Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.

 

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarcastic Elliot crosses the wall to the Borderlands, but it’s not like the stories he’s heard before. IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5)

You don’t even need to read this review, you can stop right now and get your hands on IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan as soon as possible.

IN OTHER LANDS was published on August 15, 2017 and I read it August 23-24, 2017 after reading a Twitter thread posted by Seanan McGuire that fully convinced me I needed to read this book.

Tell me you wouldn’t be totally curious – and the rest of the thread further justifies my feelings. I bought the book based on the thread and tried to put off reading it until I was done with my library books, but I was too intrigued and I totally disappeared into the book. I stayed up until almost midnight on the 23rd to finish it, and actually got up when my alarm went off on the 24th so I could read for a bit before work. I would have picked reading this book over eating food. Luckily, I could do both at the same time.


From Amazon, another (modified) summary:

Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. 
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world. 

Random things I liked:

-I laughed. A lot. Loudly, awkwardly. I disconcerted people. Elliot is so fantastically sarcastic and snarky, so you definitely laugh with him. However, being inside Elliot’s head you know what he’s not seeing or realizing as he goes through his life that sometimes, you are definitely laughing AT him. IOL also handles the way some portal fantasy ignores technology and the advancement beyond it’s borders to hilarity and explosiveness (literally) – but the native Borderlanders trying to understand Elliot is hilarious. When you get to the scene when Luke tries to describe what computers are, it’s somehow the most incorrect and most accurate description of the internet, possibly ever.

-I pretty much could not stop myself from reacting out loud in general. There was gasping and “oh no!” and some annoyed snorting because in both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, people can be extremely stupid. Xenophobia and cultural difference are the big, obvious themes of this novel right from the beginning. It provides a gentle reminder in the safer context of a fantasy world that it is okay to challenge norms and prejudices, and that it is easier than you think to stand up to them. The kids in this book aren’t just brave because they fight in battle. They are brave because they refuse to let prejudice define their relationships.

-But the relationships and interactions between the teenagers are the most real I’ve ever read, that were tense and emotional without being melodramatic. The tangled webs and impulsive decisions felt so true to high school. Sometimes you kiss someone because you like them. Sometimes you kiss someone because the person you want to kiss does not want to kiss you. Sometimes you kiss people because you know it will hurt someone else. I was simultaneously annoyed with Elliot and also completely sympathetic to some of the decisions he made.

-The world of the Borderlands is big enough to be dangerous, but not so big as to be confusing. And I like that there’s history to the creation of the Border Guard but not a million pages spent trying to explain the existence of the Borderlands. The point of this story is that there is not one Big Bad, one chosen kid who will fix the whole world to exist in peace forever; so ultimately, how the Borderlands were created is irrelevant. The story is about how then got them to NOW, and dealing with the bad things that are happening in the now. I also appreciate the message that peace is delicate, and it takes constant upkeep.

-I was genuinely surprised that someone as verbally brutal as Elliot was a pacifist, but I also think his reasons for being so are clear without him actually explaining how he came to that stance on things. We are given the pieces and can put them together.

-Nothing is perfect. This sometimes gritty world felt more real than some contemporaries I’ve read because even in the best circumstances there are failures, stupid things said, people who don’t care or don’t love, people who do worship violence and do not want peace. People lie and cheat and take things they have not earned. And it questions the most irritating of all occurrences in novels where kids are whisked away to magic school: WHY DOES NO ONE USE PENS?!!?!?! Because honestly, Harry Potter was too damn lazy to be that excited about quills, color-changing ink be damned, and Ron would have adopted that Muggle tool in a hot minute. I defy you that anyone as bookish as Hermione didn’t have a freaking pen and stationery collection. In this instance, Elliot is better than Hermione by a long shot. You heard me.

-This is definitely a book for the people who found themselves agreeing a little bit with Eustace Scrubb. Who found his “WTH?!” reaction perfectly rational. We want to believe we’d be a Lucy, but face it – more of us are Eustaces.

There are so many more things that I liked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say…Sisters, the first Break Up, Being that Person that Is Oblivious to Others Crushing on Them So Often Its Embarrassing.

