Ravencry Called to me from the Depths of Grimdark

ravencry*Received this book off Netgalley in exchange for an honest review- but the crazy gushing you’re about to see is all me*

Well, that’s what I call a sequel! If you remember back to my review from last year, I was *blown away* by the McDonald’s debut Blackwing and was so psyched to pick up an ARC for the sequel… but also naturally nervous because what if it didn’t deliver on the second instalment? I really shouldn’t have worried- because the Raven’s Mark series is shaping up to be a sharp venture into grimdark fantasy!

This begins with a mystery that flies in the face of what we already knew- instantly showing us that this will be different from its predecessor. We then journey with Ryalt into the unknown, travelling deeper into the heart of the Misery. Much like traditional fairy tales where a character treks out into vast unknowable nature- losing pieces of themselves along the way and undergoing a transformation- the trip alters the protagonist irrevocably. Yet here it is all the more traumatic and vividly grotesque. Psychologically and physically it breaks down his character, until he admits “I just wasn’t the same as when I’d gone in”- and we as the reader have changed along with him.

I was sucked straight back into sludge-grey world of the Misery and the Deep Kings. The only anchor was Ryhalt Galharrow’s enigmatic voice, which balanced out this grim vision with chuckleworthy asides. And even as the main character has more prestige and respectability, there’s no way a shall we say less than level-headed hero can wake up and get on with the next book without being drenched in regrets and grief. Ryhalt is most certainly haunted by recent ghosts- especially since there were some very real manifestations of the Bright Lady and a cult that rises up in her wake.

Complex and action packed, the non-stop whirring of the plot takes you through darkness into phos-induced light. The reintroduction of the villain, in particular, felt like we dived into the flesh and bones of the story. Through the amazing twists and turns, there are hints of further intrigues, making me curious as to where it’s going after the enigmatic end.

The level of imagination here is incredible. Like the first, it’s a richly dense book, with terrifying darkness and an unsettling atmosphere. There is an uncanny, gothic element to the magic, which adds tremendously to the world building.

I was gripped by the writing as well. Not only is it creepy, but there’s also a build up to create a sense of dread. My kindle copy was covered in highlights- because, man there’s some effing expertise to the writing. One masterstroke, for instance, was to add Shakespearean technique of giving logic to the ravings of a madman. Phases like “save face” are given multiple meanings. The writing is, to be frank, bloody good (emphasis on the blood- there’s quite a bit of it!)

Yet Ravencry does not simply serve up a dish of graphic entertainment- it will tear at your heart strings and open up your innards. Characters don’t just grow up like Amaira- they ripped from their childhood and thrust into the adult world. Stories like that of Nenn’s aren’t just expanded- they are pushed to the limits- and what happens to them is too awful for words. In the end, this was as emotional as the first:

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So have you read this series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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Casting Light On And I Darken

and I darkenAt first, I enjoyed the fact that the main character was a little savage. It seemed like an interesting choice to cast Dracula as a girl– after all this could add a creepy dimension to the legend- but only for a little while… because this turns out to be a big ask when it comes to the suspension of disbelief. There was just so much cognitive dissonance in making Dracula a girl. For starters, she’d be a valueless hostage and no one would much care what happened to her. And then there’s the second issue of her overpowering tons of men and it being *totally* unrealistic- she doesn’t have superpowers, she’s much younger than them and women don’t have the same muscle density as men. There is also a reason why the whole “girl dresses up as a boy” trope exists (which of course she eventually does anyway, but not until she’s done a gazillion stupid things that would have got her teeth knocked out boy or girl). I’m sorry, but this is not something I can suspend my disbelief for in a historical setting, especially when the author constantly kept drawing my eye to the reality. It says a lot that I have an easier time buying Stoker’s blood-sucking version than this nonsense.

