Tuesday, 30 September 2014

I've moved!

So I've finally moved! My new home is over at Wordpress, at www.inkyrealms.com.

Everything still looks a bit shaky and basic but hey, my reviews are there so I guess everything else will follow... eventually... :D

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Blog Hiatus

This blog is going on a brief hiatus. THANK YOU so much to everyone who has read & commented on reviews. I'm currently on holiday (in beautiful Indonesia) and after that I've got a bunch of assignments due for a distance Masters in GIS that I stupidly signed myself up for and have been putting off all year. So I'll be MIA for while, at least over here. 

I'm planning to revive everything in a month or two over on Wordpress. Fortunately my wife is a web designer and has promised to make me something beautiful :D 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Book Review: The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst

The Lost (The Lost #1) by Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Fantasy/ Mythic Fiction
Publisher: Harlequin/Mira
Date Published: May 2014
Author Information: Goodreads | Website | Twitter
Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Blurb (from Goodreads): It was only meant to be a brief detour. But then Lauren finds herself trapped in a town called Lost on the edge of a desert, filled with things abandoned, broken and thrown away. And when she tries to escape, impassable dust storms and something unexplainable lead her back to Lost again and again. The residents she meets there tell her she's going to have to figure out just what she's missing--and what she's running from--before she can leave. So now Lauren's on a new search for a purpose and a destiny. And maybe, just maybe, she'll be found...

Against the backdrop of this desolate and mystical town, Sarah Beth Durst writes an arresting, fantastical novel of one woman's impossible journey...and her quest to find her fate.

Why I read it: The blurb looked intriguing, and I loved the cover. Happily the novel was as good as I expected!

My thoughts:

I really liked this one.

It begins with somebody called Lauren driving out of town, doing her best to ignore her life. She doesn’t call in sick. She doesn’t let her mother know she’ll be home late. She just leaves. It’s a very quiet breakdown: a lone girl speeding in a car on the highway, shutting off the static on the radio because listening seems “self-consciously melodramatic.” Still, it’s dangerous to go on such escapades when there is magic realism afoot, as our heroine Lauren later ends up trapped in a little town called Lost – seemingly the home of all the abandoned and misplaced things in America.

Honestly? It’s a great start to a good novel.

Lost itself was brilliant. It’s described like one of those American hick towns you only see in the movies: just another town in the middle of nowhere, complete with dirty motel and run-down diner. However, Lost’s suburbs are made up of abandoned and foreclosed houses, and the streets are dangerous. They’re patrolled by feral dogs; littered with trash, odd socks, and broken glass. There’s no escape – beyond Lost, there’s only desert, and a soul-destroying dust storm. And yes, I mean that literally.

Lauren is understandably pissed when she works out what’s happening – she doesn’t want to be stranded in a settlement that shouldn’t even exist, not when her mother is sick at home. She’s made increasingly unhappy when the Missing Man, the only person with the power to return people to their lives, disappears. This forces her to team up with Claire the knife-wielding six year old (who is completely unrealistic but adorable all the same) and a guy named Peter, who I’ll talk about later. On the whole, though, I really liked Lauren. She made good choices in this book, and was generally very competent in a subdued, undramatic way that I found appealing. It’s mostly for her that I’m so excited about the sequel.

However, underpinning this book is a romance… and this had problems! Peter is described as arty rebel boy: a good-looking, tattooed fellow who favours the colour black and is exactly Lauren’s type. So far, so good. But a huge power imbalance quickly develops between the two of them. Lauren is a newcomer to Lost. She doesn’t know how to scavenge and survive on the fringes; she hasn’t the faintest clue about the lay of the land and the local inhabitants. Peter, however, has lived in Lost for years. He’s also MUCH older than her (and possibly not human?). Worse, he has some creeptastic tendencies - like sleeping in her wardrobe without permission, and regularly putting her down because “he likes her”. To be fair, both the narrative and Lauren call him out on some of this behaviour, but not consistently. (Although I admit I still enjoyed their budding romance despite this.)

A note on diversity: There’s a decent mix of genders here. All the main characters seem to be white, although one semi-important secondary character (Victoria the waitress) is described as having rich brown skin. There’s also no queer content: all relationships are heterosexual ones, and everyone appears cisgender. This strikes me as a wasted opportunity for a town of “lost” people, and I hope we’ll see a wider range of people in the sequel.

But those complaints aside, I really enjoyed this novel. It was well-written, and even made me cry at one stage! The overall worldbuilding and uses of magic were very metaphorical, but if you’re a fan of magical realism, I would definitely recommend this.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 
Thanks Netgalley & Harlequin!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Book Review: Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy #3) by Robin Hobb
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Published: March 1997
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Blurb (from Goodreads): King Shrewd is dead at the hands of his son Regal. As is Fitz—or so his enemies and friends believe. But with the help of his allies and his beast magic, he emerges from the grave, deeply scarred in body and soul. The kingdom also teeters toward ruin: Regal has plundered and abandoned the capital, while the rightful heir, Prince Verity, is lost to his mad quest—perhaps to death. Only Verity’s return—or the heir his princess carries—can save the Six Duchies.