Anyway, IN OTHER LANDS is absolutely a 5/5 read for me. Get this book, fall in love with it, buy it for everyone you know.

Back to back 5/5 reads for me recently, as I started reading it right after finishing The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. These were excellent books to read back to back as both deal extensively with cultural differences and basically not being a disrespectful boob.

 

Review – A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

The demon is king, and the demon has married and killed each of his 300 wives. She is the wife who will survive. A review of A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston (4.5/5)

I’ll admit that I’ve been riding the book review struggle bus so far this year – I have literally been writing and re-writing my review of Caraval for 14 days.

But I think A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston has broken through my funk. I read A Thousand Nights mostly in my bathtub on the evenings of February 11-14, 2017.

You would not believe how much copper-colored stuff I have.


Some of the Summary (from Goodreads):

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

As always, these summaries fall so far short of the truth of the story, but it’s also so hard to make a summary that doesn’t give away too much.

Things to know before reading: this book is not like other books. There are definitely pre-conceived notions about how to tell a story, and how to tell this kind of story, and I need you to throw those things out the window. There are pre-conceived notions of what a fairy tale is, and how to tell it. There are pre-conceived notions about how retellings should work, and I need you to forget those too. And I’m a person who went into this book with a little skepticism, given how fiercely I love Renee Ahdieh’s Shahrzad in the Wrath and the Dawn. But if you open the door, Johnston will lead you down a dark and magical path.

Things I loved: few of the characters have names, and the only ones named are the men. Rather than have this give the men priority or power, it is almost a weakness. The women are identified by their works or their relationships, and it is their work and relationships that is the source of their power. I loved that I do not know our narrator’s name because you feel like you are her, and she is you.

This book definitely has a Feminist Agenda™ – the demon inside Lo-Melkhiin can pull great works from men, but when he tries to use his power to light a fire in the women, it leads to mess and chaos because ultimately he does not understand the women’s work or their power. Women’s work and power, and their roles in the balance of it, are often overlooked or unnoticed. Our narrator forces Lo-Melkhiin to look, and upon seeing, it becomes power he wants. It is the power of the women, of their bonds with each other and their desire to protect one another, that ultimately gives our narrator her gift, the only power that might defeat the demon. This is the story of sisters, mothers, teachers, and friends. While our narrator is technically married the entire time, it is not a love story. It’s the story of a war. And how war can be won with Girl Power©.

I also loved the precision of the language – it’s not that long of a book, and while I wouldn’t necessarily describe the writing as poetic, it’s specific. As the characters must weigh their words carefully, and consider the many meanings, so does Johnston. Space and words are not wasted on description or being buried inside the narrator’s thoughts. As she must be hyper-vigilant in her care and awareness with her words, we experience the same with the specific choices of Johnston. I was so bummed not to have my tabs with me because there were so many passages or lines that I wanted to mark. I guess I’ll have to read it again!

I am really curious now about Spindle – it’s not quite a sequel, more of a same universe later in time story – and if it will be written in the same style, and have the same kind of language and pacing. I almost hope that it doesn’t, as I think Johnston is quite inventive.

Also, the brief sections from the mind of the demon could be very disturbing. As someone who loves the creepy stuff, that little turn into the mind of the monster instead of the survivor was the chill I needed. It kept me motivated to keep going.

And, to be fair, some of the things that weren’t awesome: the pacing can be a little slow, and it takes a bit to get into the story and understand what’s going on. Surprisingly, it doesn’t get that confusing when no one has a name but sometimes I did have to go back and check if we were talking about her mother, or her sister’s mother, and I have no idea how many brothers she actually has. It’s worth sticking it out with the slow pacing and getting into the meat of the story – the beginning is necessary to understand the change being wrought in our narrator.

Overall, I give A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston a 4.5/5 – a half off because I almost gave up. I promise, you have not read a book like this, and you really should. I liked it enough that I have added her other works to my list of books to acquire. I already own Spindle (how can you not buy it just for the gorgeous craftsmanship?), but I also want to particularly get Exit, Pursued By A Bear as one, it’s relevant to my day job, and two, I think Johnston would do it’s story justice. And the title is taken from one of the best stage directions in the history of theater that perfectly describes when you’re trying to do the right thing and it all goes to hell.

