Nevernight: A YA, Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

You might want to put aside any distractions before reading this review, because today’s book is one that will require your full attention.  Nevernight by Jay Kristoff is a new release YA (although probably closer to adult) fiction novel set in a whole new world that is worth diving into if you have the time to devote to it.  There’s a great deal of buzz around this book at the moment, and having finally finished it, we can see why it’s receiving such high praise.  We received our copy from HarperCollins Australia for review (thanks!) and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Destined to destroy empires Mia Covere is only ten years old when she is given her first lesson in death.

Six years later, the child raised in the shadows takes her first steps towards keeping the promise she made on the day that she lost everything.

But the chance to strike against such powerful enemies will be fleeting, so if she is to have her revenge, Mia must become a weapon without equal. She must prove herself against the deadliest of friends and enemies, and survive the tutelage of murderers, liars and demons at the heart of a murder cult.

The Red Church is no Hogwarts, but Mia is no ordinary student. The shadows loves her. And they drink her fear.

nevernight

Read it if:

*you loved Harry Potter but wished it could have had about 98% more throat-slitting action

*you loved Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy but wished it could have had about 76% more throat-slitting action

*you can’t go past a book that features incredibly violent acts described in potently lyrical fashion

*you don’t mind lugging around a book whose size makes it equally suited to acting as a doorstop for a giant’s doggy door or clubbing baby seals to death

*you have been aching, yearning, praying for an upper YA (really, almost adult fiction) tale set in a wholly original world, featuring deeply explored characters, evocative and masterful prose and the promise of a trilogy that is worth waiting for

Two things I have to tell you about this book straight off are: (1) It’s a right old chunker at 643 pages and (2) while the writing was obviously of a high quality right from the very first page, this one was a slow-burn for us, but one that we warmed to more and more as time went on.  Initially, on seeing how big this book is, I didn’t think I’d be able to get through it in a reasonable amount of time given my review schedule, but the first few chapters are so lyrically written, with such a distinctive and engaging voice, that I was sucked in almost immediately.

The book is split into three parts.  The first deals mostly with Mia’s family history and the events that have led her to seeking a place in the Red Church – the guild (society? club? religion?) of murderers and assassins.  Straight off the bat there are some pretty explicit sex scenes and hardcore language, so I wouldn’t be passing this one on to any thirteen-year-olds unless they are of the particularly worldly variety.  The second part felt like nothing so much as a Hogwarts for murderers, and although it seems odd for such graphic content, the middle of the book really did exude an undercurrent of every “boarding school” story ever written (although with far less ginger beer and midnight feasts).  I was definitely far more engaged during this part of the story, but it was also during this section that I started to lose hope that I would ever finish.

So I put the book down.  Faced with the pressures to finish such a massive tome, I crumbled and nearly decided to abandon it, despite my enjoyment of the story.

But then….then my friends, fate threw me a line.

I somehow managed to find some uninterrupted reading time and decided to plough on with Nevernight until I finished (or died in the attempt).  And it was in doing so, that I really found an attachment to the story and the characters.

By the third part of the story, there have been so many killings that it’s a wonder anyone is left in the Red Church at all.  In fact, if you removed every mention of a slit throat, stabbed chest, or other flesh wound, I am certain that this book would come in at under 200 pages.  Regardless, the action takes a dramatic upswing in this final chapter as twists abound and all that we thought was a given is swooshed around and turned on its head.  Given the originality of the world here, I couldn’t really predict what might happen in the end anyway, but still I was surprised by the ending.  The final section of the book reminded me strongly of Garth Nix’s Lirael (the second of the Old Kingdom Trilogy and my favourite of the three), as Mia and Lirael’s stories resonated in certain parts and I found myself becoming far more sympathetic to Mia’s character.

