Rae Carson- Crown of Embers

Being sick is a wonderful thing.

I mean, well it isn’t, but when you’re lying in bed cuddling up to a bucket you do find that you have the opportunity to get some proper reading done. Those of you who remember me will know I am now in full time employment after graduating (yay!) and living in London (double yay!) so I’ll admit that I’ve been holding off on reading this book for two reasons.

1- When I read Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns I stayed up all night and read it in one sitting. I slept the next day. (see previous review)

2- The only way I could get away with doing the above a second time for the second book in the series would be if I had a free weekend (which I don’t) or was on my deathbed with nothing else to do. (a-ha)

So yesterday I finally got around to reading  the second book in Rae Carson’s trilogy (released this year, published by Gollancz) and I started with stupidly high hopes, hopes so high that nothing could possibly meet up to my expectations.

But Rae Carson is an amazing writer, and her second novel in theFire and Thorns trilogy matches up incredibly with her first. Having become a young Widow and Queen, Elisa is growing increasingly frustrated with the politics of her new home; the people hail her as a hero- so long as taxes stay low, and the other members of her government dismiss her as a child and don’t trust her. The only people around her who she can trust are her two ladies-in-waiting, Mara and Ximena, her stepson Prince Rosario and the Commander of her Royal Guard, Hector.

Oh, Hector. I’ve loved you since the very first book.

Not only is Elisa’s Quorum/Government doing their best to ignore her, but they’re also trying to marry her off (again). The country is unsettled and Elisa has yet to prove herself as more than a war hero, so a husband will give her the ‘stability’ she needs. Enter the dashing Conde Tristan from the Southern Territories. He’s intelligent, brave, and seems a perfect match as long as you don’t take into account that Elisa doesn’t love him… but no one is as they appear to be, and his own secret is one that has to come out sooner or later.

Not only that, but it appears Elisa didn’t quite manage to totally defeat the Invierne people in the last book, and after a rather public demonstration that involves a lot of fire, her position is weakened further by their bid to kidnap her.

And as if that wasn’t enough for the seventeen year old Queen/Widow/Mother/War Hero to be dealing with, there have also been several attempts on her life, which means she has more enemies than even Hector suspected. It might be time to start choosing some unlikely allies and keeping old friends at a more wary distance.

Everything about this story is a step up from the first; The politics are more secretive, Elisa’s enemies are more mysterious and more numerous, and the romance is more mature, more slow burning. I had a moment of horror before I began reading, wondering if, as sequels can do, this book would disappoint me, but it’s everything I hoped for and more; the plot is a continuation of the same story, but there’s new elements being introduced too. Elisa still makes mistakes, she still trusts the wrong people and still does the wrong things, but by the time this book ends she’s found her footing a little more, and she’s still that brilliant blend of surly teenager and brave young hero that made us love her in Girl of Fire and Thorns.

And now I’ve realised that the Final installment, The Bitter Kingdom, won’t be released until next year. That can’t be true. My heart won’t take it…

Fire and Thorns – by Rae Carson

I have finished with university, almost definitely for good, and I’m very very conscious of the fact that I’ve written… almost no reviews for Un:Bound since starting uni almost three years ago. I’ve certainly not written any since the big move to the new site.

For reasons best left to the privacy of my twitter account (@katheubeck) I am under house arrest at the moment and since I’m at my parent’s house, that means I’m stuck in a village with just three streets and no Co-op.

My first real foray to proper book-reading has started with Rae Carson’s debut novel, “Fire and Thorns”, published by Gollancz. It follows the story of young princess Elisa, who has grown up babied, fat and lazy. Even though she bears the Godstone, a sign that God has chosen her for a life of heroism, she has never pursued adventure and was encouraged to stay out of harms way.

On her sixteenth birthday, she’s married off to the handsome king of a huge nearby country, but finds that although she has been married off as part of a treaty, the king keeps their marriage secret, and instead openly courts the beautiful Condesa Arina. Spurred by her own thirst for knowledge, and suspicions that there is more to the legend of the Godstone than she knows, Elisa finds herself drawn further and further into an age-long war she didn’t even know was happening, a war that she is a part of whether she likes it or not.

The book is split into three parts, each following a different ‘role’ of Elisa’s as her journey goes on. In part 1, she is the intelligent but lazy scholar, trying to make the best of a bad situation. She tries to prove that she’s capable of being a Queen to her new husband whilst learning as much about the Godstone as possible… until she’s kidnapped.