My next read is Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, and after that I’ll be getting to Spindle. I’m also doing a readalong of A Darker Shade of Magic!

The Twistrose Key

The Twistrose Key by by Tone Almhjell was published in 2013 – I read it over the course of about a week during November 2016.

Almhjell is Norwegian, and after some googling I learned that while she did write the book in her native language she ultimately published the novel in English. I think this is relevant because there are a lot of assumptions made about something being “lost in translation” with this book. I don’t think anything is lost in translation.

I just think this book is very particular to an audience of children who are coping with a very specific kind of growing up.

The Twistrose Key begins with Lin – a girl moved from her comfortable country home to the city, and shortly after her pet vole dies. Lin is lonely, unhappy, and missing the life she knew. Then a mysterious key is slipped in through the post slot, one that leads not only to the mysterious basement of their rental house, but another key made of thorns and vines that leads her into the world of Sylver. Sylver is a land of dreams, nightmares, love, and wishes. Lin finds on the other side and near the city of Sylveros – the place where any pet who has loved a child goes when they die. Lin is reunited with her vole, Rufus, and also finds that she is a Twistrose – a child called into the world of Sylver in a time of great danger to complete a quest. Lin, Rufus, and a host of Petlings and clues must save Sylver from the Margrave before the enchanted star, the Wanderer, passes out of the valley trapping Lin in Sylver and dooming it to destruction.

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This book is sad and hopeful and a weird mix of things that are hard to describe. It has a different sensibility than a lot of books and I can’t even articulate it. It’s a bit slow moving and I don’t think I always had the information I needed to fully invest in the actions Lin and Rufus were taking. The two of them have a strong bond and it comes across so clearly, but I didn’t always understand why they did things. I didn’t understand entirely why Rufus made some of the choices he did, and I felt some of those things really led Lin astray in regard to the story overall.

The mythology of Sylver feels very complete – there could easily be many more stories in the universe of Sylver that seems to be the basis of Almhjell’s latest release – Thornghost. I like that the internal logic of the magic of Sylver holds – I don’t ever get knocked out of the suspension of disbelief when the magic is happening. Almhjell is so detailed – so many little things come back later, or have greater meaning and if a reader picks up on that early it makes it easy to see certain things coming. It does not make some of those things any less tense, or eerie as is the case with the first time we see the real villain of the story.

Sometimes the pacing is a little off, but the story really picks up halfway through and has a very sad, smooth finish. One of my favorite aspects of this book was how important friendships are, and how important it is to connect with others and know that you can trust them. Communication is such an essential part of this story, and I appreciate her focus on that.

Fans of Narnia will definitely enjoy this novel. I’m going 3/5 because it took me a long time to get into it, but it would be an excellent book to read out loud to a child, particularly after the loss of a beloved pet. It’s a book that gives hope, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Listen, you’re going to like these, so no quip is needed. Read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

I read Six of Crows on October 22-24, 2016. I read Crooked Kingdom on October 26-27, 2016.

I have so much to say.

I was never really interested in reading the Grisha trilogy (I have rethought this decision,) but something about the gritty sass that was apparent in Six of Crows drew me in. This duo has been so hyped on Instagram that my expectations were really high and I must say I was not disappointed.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom start in the city of Ketterdam on the island nation of Kerch – a place where trade is both God and good; where economics and capitalism are the work of both the wealthy merchant class and the illegally wealthy underbelly of the Barrel. The Dregs are one of the many gangs that control the gambling in the Barrel, and Kaz Brekker is their leader in everything but title. Kaz is offered the heist of a lifetime with a payoff big enough to do whatever he wants. Through various means, Kaz recruits five more members to create the titled Six: Inej (the wraith/spy/acrobat), Jesper (the sharpshooter), Wylan (the bomb maker/hostage?), Nina (the Heartrender, rogue member of the Grisha Second Army), and Matthias (rogue druskelle, large blonde man.)

Obviously, all does not go entirely according to plan. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about these books is that pretty much nothing goes to plan but you have no idea how it’s going to go wrong, so you think maybe everything will be okay and then it’s totally not but not in the way you expected. Or Kaz is so smart that he sees how it will go wrong so many layers deep that the wrong becomes the actual plan all along.

