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Book Review: Fathoms of Fenlake

Today’s review is going to be a little different, because the book in question is a little different too. I received this book from the author for an honest review so here goes…

fenlake

Aigi’s journey into the mythical world of the Sami people starts with a race for the first ray of sunlight of the New Year, and continues with a plunge into the wondrous Saivo realm to search for a childhood friend. On the journey the knowledge of beings such as the gobmi, skammaidas and other fantastic creatures will surely be needed.

Fathoms of the Fenlake is a groundbreaking fantasy story. A solid nature connection, ingenuity and courage along with mystical powers have always been present in the Sami culture. The colorful pantheon has survived the attempts to abolish it, and the Aigi-saga draws from that legendary folklore. The bewitching novel will charm its readers.

Ante Aikio is a reindeer herder and modern entrepreneur living between two worlds himself, splitting his time between his company and his reindeer herd. Both are far beyond the polar circle – in the land of Sami mythology and tales. This is the one from the fathoms of ancient lakes…

*There are a few spoilers ahead*

This book is unique in that it is written by a Sami reindeer herder from Finnish Lapland and is all about Sami mythology, a mythology rarely seen (if ever) in mainstream fantasy. This book was originally written in Finnish and since my Finnish comprehension isn’t quite up to the challenge of reading a full novel, I decided to read the translation instead. I’m generally quite hard to please when it comes to translations and this book was sadly, no exception.

Firstly, I have to applaud this author for writing down what has, for the most part, been an oral tradition of story-telling. The Sami have a unique outlook on the world, their traditions entwined with nature-worship, and are a rather isolated group of people living at the edge of the world so this book has the potential to reach readers around the world, letting readers know that the Sami exist and that their story-telling is rich and profound.

Despite being exposed to Sami music while living in Finland and getting to know about some of their traditions during my studies, I didn’t know much about their mythology before reading this book. While I did enjoy getting to know more about Sami mythology and tradition, this book fell short of its promise.

This book is presented as an epic fantasy novel. It is not. Instead of reading like one cohesive story, the book is structured more like a collection of mythological stories as one might find in a non-fiction tome on the subject. The writing is similar in style to narrative non-fiction, heavy on telling and light on dialogue. This style does not make for an immersive experience. The main character is interesting and the story teases the promise of a Chosen One who has only to develop his magical powers. Sadly, this remains a tease and the character doesn’t do too much growing towards that destiny. Perhaps this was intentional, leaving room for a sequel, but this didn’t work for me. It seemed very anti-climatic when the main character, who could be a powerful sorcerer, doesn’t really amount to much at all despite having endured various travails in the Hero’s Journey tradition. This for me was the biggest disappointment and, combined with the dry prose, didn’t really allow me to enjoy the story that much.

Story aside, which will definitely be interesting to those who enjoy reading mythology anthologies, the writing itself made reading this book difficult. Perhaps simply a case of poor translation, this book suffers from bad grammar, tedious repetitions, incorrect vocabulary, and bland description. I really wish I could read this in the original Finnish to get a better feel for the story-telling.

As an epic fantasy novel, this story falls flat and would not easily rival the works of Rothfuss, Eddings, Lawrence, Erikson, Marillier, or, of course, Tolkien. While the story is rife with nasty beasties and liberally sprinkled with magic, the writing just isn’t up to scratch and the story suffers for it. As an experience in diversity and as a study of Sami mythology, this book excels, enabling global readers a more accessible means of discovering a relatively unknown culture. Perhaps I went into this book with unrealistic expectations. Perhaps had I approached this book as I would the a ‘Collected Tales of Greek Mythology’ I might’ve enjoyed this book far more. Regardless, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in exploring Sami tradition and mythology.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Empire of Night

This is book 2 in the Age of Legends series. Over here, you can read my review of book 1 Sea of Shadows. I knew I would return to this series because I adored the characters, and I’m really glad that I did because what I felt was lacking in book 1 was delivered in spades in book 2!

empire

No blurb this time because it would give away too many spoilers. This is going to be a spoiler-free review as well, so I won’t be discussing too much of the plot. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this book kept me turning pages way past my bed time!