Part 2 follows her survival in the desert, and the realization of her own significance as the war rages on. She becomes a tactician, and a survivor.

In the third and final part of the book, Elisa really comes into her own. She stops relying on others to carry her through, and becomes a leader, a figurehead of war.

The copy I have is an uncorrected Manuscript proof which I was given as an Un:Bound reviewer at some point last year. I need to say a big SORRY to my boss/benefactor/dictator/religious leader at Un:Bound that it took me so long to get this review done but… you know… the final year of university is supposed to be time-consuming. At least other people tell me this.

Now before I say anything else about whether I enjoyed the book or not, I want to be absolutely clear. I started reading at about midnight for a bit of a wind-down before bed. I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book at 4.30 the next morning.

I absolutely loved it, but I was so engrossed in it that I didn’t realize how MUCH I loved it until I reached the end and realized there were birds singing outside. The characters that I got to know, and their exploits that I was so much a part of took such hold of me that I wasn’t even able to THINK about the real world (by which I mean the internet) until about ten minutes after I finished the book and had let it all sink in.

In many ways this is aquite traditional coming-of-age story; a teenager is pushed from the nest and learns to fly alone, learning more about their true identity along the way. Yes, we know that story, it’s every teenage fantasy book that is already on our shelves. Except for one or two…

But the wonderful thing about this book is that it takes everything that makes those books wonderful and introduces that little bit more. Elisa doesn’t just strike out on her own; she builds on the advice others give her, she befriends those who have wronged her, she is completely aware of her own limitations and knows when she needs others around her. Elisa starts the story as a clever but lonely girl whose only friends are the two handmaidens her father pays to keep her safe. She ends the book respected, wise and loved.

As a fantasy novel with a female protagonist, told in the first person and some feminist elements, I’ll admit “Fire and Thorns” might struggle with some within the male demographic, but the sheer depth of the characters we meet will enthrall anyone who reads it, of any age or gender. Carson’s realistic but readable approach to war and politics, both at the front lines and within the government, takes the perspective of a sixteen year old and brings you into the adventure with remarkable skill.

I’m told that this is the first installment of a trilogy and I really really hope I can get my hands on the next book as soon as possible, preferably before I’m forced to storm Gollancz and take Rae Carson hostage as my own personal book-writer.

Do the right thing, Rae. Give it to me now for the good of mankind.

Hitler’s War – Harry Turtledove

by Harbinger,

I got a DEGREE WOOO 2:1! I am simply great bow down before the Lord of History. Ahem after that brief aside on with the review.
The lights are going out over Europe the year….. 1938. Errrrrr that does not sound right? I know that you may well be questioning how a young (rakishly attractive) man with a History degree can say that, but trust me I have a reason. For my Birthday in March Hagelrat (in a display of uncharacteristic sisterly affection) bought me this book. I am eternally grateful not only do I love getting new books, but also it panders to my historical obsession. This is a fictional book so don’t switch off quite yet. This is an example of what historians call Counter – factual History, or more colloquially ‘What if’ history. Naturally as a person who has spent three years studying history in depth, I found it hard to divorce myself from looking at the book in a historical sense rather than a literary one. So I apologise in advance if I go to much into the Historiography of the book.

First of all Turtldove had to invent a convincing way in which the war could start a year early. In an obvious reference to the Great War, his chosen method was assassination. A senior Nazi official is killed in Czechoslovakia, meaning the Munich Agreement never takes place. The Book is structured in an interesting manner, with each chapter containing the point of view of people from all sides of the conflict. The one draw back can be that you occasionally forget who each character is. I quite like his portrayal of Germans (and indeed other members of the Axis), as the temptation is to show them as all heartless monsters when most of them were just ordinary people like everyone else. Indeed he grasps Hitler’s motivations perfectly. Many have blamed Neville Chamberlain (PM of UK) and Edouard Deladier (PM of France) for not standing up to Hitler. However, that would be underestimating Hitler’s desire for war. He so desired war, that he viewed appeasement as a frustrating tactic used by the Allies to undermine him. This is something which the author grasps very well.

