Blood Rose Rebellion

Opening line: I did not set out to ruin my sister’s debut.

Eves - Blood Rose Rebellion coverAfter Anna’s peculiar talent to unmake spells results in the disaster of her sister’s debut into London’s Luminate society, Anna is sent away to live with relatives in Hungary until the gossip about the scandal blows over. From London to Vienna to Budapest are signs of growing unrest in the working classes. In Hungary, even the local Luminate, the upper class, chafe against Hapsburg rule. When some of the Hungarian revolutionaries learn of Anna’s unusual talent, they attempt to recruit her to their cause. Her job? To break the Binding, the powerful spell that restricts access to magic for only the upper class. However, there are those among the Luminate who do not want magic made available to everyone, and will protect the Binding at any cost. Anna has only ever wanted to fit in Luminate society; will she risk everything for a revolution in a country she’s come to love?

Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves is the first of a trilogy set in an alternate nineteenth-century Europe, where the differences between the upper and working classes are intensified by strict regulation of magic through the Binding. Only the upper class has access to magic, and yet there is inequality even among the Luminate class: each individual Luminate has their access to magic determined by the Circle, and a family that crosses the Circle might find that their children are given only nominal access to magic. The setting and its exploration of class and magic were one of the elements I enjoyed about Blood Rose Rebellion. The second element I enjoyed was the use of Hungarian folklore and alternative use of magic by the Romani.

Although Blood Rose Rebellion is the first of a trilogy, it read more like a later book in a series. The premise and setting of the book caught my attention, but overall the world lacked depth. There is too much ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’: we have Anna saying in her first-person narration that she has always wanted to fit in her society, rather than seeing Anna respond. The pacing of the narrative was off: the middle of the book dragged on, when in other places, the narrative progressed too quickly, problems solved too easily: how did Noemi know about the underground tunnels? No sooner had Noemi suggested it did she and Anna find an entrance. At times, I lost track of which of the revolutionaries was speaking because they all sounded the same. I am also a very visual reader and there was not enough description in the narration for me to ‘see’ many of the places Anna went to. Finally, the magic of the world was inconsistent: the Binding was more than a spell, but a place or realm one could enter; and what was the extent of the Binding — did it limit all magic around the world? Did only Europeans have magic? And Anna’s ability didn’t break all spells, but only some of them. At first I thought she only broke spells that were cast in her presence, but then how could she break the binding if it was cast centuries ago? I’m not too much of a stickler that all magic must have rules and be consistent (it’s magic after all, not science), but there were enough irregularities that even I was bothered by them.

Many of these problems I can forgive because this is Eves’s first published novel. Building a world that has depth takes experience. I will probably read the next book in the trilogy, both to see what happens next in this world and to see how Eves grows as a writer. I would recommend this book to those who want a fun, quick fantasy read and to those who are interested in Central and Eastern European folklore.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Eleanor

Opening line: ‘She sits in the breakfast nook and watches the rain.’

Eleanor - Jason GurleyEleanor — there are two Eleanors, herself and the grandmother she was named after — does her best to live a normal teenager’s life while also taking care of her alcoholic mother. Tragedy seems to run in her family: her grandmother’s disappearance, the car crash that killed her twin sister, her parents’ divorce, her mother’s bitter and angry retreat from reality through alcohol. The tragedy continues when Eleanor herself disappears, first for hours, then days, then years at a time, with no rational explanation for what is happening to her. What she does know, however, is that there is a reason she keeps being transported to these different dream worlds, if only she could figure out what it is…

