Wednesday 28 July 2021

Starfell - Willow Moss and the Forgotten Tale

The story opens with Willow's magical power of finding things misbehaving - suddenly she's making things disappear. To make things worse her friend Nolan Sometimes has sent her an urgent letter - he's just seen ten minutes into the future and he's about to be kidnapped. Willow resolves to find her friend but with strong magical forces working against her and her own powers out of control, will she be able to do it?

I would start by saying that if you haven't read the first book you may struggle a little to make sense of what's happening as the story is carrying on from there. Having said that I couldn't remember all the details of what happened in the first story and I still very much enjoyed this one and the main plot points are covered in the first few pages which are quite exposition heavy. However, opening with Nolan Sometimes plea for help is an intriguing start. 

The things I really liked about the story. The simultaneous plot lines of what is happening to Nolan and Willow searching for him worked well especially in the first half of the book. It keeps you thinking - How on Earth can Willow solve this when she has so little to go on. 

The exploration of grief and loss is integral to the plot and was really well done - how sometimes the feelings can creep up on you and punch you in the chest with their intensity. I thought how at the beginning of the story, Willow's family not understanding or coping very well with what's happening to Willow was a realistic way that family's behave. How they deal in different ways with events and don't always handle situations as well as they could, compounded by the fact that Willow has different memories of what happened.That they doubt her, is what Willow finds devastating.

The illustrations are brilliant and bring the story to life - the few double page illustrations are well chosen allowing us to see Holloway's boat or the topiary children for example.

Favourite line - "...magic never really dies - it simply waits until we're ready for it."

The writing often foreshadows what is going to happen, sometimes this is a little heavy handed. The age range for the book is 8+, so I think this provides a good example of how storytelling can work. I am still convinced that Holloway's eye is important beyond what was mentioned in this book.

I think everything that's in the story is there for a reason with some good examples of when you should listen to your inner voice which of course Willow doesn't do. The line in Chapter 5 - 

'"Come on in child," said the witch.'

 First of all Willow thinks of her as "the witch" even though she knows her name.Secondly I'm not sure any good ever came of following someone into a building when they've invited you in by saying "Come on in child," you know it's going to end badly.

My only niggle is that the end feels rushed. The story is 291 pages and on page 235 the plot accelerates with things happening one after the other and it feels more like a series of events that have to happen to get the story finished. I wonder if the author had been allowed 350 pages if that extra 50 pages could have allowed the end of the story a bit more breathing room to pack everything in.

Overall - very good second book in a continuing series, looking forward to book 3.

(I was provided a free copy of this book for review)

Friday 23 July 2021

Map's Edge - David Hair

I feel like whoever wrote the blurb for this story should get some kind of industry award for making it sound much more exciting than it is.

"Soldier, sorcerer and exiled nobleman Raythe Vyre has run out of places to hide...Now he's found a chance of redemption for himself...a map showing a hitherto unknown place that's rich in istariol, the rare mineral that fuels sorcery. Mining it will need people, but luckily there are plenty of outcasts, ne'er-do-wells and loners desperate enough to brave haunted roads through the ruins of an ancient, long-dead civilisation, to seek wealth and freedom."

It sounds like it's going to be a rollicking read,fast paced and exciting but that's not really what you get.

There are parts of it that are gripping, the magic system is interesting though not unique and the female character Kemara has a story that I want to keep reading. Unfortunately it's also incredibly exposition heavy (especially in the beginning), the pace is far too slow not helped by overlong chapters and familiar fantasy situations kept cropping up.

Positives. On the whole the characters are well written, though I found the protagonist Raythe (ex-nobleman and sorcerer) to be one of the least interesting, however, he is the glue holding everything together. Kemara (the healer or is she?), for me, is the most interesting character and the one that kept me reading. I always wanted to know more about her.

The second half of the book is a better read than the first half. There is much more actually happening, towards the end perhaps too much and characters are actually doing things rather than talking about doing things.

