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Book Review: Unwrapped Sky

My first love will forever be epic fantasy. I grew up devouring books by Tolkien, Terry Brooks and Ursula K. Le Guin, and although I don’t read that much adult fantasy any more, when I do, I usually find myself utterly entranced by the likes of Elizabeth Bear and Martha Wells. It had been a while since I’d read a really good high fantasy novel though when I spotted Unwrapped Sky by Rjurik Davidson. I immediately added it to my to-be-read list and promptly forgot all about it until several months later when I bumped into the author at a convention in Finland and then again in London.

unwrapped

I actually met the Aussie author at two separate cons over the summer of 2014, and was rather delighted to discover that he too was an expat living and writing in Finland! After having met him in person and getting to hang out with him on a panel, I couldn’t wait to dive into his book.

Given the Goodreads description, I started reading Unwrapped Sky with certain expectations: 1) Minotaurs 2) epic fantasy. This book didn’t quite meet my expectations on point 1 and thoroughly exceeded them on point 2.

This is not a book about minotaurs. Minotaurs are part of the world, but they’re not quite the major presence I anticipated and that left me a little disappointed, to be honest. Also, I guess sex with a minotaur isn’t technically bestiality, but it still kinda creeped me out. I really wish we’d been given more of a chance to get to know these creatures, but the minotaurs are quickly relegated to minor subplot – at least in book 1.

Onto point 2. This book is epic fantasy and then some. The world is a rich tapestry of magic, technology and steampunk elements. This is where the book truly deserves 5 stars. The settings are original and vivid to the point where I could smell Caeli-Amur and hear the sounds of the market-place. I loved the blend of technology and more typical fantasy elements, although I can see how this book that straddles the science-fantasy genre might leave science fiction fans wanting more tech and fantasy fans annoyed by the very presence of tech. The only comparison I can draw is perhaps Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy in terms of the tech + fantastic/magic themes.

Onto the characters. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the three separate POVs and seemingly disconnected story threads but of course, the author weaves these three narratives together, and in the end I wanted to spend more time with each character, characters who were all morally ambiguous. There are no clear cut heroes here, so if you’re expecting to find a Jamie Fraser, Richard Cypher or similar love interest-come-swashbuckling hero, you might want to look elsewhere for a book boyfriend. What this book does deliver is complex characters – male and female – foregoing many of the usual fantasy tropes while avoiding a lot of the medievalish mindset, especially regarding women’s rights, which I found particularly refreshing given the slew of fantasy novels that retreat to the middle ages.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to future installments in this genre-defying series, but it wasn’t quite a five star read for me. Unwrapped Sky scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2014 in Reviews

 

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TV Review: Constantine

Comic book adaptations are all the rage at the moment. Just look at all the films from the Marvel universe! Being a bit of a comic geek myself, I’m certainly not complaining about the numerous and often awesome adaptations gracing the small and silver screen, but some are certainly better than others.

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There were two shows I was extremely excited for this autumn, one being Gotham and the other being NBC’s Constantine. I didn’t hate the 2005 film starring Keanu Reeves like so many fans of the comic books did. No, the film wasn’t perfect, but it did capture the spirit of the Hellblazer anti-hero in a way that left me feeling somewhat satisfied. Also, Tilda Swinton, but I digress. Point is, after that incarnation of John Constantine, I was excited to see a blond, Welsh actor take the lead role in the series version of the story, which seemed to promise a more traditional and true-to-source rendition.

The Hellblazer comics – which I discovered via Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman – are super dark, gritty and unapologetic, starring the ever so snarky, cynical and somewhat unlikable Constantine. Given the superficial aesthetics the show seemed to be getting right with the blond, British hero, I thought they’d be on track to deliver an equally accurate story world complete with all the ghastliness of the source material. However, I had my reservations when I discovered that NBC would not be portraying Constantine as bisexual. This was a big red flag. If the studio was prepared to alter this trait (and do I even want to know why they felt having a bisexual protagonist wasn’t okay for television?), what else might they be planning to change.

Episode one did not blow me away. If anything, it irritated the living daylights out of me because once again we were treated to the ‘my name is…’ voice over that needs to die a sudden and eternal death. Not only this, but Matt Ryan who takes on the titular role, didn’t seem settled in the shoes of his character, not sure whether to play this detective dark and brooding ala Keanu or go for a more tongue-in-cheek jaded antihero type. Consequently, his portrayal is a bit of a mess as it jaunts between the two a little erratically, throwing off the tone of the show. Does it want to pull the comedy card and follow in the footsteps of paranormal shows like Supernatural or Buffy, or does it want to be Gotham and go for the throat? The writers can’t seem to make up their minds.

