Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

If you enjoyed Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, you will love this cracking wrap-up to a brilliant YA fantasy trilogy.

If you haven’t yet started the trilogy, don’t read this review – even the blurb has spoilers for the earlier books – instead, head over here to my review of book 1 (formerly known as The Gathering Dark in the UK, then changed to match the US title when the movie rights sold.)

ruin and rising raag

ruin and risingThe capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Here’s my initial ‘review’ on closing the book (fangirly gush more like..): What an amazing ride the Grisha series has been! Brilliant, classic high fantasy on one hand and yet unique and unpredictable on the other. So many twists that I did not in the slightest see coming, and which developed or resolved situations perfectly. Genius storytelling revealing complete mastery of poor defenceless reader emotions as well as fabulous world-building and skillful character development. Such a satisfying ending too – no mean feat to pull off, but she did it. If you’re hesitating to finish this trilogy for fear it could let you down, stop messing about right now and get on with it :)

I have little to add to this really (and am trying to allow myself to write shorter reviews these days anyway). I am quite picky abut endings; I like things to be completed (except in a few cases where the whole narrative has been about gaps and unreliability – that’s a different thing, but cheating and not telling me what happens, that I tend not to forgive). Although not an ending I could have predicted until I was right on top of it, Ruin and Rising closes the trilogy perfectly, leaving me (and, no doubt, many other Grisha fans) satisfied and grateful.

As with the earlier Grisha books, I enjoyed reading from Alina’s viewpoint and seeing her character development, as well as that of the other characters around her. I also think that it is a real gift to be able to enjoy a great, sweeping romance set against the backdrop of an epic fantasy without my feminist sensibilities being prickled. Yes, there is a (gorgeous) romance thread, but that is neither the point of the plot nor Alina’s priority. She struggles with her feelings, which are often conflicted, (and tested most cruelly) but this is ultimately a ‘chosen one’ type quest and her responsibilities as hero are far more important than her personal feelings. Love is not an end in itself but a part of the complexity of her life, which feels right. I said something similar about the start of this trilogy, and it is definitely an important aspect of the series for me which has been maintained throughout.

Clearly, I am absolutely recommending this series and was delighted to hear the news that Leigh Bardugo has signed with Indigo for more novels, which will also be set in the Grishaverse.

Thoughts from the YA Lit Con at the London Film & Comic Con

Last weekend saw the UK’s first YA Lit convention, nestled at the back of Earl’s Court during the London Film and Comic Con. It was an amazing success – although I shouldn’t say amazing, as it is not at all surprising. The bookish community in general and the YA readers, writers and publishers in this country are incredible and YALC was therefore always going to be marvellous.

I attended with my 15 year old daughter and it was just the Best Thing Ever. Brilliant bonding time for us (we each had the opportunity to mock the other’s squeeing and fangirling for different things), and a truly excellent start to the summer hols. [Yes, we're in Leicester, where we break up mid-July and return before August is out.]

YALC sex panel
The “I’m too sexy for this book” panel, chaired by Queen of Teen James Dawson.

We attended panels on both days, and these were a real treat. First up was the Dystopia in YA panel chaired by Malorie Blackman, whose opening remarks were delivered in Klingon (I think she really loved getting her geek on for this event!). We also attended a panel on contemporary fantasy writing, which featured Ruth Warburton, whose two witchy series I have loved, along with Amy McCulloch, Frances Hardinge and Jonathan Stroud. On Sunday, we were in the “Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” panel chaired by Sarra Manning, which was featured in a Telegraph column on Monday, and we loved the hilarious panel on sex in YA chaired by James Dawson and featuring Cat Clarke, Non Pratt, Beth Reekles and a healthy dose of innuendo. Between panels, we met various lovely authors for signings and cruised the publishers’ stalls collecting goodies, signing up for newsletters and swapping book chat.

YALC aerial view
This is YALC’s little corner, as seen from above – busy, busy :)

We also took the opportunity to enjoy the delights of the LFCC (rude not to, really, right?) and met two fabulous Buffy the Vampire Slayer stars for autographs – Juliet Landau and Anthony Stewart Head – both of whom were wonderfully friendly. Along with many of the other YALC attendees, we also enjoyed the delights of varied and inventive cosplay that surrounded us. Being far too bookish and shy to ask people for photographs, I don’t have any to share with you, but if you’re curious, Buzzfeed has a nice selection of some of the best. I was personally surprised at the number of Frozen cosplayers, but my daughter greatly enjoyed pointing out all the Annas and Elsas to me.