The story does slowly pull you in, the quest aspect becomes more interesting and the behaviour of the various groups within the band of travellers increases the intrigue as they all decide whether to put their own self-interest first or help the others. Though the fluidity of this change among some of the characters became somewhat repetitive.

Negatives. There are lots of characters and no character list. In the first chapter I knew I was going to struggle with who was who and it doesn't improve as the story goes on and more and more characters are introduced. In the end I decide to keep track of the characters who interest me and treat the others as background because there are too many for me to remember.

The first half of the book is slow. Not helped by the length of the chapters, for example chapter 4 starts on page 70 and finishes on page 126. As someone who reads a chapter a night before going to sleep I found myself dropping off somewhere around page 100 still nowhere near the end of the chapter. It's also exposition heavy and is not subtle about it. (I may have mentioned that already).

It felt like the story took a while to find it's own identity and if you read a lot of fantasy / watch fantasy television you may find it somewhat derivative. Example at the start there's a bit where I was thinking, this feels a little bit like the Mines of Moria (Lord of the Rings) I bet I can guess what's going to happen next.

Later on a character says "You know nothing" to another character and if you've watched Game of Thrones you're automatically adding "Jon Snow" to the end of that sentence.

Overall - it's a bit of a mixed bag, maybe worth checking out if you're looking for a new fantasy read but I won't be pursuing the series any further.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Hollowpox by Jessica Townsend

The blurb - "...a strange illness has taken hold of Nevermoor, turning its peaceable Wunimals into mindless, vicious unnimals on the hunt. As victims of the Hollowpox multiply, panic spreads. And with the city she loves in a state of fear, Morrigan quickly realises it is up to her to find a cure for the Hollowpox, even if it will put her - and the rest of Nevermoor - in more danger than ever before ..."

If you haven't read the previous two Nevermoor books do not start here. I do not think I can stress that enough - DO NOT START HERE! This story builds upon what has already happened and I really don't think you'll appreciate the depth of the story if you don't understand how the characters have reached this point.

The end of book 2 made me weep - if you've read it you'll know why - I actually found it emotionally devastating. I was talking about book 2 with someone (who had finished book 3) a few weeks ago and just thinking about it made me start crying. So I was slightly surprised that those events are only mentioned in passing once and that is the only niggle I have about this book. (Bearing in mind I'm reading an ARC - I am getting this book in hardcover, though, for my bookshelf).

I love how Jessica Townsend is able to combine the plot of this book - the outbreak of Hollowpox - with the everyday events that are happening in Nevermoor, superb character development, and an ongoing story arc that started in the first book.

Something that happened at the very beginning of this book made me think - damn! I need to go back and read the second book again to see how what I've just read affects what I read then.

Morrigan's character develops significantly in this book. She's definitely more of a teenager now, is quite an independent thinker but often doesn't think her actions through. It will be interesting to see how this sometimes reckless behaviour plays out in the next book, especially as it's clear that she's a person who cares a lot about her friends and adopted family but often acts on impulse. 

I think she also sees more in this book, partly the fallibility of some of the adults in her life - that they don't always have the answers, but also understanding more about how the world of Nevermoor works. 

We learn more about Ezra Squall in this book - but not enough! Very intriguing the path that his character took here, as we learn more about what he was like before he became the monster he is considered to be.

The writing is just beautiful. 

"There's three of us! And I've easily got the strength of three people, so technically there's five of us."

"Technically still three," Francis disagreed.


Cadence shrugged. "That's different."

"How is it different?"

"It's different because I'm actually good at this stuff and you're actually rubbish," she said.

Not just the quotability of it, but the use of language. How Morrigan is learning about fire in this book and there is fire imagery throughout the book just subtly (and not so subtly sometimes) woven into the story.

Page 412 of the ARC I made a note - This is not going where I thought it was - I love that! I read a lot and watch a lot of fantasy television as well. It is not often that I think  - "I wasn't expecting that." 

I love that in reading this book, it feels like I've taken a trip to another world. It's a book and a series that you can read over and over again, and each time find something new. I cannot recommend this book and series  highly enough.

(I received a copy of an ARC for review.)