Review: The Originals: The Rise

Posted on March 3rd, 2015 @ 21:51
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The Originals: The RiseThe Originals: The Rise by Julie Plec

My rating:

Blurb:

Family is power. The Original vampire family swore it to each other a thousand years ago. They pledged to remain together always and forever. But even when you’re immortal, promises are hard to keep. 

Arriving in New Orleans in 1722, Original vampire siblings Klaus, Elijah and Rebekah Mikaelson believe they’ve escaped their dangerous past. But the city is lawless, a haven for witches and werewolves unwilling to share territory. The siblings are at their mercy…especially after Klaus meets the beautiful and mysterious Vivianne. Her impending marriage is key to ending the war between the supernatural factions and Klaus’s attraction to her could destroy the uneasy alliance. As Elijah works toward securing a piece of the city for his family, and Rebekah fights her unexpected feelings for a French captain, will Klaus’s volatile desires bring their world crashing down and tear them apart for good?

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I have only watched a few episodes from the TV show, so I’m far from being an expert on the Mikaelson siblings and the kind of plots they get into in episodes. However, I’m not sure at all I found them here, nor that they were really interesting at all, in a more generic way. I kept thinking that they were, well, out of character—which was baffling, since I was under the impression that the people who worked on this novel were also those who worked on the series?

There was a lot of love in there, and of the insta-love, not very impressive kind. Rebekah, why not, as the series very early on showed that she was quick to develop interest for human guys. But in many other ways, she was so far from the badass girl I saw on screen. Neither could I find ruthless Klaus in the love-smitten dullard that ambled through the novel most of the time—and his reaction regarding Rebekah’s love interest was way too removed from what I would have expected (TV!Niklaus would never have had such a mellow reaction, let her do as she pleased so easily). Elijah was closest to his character, I think, with his desire and efforts to build a home for his family, and thus keep the latter together. I must not be the right audience for so much romance, especially when involving immortals, who I wouldn’t expect to develop feelings so quickly.

Mostly Elijah’s plot seemed to be the main one, with his siblings’ antics supposed to help (Rebekah recruiting an army) yet not helping much in the end, or just consisting in wooing a girl—at least the not-caring-about-what-others-do was somewhat Klaus-like, but that was all. (Also, why they absolutely had to remain in New Orleans, where they weren’t welcome, was a bit puzzling. But I guess finding another city would’ve demanded long days or weeks of travel, uncertainty as to what they’d find there, and having to delay finding a home at last… So, well, I could live with that.)

Speaking of plots and ways of moving it forward, I would also have expected vampires to be more cunning, more prepared. As mentioned at the beginning of my review, I haven’t watched many episodes; yet I remember Klaus’s plan regarding how to undermine Marcel’s influence, and… there wasn’t much of that here. These vampires seemed too naive, too easily surprised by other characters or events, too vulnerable, compared to the “Originals” I had been led to expect. This doesn’t fit with my idea of immortals.

In the end, my feelings about this book were mostly annoyance and boredom, and I couldn’t care less about what would happen to its characters (including the secondary ones, whose fates were so easy to guess anyway). I’ll stick to the TV series.

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Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Posted on March 2nd, 2015 @ 20:09
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A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

My rating:

Blurb:

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Review:

Sometimes I pick books for the weirdest reasons. Like the colours on their covers: use the black/red/White combo, and odds are I’ll be interested. So when there’s a Black, White, Grey and Red *London* on top of it, count me twice interested. Not to mention travelling between worlds, magic, a feisty female thief, evil twin rulers, and did I say magic?

I can’t exactly remember why I had put A Darker Shade of Magic on my to-be-read list, months ago. But it was probably for all those reasons. And probably because I had really liked the other works of Victoria Schwab I read (Vicious and The Archived). Three time’s a charm? Well, yes. Definitely yes.

Even though you could say that the plot advertised on the blurb “only” starts around the 25% mark, what would have annoyed me in another novel didn’t in this one, because it allowed for enough room to place the context: after all, it’s not only about Lila robbing Kell, then saving his life, but also about the four Londons and travelling from one to the other. Those first hundred pages were not of the filler kind; they were useful, pleasant to read, and gave me to see the worlds Kell goes through on a regular basis. Without this background information, the importance of what he has to do later wouldn’t be as blatant. Without this, I wouldn’t have got to both love and hate the Dane twins (especially Astrid). Without this, I wouldn’t have appreciated Rhy, or dreamt about a London thriving with magic, while another, “duller” one existed somewhere else.

