Reviews

Review: Moroda by L. L. McNeil

Moroda is the story of a girl who escapes from her home city as it is burnt by Dragon fire, and tries to find her place in a world now threatened by war. With her sister, a foul-mouthed sky pirate, two weapon smiths with the ability to transform into animals, an ex-solider from the city, a man with the power to fly and control storms, and a man whose race is known for being deadly killers, she travels across the world of Linaria in search of the answers she so desperately seeks.

I first heard about Moroda via Twitter, as one of the people I follow retweeted a post by the author which showcased the cover. It caught my eye immediately, and led me to read the synopsis, which I found very captivating. I think the reason for that is it hinted at the idea of the plot itself revolving more around Moroda’s own personal journey of self-discovery than the typical fantasy quest of saving the world with an object/magic/intense training. It does have this basic element within it, because of the threat the dragons (and certain others) pose to all of Linaria, but McNeil has cleverly twisted it so that you don’t really notice such a trope is being used.

What’s captivating about Moroda’s character is that she is forced to recognise her own short-comings by spending time with characters with vastly different backgrounds and ideals to her – she and her sister grew up in relative luxury compared to most, but when their father suddenly died, all financial stability they had went out the window. So as she watches her companions, she starts to realise that she has very little experience in most areas of life and is eager to improve on that.

The other characters in Moroda were equally interesting. The sky pirate, Amarah, who is strongly independent and not afraid to speak her mind, is so well-written that I had a solid sense of who she was from the off. Palom and Anahrik, who have the ability to transform into animals, played well off of each other, highlighting that even though they have a strong friendship, they are very different people – Anahrik is hot-headed and quick to take up a challenge, whilst Palom is more rational and patient (until a certain point in the story, where Palom actually takes on some of Anahrik’s personality traits, for reasons I can’t state because of spoilers). Morgen, the soldier – in fact, I believe he is a captain – is a bit harder to get to know because his arc is somewhat slower that the others, more on par with Moroda’s, where he doesn’t really know what to do or where he belongs after the city is burnt. But I slowly picked up who he is: a good man initially quick to follow orders, then after he becomes aware that those orders may not be for the best, just a man trying to do his best to help prevent the oncoming war and protect those he loves.

Then we have Kohl and Sapora, both from races which Moroda knows relatively little about. Kohl calls himself a dragon hunter, and initially warns Moroda and her sister about the dragon heading to their city. He is an outcast from his race, and we don’t really find out why until a good way through, though the whole time it was unclear whether he was trustworthy or not – I wanted to, but felt like I should be wary. Though he can’t transform into an animal like Palom or Anahrik, he has wings on his back which allow him to take to the skies. His race all have the power to harness thunder and electricity, though his powers go a step further as he can freeze things. But it does seem very much like a power he doesn’t want.

Sapora is my favourite character, mainly because all the reader knows about him initially is that his race is associated with violence, and even though Moroda wants to look past that, his very presence put her on edge. The arguments he and Amarah have reveal a lot about both characters, and show off his sharp tongue.

Eryn, Moroda’s younger sister, is introduced very strongly, but as the story went on, I felt as though her individuality was lost. She follows Moroda because of how close they are – they have no other family, so they’ve had to depend on each other since losing their father. While Moroda can be a bit rash and impulsive, Eryn tends to hold her back to get her to consider things first before she takes action. I enjoyed the fact that even though Moroda is older, Eryn is the one who is most mature. However, some of her reactions and traits were ‘told’ rather than ‘shown’, and I think that’s why she paled as bit as a character for me.

With such a cast of characters, the plot is very driven by them, which is rather refreshing to see in fantasy. If I hadn’t enjoyed the characters, and had they not been so well written, then I would have said this was just an okay book. As it is, I think Moroda is quite the riveting read, and actually got me out of a reading slump I’d been in for a while. Yes, there is a lot of world building, and some of the lands and customs are only lightly touched upon, but I have to consider that this is the first book in a series, so many of the questions I have about Linaria will probably be answered in the sequels.

I consider myself quite an avid fantasy reader, and personally,  I would rate Moroda well up there with some of my favourite reads by authors published by big publishing houses. I really highly recommend it – even though I finished it a few days ago now, the story is still with me.