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What I never thought when looking at this was “this would make a very charming lady…”

Frankly, this is all made a lot worse by the fact that Vladimir Dracula is not a sympathetic historical figure, no matter how much he suffered, and making him a girl doesn’t make the character any more likeable. He’s just too much “anti” and not enough “hero”. I found it nigh on impossible to root for Lada. No matter what battle was going on, I was never interested in who lived or died. It doesn’t help that she practically crawled from the cradle with a knife in her hand and the promise she will one day kill her brother. The fact that she is always a little psycho also undermines any potential growth she could have as a villain. She doesn’t end up twisted and dark because of torture- in fact there’s none of this- apparently it’s too difficult to overpower a little girl (I swear one of these asides is gonna get someone to yell “internalised misogyny” at me, to which I say ignore biology at your own peril). Plus the story tries realllly hard to convince us that she’s sly- but she’s about as cunning as an ox throughout- I have no idea why someone didn’t just lop her head off. I think I prefer to keep to the history books for this character.

I could not pin down why Mehmed was remotely interested in Lada either. In fact, I had no idea why he even befriended them, let alone loved her. I feel like this could have been expanded upon. It was also hard to buy is piety when he had a literal harem of women- who literally get compared to stools at one point and he doesn’t object- and again I wondered how am I supposed to like this character?

Which led me onto another problem: too often it felt like this book was trying to uphold the Ottoman Empire as a paradigm of virtue. Again, sorry, this doesn’t work if you’re going to show some of the gory reality and the subjugation of other sovereign nations. This was at its worst when it presented Huma as simultaneously powerless and yet tried to make bold claims that she’s somehow powerful- such as epitomised by this quote: “You see this as a prison. But you are wrong. This is my court. This is my throne. This is my kingdom. The cost was my freedom and my body.” This presents her:

  1. Like she has a choice about entering the harem
  2. Delivered like she’s in a position of strength
  3. And yet acknowledges the price she’s paid

There’s just too much contradiction in those sentences. Maybe it would make sense if she was presented as delusional, yet it felt more like it was saying sex slavery is liberating- sarcastic yayyy! It’s an odd attempt to sanitise the past that I can’t get my head round– either it was really bad and oppressive and we move on OR it was idealistic and we move backwards. You can’t simultaneously have this “she’s not treated nicely cos she’s a woman *and* look at her kickass and break all the social conventions- it just beggars belief.

The one thing I liked was that Radu was gay and in love with Mehmed. I did look it up and allegedly it was the other way round, but either way, I enjoyed this subplot. That’s not to say I liked Radu’s character- he came across as a bit of a pansy- but he was somewhat more interesting and was at least shown to be convincing.

Despite everything I’ve said, this wasn’t a terrible book: this had an interesting narrative and there was a strong ending. It was well written and entertaining, which always makes me reluctant to be too harsh. But I just didn’t buy what it was selling. I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters and I can’t see myself reading the next one. This was sadly not for me.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Have you read this? What did you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Telling VS Showing – Differences in Style #5

“Show don’t tell” is squawked from pretty much every writerly parapet. I’ve even seen it used as a criticism in descriptive paragraphs or simply when a character thinks “I don’t like pickles” for example- which seems like an odd criticism, cos, believe it or not there are times when stating a fact is a-okay and long-winded ways of saying “I don’t like pickles” are not. Now fortunately there are some people finally waking up and realising that sometimes you need to tell and sometimes you need to show (hello Jenna Moreci). Yet since it’s such a hot topic, I thought it would be fun to address for my style series!

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Showing vs Telling Defined

Well, I thought about all the ways I could explain it and realised I could demonstrate both techniques in just two sentences from one of my favourite authors, Laini Taylor:

“Zuzana arched an eyebrow. She was a master of the eyebrow arch, and Karou envied her for it.”

The first sentence is showing, the latter is telling. What’s magnificent about this is you have a visual image to latch onto and at the same time get an emotional response. It also demonstrates a fantastic use of contrast from one sentence to the next. But if you want an even better example of showing, you’ll have to read on…

Showing Pros and Cons

Pros: showing can create some beautiful, descriptive language. It’s a fantastic method to transport the reader, allows for some emotional insight for the reader and creates tangible relationships within the story. Without any showing, the story quickly becomes very flat. With it, writing comes alive. I mean, again, look at Taylor’s description of Prague:

daughter of smoke and bone“Fairy-tale city. From the air, red rooftops hug a kink in a dark river, and by night the forested hills appear as spans of black nothing against the dazzle of the lit castle, the spiking Gothic towers, the domes great and small. The river captures all the lights and teases them out, long and wavering, and the side-slashing rain blurs it all to a dream”

Cons: still, it can be unnecessary. I’m pretty sure we’ve all read those melodramatic passages that were wayyy OTT! One piece of advice when it comes to any art form is know when to stop. I know how tempting it can be to add that one last brushstroke but step away from the canvass a moment, leave it to dry, and maybe consider you might be done.

