‘The Fascinators’ – Andrew Eliopulos

The Fascinators was one of those reads that I’m not quite sure what to make of.

The prologue opens by getting us to see young Liv picked up by a group that we know nothing about and hints at something awful happening before completely switching focus. The story then shifts to a trio made up of Sam, James and Delia. They practise magic and are definitely something of an oddity in their hometown. We don’t know where their magic comes from or why it’s such a big deal to them, and this lack of detail was part of the issue with the book for me.

These characters live in a world where magic is fundamental to the story unfolding for us, yet we are never shown how we come to this position. With the arrival of new guy Denver we can see there’s a shift in the dynamics but it’s unclear just why this comes about.

A key factor in this story is the focus on Sam coming to terms with his feelings for James and how this impacts on their group dynamic. There’s clearly been tension for some time before we encounter the group but we don’t really get to understand this until a lot later on, by which time we’ve probably decided our views on them all and what we want to happen.

In terms of plot, it’s actually quite straightforward – but without really getting a full picture of the world/attitudes to magic it was quite hard to really understand the significance of details until quite late on. Sam was infuriating at times, but the end result was actually quite positive and suggested that his relationship with James could have been held up to closer scrutiny.

 

‘The Challenger’ – Taran Matharu

Talk about leaving you hanging! A frustrating (yet fitting) end to a cracking story.

Picking up not long after the events of Book One, Cade learns that he is to act as the representative in a much bigger battle. It’s a threat he is ill-equipped to deal with, so the priority for the group at the start is to find armour.

Unfortunately, while searching for what they need the group are taken by slavers. Cade has to barter for his freedom – resulting in them being forced to participate in the emperor’s gladiatorial games.

What follows is fraught with danger, but wholly believable. Seen from Cade’s perspective we are made to witness a number of awful battles as he strives to complete the tasks put in front of him to secure what he needs to have a chance of success. We get a lot of awful scenes, but Cade’s honest reactions to these mean we never see them as anything other than a very necessary step towards what he needs to do to get home (or be in with a chance to).

There’s hints of romance, which you could see coming a mile off. There’s deepening bonds of friendship and there’s a clear sense that these characters we come to care about are mere pawns in a much bigger game.

I am so grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this in exchange for my thoughts. Now I need to dig a little and see what the plans for part three are…I have questions that I’m really hoping will be answered!

 

‘The Kingdom of Back’ – Marie Lu

In some ways I think this is a story that could have been told many times over, that of a talented young woman denied the chance to share her talent purely because of her gender.

Our focus is Nannerl, the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A girl I had never heard of, yet the author’s note suggests her talent was comparable – if not, in some ways, more than that of her lauded younger brother.

We follow Nannerl as she recounts her forays into composition, and her growing frustration at the way her talent is ignored by her father as he touts his young children around the world in an attempt to ensure the name of Mozart is never forgotten.

While the historical element of the story is interesting, I was more entranced by the fantasy elements Lu employs to examine Nannerl’s feelings about the events she lives. We watch as she conjures up The Kingdom of Back, a mystical place, and is persuaded to undertake a number of quests in order to achieve her heart’s desire.

This was, evidently, a story that had captivated Lu and one that seems to have taken her years to finish/share with the world. It will certainly introduce someone overlooked to readers, but it also offers us the opportunity to see an imaginative exploration of two very talented children and how their relationships develops over time.

 

‘Supernova (Renegades 3)’ – Marissa Meyer

A fitting end to this superhero series, where we get a lot of what we expected but not everything is as straightforward as it seems.

Picking up after the events of book two, Nova is all too aware that it is only a matter of time before her double identity is revealed. While she is in love with Adrian and has come to respect the Renegades, the years preparing her have ensured she is hard to sway from her intended course of action. Determined to rescue Ace, Nova takes greater chances and there were times where I wondered if this was really the same girl we’d seen through the previous two books.

Regardless of our views on Nova’s behaviour, she is plunged into the thick of the action here. Some are determined to make her pay for her actions, but there are others prepared to look beyond what they’ve been told – who think there’s a chance of a different approach.

