[Review] Timekeeper, by Tara Sim [Timekeeper #1]

Title: Timekeeper (Timekeeper #1)
Author: Tara Sim
Publisher: Sky Pony Press
Publication date: 8th November 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

25760792Timekeeper, by Tara Sim, is a clockworky, period fantasy-mystery-romance-everything that mixes an investigative ‘whodunit’ element with that of myth, magic and mayhem, with the added exploration of everything from parental relationships to what, exactly, being human might mean.

Set in an alternate Victorian England (yay) where time is quite literally a force of power and must be harnessed through clock towers in order to function correctly and keep life flowing and moving as it must, Sim’s debut novel is a brilliant example of making myth and mystery merge with the burgeoning industry associated with steam/clockpunk to create a story that is completely addictive and rich.

Time was once controlled by Chronos, but after his death, time needed new, mortal guardians to ensure that all flowed and ebbed according to its natural order: The Mechanics. They can sense time, touch it and feel its strands and fibres as if it were fabric. They are its guardians, attending to the maintenance of the clocks across the world.

Danny Hart is one such mechanic—the best in his class and a natural prodigy; the youngest mechanic in the union—like his father before him. But Danny is particularly gifted, able to not only repair the towers with ease and a delicate, careful hand, but to feel and touch the very fabric of time itself in a way far deeper than his peers. Danny understands time.

Which is why, when an accident traps his father in a Stopped town, now for three years and counting, Danny is certain that if he could just be a part of the controversial construction of the new tower in Malden, that he’ll be able to save his father.

But with fears that Danny might not be up to the task, following on accident that could have cost him his life, Danny’s requests to work on the tower are gently refused by the Lead Mechanic. Before the accident, before he drew the sympathetic stares of his colleagues, there would have been no question as to whether he was fit for the job or not. In order to get the assignment to Maldon, Danny needs to repair his reputation and prove that he’s fine after the accident.

So what if he has nightmares, still, and the presence of so much of the clockwork that exploded and scarred him makes him break out in sweats? He can handle it—he has to. With this in mind, Danny sets himself to any assignment he’s given with determination, desperate to help his father.

Things begin to change, however, when Danny takes a job in Enfield.

Clock spirits don’t exist—not really. Every mechanic knows the stories, but they’re a myth, a fiction. Only, Danny might be forced to change that assertion when he meets Colton, the clock spirit of the Enfield tower. Filled with deep loneliness, Enfield’s clock spirit begins finding any way he can to draw the mechanics—to draw Danny—to the town. So much for Danny’s focus on work and saving his father… Before long, the two are drawn together and Danny’s visits to the tower have less to do with the clock and more the boy who powers it.

But when a similar incident to the one that almost killed Danny occurs and there’s no visible culprit or motive, things begin to take a sinister turn. With clock towers being attacked, maybe it’s only a matter of time before another town is Stopped. And perhaps Danny won’t be so lucky a second time.

It soon becomes clear that Danny must solve the mystery before something unthinkable happens and before long, there’s more at stake than just Danny’s father. With the help of Colton, a rival mechanic, and his best friend, Danny delves headlong into untangling the distorted threads to find the truth about what really happened to him—and to his father.

Timekeeper is an expertly-written debut that is both thrilling and enchanting. Sim has a talent for crafting real, feeling characters and capturing the subtle and nuanced realities of every emotion from loneliness to grief, as well as weaving realistic and deep relationships between the characters. This is always something I hone in on immediately: parental relationships. Sim writes a seamless strained relationship between Danny and his mother, as well as his absent father. Parents suck sometimes—whatever the reason—and Danny’s mother is no different.

Obviously, Timekeeper features a m/m romance. Sound all the bells and alarms for a realistically-written gay romance, because by gods, they’re rare enough and rarer still written well, without essentially resembling the shounen-ai/yaoi fanfics written by teenage girls after binging Junjou Romantica for three weeks. This isn’t a gay romance written for girls (as so many are: fight me, go on, do it), it’s just a boy-meets-boy kind of story that gets it right, not agonising over any ridiculous notions such as how do I write a gay romance?! (spoiler: the same way you write any goddamn romance).

Additionally, this isn’t a story about Danny being gay—it’s a story where Danny just so happens to be into boy-shaped people. This fact alone would likely made me give the book five million stars and recommend it, even if I hadn’t personally liked it. When we have queer SFF on the regular that just so happens to feature queer characters without being a story that centres entirely on their queerness, then I’ll shut up about it. Until then, I’ll say: I do not want queer fiction; I want fiction that happens to be queer.

And that’s precisely what Timekeeper is.

