Book Review: The Waking Land

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3star

Title: The Waking Land

Author: Callie Bates

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Waking Land offset the wonders of magic with human imperfections through the journey of the book’s complicated heroine, Elanna Valtai. Raised by a king who branded her father a traitor to the realm, Elanna grew up believing that her people are ignorant and unworthy. The Waking Land has a lot of potential, but falters at times with its portrayal of Elanna’s characterisation, and with maintaining a consistent pacing. For me, the book ended up being a compelling but unmemorable read.
The Waking Land

One of the largest underlying conflict in The Waking Land is the oppression of the Caerisians by the new ruling class. I am always cautious when I see fantasy races used as a tool to commentate on racism, as when not done in a respectful manner, it can be quite hurtful to marginalised readers. However, The Waking Land takes care to constantly challenge Elanna’s thoughts and the institutionalised racism around her – the text constantly questions the prejudices that drives royalty and noblewomen of Laon to jeer at Elanna’s skin colour and Caerisian parentage.Read More »

Book Review: Roar

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1Star

Title: Roar

Author: Cora Carmack

Rating: 1/5 Stars

Series? Yes

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Eagle-eyed blog readers may note that the usual purchase links to online retailers is missing from this post. This was entirely intentional because I think every dollar that goes towards Roar is a dollar wasted. I went in expecting an entertaining fantasy, filled with storm magic and a princess discovering her destiny. While the book partially delivered on these expectations, it also came with a significant amount of toxic masculinity, two domineering and possessive love interests, a romance that perpetuates rape culture, and a woman of colour thrown under the bus to further the heroine’s own storyline.

Roar

I’ll get the lone positive out of the way first. The world building in Roar was compelling, set in a world haunted by tempestuous storms where gifted humans employ magic to control them. Since the internet has no shortage of glowing reviews about the magic system in Roar, I’ll leave it at that. I have a lot more to say about the toxic romance in Roar as, it is an example of how dangerous it is for harmful tropes to reign unchecked and unchallenged. This post will contain spoilers for the romantic plot within Roar. This is the book that ruins itself, so I am just helping it along.

Note: The protagonist in this book goes by three different names – Aurora, Rora, and Roar – I will use the name Roar for the sake of clarity.

Trigger warning for romanticised abuse.

My main issue with Roar is the very problematic romanticisation of male sexual aggression and possessiveness. Unlike many YA novels where the narration primarily takes place from the heroine’s point of view, Roar is also written from Cassius and Locke’s perspective – and their thoughts on Roar were disturbing and frightening, especially because the text largely presented them as romantic.Read More »

Book Review: The Grace of Kings

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4-star

Title: The Grace of Kings

Author: Ken Liu

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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In a genre inundated with tall-tales of reluctant white heroes fulfilling their Destiny, Ken Liu’s voice unabashedly stands apart. He is a constant innovator, whether it’s with his short fiction, full length novel, or translated work. At the same time, he also showcase the roots of his identity via the incorporation of Chinese history and mythology in all his writing. The Grace of Kings embodies Ken Liu’s style completely, fusing his unique voice with an ambitious saga about war, governance, and people who defy destiny.

The Grace Of Kings

The Grace of Kings is told via a series of interconnected chapters, each giving the reader an insight to the many characters that populate this vast world. The character featured may only fleet in and out of the narrative, or reappear numerous times to emerge as a central figure to the tale – but each of their story felt crucial to the overarching epic.Ken Liu’s mastery over short fiction is evident by his previous works such as The Paper Menagerie, and I loved seeing these skills applied on a grander scale to create the rich tapestry of The Dandelion Dynasty. Although each chapters felt episodic, there was a constant sense of momentum and urgency throughout the text, making this a constantly engaging read despite its hefty length.Read More »

Book Review: Flame in the Mist

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Title: Flame in the Mist

Author: Renee Ahdieh

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Series? Yes.

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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.

I read this book as part of the #AsianLitBingo challenge, you can check out my TBR for it here.

While Flame in the Mist was an enjoyable read overall, I felt somewhat let-down because of its immense potential to be remarkable. The premise promised greatness: a fantasy set in an alternate feudal Japan, featuring a cross-dressing noble lady skilled at invention and her time amongst lordless samurai warriors. I expected Flame in the Mist to sweep me off my feet. However, issues with inconsistent character development and pacing meant the book missed the mark for me.

