Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

What if fairy tales were real?

I recently discovered the author Zoe Marriott. I had not come across her writing before and The Swan Kingdom was my first of her fantasy stories. Firstly I have to highlight how utterly thrilled I was that this book was standalone. I love fantasy but often I am reluctant to read some of them as they require a certain amount of commitment to get through a whole series. It was easy to pick up The Swan Kingdom knowing I wouldn't have to read another epic series. 

This book was not quite what I was expecting it to be. Influenced tenuously by the six swans fairy-tale the story brings together magic and romance in a beguiling tale. The story focuses on Alexandra, the ugly-duckling of her family, much loved by her mother and brothers but forgotten and unloved by her father. Nurtured in her magical abilities by her mother she has a power connected with the earth and is able to use herbs and the Enaid to do minor spells. Unfortunately these abilities do not serve her well when her mother is murdered by a mysterious creature and her father is spell bound by a potentially dangerous woman called Zela. Her brothers missing and herself exiled she must find her way back to the Kingdom to save her home, land and family. On her way she meets Gabriel, the quintessential love interest who aids her in a her quest. 

Now the premise seems relatively straight forward but it is delivered in a rather convoluted way that made some parts quite difficult to follow. I personally found the start slow and it took me a while to really hit my reading stride in the story. Furthermore some parts are quite predictable and I found the author gave a little bit too much away in her hints so some mystery was removed. However, the plus side is that this story had some very well written parts that gave depth to the world and created some unique magical elements. I think in truth if the book had been longer and explained some bits a bit more clearly it would have been a superb read. I think Marriott wanted to get to the action in her story so fast she just forgot to explain things slowly so we really understood what she was trying to convey. 

Not a bad debut fantasy story and one for those whole love witches that stick to traditional folklore type magic. 

Spell-binding in places, just try not to loose your way. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Everybody gets to be supermodel gorgeous. What could be wrong with that? 

I took the risk and went back into the Dystopian genre for a book that since it's re-cover has really intrigued me.

The story revolves around Tally. We meet her when she is still an Ugly, she is yet to have the operation that will turn her Pretty. I must admit the concept is a handful. Society has deemed that to ease violence and aggression they will perform an operation on teenagers at 16 which will turn them Pretty. The operation itself is pretty hard-going and sounds pretty ridiculous and would probably be more likely to kill a person then make them beautiful but the operation is just a means to an end in the story. Tally desperately wants to be Pretty. She has been dreaming of what she will look like for so long that when her new friend Shay tells her she is running away because she doesn't want to be a Pretty she is gob-smacked. Her sadness for the loss of her friends is huge but she doesn't realise that this could spell the end of her chances of becoming Pretty as well. Manipulated by the sinister Specials she is sent to follow Shay and help locate the other resistors. If she doesn't then she will never get the chance to become a Pretty. What she discovers however, may change her mind about something she has desired for so long.

It's another oppressive society and it is far-fetch one and I was not a huge fan of Tally as a character. For me she was very fickle and just seemed to flit from one dream to another without a lot of thought. However, I was intrigued by the idea of society dictating what is Pretty and what they really did to people through the Pretty operation. A science-fiction dystopian story that made me need to read the next in the series even though I wasn't sure if I liked the characters I did still enjoy the book. One thing that grated on me and might bug other readers was the use of 'slang' so constantly that it got to a point of annoyance. Referring to something as 'Bubbly' drove me a bit mad and it does get worse in the second book.

I would recommend this for readers who have struggled to get into the Hunger Games but really want some easy to read Dystopian fiction. If you get passed the little niggles with the characters and language then it has actually got some really good concepts and science fiction material in there you just have to brush off the other elements.

A younger reader dystopian story that has a unique concept

Monday, 5 May 2014

Half Bad by Sally Green

A fantasy coming-of age story that wraps itself around you and pulls you in. You have to be a fan of first person narrative to really get this book. Nathan delivers his tale in a punchy fashion flitting back and forth between past and present. It’s an off-beat story in style but I really enjoyed that aspect of it.