Timekeeper is also a brilliant story that makes Sim look like she’s been published for years, not, in fact, her debut novel. The world is richly-plotted and expertly conveyed, mixing her unique magic and myth effortlessly with the more modern setting of a Victorian England only slightly different from our own. Her prose is deep and magical, adding a touch of wonder to the manner of setting that would usually present as eithleo-stickerset4er high-society propriety or the nitty-gritty of the streets. Timekeeper is enthralling and delightful and in one book, Sim managed to both write a story that finds a natural end, at the same time as setting the stage for subsequent books to follow.
Needless to say I am highly anticipating more from Sim—both in the Timekeeper world and in whichever additional worlds Sim decides to explore. This book was bloody brilliant. Buy it.

Fairy Loot Unboxing: May [High fantasy theme]

What is Fairy Loot
Well, it’s probably one of the most awesome and amazing things I’ve discovered recently. It is a book loot subscription box that focuses entirely on YA Fantasy. Which is, needless to say, absolutely perfect for me. (And my brother, with whom I share books and general fanboying about said books.)

fairylootmay#1It’s taken me forever to actually get around to doing this. Mostly because I’ve been stupid busy and pushing myself way, way too hard–but that’s pretty much what my life is made of and it’s not about to change. So… that’s a thing.

I saw that Fairy Loot was a thing by complete chance not that long ago (on Twitter, of course…) and we (my bookish brother and I, who share all things books) were too late to get the April box, so waited and snatched one as soon as we could in May. We were a little hesitant, knowing that most of the people who buy the Fairy Loot boxes are girls. I’m definitely not the most masculine of guys, but I was a little ummy and ahhhy about whether or not the subscription box was for me. I decided, “hey, so what if there are a few really feminine things in it? Give it a shot!” And so we split the box and went ahead with our first one in May. I was particularly into the High Fantasy theme and that was a big incentive.

I’m super glad we went for it, because it’s so good. Okay, there was like, a single thing that we didn’t want (not didn’t like, because it’s cool and all, it just doesn’t fit my brother’s wrist and it’s a bit… faffy and dainty for me, but hey, it looks nice enough and it’s easy enough to just customise it myself, so that’s fine) but that was literally it. Literally.

It was well worth getting the box and I’m ridiculously excited for June’s box, with the theme of Classic TwistNeedless to say, we’ve already split the sub for July–which has the incredible theme of Pirates and Power

fairylootmay2Plus, the boxes themselves are gorgeous. So, what exactly did I get in May’s High Fantasy Fairy Loot box?

  • Ruined, by Amy Tintera (which wasn’t actually released until 2nd June in the UK, so it was an ARC! It’s also hardcover and came with a signed bookplate to stick in, and a bookmark as swag as well as some gorgeous art from the book)
  • A cool abstracty art thing of Legolas, which is green and white and already hanging in the book nook space in the study
  • A random mini figurine from Game of Thones (I got Brienne, which is great, because she is awesome. Even though I don’t like GoT, the figures are cute so I didn’t mind at all.)
  • An exclusive dragon bracelet from My Clockwork Castle
  • A happy fanart chibi of Krem from Dragon Age: Inquisition, which is really, really cool, by Sparks Reactor (findable on Etsy and other places!)
  • A cute dragon mirror thing, from MelissaNettleshipwhich is stupidly useful for getting up close and applying eyeliner when you’re actually pretty terrible at applying even the simplest of gothy eye makeup as well as being able to apply concealer to hide awful spoonie fatigue, so hey, cute mirror!
  • fairylootmay4A really great letter from the author that made me super happy because she even mentioned boys who don’t mind being saved by princesses and that’s totally me OK so that was good

I loved the Fairy Loot box for May so much. I’m excited to receive the one for June shortly. And then July…

I’ve not read the book yet, but I can’t wait to start on it. I also can’t wait to amass a collection of Fairy Loot boxes, because they’re pretty awesome.

fairylootmay3I meant to do this unboxing post a gazillion years ago, but hey, better late than never. Hopefully for the next box, my brother and I will be starting our joint book vlog, so there’ll be a video unboxing as well. Hopefully.

The Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye

Title: The Crown’s Game (The Crown’s Game #1)
Author: Evelyn Skye
Publisher: Balzer+Bray
Publication date: 17th May 2016 (US) 30th June 2016 (UK)
Rating: ★★★★★

CrownsGame hc cThe Crown’s Game, by Evelyn Skye, is another Truthwitch (by Susan Dennard). Not that they have anything at all in common—which they don’t, as it happens—but rather that this book is so hyped it’s unreal. And yet, as with Truthwitch: the hype is real.