FITM7

Flame in the Mist follows Mariko Hattori, daughter of a prominent daimyou, as she attempts to exact her revenge on The Black Clan. She believes this notorious mountain-based samurai gang is responsible for the death of her servants and foot soldiers, as part of an effort to assassinate her. Mariko infiltrates The Black Clan by disguising as a young male traveler. Before she knows it, Mariko is embroiled in a net of intrigue involving a lost shogun and a struggle for nationwide dominance.

First of all, I just wanted to say that Flame in the Mist is not retelling of Mulan – because it’s something I keep hearing on Twitter. Both stories have a cross-dressing heroine, and that’s where the similarities end. Japan and China are separate countries, and Mulan is not a folklore they share.

One of the things I was glad to see in Flame in the Mist is how different Mariko is from Renee Ahdieh’s previous protagonist, Shazi. Mariko is more of an observer and a thinker, someone who weighs up all of her options before acting. Due to this, at times her narration can seem repetitive and sedate. Despite the her tendency to lapse into long internal monologues, I appreciated that Mariko was the main driver of her story. It’s her actions that continually propelled the plot forwards, in spite of the machinations around her.

I must admit that I found many of the secondary characters to be lacking in dimension. Aside from Okami and Ranmaru, who had development thanks to their many interactions with Mariko – the rest of the cast suffered. I never felt that Mariko formed am authentic or lasting bond with The Black Clan. Similarly, the side story featuring Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, and his love interest fell a little flat. The book did try to address the sexism inherent within Mariko’s society, and I commend it for featuring several key female characters. Towards the end, there are hints that more of these characters will take centre-stage in the sequel – so I look forward to seeing the gender roles explored further.

My main issue with Flame in the Mist came from most of the book’s characterisation being told rather than shown. The book kept telling me about the brilliance of Mariko’s mind, how mysterious Okami is, how Ranmaru’s presence exudes power and command – but I was never convinced as they did little to back these claims up. The primary romance in the novel also suffered due to similar lack of development. One moment, our protagonists were eyeing one another with disinterest and hostility, the next they were utterly consumed by lust. I did like the interactions between them once the romance begun, but I am still perplexed on how it happened.

As for the world building, I admit I was a little disappointed by Flame in the Mist’s vision of Japan. Having read The Wrath and the Dawn, I know the author is capable of ensnaring all of our senses when it comes to setting. The Japan in Flame in the Mist seems a bit like a theme park. Samurai? Check. Emperors? Check. Maiko and geisha? Check. Teahouses? Check. Ninja? Check (you can’t tell me that Mariko’s inventions aren’t directly copied off ninja devices!) Youkai? Check. Lengthy description of kimono? Check. I also found the use of the Japanese vocabulary inconsistent and confusing, as it seems the author could not decide whether she wanted to use the English or the Japanese equivalent of certain words, and constantly fluctuated between them. Mercifully, this was limited to the first few chapters of the novel.

Overall, I am still invested enough in the story to check out the sequel. I would recommend it if you’re looking for a non-Western YA fantasy – especially as it seems I am amongst the minority when it comes to this book.


Have you read Flame in the Mist? What are some of your favourite books set in Japan?

Book Review: Red Sister

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Title: Red Sister

Author: Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Series? Yes, 1 of 3

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Disclaimer: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the Harper Voyager Australia in exchange for an honest review.

 

From its very first lines, Red Sister had me hooked and wholly invested. It promised warrior nuns, political and religious intrigue, along with a cast filled to the brim with complex ladies. Red Sister delivered on all counts. I especially loved its exploration on relationships between females, from friendship, to mentorship, to rivalry.

RedSister

It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy Convent, Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.

The first lines of Red Sister are some of the most captivating I’ve read in several years, and it sets the tone for the entire book. Mark Lawrence’s writing style is meticulous and vivid, his sentences pulse with life and intrigue. In particular, I love the way he writes action scenes – I’ve admitted several times in the past that I am not a particularly visual reader when it comes to fight scenes, but Lawrence’s writing are cinematic even to someone like myself. Read More »

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer

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5star

Title: Strange the Dreamer

Author: Laini Taylor

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Series? Yes. 1 of 2.

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Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from Hachette Australia/Date A Book in exchange for an honest review.

Laini Taylor weaves a languid and otherworldly dream with her latest release. Strange the Dreamer is a lesson in yearning. Readers will long for this vibrant world where science and magic exists side by side, where dreams and reality defy distinction, where there’s secrets and mysteries – none as perplexing as the puzzle of the lost city of Weep. Describing Strange the Dreamer is an exercise in futility, it’s as impossible as recalling the true name of Weep. I’ll try my best though, just for you!

