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October Books Round Up

I didn’t have a whole lot of time to get around to this in September, what with the whole wedding thing and all... but now I have the time again! There's a bit of everything; dystopia, magic, rebellions, and supervillains. Here’s what I read in October and a few of my thoughts.


Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig and illustrated by Chris Mould



Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake


This was a fun YA fantasy novel (the first in a trilogy) about three sisters vying for the throne. In this mysterious island setting, magic is a powerful force. And like in a lot of fantasy, Three Dark Crowns has different schools of magic. There are poisoners, naturalists, elementals and then the much rarer war trait. In every generation the queen of the island gives birth to her children, most often, triplet girls. At five, they are taken away from their birthplace, separated from their mother and each other, and placed with a foster family and taught to wield magic according to their innate ability. At sixteen, they will each starting formally courting suitors to be their consorts, but more importantly, after the Beltane festival, they will have a year in which one of the queens must kill the others and claim the throne.


There is Katharine, a poisoner queen, raised by the Arrons, a family of poisoners. Their queens have ruled for several generations and their hopes of establishing a dynasty rest on Katharine. But... her magic hasn’t yet appeared. Then there’s Arsinoe, the naturalist. Her magic hasn’t appeared either and she is the obvious underdog. Then there’s Mirabella, the elemental. Her powers arrived young and they have only grown stronger. But she becomes more and more unwilling to raise a hand against her sisters...


The setting and the premise were interesting and really caught my attention, and I loved that this novel was set in a matriarchal society, without making a big deal about it. However, the character development wasn’t all I hoped it would be. Katharine was the most interesting in her development, from timid and weak to determined and with a spine of steel, but it took her the entire novel to get there. Arsinoe was the weakest character of them, and it didn’t help that her sidekick (a girl called Jules with a mountain cat as a familiar) was much more interesting than she was.


For me, too much of the narrative revolved around the romantic entanglements in the lead up to the Beltane festival. This slowed down the pace of the novel enormously. I did enjoy the political struggle between the Arrons, who support Katharine, and the Temple, who supports Mirabella. But there could have been more of this. At the end of this novel, I was left with the overwhelming impression that the scene had only just been set. The rest of this trilogy is already out and I’m curious to see what Blake does with her characters now that she has them in a more interesting place than where they began.



Vicious by V.E. Schwab


My favourite of the month by far. The sequel, Vengeful, has just launched and naturally I heard a lot about it on Twitter. Since I’ve loved Schwab’s books in the past, I just had to get around to this one. And it really didn’t disappoint.


Victor and Eli went to university together. They were friends. Ten years later, Victor has just got out of prison and they want to kill each other. The story revolves around their conflict, their shared past, and superpowers. There is such a thing the world of this novel as EOs. ExtraOrdinaries. Everyone has heard of them, but not that many people really take it too seriously. Eli has a theory about how EOs are made and Victor, determined to maintain his position at the top of the class, lends a hand. Things spiral quite quickly from there.


The dynamic between Victor and Eli is one of the things that makes this novel excellent. Schwab masterfully controls the tension and the flow of information to keep the reader constantly wondering and constantly on edge. One of the ways she does this is through her frequent switching between the past and the present. It is cinematic, in a way, but she never loses control of the narrative or allows the reader to get lost or misplace important details.


Schwab also manages to give Victor, the protagonist, real development as a person without sacrificing the cynicism and menace that makes him such an appealing character. Schwab writes appealing but not-quite-likeable characters very well. The kind of person you love to read about, but would never want to meet.


I’m onto Vengeful now. I’d recommend these to absolutely anybody!



The Book of M by Peng Shepherd


This one was great, but it took me a while. It’s not just long, it’s also quite heavy in its concept and I found myself unable to read very much of it in one go. That said, I enjoyed it very much. It’s a dystopian novel about a world in which people’s shadows suddenly disappear. And soon after their shadows disappear, they start forgetting. They forget their families, their names, but more unusual things too, like how to read, that trees don’t talk, and that the moon isn’t supposed to shine quite so brightly. And when the shadowless forget these things, they become reality.


It’s a great concept and Shepherd executes it beautifully. The chapters switch between different characters; Max, who has recently lost her shadow and leaves her husband behind, afraid of what she might do to him if she forgets too much; Ory, her husband, who pursues her; the amnesiac, who still has his shadow but lost all of his memory in an accident before shadows started disappearing; and Naz, a former Olympian-in-training in archery who, like everybody else, is just trying to survive in the world. Shepherd maintains the different perspectives well, not giving away too much about their connections to each other too early on, but still ensuring the reader is invested enough in the story to keep going.