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Reviews

Book review: Around the Universe in 10 -43 Second by Manu Breysse

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of this book by the author as a prize in a draw I’d entered by offering my opinion on which cover he should use for the English edition (which mine is), as the original was written in French. Now, sci-fi isn’t one of my go-to genres, but when I do read it, I quite like it. And I liked this book. A lot.

The basic premise is that Earth (or Terra, as it’s called in the book), mysteriously vanished a loooong time ago, with a few surviving humans still lurking about elsewhere in the Universe. However, on a very small planet, there is a country similar to Ancient Egypt, which is home to a humanoid species. In fact, their King, Sareth, is very much like a Pharaoh, and is not the nicest guy around, due to the fact that he’s very quick to put people to death.

Anyway, just as Sareth’s about to have someone killed, a portal appears and he’s transported to another planet, where the technology is much more advanced – in fact, they have an enormous library which has the history of just about everything, including how his species came to be. But Sareth, knowing nothing of science, simply can’t get his head around the fact that it was a stray food container and not God, that started life on his planet. Then he happens to see a button claiming to take him to the meaning of life. He presses it – and error 404 pops up. Their is a bug in the library database, and all knowledge of the meaning of life has disappeared. Depressed, Sareth stumbles into a bar where he meets Jah, a memory-less alcoholic, who later introduces him to his psychiatrist, Sigmufred. Sigmufred is appalled that the meaning of life has disappeared – after all, most of his clients come to him for help after they’ve learnt what it is. So, to stop himself going out of business, Sigmufred, his daughter Straecia, Jah and Sareth all get on board the Flamboyant, an old ship with an occasionally sassy on-board computer, to travel around the Universe in search of the meaning of life.

As my not-so-brief synopsis might allude, this is a rather crazy book that in no way attempts to take itself seriously. However, it does touch on some quite philosophical questions and there is a lot of subtle (and not so subtle) political and social commentary. What I really enjoyed is that the narrator is treated as a character, and as they directly address you to explain the details of how things work, there is a lot of fourth wall breaking going on. This made all the info dumping (there’s lots of space-time continuum, pandimensional and 5th dimension explanations) actually relevant and interesting, and didn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative (because a narrator can’t really interrupt themselves, I suppose…).

Now, there was one thing that made me stumble a few times while reading, and that was the dialogue tags – in this case, there is a distinct lack of them. And with a big group of characters as Around the Universe boasts, there were times when I had no idea who was saying what. Whether in the French version, it’s made clear who’s talking by the vocabulary and style they use when speaking and that that’s simply been lost in translation, I don’t know, but it was definitely a setback in my enjoyment of the story. There were perhaps one or two characters that could have had a bit more development, but it was such a whirlwind of a story that I’m not sure how that could have been achieved.

Overall, I am glad that I had the opportunity to read this, as I probably would have passed over it otherwise – as I said above, sci-fi is not normally a genre I think about reading. Now I can say that this book has certainly inspired me to widen my scope. The whole thing was fun from beginning to end, and as this is the first book in a trilogy, I am absolutely looking forward to the next book.

Great job, Manu!

Reviews

Book review: Dragon Rider: The Griffin’s Feather by Cornelia Funke

Several years ago, I read Dragon Rider, a middle-grade fantasy about a dragon named Firedrake and his rider, Ben, and their quest to find the dragons a new home, which I  absolutely loved. Recently, book 2, The Griffin’s Feather, was released in the UK, so I simply had to pick it up.

The story focuses on the efforts of a group of conservationists for fabulous creatures (as they’re referred to in the book), who are Ben’s adoptive family. They’ve just found the last pair of winged horses – but the mare is attacked by a venomous creature and dies, and only she had the power to keep her foals alive.

The stallion agrees to bring the foals to the sanctuary where the conservationists (the Greenbloom family) live, where they discuss possible ways to save the foals. Many important scientists and conservationists for fabulous (and ‘non-fabulous’) creatures chip in with their ideas and opinions, and eventually the only valid option is to use the marrow from a griffin’s feather. Unfortunately, griffins have not been seen by humans in hundreds of years, have a reputation for being aggressive and also hate other animals, particularly winged horses – and dragons.