There’s always a certain glee at reading a book that everyone is telling you you’re going to love, and then you actually do love. A tiny wee part of me was braced for disappointment. Not because anything about the book or the hype had put me off, but for two reasons: a) I’d rather be ready for the disappointment of a hyped book not quite hitting the spot and b) I always enter into books with a structured conflict (such as Vika and Nikolai’s duel to the death) with a thin veil of detachment, so I can figure out if it’s worth investing myself, when we’re pretty much told from the offset that someone is going to lose.

That veil did not last long.

Because this book is wonderful.

We’re introduced to an alternate Imperial Russia where magic is secret but real, and the time has come for Russia to once again appoint an Imperial Enchanter. Ordinarily, this is a simple task, with there being a single enchanter at any given time. Unfortunately for both Vika and Nikolai, who have been training their whole lives in preparation for being Imperial Enchanter to the Tsar, this time, things are a little different.

When there are two enchanters, the Crown’s Game must begin.

Vika has been raised on an island with her father, Sergei, and she knows nothing of the other enchanter out there. One day, she will be Imperial Enchanter and she will serve Russia, making her father proud. Nikolai, on the other hand, an orphan from the Kazakh Steppe who was bought from his village for a handful of livestock, has been raised and trained to be the best. Galina, Sergei’s sister, has been a ruthless mentor, giving nothing in the way of love or a comfortable life outside of dressing him for show and parading him as her dear little charity case.

Whilst Nikolai has been studying and mastering his magic through craft, engineering and more scientific ventures, Vika’s magic is all the wildness of natural energies and the very world around her. They are unalike in every way.

But it is time for the tsesarevich’s birthday, and to coincide with the beginning of the Game, both Vika and Nikolai are commanded to make their moves part of his birthday festivities. With no other guidelines given, the two enchanters are set against one another from the offset. And with their mentors whisked away to Siberia, they are left alone to participate in the Game.

Perhaps Nikolai stands a better chance of knowing how to make an impression, since he is best friends with the tsesarevich. But Pavel Alexandrovich Romanov knows nothing of his friend’s magic, or the Game, so even though they are close, things won’t be as simple as he might have hoped. In turn, Vika soon realises that she has caught the attention of Pasha, but with the tension of the Game and the growing fear for her life with each and every move of the Game, she might be too caught up in the magic to know how to use this to her advantage.

But in the end, it is the Tsar who will declare a winner, and he is stony and resolute. The Game will be played and an Imperial Enchanter will be appointed.

The Crown’s Game isn’t what it seems. It isn’t a bloodthirsty battle or a contest of egos or even wills. It’s, instead, a subtle and deep game that revolves entirely around the small cast and their feelings and relationships with one another. There are secrets and twists and revelations that, even if you cotton on a single page before the reveal, will make you go wide-eyed in surprise or clap about like a mad thing with glee (guilty—there might have been book-waggling/hugging). This book is a glorious feast for the senses, with delightful and extraordinary magic that exceeds both expectation and belief at every turn, making the reading of The Crown’s Game almost as exhilarating and wondrous as the Game played by Vika and Nikolai themselves.

The Crown’s Game is a stunning book with such heart and such strong characters, each in their own way. Vika is a fiery thing, whilst Nikolai has brooding, thoughtful edges. Pasha was a constant delight, even as he struggles to face up to the fact that one day he will be Tsar—and the realisation that his heart might be too soft for the role.

From the depth of the friendship between Pasha and Nikolai and the warmth of the relationship between Vika and Ludmila, this book is a pleasure to be immersed in, if only for the interactions between the characters and the way they shape and form the story. Yes, this is about magic and enchantments to make you beam with delight and gape with awe. Yes, this is about a deadly Game and a battle of wills. But it’s also so much more than that. The Crown’s Game is a story about discovery and about pushing the limits of who you are and how far you will go. It’s about finding just what it is that makes you, you, and a little bit of exploring the consequences of letting others make your decisions and sway your heart.

JBI 5 star chibiThis book isn’t just set in historic Russia—it takes you there. You feel it in the streets, in the palaces, in the people who populate the world. From the mounting tensions of the lower and working classes, to the discomfort of those in the nobility who see the dangerous ground upon which the Tsardom treads, this is a book that really feels authentic. Which, given Skye’s love for Russia, isn’t a surprise at all. She nailed it.

At the end of the day, The Crown’s Game is about imagination and finding those little pieces of yourself in order to move one step closer to completing the puzzle of just who you are. It’s gorgeous, it’s exciting and it’s thrilling. It’s pure, pure magic.

