9 December 2013

The Chaos Balance - L. E. Modesitt Jr

The Chaos Balance (The Saga of Recluce, #7)
Image from Goodreads

L. E. Modesitt Jr is still one of my favourite authors. I'm not really sure what it it about his books but I can't get enough of them. This is the seventh book in his Saga of Recluce, a series which is currently comprised of 16 books with a further 3 in the works. It is the immediate sequel to Fall of Angels ad continues to follow Nylan.
In Fall of Angels Ryba abused Nylan causing him to father three children, one with his knowledge, and two without. I've struggled with how this might have been achieved, but since they come from a 'more civilised' world I can think of a few possibilities. 

They built Westwind, a city, or really a tower as a safe haven for the women of the world. The thing that irks me about The Chaos Balance is that Westwind was build primarily using Nylan's skill, knowledge and innovation, and yet he is basically forced from it. Ryba doesn't trust him because she cannot control him. As such The Chaos Balance is primarily a story about Nylan venturing into the world beyond Westwind. 

As always magic plays a huge part in the story, L. E. Modesitt's magic system is more complicated than is found in most of the fantasy genre. It has both rigorous rules and  biting ramifications. A great deal of the time those people in his world able to use magic are divided neatly into two types; the white sorcerers and the black magicians. 

Modesitt's protagonists are almost always black magicians, a fact which played with my head for a long time, I suspect since white symbolises purity and black symbolises a level of taintedness. The thing that makes this book different is that the arrival of the 'angels' in the previous book has thrown the Chaos Balance completely out of skew. 

Nylan comes to the aid of a country, who are fighting a battle against a nation of whites who are themselves waging war on a great forest. The forest is a huge factor in the Recluce books since it teaches balance. It has appeared in previous books as the home of the druids and the place where grey wizards go to learn their craft.

I struggle to remember huge parts of the plot from the earliest books in this series, however I do remember the little twist of magic that the forest teaches. That wrapping of order around chaos. 

All in all it was an interesting development in the history of the Recluce universe. I'm glad Nylan left Ryba. I didn't much like her. But I digress.

I would sat pick this series up if you can. It's awesome. 


7 December 2013

The Painted Man - Peter V. Brett

The Painted Man (Demon Cycle, #1)
Image from Goodreads
The Painted Man is the first book in Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle which begins with Arlen Bales watching his mother get torn to shreds by demons whilst his father stands by and does nothing. The start of this story is innocuous enough. It shows a quiet country idyll... where people just happen to be slaves to the night. 

The premise of this book, and indeed this series is unique, a world where demons rise at night while people are trapped behind their walls, and their fear. I think the reason that this book tells such a good story is because it rings true. Most books in the fantasy genre are full of people who fear nothing and fight monsters on a daily basis, I like those kinds of books, but this book is refreshing. 

If our world were really filled with demons, how many of us would actually stand up and fight? I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't, without first being prompted by someone with more courage than me. It's at this point that this book goes from an above average concept to a freaking fantasy great. 

Arlen Bales lets his anger towards his father at his mothers needless death steer the course of his life, as he wallows he finds ways to fight back at the night. Subtle ways at first, such as becoming a messenger, stepping out into the night to deliver mail and goods. Firmer ways such as learning to ward skilfully, and even antagonising a demon by cutting off its arm. All the way searching for a more solid way to hurt the demons. 

When he finally succeeds his reception couldn't be colder, but it's such a realistic situation, portrayed so well. It really did turn him into the hero of the novel, which is why I felt shocked when at that point we were introduced to a whole host of new characters. 

Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip, unlikely companions with equallly unlikely stories who have ties to a place in a lot of trouble. They return Arlen to himself; and so they helped the 'ripping deliverer' convince one small town to fight back. Peter V. Brett showed us that if we just had someone to point us in the right direction we'd be able to be heroes too.

On a side note I really liked the romantic nuances between Leesha and Arlen and would have liked to see that develop further.