It’s a world of racism, human trafficking, violence, and magic. It’s a world where everyone is a little bit broken in their own way but you love them anyway. A world where someone can recover from brainwashing, from intolerance and ignorance, and where people are kind of horrible but you can still find the good ones if you look.

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Perhaps the most interesting relationship is that between Inej and Kaz. And some of the things that happen make me really frustrated with Inej – and it’s a frustration that I think Bardugo chose to create.

There’s a line in Six of Crows that people love in which Kaz is sort of starting to tell Inej that he has feelings for her and Inej responds: “I will have you without armor Kaz Brekker, or not at all.” So either lay yourself open for me physically and emotionally, or it ain’t happening.

This is problematic because both Kaz and Inej are struggling with major PTSD. Kaz wears gloves and cannot stand the touch of human skin; the reader learns why and completely understands this feeling. The other thing is that Inej is someone who was sold into sex trafficking and was repeatedly hurt and raped; she’s only been free for a year. Does Inej really think that she can expect to be touched by Kaz in a romantic or sexual way without also feeling panic? Does she not sympathize with Kaz’s aversion? While she doesn’t know the reason Kaz wears gloves, she knows it’s not just an affectation – if it was that would be armor I can accept her asking him to remove.

And yes, she’s asking him to remove his emotional armor as well – and that’s something she absolutely should be asking of him. But the gloves? That’s removal that takes time and trust – time she doesn’t seem to be willing to give him. Just as Kaz touching Inej in a way that she can respond to from a place of love and attraction will take time.

In the end I think there’s a better understanding between the two of what they really need to let go of in order to be together, truly together, and not just broken people who don’t know how to love. Ultimately I appreciate the damage of those two characters because it demonstrates that you can recover from trauma – you can move on to the next thing when you find a reason to make yourself heal. So, I forgive Inej for saying something wildly insensitive.

I was blown away by this duology, and it is absolutely deserving of the hype and craze it gets on Bookstagram and everywhere else. I hope it never gets made into a movie because the cast in my head is so weird and specific and has aged out of their ability to play some of the roles they have in my head, and no one can ever be Kaz for me except Reeve Carney.

Anyway, back to why the story is amazing. It’s so complex and complete and has crazy specific details and plotting. I would definitely walk around inside Leigh Bardugo’s head if it meant I could wander around Ketterdam. I might even be willing to gamble a little, which is something I kind of despise. This world feels so real you could touch it, you can smell it, and sometimes even taste it.

The characters are your new best friends by the time you’re done. You want for them to get what they were after, and to feel safe to try and to dream. You want them to be happy, whatever that means.

My favorite running gag is when Kaz asks a question and they all reply with a different answer (always the wrong answer). My most favorite is the first time this happens and Matthias responds with “you’re all horrible.” I crowed with laughter because it was true, but also displayed how disgruntled and stubborn he is.

My first instinct is that Nina is my favorite character, followed closely by Kaz and Matthias, but then I’m like, wait – Inej, and Jesper, and Wylan. It’s like choosing a favorite finger.

If I keep talking, I’ll ramble. Six of Crows 5/5 and Crooked Kingdom 4.5/5 because, listen Leigh, you did NOT have to kill that one character and even plotlistically I cannot find good enough justification for it. READ THESE NOW.

Review – Three Dark Crowns

Three sisters must fight to the death to be queen – but is it worth it? A review of Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake was released on September 20, 2016 and I finished it on October 10, 2016.

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I have not read a fantasy novel that took place in an imaginary kingdom in a long time. The last one I read, which I will not name, just disappointed me so hard that I stopped reading those kinds of books. It needed to be sideways to our own reality for me to read it – urban fantasy, stuff like that. I have my suspicions that the island of Fennbirn does exist sideways to our reality, but that’s not the point. I had stopped reading a whole sub-genre because one author broke my heart. Kendare Blake opened that door back up for me.