Nevernight is definitely the kind of book that deserves undivided attention.   Once I found some time to devote solely to immersing myself in the story, my enjoyment in it doubled, so I would suggest if you are going to pick it up, to make it your “one and only” book until you’ve finished it.  The writing and world-building are hugely original and are best appreciated when given time to percolate through your brain.  While none of the characters are saints (nor claim to be), they are the most memorable bunch of cold-blooded murderers you could ever hope not to meet and I recommend delving into their story.

I can’t even imagine how the next two books in the series will pan out.

Until next time,

Bruce

An Engineer and a Philosopher Walk into a Time Tunnel: The Princelings of the East Blog Tour!

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the princelings trilogy

You know that old joke, don’t you? The one where the engineer and the philosopher walk into a time tunnel?  Well, if you haven’t heard it, let me be the first to introduce you to friend-of-the-shelf, indie author Jemima Pett’s adventure series for all ages: The Princelings of the East! We shelf-dwellers are very pleased to be participating in the tour, hosted by My Family’s Heart, to promote the first three books in this six book series.

Now, while I say that the tour is promoting the first three books in the imageseries, I only managed to get through the first two before my tour date crept up on me, so I’ll be focusing in on those two today. I should also mention that I acquired the trilogy by winning a competition run by Jemima herself a veritable age ago and this tour gave me the perfect opportunity to knock two books off my TBR and re-home them on my permanent shelf – hurrah!

To start us off, here’s the blurb for the trilogy from Goodreads:

Suitable for all ages, The Princelings of the East is a trilogy relating the adventures of unlikely guinea pig heroes Fred and George. Two innocents abroad, they solve problems caused by unintended consequences, commercial greed, and blind prejudice yet still find time to engage in troubled love affairs and nearly blow themselves up with their own inventions.

Oh yes, did I mention that the engineer and the philosopher are, in fact, guinea pigs? Sorry for the oversight. I suspect that the reason this trilogy has sat on my TBR unread for so long is because I am mildly wary of books based around anthropomorphic animals. I’m pleased to say, however, that the writing here is such that the guinea pig thing is hardly an issue and when I did remember I was reading about guinea pigs, the mental image always gave me a little giggle. Essentially, Fred, George and the gang definitely grew on me quite quickly.

princelings one

Book one of the trilogy is The Princelings of the East in which we are introduced to Fred and George’s world – a world made up of castles full of guinea pigs, each with their own royal lineages. In this book, the Castle on the Marsh (or Castle Marsh for short) is experiencing strange and highly inconvenient energy drains and Fred (the philosopher) and George (the engineer) decide to throw caution to the wind and venture forth from Castle Marsh to see if they can discover the cause of the Energy Drain.

Almost immediately the brothers are separated and while Fred is led onwards by a stranger with an unusual accent and plus-sized girth, George finds himself in a different castle that seems to be labouring under some very odd chronological anomalies. As the brothers puzzle out the mysteries that they are faced with in their separate situations, we are introduced to a host of other characters and must riddle out, along with Fred and George, who is trustworthy and who might not be who they appear to be.

I was surprised at the cerebral nature of the writing in what I originally thought was a middle-grade story. Much of Fred’s adventure is taken up with political to-and-fro-ing as high profile members from other castles become involved in solving the problem of the Energy Drain and diplomatic relations between various castles are carefully managed. George, in the meantime, is left to unravel the mystery of a tunnel that appears to transport its users to other times, while also assisting in the streamlining of production processes of a widely exported diet drink.