Telling Pros and Cons

Pros: It can be used to create a very strong narrative voice and can be an interesting technique for authorial intrusion- but since this is such a contentious issue, I’ve decided to show you some classic examples:

northanger abbeyAusten: “The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity”- this is used for humour at the end of Northanger Abbey  and shows self-awareness of the novel’s construct, poking fun at the fact that you can expect a happy ending and actually breaking the fourth wall to tell the reader this.

jane eyreCharlotte Bronte: “Reader I married him”- I mean, do I even have to tell you why this is good? It’s a statement as romantic and striking as “I love you”- there’s no need to leave it up to ambiguity, especially after all the torment that has gone before.

 

eastofedenSteinbeck: “I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies. . . . And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?”- Steinbeck, in my opinion, is one of the masters of authorial intrusion. This moment is the introduction of his villain Cathy in East of Eden and provides a brilliantly stark moment of characterisation and ruminates over what it means. The author’s own struggle to find common ground with this character and actually by confessing this confusion shows the reader just how bad she is.

And there are many more reasons to use telling, such as dropping a *bombshell* and even introducing a moral. To my mind, the absolutism of the rule “show don’t tell” is pretty ludicrous when you think how well this technique can be employed. That said, there are obvious reasons to curb this impulse at times.

Cons: Obviously this can get dull if overused. And if you’re using it for shock value, *newsflash*, this will lose its power very quickly. There’s a reason it should be used sparingly.

Accounting for Differences in Taste

As always I want to draw attention to the fact there are lots of styles and techniques. Like I said earlier, the most important thing is to know when to stop, because, there are times when any technique can be too much. But the reason why I was eager to do this post is that, frankly, whenever I see one of these blanket rules, it grates on me a little. Especially if there’s plenty of evidence that this can work.

Other posts in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence

My only preference for this is “everything in moderation”- but I wonder, what do you think? Are you a stickler for the “show don’t tell” rule? Or do you prefer telling? Let me know in the comments!

Night Film Could Have Done With More *Action*

night filmAt first, the lights came down, there was a hush and I was tucked up with my popcorn… well, minus the popcorn. Point is, I was captivated by the opening to this book. I loved the way it was done and the slow build of several mysteries had me intrigued. I was shivery with anticipation and found my old squeamishness had returned as dread built. And then… the story began to lag. I was turning page after page after bored page. It did eventually pick up again, but the damage was done. A book has to justify its length and this really didn’t do that- it just felt needlessly long.

One of the biggest causes of this dull interlude was how unnecessary the tag-along characters felt. Their connections to the case felt far too tenuous and even with hints that there was more to it, I couldn’t bring myself to care for them. Least of all for the mc’s love interest which, to coin Lucinda’s phrase, may as well have been a “sexy lamp” for all the impact she had. All the characters seemed superfluous- written in and out of the story as if they were nothing more than extras or there merely to change the scene. I just couldn’t connect with any of them.

I also didn’t like being told what a genius Cordova was- over and over again. And maybe it’s unavoidable in a book about another artistic medium to have to tell how brilliant someone’s art is- but frankly it didn’t feel that way for Ash, the prodigy in the book. I simply felt her mastery flying from the page like notes gliding from a piano. I actually was far more invested in Ash- with her wonderful stage name “Ashes from the ruins”- than I ever was in anyone else. She had the command of her audience from beyond the grave.

The *fade to black* ending was somewhat enigmatic- which can work- yet in this case only served to leave me less than satisfied. I frequently felt like the book was trying to convince me how oh-so-clever it was, but actually this led to it falling flat and feeling like a waste of my time. All those spooky hints had gone nowhere and the greatness it reached for was untapped. It felt like all I’d caught were red herrings.

