Category Archives: Fantasy

The Poppy War

East-Asian-inspired epic military fantasy

This was a set book for my feminist fantasy book club and one that I was looking forward to. One of my annual reading goals is to read more diversely, and if ever there was a genre in dire need of more diversity, it is fantasy. I bought a copy for my Kobo and managed to read most of it before the book club.

The Poppy War (The Poppy War, #1)

“The Poppy War” by R. F. Kuang is a story about a young girl called Rin who lives with her rather unsavoury foster parents. When the Fangs try to marry her off to an old, rich merchant Rin manages to negotiate being permitted to study for the prestigious and extremely difficult exams known as the Keju. With her sights set on admission to the military academy called Sinegard, Rin’s class and gender look set to be almost insurmountable obstacles. However, when Rin achieves the impossible, she finds herself on a mad path to studying a mad art with an even madder teacher. When war breaks out, Rin finds herself faced with even more difficult choices – choices that may not work and may cost her everything.

I wanted to like this book, I really did, but if there is anything I have learned about myself it is that military fiction is not my cup of tea. Kuang is a spirited writer who imbues Rin with an enormous amount of vitality, courage and determination. The writing is good and the setting is fascinating, and some of my favourite scenes in the book is when Rin first finds herself in the city of Nikan and later when she joins her friend at his luxurious home.

It was the story, however, that I struggled with. It is your classic fantasy bildungsroman where an orphan child discovers talent, joins a school and learns arcane skills to defeat the dark…whatever. As admirable as Rin is, I actually found the peripheral characters like her delightful friend Kitay and the compelling Nezha more interesting than her. While the story started out quite strong, I felt that it soon began to lag. With the introduction, exams, school, training, assignment, war, missions and various discoveries along the way, it’s little wonder that this book bloats at over 500 pages. By the time I got to a major battle, I was feeling pretty worn out by the whole thing and there was so, so much more to go after that.

I also felt that Kuang’s great passion is clearly military history, and despite it also being a fantasy book, the focus is much more on the detail of combat, strategy, battles and power than it is about magic. I completely appreciate Kuang’s expertise in the Second Sino-Japanese War (the inspiration for this book), but I struggled to match her enthusiasm. The magic that is used seems to be unclear, inexplicable and highly dependent on the whims of beings from another plane. I think that the book would have benefited from some of the more rigid principles of writing magic to make the magic more accessible to the reader and therefore more meaningful when used.

This is an epic book that spans years of training, conflict and war and while I was probably looking for more fantasy than military and found it a bit of a slog, I’m sure that there would be plenty of people out there who would find this thrilling.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, eBooks, Fantasy

A Century of Friendship

Children’s book about the ethics and etiquette of friendship

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

A Century of Friendship

“A Century of Friendship” by Littlebeanseeds is a children’s chapter book about Helen and her friends Mark, Shelly and Yasmin who, while exploring on a school camp, discover a secret in a rundown cottage. While the children navigate their own relationships with one-another, they soon discover that the secret has a particular significance for Helen. At the end of each chapter, the author invites the reader to think about notes on friendship, and answer questions for self-reflection about friendship, what makes a good friend, how to be a good friend and how to resolve disputes.

This is a simple yet effective story aimed at pre-teens that explores some of the more subtle issues and nuances around friendship. It is quite a unique book because it balances low fantasy against self-help – two genres that I honestly do not think I have ever seen combined before. I think that inviting children to consciously think about their relationships and what kind of behaviour they expect from themselves and others is a worthwhile thing to do.

I think probably the biggest difficulty for young readers might be the balance between the time spent enjoying the story and the time spent thinking about the questions and having the immersion interrupted. I wonder perhaps if this kind of book might be suited to being read to a class by a teacher, and then inviting the children to participate in a discussion as a group, rather than reading it alone.

Nevertheless, a very original type of book with an overwhelmingly positive message and a cute story as a backdrop.

Leave a comment

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

The Kingdom of Copper

Middle Eastern-inspired adult fantasy novel

Warning: this review contains spoilers for the previous book “The City of Brass”

You may recall that I reviewed the first book in this series last year and I absolutely waxed lyrical about it. I was absolutely desperate to read the next book, and when it came out a few months ago my friend very kindly picked up a beautiful hardcover and gave it to me when I saw him over the summer.

