Category Archives: Fantasy

Flyaway

Modern fairy tale novella inspired by rural Australia

It has been a bit of a topsy turvy year, and I’ve noticed that one thing that hasn’t been as regular lately as in years gone past is book clubs. However, after the second half of last year grinding to a halt due to new and emerging COVID-19 variants, my fantasy book club finally managed to meet to discuss a book in February.

Image is of “Flyaway” by Kathleen Jennings. The eBook cover is a black heart against a cream background with a tangle of vines growing out of the arteries. There are red fruits and black crows.

“Flyaway” by Kathleen Jennings is a modern fairy tale novella set in rural district in Australia called Inglewell. There are several plotlines interwoven together with interludes of different background stories and tales about the region, but the main story is about a young woman called Bettina who lives with her mother in a town called Runagate. Bettina’s mother is very concerned about keeping up appearances, and Bettina does as she is told: looking after the garden, dressing appropriately and avoiding undesirable neighbours. However, when a young man called Gary accuses her of being a coward, and she receives a mysterious note, Bettina decides to disobey her mother and try to find her missing brothers and learn what happened to their father.

For a short book, this is a surprisingly complex and intricate story with many layers. Jennings is a writer of considerable subtlety, and many seemingly innocuous events or characters become incredibly significant later on in the story. I really loved some of the little side stories, and my favourites were Linda’s Story: Turncoat and Gwenda’s Story: The School in the Wilderness. They really added to the overall plot while giving the reader interesting background information, and while getting the balance right can be challenging, I think Jennings struck a good balance. Jennings also did something that I haven’t seen many white fantasy authors in Australia do: she did an acknowledgement of country in the acknowledgements section of the book and recommended some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors that readers may also wish to read. I think settlers writing fantasy based in Australia will always be a bit fraught, but acknowledging traditional stories and knowledge in some way seems like a really good step.

However, there were points at which where I thought the stories did get a little tangled. We spent a long time at book club discussing this book not because of how much we liked it or the themes that it engaged, but because we all found it challenging to determine exactly what happened in the book. I felt like the two scenes that were the most obfuscating were when ‘Jack’ goes to help Uncle Davy retrieve some bottles, and the final showdown at the end. I have gone back several times to puzzle out what happened and while I think that Jennings should be commended for her cleverness, you don’t want to be so clever as to be confusing.

A short book with surprising depth and enjoyable worldbuilding; Inglewell definitely leaves the reader with a lingering sense of unease.

1 Comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, eBooks, Fantasy, Novella

Drowned Country

Queer fantasy novella about love and forgiveness

I was thrilled to launch my Short Stack Reading Challenge in December, and it was so successful I actually have quite a backlog of reviews. I was especially looking forward to this book which is a sequel to “Silver in the Wood” which I adored. Publication was a bit delayed because of COVID-19 but I ordered a copy as soon as I could. If you haven’t read the first book yet, please note there will be inadvertent spoilers.

Image is of “Drowned Country” by Emily Tesh. The paperback book is resting in front of a plant with long, thin leaves and another plant with a strange bulbous red stalk. The cover is of an island with a ruin on it, with the land extending into an olive green sea like a blade.

“Drowned Country” by Emily Tesh is a sequel to her novella “Silver in the Wood”. Some years have passed since the events of the previous book, and Henry Silver has sunk into a deep, grimy depression. His enthusiasm for an adventurous life as the Wild Man of Greenhollow has waned and he struggles to fill the days with the same careful routine that Tobias Finch did. When his mother calls on him to require his assistance dealing with a dangerous creature, Silver reluctantly agrees. However, when he reaches the coastal town of Rothport, he finds much more than he bargained for.

I was so happy to step back into Tesh’s world with these beloved characters. In this story, we get much more of Silver’s perspective and insight into some of the immaturity and indecision behind his signature charm and wit. There are some very funny moments in the book, and plenty of melodrama. The relationship between Silver and his mother is complicated and amusing. I also enjoyed Tesh’s exploration of relationships and working through guilt, trust and communication. Seeing Finch’s taciturn nature from the outside was frustrating but I finally had a bit more empathy for all the other characters.

I think that while I enjoyed revisiting this setting, the murkiness of the atmosphere spilled over a little into the plot. Tesh plays with parallel worlds and liminal spaces, stepping into another realm that was reminiscent of the dead city of Charn in “The Magician’s Nephew” by C. S. Lewis. However, I didn’t quite feel the same cohesiveness as I did in the first book. Tesh flickers the narrative back and forth in time to unveil what happened between Silver and Finch, but this time around I didn’t feel as invested. I love novellas but it was almost like the book needed a bit more exposition for the reader to understand how everything fit (or didn’t fit) together.