5 December 2013

Blameless - Gail Carriger

Blameless (Parasol Protectorate, #3)
Image from Goodreads

As the third book in the generally hilarious Parasol Protectorate series I would have expected Blameless to have a lot of comedy, if it was for the cliffhanger on which Changeless ended. I’ll be the first to admit that having witnessed the loving relationship between Lord and Lady Maccon, I would never have expected, ever, for Lord Maccon to be yelling ay Alexia about her supposed betrayal.

What quickly becomes clear in Blameless is that Alexia is in fact blameless of everything Conall is accusing her of. As the reader we could, with a small leap of logic, have surmised this for ourselves long ago. But in this story it is very interesting to see how pig-headedly stubborn Conall is. I found it interesting that by the time Conall had come to his senses Alexia had already managed to get herself into, and out of, some deep and fairly personal trouble.

Something that I liked about Blameless more than the previous two books in the Parasol Protectorate series was the development of the secondary characters. It was by no means complete development, but it highlighted some traits I doubt I would have picked up on otherwise. Particularly for Professor Lyall who seemed to get more solo page time in this novel.

I loved the string of events which took place in London, from the planned swarm of Lord Akeldama to the theft of something ‘precious’ to him. Who knew Vampires swarmed? Every time I read about it I couldn’t help thinking of giant Bees.

I found the ending of the book to be beautiful and tragic in a slightly comedic fashion. The series has moved past the compulsory happy ever after. There were tears and laughter and it perfectly matched the overall ambience of the book.

At the end of book three this has turned into a series I’m not sure I’ll ever want to put down.


Day 5

4 December 2013

The Forbidden Queen - Anne O'Brien

The Forbidden Queen
Image from goodreads

The forbidden Queen was the first genuinely trying to be accurate historical novel I ever read. Although it had failings, in that large parts of it were speculation, I did feel as though I'd learnt something by the end, even if only the names of a few of the rulers at a less well known time in our history.

It is the story of Queen Catherine, wife to King Henry V, mother to King Henry VI and grandmother to King Henry VII. In many ways she was a victim of her times, as one of the youngest daughters of King Charles VI of France she was raised in a monastery with little choice in her future and her only prospect to be a bargaining chip between Henry and Charles. 

King Henry wed Catherine in exchange for the support of King Charles and his promise that their future child would one day rule both England and France. At this point I felt the story began to lose it's basis in reality a little, there are very few records from this time period and so Anne O'Brien is worked around the facts. In her telling of the story Catherine is besotted with Henry, but he neglected her. From the first day of their marriage he had other priorities; when she gave birth to their son he never saw him and when he died less than a year later he seemingly called everyone but her to his side.

This part of the Forbidden Queen tells a story of heartbreak and disenchantment. O'Brien's Catherine grows as an individual, and understands that to this man she only ever had worth as a bargaining chip for his country.

The story then had what felt like little more than an interim to me, I wasn't overly enthralled, but I was able to keep reading. During this time Catherine was gradually stripped of her rights and privileges, we see her participation in a brief romance which further damages her situation, and helps her understand once again that she is being used.

During this point of the story our hero, Owen Tudor, is introduced. Quiet and unassuming I fell for him a little alongside our Queen. It is easy to see from O'Brien's descriptions why she would ever have let a Welshman into her bed. 

Upon the discovery of her pregnancy we feel her shock, and the quandary she is caught in. However I couldn't help delighting when she wed Owen Tudor in secret. Her happily ever after began there and played out with only a few bumps in the road. 

Within this story I particularly liked the friendship that developed between Catherine and King James of Scotland. Since both were foreigners trapped in a place where they were disliked and distrusted it was easy to see how they would have talked and laughed together. The basis of their friendship was very believable.

As a story with it's feet planted in fact I think anyone could have put the basic structure on paper. Anne O'Brien's skill lay in her taking the cardboard cut-outs and making them real.