20190424_195953-1909445782.jpg

“The Kingdom of Copper” by S. A. Chakraborty is the second book in “The Daevabad Trilogy” and picks up approximately five years after the events of the previous book. After marrying Prince Muntadhir, Nahri’s freedom has been significantly curtailed. Only allowed in the Palace and the infirmary, and with no plans to have a child any time soon, Nahri is starting to chafe at the bit. However when she discovers an abandoned Nahid hospital, she starts a new scheme: to rebuild some of her ancestor’s lost legacy. Exiled by his father from Daevabad for treason, Ali soon finds himself in Am Gezira, his ancestral lands. Although starting to gain control of his strange new marid powers and settling into his new home, Ali is soon called back to his home. Hoping to make a swift exit to avoid his father and brother and return to his warriors and work rejuvenating the desert landscape, it soon becomes clear that Ali is not going anywhere until Navasatem: a once in a lifetime celebration.

It’s always a tough publication schedule to produce a book in a year, but Chakraborty has absolutely delivered. I really appreciated the time interval between this and the previous book. Chakraborty didn’t waste time on empty years, she just summarised the highlights and went for it. In the last book, I think one of the things I struggled with a little was the worldbuilding and the complexity of the different races and terms. However in this book, a bit more of the story is told outside the city of Daevabad and some of the things that were confusing start to make a bit more sense. I really enjoyed the character development and the difference you can see that five years has made to the characters. Still not quite the legendary healer her mother was, Nahri has become a lot more competent and Ali, previously hot-headed and righteous, has become far more strategic. The writing is excellent, and I was thoroughly immersed the whole way through.

This book is quite dense, and there is a lot going on plot-wise. Where the first book in the series felt like it was indelibly marked on my mind, I felt like there were parts of this book that slipped through my fingers a little. I think that although overall it was an excellent story, and certainly much better than your average second book, but I’m not sure it had as many fiery scenes that left the same long-lasting impression as the first book.

Anyway, I think this is my favourite adult fantasy series out right now and I absolutely cannot wait for the third book.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy

Realm of Beasts

Fantasy novel about a dying utopia

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publicist.

Realm of Beasts by Angela J Ford

“Realm of Beasts” by Angela J. Ford is the first novel in the fantasy series “Legend of the Nameless One”. The book starts with the mysterious Tor Lir, who has abandoned his homeland to pursue his true destiny, finding the corroding edges of Paradise. Also inhabiting this land is an enchantress called Citrine who has the ability to connect with incredible mythical beasts. When they meet each other at the home of Novor Tur-Woodbury, the benevolent giant who overseas Paradise, it is hardly an auspicious meeting. However united by a common enemy, they must put their differences aside to beat the evil that threatens not only Paradise but the whole world.

Ford has a visceral style of writing and focuses a lot on the senses and sensations of the body. Throughout the story, Ford juxtaposes the beautiful against the ugly and sets the stage for a contest between good and evil. Ford tantalises the reader with hints of Tor Lir’s past and a complex world outside the borders of Paradise.

I think the key thing that I really struggled with about this book was structure. I felt like the book didn’t really kick off until halfway through, when Citrine and Tor Lir are introduced to each other. I felt like everything that had happened up until that point probably could have been summarised as background, and the story could have just jumped right into a fast-paced plot.

Although the structure demands a lot of commitment from the reader for the first half of the book, the story really kicks off after the second half and builds into something that fantasy fans could enjoy.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy

The Song of Achilles

Queer fantasy retelling of Greek mythology 

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m part of a feminist fantasy book club, and for our first meeting of the year, this was our set book. Unfortunately I was running a little late and forgot to take photos of the wonderful Greek feast one of our members made, but I did read the book.

20190311_235307-1463276930.jpg

“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller is a fantasy retelling of the Greek myth of Achilles. The story is told from the perspective of Patroclus, a disgraced prince who is banished to the kingdom of Peleus after a terrible accident. Although initially isolated and lonely, Patroclus is soon befriended by Peleus’ godlike son Achilles. As the boys grow up together, under the tutelage of the centaur Chiron, they form an inseparable bond. However, increasingly determined to fulfill his destiny as the greatest warrior of all time, Achilles is drawn into a war that will put their love to the test.

The first half of this book was brilliant. Miller brought a unique and romantic perspective to this classic myth and a sense of realism to the characters of Patroclus and Achilles. I especially loved the dreamy and idyllic chapters in Chiron’s home where the two boys could explore their feelings for each other and their own hopes and dreams for the future without interference from the outside world. I thought that Miller did a good job of exploring Patroclus’ feelings of inadequacy juxtaposed against Achilles’ sense of entitlement, and the first half of the book was extremely engaging.