 

 

The Vanishing Throne, by Elizabeth May [The Falconer #2]

  • Title: The Vanishing Throne (The Falconer #2)
  • Author: Elizabeth May
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Publication date: 19th November 2015 (UK) 7th June 2016 (USA – Chronicle)
  • Rating: ★★★★★

51z1+okqIeL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_I loved The Falconer, the first of the trilogy of the same name, by Elizabeth May. We’re talking big, big love. Faeries are my thing. Give me faeries. I’m also somewhat partial to incredibly kickass girls who hunt and kill fae by night to avenge their mothers and fight against the gnawing grief and PTSD, apparently. When you add in everything else that made The Falconer amazing—war and ancient feuds and secrets and good fae versus bad, and also romance and swords and that sort of thing—it’s no surprise that the bar for The Vanishing Throne was set very, very high.

Things were very tense for Lady Aileana Kameron at the end of The Falconer and The Vanishing Throne sees her pulled through into a world she has no business being in. She failed, and now Scotland—and beyond—will pay the price, letting the fae and the Wild Hunt free in the human realm after centuries trapped and hungry. The fae are bent on destruction, and now Aileana isn’t there to fight them. And even if she were, what use is she? She might be a Falconer, but she was powerless before. They lost.

Now she’s trapped by Lonnrach—and nobody is coming for her. She’s alone and breaking, prisoner of both her own mind and Lonnrach’s sadistic interrogations as he rifles through even her most mundane and private of memories in search of something he’s certain she has. Aileana is strong, but she’s been through too much, and the pain and fear of what Lonnrach does to her sends her into a spiral of her own mind.

But she’s not been forgotten, and soon, help arrives. And just in time: there’s only so long someone can remain strong for, and this time Aileana might just have been about to break. Before long, aided by possibly the strangest faery she’s ever met, and she has met (and killed) a few.

Soon she is on her way back to her own world, back to Edinburgh, and she can only guess at what awaits her. The fact that the faery sent to aid her won’t tell her anything of the people she left behind? Not reassuring. Not reassuring at all.

After managing to flee Lonnrach and return to Edinburgh, she realises more than she could have imagined has changed—and it’s all her fault. But some things remain the same, and in spite of everything that has happened, everything she has been through, Kiaran is still there and they might just have a future together. Possibly.

If they survive everything, that is. Which seems less and less likely with the odds that keep mounting. Still, with steadfast allies and the threads of a way to foil Lonnrach coming together within reach, they press on together and seek to do whatever they can to save what’s left of the world they barely recognise any longer.

But as things progress, secrets about the past are revealed and however deep Aileana thought the truth might run, however twisted and buried the secrets might be, she could never have guessed at the truth that lies at the heart of things.

It is an unimaginable truth—one that changes everything.

With so much lost already, Aileana will fight to the last for everything that remains. And she won’t do it alone.

The Vanishing Throne is a gorgeously-written and gripping adventure that took the story of The Falconer and turned everything up to eleven. The stakes are massive and game-changing and the Aileana we know and love is more fragile than she’s ever been, but in that fragility there’s a strength even she can’t see half the time. That’s what makes her so much moremoremore in this absolutely stunning sequel. May’s writing has evolved to a completely new level of wow and I couldn’t love this book more. I was barely three pages in when I had to stop and send a garbled email about just how much I loved this book.

That’s how much I loved this book.

The friendship, the romance, the sheer raw violence and grief and everythingness is so astoundingly stellar that it’s hard to believe that the book is over and now I need to wait for the third. I don’t quite know what it is about May’s prose, but there’s something that makes it sing off the page to me. Reading The Vanishing Throne was a pure joy and occasionally I had to stop to just hug my Kindle and then hug my beautiful hardcover of the book.

I love big things in books, where writers aren’t afraid to really, really do something huge and epic and wow. May gave me precisely this for the finale of The Vanishing Throne, upping the tension and stakes even higher than I’d thought possible (and I usually dream pretty big).

Everything is gorgeous and powerful and saturated with yesness. It is a magical, exciting adventure of war and loss and fighting and never giving up, all interwoven with beautiful and delightful friendships that feel real and are so utterly right that they shine off the page, every bit as important and glorious as the romance (which also shines very brightly, as it happens).

JBI 5 star chibiThe Vanishing Throne is one of those books that couldn’t possibly be allowed to end, because then it would be over. Whatever it is about May’s writing that draws me in and keeps me gripped, keeps me enchanted, it’s here in double measures in the second book of this trilogy. I’m addicted and don’t even care.

Let’s just say that I really, really, really need book three.

