27 October 2013

Cinder/Scarlet - Marissa Meyer

Welcome to the world, hundreds of years into the future. It has seen World Wars 3 and 4, it has introduced androids into the mainstream, it has discovered another race that is living on the moon and for the last 15 years it has seen a deadly plague wipe out thousands of people.

Cinder is a mechanic and a cyborg; a second-class citizen looked at with disdain, but she is the best mechanic in New Beijing. One day, Cinder is working in her stall when she receives an unexpected guest; the crown prince, Kai, venturing out of the palace to find someone to fix the royal android. No more spoilers! What happens next is an awe-inspiring and in places heart-breaking adventure for Cinder, culminating in a tense finale where the truth finally comes out. Did I guess it? Yeah, but not too far ahead of time.

In book number two we meet Scarlet, a girl living in the south of France with her grandmother. That is, until her grandmother is kidnapped by a vicious gang. A mysterious street-fighter named Wolf soon comes into the picture, and it turns out he is more involved than Scarlet first thought. Although she doesn't trust him, she enlists his help when she realises he'll be of some use. This book is even bigger than the last, with new revelations about the Lunars and their disturbing abilities, a few new characters to add more depth to the story, and some explanation as to Cinder's back-story, the first clue having been found out in the last few pages of Cinder.

Considering Cinder was written in just a month, Meyer has a really well developed sense of both her characters and her plots, building the back-story well in advance of the other characters coming into play in their own books. She began with a simple idea; a sci-fi fairy-tale, but has built it into a full-on save-the-world type story that entirely transcends the original fairy tales. With each book you read, the story seems to get bigger and more intriguing - answering your questions but in turn giving you new ideas to think on.

The characters are all likable, and they are all very well built, with their own specific traits, habits and flaws. I love the fact that Cinder isn't perfect or particularly beautiful, unlike her fairy-tale counterpart, and Scarlet's determination to find her grandmother, no matter how terrifying her situation is, is inspiring. Yes, the second book, Scarlet, is more hard-core, and the bad guys get even scarier.

These two books have it all; romance, action, complexity, futuristic settings and a hint of the other-worldly. Cress, the next Lunar chronicle out in 2014, is surely going to be even better!

9.5 out of 10

20 October 2013

The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson

It has been three hundred years since the end of the events in the Mistborn Trilogy, and our previous heroes have fallen into myth and religion. The powers of Allomancy and Feruchemy still go on though, and the new society they built is on the brink of modernity with the invention of electricity. But society has become corrupt once again, and there are few people who still keep the peace.

 Lord Waxillium, our protagonist, is one of those law-keepers. He is an Allomancer and a Feruchemist, able to push on metals and store his weight, a very useful combination. He has been forced back to the city from the roughs due to the death of a relative and it is now his duty to look after the estate left to him. But Wax is much more interested in patrolling the streets, looking for trouble, than the life of an aristocrat.

When Wax learns about the mysterious Vanishers stealing train cargo, he tries to resist investigating, but when a friend from the roughs turns up on his doorstep and his fiancee-to-be is kidnapped, it all gets a little too close for comfort.

The original series was really gripping and wonderfully complex, and this book is no exception, despite being much smaller and quite separate in terms of the story-line. I would not say that this novel could stand alone, though. You definitely need to read the Mistborn books first to understand the language used and the way that Allomancy and Feruchemy work. However, the links to the previous events of this world are very nicely incorporated and you even get a nice surprise at the end of the book. The world its-self is as well-drawn as ever, and you really get a sense of place and an image of where you are.

The way that policing and electricity are involved are very interesting, as we never truly got quite the sense of time and place that we have in this book from the previous ones. Here, we can imagine a world not so different from our own. It shows exactly how the world has evolved and exactly where it is lacking. Still, the focus is more on the action than the growth of the community, and on personal growth for that matter.