At times, during Fred’s story arc, I felt a bit like I was reading Jane Austen (for guinea pigs) and during George’s, I felt like I’d fallen into Back to the Future (for guinea pigs). While this might sound an unpromising match, it actually worked really well to keep me engaged. And as I mentioned before, whenever I remembered that these were guinea pigs – riding in carriages, fixing industrial vending machines and the like – it gave me a chuckle. It’s rare that you find a book that is pitched nominally at children that also has enough intellectual material in the plot to keep adults interested, but this is one of those books.

the princelings two

The second book in the trilogy is The Princelings and the Pirates which does exactly what it says on the tin, plunging Fred, George, some of the guys we met in the first book and some new furry faces into a good old, piratey adventure. This book had a much lighter tone than the first and the action – in terms of deck-swabbing, swashbuckling, kidnapping and the like – increases tenfold. The book opens with Princess Kira of Dimerie, a prime wine-producing kingdom, kidnapped by pirates – guinea pig pirates, obviously – and when the other castles send emissaries to find out why the wine supply has dried up, said emissaries, including Fred and George, are press-ganged into the pirate life.

As well as the general pirate business, there’s also a surprise in store for the brothers as they discover a certain bad seed nestled in the branches of their family tree, suffer some critical injuries and aid in the effort to subdue the pirate menace. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, being partial to tales set on the high seas and the whole “main characters are guinea pigs” thing really had me giggling as my mind boggled at some of the more swashbuckly battle scenes in which the characters engage.  This book also had many more touching scenes as friends, new and old, fall into dangerous situations and the thin line between life and death becomes a tenuous one to walk.

I really appreciated the diversity between the two tales and now I’m chomping at the bit (of lettuce) to get at book three, The Princelings and the Lost City, which as I mentioned, I didn’t get time to read before this post.

princelings three

Starting this series has been enlightening, and I feel I’ve been inspired to take another look at Brian Jacques’ Redwall series – if I can enjoy adventurous guinea pigs so much, surely battle-hardened squirrels will be right up my alley!

If you are looking for an adventure series that will give your brain and your funny-bone a work out, then I can heartily recommend having a look at the Princelings series. It’s certainly got a wider appeal than just middle grade aged readers.

If you’d like to find out more about the series, you can go here and if you’d like to check out Jemima Pett’s blog, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruceimage

Indie Trilogy Feature: The Nightfall Gardens Series…

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imageAaaaaaaaaand, we’re back!! Yes, Wifi is connected, the big computer has been set up and I am once again able to communicate with you in more than short, texty bursts.  To celebrate, I am bringing to you a special feature on a very unusual and beguiling fantasy trilogy – the Nightfall Gardens series by indie author Allen Houston.  And it has a gargoyle in it. Bonus!

Now, I was contacted by Mr Houston a little while back asking if I would review the first book in the series, Nightfall Gardens, with a view to maybe reading and reviewing the remaining books later on.  It was one of those unexpected moments that made me grin a little bit because, you see, I had already hunted down, bought, read, enjoyed and reviewed Nightfall Gardens back in April, 2014 on Goodreads, but hadn’t featured it on the blog.  So of course, I jumped at the chance to review the next two books in the series, thereby reducing my mountainous TBR pile by two.

So now my friends, you will be treated to a review of a whole series! This doesn’t often happen for this blog….in fact, in never happens because I generally make it a rule not to review subsequent books in a series on here if I’ve already reviewed the first (although I will be making a second exception to this rule in the next few weeks – stay tuned!).

On this momentously unusual occasion then, allow me to introduce to you the maverick, mould-breaking fantasy world to which Nightfall Gardens belongs. Here’s the blurb for book one from Goodreads:

Vain Lily Blackwood and her shy brother Silas wonder if their family will ever settle in one place long enough to lead a normal life. When a mysterious stranger arrives claiming to be their uncle, they discover their parents have been hiding a secret that turns their world upside down.

The two are kidnapped to Nightfall Gardens, the family’s ancestral home, a place shrouded in ancient mystery, where they meet their dying grandmother and learn of an age-old curse placed on Blackwood females.

Lily must take over as protector of the house and three haunted gardens that hold mythical beasts, fairy-tale nightmares and far worse. If she doesn’t, the evil trapped there will be unleashed and bring on a new dark age.

While she deals with malevolent ghosts inside the house, Silas is put to work in the gardens, where one wrong step means death.