I loved the concepts developed in this series, plain and simple. Opening doors to other worlds. The mysterious, dangerous Black London, and how it became so. Magic drawn from elements, but also from the blood. The ambiguity of the >Antari, whose black eye can’t be just any old coincidence. The resentment born in the streets and the palace of White London, and for a good reason. Though some things turned out much different than what I had anticipated, they did so in ways that made them, in fact, better. Victoria Schwab definitely has a knack for creating interesting worlds.

Kell was pretty likeable. Somewhat too nice for his own good, but characters can’t all be selfish all the time—and he had his guilty little smuggling pleasure, kind of like an addiction. Granted, he got on my nerves sometimes, because of his tendency to lament what may or may not have been his plight (was he really a possession more than an adopted child, or not?). Fortunately, Lila put him back in his place, and this is one of the things I loved about her. She may have jumped into the “adventure” without thinking much at first, but not having much left to lose in her world, nor much to hope for, was this so surprising? She also wasn’t of the damsel in distress kind, displaying a ruthlessness that went well with her upbringing and the life she had led up until now. Lila won’t give you no bull, no Sir. She’ll draw her gun, however. Or steal a sword. Or slap our red-coated mage on the back of his head whe needed (both literally and figuratively, come to think of it). And there’s more to her than meet the eye. Literally as well here. Hee, hee.

While the novel wraps on an ending and not on a cliffhanger, a fair deal of mystery still surrounds the characters, paving the way to a sequel. There’s no way everything got told yet about the four Londons, about what will happen to them, about what Kell and Lila will do next, about their respective pasts (nope, author, I haven’t missed the little clues you dropped now and then). This is perhaps why ADSOM left me wanting, in a contradictory way: part of me wouldn’t have liked the plot to start later, yet another part would’ve happily gobbled down 100 or 200 more pages of daily activities or descriptions about Red London, Lila’s thefts in Grey London before she met Kell, or Astrid’s antics. And Holland probably deserves a book of his own, too.

In any case, count me in for the sequel, hands down.

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Review: The Death House

Posted on February 28th, 2015 @ 02:27
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The Death HouseThe Death House by Sarah Pinborough

My rating:

Blurb:

Toby’s life was perfectly normal . . . until it was unravelled by something as simple as a blood test.

Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House; an out-of-time existence far from the modern world, where he, and the others who live there, are studied by Matron and her team of nurses. They’re looking for any sign of sickness. Any sign of their wards changing. Any sign that it’s time to take them to the sanatorium.

No one returns from the sanatorium.

Withdrawn from his house-mates and living in his memories of the past, Toby spends his days fighting his fear. But then a new arrival in the house shatters the fragile peace, and everything changes.

Because everybody dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts.

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

I resent the comparison with The Fault In Our Stars, because The Death House was more readable: Toby, for all his faults, wasn”t so insufferable, probably because he behaved like a somewhat surly, but all in all normal teenager. And Clara was enjoyable, with a positive look on what happened to her, even though she knew how all the kids at the Death House were doomed to end.

I wouldn’t deem this the best novel ever. It left me wanting for more explanations. However, as a character study, at least for the main ones, it fairly hit the spot for me. The children and teenagers in that strange house all had to cope with their fear (and prospect) of dying in their own ways, andI thought we got to see quite a few interesting examples. Ashley, the believer kid who finds strength in the Bible and tries to share it with others. Toby, retreating into himself and pretending he doesn’t care, yet still takes very much care of the younger ones. Louis, both extremely intelligent, though still a child in many ways. Will, all innocent and carefree, thus hiding his fears from himself. Clara, who had to live to her parents’ expectations, and oddly enough was somewhat “freed” by the house. Jake, disguising his own fear behind his bully attitude.

Those were interesting portrayals, and through their interactions, we got to see how days and nights were spent in that microcosm that so much looked like a boarding school of sorts, yet was anything but—shadowed as it was by the mysterious sanatorium that none of the kids ever got to see, only hearing about it, only knowing one of them had been taken there when they discovered that child’s belongings being gone in the morning. And the presence of the Matron and the other silent nurses only made the pressure worse.

True, not much happens in terms of plot-twists during the largest part of the novel. It was still a nice read nonetheless. The ending was a 50/50: part of me expected it to be different, more original… but at the same time, the other part thought it couldn’t (and shouldn’t, anyway) have been otherwise.

I didn’t rate this book higher because in the end, too many things weren’t explained, and they kept bothering me, try as I might to ignore them. The “Defective gene”, for starters, was rather sketchy. How came the kids displayed so many different symptoms, and what was it suppose to lead to? Would it turn them into monsters of sorts, as was hinted at a couple of times? The kids were isolated like freaks, carried away in vans by men in dark suits, as if to protect the world from them; in my opinion, this would have warranted more than a few vague hints about the exact nature of the Defectiveness.