In fact, we don't see a large amount of personal growth from our protagonist, but since it is a rather short book, I did not expect to. While he does learn a few things along the way, his growth is outshone by that of Lady Marasi, who managed to come to terms with her near kidnap and all the fighting relatively quickly. The best character of all was Wayne, Wax's right-hand-man from the roughs. He brought all the comedy and fun to the book, and his conversations with Wax are extremely enjoyable to read. He also has a very useful power combination. I loved the way that Allomancy and Feruchemy have been combined to create some awe-inspiring powers, therefore also increasing the complexity of the world.

Sanderson's writing style is a little bit less easy to read in this book, but the story and the characters are still as compelling as ever. A lovely companion book, and one that has clear potential for a sequel, should he ever think one up - you become really rather interested in Wax's marriage prospects. Fans of the Mistborn series will be in love once more. 8 out of 10.

Image: booksmugglers.com

7 October 2013

Throne of Glass - Sarah J. Maas

Celaena Sardothien is Ardalan's most infamous and feared assassin. She has spent the last year in the salt mines of Endovier after being betrayed and captured; a death sentence to most, but she has miraculously survived. Now the crown prince has dragged her out of one hell and into another; a competition to become the hated King's champion (a kinder word for his personal assassin) and eventually win her freedom. However, the palace, the prince and her captor (the moody captain of the guard) are not as they first appear. Instead, she has something new to worry about; something evil is lurking n the palace, ripping competitors apart in the night. Celaena has to act before she becomes the next corpse.

Told in third person, from the viewpoints of Celaena, Dorian (the Prince) and Chaol (the Guard), Throne of Glass throws you straight into the story, at the moment where Celaena is being freed from her prison. We are intrigued from the start as there are already questions that need answering; How did she get there in the first place? Who betrayed her? How did she end up as an assassin? The plot carries you along at a steady speed throughout; nothing happens too fast or too slowly and everything is there for a reason. Unfortunately, the twists are very easy to see coming and it would have benefited the author not to sow quite as many seeds as to the plot of the second book.

Our protagonist is a strange character; she seems at odds with herself most of the time.. her assassin training giving way to a much more materialistic and silly girl. Despite that, she is quite likeable, funny and easy to empathise with even though she is a killer. The main worry here is that she actually doesn't seem like an assassin - there is one killing in the entire book and although her fighting is well described, her thoughts and actions are much too normal. The emphasis of the book actually divides its-self a bit too evenly between her relationships with other people and her adventures, fighting and planning.

This doesn't make the book any less entertaining, though. In fact, it only makes you like her more as you discover she isn't as heartless and cold as you think. It seems that most appearances are deceiving in this book, as many prejudices about characters turn out to be wrong, including your own.

The most interesting part for me was the competition; the sizing up of competitors, their alliances and the tests they undergo. I would have liked to see a lot more of this as some of the tests were just skipped over in favour of developing the love triangle. As brilliant and human the depictions of each relationship was, I could have done with a bit more action.

The story carries on in Crown of Midnight, and it has four prequels attached to give background information, which unfortunately I have not read; The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, The Assassin and the Desert, The Assassin and the Underworld, The Assassin and the Empire. The story has a lot of plot points that are unexplained, and I am sure these novellas go a long way towards covering what is references in the book. Looking to the future, there are very clear plot-lines to develop, and I hope to read about political warfare, actual warfare, lots of assassinations and a few difficult decisions for our antihero.

I read this very quickly as was always yearning to read more. Gripping and interesting, but the main character was lacking ferocity.

8 out of 10

Beautiful cover image taken from infinity-of-time.blogspot

5 October 2013

Pitch Perfect

Sometimes you wonder exactly what goes on in a room when a film is being thought up. I often make up those conversations in my head, and I reckon the one for Pitch Perfect went a bit like this;

"Oh, I know what will work right now! People love Glee, right?? Let's make a film version!"
"Yeah! But let's make it at Uni to appeal to a larger audience"
"Yeah! And Bridesmaids was pretty popular recently, let's add some of the humour from that into it!"
"Yeah!" Everyone nods in agreement.
This, I believe, is how Pitch Perfect came into being.