The very best thing about the weekend, for me, was the opportunity to really immerse ourselves in the YA field for a couple of days. There were plenty of other adult readers (although some people did assume that I was just there to accompany my daughter, I think), and I spotted tons of people I ‘know’ on Twitter – but again, shyness got the better of me and I didn’t introduce myself except to authors who were signing for me. (I was beyond thrilled when they clearly ‘knew’ me from here/Twitter and commented on my reviews).

Overall, the YALC effects for us are:

  • My enthusiasm for blogging is renewed (nice timing as my workload reduces too!)
  • My daughter is showing an interest in reviewing – I’m hoping she’ll contribute the odd review here – after seeing so many other teens whom I recognised as bloggers
  • I was thrilled to hear my daughter talk about story ideas (this is a first since she was quite small) and to find out that she has begun writing a project
  • My enthusiasm for writing is renewed and I have a nice new stack of index cards to plot out a new story (although I think it is MG rather than YA)

Bring on YALC 2015 (please, please, please!!)

Mothers in Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess – guest post from Katy Moran

Today, Katy Moran, author of Hidden Among Us and The Hidden Princess, is here to talk about mothers in YA novels and specifically in her Hidden duo. If you haven’t read these novels, I would definitely recommend them.

Mothers are often necessarily absent from YA fiction. Usually, you can’t get your heroine or hero into the truly epic amount of trouble that makes a good story with their mum in the

Hidden Princessbackground cooking tea and asking if they have done their homework. Connie has grown from being a vulnerable little sister in Hidden Among Us to a spiky heroine in her own right in The Hidden Princess, and whilst Miriam might be a bit emotionally distant with her, there is no way Connie could have planned an illegal rave with her mum on the doorstep. It’s the second party in my Hidden books to which the fae Hiddhidden among usen arrive as uninvited guests, with awful and far- reaching consequences each time around. Sometimes you just have to get rid of the mothers for these horrendous screw-ups to occur, and to give your teenage leads the chance to emerge (or not) from disaster without any adult help.

On the other hand, it’s definitely not common in YA to actually hear a mother’s side of the story. After all, these novels are about the young, the cool and the desperate, not about their mums. But in Hidden Among Us, the first of my Hidden books, when Connie is still just a little girl, I decided to narrate a few chapters from the perspective of Miriam. To really understand why she is such a different mother to each of her three children, we need to hear her side of the story and how she was led into the terrible position of getting too close to these dangerous fae creatures, and subsequently having to make a choice between Lissy, Connie and Rafe. Writing from Miriam’s perspective in flashbacks to her own teenage years and early twenties made her a more well-rounded character. I think she’d be just a textbook over-protective mum, otherwise.

The Hidden books aren’t just about the loss of children, though. The death of Larkspur’s mother sparks a revenge plot that forces all my characters into intolerable situations and leads them into situations where they are forced to make impossible choices. My fear is that I should have explored Larkspur’s mother more deeply as a character. I worry that I fridged her – that she falls into the category of the cardboard cut-out dead female who exists only to generate a revenge plot for male characters. I wish I’d been able to round her out a little more without compromising on pace.

Writing novels is a good way for authors to explore their own worst fears. The mothers in The Hidden Princess and Hidden Among Us were born from my own worst fears as a mum, not from my actual mother, who couldn’t be more different to Miriam. That desperation to protect all her children comes from a very deep and instinctive source inside me, and the fact that she can’t protect all of them is what drives the drama – a theme which re-emerges in The Hidden Princess when we learn how Lissy’s Hidden friend Iris lost her own baby son.

I do owe a little of these books to my own mum, though – well, perhaps more to my grandma. I’m not sure if Mum will thank me for sharing this, but lots of babies present a slightly odd and squashy appearance at birth, and Mum was born with both ears squashed flat to the sides of her head.

What did the midwife say to my grandma when she saw the pointed ears?

“It’s a changeling!”

Now there’s an idea…

Wow – I certainly didn’t experience Larkspur’s mother as a flat stereotype, largely because there is so much action in the novel, which would have suffered if her character were more developed. 

Thank you so much to Katy for visiting the Hearthfire today, and for giving us a peek into her thinking process. Mums in YA (and many children’s books) do tend to be absent or deficient, perhaps even more now as parents are less and less able to give their children enough freedom to have adventures. Gone are the halcyon days of the Famous Five, when kids could just roam around the countryside without anyone batting an eyelid!