Strangethedreamer Review

‘Lazlo couldn’t have belonged at the library more truly if he were a book himself.’

For most of Zeru, Weep is a fable, a mere legend of a splendid city dreamed up to entertain children and fill the pages of a storybook. For Lazlo Strange, Weep is a compulsion, he’s been riveted by stories of its marvels as a child – and he’s determined to remember the Unseen City. Lazlo also dreams that one day, he will be able to walk down its legendary lapis lazuli roads and meet the the city’s famed Tizerkane warriors. For the junior librarian, it’s an impossible dream – yet he continues to hope and hunt for signs of the lost city within The Great Library of Zosma.Read More »

Strange Teasers: The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor utterly consumed me within this past week. Like its protagonist, Lazlo Strange, I am enraptured by the fabled city of Weep and its stories. In the novel, Lazlo collected all of his findings on Weep into a little book – it was the symbol of all of his dreams and his yearning.

In a little more than two weeks, Strange the Dreamer will be released and you’ll find out whether Lazlo ever got to see his beloved city. For now, I wanted to share a teaser to whet your appetite. This is what I think a couple of pages from The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange might look like…

The Complete Works of Lazlo Strange

As a boy at the abbey, stories had been Lazlo’s only wealth. He was richer now. Now he had books.

Read More »

Book Review: Wintersong

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4-star

Title: Wintersong

Author: S. J. Jones

Series? Yes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Wintersong was deeply inspired by classical music, especially the works of Mozart. Liesl’s ambition and passion as a composer was a significant catalyst for many of the novel’s events. Therefore, I wanted to review Wintersong using musical terminology, and I hope I do it justice – especially because my musical knowledge is non-existent (thank you for my crash course, Google!).

Prelude –
an introductory piece of music.

Like all of the best stories, Wintersong contains breathtaking beauty, but also holds danger and darkness within its intoxicating pages. S. J. Jones is a conductor of words, she weaves her love of gothic fairy tales, Mozart, and Labyrinth to form Liesl’s sensual tale of love, loss, and sacrifice.

Wintersong

Fugue –
a composition characterised by the repetition of a principal theme/subject in simultaneously sounding melodic line.

At the heart of Wintersong is a tale about Liesl’s identity and self-discovery. The prologue begins with a long-forgotten play date between a young Liesl and the Goblin King. where games were wagered and promises were made. Memories of these games were soon hidden by the tolls of life and Liesl’s burgeoning adulthood, until they’re reignited by an encounter at the Goblin Market.Read More »

Novella Review: Hurricane Heels

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Title: Hurricane Heels

Author: Isabel Yap

Series? Linked Short Stories

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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When I realised that this would be my first post of the New Year, I immediately wanted to showcase my favourite novella of 2016: Hurricane Heels. Packed within these five intertwined short stories is a tale of female friendship and identity that resonated with me on every level.

hurricane-heelsRead More »

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Movie & Screenplay Review

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4-star

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Author: J. K. Rowling

Rating: 4/5 stars

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Book Depository // Dymocks // Booktopia


The review below is spoiler free! Please avoid commenting with big plot spoilers!

If I was a Niffler, I would not covet jewels or freshly minted coins – I would be looting the JKR’s brain for more Harry Potter content. Like all my fellow Potterheads, I can’t help but want to revisit the wizarding world. Simply rereading the book is not enough, I always want more – even though I am aware they will rarely meet my immense expectations for the series.

Needless to say, I was still amongst the first in line to queue up to purchase tickets to Fantastic Beasts. This was in spite of my decidedly mixed feelings on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I ended up adoring Fantastic Beasts in spite of its many flaws. I think being able to experience the movie, rather than relying on a script alone, went a long way in making me appreciate this story. Not to mention that Newt Scamander is the Hufflepuff hero we’ve all been waiting for, and he deserves all of our love.

fantastic-beasts

Personally, the highlight of this screenplay and movie for me is the character of Newt Scamander. He’s at once the quintessential Hufflepuff and a unique character all his own. Remember when JKR explained why all the Hufflepuffs stayed for the final Hogwarts Battle? It wasn’t because they wanted glory, or power, they stayed because that’s what Hufflepuff do – because being good needs no reward. That’s Newt, you feel it every time he interacts with one of his creatures or champion for another character. I also love the dichotomy of his mild social awkwardness, standing right alongside with his confidence and conviction in his passion for magical creatures. Eddie Redmayne totally owned this role, bringing Newt to life with his charismatic and multifaceted performance – I don’t think I would have ended up loving Newt quite as much without Eddie.Read More »