The novel Eleanor isn’t quite sci-fi or fantasy, but rather magical realism. The narrative tells the story of this troubled family from multiple perspectives: the first Eleanor, her daughter Agnes as an adult, the younger Eleanor, as well as Agnes’s husband, Eleanor’s friend Jack, and a mysterious consciousness that is outside of human time but has the power to pluck Eleanor from her world and drop her into another. What first caught my attention was the descriptions of the sea off the Northwestern American coast, then by the author’s skillful portrayal of the characters as fully human and flawed. Eleanor does not figure out what is going on until the final quarter of the book, but even then I wasn’t sure what she was trying to do as she continued to travel the dream worlds to heal her family’s hurts. Thus intrigued, I kept reading, but in the end I felt my curiosity was unrewarded. The ending was too tidy while simultaneously leaving many unanswered questions. Somehow, with a form of time travel left unexplained, a fateful moment is changed with the assumption that all following events will also change for the better: no car crash, no divorce, no alcoholism. But what will be the consequences of that change? Not just for that family, but for everyone connected to them? Are the consequences ‘worth it’? Ultimately, I was disappointed that the novel failed to grasp the complexity of changing a person’s timeline and that doing so is not the simple cure for one family’s troubles.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Solstice Wood

Opening line: ‘Gram called at five in the morning. She never remembered the time difference.’

Solstice WoodSylvia Lynn moved to West Coast the first chance she could, and has refused her grandmother’s requests to come home to East Coast for seven years. Until her grandfather dies, and Sylvia flies back for his funeral. Once back in her childhood home, again the old mysteries resurface, and the wood behind Lynn Hall is full of secrets. Intermixed in this family drama are stories of magic, dreams, and impossibilities. Are there fairies in the wood? And what do they want? And who was Sylvia’s father, after all?

Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip is unlike her other fantasy novels. Instead of being set in a magical, fictional other world, Solstice Wood bring magic into our own world. McKillip’s prose was less lyrical in this novel and more down to earth, probably due to its setting. The book never says which states they’re in, but you can guess that Sylvia probably moved to Los Angeles and her family is somewhere in the Appalachians (though Wikipedia says New York). Even so, I found it difficult to believe that fairies would exist in America; I kept wanting to make Sylvia’s hometown be in England, and she had moved to the U.S., but that wouldn’t fit with the four hour time difference mentioned in the novel. To me, fairies are a very European, if not insular, tradition, and as someone who studies fairies in literature I found it difficult to transpose them to the New World. The story is good anyway, and all other aspects of the fairies felt true to tradition.

The novel is told from several points of view: Sylvia, her grandmother Iris, her cousin Tyler, and a family friend, Owen. Each adds their own perspective and shows how the family secrets affect far more than just the Lynn family. Each character also has their own distinct voice; even though this novel may be less poetic than McKillip’s other novels, it certainly isn’t lacking craftsmanship in the storytelling. Apparently Solstice Wood serves as a sequel to Winter Rose. I haven’t read Winter Rose, but now I’m curious to.

The Creature in the Case

Opening line: ‘I am going back to the Old Kingdom, Uncle,’ said Nicholas Sayre.

The Creature in the CaseSix months later, Nicholas Sayre is still recovering from the strange event at Forwin Mill. Something to do with magic and the Old Kingdom, with the Abhorsen, King Touchstone, and the Disreputable Dog. Nicholas thought he could stay in Ancelstierre and try to forget those unusual events he got mixed up in, but he was wrong. He just didn’t know how wrong he was — that is, until he went to a house party and found an unusual creature in a case. The Free Magic creature was waking up… with no Charter Mage or Abhorsen nearby to help him.

I read the Abhorsen trilogy two years ago, and was crestfallen when I finished reading it. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the used bookstore had The Creature in the Case by Garth Nix. The Creature in the Case is a novella set six months after the end of Abhorsen, the last book in the Abhorsen triology. You do need to have read the trilogy to read this book. Nicholas was never my favourite character, but I did enjoy seeing more of Ancelstierre in this book. I’m also pleased to discover that Nix has another novella set in the Old Kingdom series, To Hold the Bridge, and also that he has another novel coming out in 2014. Now, where to find the novella in the meantime…?