But Fitz will not wait. Driven by loss and bitter memories, he undertakes a quest: to kill Regal. The journey casts him into deep waters, as he discovers wild currents of magic within him—currents that will either drown him or make him something more than he was.

Why I read it: 

I read Assassin’s Apprentice, and thought it was pretty good. Royal Assassin was better, easily a 5 star read. Of course I was going to finish this trilogy off!

My thoughts:

I’m not quite sure how to write this review. Saying this was a 5 star read doesn’t do this book justice. Because while I have read some great 5 star reads this year, I didn’t enjoy them half as much as this one. If Robin Hobb consistently finishes trilogies like this (and I plan to find out very, very soon!) then she will be joining the ranks of Jacqueline Carey and Guy Gavriel Kay as my all-time favourite authors.

And before I gush about it some more, a warning: there's a few MAJOR spoilers for book two below. Read on at your own risk!

The end of Royal Assassin, book two in the Farseer Trilogy, saw Fitz “die” at Regal’s hand. He only survived because he used the Wit to escape into the mind of his wolf. However, this endurance came at a cost. The wider world (including most of his friends and allies) consider him long gone. And on a more personal level, Fitz’s time spent living as a wolf stripped him of his humanity; it’s unclear if he will ever fully regain his human side. In short, Fitz is a broken and changed man: barred from his home at Buckkeep and with little left to live for (or lose!). Which sucks for him (and I felt for Fitz, I really did!) but is a very dramatic place to begin a novel.

And it only gets better from there.

The plot builds slowly. It begins with Fitz’s convalescence under Burrich’s hand. Later, it follows Fitz inland as he quests for revenge. Regal stole his life and Verity’s kingdom; Fitz intends to make him pay. The result is a series of increasingly epic (mis)adventures through Farrow and the Mountain Kingdoms. There are even dragons!

There’s also a LOT more magic in this book, which made me very happy. In my review of Assassin’s Apprentice, I said the Wit bored me because it seemed like generic animal magic. But I take it all back! The Wit is awesome. It’s integral to the plot, and to Fitz, with strengths and flaws that are incredibly interesting. Fitz even meets others of the “Old Blood” during his journey, and learns just how little he knows about Witted folk and what they can do. It was great to finally get a glimpse of how the Wit was used outside the confined world of Buckkeep proper.

We also see more of the Skill and its capabilities. Fitz continues to show promise with the Skill, and his limited training continues to trip him up. Regal’s coterie, led by Will, is an increasing threat. However, the Skill-related plotlines are advanced mainly by a couple of new characters and various strange situations that Fitz encounters. It’s brilliant - I love this kind of fiddly, vicious mind magic. It’s so much fun to read about!!

There’s also some great character stuff in this book. Fitz is the core of the novel (and my heart broke for him. Repeatedly. Poor guy.) but the secondary characters remain brilliantly written. I have a soft spot in my heart for Verity, but I also enjoyed the two new female characters introduced. Kettle the crotchety old woman was excellently written, and Starling the bard had surprising depth.

We also learn a lot more about the Fool. He played a fairly minor role in the first two books, but really comes into his own here. Suddenly I understand why everyone raves about how awesome Fitz & the Fool are together! They become much closer in this novel, and I really appreciated the glimpse of love (and possibly romance?) shared between them. I also loved the (very unexpected!) discussion on gender the Fool comes out with in this book. I’ve always imagined him as your average straight and cis-male, because nobody has ever commented otherwise. But knowing his personal views of gender, and the fact that he was androgynous-enough that another character mistook him as a female, means I have to revise my internal image of who this person is. And that makes me very happy! I like it when books screw with your expectations, and obviously I’m a fan of queer-ish content in my fantasy.

The only thing I didn’t like was Fitz’s relationship with Molly, his lover and childhood friend from the previous two books. Her appearances in this book are brief. Fitz dreams of her occasionally, and remains deeply in love. But their relationship is deeply unequal. Molly doesn’t even know that Fitz is alive, and mainly exists to be threatened by Regal and cause Fitz some noble man-pain. However, I liked the way her plotline was concluded, so this criticism is given half-heartedly at best.

Also? You can look forward to an ending that is both satisfyingly epic and more than a bit melancholy. (I even cried a little.)

Seriously, I can’t recommend this book enough! Some of the best epic fantasy I’ve read in years. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Waiting On Wednesday: The Magician's Land

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, a great place to geek out over upcoming books!

My pick for this week is The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, to be published by Viking in August. I’ve really enjoyed this series so far (yes, despite Quentin’s whining!) so I can’t wait for the conclusion. And not just because I share the same somewhat-guilty love of Narnia that seems to permeate these books! The Magician King had an excellent ending, and I do want to know what happens to Quentin now he’s been flung back into the real world. Plus the blurb is promising epic things. Ah portal fantasies, how I love you.

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demi-monde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, a new Fillory—but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Book Review: Child of a Hidden Sea by A. M. Dellamonica

Title: Child of a Hidden Sea
Author: A. M. Dellamonica
Genre: Portal Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date Published: June 24th 2014
Source: Publisher via Netgalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Blurb (taken from Goodreads):
One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn't know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don't know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world... or is doomed to exile.