In an effort to keep the stallion, and Ben’s best friend, Firedrake the dragon, safe, the Greenblooms decide to keep their real goal from them and pretend that the solution is something else (even though their task might prove to be dangerous), so neither of them will try to get involved and put themselves in danger.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I loved the premise, and it was nice to be back with familiar characters again, along with some new ones. I also greatly appreciated the nods to David Attenborough and Jane Goodall, as well us others involved in conservation and environmentalism. The book is very much a nudge for children (and adults) to think about animals as creatures to be respected and treated with compassion, and to acknowledge the world around us and what we’re doing to it. I wouldn’t say it did it in a preaching way, however – because of the nature of the story, these messages are in it in a very organic way. There’s also a lot of detail in this book about different cultures, species of animal and places – the characters travel to Indonesia, and I was so completely immersed that I felt like I was experiencing it along with them. And of course, the book has a happy ending, too.

I think, overall, that what Cornelia Funke has woven together here is a wonderfully imaginative story, with a strong, yet non-intrusive message, that readers of ALL ages will appreciate and enjoy.

Reviews

Review: ‘When Marnie Was There’ by Joan G Robinson

I first heard of ‘When Marnie Was There’ from Studio Ghibli, a Japanese film studio, who made a film based on the book in 2015 (though I didn’t see it until the following year). Prior to watching it, I had no idea that it was based off of a book, and as I enjoyed the film so much, I just had to see what the book was like too. So when I eventually got round to reading it (my gosh, life gets in the way sometimes!), I knew where the story was headed…but that didn’t ruin it for me at all.

There’s such a richness to this book that I was completely enveloped in the world and characters from start to finish. It’s hard to explain, but it was almost like coming home after being away for a long time – and though I’m sure some of that was down to seeing the film first, I don’t think that was the whole reason.

Let me give a brief overview of the story before I ramble on about how much I loved it. The book is set in the late sixties (it was first published in 1967) and the main character is a girl called Anna. She’s an orphan who doesn’t know much about her family, and finds it hard to get to know people and express herself. She feels like everyone else in ‘inside’, and she’s always on the ‘outside’, even if people ask her to join in with their activities. When she feels uncomfortable around someone, she puts on her ‘normal’ face in the hopes that they’ll lose interest in her and go away.

She is sent away by her foster parents to a small village in Norfolk called Little Overton, for both her health (she has asthma) and a change of pace before school starts again after the holidays. She stays with an elderly couple who are friends with her foster parents, and they let her roam around the village as she pleases, which is how she discovers the Marsh House, a large house on the other side of the marsh that can only be reached by boat. Anna imagines that the house is home to a large, happy family who have parties that go on into the night, but there is no sign that anyone lives there at all.

However, one night she discovers a boat by the marsh, quite empty, as though it’s been left there for her. She rows it out to the Marsh House, and just before she reaches it, a girl calls out for her to throw the rope so she can tie the boat up. The girl’s name is Marnie, and from then on she and Anna become the kind of friends that each of them wished for, but never had. But every so often, Marnie seems to disappear, and soon Anna suspects something strange is going on.

As I said before, there’s certainly a feeling to this book that grabs me (the film has it too, but to a slightly lesser degree). All I can think of to say is that this story is simply beautiful, and one that stays with you for a long time.

Reviews

Review: Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

Although I bought this book when it first came out last year, I’ve only just managed to get around to reading it, and it didn’t disappoint:

Cogheart is a middle grade steampunk adventure story, revolving around Lily, a thirteen year old who is much more interested in her penny dreadfuls than learning the proper posture befitting a young lady, Robert, the local clockmaker’s son, and Malkin, Lily’s mechanical fox.

It starts out with Lily’s father’s airship being attacked, and as Malkin (who is the only other person on board) has a better chance of surviving the crash, he is sent out in the escape pod to find Lily at her boarding school with a cryptic message from her father. Unfortunately, he is shot by his pursuers, but Robert finds him and fixes him.

Meanwhile, news of her father’s ‘crash’ has reached Lily, and her father’s housekeeper, Madame Verdigris, has come to take her home. Though Lily wasn’t keen on before, when she sees that Madame has let her father’s mechs (mechanical people; a maid, gardener, chauffeur and cook) wind down, as well as rooting through her parents’ possessions, she begins to mistrust her even more. But it’s only when Lily finds out that Madame is searching for an object known as the ‘perpetual motion machine’, which her father had supposedly created, that she learns that Madame’s ambition to be head of the household is just the start – she’s actually working with the men behind Lily’s father’s disappearance.