And what was more disappointing than anything else was how the multimedia aspects weren’t what they were cracked up to be. Having read other books with this sort of style now, I felt like these additions had to mean something. And yet, it turned out I could have skipped them and I wouldn’t have missed anything from the story. Frankly, that was a bit of a piss-take. While initially this felt like peering behind the curtain, adding to the creep-factor, eventually I realised that there really was no wizard hiding out there and the bloke pulling the levers didn’t even have the power to transport me home. I’d followed the yellow brick lane to nowhere special.

Ultimately I was letdown by this book, but for the strong start, I’m giving it:

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

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Have you read this? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

Scythe was cutting edge!

scytheWell, start with an amazing concept, add some awesome characters and an intriguing plot, and you’ll have yourself an interesting read. Scythe certainly ticked a lot of boxes for me. What was truly remarkable about it was how unique the premise felt: in a world where no one can die, the unpleasant job of population control falls to the Scythes.

I feel like this is one of those rare books where the world building lends itself directly to the premise- and boy was that aspect well done. Everything felt so well thought out, from the fact that the years are named after animals (I was happy to see the Year of the Ocelot in one diary entry!), the euphemism “gleaning” for killing was a sharp idea and the fact that a group of scythes was called an elegy (like a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens etc- get it? Anyway, I thought it was cool). I also really liked the way the Commandments for Scythes were worked out, starting with Thou Shalt Kill.

It was also cool how the book turns its blade on our own society, indicting the fact that no one reads, they just watching cat holograms (or in our case videos). And of course there was a great deal of logic to the idea that immortality would make humanity inhuman. I did like a lot of the philosophy overall. There were a few things that I thought were more questionable, such as the fact that if the Thunderhead is basically a God, and is entirely good, is this an argument for a benevolent dictator? That sort of idea makes my rebellious spirit squirm- but I guess for an answer to that, I’ll have to wait for the next book.

The characterisation was effective and done quickly. I found Citra had more hard edges, but I softened to her as the story went on. Rowan appealed to me more, especially his cleverness, and I found myself empathising with him more as he got deeper and deeper into trouble (no spoilers). The other characters were quite interesting- but the one that struck me the most was Goddard- who made an excellent villain.

I did spend a lot of time wondering where on earth the plot was going- but that’s not a bad thing, because I really didn’t see a lot of it coming. I did think that some ideas were presented and then taken away too quickly, which meant the pacing could be all over the place. And that was one of the main sticking points I had with this novel. And then of course there was the unavoidable issue with the whole premise: sometimes it feels like the stakes are very low because everyone is basically immortal. It’s a bit of a catch 22- because I really do like the concept- but I can’t deny the issue I had with it. This was offset a little by highlight for spoiler having the threat of their having to glean each other hanging over them- but for some reason I never quite felt like they were fighting to the death.

Overall though, I thought it was a great book:

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

The Social Media Tag

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Since I’m away at the moment, I wanted to give you some friendly hints of who can check out- and that’s why I’m so happy that I was tagged by my lovely friend Kat the Queen of TV, the really sweet blogger extraordinaire Beth, and the wonderful Shay who posts a lot of varied content! (who *psst* you need to check them all out) to do the Social Media Tag! I loved this the second that I saw it, although I did realise what a dilemma I was going to have narrowing it down! I also wanted to copy *so many* of Kat’s and Beth’s answers, but I thought it would be best to draw attention to some of the bloggers who hadn’t done this tag. So let’s get to it!

Instagram: A blog with a design you love

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Kelly @Another Book in the Wall– I simply love Kelly’s clean, fresh design- it’s one of those blogs that I always look at and think how gorgeous it is! I love how cohesive it is and *it’s just so pretty*!! And if you go and check her out, you’ll find that she also does such interesting discussions and thorough book reviews- I am always in love with her content!

Facebook: A blog with a friendly blogger

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Nel @Reactionary Tales– Nel is one of my favourite people online because she’s so friendly! I think she’s on maternity leave at the moment, but she’s always been fantastic at replying to comments and getting around the blogosphere. If you want to make a true friend online, Nel is who I’d push you towards! She’s so encouraging and just a lovely person, who runs a diverse and varied blog- what more could you want? Plus, she’s also a friend of all sorts of animals (not just orangutans 😉 ) and does *inspiring* and informative posts on endangered species- which I highly recommend!

