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Month: August 2021

Blog Tour: The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

Blog Tour: The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman

‘On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are engulfed in flames.

But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance and grief are all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the First World War.

Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family, this unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Silence of Scheherazade by Defne Suman, published by Head of Zeus!

The Silence of Scheherazade is set in the city of Smyrna and follows the not entirely linear paths of four families as history unfolds and gradually reveals the ties between them, as well as the fate of the city that they call home and has seen much conflict and dispute. It’s a story grounded in the very real history of Smyrna (later Izmir), but has an air of the magical and mythical about it, especially in its references to stories, voices, and the way the non-linear structure is excellently exploited to expose some of the tale’s most precious secrets.

The story ostensibly begins with Edith, or perhaps it is that she, in a manner of speaking, repeats the history of her own mother, a young Levantine French woman who cares little for social rules and what is expected of her, despite the ‘best’ efforts of her aforementioned mother. She seeks independence and attempts to shrug off the rules her family would have her follow, and, once the opportunity presents itself, shortly becomes infamous in the wider community for her unwillingness to conform and her scandalous behaviour, such as her living alone as an unmarried woman and her choice of lover (not to mention her reported addiction to opium). It is she who is the mother of Scheherazade, and one of a cast of strong and prominent women from different walks of life, who demonstrate their strength in a variety of manners and scenarios, yet, ultimately, perhaps the key thread that binds them together is their capacity for love, whether that is for family, friends or homeland. Through the lives of these women and their families, The Silence of Scheherazade explores issues of identity, motherhood, sisterhood and what it is to be a woman in a land of conflict, but to name a few of the subjects that are considered over the course of the story.

Scheherazade’s story is not hers alone, but that of those who have shaped who she is, whether deliberately or otherwise, and the manner in which almost the entire cast is written about makes it feel as if there are no minor characters or those which have simply been added for the purpose of moving the plot forward. There are multiple points of view in the novel, through which the reader learns about a broad range of characters, and enough time is spent with each that even those that have only a few details revealed about them feel part of the fabric of the story and significant to a character who may have a larger role, or one that we have spent more time with. In a fashion, there are a thousand and one stories that are a part of Scheherzade’s and those of others, representing the impact that we have on each other’s lives and that parts of us will always be because of the influence that others have had on us.

As the lives of the families stretch on, the tale doesn’t shy away from showing the darkness of conflict, from the physical brutality and treatment of civilians, to the fate of young people drawn into fighting. There are moments that are very difficult to read and that may well make the reader flinch, but that this is the response to these moments is a reflection upon the quality of the writing and emotive impact of the scenes that unfold. There is nothing gratuitous of this nature – only a realistic representation of the situations that civilians would have found themselves in and a sensitively handled understanding of the fear and uncertainty surrounding such events, especially for women at the mercy of enemy forces.

The Silence of Scheherazade is a wonderfully crafted and hard-hitting read that’s most definitely one to look out for for fans of historical fiction and the nature of storytelling. Highly recommended! Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me a proof for review and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.

Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

Review: A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

‘Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.

So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, Al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world fifty years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be Al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.

Alongside her Ministry colleagues and a familiar person from her past, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems…’

A Master of Djinn is a fantastic read, with witty dialogue, vivid worldbuilding and delightful characters. It follows the adventures of Fatma, who works for a ministry that deals with magic and the supernatural, and what happens when she finds herself having to investigate the murder of a brotherhood who have seemingly been getting involved in that which they don’t really understand, nor have the ability to handle. She’s soon joined by Hadia, a new member of the ministry, and, assisted by her other colleagues and those she claims more personal (if uncertain) relationships with, it’s her duty to uncover who is responsible for the murder and put a stop to their increasing displays of power.

Fatma is a fun and clever character, her ready wit creating more than a few laugh out loud moments, her dialogue only one example of a whole cast of readable and varied characters. For all her pride in her achievements and progress, that she clashes with Hadia is an interesting facet of their working relationship, and it’s good that she gets called out for often treating her in the overprotective manner that they have both experienced from male colleagues who underestimate them. Fatma is not infallible and not perfect, particularly in these first encounters with Hadia, who expects better from her, being a woman who has been in the position that she is in, and seeing Fatma’s unconscious perceptions challenged directly are among some of the best scenes in the book. On the whole, she is confident in herself and has to learn to accept help on terms that may not be exactly that which she wants, and this is something that also impacts her personal life and her behaviour within relationships. She is less confident with the personal than she is with the professional, seemingly not willing to spend too long dwelling on her feelings, yet not at all unfeeling, and appears to be more nervous in situations that might lead to uncovering anything beyond the armour that she maintains to appear always capable and in control.