Episode two was worse in that it set the stage for an episodic series structure I was not expecting. I don’t want another monster-a-week type show. Even Supernatural moved away from that in favour of larger, longer story ARCs and with the likes of Gotham and Game of Thrones now on screen as proof that a show doesn’t have to follow the episodic formula to gain viewership, I’m a little disappointed with Constantine. Also, I wanted this series to be jet-black, not a grimy shade of grey, and I’m getting a sort of off-white. Splashes of fake blood do not a series dark make! Perhaps this is simply my own fault for expecting something different from what the show has so far delivered.

Episode three was actually a bit better and enjoyed this week’s offering a lot more than either of the previous episodes. Hooray, no voice over! This immediately gained the show some extra points. It’s also in episode three that we first encounter Midnite and learn a little more of John’s musical history – something sadly lacking in the 2005 film version. That said, I’m still not clear on why this show is set in America other than to perhaps give the US audience that sense of security that comes with familiar settings, but I honestly think it would’ve been a far more atmospheric and interesting show if they’d stuck with the London setting.

Three episodes in and Constantine reminds me a whole lot of Supernatural without the awesomeness of the Winchesters. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine and crew traipse about the US hunting down nasty outbreaks of magic/demons/monsters/sorcery etc. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a complicated relationship with an angel. Like Sam and Dean, Constantine has a tubby bearded guy as his research guru who usually holds down the fort in their home full of strange artifacts. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine does not provide anywhere near the same amount of eye-candy or sex appeal. Unlike Sam and Dean, Constantine lacks a significant other with whom to trade barbs and witty banter and consequently much of the humour falls flat. I think Matt Ryan is trying his best, but he’s all alone behind the camera and isn’t quite able to carry the story on his narrow shoulders, especially given that he appears to be a character with nothing to lose, thus there’s a distinct lack of conflict and lack of stakes for this guy. So every bit of magic he performs shaves off a few days of his life, meh, he doesn’t seem to care so why should we? Also, any attempts at the silliness and parody Supernatural has got down to a fine art, merely induces eye-rolls in Constantine.

In short, Constantine did not live up to my expectations and certainly doesn’t deliver the kind of story or personality I wanted considering the source material. In the wake of an epic show like Supernatural that’s now in its tenth season, Constantine just doesn’t feel fresh and has yet to offer anything new to the paranormal/urban fantasy genre. Honestly, I’ve seen it all and done better on Supernatural. My constant thought while watching Constantine is ‘if only Sam and Dean were here to help,’ so… I will give Constantine a few more episodes to find its feet, but I am so far underwhelmed and strongly recommend watching Supernatural instead if you’re in need of werebeasties and pentagrams. Constantine gets 2/5 ink splats, saved by this third installment and my hope that it will continue to improve.

2 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Books 1-3 of The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Book series. Be they duologies, trilogies, or the seemingly never-ending story cycles that hit double figures, some people love them – I do not. I am not a fan of book series in general, but I will tolerate an exceptional trilogy such as the Celtic Crusade books by Stephen Lawhead or the Wanderer’s trilogy by Caiseal Mor. I have attempted several longer running series such as Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books but gave up after reading only three. Even series by some of my favourite writers have been casualties of my lack of patience: Frank Herbert, Juliet Marillier, Lawhead (with his Pendragon series), Gemmel and Terry Brooks. It takes an especially rare and special type of story to keep me enthralled beyond book 3, and Maggie Stiefvater’s books have done that and more.

*beware, there be minor spoilers ahead*

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When I first picked up The Raven Boys I was extremely nervous. I read somewhere that the book was 1 of a planned 5-book series, but I figured I’d read book 1 and move on as I usually do with series. I should’ve known better. I adored Stiefvater’s stand-alone novel The Scorpio Races and found The Raven Boys just as mesmerizing, engaging and delightful, so by the time I turned the last page I knew having to wait a year for book 2 was going to be a peculiar kind of agony I had never experienced before.