The queendom in Three Dark Crowns exists in a pattern – three triplets are born to the previous queen, each with a gift. On their 16th birthdays the young queens begin a fight to the death to determine who will become THE Queen. This generation’s triplets – Katharine the poisoner, Arsinoe the naturalist, and Mirabella the elemental – are at the dawn of their 16th birthdays and preparing to follow the rituals that will lead to their attempts to murder one another. Obviously, things get crazy. I don’t want to say much more – but it’s all intrigue, conspiracy, and desperation. It’s fantastic.

I loved all three triplets, although like many so far I was pretty fond of Mirabella. However, it’s Arsinoe’s story I am most excited for in the next installment. I must also make a confession – I like to read the last page or last paragraph of books when I’m about halfway through them. DO NOT DO THAT WITH THIS BOOK. Usually those last lines aren’t a huge spoiler. This time, it TOTALLY WAS. I mean, it kept me really, really excited to finish but seeing it coming did dim the revelation a little bit. By the end of the novel you don’t know which triplet to root for or who to trust in their lives.

And you don’t like most of the people in their lives by the end either – you are rooting for all three queens to survive this nonsense. It’s a talented display of the complexity of people – the way we can both care and conquer someone, that we can disregard their humanity if it suits our own purposes, and the reality of loving two people at the same time. I really hate the Arrons. I have to call them out as specifically horrible. I don’t mind Katharine, and I’m excited to see how she changes in the next book, but I feel the most pity and anger on her behalf. For all her belief that she has any sort of control, Natalia either turns a blind eye or is completely ignorant to the cruelty aimed at Katharine. That won’t make a queen, it makes a victim. It’s fitting that the poisoners would be cruel. I want to see the Arron family crash and burn, and I want to see what happens with Katharine and her love interest, Pietyr.

I really loved Mirabella’s friends Bree and Elizabeth – they were not stereotypical sidekicks, and they expanded Mirabella’s agency by encouraging her to take action and make decisions. It’s a contrast to Arsinoe’s dear Jules, Joseph, and Billy – she is so undecided that they end up deciding for her, or taking action in her place. She’s not the character you’d expect that from, and that’s what makes it a delight to read. No one is who I expect them to be – while there are so many hallmarks of a fantasy kingdom in Three Dark Crowns, Blake manages to put just enough of a twist to keep surprising.

I have so many theories about what’s going to happen next and the conspiracies surrounding the sisters. I need someone to talk about this with! I made notes in my journal so when I read the next book a year or more from now I can go back and reference if I was right.

The mythology of the world is really excellent as well – a matriarchal society that worships the goddess; very unique gifts/powers and how they apply to the island and impact the outer world. I liked that it felt that the history of Fennbirn was so deeply established – by the time you’re done you can talk about the Queens of the past, their powers, their importance. And when you start to have your suspicions about how the present situation came to be, you really start to wonder about those Queens – especially the Queen who was mother to our triplets.

I just finished Anna Dressed in Blood and I’m mad I’ve been missing out on Kendare Blake for the last half decade, apparently. Geeze friends, why didn’t you say anything?!

I can’t even rate this book because my personal tastes are too confused with my more objective assessment. It was awesome. Read it.

 

Review – A Discovery of Witches

Witches, vampires, love, alchemy…it’s got everything. Review of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (4.5/5)

A Discovery of Witches was published February 8, 2011 by Penguin Books. I am upset that I went through 5 years of this book being out in the world and did not read it until now. I’d never even heard of it until this year! If you already read this and enjoyed it, I recommend the River of No Return by Bee Ridgway – there’s a similarity of tone.

I spent an entire Sunday reading this and finished it on Monday, September 19, 2016.

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The blurb does not do this book justice. I immediately loved the cover, but was turned off by the summary. I didn’t buy it when I saw it in the store, but decided to check it out of the library.

Oh my, was I in for a treat.

A Discovery of Witches is the blend of so much of the best stuff in modern fantasy; bear with me because every time I tried to figure out how to summarize this excellent novel it came out sounding like Twilight. Only its a vampire/witch love story. With adults. And depth of emotion. And historical context and obscure references. It’s a novel that takes the cliche of being the Chosen One and makes it interesting again.