I love that Shepherd includes so many strange and unexpected details about her post-forgetting world. When a person can forget literally anything and that becomes reality, the possibilities are endless. One of my few criticisms is that it’s very sombre and some occasional levity wouldn’t go amiss. All the same, the writing is lovely. Even without a strong investment in the characters, the concept of this novel is strong enough to maintain interest all by itself. Shepherd feeds the mystery of the disappearing shadows and the process of forgetting to constantly raise new questions. This works well because it is clear that Shepherd knows the rules of her world very well, but never allows the characters, or the reader, to have all the information. There was never a point at which I felt Shepherd was trying to stretch the rules she’d created to make her narrative work.


To me, The Book of M is the ideal kind of book to read just one chapter at a time. It’s intriguing and imaginative, but complex and, at times, devastatingly sad.



Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi


This was another YA read that I’d heard positive things about. To start with, it was great to read a fantasy novel that stepped away from medieval Europe. Adeyemi’s novel has all the good stuff you’d expect to find in fantasy; magic MacGuffins, tyrannical rulers, lots of schools of magic, and some solid questing elements. The fact that Adeyemi places all these tropes within a non-white and non-European context inspired by West African mythology and Yoruba culture gives the whole premise of this series new life.


The story centres around Zelie, a diviner, which means that she has the ability to do magic once she reaches the age of thirteen. Or at least, she would if magic hadn’t disappeared a number of years prior. When magic disappeared, King Saran ordered the Raid and every single maji was put to death, and the surviving members of the diviner community have been crushed and oppressed ever since. Zelie’s mother was among those killed. Along with Zelie, there is Amari, daughter of King Saran, who abruptly decides to help the diviner community by stealing a scroll that promises the return of magic... And there’s Inan, Amari’s brother, Captain of the City Guard and the one appointed to return Amari, and the scroll, to the palace as quickly as possible.


There’s a lot of great stuff in this novel. There are forbidden romances (a little predictable, but lots of fun all the same), reversals, betrayals, intriguing side characters and some interesting character arcs. There is some powerful writing here too. There are some clear parallels to the murder of numerous black people by the U.S. police and reading the novel with this in mind adds a whole other aspect to the story. Adeyemi writes passionately about this in her author’s note at the back of the book. The themes of colorism and racism are strong in this novel since diviners are physically very distinctive, with dark skin and white hair. They are a group feared by the majority should magic ever return. The whole world is stacked against them.


One of the details I enjoyed was Adeyemi’s animals. She adapted real names to give a clear image of the creature, whilst adding in extra details (usually horns and an increase in size) to avoid clumsy exposition. Lionaires, panthenaires, and foxers are just a couple of examples. Simple, but effective. This is also the first in a series of novels, but Adeyemi manages to make the opening novel more than just an exercise in establishing her world. It has a strong plot in its own right, gives the reader a few answers, but keeps creating more questions. The only thing that truly bothered me was that I felt the ending was a bit abrupt. I would have liked a little more explanation to round off the story, but I realise that the sudden ending may have been necessary to lead into the sequel.


In short, Adeyemi re-imagines a lot of the tropes of YA and fantasy to produce something original, captivating, and very appropriate for the world we live in. I think we could all do with a bit more inspirational story-telling at the moment.



The Truth Pixie by Matt Haig and illustrated by Chris Mould


I love Matt Haig’s writing and I’d seen a lot of photos of parts of the text on Twitter, along with many, many people saying how much they and their kids loved it. So I decided to pick it up, because why not? And then I was stuck trying to get to sleep one night, but my brain wouldn’t shut up and let me rest, so I decided to calm it down with a bedtime story. Long story short, I can confirm that this is a bedtime story that works for adults as well as children.


The story is cute, but moving and emotionally charged. Like all of Haig’s writing, everything in it is very sincere. There are definitely a few key moments that adults will be able to understand on several levels. Personally, I particularly enjoyed the moment with the troll...


Part of what I loved about The Truth Pixie is the emphasis on being honest with children. And that includes that it’s okay to be sad and acknowledging that there will be sad things and nobody can stop that, but that sad things don’t make goodness go away forever. With anxiety in young people on the rise, not to mention troubling international news, I think it’s important to encourage this kind of self-awareness and acceptance.


Chris Mould’s art is also adorable. It’s beautiful and sweet without being saccharine. I now have a very strong desire to go away and read the rest of Haig and Mould’s books; Father Christmas and Me, A Boy Called Christmas and The Girl Who Saved Christmas. It’s all just feeding into my Christmas excitement!



And that's it for October!

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© 2018 by Anouchka Harris