Flame In The Mist, by Renée Ahdieh

Title: Flame In The Mist
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 16th May 2017
Rating:  ★★★★

23308087The first of a new trilogy by The Wrath and the Dawn author, Renée Adieh,  Flame In The Mist is an exciting mash-up of Mulan and 47 Ronin. It isn’t a retelling of The Ballad Of Mulan, but rather a faint echo of Mulan’s spirit (and, you know, the passing oneself as a boy, thing), giving us Mariko, a girl who is bright and brave and unafraid to enter into a world reserved almost exclusively for men. We switch out the concept of a girl replacing her father in the army (with her family’s blessing, unlike in the Disney retelling of the Ballad) for a girl bound for an arranged marriage, who finds herself cast out into the world with little reason to head for her betrothed and all the reason in the world to choose her own path. But what begins as a quest for answers and for revenge, turns into a complex series of events that will change Markio’s life–and her heart–forever.

When Hattori Mariko is told she must marry into the Imperial family, she accepts this duty as any good daughter might: she wishes to honour her family and do what is best for their reputation, in spite of marriage being the last thing from her mind. Especially since she has far better things to do than play at being a doll in which to dress prettily in silks. Things such as continue tinkering with her many inventions, however small. She has a bright mind and wants nothing more than to prove her worth beyond her station and gender. Yet things are as they must be, and Mariko accepts her fate with grace and honour.

Except that inside she is slowly dying at the notion of what her life will become. Hattori Mariko was never meant for the dull security of marriage. She was always meant for more.

When tragedy strikes on her way to the Imperial palace and she is betrayed, Mariko seizes her chance and flees into the night; it’s that, or die. Though she could make herself and the fact that she survived known, she has no idea who it was who betrayed her and if, should she finish her journey to meet her betrothed, she would be again only travelling to meet her doom. With only the knowledge that the infamous Black Clan is responsible for the attempt on her life and the blood spilled in the Jukai forest that night, Mariko takes on the appearance of a boy and thrusts herself into the hidden world of mercenaries and dark power. Soon she finds herself in the midst of the very people she believes tried to murder her, taken into their fold and privy to their secrets.

Only nothing is ever as it seems, and soon Mariko learns that the Black Clan is not what they appear. As she grows closer to the members of the clan, Mariko realises that the world has never been black and white, but is cast in infinite shades of grey. The only constants are power and honour and she begins to rethink everything she ever thought she knew about both.

Meanwhile, Mariko’s twin brother, Hattori Kenshin, refuses to believe that Mariko is dead. He is a skilled tracker and he finds evidence that leads him to believe that she escaped the slaughter that befell her party in the forest. He can’t fathom where she went, but he trusts that his cunning sister has a reason for having vanished. But with the betrothal to the prince being such an important step in their family’s ascension, Kenshin knows he must tread carefully so as not to draw suspicion and shame. Mariko is now by herself in the wild and with unknown persons possibly still eager for her death–the last thing he can do is draw attention to the fact that she survived at the same time as not wishing to jeopardise the marriage by news of his sister’s death. Kenshin, the Dragon of Kai (the moniker bestowed for his prowess in battle and his skill as a samurai), must navigate carefully if he is to bring Mariko home and keep her both safe and leave their family’s honour–and his own–intact.

But a force moves in the shadows, with its own agenda and with eyes where those it watches least expect. The only question is when it will move.

During all this, two boys are bound together by more than blood and through a bond that runs deeper than the honour their parents chose to throw to the wayside before them. One has designs on revenge and reclaiming his rightful title and position, whilst the other wishes only to quell the anger and shame at their pasts and live in anonymity. Yet when all these paths finally converge and become entangled with one another, everything is set to change.

Flame In The Mist is the first of what is set to be a trilogy that is equal parts political intrigue and adventure, with a lost legacy to reclaim, a powerful betrothal at stake and the true meaning of both honour and friendship on full display within the vivid and exciting world that Adieh has presented. Easily one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2017,  Flame In The Mist blends an rebellion against gender roles and conformity seamlessly with an exhilarating story of exiled warriors and old magic, all whilst delivering a page-turner of a book that left me eagerly awaiting the next.