Why I read it:  

I love portal fantasies and anything nautical, so this looked right up my alley.

My thoughts:

There was so much I loved about this book: the characters, the nautical setting, the irreverent tone...

I’m going to discuss the characters first, because they were what I enjoyed most about this novel. The main character was Sophie, a thrill-seeking American biologist in her mid-twenties. Adopted at birth, she finally tracks down her biomom – and then gets accidentally transported into the world of Stormwreck for her troubles. (As her brother Bran later comments, “It’s not enough to go looking for a few biological relatives, you mad overachiever? You have to find a whole birth planet.”) For a middle-class girl from San Francisco, Sophie’s skillset is remarkably apt for this alternative archipelago world - she can dive, climb, sail, and is handy with a camera – but she never comes off as a Mary Sue. Although she’s calm under pressure when she’s doing something she’s been trained in, there’s a lot that happens in Stormwreck that she was completely unequipped to deal with. Watching her work through that made her a very interesting character.

But Sophie wasn’t the only character I loved. This book is very much about Sophie’s two families – both real and birth – so her brother Bran, half-sister Verena, and other relatives play central parts. Captain Parrish & First Mate Tobias, sailors on her aunt’s ship Nightjar, were also key players. Bran was probably one of my favourites. He spends much of the novel conducting an intellectual quest to determine the origins of Stormwreck, picking up the local language (although his stupendous ability in Fleetspeak seemed unrealistic to me. I’m sorry, but nobody learns languages that fast) and bantering with Sophie. The only thing that disappointed me was Bran’s single status – after he acknowledged that “Captain Tasty” was a suitable nickname for Parrish, I wanted a shipboard romance between the pair SO MUCH.


One thing I also liked (and will thus comment on, because I always seem to) is that there is a lot of diversity here. Firstly – gay people exist, yay! Both Bran and Tobias are queer, as well as a random few others throughout in the novel. We find out about their sexuality because it’s (somewhat) relevant to the plot, and Dellamonica later confirms that the rest of the Fleet doesn’t give a toss about your sexuality. There are some religious zealots who think homosexuality is sinful, but they are looked down on by the main characters for it. Secondly, the world isn’t entirely Caucasian. Parrish is probably the most notable PoC – I think he's meant to be the guy crouched on the cover with Sophie.

I also really enjoyed the world. Both the magic system and intricacies of government protocol seemed really interesting, although we saw less of them then I’d like. I really like having the nuts and bolts of a magic system laid out clearly (perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandson Sanderson here!) but Dellamonica keeps most details on how inscriptions function under wraps. This does make sense as Sophie doesn’t understand magic in any depth either, but I hope it gets expanded it later novels. The multiple islands and cultures also mean there is still a lot of explore. Gah. Can you tell I want the sequel?!

My one criticism is the lack of a map - given how much time Bran and Sophie spend pouring over charts and children’s drawings of Stormwreak, I was surprised the novel didn’t come complete with one. Dellamonica has explained this was excluded because Stormwreak is the size of Earth and predominately ocean, so a global map wouldn’t be that interesting. However, my inner cartographer would like to point out that included maps could always be on a large scale rather than a small one, or feature winds & currents instead of just ocean. I also think that showing just part of the world would link nicely to a lot of characters’ ignorance about the location of the outlying islands. But I suppose this has more to do with the packaging of the book than the book itself.

Basically, this is a brilliant novel: light in tone and cleverly plotted. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Posion Fruit by Jacqueline Carey

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, a great place to geek out over upcoming books!

My pick for this week is Poison Fruit (Agent of Hel #3) by Jacqueline Carey. It’s coming out in October and is the final book in her Agent of Hel series, so I’m expecting slew of delicious magical chaos for Daisy. It’s going to be awesome. Possibly more exciting than that (for me, anyway) is that Jacqueline Carey will have to start writing a new series now this one is over. Fingers crossed for something epic!

The hot-as-Hel series with the “Sookie Stackhouse type of vibe” (Paranormal Horizon) is back—but this time the paranormal Midwestern town of Pemkowet is feeling a frost in the air and the residents are frozen in fear...

The Pemkowet Visitors Bureau has always promoted paranormal tourism—even if it has downplayed the risks (hobgoblins are unpredictable). It helps that the town is presided over by Daisy Johanssen, who as Hel’s liaison is authorized by the Norse goddess of the dead to keep Pemkowet under control. Normally, that’s easier to do in the winter, when bracing temperatures keep folks indoors.

But a new predator is on the prowl, and this one thrives on nightmares. Daisy is on her trail and working intimately with her partner and sometime lover from the Pemkowet PD, sexy yet unavailable werewolf Cody Fairfax. But even as the creature is racking up innocent victims, a greater danger looms on Pewkowet’s horizon.

As a result of a recent ghost uprising, an unknown adversary—represented by a hell-spawn lawyer with fiery powers of persuasion—has instigated a lawsuit against the town. If Pemkowet loses, Hel’s sovereignty will be jeopardized, and the fate of the eldritch community will be at stake. The only one who can prevent it is Daisy—but she’s going to have to confront her own worst nightmare to do it.