Book 2 picks up almost exactly where book 1 leaves us, weaving recaps of book 1 into the narrative in a way that didn’t feel like a major info dump. While book 1 was mostly about two girls traipsing through the wastes and battling legendary beasties, book 2 dives straight into what I thought was lacking in the first book: political intrigue! Book 2 introduces quite a few new characters which not only adds to the world-building but also forces the characters to grow and change in unexpected ways. Again, the girls are split up by circumstances and must face their own trials and tribulations, but the book never lets you forget that this story is first and foremost about the sister-bond between Moria and Ashyn. There is romance, but it always comes second to the love between the sisters which I found most refreshing.

While I found the world-building a little confusing in the first book, book 2 reveals far more about the cultures and construction of this fantasy world that seems to be a mesh between East and West, with a tendency toward 17th Century Japan although I think Armstrong does well to avoid some of the cliches while still introducing recognizable elements of the culture. There is also mention of foot-binding which was a Chinese practice, but the caste system comes straight out of Edo-era Japan. Coupled with the northern cultures we’ve only begun to get a taste of by book 2, I would say the world in this series isn’t a borrowed version of the ancient East so much as an continental amalgamation which I found really different from the vast majority of Euro-centric fantasy.

While there are no openly LGBT+ characters in the series – yet? – same-sex relationships are mentioned several times and seem to be accepted if not quite the norm. I’m not quite sure how this would work in a society very much concerned with family and lineage, but I hope that Armstrong explores this in the final book.

I cannot talk about the plot without giving away major spoilers. This book is all about the plot! There is substantial character development as well, but what kept me turning the pages was the political intrigue and wondering who the girls could trust, or who might betray them next. What I do absolutely love about this story is that the girls are both strong, independent young women who aren’t strong because they act like men. They are still young girls with a rather narrow if slowly broadening understanding of the world and people who use their significant skills to help themselves and others while not being afraid of asking for and accepting help when needed. Too often, strong female characters are written like male characters as if any show of femininity is somehow a show of weakness, but this is definitely not the case in this novel where the girls can do battle just as easily as they can chat about pretty dresses.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the ending was a punch in the gut and is going to make the wait for book 3 a special kind of torment. While book 1 wasn’t my favourite, book 2 was excellent and I strongly recommend giving this series a chance because I’m sure it’s going to finish on a high! 5/5 splats for Empire of Night.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Jackaby

The cover of this one first caught my eye and made me think the story would be dark. This book turned out to be a quick and enjoyable read, but not one I loved.

jackaby

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre

Not being a huge fan of Doctor Who (I enjoyed Torchwood far more) I can’t speak to the Doctor Who comparison, but the Sherlock comparison is spot on. And by spot on, I mean, once again we have the socially inept genius who sees what no one else can see. In this instance, Detective Jackaby sees paranormal oddities, from pixies and trolls to auras and magical residue. The entire story is essentially a Victorian episode of Sherlock with werebeasties, and, as in Elementary, Watson is now played by a woman… a girl? This book is marketted for young readers after all. The Sherlock-Watson vibe isn’t subtle. Abigail Rook keeps a journal of their escapades and even writes up a story about it all in the end – much like both Sherlock’s and Elementary’s Watsons do. The parallel isn’t cute though, it’s almost tedious because it’s all been done before. To be honest, I’m not sure the paranormal element in this book really offers enough freshness to the story.

Jackaby is at least a quick read and that cheeky humour in the blurb definitely does come through. That’s the book’s saving grace. Were it not for that snide sense of humour, this book would not have been nearly as enjoyable.