When Robert, at Malkin’s request, comes to see Lily, he finds her locked in her room with only one way out – the window, where a small vine allows her to climb down mostly unscathed. However, the men working with Madame see her escape, and pursue them both back to Robert’s house, where only the presence of Robert’s Da keeps them away…for a time.

There’s a lot to like about this book. The setting of Victorian London, coupled with the description of the mechs, who work everywhere as servants and helpers, makes for a very rich world, and the integration of this alternate technology is carried out so well that I had no trouble accepting it as the norm. There’s also the moral question regarding how the mechs are perceived – do they really feel emotion? Can you count them as real people even though they’re made of cogs? Which of course carries the theme of acceptance of others, and for me, that’s a good thing.

I also felt that the main characters were strong and interesting – I could identify with Lily and Robert, and I absolutely loved Malkin’s personality. There were also some twists, but I admit I saw one straight away, and had suspicions of the other. Though of course, this book is aimed at a young audience, so it’s possibly just that. Then again, I imagine most kids would pick up on the clues peppered throughout, so it’s hard to say.

I enjoyed the ending, though at the time of reading, I found it a little anti-climatic. But again, as I’ve mentioned in other reviews, when I’m tired or distracted, I don’t enjoy things as much as normal, and I was very tired when I read the climax. The last chapter tied up all the loose ends nicely, and overall gave me that satisfied feeling of reaching the end of a good book.

So, would I recommend Cogheart as an exciting read for both kids and adults alike? Absolutely.

Reviews

Review: Miss Prince by Alicia L. Wright

‘Vampires don’t belong in fairytales…’

‘Miss Prince’ is a young adult fantasy that tells the tale of Lucinda, a fifteen year old who seeks a part-time job so she can save up enough money for a plane ticket to America to meet her internet friends.

Unfortunately, when she sees a sign advertising for a ‘general assistant’, little does she know that dragon slaying, pretending to be a prince, vampire hunting and witch seeking are part of the deal. Oh, and she’ll end up with a runaway fairy hiding in her bedroom, too. You see, in the Otherworlds, the worlds of legends where all manner of magical things exist, stories have gone wrong. They’re breaking, and Lucinda has been hired to help fix them.

This book is a very easy read, and has just as much excitement and adventure as you’d expect from a book of this genre. I loved the twists in the tales (there’s a witch who won’t use magic, and a vampire who flatly refuses to terrorise the villagers like he’s supposed to), and the characters are fun and likable.

It’s also part of a trilogy, so I’ll have to pick up books two and three at some point.

A great read for any YA fantasy fan.

Reviews

Review: Arma-garden – The Diary of my Allotment During the Zombie Apocalypse by Tracey J Morgan

Arma-garden is a light-hearted, fun take on the popular zombie apocalypse trend of horror stories.

As the name suggests, the story follows the diary of Susie, a young woman who keeps an allotment to grow fruit and veg as a way to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Except that one day, she sees an old woman attacked by a youth. Not just attacked, but thrown to the ground and having her face gnawed off. Immediately, Susie knows something’s wrong, but she’s lost her keys to the gate and can’t get out to help the old woman – the metal fence surrounding the entire perimeter of the allotment is too high, and spiked to boot. However, as soon as realizes the reason for this attack, that the youth is actually a zombie, she’s quite grateful for that impenetrable fence. To her luck, the allotment happens to have all the supplies to survive – fresh food, running water, and a few sheds for shelter, and, in the form of the old woman’s dog, who squeezed through the fence in sheer terror, a companion.

As the story progresses, we’re introduced to more characters who add a lot of humour and I really did laugh aloud several times while reading this piece. There’s a mysterious jogger always running past listening to several on point songs (really, one of them is ‘Thriller’) despite the crowd of zombies, a vegan zombie, the girlfriend of the vegan zombie, Susie’s boyfriend, a cat, and a 100 year old bed bound woman who always asks for sweet food to eat.

I really, really enjoyed this story and would heartily recommend it to anyone who likes ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and other tongue-in-cheek zombie tales. It’s well written, well thought out, the main character is likeable and witty (despite her desperate survival situation)