Review: The Hidden Princess by Katy Moran

 

 

Hidden Princess

For five years, the Gateway has been closed and Hidden and mortals kept apart. For five years, Connie has believed her older sister dead. And for five years, Lissy has been the Swan King’s captive. But every day the Swan King’s power grows stronger and his thirst for vengeance greater. If Lissy is to keep the people she loves safe, she must risk everything by facing up to her birthright and fulfilling her hidden destiny… A fast-paced, atmospheric and chillingly beautiful novel about love, family and loyalty. (Text from Goodreads)

This is the second in a series. If you haven’t read Hidden Among Us, that’s the place to start. This review may contain spoilers for the first book. Katy Moran will also be visiting this blog on Friday, so do check back to read her thoughts on mothers in YA books, and in this series in particular.

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Set five years after the events of Hidden Among Us, this brilliant sequel continues the story of Lissy, the Hidden and her mortal family. Again making excellent use of multiple narrators, Katy Moran has produced another lyrical and yet starkly written tale of the clash between humans and the fae in their original folkloric form as glamorous, unsettling and unearthly.

The main narrators for this novel are Connie (now aged 14) Lissy and Joe, but just like in the first book, there are also occasional chapters in other voices, offering a range of perspectives. I really like the multiple voices, which provide us a clear 360 degree view of the plot angles - not to mention dragging our sympathies in every direction! For me, it really is the best of all worlds - the close-up intimacy of first person, but also the overview and ‘we know something you don’t know’ element that is the main advantage of third person.

In terms of plot, the novel is tightly wound and skilfully controlled. I’m not going into specific plot details here – this blog is spoiler-free – but the events of the text lead us on a tense ride, which ratchets up the stakes with pitch perfect control. I must also comment on the ending, as my pet hate at the moment is endings that leave me feeling cheated. It’s the kind of ending that you couldn’t necessarily predict, but which is obviously ‘just-so’ once you’ve finished.

I must also comment on world-building, as these novels shine in that regard also. Thanks to the long lifespan of the Hidden, we get to see our world both now and in the past, both of which are richly evoked, while also experiencing (enjoying is definitely the wrong word!) the Halls of the Hidden in full technicolour.

All in all, I absolutely recommend this pair of novels as a great example of well-written fantasy, strong use of multiple narrators and excellent adaptation of faery lore.

The Hidden Princess is out now from Walker Books. Don’t forget to visit again on Friday to read Katy Moran’s guest post on mothers in the Hidden series.

Review: Riot by Sarah Mussi

Riot

It is 2018. England has been struggling under a recession that has shown no sign of abating. Years of cuts has devastated Britain: banks are going under, businesses closing, prices soaring, unemployment rising, prisons overflowing. The authorities cannot cope. And the population has maxed out.

The police are snowed under. Something has to give. Drastic measures need taking.

The solution: forced sterilisation of all school leavers without secure further education plans or guaranteed employment.

The country is aghast. Families are distraught, teenagers are in revolt, but the politicians are unshakeable: The population explosion must be curbed. No more free housing for single parents, no more child benefit, no more free school meals, no more children in need. Less means more.

But it is all so blatantly unfair – the Teen Haves will procreate, the Teen Havenots won’t.

It’s time for the young to take to the streets. It’s time for them to RIOT:

OUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE, OUR BODIES, OUR FUTURE.

(summary from Goodreads)

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Having both loved and been terrified by Sarah Mussi’s Siege, I was keen to read her next near-future dystopian, Riot. While Siege is set in a school and deliciously claustrophobic in its tension, Riot mostly takes place outside and features uprising, rioting and an extended on-the-run sequence. Both are well worth a read if you enjoy fast-paced and gritty teens-against-the-system dystopias.

Riot’s narrator is a hacktivist, whom we quickly learn is leading a dangerous double life, protesting against the government’s new forced sterilisation bill. The bill would see all teens with low prospects sterilised due to overpopulation. Riot opens right in the thick of things, violence kicks in quite quickly, and the pace rarely lets up. As a result, the narration uses a lot of simple sentences and has a breathless quality that some Goodreads reviewers have been quick to criticise, but which I feel perfectly suits the urgency and pace of the situation in which the characters find themselves.

There are themes of friendship, commitment and connection running through this novel, underscored and heightened by the extremity of the plot’s events. I feel many readers will be able to enjoy and appreciate the novel’s keen moral core, and will be prompted to think about the ways the characters behave and the choices they make.

Despite its somewhat far-fetched premise and technology in advance of our own, the events of the novel rang true sufficiently that I was quite frightened of the possibilities suggested. As a teacher of teens, I can definitely see this book helping to politicise some of its readers - never a bad thing – and would love to introduce it to a school reading group. I think it would spark really interesting discussions. There is less strong violence in this novel than in Siege, and the dystopian elements feel slightly closer to reality in this one to me.

