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Month: July 2021

Review: These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

Review: These Hollow Vows by Lexi Ryan

‘Brie hates the Fae and refuses to have anything to do with them, even if that means starving on the street. But when her sister is sold to the sadistic king of the Unseelie court to pay a debt, she’ll do whatever it takes to get her back—including making a deal with the king himself to steal three magical relics from the Seelie court.

Gaining unfettered access to the Seelie court is easier said than done. Brie’s only choice is to pose as a potential bride for Prince Ronan, and she soon finds herself falling for him. Unwilling to let her heart distract her, she accepts help from a band of Unseelie misfits with their own secret agenda. As Brie spends time with their mysterious leader, Finn, she struggles to resist his seductive charm.

Caught between two dangerous courts, Brie must decide who to trust with her loyalty. And with her heart.’

These Hollows Vows follows Abriella (known as Brie for the most part) on her journey to attempt to rescue her sister, who has been sold into slavery in the world of the fae. Both Brie and Jas have been fending for themselves since they were young, with Brie doing her best to take on the role of protector and provider, with varying degrees of success. She finds herself an able thief, if not entirely certain of just how she manages to get away with what she does, and makes some questionable choices in the targets she chooses to steal from, but what she has of a moral code means she seems content with taking risks to ensure that those she cares for have enough to survive. In the battle between the faerie courts that she finds herself involved in, she has to learn to navigate a world of politics that she has little true information about and lots of different versions of stories instead, leaving her to attempt to work out who is telling her the truth – or the closest to the truth that she needs – that will let her get her sister back.

I enjoyed the political elements of These Hollow Vows, and learning about the relationship between the fae and humans, the latter considered important only insofar as concerns the fae’s survival. The fae have little regard for humans as individuals or beings with their own lives, hopes and dreams, and only entertain the idea of valuing humans until the point that they have got what they need from them. It’s indicated that to be bound to a faerie is to lose independence and worse, and though there are questionable attempts to dress it up romantically, this is only something that paints both of Brie’s romantic interests in unpleasant lights. Neither of them are ever really honest with her, and though Finn is perhaps more open in his indication of why he is not a good idea, Sebastian’s supposed ‘honest and caring’ attitude continues to fling up red flags throughout the book. No-one in the story can really be trusted to be truthful, not even Brie (whether with herself or with others), and it’s easy to see how, eventually, she has to try and make the best of a lot of bad options and try to live with the decisions she makes.

It seems that Brie’s biggest flaw is that she doesn’t ask enough questions, be they about herself or what is happening around her. She often fixates on the appearance (and there are many comments from others about her own) of those she is interested in and tends to avoid making sharp enquiries that might help her. This is not to say that she would necessarily get the answers she needs, and she might well not ask particular questions so as to avoid exposing what she doesn’t know and putting herself at further risk, but it sometimes feels as if there is a lot that she is more wilfully ignorant about, which is a bit at odds with her supposed skill as a thief. She is given quite a few leading, expository, statements from other characters that she doesn’t really follow up, though many of these are quite early in the narrative and seem more for the reader’s benefit than hers.

The use of prophecy or far-sight as a plot device is well executed, which makes the choices that more than one character makes in the second half of the novel all the more impactful and, I hope, promises that the effects of the decisions will be felt in the next book. If I’m honest, Brie’s task to obtain the magical objects reads as though it is responsible for the lulls in action in the story’s middle, and though it is clearly the device designed to keep her involved with both courts and keep her at the Seelie court, it feels less important than her plot threads with other characters, particularly the Unseelie. On the whole, the plot is sound, but there are moments when it is best to not study the behaviour of some characters too deeply, or the practicalities of how certain events unfold. It’s an enjoyable read, particularly in its conflict and secrets, and its more minor characters are well developed, each lending something to the story.

These Hollows Vows is a fun read for fans of the fae, though it struggles a little with exposition and pacing. There are plenty of unanswered questions and surprises by its conclusion, which make it easy to look forward to the second instalment, which is said to be arriving in 2022. Thank you to Hodder and Stoughton for sending me a copy for review.

Review: Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart

Review: Kings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart

‘The Earth’s resources are dwindling. The solution is the Sleep.

Inside a hibernating city, Ben struggles with his limited waking time and the disease stealing his wife from him. Watching over the sleepers, lonely Peruzzi craves the family he never knew.

Everywhere, dissatisfaction is growing.

The city is about to wake.’

Kings of a Dead World explores a Britain in which its inhabitants are only permitted to be awake for one month at a time, before they’re forcibly sedated again and sent into a deep sleep until the next month that they are permitted to be awake. This is ostensibly to preserve what remains of the world’s resources, though there are indications that the ‘sleepers’ aren’t told the whole truth – not that they have the power to do anything about their situation anything. The story primarily follows main characters: Ben, a former anarchist who is struggling with his wife’s worsening dementia, and Peruzzi, whose job it is to look after the city and its sleepers, and who is finding himself more and more dissatisfied with his life (or lack of one).