Along the way, they search to unlock the secrets of the house and to stop the creatures in the gardens before time runs out and the world is destroyed.

NightfallGardenscover

Now as it’s been nearly a year since I read this book, I’m going to share with you my original Goodreads review as it is probably a more accurate representation of my thoughts about the book than anything I could dredge up now. So this is what I thought:

Ten Second Synopsis:
Lily and Silas are taken against their will to Nightfall Gardens, their ancestral home in a void between our world and the next, and repository of all ickiness.

It is nice to find a YA horror/paranormal/fantasy sort of a book with an original premise and setting. Nightfall Gardens (the book) was as creepy as all the reviews I read promised it would be. In fact, Nightfall Gardens (the house and grounds) was almost too depressing and hopeless for my liking. The section in which Silas and Arfast come upon the creatures from the White Garden having a raucous party reminded me strongly of the scene of Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – it had that sense of the despair associated with the triumph of evil and the knowledge that hideous things are now inescapable. Essentially, it had a real sense of “things are going to get worse before they get…well, even worserer than that!”

I would have liked to see a bit of humour or something to flesh the child characters out a bit as I did feel that the oppressive atmosphere was too much at times, but that’s just my preference.The servants in the house – Polly and Ozy, and Ursula, the ever-cheerful Glumpog maid – were a highlight and I could just see them being brought to life in a Henson-esque movie masterpiece.

Overall this is an original and engaging read for those who like a dark twist on their fantasy books.

But if I thought Nightfall Gardens was both original and engaging (and I did, because I gave it four stars), then I was about to be drawn ever-deeper into the tangled world that Houston has created in book two – The Shadow Garden.  Here’s the synopsis, again from Goodreads:

Precocious Lily Blackwood carries a responsibility far greater than other people. As the last female Blackwood, she must keep the evils in Pandora’s Box from destroying the world.

With the help of her younger brother Silas, the dusk riders and her best friend Cassandra, she must protect Nightfall Gardens and ensure that the fairy-tale monsters, old gods and deathly shades stay separated from humanity.

But now, the creatures bound to the Gardens are gaining strength and threatening to break loose. Bemisch, a malevolent witch, has escaped into the mist land to join forces with Eldritch, a powerful nature god. The mysterious Smiling Ladies hold the key to a dark secret from the Blackwood family’s past, and something once again roams the halls of the manor, trying to kill Lily.

Worse yet, her fourteenth birthday is approaching and with it a dangerous rite of passage. Lily must enter the Shadow Garden, home of all that is nightmarish, and come face to face with her most terrifying threat yet.

the shadow gardenFirst let me say – that is an awesome cover.  Because I read the second two books on the Kindle, I never really paid attention to their covers (or blurbs) and just jumped on in.  But this, that, is an absolute ripper and gives you a pretty good representation of just how creepy and disturbing some of Houston’s creations are.  Those delightful maidens on the cover are the Smiling Ladies, three mightily icky sisters who mysteriously appear at every moment of major human suffering.

This book was again divided into chapters alternating in viewpoint between Lily, as she attempts to figure out how to survive her rite of passage in the Shadow Garden, and Silas, as he and his dusk rider friends become entangled in a deadly mission to rescue some villagers from the evil deity Eldritch and his witch Bemisch.  I really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints because there was so much action and intrigue in this helping that it was good to have a break every chapter and jump between the various dangers being faced by the siblings.

The Shadow Garden moved a lot more quickly than Nightfall Gardens and I was far more engaged emotionally with the characters in this offering.  We get to find out a lot more about other minor characters also, with some focus being placed on Cassandra, Jonquil, Villon and others which was a nice expansion to the main event.

My favourite part of this story was Lily’s trial in the Shadow Garden itself (and an unexpected meeting with one of Polly’s relations!).  The narrative at this point reminded me so strongly of the sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Houston describes all the vile and vicious and just plain bizarre creatures that inhabit the part of Nightfall Gardens that is home to the incarnation of human nightmares.