The same applied to the nurses and to their behaviour, especially considering a specific twist. Why would they hide it, and try to hush it? Out of fear it would go public? An actual reason would have been nice here.

Also, most of the twists were fairly obvious. It may be just me, I don’t know. I just guessed pretty early where they were leading.

One aspect of the book I can’t decide about were the other kids. While the characters I listed abover were indeed interesting, the rest were more like cardboard figures (even Tom, who got to share Dorm 4 with Toby and the others), which was weird in such a close space where I would’ve expected everyone to know everyone else. However, this fitted Toby’s tendency to close his eyes on his surroundings, and increased the feeling that each child was on his/ her own, and that at the end, they couldn’t afford to care about the others, only themselves.

Overall, I was leaning towards “I like it”. However, the lack of explanations, and the somewhat bland figures of the nurses and some of the kids, left me feeling that something was missing.

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Review: Pacific Fire

Posted on February 24th, 2015 @ 22:18
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Pacific Fire (Daniel Blackland, #2)Pacific Fire by Greg Van Eekhout

My rating:

Summary:

I’m Sam. I’m just this guy.

Okay, yeah, I’m a golem created from the substance of his own magic by the late Hierarch of Southern California. With a lot of work, I might be able to wield magic myself. I kind of doubt it, though. Not like Daniel Blackland can.

Daniel’s the reason the Hierarch’s gone and I’m still alive. He’s also the reason I’ve lived my entire life on the run. Ten years of never, ever going back to Los Angeles. Daniel’s determined to protect me. To teach me.

But it gets old. I’ve got nobody but Daniel. I’ll never do anything normal. Like attend school. Or date a girl.

Now it’s worse. Because things are happening back in LA. Very bad people are building a Pacific firedrake, a kind of ultimate weapon of mass magical destruction.  Daniel seemed to think only he could stop them. Now Daniel’s been hurt. I managed to get us to the place run by the Emmas. (Many of them. All named Emma. It’s a long story.) They seem to be healing him, but he isn’t going anyplace soon.

Do I even have a reason for existing, if it isn’t to prevent this firedrake from happening? I’m good at escaping from things. Now I’ve escaped from Daniel and the Emmas, and I’m on my way to LA.

This may be the worst idea I ever had.

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

While I still enjoyed reading about some of the characters I had got to know in the first book, California Bones, I was a little less thrilled this time.

I really like the world and magic developed here: dark, treacherous, tricky… Leeching power off dead animals’ bones? Check. Taking it a notch higher and killing other osteomancers to devour their bodies and steal their magic? Check. Dangerous sabotage-type jobs and being pursued bycrime lords’ goons? Check. The triumvirate, their plan to regain the control the Hierarch used to have, the sacrifice it required. The worm in the apple, the intent to sabotage, playing a dangerous game. Yes, I’m never going to get tired of these, I think.

The relationship between Daniel and Sam was touching in many ways. Daniel could’ve killed Sam, done to him what he had done to his predecessor, yet he didn’t: on the contrary, he did his best to raise him, protect him, and help him turn into a decent being, instead of the monster he could’ve become. Sam was a likeable boy, too: with teenage-angsty reactions at times, yet also with the budding maturity to understand what they were, and that he had to go past those. This story is definitely one of coming of age, more than of thwarting the bad guys’ plans. Of coming of age, and of realising what family means: does the blood count more than time spent together, and what exactly, in the end, make people “family”?

What saddened me here is that the novel offered several interesting plots in that regard, but never really got deep enough with them. The reason why Sam was weak at magic was somewhat obvious, in retrospect, yet it would’ve deserved more screentime in terms of relationships. What happened to Sofia was recalled a few times, but since she hadn’t been there for long, it didn’t have the impact it could’ve had. Carson could’ve been more than just a glimpse into another side of Los Angeles, instead of a device to move the plot forward. And there would’ve been so much more to tell about Sam…

I liked the story, I liked seeing the plot unfurl; however, I also kept thinking “I want more, more, more”. Every time I got to see another aspect of this character or of that relationship, it was left dangling after some point. Although those threads may be picked up in the third book, I’m somewhat afraid that not enough was told here (especially considering the cliffhanger we’re left with at the end), and that this lack of depth will come back to haunt the series later.

