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Book Review: My Chemical Mountain

Sometime last year, I read a little known YA novel called My Chemical Mountain. To be honest, the title caught my attention because of its similarity to the band name My Chemical Romance. I wasn’t quite sold given the blurb below, but I loved the cover so thought I’d give it a try anyway.

mountain

Rocked by his father’s recent death and his mother’s sudden compulsion to overeat, Jason lashes out by breaking into the abandoned mills and factories that plague his run-down town. Always by his side are his two best friends, Charlie, a fearless thrill junkie, and Cornpup, a geek inventor whose back is covered with cysts. The boys rage against the noxious pollution that suffocates their town and despise those responsible for it; at the same time, they embrace the danger of their industrial wasteland and boast about living on the edge. 

   Then on a night the boys vandalize one of the mills,  Jason makes a costly mistake–and unwittingly becomes a catalyst for change. In a town like his, change should be a good thing. There’s only one problem: change is what Jason fears most of all.

While I have read many disaster-apocalypse novels and a good few dystopians, this was first foray into ‘ecopunk,’ in that the book explores the consequences of pollution, corporate indifference and the effects of industrial waste on the environment. This story has stuck with me not least of all because of the grim, gritty, dark world the story is set in. This is neither a true post-apocalyptic nor a real dystopian story, but rather portrays the reality for many existing industrial towns right now. This is a very scary reality indeed, albeit exaggerated for the sake of fiction, and in many ways reminded me of the Chernobyl disaster and how the surrounding area was and is still affected by radiation today. Oh how I’d love to read a novel set in that vicinity!

What I truly loved about this story, and found so refreshing, was the all-boy main cast when having a strong, female lead is usually prerequisite for any YA novel. Along with the all-male cast, the emphasis in this novel is most certainly on male friendship instead of romance, which is also rare in YA. While I did appreciate this different approach, I must admit that at times this book felt more MG than YA because it was lacking certain tropes I’ve come to expect from YA. I think this novel might appeal more to younger readers, especially boys around the 10-13 age, but can be enjoyed by adults as well. Not that who the target audience should be really matters given how engaging these characters are. There was something so charming about Charlie’s reckless confidence, something endearing about Cornpup’s righteousness and something just undeniably lovable about Jason’s compassion – these are all characters I’ll definitely have a hard time forgetting. While the plot is rather straight forward without many twists or turns, I found the boys’ struggle against their toxic environment and the corporations that govern their lives totally compelling and alarming.

If you’re looking for a short, sci-fi light read with a refreshing focus on boys, friendship and the power one individual can have against a tyrant, then I strongly recommend this book! My Chemical Mountain gets 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in Reviews

 

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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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The Painted Man – Peter V Brett

 

 

 

The Painted Man UK Edition Hard Cover

The Painted Man UK Edition Hard Cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is with great pleasure that I announce the arrival of Peter V Brett onto the fantasy scene! I have just finished his novel, The Painted Man, Book One in the Demon Trilogy, and have no doubt that Brett’s talent, abounding in this book, will only grow with time.

 

The story, once you boil it down to its constituent parts, is quite simple: humankind live in fear of demons, collectively called Corelings, that rise from the earth as soon as the sun sets and return to the earth just before the sun rises; these demons come in many shapes and forms, and all are united in one purpose – the utter destruction of mankind. But the humans have weapons, of a sort, that can be brought to bare on the demons; known as wards, these are magical symbols which are painted or carved onto walls, doors, even windows, and they form a barrier through which the demons cannot break – well, sometimes they do, and when this happens, the surviving people of the Free Cities and hamlets are left to pick up the pieces, mourn their dead, and rebuild for the next attack.

 

But even though the premise of this novel is simple, it is also elegant and unique. Gone is the Evil Overlord who has built up armies to flense the lands of all life not under his iron rule, and gone is the typical use of magic – there are no incantations, songs, or flows wielded here. And it is not only Brett’s re-imagining of these fantasy staples that works so well, it is also his ability to completely subsume you in a world that seems utterly familiar, yet terrifying and exhilarating, too.

 

Brett takes us along with a pace that does not relent, showing us everything from the day-to-day beauty of family life – or its heartbreaking darker side – to walled cities of thousands that fear the coming of night as every small child does; Brett takes us into a society in which women have the highest and lowest ranks, in which men can be both utterly heartless naively innocent, and shows us a land fragmenting under the constant barrage of fear and mourning.

 

Hope arrives in the form of three very different but completely engaging characters; a boy who decides to stop reacting and act, a girl who is struggling to find a purpose for her life, and a half-handed orphan who decides once and for all to stop running.

 

Brett has given us characters with their own hopes and dreams, their own fears and simple joys; these characters leap off the page, and you’ll find yourself slipping into their skin easier than slipping into a bubble bath. As they progress throughout the novel, every action, thought and word seem completely normal and logical, and Brett’s ability to breathe such vivid life into his characters is one of his strongest abilities.

 

You will find yourself reading late into the evening, hoping beyond hope that the wards will hold, hoping that you will not be cored ­and that you will survive, and when you finish the novel, you may find yourself thinking that the wait for Book Two may be too long.

 

I am a fan. You will be too.

 

9/10.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2008 in Reviews

 

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