One thing I will mention is how disappointed I am by the fact that Ahdieh chose not to include any queer rep. Especially given how much the historical context of Japan lends itself to the acceptance and even celebration of queer relationships, especially between men in the context of samurai etc. It’s actually a little lazy and generally demonstrates that most authors won’t even consider even a hint of queer rep. It’s alienating and unfair, not to mention, very unrealistic–especially in the context of the Black Clan and their interpersonal relationships with one another.

(P.S. Not sure whether this next applies more to the writer or the publisher, since italicising foreign words is a Thing in publishing, or if it was an inconsistency of the eArc I received from NetGalley by the publisher, but there seemed to be little to no reason or rhyme regarding which Japanese words were typed in italics and which weren’t. Arguably the words that are more “familiar” and less “foreign” were left un-italicised (e.g. kimono, samurai, sake, etc), and yet words such as ‘tabi’, ‘hakama’, ‘tantō’ and ‘rōnin’ were presented in italics, even though it’s also arguable that these words are just as familiar. To further illustrate the seemingly random choices regarding italics, words such as ‘kata’ were left without italics, when in fact this is a word related specifically to martial arts and form and therefore would be less familiar than perhaps ‘rōnin’. Generally the italics seemed a little confusing regarding where they were used, with little consistency. But then I’m of the opinion that no italics to designate foreign words is better.

Further, it would have been amazing for, in the glossary of terms, perhaps, for the kanji used to write all of the character’s names to be included. As someone studying Japanese (including kanji), it would have been a nice little touch and also I am a nerd so there’s that, too.)

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Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Title: Every Heart a Doorway
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: April 5th 2016
Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

25526296Every Heart A Doorway, by Seanan McGuire, is a genuinely charming and wonderful book. Not ‘charming’ in a quaint or twee (and slightly condescending way), but a book that simply charmed me as I read it. I devoured the book in two sittings, but would have done so in just one had I started it the night I read the lion’s share of it—and kept reading through the night.

I was expecting this book to be different—and it was. It was a pure delight to read.

Ever wonder what happens to all the special children, the young and wayward stars of portal fantasies? What happens after the story ends—when the adventure is over and it is time to go home? Do our heroes and heroines even want to come back?

I haven’t stopped talking about this book since I finished it. The unfortunate subject of my endless book-talk (my brother) probably knows everything about this book and why I loved it, about as familiarly as he knows his own name. Once I’m done, he’ll be eligible for a degree on Why Leo Loved Every Heart A Doorway.

Every Heart A Doorway made me want to hug the world and everything in it, especially McGuire.

We meet Nancy at Eleanor West’s School For Wayward Children, a new arrival after returning to our world from the Halls of the Dead. She is enrolled by well-meaning parents who want nothing more than to love their daughter, but really, they just want their daughter back: the Nancy who wore bright colours and didn’t act so quiet and still and distant. Their Nancy who hadn’t spent so long in the perfect stillness of the Lord of the Dead’s domain. They want their rainbow princess back.

Well they can carry on wanting.

Eleanor, a formerly misplaced and traveling child herself, keeps up appearances with parents, whilst being completely honest with the children enrolled into the school. Nobody needs to pretend that other worlds don’t exist and that they haven’t spent so much precious time in them.

Nancy doesn’t want to forget the Halls of the Dead—she wants to go back. She just needs to find the door again. However, when Nancy arrives at the school, tragedy soon strikes and she finds herself tangled up in something gruesome. Still uncertain and reeling from everything at the school she barely understands, Nancy is pulled along with a new group of friends as they band together to uncover what is happening. If something isn’t done soon, the future of the school will be in jeopardy and if it is forced to close, where will all the wayward students go?

So much depends on Nancy and her new friends solving this horrible mystery.

The school is largely attended by girls, because girls are so much more easily misplaced than loud, important boys, aren’t they? (I adored this part: the point about girls being easier to let slip away than boys, whom are usually louder and kept closer to hand than girls. Not only is this a very poignant prod towards the treatment of girls, but the addition that even the quiet boys are encouraged or cajoled—by mockery or teasing—to be louder than they naturally are, entirely because they are boys just made me generally happy, because it’s so damn true.)