However, the second half of the book, when the young men go off to the Trojan war, I found to be a lot more difficult to get through. It wasn’t quite so obvious for the first half of the book, but for the second half it becomes abundantly clear that Patroclus didn’t actually have any purpose or work apart from being with Achilles. It was very late in the book that he started taking an interest in healing, which made him quite a frustrating point of view character up until that point. Also, I completely understand that according to the mythology Achilles spends 10 years fighting the Trojan war, but even though it only took up a couple of hundred pages in the book, the war part really seemed to drag on. I did appreciate that the war camp turned into its own ecosystem, but it just seemed a bit relentless that 10 years would pass with so little happening.

Anyway, an excellent example of direct queer representation that was a bit slow-going plot-wise at times.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

The Song of Achilles

1 Comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Saga Volume 9

Epic fantasy and science fiction graphic novel series

I’ve been following this series pretty much as soon as it first came out. Even though I am certainly hooked, I have had some concerns for a while that the series has been getting a little stale. I chatted on my podcast some time ago that the author recently announced that the series would be going on hiatus for a year, and so I decided I’d stuck with it this long, I might as well read this last volume. Now, if you’re not up to date, I’d stop right here because this will be full of spoilers.

20190309_200919-1597009408.jpg

“Saga Volume 9” by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples begins some time after the end of Volume 8. Hazel, her parents Marko and Alana, Sir Robot IV, his son Squire, the two journalists Upsher and Doff, Petrichor and Ghüs have left Ghüs’ tiny world with Ianthe with the The Will (now known as Billy) forcibly in tow hot on their heels. When Upsher and Doff offer Marko and Alana a chance at a completely new life, the offer is very tempting to others in the group. However, before long Ianthe and Billy have caught up with them and nothing is certain anymore.

“Saga” has been, well, a saga and there is no shortage of drama in this volume. Staples’ art is as mesmerising as ever, and the story continues to shock at every turn. However, I have to say that Hazel’s extremely melodramatic narration has really started to grind on me. There were some parts where I felt it matched the story and art really well, but generally I find it a bit ham-fisted. Vaughan is certainly fearless when it comes to nixing his characters, but in a similar way to the George R. R. Martin, there does get a point where too many of your favourite characters are gone and you just aren’t that invested in the ones left.

I really do think that a hiatus is a good idea. This book ends on a big twist and I’m just not sure where they are going to go from there. A break will hopefully let Vaughan recharge and come back with some fresh ideas to wrap up the series.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Saga Volume 9

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Science Fiction

The Graveyard Book

Dark urban young adult fantasy

I have been reading this author for a long time, and he has an impressive bibliography of novels that straddle the blurry line between fantasy and realism. This book has been sitting on my shelf for quite a while after my partner bought it for me, and I have to admit, the cover had not really attracted me. I know the artist is incredibly well-known, and while I agree the style is probably in line with the themes of the book, it is a bit skeletal and knobbly for my tastes. It sat there gathering dust for some time until I thought, I just need two more books to finish my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, this one looks relatively short and it has been a while since I’ve read this author.

2019-02-23 14-767339022..jpg

“The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman is a young adult fantasy novel about a little boy called Nobody Owens who lives in a graveyard. Narrowly escaping murder like the rest of his family by the man Jack, Bod, as he is affectionately known, is granted refuge among the ghosts and creatures who live in the graveyard. Although adopted by Mr and Mrs Owens, and watched over by his mysterious guardian Silas, Bod is given a large amount of freedom within the confines of the graveyard. However, the protection cannot last forever, and sooner or later Bod must return to the real world and live his life.

This, at heart, is a book about growing up. Gaiman sets the scene by introducing the graveyard, its features and residents and uses them as a yardstick to measure how Bod grows and changes over time. In his usual subtle way, Gaiman explores the differences between good and bad, child and adult, accepting help and self-reliance – all things that young people must navigate as they start to find their own way in the world. This is also a book about boundaries, which ones are flexible, which ones are permeable and which ones must remain steadfast. Gaiman is never condescending in this book, and I think that the way that he writes about the challenges Bod faces leaves a lot of room for young readers to make up their own minds about the way things turn out. I really enjoyed how Bod aged over time, and I think it’s quite rare for a children’s book to really examine how children’s personalities develop.

I think the problem I had with this book is that while it is undeniably rich, at times it felt a bit constraining while reading it. I completely understand that Gaiman explores different kinds of freedoms and deliberately uses the border of the graveyard as both a physical and metaphorical barrier. However, because the majority of the story is set within the graveyard, and a lot of the story is Bod revisiting places and people within that graveyard, there were times where the book feels a bit repetitive.

Nevertheless, a complex and sophisticated young adult novel in Gaiman’s trademark style that I think many kids would enjoy.


buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

The Graveyard Book

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Young Adult