Not only is Stiefvater’s writing poetic and ‘voicey’ weaving snide humour into both dialogue and narrative, but her world is whimsical, soaked in magical realism and utterly engrossing while her characters are complex, endearing and totally relatable. This story stars three living boys – Gansey, Adam and Ronan – one dead boy – Noah – and a girl who sort of sits between the worlds whose name is Blue. Set in a Virginia town described as redneck and hick by the characters, this unlikely group of friends are brought together by Gansey’s search for a legendary Welsh king allegedly buried somewhere in town. This search for Glendower brings Gansey crashing into Blue’s world of mysticism and magic.

I absolutely loved The Raven Boys. It is a book that defies categorisation, equal parts fantasy and urban fantasy, magical realism and contemporary YA. Don’t be put off by the YA tag. Although the main characters are teenagers, there is very little school drama and teen angst in this book as the third person narrative switches between multiple characters including several adults in the book who are just as important as the teens to the story. I waited a year and finally managed to get my hands on book 2…

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Book 2 is all about my favourite character, the truculent Ronan Lynch, who has one of the most amazing and terrifying superpowers I’ve come across, as well as a pet raven called Chainsaw. I adored this book even more than book 1, which I didn’t think was possible. We were taken deeper into the magical side of Henrietta, met new and intriguing characters, and got to know the five teens a little better with a few pleasant surprises along the way. I was delighted when certain developments in the story hinted at the inclusion of an LGBT character. Stiefvater also has a knack for ending things on serious cliffhangers and this novel was no exception. I thought I would expire with need for book 3. Finally, book 3 arrived and I read it just this past week. Here it is…

raven3As the title implies, this book focuses on Blue’s story and her character’s journey as she navigates the rocky relationships with the boys she has grown to love (not in a weird love pentagon kind of way, although there is a smattering of romance between Blue and a certain boy) as they find themselves delving deeper into the magical world on the periphery of their town, and it certainly isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. The magical element here is wonderfully vague. There are no clear rules, no spell-books dictating rituals or werebeasties killed by stakes or silver bullets. All the magical encounters are something entirely new making the series fresh and fierce in a genre prone to cliche. This series seems determined to break convention, the plot twisting and turning along the meandering pathways of the magical setting. Book 3 was everything I hoped it would be and, despite my usual abandonment of series round about here, I found myself absolutely ecstatic that there were two more books to come. Sadly, it seems I was grossly misinformed and rather devastated when I discovered that this series is, in fact, a quadrology which means only one more book and then it’s over! Nooooo! I have never ever wanted more books in a series, but I do with this one. In fact, I want an entire spin-off series starring Ronan Lynch, that’s how good these books are.

If you’re a fan of epic or urban fantasy and fancy trying something a little different, or if you are a fan of magical realism with a little more magic than realism, then I strongly recommend this series. Of course, I don’t know how it ends yet, but I trust Stiefvater to wrap up her story as beautifully and whimsically as she started it. If I were to have any criticism of this series it’s that some of the hints at possible diversity could be explored a little less ambiguously. I don’t know if the author is afraid to categorically state that a certain character is gay or black for fear of losing readers (really? In this era? I doubt it!) or if she’s deliberately trying to be vague about these things because in terms of the story, they don’t really matter and aren’t a big deal to the characters themselves. I’m not sure, but I do hope the reason is not the former.

Now my year-long wait for the fourth and final book in this series commences and I am equal parts excited and anguished that I will only get to spend another 400 pages with these characters who have stolen their way into my heart. Each book scores 5/5 ink-splats from me.


5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2014 in Reviews

 

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TV Show Review: Gotham

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A few months ago when I first saw the trailer for this series, my heart skipped a beat and butterflies created hurricanes in my belly and all other palpable feelings of excitement ran amok through my synpases. It looked dark and gritty – as it should – it looked slick and sexy, and best of all, we were going to get the origin stories of not one, but many of the Gotham city heroes and villains. I was particularly thrilled by the prospect of the latter, which is not something you often see in these sorts of comic book adaptations. With the exception of Marvel’s Loki, I can’t really think of too many films/shows where they’ve given significant motivation and character development to the bad guys. (Please let me know if you have) Gotham promised to do all this and more.

Finally, the Fall TV season started and I couldn’t wait for Gotham to air. I watched the pilot fresh out of a White Collar addiction – by addiction I mean, I watched all five seasons in three weeks and then proceeded to start rewatching it because I was that hooked and did not want to watch anything else except more White Collar and Gotham was the first series I’d attempted since my love affair with Neal Caffrey, just so you understand my state of mind. That said, the two shows couldn’t be more different so I don’t think my opinion would be coloured or clouded by the debonair conman.