The Fallen Prince, by Amalie Howard [The Riven Chronicles #2]

  • Title: The Fallen Prince (The Riven Chronicles #2)
  • Author: Amalie Howard
  • Publisher: Sky Pony Press
  • Publication date: April 5th 2016
  • Rating: ★★★★★


25898456The Fallen Prince
is the long-awaited sequel to Amalie Howard’s The Almost Girl. I was thrilled to receive an ARC, because I absolutely adored the first book and couldn’t wait to dive back in with Riven and Caden. Most of my reading tends to err towards pure fantasy or urban/historical-urban fantasy, so when I get something that is science-fiction, I get a little excited. With the promise of even more sci-fi with Riven and Caden’s return to their own world, I was super hyped for this book.

After the betrayal of Caden’s clone, Cale, and the death of Riven’s sister, Shae, things have been chaotic for both of them. Add to that the fact that Riven won’t stop hunting her father and creator, Danton. She’s been chasing him through the Otherworld, desperate for revenge and/or justice; bent on bringing him back to Neospes to answer for what he’s done.

She’s made her peace with the revelation of what she is, the almost-girl that her father engineered. Caden’s support and acceptance helped. Still, there are times where Riven feels like little more than General Riven: soldier, monster, killer. She will always be a warrior, always lead and always strive to protect those she loves.

Only now that’s proving to be more difficult, as a new and unimaginable foe emerges from the shadows. But that’s not all and before long Riven will find herself torn between what she wants for herself and what is best for Neospes. Perhaps reverting to her old self, the cool and aloof general, is the best thing for everyone. Of course, it’s difficult to distance yourself from your heart, when the boy you love isn’t buying the act. Caden is, as always, there to remind Riven that she isn’t the heartless soldier she wishes she could be, thinks she still could be.

A lot changed in the Otherworld and it changed Riven forever. They’ve come a long way from her task to take Cade out.

Unfortunately, things are set to get harder from here. With the fate of Neospes hanging in the balance, threatened by the aggressions of an enemy that shouldn’t exist, the Lord King of Neospes might be called upon in a capacity neither he nor Riven has ever considered. Still, Cade will do what he must for his city and his people, even if that mean making tough decisions.

As Riven and Caden enter into tangled web of danger and new political relations, both begin to realise that there seems to be no right answer. With the appearance of new allies and the revelation of a secret so large it could change everything, the fight to get Caden back on the throne is soon going to seem like it was a walk in the park.

Everyone has an agenda and diplomacy and people-skills have never been at the top of Riven’s resume. But when things take a turn for the strange and she begins to doubt her own mind, her own monstrousness, it seems that even Riven might falter when things get hard.

Except that if she does, it could spell out the doom for everyone in Neospes—and that’s not something she’s willing to let happen. One way or another, she will find a way to defeat their new enemy, even if it costs her absolutely everything. Even if it costs Riven her life.

The Fallen Prince is precisely what I was expecting from the sequel to The Almost Girl: an exciting and gripping adventure in a truly post-apocalyptic setting that stands apart from other dystopian landscapes by virtue of its original and thoughtful details. From peculiar flora and fauna to unusual technology leftover from the brutal war, and the immersive attention to detail with scorching temperatures and the necessary biotechnology to survive them, The Fallen Prince feels like an authentic and vibrant ride through a gritty scorched-earth style adventure.

Add in the dynamic between Riven and Caden, which doesn’t suffer from any second-book syndrome of should we/shouldn’t we in spite of their new and awkward situation, and we have a winning formula for a very successful sequel that was well worth the wait.

The Fallen Prince feels like the natural continuation of the story, with a seamless transition from what became an urban sci-fi adventure in The Almost Girl to the pure dystopian sci fi of the second book in the sequence.

Howard’s prose feels slick and sharp and completely on point in expressing the next part of Riven and Caden’s story. This was always going to be a different book from The Almost Girl, owning to the drastic change of setting and a busier cast—and the result is an exciting and vivid exploration of the world outside of Neospes.

There’s a lot tucked between the lines in this book; from commentaries on parental relationships to what power means and how to use it. In the end, Riven remains a kickass force of nature who is here to get the job done, whatever that means. Meanwhile, nothing of Caden’s rise to Lord King has changed who is and we’re still presented with the nerdy, long-haired boy we met in the Otherworld. Though Caden can hold his own when needed, it is definitely Riven who fulfils the role of protector. She will protect her Lord King, whether he wants her to or not.

JBI 5 star chibiHoward writes the science so casually that it feels like tasting little nuggets of hard sci-fi without the twenty page long descriptions of spaceship engines and how a forcefield works. This book feels bigger and better and generally more than The Almost Girl. It feels like the next step in a dark, clever and thrilling scorched-earth, world-hopping adventure. Which is precisely what it is.

The Fallen Prince was definitely worth the wait.