There’s a great many things in Every Heart A Doorway that are true and illuminating (I’m on board for realistic depictions of parent0,s because you know what? Parents can suck), in that it reads so very much like a fairy tale in and of itself—but one written for the different ones; those who can’t help but be themselves. This isn’t a fairy tale written by adults, encouraging only as much bravery and uniqueness as it takes to be interesting and worthy of attention, but rather a complete reassurance that however you are, however you turn out to be, if you’re happy, you are enough. Do not change; do not be anyone’s rainbow.

Furthermore, it does not shy away from accusing both parents and the rest of the world for the unreasonable and selfish expectations that are placed upon the shoulders of young adults every single day of their lives. But this isn’t a preaching sort of book; it reads more like honesty. It is a blindingly good book.

Everything about this book was perfect. This is the kind of book that proves that diversity is not a difficult demand. Look around you at the world—that’s what this book feels like. An accurate representation of somebody’s life. Nancy is asexual (but not aromantic); there is a trans character; characters of different racial origins that aren’t just white. Bam, bam, bam. Three things there that you see so very rarely.

I wish I didn’t feel the need to point out when diversity is a thing in book, because it feels so completely unnecessary (the pointing out—not the diversity itself, obviously). If a book doesn’t have a varied cast, then your book is not a realistic representation of the real world in which you sat and wrote it. Fact.

So, gloriously, I will loudly yell to everyone I meet about asexual Nancy and the rest of her wonderful comrades at Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children.

JBI 5 star chibiI’ve seen whispered here and there that although this is a finished book in and of itself, there are to be more books in the same setting. I hope this is true. I really, really, really hope this is true, because I can’t adequately describe how much this book delighted and touched me.

An utterly enchanting, charming story of being yourself, no matter what that means. Every Heart A Doorway is perfectly magical, perfectly strange and perfectly delightful—and I couldn’t possibly have loved it more.

Blog Tour: The Seers, by Julianna Scott [The Holders #2]

TheSeersTourBannerNewTitle: The Seers (The Holders #2)
Author: Julianna Scott
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 4th February 2014
Rating:.5

Seers
clicky-click for Amazon link; pennies at the ready!

Following my—ultimately—somewhat lukewarm reaction to Julianna Scott’s The Holders I was somewhat resigned to the fact that The Seers might just prove to be another three-star book. I expected plot progression, more obvious twists, and little in the way of the sort of excitement I usually expect from Strange Chemistry authors. But man, was I wrong. The Seers did more than just deliver; it sent the whole thing gift-wrapped, included a free cupcake with sprinkles and glitter—and sent it FedEx express. It was such a leap in form and style from The Holders that I could hardly believe how hooked I was until I was reading into the night. Sometimes whether a book can sustain me through a night of fibro insomnia is a real test of its mettle, and this book certainly proved itself a fast and firm companion.

I go absolutely crazy for set time, set place, set objective books; they feel nicely contained, the parameters set and a wide open space left in the middle for anything at all to happen. I like conference-style events; I like parties and the fact that our characters are somewhere out of their comfort zone and winging it as best they can. The Seers gave me precisely this.

Following the events with Darragh and the Iris, Becca is slowly learning how to harness her abilities and slowly getting used to life having a father. With her status as a Holder secured, Becca’s life tumbled out of orbit and left her way off kilter: she’s far away from home; her brother is growing up by himself, making friends and finding an independence that makes Becca feel a little irrelevant; she’s truly, madly, deeply in love with a guy who tells her she’s beautiful in Gaelic; and she just so happens to be, potentially, the most powerful Holder ever, ever, ever. No pressure, then.