I fell in love with these people and my heart broke when Catherine effectively left a suicide note for Owen. My heart broke for Owen. I couldn't help feeling she was the very reason he lived and breathed.


3 December 2013

Changeless - Gail Carriger

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)
I'mage from Goodreads

Once again I loved these characters. I loved their quirks. I loved their newly developed depths. And most of all I loved the fierce protectiveness they suddenly developed for one another.

If you read my review of Soulless you will know that I enjoyed it and central to that enjoyment were the respective characters of Alexia Tarabotti and Lord Maccon. Well Alexia Tarabotti just became Lady Alexia Maccon, and the fun that was these two reached a whole new level.

Married life proposed completely new aspects to what it means to be a Soulless. First of all there’s the practicality, meaning that Alexia lives very much in the real world, even if that real world is fictional to us. Secondly there’s the fact that although he’s immortal, all bodily functions frozen forever, she turns her husband mortal, posing some very interesting questions.

The story itself once again followed a fantastic premise. What happens when you take resumed mortality and spread it to affect pretty much all of London? You get a very angry werewolf! I found it fascinating to watch trails develop and see how various characters would react.

I loved the interaction with Lady Kingair. Once again I think Gail Carriger is exploring avenues most people would never even think to look at.  I’d never before considered the possibility that Vampires and Werewolves may have children before being turned, stereotypically being very young adults at the age of turning, and it was a unique idea.

Finally I once again loved the ending! So dramatic, and a perfect set up for Blameless. But seriously, who else saw the pregnancy coming?! It had to happen just from asking the marriage questions I hinted at earlier!


22 days to go

2 December 2013

Warm Bodies - Isaac Marion

Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies, #1)
Image from Goodreads
Warm bodies is a story that I, like many, first came into contact with when the film trailer was played. It was a film that looked both hilarious and touching, along the lines of Shaun of the Dead, and I wanted to go see it....

I who avoid all scary movies...

I didn't...

However when I found a copy of Warm Bodies in my local Waterstones I jumped at the chance to read it. 

Warm bodies lives up to its promises - how can a book about a zombie falling in love with a girl be anything but hilarious? How can a book about that girl falling in love right back be anything but touching? 

This book captivated me. It's a love story every bit as classic as Romeo and Juliet, or Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. It's a story that I think will stand the test of time. Not because of the context, or the writing style, but because the emotions at its core are so heartfelt, so real, that they shine through every page.

I really enjoyed the flashes of Perry's life that we glimpsed when R was eating his brain. It was a description which for the first time ever helped me to understand why a Zombie might possibly want to eat brains...

The writing style for Warm Bodies seemed unusual for its genre. It reminded me of books like A Room with a View, and other early 20th Century classics. It jumped around a fair bit, which made sense within the story, and I found it made reading it easier, despite this being a style I don't usually enjoy. 

I loved this book! It is quite possibly the best book I've read so far this year! I'd recommend it to all my friends, and I've even passed it on to my Dad, which only happens with the very best books.

Now just to find and watch the film!


24 days to go

1 December 2013

The Magician's Guild - Trudi Canavan

The Magicians' Guild (The Black Magician Trilogy, #1)I picked this book up from a Charity Shop in my home town centre a few years ago, this particular shop I always felt was awesome. It was a relatively large shop, split across two sites, one of which was filled with books. It was crooked, and packed, and there was a guy who used to volunteer there, I'm not sure if he still does, who could tell you off the top of his head if just about any book was currently available. This shop moved sites about a year and a half ago to the main street, this meant it was smaller, all on one site, had ready traffic (it'd always been a bit out of the way before), but also that the book part got relegated to the basement. It's still my favourite charity shop to look around, but it lost something in that move in my opinion. 
Anyway, I saw this book and I bought it. Nothing more went through my mind, the entire Black Magician trilogy was there, and frankly it was beautiful. I came home and put the books to one side; because to be honest I was a little scared they wouldn't live up to the expectations I'd managed to build up while carrying them around for an hour.
Occasionally I would think 'I have those caravan books....' but for a while they were lost in my bookcase, I find this is a not infrequent problem, and I'm excited for the day when I'll have enough shelf space to see all my books, although I'm not convinced it will last. Anyway earlier this year I found them, and since I've been on a bit of a series binge this year I decided to read the whole lot. 
The Magician's Guild I would say did live up to my expectations. It had a unique concept of magic, which at the same time was not indifferent to previous worlds. It conveyed a real sense of danger to Sonea, but at the same time I could see why she would hide from the guild, the very people who have always posed a danger to the existence of her family.

