Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Book Review: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Title: The Bloodprint Author: Ausma Zehanat KhanPublisher: Harper VoyagerRelease Date: October 19th 2017Synopsis: In the lands of Candour, the Talisman threaten the authority of the Council with their growing indoctrination of the masses based on their rigid, oppressive interpretation of the Claim; a text orally transmitted from generation to generation, which they have appropriated in order to gain power. Tasked by the Council to fight this is Arian, aided by companion Sinnia and young boy Wafa, who must find the Bloodprint, legendary manuscript the Claim is based on, in order to stop the Talisman and re-establish the truth. 

Review: I hate reading slumps. I get into one every now and then where I find myself wanting to sleep on the bus rather than read and that affects my connection with a book. So I came into this with a slow burn, but as my last tweet indicates, a spark that grew and grew. 

This book laid the foundations for a developing growing world story well, covering politics, religion, friendship, loyalty and love and more importantly how all are interweaved. 

Magic is always interesting to look at in a book, and this was quite an interesting system, because it was less spell-craft and more about the power of religion as a force to be reckoned with. The Claim was poetic and all encompassing and something that was known and interpreted differently by everyone. Its also something that is very topical and something I feel will be explored deeper over the books. What we saw here was how such a strong belief can be chipped away at, questioned and used in a way that you didn't understand. Religion as a power was also a great way to open the conversation without having to blatantly lay it out on the table.  

What shone for me here was the pride in the characters. Sometimes this can be a negative but here I feel it really worked. Oralist's I feel would be proud, i felt an independence and a dignity to both Arian and Sinnia, though they used this independence in very different ways. Their friendship was strong but an interesting balance where throughout the novel they are pitted against each other. I was looking at other peoples views on this and someone saw this as a negative, but for me his was a realistic dynamic and something I feel we have all experienced. The Silver Mage, and he can only be called this because it gives him the level of grandeur that I feel he deserves, has this regality and dignity but in a completely different dynamic to how I saw Arian and Sinnia. You felt the fire of their relationship and though at times it became a little repetitive, it reestablished the connection that they had and were fighting against. And Waffa dear Wafa, from a character I didn't think I'd love to one the book you couldn't do without. Every book needs a Wafa and I hope he develops into this amazing leader of a man in the coming books. 

As with a series the book left on a cliffhanger which is soooo infuriating because this tension builds and build and hit this climatic point and you don't know what to do with all that energy. but I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, you can't just leave a book like that.  

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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Book Review: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

Title: A Skinful of Shadows                      Author: Frances Hardinge                    Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books      Release Date: 21st September 2017  Synopsis: This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.And now there's a spirit inside her.The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.

Review: This was one of those books where you read the blub and go, I need to read this book, I need to know what happens! Then you see that BEAUTiful cover and you know there is something special there. 

I initialy read the sampler on Netgalley, which is blooming cheeky let me just say, because I was then left with this crippling WHAT NEXT feeling. How could you do that guys! But at the time of writing this review have now just finished the book in its entirety and have that warm tingling feeling! There was so much to love about this book and it played up to a lot of my interests. It covered History, Ghosts, witchcraft with such a strong female character! 

I do remember first reading the sample and being like what the f kinda name is Makepeace, but it made such perfect sense as the book evolved, and is perfectly historically situationally appropriate. I apologise for that sentence. I loved how this book in may ways was strong historical fiction, without actually being so, nor forcing it upon you. You got the history and the tensions that the country was facing through Makepeace's journey and the real people that this was affecting. One of the most fascinating things I love about this period is the superstitions that people help. Things like putting two dead pigeons under a dying mans feet. Who does that! But I love reading about them. It opens up the ideologies of that era in such a fantastic way makes your really think about the way the world has changed and in many ways that time was such a made up story for me, whilst actually existing...but i'm digressing. 

You very much root for Makepeace from the get go! Katherine Webber hit this on the head perfectly. Makepeace gives us these Lyra vibes. The whole thing was quite Pullman-esq, and that is a very good thing. She is a very endearing character. Strong willed, feisty. She is a survivor. She has a god moral compass and willing to stand up for what she believes in. James was this cheeky chappy, he was the perfect partner in crime, and I very much wanted to hug him rather than berate him. You understood why he did what he did, you could feel his wanting and its a feeling i think we can all relate to! The Fellmottes were a rotten lot, the perfect antithesis the story needed. Down with the Fellmottes indeed! 