Nathan has lived in a cage since he was 14; he is there because of his parents. In a world full of witches and fains he is still unique. He is what the council fear because he could be good or evil. Does he take after his good White Witch mother or does he share the traits of his Black Witch father more. The council do not know, they cannot decide on his code but one thing they do know is they need him.  They need him to destroy the father he has never met. So they train him, push him and even brand him trying to turn him into that weapon. Yet he is not to be manipulated, he is strong, defiant and he must find who he is. So begins his journey of escape and discovery. He seeks out Mercury, the one who eats boys to give him three gifts, to help him discover what he is capable of.

For a debut novel I think its an ambitious plot and one that I have found some of my teen readers fail to grasp (hence 3 star rating). It’s not overly complicated it is just flits along a bit fast for some of the younger teens. However ambitious as it is Green delivers. Yes it is another set-up book and for me I did not feel like it finished due to this but at the same time I am intrigued to read the sequel.  Cleverly the main action of the story takes place in a few days the flashbacks to the past give insight into the character and make the plot much richer.

I personally loved the Hunters! One of the things I sometimes think is a bit soft in young adult fantasy is the bad guys. These Hunters however mean business they are brutal and actually pose a real threat and are not some easy push overs. For a gritty coming-of-age story that is set in a well crafted fantasy world this is must read. 

Impressive for a debut novel, hard to grasp in places but an gripping read.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Paper Towns by John Green

Margo always loved mysteries. And in everything that came afterward, I could never stop thinking that maybe she loved mysteries so much that she became one.

If you do NOT want to cry your eyes out but want to read something by the ever talented John Green then I would advise you to hastily go to your nearest library and borrow the thought-provokingly story of Paper Towns. This story was not what I was expecting after the tear-fest that was Fault in Our Stars. Instead this is a fast paced story with some very profound revelations.

The story is told from the point of view of Quentin who has known and loved the enigmatic Margo since he was a young. Their friendship has become distance until one night he sees her outside his bedroom window. From their Margo takes him through a hysterically written 11 set plan to enact revenge on several members of her social group. However, Margo does not turn up to school the next day, or the next and as her time away grows Quentin begins to follow a trail of clues desperately searching for her. As he searches he begins to learn more and more about Margo, who she is and who she pretends to be. He begins to fall deeper in love with her and becomes desperate to find her.

Quentin and Margo are incredibly different but in the first few chapters we get to know their individual idiosyncrasies really well.  I personally feel John Green writes really wonderful male characters. They have the right balance of personality, looks and wit that I love. I found myself laughing out loud at the way Quentin had phrased things and I loved pretty much all the scenes with him and his friends. However, I didn't like Margo and that was part of my issue with the story. I had kind of been hoping for a slightly less poignant more gritty ending then was delivered and for me I didn't really feel that Margo as a character made much sense, but I guess that may have been the point. Margo is quite egotistical but unsure all at the same time. At 18 she chooses a life that makes little sense for a vibrant outgoing individual. The total abandonment of her family and friends came far too naturally to her and for me I felt she manipulated Quentin throughout the book (even when she wasn't there). I know how Quentin felt; I believed he genuinely loved her. However, I am sceptical about how Margo truly felt for him. 

Having said all that I was gripped. Maybe that is because from start to finish the first person narrative is brilliant. So even though I was not a big fan of Margo the fact I loved listening to Quentin tell his story got me through this book in no time at all. The fast paced, quirky and pretty darn funny way that Quentin retold this tale was superb and demonstrates just what a masterpiece of a character he is. For me this story is not the story of Margo, she may drive the stories direction but for me we watch as Quentin discovers who he is and decides who he wants to be.

If you want to read John Green but don’t want to cry your eyes out then Paper Towns is for you!