Twitter: A blogger who could just write 140 characters and you would still love them

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Nicole @Thoughts on Fantasy– whatever Nicole puts out, I’m there for it. It’s always top quality and intelligent. I learn so much about fantasy when I go on her blog and she brings up topics I literally never thought of before. Honestly, if Nicole did tweets or posted pictures, I bet it would be just as magnificent!

YouTube: A blog that keeps you entertained

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Danielle @Books, Vertigo and Tea– I swear, whatever Danielle puts out, I am guaranteed to love it! Whether it’s her brilliantly done reviews, her thoughts on blogging or her Friday favourites, I’m always finding something fun to read on her site! She’s also super friendly and lovely to chat to (I swear I had such a struggle putting each of these bloggers into just one category!) so I can’t speak more highly of her!

Snapchat: A blogger who’s updates you can’t wait for

 

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Briana and Krysta @Pages Unbound– they are the kinds of bloggers who I just *have to* read every single post. And that’s because Brienne and Krysta always make TOP QUALITY content. Their discussions are always thought provoking, their reviews insightful and they have so much besides that! If you want to constantly read *THE BEST* content, then you should really hop over there and see for yourself how brilliant it is!

Tumblr: A blog which is very diverse and has variety

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Zezee @Zezee with Books– Zezee always seems to read so many different types of books and post all sorts of content, from reviews, to memes to tags- one thing’s for certain, you will never be bored by any of it! Her take is so interesting and gives me plenty to think about. She’s also brilliant at collating lots of articles and other things you should check out- I swear I always think “I’ll pop over there for ten minutes” and can easily spend so much time looking into everything she talks about! So yeah, if you want to hear about more different and diverse books, definitely go to Zezee!

Pinterest: A blog which is full of creativity and inspiration

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Dani @Perspective of a Writer– I really could have picked Dani for *any* of these questions- which is why she has to take this spot. She has *so many* different sorts of content and I am always entertained whenever I pop over there! Plus, not only is Dani’s content always AMAZING, but her aesthetic is *swoon-worthy*! I love how she’s always pushing out the boundaries, trying new things and is constantly pushing out fresh content. I am in *awe*!!

I’m also going to tag everyone I mentioned here though of course no pressure to do it! 

So do you know these bloggers? Do you agree? And do let me know if you’re gonna check them out!

Relaxing Reads!

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Recently I’ve felt the need for some serious down time. And obviously being a bookworm, I ALWAYS turn to books in my hour of need. I thought I’d share some of the book series I turn to when the going gets tough! Here’s a quick list:

Discworld– this is my go to whenever I just need to chill and have fun. These eccentric, witty and hilarious books never fail to put me in a good mood!

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Howl’s moving castle– another wacky writer that I consider every time I’m looking for some fun has to be Diana Wynne Jones. And while I grew up more on the Crestomanci series, I’ve been trying more of the Howl’s Moving Castle series later. Honestly, if you need a break from anything heavy, I recommend either of these.

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Song of the Lioness– this is one of the few series on the list I haven’t been reading lately, but I used to take these on holiday, because they are such a fun read. They’re often described as “gateway to fantasy” books and I think that title’s pretty apt. If you’re looking for fantasy, but don’t want to read anything dark, grim or grimdark, this could do the trick!

Percy Jackson and the Olympians– this one is fairly new to me. Surprisingly (and despite recommendations *for years*) I didn’t start this till about a year ago. I thought it was too young for me so didn’t continue until recently when I realised how much I missed out on this as a teen- and how great it is when you just need to chill!

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Harry Potter– Good ol’ HP has been there for me through virtually every stage of my life. It’s like turning to a good friend in my hour of need. I know many of the kinks and turns in the story, and yet, like all the best friends, it never fails to surprise me.

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Anna and the French Kiss– I certainly appreciate a good contemporary companion novel series and this one really works for me- especially the last one in the series Isla and the Happily Ever After– which… well, swoon!

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Summers of the Sisterhood– since I’m talking contemporary, let’s be honest, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. As a contemporary series, it deals with a lot of issues like family, friendship and love- all with a charming deftness that will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside (well, except for the last one- it’s my favourite, but it’s quite the change of tone- maybe save the last one for a different kind of mood!)

And that’s all for now- do you have any go-to books when you’re looking to relax? Let me know in the comment! I’d greatly appreciate all the recommendations!