But Becca is finding her feet and building bridges with her father—and all whilst trying to hunt down a man who could destroy the entire race of Holders; someone too powerful for Becca to even think about. The abilities Darragh has stolen make him a formidable match for any Holder—especially one who barely knows what she’s doing. For now, Becca’s aiming small, trying to locate a man who appeared in the memories of Taron, her father’s trusted friend turned traitor. To find this man, Becca must attend an elite Holders only event hosted by a powerful Holder family: the kind of family that recognises only Holders as being of any import. They’re snobbish and bigoted and Becca is dreading every second. She must blend in, be invisible—lest anyone look too deep and see that it is Becca who the prophecy mentioned. But blending is hard when you don’t fit in and don’t understand the rules of the game. She thinks she has it all figured out, knows who she needs to keep an eye on—but she couldn’t be more wrong. Entering into the world of the Bhunaidh will be far more complex a task than Becca suspected and when called upon to trust strangers, her resolve might just be stretched too far.

But the truth might just be bigger than any of them suspected and knowing it might bring about more responsibility and danger—all of it aimed at Becca. Before she knows it, she finds herself entangled in this deep, dark world of pureblooded Holders. The plot suddenly twists and thickens, leading in a very unexpected direction. Becca has no choice but to follow the path presented—but can she really do this?

The Seers surprised me, presenting an exciting new path for Becca to tread. I was engrossed from start to finish, eagerly absorbing every word in order to find out what secrets the Bhunaidh might be hiding and just who could be trusted. There are elements that are predictable, but in that satisfying sort of way: sensing a character’s true motivations, their true allegiance before the protagonists do; or predicating part of a plot twist. In this way, The Seers was absolutely nothing like The Holders. It makes sense that The Holders was as it was: it was the beginning, setting up the story with the setting, the characters and the history. I can accept this as I much prefer a slower start to a series with a background, rather than suddenly being thrown headlong into a world you don’t know, asked to care about people you do not know. The Seers was enthralling and I loved every moment.

One of the best things about the book was Becca and her evolution as a character. She is standing on new and uncertain ground and her presentation reflects this perfectly. Becca is imperfect, impulsive and desperate to be useful and shoulder the responsibility the prophecy has given her—whether she is ready or not. Her relationship with Alex reads like a dream and her growing relationship with her formerly estranged father is unreal. It’s that good and that’s how much I love that Scott went there. It’s always mothers. I was thrilled to have a change in the formula.

Ultimately, The Seers is a completely different animal to The Holders: the prose is tighter and sharper and the characters read like completely real people, with real issues and fears and insecurities. Everyone shows strength and vulnerability and this makes me heart it all the more. Three cheers for utterly real people!

Furthermore: three cheers for Becca and Alex and just how perfect they are together. I’m pleased Scott went “there” with their relationship. I’m a little tired of “it” never happening in YA novels—always with the kissing, the snogging, the making-out. But what about the… ya know? “It” happens, so let it happen! I’m thrilled that Becca was presented with, you know, raging teenage hormones. The sexy tiem hormones are not exclusive to guys, so go Becca with your sexy tiem hormones, too.

Ahem.

4-star copyIn the end, this book surprised me. I did not expect to love it. Well, I do love it. I love the mystery, the investigation, the hunt for Darragh, the prophecies, the haughty pureblood Holders—every bit of it. I can only hope that the next book will do the same as The Seers did with The Holders and build on every aspect and make it stronger, better, deeper. Scott can do it, I’m certain—and I’m definitely excited about these books again.

The Seers is a far deeper book than I imagined—deep and emotive and a gripping pleasure to read.

JuliannaJulianna was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spent the majority of her educational career convinced she would be a musician. However, after receiving her music degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she realized that she’d been born in the wrong era for her dreams of singing jazz to adoring fans clad in zoot-suits and flapper dresses to come true, and began to wonder if her true calling might be elsewhere.

While Julianna had always excelled in writing throughout school, she’d never considered it a career possibility until about three years ago, when she’d gotten her first story idea and decided to go for it. She grabbed her laptop, started typing away, and has never looked back.

You can check out her website, find her on Goodreads, or follow her on Twitter.

You can also enter the amazing Rafflecopter giveaway, where the prizes are incredible! I might not much fancy a frock, but I’ve got a lil’ sister who would shine in it, so I know I’ll be making sure to enter. So should you. (☆^ー^☆)