Our heroine is Dr. Diana Bishop – the last of the Bishop witches – who spent her life denying and strangling her own magic after the death of her parents as a child. Diana is a science historian with a focus on alchemy; the medieval blend of science and magic that experimented on the transformation of matter. While researching in Oxford’s Bodleian Library she calls up a manuscript for her research: the mysterious Ashmole 782. With her first view of the manuscript she knows its bewitched, and after a brief encounter with the book, sends it back into the bowels of the library in order to keep her life divided from magic. With the finding and returning of Ashmole 782, Diana sends a ripple through the supernatural world: every witch, vampire, and daemon wants Diana and the manuscript. One vampire in particular, Dr. Matthew Clairmont, enters Diana’s world and changes it forever. Diana and Matthew begin fighting a world of magic, segregation, science, and thousands of years of history in order to not only be together, but figure out the blended future of for all the creatures.

Speaking of creatures, there are four types of creatures in this world: humans, witches, vampires, and daemons. I like that witches are distinct creatures, not just humans with magical powers. The vampires are a blend of the traditional myth with Harkness’s own twist, and daemons are manic, creative geniuses – similar to demigods but they are the creature with the most questions in regard to their creation and origin.

This book covers history, literature, philosophy, and science and the way it has shaped the world we live in. There’s so much more to this story than I can possibly summarize – Matthew’s personal history and his family, Diana’s history, her family, and her burgeoning magical powers, not to mention the ramifications of Ashmole 782 on the entire supernatural world. The world is so complete without being over-explained. I know the political landscape of the witches, vampires, daemons, and their fear of being discovered by humans while also adhering to their own strict rules against co-mingling. PLUS, Matthew is a scientist exploring the genetics of the creatures – how they differ and overlap with each other and with humans. If you know nothing about genetics, evolution, and DNA now, you’ll know more afterward. I already put myself on the waiting list for the Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes at the university library.

I could spend an entire post just summarizing all the details of this novel. It is so fantastically fleshed out – the world is dynamic, the threat real, and I am ready for the next book to find out what happens next. I honestly considered not reviewing A Discovery of Witches and instead reviewing the entire trilogy. I feel like I read at least three different books in the span of one anyway.

Most of the novel is spent with Diana coming to terms with the fact the she herself is dangerous – she’s spent most of her life forcing herself to be a human instead of a witch. Diana must embrace her true nature as a creature and all that means – the danger, the violence, and the wonder. Her power is huge, uncontrolled, and unacknowledged and it’s led her to find herself both a risk to those around her and sometimes utterly defenseless. Diana is marvelous – she’s intelligent and decisive, a little stubborn but attempts to be logical when she realizes it, and is aware that she guards her emotions. Diana is fun to read. She was a character I liked following around. Her desire to be her own woman and to make her own way on her merits is admirable and relatable – she demonstrates how easy it would be to get all she wanted with magic, but she’d rather have done the work.

Matthew is a little…predictable. At first. He’s the super-hot vampire who’s lived for a long time and he’s seen everything and knows everyone and is experiencing a new kind of love for the first time, a love which he resisted and brooded about. You see his protectiveness coming from a mile away and the explanation of his predatory instincts is unsurprising if well thought out. What makes Matthew different is that there’s a certain level of self-awareness that his protectiveness is not always welcome or necessary, and that Diana is capable of taking care of herself. Matthew’s violence is also real, not just a threat made or an inference that he can’t control himself around warmbloods. Matthew kills because it’s his nature – not just to feed, but to protect and avenge. Matthew is a real danger, which makes him a dynamic character to follow.

It helps that Deborah Harkness is actually a science historian so her grasp of the background material is deep, and something she’s used to translating and theorizing on. Her ability to simply explain who historical people are, why they matter, and what their work was is done in such a way that someone without any other context can grasp it. It’s interesting because the author is reflected in both Diana and Matthew – the science historian connection is obvious, but the span of knowledge and research needed to write a novel this complete is pure Matthew.

This book is dense – not that it’s difficult to understand – there’s just A LOT going on. It’s a world that is easy and fun to disappear into, and I highly recommend for someone looking for an immersive read that you are going to get excited about. And that you will want the next book, Shadow of Night, immediately.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5/5 for being a wild, detailed ride of a novel and for leaving me wanting more. Half-star off because some of it feels oddly placed and improbable; I have full faith however that Harkness will resolve much of my few issues by the end of the trilogy.