Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

gildedcagevicSeries: Dark Gifts #1
Published by: Del Rey
ISBN: 0425284158
ISBN 13: 9780425284155
Published: February 2017
Pages: 368
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five

Set in an alternate history, we have England ruled by the elite in an entirely different way – they are blessed with magic, and those not of the elite families must serve ten years hard labour – the only mercy is that they may choose in their life when this servitude takes place. Unless you’re under age, such as Luke is, and your parents decide for you. At first it seems to be survivable, as his intelligent older sister has managed to get them into the royal household to perform what they assume will be lighter duties… that is until it turns out that there was no work to be found for him, and he is sent to the warehouse district instead. It is there, that he discovers true hardship.

The book itself is split into parts, and told from a few perspectives – that of the noble-born sons, Luke, Abi (the intelligent older sister) and this is done well, as it’s not common to see the tone and and choice of words changing so effortlessly between characters – this works very well indeed, and I wish we saw more of it in general.

The characters also seem well developed and all are interesting, especially those Luke meets in his new and sudden future. Somehow, though I’m usually the first to adore character-driven novels and although I can’t think of any issues with any of them entirely, I somehow didn’t feel overly connected with any of the characters. Perhaps something was missing, but I can’t quite tell why I didn’t love them all than I do.

The plot is good and interesting, the injuries and consequences the characters face were believable, and overall it had good pacing and interesting arcs that kept me reading.

Overall it’s a good start to the series, and I’m invested in finding out what happens next. With the introduction and worldbuilding now set, I hope that we get more depth to the history and magic system as some parts felt a little inconsistent, but I could be judging harshly. The writing itself is good, which makes this readable despite minor quibbles.

Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

bellwetherPublished by: Spectra
ASIN: B0036S4AI6
Published: 1996
Pages: 258
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

I demolished this book in a day (despite a rather hefty nap in between reading sessions) and loved every minute of it. Sandra is our main character, who works for a company called HiTek but is hindered every step of the way by her inept co-workers and ‘Management’, who have a new acronym to push or a new 28-page form that’s now required to simply order paperclips. All Sandra wants to do is research fads and pinpoint how consumerism works – such as how a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of a country can cause a hurricane on the other, is much like what possibly caused the fad for women to bob their hair.

As if pesky management aren’t enough, we have Flip who should be the run-about and mail clerk, however can’t get photocopying right and is utterly rude and dismissive in a rolling eyes and hair flip kind of way – and we see this spill out to cafés Sandra visits, where ordering a simple iced-tea quickly becomes a thing of the past.

What works so well about this is how each and every character is so utterly themselves, and people you can easily associate with people you’ve either loved or hated working with in the past. Their nature and way of speaking is captured so instantly in so few words, and the satirical nature of working for a company or any other ridiculous fad we’ve hoped will pass by quickly is easily identifiable. Sandra’s friend who brushes off each and every Management meeting with buzz-words and jargon to pass through the ridiculous ‘write five things that blah blah blah’ that we all know of so well is fantastic.

Then we have a fellow who’s seemingly immune to the trends that swallow up their coworkers in ways from fashion, food and how to raise their children. I loved how intelligent yet harmless he is – needing Sandra’s help on more than one occasion, and seeming utterly human throughout.

The ridiculousness of Management reminds me of the 2001 Josie and the Pussycats film; “Du Jour means seat belts. Du Jour means crash positions!”

All in all, as someone who works in Government, I loved this book to bits. It’s hits damn true to home and I wish I could make our own Management read it.

Review: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

dragonchocheartburgisPublished by: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 13: 9781408880319
Published: February 2017
Pages: 249
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Favourites and Recommended

Aventurine is a young dragon and horrified at the idea of having to wait until she’s thirty before she can go out of the family network of caves and see the world. Until then, her scales aren’t strong enough to protect her from humans and their bullets and spells. It doesn’t help that her older siblings are utterly perfect – Citrine could speak and write twenty other languages by the time she was Aventurine’s age, where Aventurine can only speak six. Their brother, Jasper, studies philosophy and waits quietly and patiently until he can safely leave the cave.

Aventurine, true to her name, isn’t one for waiting. She squeezes out of a small bolder-filled tunnel that leads to the outside world – injuring herself along the way, exactly as her mother warned. Furious, Aventurine doesn’t let this hold her back and makes her bid for freedom, finally finding herself under blue skies and able to smell food and sets off to prove she can look after herself – if she can manage to hunt and bring something back, this will prove she’s more than capable and ready for the outside world at large. Though of course, nothing’s that easy.

The plot throughout the book is unexpected, varied, and pretty damn perfect in every way. The expansive character list is easy to keep track of, even though I think it’s slightly more than we usually see in a middle grade book (proving it can be done, and done well), and the end, while perfect, made me wish we had more to go on with! I don’t want to leave Aventurine just yet.