Nova is placed in some difficult circumstances here. Not everyone behaves honourably, and yet there’s support for Nova where we might not have foreseen it. If you’re in this for the action you won’t be disappointed, and there was a clear attempt to answer some of the questions we’ve had about these characters and their lives.

You need to know that not everyone survives. Everyone is changed, in some way. And there’s a wonderful reveal at the end – which we had been given little clues about – that hints there could be more to come.

 

‘The Guinevere Deception’ – Kiersten White

For as long as I can remember I have loved the stories of King Arthur and his knights. I was fascinated by studying Thomas Malory’s Works, and once again Kiersten White takes something familiar and much-loved and turns it into something new, a little darker and completely absorbing.

We begin our journey with Guinevere travelling to Camelot for the first time to meet her husband-to-be, Arthur. Her wonder at seeing this land and the way Arthur rules is interesting, but it’s clear from the beginning that this isn’t quite what we think. Guinevere is hiding a secret. She is not who people think she is, and her father Merlin has arranged this situation so that Guinevere can use her hidden magic to help protect Arthur.

A good part of the book focuses on Guinevere settling into Camelot. She picks up on things others don’t notice, and while it’s not particularly exciting it’s essential for us to understand how things develop later.

There are many familiar faces here. We see Lancelot and come to understand the bond shared between Arthur’s queen and favourite knight. We have, throughout, an unknown narrator who is clearly allied to dark magic. We don’t learn quite how this character links until very late on, but I loved the way White chooses to flesh out characters that it’s easy to see in a certain way. She shows us their courtly behaviours, but we gain insight into the people behind these public faces. We come to see them as people, and this development means we can’t help but feel very real fear at what might be in store.

 

‘Chain of Gold’ – Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare…you’ve done it again.

Another group of characters tightly bound by their bonds/expectations and desires…where things aren’t always quite what they seem, and where we end up in dangerous situations with nobody batting an eyelid.

There’s a lot of characters in this, and it was a bit confusing to start with. However, as we start to focus on the main group it became a lot easier to follow.
The story is one of those that seems to become more complex the more we learn. It focuses on our Shadowhunters trying to learn who might be responsible for conjuring demons that are killing Shadowhunters. There’s clearly some link with key Shadowhunter families – and we do get some answers.

Once I felt the characters we were focusing on were little more established, I got quite taken in by this. There were enough hints of action to come and suggestions of potential plot strands to make me curious to see what comes next, and I was definitely in turn amused and upset by/for Cordelia, James, Anna, Matthew and Alistair – amongst others.

 

‘The Boneless Mercies’ – April Genevieve Tuchoike

A fantasy that has echoes of Beowulf and set in a world that seemed familiar, yet also unnatural.

We follow a group of four called The Boneless Mercies. Frey, our narrator, is their leader and as they travel we learn how the four (Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa) come together. We watch their journey across a strange and troubled land, bringing death to those who pay for it. It is a harsh and brutal living, but there is compassion in these women as they fulfil their service to those that live”
Frey is determined to end their way of life, and she dreams of doing something heroic. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the heroes of the old stories, Frey leads her group on a journey to kill an unstoppable monster.

Along the way she is part of a plot to restart a witch war. She is tasked with killing a young witch queen. She thus learns of a secret that might prove useful and then, as we’d hope, gets her battle with the monster.

While the story is described in one way I felt this led to rather unfair expectations. The women are brave and do fight, but they are not fearless. They have compassion in spite of the death they bring. They deliver what they promised, but it has the slightly unreal feeling of being simply part of a bigger story that we are not yet ready to be told.

 

‘House of Earth and Blood’ – Sarah J. Maas

CHAPTERS 1-5 ONLY (NetGalley Extract)

We’re introduced to Bryce and her world is, to put it bluntly, chaotic. A clear attempt to bring in an older audience, but the story will be what really makes it work. Hints of an intriguing world, though we’re not given a lot of detail here. What we do get, however, is a definite setting-up of a story to capture our interest…who is behind this attack? Why Bryce? Will she survive this?
Thanks to NetGalley for the sneak peek…thank goodness I don’t need to wait too long for the release of the book itself.