 

 

The Diviners, by Libba Bray [The Diviners #1]

  • Title: The Diviners (The Diviners #1)
  • Author: Libba Bray
  • Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 12th September 2012
  • Rating: ★★★★★

9780316126113_p0_v1_s260x420The Diviners, by Libba Bray, invites us to a sumptuous big city adventure in 1920s New York, where Evie O’Neill is soon to be the talk of the town.

Flapper and party girl Evie’s unique talent might have seen her ushered from small town Ohio to the big city by her socially-conscious parents, but it seems that the very same unique ability will be what saves the day from unspeakable evil.

All she did was tell the truth—and happen to smear the good name of the town’s golden boy in the process. So when she refused to apologise and take back the accusation, her parents decided to ship her off to stay with her Uncle Will in New York until the dust settles. But Evie is used to not being what they want her to be.

And Evie doesn’t see this exile as punishment. Rather, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her.  New York! She’ll snap that up in a second if it means getting out of boring Ohio. Sure, she’d rather not know that her parents would sooner ship her off for a few months than stand by their daughter, but since the death of her elder brother in the war, Evie is used to being second best. She’s always too much for her parents and yet never enough.

Everyone, even her friends, is always telling her that Evie O’Neill is just too much.

Evie is looking forward to a few months in the city, where she can party all night and make a name for herself as the hottest Sheba in town. Who knows what can happen? This is New York! She has her sights set high and intends to make the most of this exile. Who needs small town Ohio anyway? Not Evie O’Neill. And to boot, she’ll be reuniting with her friend with whom she exchanges letters, so it’s not as if she’ll be alone. It’s all jake for Evie as she heads off to the city.

When she arrives and finds Uncle Will as the curator of a museum of supernatural whatsits and the occult, she is a little sceptical, but soon flourishes (perhaps a little too much) under Will’s very loose rule. Soon Evie makes new friends and starts to really live it up in New York. Between the awkward acquaintance of her uncle’s assistant, Jericho, and the confident advances of a thief who seems to always be there when she turns around, Evie will never have a dull moment.

But the glitz and glamour doesn’t last for long and before she knows it, not only is there talk at the museum of Diviners—people with unique gifts, just like Evie—but a string of bizarre ritualistic murders take place and soon Will is called in to consult.

Is it really possible that here in New York she can find out the truth about her talent? And if so, what will that mean? She’s never given it much thought, except to use it for cheap party tricks when the limelight slides away for a second too long—and look where that got her last time.

There’s something undeniably strange about the murders and soon the city is rattled. But no one more than Evie. Try as she might, she can’t shake the notion that something is very wrong. As she follows her uncle with the investigation, Evie soon puts her talents to use. That’s when things really get strange.

Little does Evie know that an evil has been released—and it has work to do.

Evie is convinced the murders have a link with the supernatural and the almost-biblical scriptures left behind at each scene don’t disagree. The deeper into the case Evie and her uncle dig, the stranger things get. Between ghosts and cults and strange old houses, it seems unlikely that there will ever be a straight answer to the case. The bodies keep turning up, each in accordance with a different verse from the scripture that doesn’t make much sense.

With the uncanny approach of Solomon’s comet and the murders drawing towards what seems like a grand unseen finale, Evie will have to use her wits and her talents to get to the bottom of things. There is an evil afoot in New York city. Evie is the life of the party, but if she doesn’t hurry and lay this evil to rest, she may well end up the death of it. Evie might not be the only Diviner in New York—but she’s the only one who can get to the bottom of these killings.

The Diviners is the first of a wickedly brilliant series, where we’re treated to an authentic and addictive 1920s New York, all tangled up with the chilling and gripping paranormal events that will change Evie O’Neill forever.

It’s astounding to sit here and say how inclusive a book set in the 20s is, and yet here I am. There is more representation (people of colour; sexuality) in this book than half the books I read and review. Effortless and authentic, Bray paints so clear and strikingly accurate a picture of New York that you all but melt into the story as you go. The Diviners is populated by wonderful characters who are immediately worthy of attachment and investment.

It’s difficult to say just how fantastic The Diviners is—and that’s not even starting on the absolutely stellar performance of January LaVoy in the superb audiobook.

This book is funny and creepy and gripping. It effectively marries both the grotesque and chilling elements of urban supernatural horror, whilst presenting a unique slice-of-life adventure into the heart of Prohibition-era New York. Between speakeasies, flappers and jazz, we’re treated to the thrill of numbers runners on the streets and the discomfort of the darker underbelly of social politics, racism and homophobia, however subtly. It’s still there.

The bright young things Evie befriends in The Diviners are varied and inclusive and being partway through the second book, Lair of Dreams, I can only say that it gets better. If at all possible. Which it is.