The pilot of Gotham started out great. Beautiful cinematography, a really cool retro vibe to the city, gritty and dark as anticipated, this was going well. Then things went awry and the pilot rolled to a close leaving me feeling disappointed. Perhaps it was simply a case of having too high expectations for a show that could never have lived up to the hype, perhaps it was a lack of White Collar snide humour, but I wasn’t convinced Gotham was all that.

Problem 1) Predictability. I was kind of hoping for a new approach here since it’s all about the origins of the characters, but it didn’t feel fresh at all.

Problem 2) Fish. I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen Jada Pinkett Smith act in anything, but her acting in this drove me crazy. I’m not sure quite what it was, but her performance felt forced, almost to the point of pastiche – intentional or not, I couldn’t say.

Problem 3) I did not relate to Gordon. Felt nothing for him. Couldn’t care less what happened to him and he’s meant to be the leading hero of the show. At the end of the pilot, I was most enthralled by Selina Kyle, finding her alluring and delightfully feline I’ll admit in a somewhat sexy kind of way.

My conclusion? Gotham had put style before substance, and while it pleased the eyes, it wasn’t really satisfying my inner comic geek in the ways I wanted it to, in the ways that Arrow and The Flash have. But it was only one episode so I gave it another go, especially because I was really interested in young Catwoman.

Now I knew Catwoman would be young in this show, but I did not expect her to be thirteen. THIRTEEN!? Are you freaking kidding me!? See photo below.

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I’ll be honest, that made me feel weird. Maybe I’m projecting my previous knowledge of Catwoman ala Halle Berry style onto this kid, but it makes me a little uncomfortable that there’s a certain amount of sexualisation happening to a 13-year-old.

That aside, and despite my previous disappointment, I have to say the second episode got better. The third got way better and now I’m officially hooked, tuning in for my weekly dose of all things Arkham. However, my initial problems with the series haven’t been assuaged. I’m still not a fan of Fish, and I’m still struggling to feel much of anything for Gordon. Right now, I’m watching for Penguin and that in itself is perhaps proof of Gotham’s genius because the writers have made me feel the most connected to and the most sympathy for – perverse as it is – a major villain!

As the plot thickens and we start heading ever closer to Arkham Asylum, I find myself increasingly engrossed by this series and strongly recommend it for fellow comic geeks and fans of shows that are as much eye candy as they are story substance. Gotham scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me, but that rating may increase as the show progresses. I hope so. There’s so much to love here!

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Guest Reviews, Reviews

 

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TV Show Review: Forever

I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for procedurals. JAG, CSI, Lie to Me, House, Castle, Criminal Minds, Mentalist, Bones, Elementary, White Collar… – I have watched and loved them all! Give me a procedural with a speculative aspect and I am in my uber happy place. Shows like Blood Ties, Moonlight and even Tru Calling really did it for me. So I was delighted to discover the brand new TV show due to air this Autumn on ABC. It’s called Forever and stars Ioan Gruffudd, an actor I had a mega crush on when I was a kid and addicted to the Hornblower series. Gruffudd’s soulful eyes and accent aside, Forever made me all kinds of excited and it certainly wasn’t because of the IMDB description:

A 200-year-old man works in the New York City Morgue trying to find a key to unlock the curse of his immortality.

Forever

When I first read that rather dry one-liner, I went ‘nah’ and moved on to the next new series of Fall 2015, but then reviews started dribbling onto the net and I saw some promo pics and I realized that there was a hell of a lot more to this story. See, that 200-year-old man, Henry Morgan (Gruffudd), isn’t some creepy janitor mopping the mortuary floors and getting cozy with the corpses, he’s the NYPD’s medical examiner! He’s a highly intelligent doctor with a savant-like eye for detail, a somewhat brooding countenance and a dry wit to boot, and his days aren’t spent pondering his immortality so much as they are running around New York City with an ultra slick female Latina detective, Jo Martinez, who is as badass as she is beautiful. She’s a strong, independent female character in a male dominated field who could give Kate Beckett a run for her money and I find her an interesting and compelling character, if not quite as interesting as Mr Immortal. So, the show’s description probably should’ve read something like this:

A 200-year-old man works as a crime-solving ME in New York City while trying to unlock the secret of his immortality before a know-it-all stranger threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world.