This was my favourite of the three books and a real step up for Houston in terms of the tightness and pacing of the plot.

Now, onto the finale!  The Labyrinth rounds out the trilogy and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Time is running out for Lily and Silas Blackwood in their hunt to destroy Pandora’s Box before the beings of Nightfall Gardens unleash its evil upon an unsuspecting world.

Loyalties will be tested and friends will make the ultimate sacrifice as the two face off against an army of horrors that live in the Gardens.

At the center of it all stands the Labyrinth, a maze haunted by dying gods and startling secrets that Lily must navigate to find Pandora’s Box. But will she be too late?

the labyrinth

Book three really does pick up exactly where the last book finished and once again plunges straight into the action.  This is probably the most anomalous of the three books as in it we get to journey into the Labyrinth, the home of all the lost, almost-forgotten and mostly ancient deities that are trapped, waiting for a chance to re-exert their power over humans in the real world.  This section of the story still had the menace of the rest of the action (especially when the Smiling Ladies decide to make an appearance) but also lent a sense of otherworldliness and hope to the pervading sense of anticipated loss that coloured the first two books.

The book has the classic “building up to the final battle” atmosphere throughout, but we are also treated to some new (and unexpectedly jocular) characters and a little bit of romance in the air for Ursula, the Glumpog maid who spreads despair (unintentionally) wherever she goes.  Ursula ended up being one of my favourite characters of the series, mainly because of the comic relief that she tends to provide whenever she’s in a scene.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the final battle and resolution had all the feeling and action expected of the climax of a fantasy trilogy, without the blow-by-blow descriptions of the final fights that are so characteristic of this genre, and which I tend to find rather tedious.  I was very grateful to the author for giving us the meat of the resolution without all the tiresome chewing of gristle that just draws out the ending for no discernible benefit to the telling.

My thoughts on the series in a nutshell?

By the time I left Nightfall Gardens I had garnered a deep respect for Houston’s abilities as a storyteller, but more so for his incredible commitment to the world he has built.  The construction and population of Nightfall Gardens is vastly imaginative, undisputedly arresting and something that will no doubt be greatly appreciated and devoured with relish by those hoping to discover a fantasy tale that touches on the classic themes of the genre in a downright refreshing environment.

I was so pleased that Allen approached me to review the rest of this series, because otherwise those books might have sat on my TBR list forevermore, with me thinking that they would be much the same as the first.  This is one of those rare (almost endangered, in fact) beasts – a series that gets better book by book.

It also makes me wonder why on earth books of this quality, with such interesting takes on a familiar genre aren’t picked up by the big publishers.  It’s one of those times that I am super-thankful for indie authors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Waving the Pro-Gargoyle Banner: Two Kid Lit Titles Featuring Everyone’s Favourite Monster…

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Hello all and welcome to a post that’s very close to my stony heart.  Today I have for you two books for the littlies that feature my stony brethren.  Yes, that’s right, at least two authors have loved Gargoyle kind so much that they felt the need to create stories around them.  Admittedly these books don’t feature my sub-genus (the type of gargoyle found only on bookshelves) but all publicity is good publicity as they say.  The two titles through which we will be taking a scenic constitutional are Heart of Rock, a shortish story in a very fairy-tale-ish vein by Becca Price, and middle grade crowd-pleaser, The Gargoyle in my Yard by Philippa Dowding.

First up – Heart of Rock.  I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher, Wyrm Tales Press (great name!), via Netgalley. Thanks!