The sheer amount of research that the author had to conduct is simply impressive, he understands the domestic situations of even some of the smaller nations involved in the war and the weapons and vehicles that were used. Interestingly the Spanish Civil war is still going on and this impacts on the opening of the Second World War.

I do not agree with all his interpretations of what the likely results of an earlier war. For example he indicates that the Polish would have been hostile to anyone allied with the Russians. This is true but there would still have been suspicion and hostility towards Germany as the Nazis and other Nationalists had made threatening noises towards the Poles for years (mostly over the ‘Bleeding Frontier’). However, this is not a literary criticism. There are some flaws in a literary sense that concern me. I think there is a little too much going on. He tries to cover both the Spanish Civil War, the War in Europe and the conflicts in Asia. Also with 2-3 (or sometimes more) characters representing most of the belligerent nations it becomes rather hard to follow.

I think a bit of editing is required and perhaps splitting the book up into a series of books. I feel he has perhaps taken too much upon himself. It is still however, in places a well written book worth reading if like me your interested by this aspect of History, and especially military History.

I am thinking of including a note of what Book I am going to look at next. So continuing a historical theme I shall hopefully be completing a review of a Biography of Lord Kitchener.


Vintage – Maxine Linnell

Vintage – Maxine Linnell

Pub: Five Leaves

Length: 148 pages

I have reviewed this for Left Lion but wanted to expand on those comments. Also my interview with Maxine is up on Left Lion now.

Holly and Marilyn are both seventeen, on the cusp of adulthood and making decisions about university, dealing with their families and all the things that matter at that age. During a road accident they swap bodies, which is a problem in itself, the bigger problem, Holly is seventeen in 2010, Marilyn was seventeen back in 1962.

Marilyn has only Holly’s best friend Kyle to help her through the adjustment to 2010 living with it’s sudden freedom’s and dangers, while Holly is back in 1962 dealing with Marilyn’s.

Although the girls live in very different times and have different characters there are enough points of commonality to allow them to begin to understand each other as they try to figure out how to get their lives back. More importantly they each begin to understand themselves. Maxine has a real feel for the things that matter to these girls and the differences between the era’s, leaving her leads and her readers unsure which age really has more to offer.

Vintage is beautifully written, immediately accessible without talking down to the young adult audience and with plenty to offer older readers too. There is a rich sense of time offered by subtle details in speech and interactions as well as the more obvious changes over time. The parrallel’s provided by the girls living in the same house means the differences can be shown quietly but clearly, without shouting about the technological changes.

A real pleasure to read and something a little bit different from the usual offerings aimed at young adults.

World War Z- holy crap! Zombies!

Max Brooks’ World War Z is an eerily realistic work of fiction set ten years after a ten year way against a new breed of enemy. One that doesn’t need allies, doesn’t need sustenance, and doesn’t need rest.

The book is set out like a factual report documenting the personal experiences of the main players during the war. A series of interviews following experiences from the first outbreak in China to the end of the war, and the aftermath.

This is a composite of several interviews, and so several mini stories divided into chapters to represent different parts of the war.

Inevitably, with a collection like this, there are some stories that are nothing special, and some that leave you with goosebumps. The research that has been put into some of the characters, and the detail with which soldiers and other specialists of various professions can describe relevant equipment and tactics is extraordinary. This is obviously a ridiculously well thought out and researched project.

Particularly haunting stories (for me) include- the female soldier who was isolated after a plane crash and guided by a woman over the radio who was never found. The man who met the famous General Raj Singh and was there when he sacrificed himself to stop Zombies following refugees up the mountain pass. The man who created the plan that ended the war, but lost his sanity after putting it into action.

The personal accounts are brilliantly written, and they’re all brilliantly detailed. There are people who had positions of power before the war, who struggled to come up with a way to save the civilians, and people who became great during the war through a series of lucky escapes and acts of bravery.

Battles between the humans and zombies are described by the soldiers who fought in them- from the first disastrous battle using weapons that would annihilate humans but had little to no effect on the undead, to the later, greater battles that paved the way to reclaiming the world.

Brooks is able to represent different narratives well; culture and personality is definitely present in his writing as his character interviews people from around the world, and recounts their every story.

The only drawbacks in this book were the fact that though many segments were brilliant, they are always pretty brief. There are simply too many stories and characters to allow me to get a lasting impression of them all. This is, of course, inevitable considering that World War Z is a collection of narratives, but I couldn’t help feeling that while every story contributed to painting an accurate picture of the entire overall story, this didn’t allow the personal accounts to be terribly involving 90% of the time.

