control vampire/werewolf/zombie craze.

Taylor has created some brilliant characters.  Karou is gorgeous, rebellious, and mysterious. She is strong and prickly on the outside, but inside she is lonely and vulnerable, searching for the truth about her identity and her unknown origins.  And she has blue hair! Permanently blue hair! I’ve always wanted blue hair.  Her best friend Zuzana is, in a novel full of “best parts,” one of the best parts.  She is hilarious, creative, and the perfect complement to Karou.  Taylor does a fantastic job of capturing the sarcastic, cynical voices of extremely intelligent teenagers.  The rest of the characters are incredible as well, but I would prefer not to give anything about anyone away, even though readers have probably seen reviews with more information in them.  Still, I won’t be the one to blab!

I highly recommend this novel.  It is well-written, funny, extremely emotionally and sexually charged, and enthralling from beginning to end. Being a teen series, it didn’t have any sort of substantial ending–just that transition from one novel to another–but at this juncture I don’t even care.  I’m a rabid, ravenous beast for the next novel, and I’m actually excited about the wait. Sometimes a little anticipation makes the resolution that much better. There is a huge slap in the face at the end, a major plot twist that I didn’t see coming and cannot possibly see the author being able to create more story out of.  But there’s a second novel in the works, and I cannot wait to see what Taylor does with Karou and the rest of the gang.

Oh my GOD you must read this book.


12.26–Shadowfell

12.26–Shadowfell

Remember how I said the next blog would be about the Doctor Who book? I lied.  I just couldn’t get into that one while I had a Juliet Marillier book waiting to be read.  So, today’s blog is about her latest novel for teens, Shadowfell.  While I much prefer the depth and challenge of her novels for adults, I still felt the satisfaction that I always get from reading her novels.

This novel is set in a fictional land called Alban–one that much resembles Ireland in its landscape and its lore.  It once was a place of happiness and beauty, but a tyrannical king named Keldec has turned it into a place of suspicion, fear, and death.  He has clamped down on his kingdom with an iron gauntlet, forbidding his people to use their “canny” abilities or to question his rule.  Anyone who shows the least sign of magical talent is hunted down and brainwashed to enter Keldec’s service. Every autumn, bands of his Enforcers scour the land, rooting out rebellion or canniness and burning down entire villages for the sins of one.

Neryn is a 15-year-old girl who has been on the run for years, ever since her grandmother and brother were murdered by Enforcers and her canny abilities made her a prize for Keldec’s cause.  Neryn’s powers are more than just keen sight or musical ability.  Neryn can see and speak with the Good Folk, and Keldec wants her bent to his will, for anyone who controls Neryn holds a powerful weapon–the power to harness the spirits and magical beings of the land of Alban itself.  Neryn must find a hidden, legendary stronghold called Shadowfell–a haven said to be safe for people with magical abilities or rebellious leanings.  She is aided on her journey by a mysterious and stony-faced stranger, who she has great difficulty trusting, and her powerful Good Folk friends.

Everything that Marillier writes is infused with the magic and mystery of folklore. Her prose is stunning in its loveliness.  She constructs beautiful plots that always entail a heroine who must find her courage and undertake a journey most girls would shrink from.  They also always end with these girls finding love in strange and unexpected ways.  This novel was no exception.  From what I can recall, it is the first novel she’s written that isn’t set in the world we know.  Alban is a mythical land with its own geography, history, and lore. However, like I said, this lore very closely resembles Irish folklore, and it’s for this reason that I was mostly in fits the entire time I was reading.  For those that don’t know me, I’m absolutely obsessed with Irish folklore, and being in Ireland this summer and getting to learn about it first-hand was pretty much a dream come true. But I digress.  The beauty with which Marillier writes about this lore, the magic of the land, the land itself, and love, are all things that make me adore her writing.

Of course I struggled to find flaws with the book. It was predictable, sure, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I know her body of work so well, or a genuine lack of creativity.  Somehow I very much doubt that it’s the latter.  And there were parts that surprised me, pleasantly and not-so-pleasantly.  Ultimately, I was once again awed by her writing.

Her characters are always pleasing. She often blurs the line between good and evil, and when it comes to the Good Folk, she never really clarifies that line. They are, rather, mostly neutral, choosing to remain aloof of the petty squabbles of mankind. Until, that is, they affect the fate of the Good Folk as well, and that is very much the case in this novel.  Though they are beautiful, elusive, and powerful, they are also arrogant, most of them believing they are better than humankind (and rightly so).  Neryn, however, does manage to form a bond with a few of them, and earns the grudging respect of others.  Always, they are the self-possessed, regal beings that they always are in Marillier’s body of work, and I receive the most delight in reading about them in all of her novels.

The only thing that bothered me was the ending. Being a teen book, and therefore, naturally, a series, it did not have a true ending. It bothers me when authors do not wrap up a book well, leaving the reader impatiently waiting for the next installment of the story. It is, perhaps, my biggest pet peeve in writing. Still, I will anxiously await the next chapter in Neryn’s journey to free Alban from its tyrannical king.  Other than that, it was a delight to read, and I recommend it highly, as I do with all of her books.


12.25–Labyrinth

12.25–Labyrinth

For those of you hoping I’d be reviewing the David Bowie movie or something along those lines, I’m sorry to disappoint you! No, this is definitely a book.

The novel jumps back and forth between 2005 southern France, and the same location in the 13th century.  Alaïs and Alice are the same person living in two entirely different times–Alaïs in the ancient past and Alice in modern France.  While volunteering at an archeological dig, Alice discovers artifacts in a cave that launch her on the path toward her destiny–a picture of a labyrinth painted on the cave wall, a stone ring, and the skeletons of two people long-deceased.  The story then takes off almost like a Dan Brown novel (a bunch of baddies going after an ancient and mystical secret and leaving a huge trail of bodies that somehow no one really notices), centered around several things, namely the quest for the Grail and the Inquisition in Europe.

In part, it was this that confused me. I didn’t particularly enjoy the novel that much, and now that I think about it, it may have been the fact that I couldn’t pin down a central focus.  The jacket text makes it seem as though it’s more about the persecution of a sect known as the Cathars in France in the 13th century, who were considered heretics by the Catholic Church and were hunted down and burned.  In reality, this is merely setting for the shadowy, secretly-embarked-upon quest for the Grail, the truth about which is known by a very small group of people.  I suppose, though, that there was too much detail about the Cathars, and it got confusing keeping track of who wanted to kill the main characters because they were heretics, and who wanted to kill them because they were the protectors of the Grail.  There was too much conflict coming from every side, and it made me go cross-eyed.

It was a decent story, but I didn’t love it.  Alaïs and the people in her time were well-written and interesting, but Alice and the modern counterparts of the people from the past were somewhat lame.  Alice herself was a bit of a bimbo, and I didn’t really feel her personality matched all of the actions she was required to take.  If it had been real life, she would have been the first to give up her secrets and die…just saying.  The bad guys, with the exception of maybe one, were also kind of…not scary.  There was no moment when I was like, “Oh no! They’ll find the Grail first!” or “Oh no, he’s actually going to kill that dude!”  It was more like, “Ok, I know exactly where this is going…” and I ended up being right.

Overall, I thought the premise and the period in history about which Mosse chose to write were interesting and unique.  I appreciated that about the novel, at least.  But the rest of it–plot, characters, believability–all fell flat for me and made it difficult to get excited about picking up the book and reading more. And those are the most important parts of the books, so that super stinks :/ Sorry guys! Hopefully the next book will be a humdinger! It’s about Doctor Who! How could it not be?

I cried when I found out he was married