Now that sounds exciting and is far closer to the gist of this story, which is equal parts police procedural and sci-fi mystery – yup, there’s a whole immortal sub-plot lurking in the background and I know it’s going to be unnerving and awesome! I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot and have remained captivated through the other episodes that have aired. This is due in part to Ioan Gruffudd owning the screen with his portrayal of a sometimes arrogant, often endearingly naive, always quirky character as he navigates the modern era with his sexagenarian side-kick who provides comic relief and food for thought. While certain aspects of the show seem a little familiar – hard to avoid given that this is a police procedural after all – there is enough of an emphasis on the science fiction aspect – or arguably fantasy aspect, we’re not sure yet – to make this series seem fresh and unique when compared to the bevy of other procedurals currently on air.

My biggest gripe about this show? The bloody voice-overs! I point my fingers at the CW for turning this into a trend. Voice-overs have always been a lazy, but easy way of conveying exposition to an audience, be it words scrolling on the screen or the main character dictating a screed of ‘stuff you need to know.’ I have NEVER been a fan of this trick so pervasive in SF/F film, and I’m even less of a fan with it on the small screen. Shows like Arrow, The Tomorrow People and now The Flash are all guilty of it and the whole ‘my name is’ formula is getting old fast. While I could forgive the voice-over in the pilot of Forever as a way to set the scene and explain the main SF concept to those perhaps expecting a more mundane crime show, I am fast losing my tolerance for it in subsequent episodes. Thank goodness they seem to be sticking to an intro voice-over and an end of episode wrap-up comment with a slightly philosophical tone. Any more than that and I think I might put my fist through the screen. Still, this is a trend I wish would die a sudden death!

In conclusion, Forever is great for fans of procedurals with a sci-fi bent who enjoy quirky characters, more thinking/less action, and slower pacing for subplots. If it weren’t for those damn voice-overs, this might’ve scored 5 ink splats from me because this show has just about everything I look for in smart, entertaining TV. Alas, it only gets 4.5 splats.

4.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Guest Reviews, Reviews

 

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Film Review: Space Station 76

sq_space_station_sevensixDescription from Amazon: Welcome to a 1970s’ version of the future, where the pants are wide, the music is groovy, and the new frontier is interplanetary. When a new assistant captain (Liv Tyler) arrives on the Omega 76, tensions spark, and more than asteroids collide. This smart and quirky film-festival favorite stars Patrick Wilson, Jerry O’Connell and Matt Bomer. Take a journey on an out-of-this-world adventure.

Looking at reviews and IMDB ratings of this film paint a pretty bleak picture. It has not been well received and that is absolutely the fault of how this film has been marketed. Erroneously described as a ‘spoof’ of 1970′s sci-fi, initial press for this film raised certain expectations, expectations of camp hilarity, which were somewhat reiterated in the trailer. Honestly, the trailer manages to cram in just about all the funny bits of the film – and a few scenes that didn’t even make the final cut – in a two minute teaser that completely ignores context and undermines what makes this film both smart and poignant.

Like so many others, I went in expecting comedy – which is a genre I rarely enjoy and usually avoid, endured here only because it was a) science fiction and b) starred Matt Bomer who was breath-taking in The Normal Heart. Given my distaste for comedy, this movie was a wonderfully pleasant surprise because I didn’t find Space Station 76 funny at all. Instead, this film is quite tragic, a soap-opera allegory with scattered moments of pitch-black humor. Oddly, this type of wry, even off-colour humour, appealed to me a lot more than the type of comedy the trailer and promos led me to believe were in the film.

Back to the bit about it being an allegory. This is where the film shows off that ‘smart and quirky’ personality, delving into the trials and tribulations of upper middle-class suburban life aboard a space station floating through a region of the galaxy devoid of any other ships, inhabited planets or signs of life. It’s this pervasive sense of isolation that becomes a recurring theme as we meet the motley crew of characters, each suffering some sort of emotional disconnect, not only from the rest of the station’s crew, but from themselves as well. The themes present in this film are universal and relevant today despite the retro setting, which is used to highlight the disintegration of the ‘American’ dream. Although this is set in space, the film presents itself like a slice of American apple-pie life: good-looking on the surface but rotten to the core.

These characters broke my heart, but none more so the leading trio of the captain, lieutenant and Ted played by Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer respectively. Wilson’s role in particular was as morbidly amusing as it was incredibly sad as his character struggles with issues of identity and the complication of trying to love someone when you hate yourself. Liv Tyler plays the strong female character threatening Wilson’s already compromised captaincy with her estrogen and new ideas for running the station. She in turn catches the eye of the other males onboard and the scorn of their wives, struggling to make friends while maintaining her independence in a psychological paradigm where women should be subordinate nurturers, not career-driven astronauts! And of course Matt Bomer shines no matter what role he’s given. His portrayal of Ted the welder comes across as extremely authentic with many raw moments on screen – especially between him and his character’s young daughter. Ted highlights the lack of emotional integrity in those around him, overcoming the sometimes gauche elements of the film.

