Tag Archives: 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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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The Song of Achilles

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Festival Muse 2019

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Festival Muse has become a Canberra Day long weekend tradition, and although I didn’t get to attend as many events as I would have liked, I did get to attend one very good one.

Creating Worlds

After a little silent reading picnic, a couple of friends in my fantasy book club and I decided to finish off the afternoon with something very on-theme. Horror and speculative fiction author Kaaron Warren chaired a discussion with other local authors Sam Hawke and Leife Shallcross on what goes into creating worlds.

From left to right: authors Sam Hawke, Leife Shallcross and Kaaron Warren

The event began with readings by each author of a passage from one of their books. Shallcross read a passage from her novel “The Beast’s Heart”, a retelling of classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Hawke read a passage from her epic fantasy novel “City of Lies” and Warren read a passage from her book “Walking the Tree”. One of the most striking differences between the three novels was the size of the worlds. Where Warren’s book takes place on an island and Hawke’s in a city, Shallcross’ world is much smaller and takes place (for the most part) within the confines of a single house.

The authors talked about finding a balance in how much detail to provide the reader. Hawke said that as a writer, it is a game she plays with readers deciding how much description to give them and how much to let them imagine for themselves. They also compared writing different points of view, and the difference it makes to what characters notice and focus on.

Warren then asked the authors how they found coming up with names and words when writing speculative fiction. Warren said in her own book, she drew on botanical names to name her characters. Hawke said that she focused a lot on food that she wanted to eat, however she was careful not to exhaust the reader with too much new vocabulary. She said that she struggled quite a lot with names, and in fact wrote a third of her book with [name] in place of her main character’s name.

Hawke also gave us a little behind-the-scenes insight into a tool that she uses to come up with new fantasy words. She explained Vulgar, an online tool that generates fantasy languages which, if you’re a fantasy writer, you may wish to check out yourself. She said that she had been reluctant to adapt existing languages because she didn’t want linguists asking her why she called a lady “Chamberpot” or something!

Shallcross said that she drew a lot from Germanic names, and used names from a map, but did receive critique from a cartographer friend who pointed out that all the names she had used had the same rhythm. Warren said that she had received criticism from the same cartographer when she first drew a map of her world. She said that it had been terrible, because it was basically just a big circle, and the cartographer said that people living in her world on the edge of an enormous tree would think of themselves as being connected to other communities in a line rather than in a circle.

The writers agreed that when worldbuilding, you need to get the parts that you’re focusing on right and everything else can be fuzzy and allow readers to use their imagination. Hawke said that unlike many people, she was not particularly visual and when she imagines things, she tends to focus on touch, smell and other sense. She said that as long as you get the little things right, readers will trust you.

Warren then explored how the writers felt about actually knowing a place. Shallcross said that it was challenging, not having traveled to France, and instead she used meticulous research of maps and historical photographs to understand place. Hawke said that she had not traveled much growing up, and what she lacked in personal experience she tended to make up for with imagining her own worlds and research as she went along. Warren then shared about a short story she is working on about the demolition of the Northbourne flats. She said that after seeing all the steel, brick and glass as she drove by, she was drawn to visiting them in person to see how they felt and to get the smell of them as inspiration for her story.

The talk then opened up to audience questions. There were quite a few speculative fiction buffs in the audience and it was really great to see so many different takes on what goes into to building fictional worlds. Although unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to catch all the other great events of Festival Muse this year, this one was definitely a great way to round off a long weekend.

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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.

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“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.

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Saga Volume 9

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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.

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“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.


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The Graveyard Book

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The Blue Salt Road

Novella retelling seafaring folklore

About a year ago, I found out that one of my favourite authors was retelling British folklore. I was excited then, and I was just as excited a couple of months ago when I saw that she had released a second book in a similar theme. Just as pretty, with a deep blue hardcover and nautical imagery in silver detail, I knew I had to have it.

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“The Blue Salt Road” by Joanne M. Harris is a fantasy novella about a young man of the Grey Seal clan, the most playful of the selkies, and he the wildest of them all. Tempted by the adventure of walking among the Folk who live on land, he casts off his seal skin one night at the call of a red-haired lass. After meeting her under the moonlight several times, the young man is tricked, his sealskin stolen and his memories gone. With no memory of his former life, the young man must try to make the best of a new life thrust upon him. However, when he is asked to do the unthinkable and with no knowledge of how to return to his home, the young man soon finds himself with nowhere to go.

Inspired by the ballad “The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry“, this story takes the most well-known version of the selkie myth, where a man steals a selkie-woman’s skin to make her his bride, and turns it on its head. Harris, in her trademark immersive style, takes the coastal landscape and examines it from every angle: a watery wonderland, a cold and inhospitable climate, a place of fear, a place of love. In the same way, she takes the selkie’s relationship and examines it from every angle: a place of lust, a place of betrayal, a place of understanding, and a place of love.

This book made me a lot more uneasy than her previous one in this collection. I think part of it was that the story of a man tricking a woman to be with him is so pervasive, but the story of a woman tricking a man to be with her is much less common. For some reason, men pursuing women by any means is normalised but women pursuing men by any means feels wrong. Without going into spoilers, the ending made me even more uneasy. I felt that Harris explored an interesting motive behind the red-haired woman’s actions, but ultimately I found the successive breaches of trust a bit hard to deal with. I get that Harris is going for a dark interpretation, but I there was something about the ending left me much more unsettled than the previous one.

A beautifully rendered story with a hint of bitterness, Harris challenges our understanding of gender through this traditional tale.

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The Blue Salt Road

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