HAVING FINALLY MANAGED TO READ THE FULL NINETY-SOMETHING CHAPTERS…

I got a little caught up in the hype at this foray into adult literature. I started in earnest…and then I have to admit to struggling.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why this was so hard to get into, but I really felt like I might not finish it at certain points. And that feeling continued for over thirty chapters – which is just too long to expect a reader to stick with you in the expectation that it’s going to get better. I did…and put my trust in reading buddies who pretty much unanimously voiced the view that it was worth sticking with. To them, thanks, as left to my own devices I probably would have bottled this.
The character of Bryce (part-human child of the Autumn King) is flawed, but you root for her from the beginning, and the dynamics of her various relationships hint at some intriguing developments. There’s plenty of background info given and the world-building is established as we read. We get lots of suggestions about shifting power alliances and past events are clearly going to have bearing on what we see/will see. From the outset we are clear that a range of groups have a vested interest in the events depicted…and we are somewhat in the dark as we try to piece together quite how everything fits.
To cut a very long story short, this book focuses us on a hunt for a long-lost Fae relic. As the search takes place, we have a side-story of what exactly led to the deaths of Bryce’s friends at the start. There’s the drawn-out relationship problem, this time featuring Bryce and Hunt. For those familiar with Maas’s writing the relationship is a prickly one, with both parties damaged in some way; a lot of teasing and sexual tension; the usual ‘white noise’ of overblown sexualised moments that promise much but never quite deliver…and the very firm expectation that things will sort themselves out eventually. We also get a fair amount of complicated family relationships and action from other worlds that means we’re never quite certain where this is going. And then, once things get going, we have some great scenes.
I think this is one to mentally prepare yourself for. Perhaps you’ll love it from the start – in which case, once we hit that magic moment (it was part three onwards for me) you will be fair gushing in your praise for Maas and the feel good factor delivered by what comes later. For me, the latter stages really were emotional with plenty of action to engage us and hints of some fascinating developments to come. There was upset, love, fear, hope and a growing sense of a world showing its true potential. It helps that Bryce has her vulnerable moments, as when she really gets going she’s hard to ignore and that knowledge that she’s in it for the right reasons keeps us rooting for her.
Having taken weeks to get to part three, the latter stages got their claws in me and I raced through the last fifty-odd chapters in a couple of days. That doesn’t sit well with me, but it was most definitely worth it. And now I cannot wait to see how Maas continues the events set in motion.

 

‘Stardust’ – Neil Gaiman

A lovely fairytale about a young man claiming his birthright and a journey into the land of Faerie.

I feel I must have watched the movie of this at some time because it all felt so familiar, but I thoroughly enjoyed this sojourn into an unusual land.

The town of Wall is on the boundary of the land of Faerie. Each year a market is held and people can purchase things they have never seen before. Our story begins with a young man being sold a beautiful glass snowdrop, ending up under a spell and having sex with an enchanted young lady who spends half her life as a bird. We then see him left with the child.

Years later the child, Tristan, is almost an adult and in love with a young lady called Victoria. He promised to catch her a falling star in exchange for her hand in marriage. And so begins an unusual quest.

Along the way Tristan comes to realise he’s not quite what he thought. He learns to trust his own judgment and ends up saving the star from others who pursue her for their own ends.

A truly magical story that ends exactly as you want it to. It put a smile on my face.

 

‘Rituals’ – Kelley Armstrong

A fitting finale to the series, which merges crime and the paranormal, but it keeps us hanging on right until the end to get some of our answers.

With Ricky stepping aside at the end of the previous book, there is a part of Liv that misses him though she remains focused on the work she has to do for Gabe. These two edge round each other, seeming destined to be together but reluctant to take that step. Getting insight into both characters’ views though, it is a rather inevitable moment that we’re waiting for.

This time round the trio realise they’re dealing with a darkness much bigger than that they feared. When Gabe’s mum reappears we know there’s something odd going on. So many characters seem to have made deals that bind them to another, and there is a clear sense that we are waiting to see how all these moments link.

There’s more fae stuff, a lot of relationship stuff, a few dangerous moments…and, just when it all starts to seem too much, a rather sneaky resolution. It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it fits with the way the characters have approached everything through the series.