The system by which life operates for the average person in the city is extremely unsettling, largely because there now seems to be no true purpose to their lives and no free will. What can anyone really do with their lives when they are awake for only one month at a time? The average person doesn’t seem to work or have leisure activities, and looks only to be waiting until they are put to sleep again. Anyone believed to be causing a disturbance, or, in some cases, simply has elevated vital signs, can be and usually is immediately sedated by the system. This happens on more than one occasion to Rose, Ben’s wife, who has little memory of who she is and what is happening around her, and so often grows distressed enough that the system sedates her, which only perpetuates the cycle for her. Seeing what happens to Rose because of her illness is one of the elements of the book that is the most difficult to read, particularly as more of her past unfolds and it becomes quite evident that she has suffered for much of her life. It’s initially easy to sympathise with Ben, who seems to be trying to do the best he can for her, yet there are moments when his actions feel selfish and it can seem that he is acting out of a desire to make things more bearable for him (‘easier’ is not the word here) rather than what would be right for her.

Peruzzi’s life seems just as empty and no less under the control of forces that he doesn’t understand. From the outset, he doesn’t appear to relish his relative ‘freedom’ and finds it difficult to find joy or happiness in anything. He spends his life alone, with only technology for company, and while he relies on said technology for many things, he gradually begins to understand that it cannot be trusted in all respects. Sometimes, it’s as if he gets a kick out of his ‘absolute’ power, yet this is often short-lived or feels forced, and his interactions with actual people tend to leave him shocked or unable to comprehend the immediacy of life – something not surprising for an observer normally removed from supposed reality. His flippancy and attitude towards others makes him difficult to sympathise with, though he may well have simply survived with such limited contact for so long that he doesn’t really understand how to interact or empathise anymore.

Ben’s past is revealed through a series of ‘confessions’ he makes to one of the few residents of the city that he actually trusts, and with his past comes the path that led humanity to the ‘solution’ of the sleep and how the city has been manipulated into accepting its fate. It’s difficult to tell whether Ben ever actually believes that he is doing the right thing, especially as his group’s war against the establishment grows more and more bloody, for in moments he seems matter of fact about its accomplishments, and uncertain about his choices in others, his memories undoubtedly coloured by what he has learned since the days of his youth. The structure here is incredibly effective, especially as it often makes the reader reconsider what they may feel about more than one of the characters.

Kings of a Dead World is an effective, impactful and often unsettling read that feels not too distant from our own world in its politics and most pressing challenges. Many thanks to Sandstone Press for sending me a copy for review.

Review: Notes from The Burning Age by Claire North

Review: Notes from The Burning Age by Claire North

‘Ven was once a holy man, a keeper of ancient archives. It was his duty to interpret archaic texts, sorting useful knowledge from the heretical ideas of the Burning Age–a time of excess and climate disaster. For in Ven’s world, such material must be closely guarded so that the ills that led to that cataclysmic era can never be repeated.

But when the revolutionary Brotherhood approaches Ven, pressuring him to translate stolen writings that threaten everything he once held dear, his life will be turned upside down. Torn between friendship and faith, Ven must decide how far he’s willing to go to save this new world–and how much he is willing to lose.’

Notes From the Burning Age takes place in the world that has grown out of the disasters caused by humankind’s focus on advances in technology, especially destructive features of science that can be used to harm the earth, animals and people. The arrogance of society in believing that it is possible to gain control over nature through technology and adamantly refusing to believe that science can have negative consequences for the natural world leads humankind to build and build, until, according to Temple scripture, creatures called kakuy rose from the land and sought to destroy humans for their hubris. Since then, there remains some debate as to whether the kakuy were a punishment for humankind or a blessing that attempted to restore the earth to how it should be. Fragments of what is now known as the Burning Age remain, in old technology and data that is carefully controlled or no longer understood, and while some humans acknowledge that it is this technology that almost led to their destruction, others appear set on making the same mistakes again and are determined to gain control through whatever means necessary. Notes from the Burning Age is a sharp look at modern society and the patterns of behaviour that humankind inevitably appears to repeat, including elements of our own nature that we seem unable to overcome.

The idea of the kakuy and whether or not they exist is something else that divides the characters – often less whether they truly exist and more whether they are willing to admit that they do. It’s interesting that the reader sees events from Ven’s point of view, and Ven has more than one encounter with a kakuy, yet, given Ven’s beliefs, it is only natural that he would have absolute faith in what he sees and interpret it in a particular way (at least, more towards the beginning of the novel), and so bring the reader into this manner of seeing and thinking too. Others ‘see’ them and insist that they never have, largely for reasons personal to them or particular to their politics, while some believe that their awakening is humankind’s punishment and are respectful not only in religious ways, and the conflict between the different beliefs and interpretations of world events makes the reader begin to wonder whether the kakuy are mankind’s way of explaining away what they have done to the world, or whether they really exist.