A fun, tangled book that I liked; just not as much as the first one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Novella

The Lost Amulet

Middle grade fantasy book about four gifted children

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author. I’m currently very deep into my Short Stack Reading Challenge and this looked like a nice quick read.

Image is of “The Lost Amulet” by Mary Farrugia. The paperback book is resting on a wooden table next to a small purplish stone. The cover is grey with red sparks and a red stone with the text “To your destination you seek upon which obstacles must be completed to reach”.

“The Lost Amulet” by Mary Farrugia is the first bok in the “Stone Bearer Series” and is a middle grade fantasy book about three children called Alexandra, Jake and Kian who are raised together in an orphanage with the ferocious Ms Severington. When Jake and Kian are suddenly adopted, Alexandra is left alone. However, when she is adopted shortly before her 12th birthday by the mysterious John, the truth about her identity is finally revealed and her destiny as a Stone Bearer of the Land of Four Stones begins. When she begins her training and education with John and Gum Gully High, Alexandra is reunited with her friends. However, the race is on to find a lost Amulet before the chaotic figure Colt does, and the key may lie in the secret fourth Stone Bearer.

This is an easy read that follows plenty of the tried and true hallmarks of the children’s fantasy genre from orphans, hidden identities to being sorted into school houses. It is a quick and action-packed read with a strong focus on friendship.

Like many self-published books, this one felt a little heavy on the adverbs and the author did occasionally misuse some words. The story initially felt a little confusing moving from the orphanage to a day school for both magical and non-magical children, but perhaps some of these issues are resolved in later books in the series.

A fast-paced book that could appeal to fans of the middle grade fantasy genre.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy

Foxspell

Young adult novel about a young boy’s affinity for foxes

I am currently doing my Short Stack Reading Challenge, and I raided all my shelves for some very short books to see out the end of the year. I picked up this book at the Lifeline Book Fair some time ago. I can’t remember if I chose it because someone recommended it to me, or because this author was one I read as a kid because my (admittedly very annoying) year 5 teacher was obsessed with her. Either way, this was the next book in my short stack. It is actually a signed copy, addressed to someone called Katie in the year of publication – 1994. Edit: I was just reminded that I have read this author more recently, I had just forgotten her pseudonym.

Image is of “Foxspell” by Gillian Rubinstein. The paperback book is situated between a red, brown and yellow spray paint cans. The cover has a fox on the bottom half and a young boy’s eyes in the next quarter, and the text against a brown background.

“Foxspell” by Gillian Rubinstein is about a young boy called Tod who, after his father returns overseas, has moved with his mother and two sisters to live with his grandmother on a property in South Australia. Despite being a talented artist, Tod struggles with school and feels the strain of the arguments at home. When he comes across a dead fox and is moved to bury it, he unknowingly creates a connection between himself and a fox spirit. Spending more and more time in the area nearby called the quarries, Tod attracts the attention of Shaun, an older teenager whose gang vandalise property and who is interested in Tod’s sister Charm. As things at home become more and more difficult, and Tod falls further behind in school, the temptation to run with a fox and run with a gang becomes greater and greater.

This was quite a surprising book. Even though it was written nearly 30 years ago, it still felt fresh and relevant. Although not ever said explicitly, it is suggested that Tod has a learning disability like dyslexia and instead of blaming him for his difficulties, the book explores how the people around him are failing him. I also thought that Rubinstein did a good job of weaving earthy magic into the story while acknowledging that white people, like foxes, invaded this country and that Traditional Owners’ beliefs and connection to country persists. There were also lots of other interesting parts to this story. Tod’s mother is an aspiring comedian and uses anecdotes about her family in her sets, and I thought that the dichotomy between her lack of involvement in her kids’ day to day lives, and her disrespect for their boundaries by using their lives as material for her shows was a fascinating subplot. I also really liked the character of Tod’s sister Charm, and the complicated relationship between her, Shaun, Tod and Shaun’s younger brother.