Overall, I’m recommending this for its action, its morality and its investigation of relationships forged in extreme circumstances. If all this appeals to you, definitely give it a go (and Siege too!).

Riot is out now from Hodder Children’s books. I am grateful to have received a proof for honest review via NetGalley.

Top Five Hound Walk Conversations

Having enjoyed the company of a hound (more specifically, a lurcher) for 2 years now, we find that we are regularly visiting the same conversation topics on walks. I thought I’d share our favourites. We have also had a terrier (a patterdale cross) for 3 years, but she doesn’t elicit a tenth of the interest that our lovely lurcher boy does (bless her! – we’re always so happy when someone directs a comment to her).

1: Yes, he is fast

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(sorry that the gif’s a bit amateur, but I do think it’s cute – it’s one Google+ automatically created from a couple of burst shots of the dogs – hence the sudden appearance of lurcher boy)

Amusingly, this is most often said when he’s jogging around relatively gently. The full-speed blasts are very short-lived but quite impressive.

2: No, he’s not a greyhound, a retired racer (or worse “an ex-greyhound”, as someone once asked us!)

Lurchers are not a breed as such; they’re a sighthound (greyhound, whippet, saluki, deerhound etc) crossed with something else (often a collie or a terrier). They originated from the days when only the nobility could have hunting dogs. Other dogs would be surreptitiously mated with the lord’s hounds to create a dog that could hunt.

Both our dogs are from Dogs Trust, so we don’t know his full history, but our lurcher seems to be part saluki (for those in the know: he has webbed feet and a rather lovely shawl) and we think part collie, due to the expressiveness of his ears.

3: No, he’s not too skinny/Yes, we do feed him

Actually, you’d be surprised how much he eats – and how much more he’d be willing to eat, given half a chance. I think lurchers are quite well known for being gluttonous, despite the skinny appearance.

4: No, he doesn’t take a ‘fair bit of walking’

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The poor soul actually gets considerably more walking than is necessary for him, thanks to living with a terrier. I don’t think we could ever walk her enough for her to not want more, but lurcher boy would definitely be happy with just a couple of half-hour walks a day, if allowed some free running. As it stands, though, he gets 4-6 miles daily (and often a good run, since he lacks the self-awareness to not run when he’s knackered). That’s why he has well-developed leg muscles which sometimes lead other lurcher folks to assume he’s a working dog.

5: No, we don’t ‘work’ him

I suppose having a terrier as well does kind of invite the assumption that we often dine on rabbit, but trust me: they are ‘just’ pets. As for the idiot who insulted us recently declaring this ‘a waste’, I can only pity you. On a related note, to the owners of the poor little ‘pampered’ pooches who aren’t allowed to be dogs: our lurcher does not think your dog is a rabbit. However, your little dog who is wriggling and wagging does want to play with our boy and might actually have fun running around if you’d just let it…

Finally, here’s a plea for the humble hound. They make fantastic family pets (but rubbish guard dogs due to their gentle natures, although I suppose you might still have the deterrent factor) and can commonly be found at rescue centres. Indeed, there are several hound-specific charities which specialise in rehoming former racers and related breeds. The Retired Greyhound Trust is one of the largest of these, with multiple branches across the UK. For more info on rehoming greyhounds and lurchers, Dogs Trust has some great advice.

Review: Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin

knightley and son

Having been very behind with blogging of late, I will be publishing a series of mini reviews to help me catch up. This quirky middle grade mystery is the first.

The once highly in-demand detective Alan Knightley has just woken up after an unexplained incident kept him asleep for four years. While he was out cold, his son, Darkus, took it upon himself to read of all his dad’s old cases, and he’s learned a lot about the art of detection. It’s a good thing too—because suddenly the duo find themselves caught up in a crazy conspiracy that involves a group of villainous masterminds (who keep appearing and then vanishing), some high-speed car chases (that will have everyone fastening their seat belts), and a national, bestselling book with the power to make people do terrible, terrible things. But because Alan is still suffering the effects of his coma, he tends to, well, fall asleep at the worst possible moments, Meaning that young Darkus might just have to solve this mystery . . . by himself.

[text from Goodreads]

I enjoyed this rather madcap mystery, marketed at a middle grade audience. The plot is quite complex, with secret societies, conspiracy theories and family issues. There is plenty of action in the second half of the novel, where the pace picks up considerably. It’s definitely a book that can be enjoyed by adults as well (perhaps as a shared read), and there are aspects which I suspect most children would miss – for example, the book “The Secret” is hilariously satirised and used as a hypnotic weapon. Overall, I would recommend it to young readers who are keen on mysteries, secrets and conspiracies with a generous splash of humour and irreverence.