In this read-in-one-sitting fable, a community of wizards come under attack from hideous Night Mares (ie: flying monster horses, not bad dreams).  In order to save their people from this menace, the wizards carve oversized gargoyles out of stone and bring them to life using a rock that has been formed by nature into the shape of a heart.  After defeating the nightmares, the wizards and gargoyles part on friendly terms.  Years pass and another kingdom falls under what seems like an insurmountable attack.  After hearing of the legend of the heart of rock, a champion sets out to regain it and ensure the safety of his home.  But the gargoyles need the Heart of Rock to survive – whose need will triumph?

heart of rockWhen I first read the blurb for this book I was expecting an epic adventure, so I was slightly surprised to find out that it really is just a short story – only 36 pages of text with some small illustrations throughout.  After readjusting my expectations slightly, I was drawn in by the traditional fairy tale style of narration that Price uses throughout.  The story is quite simple, with the wizards, then the new kingdom, then the gargoyles facing a seemingly impossible dilemma, and then overcoming it.  The plot follows a fairly stable trajectory, with nothing too scary or unexpected occuring.

As a standalone story, I felt it was a bit lacking, but at the end of the book the author notes that this story will be released as part of a collection of fairy-tale style stories.  I think that in that context, it will be well received by young readers and their grown-ups, due to the overall themes of considering the needs of others and working together to achieve shared goals.

I would have liked the gargoyles to have had a bit more personality to them, but the fable style of story-telling didn’t really allow for any in-depth character development.  Incidentally, if Price were to extend this story to a full-length YA title, I’d be interested in picking it up!

Recommended for:

*Parents who will choke on their own words if they have to read “Snow White”, “Cinderella” or “The Princess and the Pea” to their fairy-tale mad offspring one more time

*Early readers who enjoy the familiar style of a traditional fairy tale, but are keen to experience a new storyline

Next up, I have The Gargoyle in My Yard by Philippa Dowding, book one of the Lost Gargoyle series for early middle grade readers.

Twelve year old Katherine has a mother that loves garden statues, but Katherine begins to think she’s losing her mind when she glimpses the new gargoyle statue her mother has bought stomping her prize Asters – in Katherine’s new sneakers, no less.  Even more surprising is the fact that Katherine’s mother knows that the little gargoyle is actually alive!  But now what is the Newberry family to do? With a 400-year-old, grumpy, house-guest scaring, apple munching gargoyle living in your backyard, it suddenly becomes very difficult to host a barbecue or invite little children up the path for Halloween.  Katherine and her family have to figure out a way to keep Gargoth happy before things get out of hand.

gargoyle in my yardThis is such a charming little book.  Katherine is a sensible sort of a kid and I very much enjoyed the twist that got her parents involved in solving the problem of Gargoth.  In fact it’s nice to see a book for kids of this age group in which the protagonist’s parents are (a) living and (b) useful!  Gargoth himself undergoes some poignant character development also as we find out more about his back story and how he came to be stranded in the Newberry’s yard.

This would be a lovely serial  read aloud before bed for kids aged seven to ten. Because the story is reasonably short and manageable, the book would also be a perfect choice for confident readers aged from around nine to twelve. The writing is laced with humour and the imagery is certainly chuckle-worthy at times.  The book would definitely appeal to kids who are looking for a bit of magic and fantasy in their reading and a story that features a not-often-seen fantastical creature.

I also very much appreciated Dowding’s sympathetic rendering of gargoyle history and the often lonely predicaments that we gargoyles find ourselves in.  As a bookshelf gargoyle I am shielded from much of this in that I spend much time surrounded by humans and small, domesticated animals, but for those of my species that live out-of-doors (or on top of doors or as knockers on doors) the sense of being overlooked can become overwhelming.

Do something compassionate. Smile at a gargoyle today.

As this is also part of a trilogy, I will be putting books two and three on my TBR list forthwith.

Recommended for:

* kids who have sophisticated taste regarding preferred mythical creatures in their reading

* anyone looking for a fun, light read that also has some poignant moments and pathos

So there you have it.  If there are any other Gargoyle-ish books out there, I’d love to hear about them so that I can add them to my list.  It always pays to keep abreast of what the humans are putting out there about us.

Until next time,

Bruce

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