An unexpectedly complex story that I liked a lot more than I remember liking Rubinstein’s other books.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Magic Realism, Signed Books, Young Adult

Mother Thorn and Other Tales of Courage and Kindness

Collection of four fairy tales

If you follow my blog, you may have seen my post about my new reading challenge: the Short Stack Reading Challenge to read as many short books in December as you can. I knew exactly what I wanted my first book to be. I have been reading this author’s books for years and years, and when I saw that she had an illustrated collection of fairy tales, I had to have it. When the edition arrived, I was amazed at how beautiful the book was in person. The gold foil on the hardcover is stunning and it came with a lovely illustrated card with black silhouettes with gold detailing.

Image is of “Mother Thorn and Other Tales of Courage and Kindness” by Juliet Marillier and illustrated by Kathleen Jennings. The hardcover book is resting on top of a white card with black silhouette illustrations with gold detail. There are also two artworks by my favourite fairytale artists: a cover artwork of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” depicting a woman in a red tunic and skirt with long black hair, brown skin and tattoos standing with a polar bear by Erin-Claire Barrow, and a small blue glass rabbit by Spike Deane.

“Mother Thorn and Other Tales of Courage and Kindness” by Juliet Marillier and illustrated by Kathleen Jennings is a collection of four original fairy tales. The Witching Well, inspired by a Scottish version of the Frog Prince story, is about a young woman called Lara whose difficult mother requires water from a special well to bake bread with. One day after the long journey there, Lara finds the well dry and must make a bargain with a talking frog. Mother Thorn is an original fairy tale set in medieval Ireland about the dogs and the loves of our lives. Pea Soup is a retelling of The Princess and the Pea with a more modern and cosy perspective. Copper, Silver, Gold is a reinterpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Tinder Box about military trauma and the three magic dogs.

Marillier’s work is the ultimate in comfort reading and this book is infused with warmth. Despite visiting some familiar territory in Mother Thorn, Marillier proves again that she is a flexible author who works comfortable in a variety of settings and lengths. The Witching Well was an incredibly sweet story that was tempered with a realistic exploration of managing a relationship strained by anxiety and control. I really liked how in Mother Thorn, things don’t go to plan, but Niamh finds happiness through the different stages of her life. In Pea Soup, Marillier shares the perspective between two characters and highlights a less traditional but no less vaild form of masculinity. Copper, Silver, Gold was probably the most heart-breaking of the stories. Unlike many stories that focus on the ‘glory’ of war, this story instead grapples with the aftermath and the work and support people need to heal.

This was a lovely little collection, as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside, and I enjoyed it from start to finish.

Leave a comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Pretty Books, Short Stories

Good Omens

Urban fantasy comedy about the End of Days

Content warning: slurs, racial stereotypes

In my quest to read books before I watch adaptations, I picked up a copy of this book when I heard it was being turned into a TV series. Unusually, this book is written by two authors and despite some of the scathing commentary inside about whether a book that has sold millions of copies can accurately be described as a cult classic, this book certainly has a dedicated following.

Image is of “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. The paperback book is placed next to my very own hellhound Pepper, a black merle dog who is giving a bit of side-eye. The cover is black with a crown, a sword and a slingshot.

“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is an urban fantasy comedy novel about an angel called Aziraphale and a demon called Crowley who each live on Earth trying to influence humanity towards good and evil respectively. However, they both really enjoy Earth and have struck up a friendship over the centuries since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. So when Crowley receives news that the Antichrist is coming to Earth to herald the end of days and the annihilation of the world and everyone in it, he and Aziraphale agree to try to prevent the child from reaching his full potential. However, a case of mistaken identity means that Heaven and Hell’s plans have gone awry and between prophecies, witch-hunters, motorcyclists of the apocalypse and four kids, the race is on to stop the end of the world.

I have read plenty of Neil Gaiman and a little of Terry Pratchett, and I think that there is no question that their work is well-known and well-loved around the world. Both authors are known for their reinterpretation of fantasy and mythological tropes, and certainly Christian-inspired fantasy with angels and demons is a popular concept in urban fantasy. I haven’t read too many books that are written by two authors, and one notable example was “Wicked!” by renowned Australian children’s authors Paul Jennings and Morris Gleitzman. Unlike Jennings and Gleitzman, instead of alternating chapters, Gaiman and Pratchett wrote much more collaboratively. While there are certain jokes and passages that are more reminiscent of one author’s style or another, overall their writing blended very well. This book is very much a product of its time, and I found it enjoyable and nostalgic reading about technology and cultural references in the early 1990s. I think my favourite character in the entire book was the hellhound who becomes known as Dog and whose diabolical nature is tamped down until he becomes a beloved childhood companion. Dog’s internal struggle with his own nature was probably the best and funniest piece of tension in the book.