Evie is a flapper who seeks the limelight, but beneath all the makeup and glitz, she is a damaged girl still mourning the death of her brother and the loss of her parents’ love at the passing of their favourite child. She is seeking more than just a murderer on the streets of New York: she’s looking for the most important thing of all. Herself.

Even if you think that the setting isn’t for you—think again and let yourself be lured in by the promise of The Diviners being the most gripping, chilling page-turner of a supernatural crime urban fantasy (yes, all those things!) you’ll read any time soon.

JBI 5 star chibiBray has nailed the 20s and her writing is just the cat’s pyjamas. This book was so, so, so, very good. I loved every single little detail of this book and definitely can’t sing the praises of the audiobook enough. If you want excitement and a really good and gripping and clever supernatural murder fantasy, then The Diviners needs to be right at the top of your reading list.

It’s just bloody wonderful and I loved every damn second of it.

Ten Thousand Skies Above You, by Claudia Gray [Firebird#2]

Title: Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)
Author: Claudia Gray
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication date: 3rd November 2015
Rating: ★★.5 / ★★★ – depending on what day you catch me!

17234659Ten Thousand Skies Above You, the second of the Firebird trilogy, by Claudia Gray was a good continuation of the story and a surprisingly, complex sequel to follow after A Thousand Pieces of You. There were elements of the story I loved, and some that felt like pure filler. I keep emphasising “story”—and there’s a reason for that.

Just like A Thousand Pieces of You, I adored the story of this book; I love the revelations we’re given, I love the game-changer at the end of the book that sets up a very, very interesting possibility for the dynamic in the third book.

But, I did not love Marguerite. I feel the girl we knew from the first book is gone. Where? I’m not sure.

We find ourselves plunged back into our time-travel-but-not adventures, with Marguerite fleeing a crowd bent on accusing her family (the scientists Caine) of witchcraft. Hold up—science as magic? We must be in the dark ages or something. Oh, we are. It’s an exciting start to the book, setting a pace that… is never truly realised thereafter. We skip between exposition of what happened before she began travelling again, whilst vaguely taking tiny steps forward into the rest of the subsequent story. The book kicks off rather frantically in a reimagining of medieval Italy, where Marguerite finds herself in hot water whilst on the search for Paul (again…).

As with the first book, Marguerite is forced to do more dimension hopping. Except this time, revenge is far from her mind. This time, she’s trying to save people. Both Theo and Paul need help and, as ever, being the perfect traveller that she is, Marguerite is the only one who can do anything of use.

Unfortunately this time, Paul is little more than a plot device. The reason for Marguerite to travel. It’s a disservice to Paul, because there’s so much character there, if you scratch beneath the surface. I wanted to get to know Paul more. He’s not the most fleshed-out of characters in the first book, and I had hoped for an opportunity to see more of him here. For some reason, we’re denied this. This should have been a book of Paul and Marguerite travelling together.  But moreover, it’s a disservice to Theo, because, through Marguerite’s blinkeredness in Paul’s direction, she completely erases Theo. Never mind the fact that she is convinced that, essentially due to the behaviour of another Theo, her Theo can’t be all good.

Well, newsflash, Marguerite: nobody is all good. This, unfortunately becomes something that our once seemingly well-rounded Marguerite develops some interesting double-standards with. The second someone other than herself does one thing in one dimension, then it must immediately mean that that little fragment of darkness is lurking inside them, because they are essentially all the same people, even though the very nature of the plot and the formula makes it painfully clear that they’re not. People are made by how they live, both the sum of and more than the sum of their experiences, choices and how they have grown throughout their lives.

Except her, of course: she readily forgets the party-girl Meg from the Londonverse, and, refuses to really acknowledge the damage she did in the Russiaverse; instead, using the universe as a refuge during the story, where she literally just barges into her other self’s life (again) and remains there as she pleases (again). Sure, she realises how much she screwed up, but if she was truly sorry and realised just how violating her presence was, she would not have used the universe as if she had the right to; she would have left immediately. But she didn’t. She didn’t want to leave, so she took the right to stay. Unfortunately, Marguerite has selfish sides of herself that turn into hypocrisy through her complete disregard of them, yet her willingness to point them out in others. Such as Theo, and, through this book, others around her, too.

Furthermore, in each world she travels to, Marguerite basically commandeers the lives of Alternative Marguerite and does as she pleases, constantly trying to engineer herself closer to Paul, whether or not she is with Paul in said dimension. It’s selfish and entitled and completely erasing of what her other selves’ lives are like. It’s presumptuous and, when she lands in dimensions where she is actively seeing someone else, completely disregarding and erasing of anyone else’s feelings. Except her own, of course.