Ven’s world is one which seems on the precipice of making the mistakes that have led to the necessity of the creation of new societies and ways of living. Those who are in search of the information from before the disasters are fixated on advances in technology that will allow them to arm themselves and gain power through the threatened destruction of others, having seemingly learned nothing from the mistakes of the past. Their reasoning sometimes leans into accusations that the information that is being protected is being hoarded for the wrong reasons, yet they show no interest in anything except that which could be useful for destructive purposes – and that the information should be shared simply because they don’t like the fact that those with different beliefs have it. Ven’s experience with the various factions and their interactions only serves to highlight that, though one may appear to or suggest that they have better intentions than the others, ultimately there is no singular group that can have the best intentions for the whole of humankind. Even Ven himself finds himself swayed towards particular people and ideas more than once, only further highlighting humankind’s fragility.

Notes from the Burning Age is a brilliant and thought-provoking read that is difficult to put down. A fascinating look at human nature and our relationships with each other and the world around us. Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy for review.

Review: The Forevers by Chris Whitaker

Review: The Forevers by Chris Whitaker

‘They knew the end was coming. They saw it ten years back, when it was far enough away in space and time and meaning.

The changes were gradual, and then sudden.

For Mae and her friends, it means navigating a life where action and consequence are no longer related. Where the popular are both trophies and targets. And where petty grudges turn deadlier with each passing day. So, did Abi Manton jump off the cliff or was she pushed? Her death is just the beginning of the end.

With teachers losing control of their students and themselves, and the end rushing toward all of them, it leaves everyone facing the answer to one, simple question…

What would you do if you could get away with anything?’

The Forevers is a story that looks at the experience of a group of young people in the final month of their lives, for they and the rest of the world knows that humans are soon to be wiped out by the arrival of an asteroid – that has been named Selena – that will crash into the Earth. Society has had ten years to try and come to terms with the impending extinction of the human race and has made numerous attempts to try and divert or destroy the asteroid, but time has now run out and there is nothing to be done. Not all hope has been lost, but it is in short supply, and there are those who are capitalising on the building of bunkers and other supposed survival strategies, while others use the impending end as an excuse to behave as they wish without the threat of consequences. For Mae and her friends, life has become about what boundaries they can push, shifting social hierarchies, and trying to find meaning in their lives before Selena arrives. The Forevers addresses a number of difficult and sensitive topics, and isn’t an easy read in parts, but it is one that very swiftly draws the reader in and becomes difficult to put down. It’s particularly interesting in its structure and use of flashbacks, including how information about the past and the situation surrounding Abi Manton is slowly revealed.

Mae’s devotion to her sister, Stella, is one of the most prominent threads of the narrative and seems to be the stability that she returns to time after time, as everything and everyone else around her starts to slip out of control (including her own habits and risk taking). Her interactions with her little sister are different to those she has with others, the more despairing side of herself hidden so that she can lend a sense of safety and reassurance to her, which is something that she doesn’t appear to have experienced since the deaths of their parents. She does her best to be a mother to Stella, and their scenes were among my favourite of the book. It’s through Mae and Stella that the reader learns something of the past too, including the various Saviour missions that have been sent to try and destroy Selena before it reaches Earth. Even knowing that Selena is still on-course and the end is inevitable from the very beginning of the story – and therefore none of the Saviours can have worked – there is a sense of hope with what is learned about each one, much like that which the characters would have experienced, only to have this swiftly dashed when errors are made and plans don’t work.

It’s interesting how society in The Forevers tries to maintain a sense of normalcy and there seems to be encouragement to continue as if nothing is different, which, on the surface, feels as if it would be unlikely, yet may well be exactly what the young people in the story need to cope with what is approaching and how they feel about their inevitable fate and that of those around them. This is not to say that everyone involved in aiming to maintain this structure is successful, for many of the adults in the story do anything but set a good example for those in their care and in-fact have been falling prey to the darker side of their natures for many, many years before the immediacy of Selena’s arrival begins to have a bigger impact on mental health. There are few good examples for Mae and her friends to look to for support, and, in many instances, it feels as if the younger generation is handling the idea of their rapidly approaching deaths better than the adults – or perhaps it’s that the adults are so used to exercising a sense of power and control that, when faced with defiance and their own crumbling stability, they are less able to adapt.

The Forevers is out today from Hot Key Books! Thank you to the publisher for sending me a proof copy for review.