However, at the risk of bringing the Pratchett-Gaiman fandom raining fire and brimstone down on me, I didn’t love this book. It wasn’t the uproariously funny book I was expecting, and that was not because I’m unfamiliar with quirky British humour. In fact, I thought perhaps watching the TV series would help bring the humour to life a bit but even the show, which is very true to the book, felt a bit flat. I could see what the authors were doing with young Adam and his crew of pre-teen friends, but I found their dialogue really unrealistic and, unlike Paul Jennings, neither particularly funny or compelling. While I often read books that were published some time ago and try to have a bit of patience for changing social standards, I do want to mention that there are quite a few racial stereotypes and slurs against particular races and the queer community peppered throughout this book that are very jarring. I am certain that Gaiman would not use this language today, but, for example, the scene where Aziraphale temporarily possesses an Aboriginal man was pretty cringe by today’s standards.

A bit of a let down after all the hype, so if you’re looking to read either author, this probably wouldn’t be the book I’d recommend you start with.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy

The Hidden City

Epic fantasy about an orphan girl and a forgotten city

I am still chipping away at my to-read shelf, and in my efforts to tackle some of the fantasy books I have had lying around for some time, I remembered I had this one. I actually won 6 books in this series in the annual Worldbuilders fundraiser. Money donated goes to Heifer International, and each US$10 you donate secures you an entry in their lottery. I’ve donated over a few years, and one year was lucky enough to win a prize! I talk about it in much more depth in a podcast episode. Anyway, these books have been collecting dust for way too long so it was time to at least read the first one.

Image is of “The Hidden City” by Michelle West. The paperback novel is resting on a wooden table next to a carved bowl and below a knife with a burnished blade and a wooden handle. The cover has an image of a girl with curly hair holding a blade set inside a triangle. Outside the triangle are flowers made of stone.

“The Hidden City” by Michelle West is an epic fantasy novel and the first in the series called “The House War”. The book is about a young homeless girl named Jewel, who insists on being called Jay. When she tries to rob the mysterious and reclusive Rath, his attempts to reclaim his goods end up with him reluctantly taking a very sick Jay in. As the unlikely pair form a mentor-mentee bond, Jay begins to share her newfound fortune with other street children. However, Rath’s clandestine activities retrieving treasures from a forgotten city, Jay’s untested powers and an unspeakable crime ring reveal many more children in need of help and a growing danger that could threaten the entire world as they know it.

This is a deliberate, thoughtful novel with a strong focus on character development and morality. Despite Rath’s initial denial, the bond between him and Jay steadily strengthens and they each begin to have a profound effect on one another. I really enjoyed the other children who steadily trickled into Jay’s life, and how she slowly coaxes them out of their shells and unites them. I particularly liked Carver, and how West wove a bit of mystery around his background and why he was there at the right time. It is a high stakes novel, and West is not afraid of pushing her characters and their loyalties to their limits.

However, it is a slow-paced novel, and at times West’s painstaking review of the intricacies of each relationship feels like it stalls the story. While quirky at the beginning, Rath’s apparent refusal to acknowledge the extent to which he has welcomed Jay into his life begins to lose its impact. There were aspects of the worldbuilding that I felt could have been stronger. Although a street urchin, Jay’s abilities mean that she could potentially have secured a home studying to strengthen her powers, everyone dismisses that as an option for her without any adequate explanation. Many of the conversations are indirect and full of politicking, but West never really makes it clear whether all this dancing around is a cultural feature of this world or simply an attempt to build suspense.

I do also want to mention the book cover. As I said in the photo caption above, the cover has an image of a girl holding a blade. The girl has fair skin, curly light brown hair and light eyes that could be hazel in colour. In the book, Jay is described as having “[b]rown eyes, dark skin, unruly hair” and is later described as being biracial. This book was originally published in 2007, and there has been a lot of discourse about whitewashing book covers since then. I completely appreciate that authors often have very little say in these decisions, and that publishing houses like DAW have come a long way when it comes to representation, however I think it’s still important to acknowledge that this is something that happens – even to authors like Ursula K. Le Guin!

I could see a lot of potential in this book for an epic fantasy series, and those who like to get absorbed in for hours and hours in another world may very well get a lot out of it, but I don’t think I’m quite hooked enough to read the other 5 books I won (let alone the rest of the series).