Where is my Marguerite gone? Because this isn’t the girl I loved.

And the worlds we travelled to, so varied and exciting in the first book, have become random and even pale in comparison. Where’s my world where Theo and Paul are together? Where’s my world where Marguerite is a lesbian? Where is my world where she and Josie hate one another? Where’s my world where Marguerite doesn’t get on with her increasingly-oh-so-perfect parents? Where’s my world where she has different parents; a different family; a stepparent; adoptive parents; something different? Where Marguerite is biracial; where she’s different? Where is my world where Marguerite and her immediate surroundings aren’t so straight and white and completely unrealistic?

You can’t begin to play with the accepted notion of “infinite possibilities” if you never actually think outside the box, never think outside of straight-white-middle-class. And that’s all we ever, ever see and it’s impossibly dull by this point. Here, we have this exciting plot, far-reaching and overarching—especially with the revelations in this book itself—and yet we tread the same sort of ground, again and again.

Couple this with Marguerite’s selfish erasure of other people’s feelings and her blindness to her own faults, and we have a rather unlikable protagonist in place of our determined, thoughtful and relatable Marguerite. She can so easily flee to another universe where she doesn’t belong and has no need whatsoever to go to “take time away” from an event where someone was hurt by someone she doubted had that kind of violence inside them, when in the first book she was the one hell bent on revenge on Paul.

Never mind the fact that it would be a change to meet Paul and Theo in a universe where one of them wasn’t obsessed with her. That would be good. I know the number of worlds we’ve seen isn’t that high, but that’s precisely my point: you have to make them count.

In addition, the only world in which any manner of different sexuality is mentioned is where a particular character is the bad guy and they sleep with the opposite sex, as well as the same sex (anyone will do!), as a way of hurting more people and not giving a damn. I don’t care if it was accidental: do better. When it’s the only LGBT reference, do better.

I love the plot of these books, I love the formula, the writing, the delivery… but now, I do not like Marguerite. Mostly, her selfishness, her entitled attitude is what finally turned me off towards Marguerite. The fact that she chooses to invade on another of her lives again, entirely by choice and without any fragment of necessity whatsoever, only to go and live in that Marguerite’s shoes for a while, as if staying over in a hotel built for her, even going so far as to willing interact with people in these Alternate Marguerites’ lives (such as a psychiatrist, whom she brazenly uses as a shrink for her own issues instead of just leaving Marguerite to her own life)—just, no.

Furthermore, the topic of grief comes up, however briefly in this book.  She immediately acts as though grief is something that will eventually be worked through and isn’t an excuse for rash or selfish behaviour…

Says the girl who toddled off traveling to get revenge on Paul after the assumed death of her father. Everyone else’s grief is uncomfortable and inconvenient for her. And this was a huge, huge, huge issue for me. Our society is pretty shit at dealing with grief (heck, when the only way we can get in touch, as a society, with grief, is through the catharsis of public grief over a shared figure or person, and otherwise grief is something to be shuttered away and not talked about and dealt with alone, that’s messed up) and to have this exact sentiment reflected in a book for younger/more millennial-minded people, that’s not okay with me.

Ultimately, only her feelings ever matter. And worse, only she is a valid Marguerite and only her feelings matter, above all Marguerites.

I wanted so badly to love this book as much as I’d loved A Thousand Pieces of You, which I’d really, really loved. The problem is, I do still really, really like the story. The dimensions, the travel, the newly-revealed stakes and twists and turns—I loved all of it. Just, not the main character.

If you’re someone who can put up with protagonists you can’t stand, in favour of the story you love, then you’ll get along with this sequel just fine. If, like me, Marguerite has become an entirely different person, one you don’t recognize, but you still do love the story… then you’ll manage and you will still probably, like me, read the third book. Only, it won’t be at the top of my TBR list when it does eventually land.

2-star copyMost of why this book got so low a rating and a rather meh review from me, is entirely down to Marguerite, and a few niggles here and there about things that could have been better. It’s not a terrible book—it’s not even a “meh” book. It’s a book with problems (lowercase; not the big, yicky Problems you really don’t want to find in a book!) and it is lacking in diversity (which, let’s be frank: we shouldn’t even be calling “diversity” as if it’s something special. It should just be called realism), which is something I’m going to start coming down heavily on. Overall, if we’re talking favourably about Ten Thousand Skies Above You, then this was a much-slower paced sequel to what was an exciting, thrilling first book, but a fantastic continuation of the overarching story itself. The ante is upped and things get big, and this is what will keep me reading to the end of the trilogy. But if we’re being candid, then Marguerite almost made me put this book down.