The magic and worldbuilding is clever and captivating, from the clockwork and more mechanical features of this alternate Cairo, to the way in which the ancient Egyptian gods are made very much part of a world that seems set on trying to forget them. The Cairo of A Master of Djinn feels very metropolitan, bright and bustling, but not without the problems of the time in which it is set – and of modern society – such as discrimination against particular faiths and peoples, which some attempt to address head-on, while others feel that they have no choice but to accept it. Siti’s comments in response to being openly and repeatedly discriminated against are especially heartbreaking in her flat refusal to let it get to her, demonstrating just how frequently it must be a part of her life. On a brighter note, there are some lovely conversations about faith, primarily focusing around Hadia, and other interesting explorations of what it is to believe and its impact both personal and otherwise. The world created within the novel feels very real, solid and believable, its fantastical elements incorporated in a way that finds matter of fact acceptance from the characters, and so encourages the same from the reader.

A Master of Djinn is out on August 19th and would be the perfect read for fans of crime fiction, fantasy books and historical novels alike. Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a proof!

Review: XOXO by Axie Oh

Review: XOXO by Axie Oh

‘Jenny didn’t get to be an award-winning, classically trained cellist without choosing practice over fun. That is, until the night she meets Jaewoo. Mysterious, handsome, and just a little bit tormented, Jaewoo is exactly the kind of distraction Jenny would normally avoid. And yet, she finds herself pulled into spending an unforgettable evening wandering Los Angeles with him on the night before his flight home to South Korea.

With Jaewoo an ocean away, there’s no use in dreaming of what could have been. But when Jenny and her mother move to Seoul to take care of her ailing grandmother, who does she meet at the elite arts academy she’s just been accepted to? Jaewoo.

Finding the dreamy stranger who swept you off your feet in your homeroom is one thing, but Jaewoo isn’t just any student. Turns out, Jaewoo is a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world. And like most K-pop idols, Jaewoo is strictly forbidden from dating anyone.

When a relationship means not only jeopardizing her place at her dream music school but also endangering everything Jaewoo’s worked for, Jenny has to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.’

XOXO is a fun read that would be perfect for adaptation into a K-Drama, and is one of the YA books that I’ve most enjoyed this year. The story follows Jenny, who is determined to follow the path she has set out for herself, which involves reaching one of the top universities to continue her studies of music and… what doesn’t sound like an awful lot of living or fun, her focus settled squarely on her academics. When she meets Jaewoo, she finds herself starting to question her choices, and when circumstances temporarily bring her and her mother to Seoul to take care of her grandmother, a new school and new friends begin to broaden her horizons and make her wonder whether she is essentially building a lonely life for herself. But is the alternative too big a risk to take, especially when it could cost her a place at her dream university – and Jaewoo and his friends everything that they have achieved in the spotlight?

The lives of Jaewoo and the XOXO band – and, by extension, very nearly everyone that they associate with – shine a light on the expectations of those who spend their lives in the media in Korea, and highlight the pressures that young stars are under and the rules that they are expected to follow. The one that impacts Jenny and Jaewoo’s relationship the most is the fact that he isn’t supposed to be involved with anyone, ostensibly so that he is seen to be prioritising his fans and seen as ‘available’, leaving him and others in his position with the choice of focusing on having the opportunity to use their talents or have any semblance of a personal life. It’s a world in which stars are judged harshly for any ‘mistakes’ that can cost them their careers, and in which anyone they are seen to be too fond of can become a target for negative comments from fans. As Jenny tries to learn to navigate this world and the impact her relationship with Jaewoo could have on not only their lives, but the lives of those around them, it’s clear that he is struggling with everything that fame has brought him, and though he cares very much for his band mates and enjoys performing, what else being part of XOXO means (such as the fact that he has to succeed to support his family) is not always easy for him to handle. References to his mental health are handled sensitively, as is that he is attending therapy, and the story also takes the opportunity to bring attention to the differences between how men and women are seen and treated in the media spotlight.

What gives the book its heart are the relationships between the characters, which aren’t always easy and don’t involve everybody getting along all the time, but it feel as if there is no-one truly nasty or malicious in the main cast, leaving the threats and pressures to be presented from the outside or media-brainwashed classmates, creating an interesting reflection of what it’s like to be in their shoes. Even when there are disagreements and misunderstandings, it still feels like they are on the same side, facing the same pressures, and ultimately understand what everyone is going through. They have each other’s backs and are supportive, trying to do what’s best in the best way that they can, even if it might not always be obvious or the easiest thing to do.

XOXO is out today! If you enjoy K-Dramas or have an interest in K-Pop, it’s definitely a book to look out for and would help brighten the summer. It’s a wonderful read with some lovely dialogue and a cast of characters that I hope we get to see again one day. Thank you to Harper360YA for sending me a copy!