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy

The Beast’s Heart

Beauty and the Beast Retelling from the Beast’s Perspective

Content warning: suicide attempt

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Harry Hartog. The author is a Canberra local, and one of the authors whose books were available at the pre-lockdown VIP fantasy and science fiction event. I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy streak recently, and this book is another one that has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I really love the copper foil detail on the cover, and you can see from the photo below how it catches the light.

Image is of “The Beast’s Heart” by Leife Shallcross. The paperback book is resting against a wooden fence overgrown with vines and flowering bushes. The cover is navy blue with a black metal gate and vines and the title in copper foil.

“The Beast’s Heart” by Leife Shallcross is a fantasy novel that retells the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” from the Beast’s perspective. After years of running wild in the woods, a beast finds his way back home to his overgrown chateau. Over time he begins to regain some clarity of thought, and the chateau in turn awakens to do his bidding. When a man arrives at the chateau in need of help, Beast shows him hospitality. However, using his magic, Beast contrives to trap the man into an unthinkable bargain: his life for a year with his youngest daughter. When the beautiful Isabeau arrives at the chateau, she has everything she could ever want and more: a beautiful garden, entertainment, delicious food and friendship. However, when Beast asks her to marry him, she cannot possibly say yes. Unbeknownst to Isabeau, Beast is under a curse and if he cannot find true love, he is doomed.

This is a gentle, lyrical reimagining of one of the world’s most well-known fairy tales. Shallcross depicts the Beast as someone who is rigidly principled, in an unwinnable war between his passions and his morals. Shallcross contrasts the idyll of Beast and Isabeau’s days with the much simpler, busier lives of Isabeau’s sisters who are left behind to learn how to work in their much reduced station. Telling the story from the Beast’s point of view is a unique take on a classic story. A slow-burn romance, Shallcross spends a lot of time exploring friendship as the foundation for a relationship. Shallcross’ backstory for the Beast, especially in relation to his beloved grandmother, was probably my favourite part of the book and showcased her creativity. I also did enjoy the scenes with Isabeau’s sisters, and I felt that out of all the characters they underwent the most character development, learning to live within their means and open their hearts.

Although Shallcross has stayed close to the original version of the fairy tale, in which Beauty is too obtuse to work out that the Beast and the man she dreams about are one and the same, I found it really frustrating that the otherwise bright and insightful Isabeau wasn’t able to put two and two together. I also found it frustrating that she seemed to lack curiosity, and although Beast asks her again and again to marry him, she doesn’t every consider why on earth he would put himself through the emotional torture. Without much productive conversation, the many chapters of Beast and Isabeau sitting in parlours felt a bit slow and while the scenes of Isabeau’s family broke things up a bit, I think there was room for a bit more fire and chemistry between the two. Perhaps Isabeau’s agreement to stay for a year was too long.

An original take on a classic story that perhaps needed fewer magical fireworks and more metaphorical fireworks.

2 Comments

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Pretty Books

Betrothed

Urban fantasy young adult romance novel

I am currently on a bit of a fantasy bender in an attempt to get through my to-read shelves, including some which are taken up by fantasy series. In a previous post, I talked about how my book club and I won a fantastic trivia event: well, this was my prize! A series of four books including one signed by the author. I hadn’t read them before, but the covers are all quite beautiful with a reflective, pearlescent effect. They have waiting on my shelf for three years collecting dust and now was the time to read them.

Image is of “Betrothed” by Wanda Wiltshire. The paperback book is resting on top of some shiny purple wings. The cover has a silhouette of a young man and a young woman holding his hand in hers. They are standing on a rock with ocean and mountains behind them. The cover has a pearlescent effect and behind the man is the faintest outline of wings.

“Betrothed” by Wanda Wiltshire is the first book in the urban fantasy young adult romance series of the same name. The story is about a 17 year old girl called Amy who has had a challenging upbringing. Living in Sydney, her delicate health and countless allergies have drastically impacted her life, not to mention the fact that she is adopted. While she has some close friends, school is difficult and she is frequently picked on because of her skin reactions to just about everything. When she starts having incredibly realistic dreams with a voice calling out for someone called Marla, Amy initially doubts that they could be true. However, when the mysterious Leif arrives in person, Amy begins to question exactly who she is.

This is a light-hearted that is about love and identity. Wiltshire doesn’t take herself too seriously, and Amy leaves upbeat Sydney for even more upbeat Faera, and we gradually learn the truth about her heritage. Wiltshire gently explores some of the real difficulties of living with severe allergies, and Amy’s struggles with her health are counterbalanced by the enjoyment she is able to derive from the simplest things like scented baths and lavish food in Faera. Wiltshire introduces some tension with a loose love triangle and intergenerational grudges, and a countdown to Amy’s 18th birthday upon which her future hangs.

