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Month: December 2019

Review: The Unforgetting by Rose Black

Review: The Unforgetting by Rose Black

‘Her fate was decided. Her death was foretold. Her past is about to be unforgotten…

1851. When Lily Bell is sold by her father to a ‘Professor of Ghosts’ to settle a bad debt, she dreams of finding fame on the London stage. But Erasmus Salt wants Lilly not as an actress, but as his very own ghost – the heart of his elaborate illusion for those desperate for a glimpse of the spirit world…

Obsessed with perfection, Erasmus goes to extreme lengths to ensure his illusion is realistic. When Lily comes across her own obituary in the paper, and then her headstones in the cemetery, she realises that she is trapped, her own parents think she is dead, and that her fate is soon to become even darker…’

The Unforgetting follows the story of Lily Bell, who has the misfortune to be sold to Erasmus Salt to act as the ghost he will summon on-stage in a time when the public were nigh obsessed with magic, gothic and the supernatural. Believing she is going to perform the likes of Shakespeare, she grows more and more concerned as her freedoms are severely restricted, she is made to dress in black and wear a veil, and discovers that she has been announced in the paper as having died, fallen from a cliff. However, for Lily, this is only the beginning of a life that turns progressively darker at the hands of a delusional, selfish and frighteningly controlling Salt, who uses her for his own purposes in more ways than one. The threads of Lily’s story are told primarily from her point of view, but also includes chapters that visit her mother and her love interest, which often rob more hope from her tale, while also offering a hint of light here and there.

Lily is primarily put into the care of Faye, Salt’s sister, who is tasked with monitoring her and making sure that she is not permitted to go out alone or be seen in anything but the costume that he demands she wear when she must be seen in public outside her performances as the ghost. As Lily’s story unfolds and elements of Faye’s behaviour become more questionable, her own narrative is unveiled through a series of flashbacks to her time working as a governess and what leads her to treat Lily as she does – and what ultimately moves her to making the most important decisions of her life, for her and for Lily. Faye is a more sympathetic character than her twisted brother, particularly because of a past that, much like Lily, leaves her at the mercy of men and forced to surrender to what others demand of her, though it is also this that makes her a source of frustration at times, leading the reader to wonder why she is permitting a cycle to repeat itself (in context, the answer is partly that, in this time, women have next to no power to fight back or deny men anything). That the narrative is ostensibly written by Faye makes her representation and what she admits on its opening page that she has fabricated all the more intriguing and something I’d like to write much more about, but I don’t want to give too many spoilers!

Salt is not a villain with redeeming features that might grant him any measure of sympathy, despite what brief episodes from his past that the reader is shown. He is obsessed not only with his work, but with his right to execute his performances in any way he chooses, at whatever cost to those who have the misfortune to be involved with or related to him. In particular, his treatment of women is downright revolting and incredibly unsettling, from the way he treats and manipulates Lily and his own sister, to his sexual proclivities. He is so focused on bending the world to his will that it seems there are no lengths that he will not go to to achieve the desired outcome, intent on exploiting those around him and gaslighting them into behaving as he wishes them to.

The Unforgetting is a haunting and often disquieting read, brilliantly written with features of gothic fiction and threads of women taking control of their own destinies in a world that would deny them. It’s out on January 9th! Thank you, Orion Books, for sending me a copy for review!

Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

Review: Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

‘After battling the impossible, Zélie and Amari have finally succeeded in bringing magic back to the land of Orïsha. But the ritual was more powerful than they could’ve imagined, reigniting the powers of not only the maji, but of nobles with magic ancestry, too.

Now, Zélie struggles to unite the maji in an Orïsha where the enemy is just as powerful as they are. But with civil war looming on the horizon, Zélie finds herself at a breaking point: she must discover a way to bring the kingdom together or watch as Orïsha tears itself apart.’

My favourite things about this series so far have to be the worldbuilding and the magic. I love the way the use of magic is described, the way in which Adeyemi writes making it an almost tangible thing. I like that it it grounded in the physical and not all flashing lights and invisible strength, and that there is, more often than not, a cost for power wielded, consequences making it a system that feels more realistic and something that should be respected. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of overpowered characters who pay no price for the powers they can use, and while there are some characters that can use magic without direct consequence to themselves, the damage they cause to others is devastating, whether they mean it to be or not. Primarily, magic is honoured and not exploited, and there’s a real human impact felt whenever it goes awry in the course of learning how it can be used and uncovering all that has been lost.

Zélie has a lot to work through over the course of the novel, and in its opening pages is still attempting to come to terms with the events that occurred at the conclusion of Children of Blood and Bone, to the extent that her relationship with her magic is fractured and brings her immense guilt. That she has to constantly face the fact that what she has tried to do for her people has also gifted their enemies with what appears to be a more powerful and destructive force is something that she struggles with, especially when interacting with Amari, who only serves as a reminder of what she’s fighting against and the ‘mistake’ that she has made. Despite this, she still cares for Amari and initially attempts to conceal her feelings because of this, fighting against the urge to lash out at her for claiming what she has always revered of her heritage for her own, however without intent. While trying to work through the trauma of what she has recently lived through, she also has to handle her new role in her community and how others see her now, something else that she has difficulty coping with, particularly as her life all the more frequently asks for sacrifice after sacrifice from her for a broader good.