The Night Circus

THE-NIGHT-CIRCUSOpening line: ‘The circus arrives without warning.’

Two magicians. A long-standing rivalry. A game, a challenge: two contestants. The venue: a circus. But not just any circus, a circus only open at night, Le Cirque des Rêves: The Circus of Dreams. Step inside and defy your imagination. Lose yourself in wonder and awe. Around you is the stuff of the game, two magicians battling for love, for life, for freedom. Who wins? Who loses? Who else is caught up in their game?

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been a huge fan of the circus. Something about Le Cirque des Rêves has converted me, however: the complexity bound in simplicity, the elegance, the mystery. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a delight to read. The prose is beautiful. The story is compelling. How to tell you any more without giving even the slightest away? Let me say, then, that if ever I hear of a circus appearing without warning, in a field of black and white striped tents, then I will queue up early, wearing my best black dress and a red scarf around my neck. Reading The Night Circus has made me a rêveur, a dreamer, whose heart longs for the circus.

Pride and Prejudice

Opening line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

pride&prejudicePoor Mr Bingley didn’t know what he was getting into when he bought the house of Netherfield near the village of Meryton. This novel follows the families of his neighbours: the Bennets primarily, and the Philips and the Lucases.

Though often branded as ‘chick lit’, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is more about the social and economic conventions involved in marriage in the Regency period. I avoid a full summary partly because most of my readers have read this novel or seen the various film adaptations, and, if they haven’t, it is difficult to summarise the novel without giving away the the different misunderstandings that the novel so hinges upon.

Yes, dear readers, I have finally read a Jane Austen novel. I had refused to read the novel for so long precisely because it was branded as chick lit. I usually post the image of the cover of the edition that I read, but the library copy I read was another instance of having chick lit/romance cover, with the subtitle, ‘A classic romance’.

Why now? And why Pride and Prejudice, when it was Persuasion I promised Kelly I would read before I die? Because I am also reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi, a memoir in books. The memoir is divided into four sections, one for each author, with an emphasis on one novel in each section. The only author I hadn’t read, and had no good reason not to read, was Austen. And since Nafisi discusses Pride and Prejudice in her memoir, that is the Austen book I chose to read.

So how did I find it? It was a pleasant read that I think will improve with time. The first third was a bit slow going for me, but once the main cast of characters were introduced and the conflict came into play the novel picked up my interest. And, coincidentally, the year I finally decide to read a book by Jane Austen it is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. The BBC has done a documentary of restaging the Netherfield Ball, and you can read the article about it here: BBC Party like it’s 1813. I look forward to watching the documentary and maybe even watching one or both of the film adaptations.

Prodigy

Prodigy_Marie_Lu_BookThis isn’t going to be a real book review.

That’s because Prodigy by Marie Lu is the sequel to Legend (which I reviewed last month), and though it is so good I want to tell you all about it, I don’t want to give *any* spoilers. So I am not even going to give you the first line.

The second instalment in most trilogies tends to fall flat. I don’t need to list examples because this is a known fact. Even the second book in my beloved Hunger Games trilogy feels like ‘filler’. It would have been much more exciting if what happened in the third novel happened in the second, and then we had more happening after…

Which is what Prodigy does. Prodigy ends where most trilogies end, and I am so so excited for what is going to happen in the third book. I really have no idea what is going to happen next.

Prodigy served as my incentive and reward to finish revising two chapters. I sat down and actually read it in two days, sitting outside in the garden on a rare warmish sunny day. As soon as I finished it I resolved to make the third book the reward for revising the next chapter — alas, without knowing that the third book isn’t even published yet. Champion is due out in 2014. It’s going to be a long wait. instead, Champion will probably be my reward for turning in the corrections to my thesis.

In the meantime, read Legend and Prodigy. You won’t regret it.

EDIT: I just saw that Amazon.com lists the release date for CHAMPION as 5 November 2013. Hip hip, huzzah!