Now this might be crossing into spoiler territory so if you don't want to know i'd skip this paragraph, or better yet pick up a copy finish the book and then read on. The idea of the possession of the spirits was fantastic. I also LOVVEEED the bear. They had this beautiful relationship, he gave her more bite when she needed it and I felt myself cheering at these moments. I know a bear is obviously large, but it's crazy how I actually felt the size of his presence! You really felt their connection, like they had fused into one being, and just like Makepeace only felt him when he was awake, I felt a bit like I was a spirit in her head and only sensed him when he was awake. That is some next level reading writing experience there. I didn't know where the book would go from here, but I didn't expect Makepeace to pick up a whole hoard of spirits. This took things to that next level, fleshed out the plot, gave it an extra level of depth and allows Hardinge to have some fun with her characters. They all had such strong, realised personalities, there was humour there was drama and that all added to the story, adding these layers of depth to the action.  

I think the only problem that I have is that I've now finished the book. I don't want to have finished the book, I want more from Makepeace, and I think that is the mark of a strong book. 

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Monday, 18 September 2017

Guest Post: Crossing the Genre Lines with George Mann

Today I am very please to welcome author George Mann to the blog to talk about crossing genres. George is author of the Newbury and Hobbes and The Ghost series of novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and audiobooks. He has written fiction and audio scripts for the BBC s Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. His latest book Wychwood is out nooooow! Over to George 

I suppose, looking back, my writing has never been easy to pigeonhole. I’ve always had a habit of bending things out of shape. My Newbury & Hobbes novels are essentially mystery stories, focused on a duo of investigators, but they take place in a skewed version of history, in which Queen Victoria lived on to rule over an extended Empire filled with monstrous creations, weird technologies and occult goings-on. My Tales of the Ghost take place in a fantastical version of 1920s New York City, and even my first Sherlock Holmes novel features iron golems loose on the streets of London.

Now, with Wychwood, I’ve written what’s essentially a contemporary crime novel with a supernatural twist.

It seems I’m forever destined to blur genre boundaries. Or perhaps I’m just wilful!

This ‘genre-blending’ doesn’t stem from any particular, innate desire to write a ‘mash-up’, but more a need to write what I’m interested in, and to allow my varied influences and passions to bleed through onto the page.

With Wychwood, I’d always intended to write a crime novel with extra ‘spooky stuff’. To me, it felt like the perfect blend. I’m a huge fan of Sunday night crime drama on British TV – Midsomer Murders, Endeavour, Vera and more recently Strike, and I think my initial impulse came from wanting to work in that wheelhouse, but to give it my own spin, and bring some ‘low fantasy’, or supernatural elements, to proceedings. It wasn’t until I started work on the first draft that the whole Carrion King myth started to come to life, however, and soon I found myself concocting a whole fictional mythology with a rather dark, folklorish bent. Nevertheless, I was adamant that I wanted the setting to remain in the present day, and to maintain the mode of a traditional crime novel.

I think the challenge with this kind of blending of genres is in sustaining a sense of realism, or at least ensuring that the reader is able to suspend their disbelief. You want them to be carried along by the characters and the story, and not pulled out of the narrative by things that seem jarring or too out of place. That’s a lesson I’ve learned before, with previous books. Get it wrong, and the reader feels as though you’ve pulled the rug from beneath them. It’s a harsh and valuable lesson.

So, for me, the big thing is aiming for the right balance. Go too far in either direction, and the book becomes neither beast nor fowl. With Wychwood I learned early on that it needed to follow the structure of a traditional crime novel in order for it to work – keying in to that familiar language and form – but that I also had to be explicit about the supernatural elements, too. In my first draft they were far too subtle, and therefore ultimately unsatisfying. During rewrites, I strengthened those elements considerably, and for me, that feels like the breakthrough moment, the point at which it all began to work.

I’ve had a similar breakthrough recently in the plotting of book two. It wasn’t until I realised how I wanted to approach the more fantastical elements that the story properly unlocked. Nothing is more rewarding than when it all clicks into place, though, and you’re able to navigate your way through the story. It’s at that point you start to see the shape of the whole thing, and realise that it’s all going to work. For me, that’s what writing is all about – finding those moments of joy amongst all the hard work!
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