To my mind, one of the strongest features of Children of Virtue and Vengeance is the host of characters who spend a lot of time convincing themselves and manipulating others into believing that they are doing what is best for Orïsha. Admittedly, I spent a lot of time internally screaming at some of them to better anticipate the consequences of their actions and see through the deceptions that others were feeding them to use them for their own means. Amari’s mother in particular remains a despicable woman, both in her attitude towards her daughter and how she alters her behaviour to convince others that she is not a threat and only wishes the best for them and for Orïsha. The trauma that Amari’s formative years have caused to how she sees herself, her destiny and others becomes more and more evident as the story unfolds, making her more dangerous to herself and others as her idea of what is ‘best’ becomes more and more warped. I can’t really go into much detail about the main culprit and perhaps most self-deceiving of the cast (in my opinion), as I think it’s too much of a major spoiler, but that they let themselves be led and manipulated to the extent that they saw what they had been fed as truth was one of the main things that had me silently yelling (in a good way) at pages for them to wake up.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t too invested in the romantic elements of the story, as I felt that there was so much more at stake that it felt a little like an unnecessary addition, or something that wouldn’t be at the forefront of the character’s minds while in the situations that they are in. However, this is not to say that I was complete averse to them, and I particularly felt for Amari, as she struggles with what she feels she has to do and what she knows it stands to cost her, especially having experienced an upbringing where affection was not something that she received from any source that she could rely on (and she has already lost the one person who seemed to truly care for her in her youth). I’m not quite sure how I feel about the romances that Zélie engages in, particularly because they both read as quite unhealthy, made more so by the fact that it seems she is using one as a way of trying to forget the other. This said, her behaviour in terms of relationships often reads as quite instinctive and impulsive, and not necessarily always thought through, despite her attempts to, the weight on her shoulders and likelihood of impending death things that don’t afford her the opportunity to be entirely reasonable and rational about everything.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance is a brilliantly written and thought provoking read, and out today! I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds in the final book of the trilogy! Thank you to Pan Macmillan & MyKindaBook for sending me a copy for review!

Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

‘After being pronounced Queen of Faerie and then abruptly exiled by the Wicked King Cardan, Jude finds herself unmoored, the queen of nothing. She spends her time with Vivi and Oak, watching reality television, and doing odd jobs, including squaring up to a cannibalistic faerie. When her twin sister Taryn shows up asking a favour, Jude jumps at the chance to return to the Faerie world, even if it means facing Cardan, who she loves despite his betrayal.

When a dark curse is unveiled, Jude must become the first mortal Queen of Faerie and break the curse, or risk upsetting the balance of the whole Faerie world.’

The Queen of Nothing was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I was lucky in that the bookseller that I’d ordered from shipped my copy nearly a week before release date, meaning I was far less paranoid about running into spoilers in the days around said date. However, I confess that I still sat down and read the whole thing almost as soon as I got my hands on the book, both because I was afraid others who had their copies might be posting spoilers (I would not assume deliberately) and because I am a terrible human being who, nine times out of ten, always reads the last page of any book before the first, and I knew that, despite being determined not to do this with The Queen of Nothing (as I hadn’t with The Wicked King), I would probably cave if made to put the book down for long.

My favourite elements of this series have always been the political intrigue and the manipulation that are a range of characters are capable of, which I feel is particularly well done in both The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King primarily because there are characters that are actually willing to go through with their threats and do whatever they must to achieve their goals. There are certainly some less than pleasant and manipulative characters in other series, but, in many instances, they shy away from executing the full extent of their plans, which rather takes away levels of characterisation and any tension created. Reading through the Folk of the Air series, I wasn’t 100% certain that any character was absolutely safe from the machinations of others or the meeting of a deadly fate at any time, which I don’t think I’ve experienced to the same extent with other novels (and is another reason I raced through The Queen of Nothing). I’ve seen commentary from others who say they don’t like Jude (and they’re perfectly entitled to that opinion!) because she is manipulative and is quite often selfish, but I can’t help but feel that she is a very honest character in how she looks at the world around her and herself. I’m not suggesting that she behaves particularly well towards others, but she takes on a world and people that have been a threat to her since she was involuntarily taken to Faerie and decides that she is going to take what she wants from it before it can destroy her. She knows what she can use against people and employs what tactics she must to ensure as best she can that she gets to strike first when she must, without apology – knowing she will not receive regrets or apologies from those who would view her as a plaything and mortal amusement.

I’ll admit that there was significantly less in terms of political machinations in The Queen of Nothing, which did disappoint me slightly, but there were other elements of it that I very much enjoyed, such as Jude and her sisters working together, when they have often been at odds for various reasons. I particularly loved what we see of Vivi and Heather and how they are trying to work through what Heather’s visit to Faerie has done to them and what she has learnt of Vivi’s powers – and her ability to make her see and believe anything she chooses. Some of my favourite things from the novel are actually not part of the standard edition, being the letters sent from Cardan to Jude during her exile, which are added at the conclusion of the story. The initial interactions between Jude and Cardan once she arrives in Faerie had me grinning and I really enjoyed the spans of the story where it was clear that neither of them quite knew where they stood and whether they could truly trust anything the other said or did. To my mind, there are a lot of threads introduced in The Wicked King that still need to be resolved, which gives me hope that we might see more material in this universe.

There’s a lot more that I’d like to go into detail about, but I don’t want to spoil specific pieces of the story for anyone so soon after its release date. When a few more months have passed, I hope to come back to this and discuss several character relationships in detail, especially things such as power dynamics and family ties.

In short: loved this series! It’s still one of my favourites and I hope to reread it soon!