I like the way in which the writing would be able to reach to a wide range of audiences. 

All in all it was one of the best fantasy books I've read in a while and it's a shame I put it off.


I'm hoping to post a kind of Advent Calender on the blog, because I'm way behind on my reviews and I'd like to have them at least tamed by the new year. 

25 Days to go

20 September 2013

Soulless - Gail Carriger

Soulless was my introduction to Steampunk, a genre which has held me hook, line and sinker. After reading this book, which was loaned to me by a friend, I would definitely like to make further explorations into the genre.

Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Alexia Tarabotti was a character I found frankly hilarious, I don’t know if she was designed as such or if she became so accidentally, but I couldn’t help giggling at her quirks. I loved her mannerisms as she did her level best to fit into a Victorian London not so different than our own, but with some quirks of its own.

The only fault I could find with Alexia was the emphasis placed on her British-ness. It was a bit like a part of her had been written using soaps as the only guide and it became a bit caricature-ish. The supposed culture of ‘Oh he’s been shot, but maybe if we give him some tea he’ll get up and be hunky dory again’.

I loved Lord Maccon, his completely bewildered aggressiveness was fascinating to watch unfold. And pairing him with Professor Lyall was pure genius. They’re a lot like a more balanced, but more hot headed, Sherlock and Watson duo. Brilliant!

The story was as compelling as the characters who it revolved around. Artificially created Vampires, who’d have thought it? It’s a take on Vampires I’d never have thought of, even after watching the alternate reality episode of Buffy where she never came to Sunnydale and the Harvest went ahead leading to the building of a machine which basically milked human blood.

I was really content with the ending, although some of the reasoning behind it I found aggravating. I think if it had been a stand-alone novel I would have been more than happy, but I’m very glad the series is continuing. I particularly liked the part where Ivy blushed.

All in all a brilliant story!


18 September 2013

Last week of Scouting

Yesterday night was my last night at Beavers until Christmas, or possibly later, tonight is my last at Explorers and next Monday is my last at Cubs. Fortunately I still get to come back to Scouts on a Friday night while I'm at Uni or I'm not sure what I'd do with myself. 

Being a Scout Leader is a very strange situation in some ways, I imagine it's a bit like being a teacher, except you spend your downtime with the kids, you camp with them and you play games with them. I like to think that they see you more as a friend than a boss, and whilst you obviously have responsibility your job is to make sure they have fun, not that they learn. Hopefully they learn something at the same time, but if not at least they've enjoyed themselves. 

From my perspective, helping out at each section within our group it feels a bit like I have 40 odd children. I have definitely developed emotional attachments to them all. I get to see them excited when they've achieved something they didn't think they could, or when they get to try something they never would elsewhere. I get to see them growing as individuals when I've reprimanded them and they can tell me what they've done wrong and why they won't be doing it again. 

Honestly I can say it breaks my heart a little to say goodbye to these little people. I can't wait to see them again, and it was made all the worse by the Beavers being disappointed it was my last night for a while last night. 

I'll miss them all!


13 September 2013

Strata –Terry Pratchett

If you think of Terry Pratchett then as a rule you think of Discworld, but a relatively small part of the large selection of books that he’s written has nothing to do with the disc. Strata quite literally straddles this border.

