12 March 2016

The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley

Image from Goodreads
Harry Crewe is an orphan girl who comes to live in Damar, the desert country shared by the Homelanders and the secretive, magical Hillfolk. Her life is quiet and ordinary-until the night she is kidnapped by Corlath, the Hillfolk King, who takes her deep into the desert. She does not know the Hillfolk language; she does not know why she has been chosen. But Corlath does. Harry is to be trained in the arts of war until she is a match for any of his men. Does she have the courage to accept her true fate?

It's taken me longer to write this review than I would have liked. I read this book as the second book in my firsts series of the year, the second book in the first series selected for the Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge. It was a good book. I realised after I'd read them that the challenge, and Goodreads, actually lists them the wrong way round. 

I think I lost something by reading the books in the order I did. The Hero and the Crown is about Aerin, who is a long lost hero from The Blue Sword, and by reading that first it was almost as though I knew too much about her. The Blue Sword relies quite heavily on the concept of Aerin and the discovery of Harry's similarity to her, I think you can tell this from early on and so you start to look for the book to fit the pattern which spoils it a bit. I can see why the author gets quite vocal in her defensive of the order she wrote the books.

If you can ignore the similarities between the books you get a good read. Written in the 1980s it fits well with the style of fantasy books widely published at that time. Harry's quest is interesting enough to captivate. I do feel that she fell too easily into the sway of her captor, it's a relatively minor niggle. 

My other niggle is that the characters didn't really feel in true danger at any point. Someone always comes sweeping in and just manages to save the day. In The Hero and the Crown, the danger to Aerin, and indeed to Tor, felt more genuine, more appropriate and as such more exciting.

At the end of the book all the loose ends are nicely tied up, which is good if you like that sort of thing. It's neater than you would generally get in a book published more recently and it doesn't leave room for sequels in my opinion. 

This review may leave you thinking I didn't enjoy the book, I did, however I can't help comparing it. 

10 March 2016

Divergent - Veronica Roth

Image from Goodreads
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, 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 alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating 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 unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

What's it possible to say about Divergent that hasn't already been said? To be honest probably very little, this book is popular and with good reason. It's been nearly two years since I read Divergent and when I read it I did so in a single day. 

My good friend, and blushing bridesmaid, gave this to me for my birthday in the middle of my final exam season at uni. I'd been planning to buy it for a while, and in some ways her timing was perfect, I needed a break, it was my 21st and I had an exam, two more in the following week and was moving out of my student accommodation for the final time to boot. In some ways her timing was terrible, because after that first exam instead of studying I picked up the book and read it from cover to cover. 

Veronica Roth in Divergent has managed to explore humanity at both its best and its worst. In Tris she has created a powerful heroine, someone with willpower and determination, but also morals. At the opposite end she has explored what highly tense situations can do to people. 

The pace in this book is very fast, the whole events take place over a period of around a month, but the book feels faster. And yet within the story there are places to pause, gather your thoughts and your breath and get to know the characters. 

I can't recommend Divergent enough. I've even seen the film and can say that they didn't do too bad a job. 

3 March 2016

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Image from Goodreads
Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee -- whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not -- stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden -- a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

The first book in this trilogy The Knife of Never Letting Go is unique. The concept of a world where you can hear the thoughts of men but not of women is genius. The way in which Todd's town is bound together in secrecy in what is such an open world is the perfect catalyst for this story.

When Todd and Manchee run for their lives the obstacles they face feel very real. With the world and background which Patrick Ness has created you can empathise with the people who oppose Todd, but also with the genuine fear Todd feels.

The Knife of Never Letting Go is a fantastic book for the teen audience because it raises the questions of acceptance and diversity in a way that provokes the reader into putting themselves into every pair of shoes. Our willingness to accept those who are different from ourselves is a very real issue these days with our huge ability to move from place to place, but this book puts that out there without actually cramming it down your throat.

Patrick Ness has a very easy writing style, even taking account of the intrusion of random thoughts. For me this was a brilliant page turner.