Partly because of this, the last third of the novel seemed rushed on some points. A couple of bombshells were dropped (Daniel’s past coming back full-force, for instance), and it was difficult to see where they came from. Not uninteresting; just events that would have warranted a few more bricks paving their way. Here, too, I kept wanting more, and wondering if the author had to work with a set amount of words, forced to cram as much as he could before the end.

This said, I still liked the book and its characters well enough to be more than willing to grab the next one once it comes out. If only to find out whether the threads I mentioned previously will be tied.

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Review: Something Coming Through

Posted on February 22nd, 2015 @ 16:05
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Something Coming ThroughSomething Coming Through by Paul J. McAuley

My rating:

Summary:

The aliens are here. And they want to help. The extraordinary new project from one of the country’s most acclaimed and consistently brilliantly SF novelists of the last 30 years.

Something Coming Through and its sequel Into Everywhere will extend, explore and complete the near future shared by the popular and highly acclaimed short stories in the Jackaroo sequence, including ‘The Choice’, which won the 2012 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. They present new perspectives on one of the central ideas of science and science-fiction – are we alone in the universe? – through two separate narratives.

Something Coming Through is set in a recognisable but significantly different near future London: half-ruined by a nuclear explosion, flooding and climate change; altered by the arrival of aliens who call themselves the Jackaroo.

Into Everywhere moves from a desert world littered with the ruins and enigmatic artifacts of a dozen former clients of the Jackaroo, through a quest across a brutally pragmatic interstellar empire, to a world almost as old as the universe.

Review:

(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

3.5 to 4 stars.

This novel, while predictable in parts (in a more traditional, “cop-oriented” way), raised some interesting points in terms of what to expect in a near-future, or a parallel present, shaped by the presence of aliens. Namely the mysterious Jackaroo, who showed up some thirteen years prior to the beginning of the story with shuttles and fifteen wormholes leading to just as many new worlds for humans to colonise. Worlds ertswhile inahbited by creatures long gone and forgotten, leaving only behind strange, “Elder Culture” artefacts. Meanwhile, Earth is falling prey to memes, ideas birthed into the mind of people who have been touched by the Vorlons some of those artefacts. And who knows how exactly the Jackaroo were responsible for this? Or their unscrutable associates, the !Cha, story-lovers who use plots to gather information used in turn to woo their mates?

Intersting, because the Jackaroo never revealed their true purpose, and because their gift was definitely a double-edged sword. Sure, it allowed humanity to recover from ongoing problems (crime, pollution), but others developed in turn, and the fifteen worlds turned into mirrors of Earth, with McDonald’s and Starbuck joints popping up on Mangala and, no doubt, other places. Crime developed there just as it did on Earth, and a lot of things and events made it clear that humans basically did to these colonies what they had done to their motherworld—perhaps worse, even, due to the fact they hadn’t had to “work hard” to get to these new places, served on a silver platter. The “benevolent” Jackaroo, in other words, might just be trying to repeat an experiment they did with other planets and will do again, some kind of sick experiment to see what the “lesser” races would do when gifted with space travel they didn’t have to develop themselves.

The name itself is also reminiscent of the Australian word “jackaroo” and its potential etmology: wandering people, watching over cattle. At least, this is how it felt to me, and what I believe the author wanted to achieve: making readers question the purpose behind the Jackaroo’s actions, all the while swathing them under layers of a thriller-and-chase plot mixed with a more typical seasoned-cop-and-rookie-partner murder investigation.

The more typical parts, as I wrote above, were a little predictable, especially Vic’s, whose background is fairly unoriginal in that kind of story. However, I liked how they entwined after a while, and how you have to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each chapter. This type of narrative can be frustrating, as you keep jumping from Chloe to Vic to Chloe to Vic again, and are left on semi-cliffhangers most of the time… but it’s a style I love, and so I wasn’t disappointed.

On the downside, the characters weren’t that much developed. Vic is moulded on a fairly standard TV-show cop-type (divorced guy, been working for the force for years, somewhat jaded but still trying to make a difference…), Nevers and Harris are also somewhat predictable, and I would have liked to know more about Fahad and his family. Chloe’s background was definitely interesting, yet it also made her somewhat aloof and distanciated—something that stood to logics, considering what happened to her mother, only it made it harder to feel involved in her quest, as she was more carried by the plot than truly active at times. (In her defence, she wasn’t a dumb heroine, and was definitely aware of who was trying to manipulate her, and who intended to off her anyway once she wouldn’t be useful anymore.)

Nevertheless, barring the somewhat weak characterisation, I found the world described here—drop here by drop there, with some info-dumping, but never too much to my liking—intriguing, and I wouldn’t mind knowing more about it in a sequel (or in a prequel).

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