It was written before he had fully developed the concept of the disc but at the same time it is an early exploration of it. Centering on Kin Arad it is about her discoveries regarding the creation of the universe. She is over 200 years old and has been creating planets for much of her life. Nothing fazes her.

That is until she is brought the news of a planet which is a disc, situated in uncharted space. She sets out to explore it, in the company of two unlikely and unexpected companions. Marco the legally human Kung, a species of highly warlike, four-armed, giant frogs. And silver, the gentle Shand, a linguist and historian who has to eat the synthetic flesh of her own species or she will transform into a ravening monster.

This book is stock full of Terry Pratchett’s legendary wit and is satisfying in the completeness of it’s storyline. The three discover the secrets of the disc, it’s utter wrongness and inevitably decide upon a course of action which will solve all of their problems.

I’d never heard of this book, unlike most of his books which you can see everywhere. If you get the chance then I’d recommend you read it.


11 September 2013

Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)In looking for something to read whilst on holiday I searched for the ’10 best fantasy series’ and came across a list entitled 10 fantasy series to read while waiting for George R. R. Martin. The list gave me confidence because at the very top of the list was the Kingkiller Chronicles; a series which although incomplete has entrenched itself firmly in my heart.

So I read the list and I found five series which appealed to my sense of taste, some of which weren’t yet complete. Others, apparently, were, although there are too many cases of authors going back to series and adding to them for this necessarily to hold true. Coming top of this list, from my perspective, was Steven Erikson’s Malazan book of the fallen series. It was complete, always nice when you’re planning on reading the books back to back, and it was long, something which generally holds appeal for me since it gives me a chance to know the characters. So with no further ado I purchased the entire ten books for my kindle, all the while wondering if this was in actual fact a good investment of my money.

Book one, Gardens of the the Moon, was brilliant. Erikson span several threads which started out wholly unconnected but progressively ran closer together. From that reasoning alone this book could be compared to a work by Martin. Not only that but he has no compunctions about killing off major, even central, characters to the story. More than one character I held great belief, was killed during the course of this book, although with the nature of true fantasy there are illusions that a characters death will necessarily stick.

And that is where the book differs greatly from Martin’s. In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ the magic is a subtle, almost non-existent, undercurrent to the main story. In Malazan book of the fallen the story would not progress without it. In many ways it is a story of how a game of the gods affects their mortal pawns.

The biggest issue I had with this book was how the first few chapters jumped from time to character and I struggled to find a foothold. Once it had settled down however pure brilliance emerged. It rang true as well to the preface the author had written seven books on, He said something to the effect of either a reader will not like my style and I will lose them in the first third of the first book or they will be fully on board and riding the waves with me seven books later.

I’m glad I persevered, the story is worth it.


9 September 2013

10 Things I didn't Realise before spending a Fortnight in Porto Santo

  1. An island about the same size as my home town could have a desert.
  2. Places really do exist where you can see the sea-bed through metres of water.
  3. Skeleton crosswords aren’t as hard as they sound, it’s just a case of doing the beginning right.
  4. A place would put roundabouts in just for the excuse of ‘planting gardens in the road’.
  5. I would feel uncomfortable having someone come and make my bed – I tried making it myself once but she just unmade it.
  6. That it would feel depressing to come somewhere that I expected to be warm and sunny and to find some heat, but mostly a lot of cloud and wind. Fortunately it cleared up towards the end of the holiday.
  7. A place still exists where crime is virtually non-existant. Ever seen ‘The Bozeman Reaction’? Sheldon would love it here!
  8. It could take me soooo long to read a book I’m enjoying. Seriously around 12 hours a day for around 5 or 6 days, that’s a long time for me to be reading a book on holiday.
  9. King Kong really does exist, he’s swimming in the sea just off shore.
  10. I have a boyfriend who will willingly and actively eat fruit. Who knew?!