While I did enjoy the movie, I found the ending a little abrupt and disappointing, as if they’d made their point and decided to leave it there instead of providing some sort of thematic resolution. I think the writers/director could’ve dug a little deeper, but I guess the 90 minute mark rolled around and they had to yell cut. So be it. Rather leave me wanting more than wishing the movie was an hour shorter!

So… Don’t watch Space Station 76 expecting a slick, CGI-tastic sci-fi movie – although the same team who did the effects for the original Star Wars films, worked on the set of this one! Similarly, don’t go in expecting a raucously funny Austin Powers-esque romp. This movie is neither and so much more. It’s a study of human nature and family drama, the secrets we keep from our loved ones and the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive the daily grind of existence. This scores 4/5 ink splats!

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Guest Reviews, Reviews

 

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A review of NIGHT WITCHES by L. J. Adlington

Hi everyone, I’m new to the blog *waves* Thank you Dave for inviting me over to review some super cool speculative fiction. I’ll mostly be reviewing YA books, but I’ll also review the odd film or two. I have a quirky taste in books and films so I hope my reviews will introduce you to lesser known but no less awesome SF/F stories.

 

About me in a nutshell:

My name is Suzanne and I’m a tattooed story-teller from South Africa, but I currently live in Finland where I hibernate during the long winters writing, reading and watching everything under the speculative fiction banner – except horror, because I’m a wuss. I have a peanut butter addiction and a shibu inu called Lego. You can find out more about me and my books at my website. And instead of giving you a picture of my face, I thought I’d show you the cover of my forthcoming YA novel, I HEART ROBOT, because this cover is so much prettier ;)

You can also hang out with me on Twitter or Facebook if you’d prefer.

 

And now for the review…

A supernatural thriller-romance set in an all-girl teenage bomber-pilot regiment, combining witchcraft and legend.

TWO NATIONS AT WAR. ONE GIRL CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE. Rain Aranoza is a teenage bomber-pilot from Rodina, a nation of science and fact ruled by the all knowing Aura, where the belief in witches or any type of superstition is outlawed. Rain’s regiment is made up of only teenage girls and their role is vital to the war effort against the Crux, a nation of faith and belief, where nature and God are celebrated and worshipped.

But Rain is struggling with another battle. She’s always had a sense that her nature is different from everyone else’s, and that a dormant power threatens to burst out of her.

When she encounters a young Scrutiner she falls in love with him, but is torn between what she has been taught is right, and what feels right. As her understanding of her latent power grows, the enemy threatens both her friends and her love. She can no longer ignore the power but she must choose how she uses it … But what will she lose in the process?

Amazon

When I reached the end of this novel, four words came to mind: Brilliant! Amazing! Original! Enthralling!
 
To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up at the library. The cover immediately caught my attention (hooray for a person of colour being on the cover!) and then that blurb. Teenage bomber pilots? Sign me up! This book was astonishingly good, the perfect blend of science and fantasy starring a sympathetic MC who I adored. That said, it was the secondary characters who stole the show here, and one of the secondary characters was even genderqueer.
 
This book scored lots of points for diversity. What really had me captivated though wasn’t the MC, or the cool planes, or the love interest with tattooed eyelids (creepy and awesome), but rather the world. The author weaves a rich tapestry that pits religion against science, humanity against artificial intelligence, and nature against machine using appropriate vocabulary and teenage slang born from the fantastic world the characters live in. This all added a most authentic feel to the book and had me fully immersed in the story world from cover to cover.
 
What sealed the 5 ink splat deal for me was finding out this story was inspired by the real night witches: all-female fighter pilots from the Soviet Union who became a rather formidable force during WWII. The fact that this bit of history is woven into the story, including thematic material gleaned from Stalinist philosophy, added an extra dimension to the book, one which I found fascinating and terrifying, especially considering the YA demographic for which this book is intended. It was a brave move by the author and one she executed flawlessly.
 
I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking for a strong YA science fantasy featuring diverse characters in an incredibly well-constructed world. This book gets 5/5 ink-splats from me! Right, I’m off to find more books by this author.

 

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