So anyway, the story is that Beca (Anna Kendrick, Twilight, Scott Pilgrim) is being forced to go to University by her dad, but really she just wants to jet off to L.A. and be a music producer. After being cornered in the shower by a member of the all-girls a capella group, she eventually joins and tries to shake things up a bit. The group is full of misfits (each have their own, sometimes pretty weird, personalities and quirks) and they really don't sound good. That is, until they all learn to work together. Queue lots of singing (Anna Kendrick is really good!), a fair bit of choreography and a lot of hideous word-play on the words 'a capella'.

This could have easily been an utterly terrible film, but it wasn't; there was enough of a plot, romance and interest to keep the film from going back to its cheesy roots. Instead of being overly happy, whiny or corny (see Glee), it actually provided us with a realistic viewpoint of a group of girls struggling with issues and trying to achieve something. There was character development in a few characters and comedy provided mostly by Rebel Wilson (who was pretty good considering I loathed her character in Bridesmaids). Oh, and look out for the competition commentators because they are hilarious.

This is a really entertaining film to watch (OK, one or two moments verge on going too far in the gross and cheesy categories) and even the boyfriend found it funny! Good songs, great vocals and all in all very enjoyable.

9 out of 10.


4 October 2013

The Glass Books of the Dreameaters - G.W. Dahlquist

Miss Temple is just a high-class woman making her way in Victorian-era London, but when her fiancee Roger suddenly severs their engagement, she takes it upon herself to find out exactly why. The story starts off a little slow, but soon it turns into a complex and thrilling plot which is full of intrigue, and all of it links back to Roger and the mysterious glass books in the title.

Phew! What a read! The book lasts for a marathon-like 800(ish) pages, switching between the viewpoints of our three protagonists; Miss Temple, Dr Svenson (a German officer initially trying to keep a wayward Prince out of trouble) and Cardinal Chang (a mercenary hired to kill an influential man, only to find him already dead). These three unsuspecting heroes eventually team up and together take a stand against the group whose sinister 'process' seems to have stolen people's souls, including Roger's.

As you can already fathom, there are a lot of characters to get your head around in this book. Not only are you trying to piece together which members of the Cabal are really in charge, but which ones the protagonists have each encountered and who has allegiances to whom. The result is that it takes a long time to fully grasp what on earth is happening and it can create confusion when names or situations are mentioned but you cannot place them.

The idea of inadvertent heroes facing off against an evil group isn't all that new. In fact, the general story is quite reminiscent of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker, yet another steampunk novel, but the complexity of the plot and the idea of the indigo clay and its' properties were  impressive. A few questions remain as to how the glass and the alchemical equipment works during the processes and how the clay is made into glass and gas. Maybe the next two books will offer better explanations and descriptions of both of these aspects.

As for the characters, they are extremely well drawn; each of the cabal members have their own reasons for acting as they do and how they choose their alliances. Even some characters that seem harmless throughout have secret agendas. Out heroes also each have interesting back-stories, some more in depth than others, and they go through differing character arcs. Miss Temple, being someone who is not used to action or adventure, let alone wielding weapons against strong enemies, goes through the biggest transformation and yet somehow retains the sense of self that we see in the first chapter.

The writing style is very like most Victorian books, where every element of what happens is described in detail and the plot moves slowly and steadily. Some of you may find this a bit demanding and even slightly dull. I felt I needed events to move more quickly to keep my attention up.

Expect a lot of action, and lot of things going on at the same time and a fair amount of confusion in places. Also, as a disclaimer, this book is also quite provocative and some may feel uncomfortable reading those parts in public. All in all, the book is a good one, a long adventure and an excellent idea, though you may find yourself drifting off if you are reading to late at night. Despite the fact that the book could have done with some editing, I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the series (pictured below).

7 out of 10.

Image from gaskella.wordpress

This book is available as a serial on your kindle, but I would recommend buying the whole book as you can then flick through to parts you can't recall properly. It is a little bit daunting, but it is much easier to keep the plot in your mind this way.

Thank you to Penguin for giving me the opportunity to read this book.