I’m struggling to think of what else to write about this. I don’t think this book is going to linger in my thoughts for very long. With the recent slew of Sherlock retellings, it’s just not that unique or memorable and the paranormal detective story has been done to death. What is perhaps unique is the touch of feminism thanks to Abigail’s stubbornness and assertiveness. Given the era in which this is set, Abigail certainly fits the strong female character trope, but is still second fiddle to the male, genius detective. Now, this book would’ve been truly refreshing had it made the Sherlockian-detective the woman. Actually, why hasn’t this already been done? Or are women simply incapable of being sociopathic geniuses?

Anyway… if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read for a rainy afternoon and enjoy paranormal stories, you would probably enjoy this book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t blow me away and I probably won’t remember this story at all in a couple of months. Jackaby gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Love is the Drug

I thoroughly enjoyed The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson and have been eagerly anticipating her latest book, Love is the Drug. I am delighted to say, it did not disappoint!

lovedrug

Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC’s elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.

Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus–something about her parents’ top secret scientific work–something she shouldn’t know.

The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.

Sigh. Ignore the blurb. Here’s what you need to know: Johnson has once again crafted an intelligent YA novel that swirls a toe in sci-fi waters while the other foot remains firmly planted in the realm of conspiracy theory thriller. This hasn’t got a lot of love from YA reviewers and I think I know why. While the characters are teenagers and there is a lot of teenage stuff happening on the pages, this book doesn’t pander to its audience and the plot is a slow-burn more common to adult reads than a frenetic rush from one moment of life-threatening excitement to another as in many YA novels. That’s not to say this book isn’t exciting. It is, but the realistic timeline means the reader needs patience.

While there is the deadly flu virus thing going on in this story, that almost becomes backdrop to what is truly a coming of age story and a wonderfully real and raw romance between two teenagers who don’t quite fit in at their elite prep school. For me, it’s this part of the story that is truly awesome, original, and page turning. At some point I realized I couldn’t care less if the flu was an act of bioterrorism or not, so long as the protagonists could find a way to sort out their lives and be together despite the odds stacked against them.

While the blurb makes this book seem like a plot-driven thriller, it’s not. This novel is all about the characters and they’re wonderful. Emily Bird is Black. Yes, Black with a capital B as written and emphasized in the story. This book addresses issues of race without the story becoming about race or racism and that’s fantastic. This novel really opened my eyes to what life is like for a black teenage girl in the upper echelons of American society. I had no idea, which is why books like Love is the Drug are so important. Emily Bird also has a diverse group of friends at her preppy school. Some black, some white, some Latino/a, some mixed, some international, some straight, some gay. If you’re looking for a diverse read, this book has diversity in spades! The other lead character in this book – Coffee – is a white Brazilian diplomat’s kid and is a middle finger, not only to the establishment in the novel, but to several YA tropes, which demand hunky heroics from the love interest. Coffee is smart and uses his brain rather than brawn to get things done.

My favourite part of this novel was the unlikely romance between Bird and Coffee. They are so different from such different backgrounds with such different families and family values and yet somehow they manage to see and bring out the best in each other. It was an absolute pleasure reading about a young couple who challenged each other to be better people, to think for themselves and make smart choices – if not always the right ones – these are teens of course and they’re going to mess up. Given how many near-abusive relationships are touted as the epitome of romance (I’m looking at you Twilight and Hush,Hush) it was a wonderful surprise to see the girl choose to be with the nice guy who treated her as an equal on all fronts. It’s this sort of positive reinforcement I’d like to see in more teen reads.

If I have anything to gripe about with the story, it’s that once again the parents are reduced to absentee monsters. Since the story is told from Bird’s perspective perhaps they aren’t as bad as she perceives them to be, but I still found the parental roles in this book slipping into the YA cliches of absent and/or awful. Granted, there are probably parents like this in the world, but everything else felt so fresh in this novel that this one aspect stood out as being a little stale.

The writing in this novel, as with The Summer Prince, is excellent, although there were a few passages I thought might’ve been a little over done. There were also one or two stylistic POV switches I wasn’t convinced were necessary, but these minor blips in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book as a whole. 5 glorious ink splats for this intelligent, thought-provoking, authentic, and diverse YA novel.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in Reviews

 

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