While not overtly religious, there are certainly some very traditional ideas about male and female roles including the idea that female faeries are created from a piece of a male faery’s soul which is all very Eve made from Adam’s rib. A lot of the book is spent examining Amy’s feelings and disbelief in relation to her newly discovered identity, and everyone in the human world seems happy to exist as a supporting cast for her. I found the Faera world a bit disconcerting. Wiltshire describes a utopia with no money, nothing wanting and no aging, and I found it hard to wrap my head around a society where everything appears to be predetermined. I felt that although a lot of information and conflict had been introduced early on in the book, the plot plateaued and it didn’t feel like much was happening for the second half. Amy didn’t really undergo much character development, and I would have liked to have seen more depth to her than romantic interest.

Readable enough but not particularly ground-breaking in terms of concept or themes.

1 Comment

Filed under Australian Books, Book Reviews, Fantasy, Young Adult

The Midnight Library

Speculative fiction novel about life after death

Content warning: suicide ideation, suicide completion, mental health, self-harm

A couple of people had recommended this book to me, and when I saw it was available as an audiobook and less than 9 hours long (and therefore within my attention span), I decided to try it out. I was a little bit skeptical because the title and premise reminded me a lot of Audrey Niffenegger’s excellent graphic novel “The Night Bookmobile“. However, without examining it too closely, I chose it as my next running book.

Image is of the audiobook cover of “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig and narrated by Carey Mulligan. The cover has a building in the centre that appears to be made of paper coloured white on the outside, and vague rainbow on the inside. The building is set against a night sky filled with stars, and there is a silhouette of a white cat to the left. There is text that says “One library. Infinite lives.”

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig and narrated by Carey Mulligan is a speculative fiction novel about a woman in her 30s called Nora whose life is falling apart. She’s lonely, she’s just lost her job and her cat has died. All her family are either dead or estranged. All her dreams of success have fallen by the wayside, and she can no longer think of any reasons to live and just wants the pain to end. However, after Nora completes suicide, she finds that things have not, in fact, ended. Instead, she has arrived in an enormous library full of books of all the alternate lives she could have had. Forced to closely examine all of her biggest regrets, are these other lives really better than the life she has chosen to leave behind?

Coincidentally, this is the third relatively new-release book I have read recently that uses speculative fiction to explore what happens after you die. Here is the first and here is the second, and I think this one is probably my favourite of them. This is a compelling book that gives an honest account of mental health, depression and the things that can lead to someone thinking about suicide. Haig skilfully and realistically conjures Nora’s alternative lives; and even her lives of dazzling success, wild adventure and complete contentment are grounded in the realm of possibility.

One of the things I liked the most about this book is how Nora’s mental health struggles were subtly woven into each possible life: emerging in different ways and requiring different treatment but nevertheless one of the constants. Haig uses trauma and grief to highlight how mental health can suddenly deteriorate, and that seeking help when you need it is crucial. While overall uplifting, this book is at no point overly saccharine or unrealistic about recovering from mental illness. Haig is honest with the readers about the work it takes to live with and live through depression. However, I liked that he took the time to write about the small positive ways you impact the world around you and that “success” comes in many forms. Mulligan was an excellent narrator and made Nora relatable and believable. I was a bit shocked however to learn that not everyone pronounces the word lichen the same!

While I enjoyed this book, there were a few points of logic that didn’t quite make sense to me. The first was in relation to the other Noras whose lives Nora stepped into. Via another character, Haig explains that the other Nora is simply absent and then returns with amnesia about what happened. Assuming both Noras are equally real, I think that the ethics of simply erasing someone temporarily, even if it’s another iteration of yourself, weren’t really adequately examined. I thought that Haig could have perhaps suggested something else instead, such as that the replaced Nora went to her own midnight library. I also felt that Haig several times suggested that Nora’s decision to pursue a particular career to extreme success necessarily had a negative impact on someone in her life, like a price that had to be paid, and I wasn’t sure that always had to be the case. I could nit-pick a few other examples, but I doubt anyone else is interested in quantum ethics and the experience of time and memories in a fictional scenario.

A well-written book with well-executed concept, it definitely leaves you thinking and gives you some great conversation starters to ask your friends.

1 Comment

Filed under Audiobooks, Book Reviews, Fantasy, General Fiction