This is a beautiful and whimsical middle-grade book, absolutely spell-bounding and perfect for a cosy weekend read so you can lose yourself in its pages. I confess I haven’t read anything novel-length by Burgis before, though I have read her short fiction that’s been in Twelfth Planet Press or Fablecroft collections and I’ve always commented in these past reviews that her piece in particular has always been one of the few I wish we got to see a novel-length of, because she has a way of introducing us to characters that we then don’t want to leave. I wanted to devour this book in a night, but then I also didn’t want it to be over so I kept it close, reading a few chapters here and there, drawing it out over a weekend.

Much like the book Chocolat by Joanne Harris is all about the beauty of chocolate, this is the same for younger readers, utterly delightful and leaves you desperate for some good Italian dark hot chocolate – especially if it has a little cinnamon and chilli mixed along in it.

Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

wizardleguinSeries: Earthsea Cycle #1
Published by: Puffin (and many many others)
ISBN: 0141354917
ISBN 13: 9780141354910
Published: 1968
Pages: 224
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Yes, I know, I haven’t read anything of the Earthsea Cycle until now – something I’m glad to rectify! It made a great start to the year as it was a slow read – in a good way. You want to take your time losing yourself in the world as it doesn’t exactly spiral out as expected.

Ged, our main character, a young boy from Gont who is found to have a way with magic, is first apprenticed to a great mage who can’t teach Ged everything as fast as he would like, so he leaves him to go to a place of training in Roke. There he soon strives to learn the most, faster than any other there, and he meets friends and also rivals.

It’s through this ego posturing that Ged gets himself into a significant amount of trouble which is what sets his character. Wary now of magic, and constantly underestimating himself, Ged recovers and goes on learning until he is eventually given his staff and sent out in the world to be a wizard.

At this point we’re not even halfway through the book, so I assure you there’s more action than that. The pacing is good in that aspect – action, recover, thought over what befell him, as Ged moves through what his future brings him. The characterisation is good, as Ged grows and he sprouts friendships with people he meets along his many journeys.

What works well in this story are the limitations of the magic system. Ged isn’t all powerful – although he is moreso than most. Even this causes him additional setbacks, and we see him constantly learning more about things that aren’t about wizardry – what it means to be human, and an adult.

The creatures in the book are excellent – real and brutal dragons (who are crafty and powerful), awful magic that can hunt you down and the only way to fight it is to turn around and hunt it yourself (and who’d want to do that?), and loyal and snuffly creatures who ride in your pocket and stay close when you’re injured.

It’s easy to see why this series is so instrumental in the genre. I highly recommend reading it.

Books Upcoming: To Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

catchakillerTo Catch a Killer by Sheryl Scarborough

Release Date: 7 February, 2017

Tor Books

Erin Blake has one of those names. A name that, like Natalee Holloway or Elizabeth Smart, is inextricably linked to a grisly crime. As a toddler, Erin survived for three days alongside the corpse of her murdered mother, and the case—which remains unsolved—fascinated a nation. Her father’s identity unknown, Erin was taken in by her mother’s best friend and has become a relatively normal teen in spite of the looming questions about her past.

Fourteen years later, Erin is once again at the center of a brutal homicide when she finds the body of her biology teacher. When questioned by the police, Erin tells almost the whole truth, but never voices her suspicions that her mother’s killer has struck again in order to protect the casework she’s secretly doing on her own.

Inspired by her uncle, an FBI agent, Erin has ramped up her forensic hobby into a full-blown cold-case investigation. This new murder makes her certain she’s close to the truth, but when all the evidence starts to point the authorities straight to Erin, she turns to her longtime crush (and fellow suspect) Journey Michaels to help her crack the case before it’s too late.

~

The first 80 pages was released on NetGalley as a ‘read now’ preview, and as I trust the publisher and it’s already rating well on Goodreads, I was all in. So far, I haven’t regretted it – this book has kept me hooked. Written in the first person we immediately get a feel for Erin and the type of girl she is, always known by the public because of what happened to her before as a toddler, and, unfortunately, now, after the death of her favourite teacher. We meet her two friends, Spam and Lysa, and together the three give a slight Veronica Mars vibe as they try to solve small high school style crimes, such as cheating partners. And, on the side, Erin is trying to track down her mother’s killer who was never caught.

Journey Michaels is a better YA-crush than most, in that he’s a bit unpredictable, knows he is popular, and isn’t the broody type. He listens to Erin’s side of things and acts quite like you’d expect a young suspect to, especially when we find out his own history. I found that the author caught the voices of teens really quite well, but was perhaps a little heavy on the teacher quirks (though I’d prefer that over getting the teachers wrong in a different way), and I’d expect that this is cleared up a little later in the book, which means I’ll certainly be looking out for this book when it comes out in February – I need to know so much more about everything!