Review: Cracked by Eliza Crewe

Cracked-144dpiMeet Meda. She eats people.

Well, technically, she eats their soul. But she totally promises to only go for people who deserve it. She’s special. It’s not her fault she enjoys it. She can’t help being a bad guy. Besides, what else can she do? Her mother was killed and it’s not like there are any other “soul-eaters” around to show her how to be different. That is, until the three men in suits show up.

They can do what she can do. They’re like her. Meda might finally have a chance to figure out what she is. The problem? They kind of want to kill her. Before they get the chance Meda is rescued by crusaders, members of an elite group dedicated to wiping out Meda’s kind. This is her chance! Play along with the “good guys” and she’ll finally figure out what, exactly, her ‘kind’ is.

Be careful what you wish for. Playing capture the flag with her mortal enemies, babysitting a teenage boy with a hero complex, and trying to keep one step ahead of a too-clever girl are bad enough. But the Hunger is gaining on her.

The more she learns, the worse it gets. And when Meda uncovers a shocking secret about her mother, her past, and her destiny… she may finally give into it.

(Text from publisher’s website)

Cracked review aagLike the sound of that blurb? I did and I was not disappointed. This book is for you if you like your urban fantasy sassy and somewhat dark.  I whipped through this novel, alternately gasping in shock and laughing out loud at Meda’s observations on the journey of discovery she finds herself on. Meda is a fabulous creation: definitely no ‘cleaner than clean’ hero protagonist, she is complicated, intriguing and more than a little scary, although she does of course have morals about whose soul she will eat.

There is some gory description in the book, so it’s not for the very young or faint-hearted, but I wouldn’t classify it as a horror as it isn’t written to scare. Being presented from Meda’s often rather inhuman point of view results in some original descriptions and commentary on events, as well as allowing us close access to her thoughts and feelings as she spends time with the crusaders to try to learn more about her kind.

The awkward situation of Meda’s infiltration of the very group who will happily wipe out her kind is exploited brilliantly – both for dramatic/emotional tension and for laughs. For all its mayhem and action, this is a very funny book and I would readily recommend it to fans of smart-talking urban fantasy. I’m sticking to the UF description as, although some of it does take place in an alternative society, it’s definitely a contemporary setting in our world (rather than a completely invented world or the eternal medieval society of some high fantasy).

Episode two in the series, Crushed, will be out in August. I’m keen to read it and see what Meda will do next.

Thanks to Strange Chemistry for providing a review copy via Netgalley.

Little Flame Review: Opal Moonbaby Forever by Maudie Smith

Today I am introducing a new feature here at the hearthfire: Little Flame Reviews. These are written by my youngest daughter, currently aged 10. Today she is reviewing the final instalment in a series that we have both loved: Maudie Smith’s Opal Moonbaby series.

opal moonbaby foreverMartha’s best friend is an alien. Opal Moonbaby can move things with her eyes, make popcorn fountains, and travel all over the world in her very own spaceship. Martha can’t imagine life without her.

But Opal’s time on Earth is almost at an end. They have one final summer together. So why is Opal acting so strangely all of a sudden?

A madcap story of friendship, fun – and aliens! If you love Jacqueline Wilson, Cathy Cassidy or Liz Kessler, you’ll love reading about Opal Moonbaby.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was very little flame review logounexpected what happened and I could read it again and again and yet still never get bored. I thought it was well written and had a beautiful ending. I loved the twist at the end! I would most DEFINITELY recommend this anyone, any age as although it is aimed at children, it can be enjoyed by many different ages too!

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I agree wholeheartedly with Little Flame here. This book concludes the series beautifully and I would strongly recommend it to any child of 8+. I love the gentle way it incorporates Martha’s worries about her mother’s new relationship – a well-tackled common challenge for children – as well as developing Opal and Martha’s relationship. Finally, I was happy to see Garnet (Opal’s pet mingle) playing a bigger role in this book than the last one. We’re massive Garnet fans in this house!

If you haven’t read the earlier Opal Moonbaby books and we’ve piqued your interest, we’d really recommend going back to the first in the series, Opal Moonbaby. Here‘s my review and the publisher’s page is here.

You may have noticed that above I’m also introducing another new feature: a review at-a-glance. I’ve become a bit stale in blogging lately so I thought I’d try something different.

Opal Moonbaby Forever is out now from Orion Children’s Books. We are grateful to the publisher for providing us with a review copy.

edited to sort out image placement :)

Personal blog: mostly bookish, plus some dogs, feminism and whatever else occurs.