Another problem, for me, was that although many of the major plot points did occur in countries such as China and the East (and there’s a particularly spooky bit in the catacombs of Paris) a lot of the segments are set in America. I don’t know if I’m just being especially precious about my own nationality, but when talking about how the American President spoke “in a calm, firm tone that I don’t think any world leader has since been able to duplicate” while every other world leader was throwing a hissy fit, I just got a bit annoyed. I have no problem with America, I think it’s an awesome collection of people and landscapes (and of course writers!), but that particular scene irritated me.

This book is particularly brilliant though, and Brooks has really done well for himself with it. Personally, I think it’s a must-have for any Zombie fan (in conjunction with the Zombie survival guide) and a worthwhile read for everyone else 🙂

Tell All | Chuck Palahniuk

Tell – All
by Chuck Palahniuk
pub: DoubleDay
Cover: Rodrigo Corral Design

I would never have picked this book up in a shop. I found the cover jacket irritating (without the jacket the book actually looks rather elegant and much more pleasing), the writing style with it’s bolded text for the many names being dropped would have been off putting had I flicked through it in store and the idea of a part homage part mockery of “Old Hollywood” would not have appealed anyway. To borrow from Stray “I am not your target demographic”.

All that said then, it was a surprising treat of a book. The writing style is slightly disconcerting at first, the book set up in acts that our narrator introduces us to and comments on. Palahniuk trades “blah blah blah” for a series of mocking farmyard noises and general clunkings, skipping chunks of trite dialogue to good affect. Once acclimatised to that I was able to really enjoy the delivery and the series of scenes and acts the reader is lead through.

The story sends up the hidden dramas and personal dealings of Old Hollywood through Hazie Coogan whose life is spent managing and caring for Kathryn Kenton, navigating her through the trials and pitfalls of Hollywood life. Hazie is describing the scenes as they roll out and offers a slightly distanced take on events. It’s not an emotional journey, it’s a cool, witty, commentary well delivered, delightful, sharp and a little subversive.

There are some moments that stand out either as very funny or as more gentle and slightly sad than the rest of the book, which is often touching on deliberately abrasive reflecting some of the personalities involved. The tinge of sadness and faded glory that permeats Tell All in juxtaposition with the humour and harsh presentation is almost a comment on the time and it’s stars in itself, the offensive braying conversation against the desperation not to fade into oblivion for the stars themselves.

Not at all my usual sort of reading material but an enjoyable departure. I’m tempted to go and investigate the back catalogue if the same humour and joyful subversion occurs.

(so much prettier without the jacket to my mind.)

Raven Stole the Moon – Garth Stein

I’m following along a little after the rest of the world on this one but it took a while to reach me.

The basic story is of a marriage in trouble and a young woman’s search for closure over the death of a child. The extra interest and unusual twist is the blurring between reality and fantasy. The role of Tlingit mythology builds momentum gradually having starting as a series of moments outside of the story itself.

It’s not something I would have picked up normally, but it was a surprisingly easy read. Starting gentle and a little sad and building toward something more sinister and dramatic till finally it pops, leaving the reader a little washed out, a little empty. The experience of reading book is not dislike Jenna’s own journey and she too felt a little hollow at the end.

Not big on the warm fuzzies but it’s well written, the characters are engaging and it is very haunting. A worthwhile diversion from my usual material.

MC- Slaves, Monsters and Bards

Well I’ve been meaning to review this book for a fair while (like since I started reviewing on here). I got the first book when my sister picked it out for me while I was ill. After 24 hours I had finished it and was demanding the next in the series.

Alison Croggon, an Australian poet had this book published in Australia in 2002, and followed it with The Riddle, The Crow and The Singing. This is a fantasy epic spanning four substantial novels. This feminist story takes place in a lost civilization called Edil-Amarandh, and mostly set in the country of Annar.

The story follows Maerad, who is introduced to us as a slave in an isolated walled community of men, where abuse is commonplace, and expected against the women. She has grown up in this way, knowing nothing about her own country beyond the mountains, until she finds Cadvan, a wandering Bard who has recently escaped from a mysterious power he won’t discuss.

He eventually decides to help her escape the tyranny of her owners, after hearing she was born to Milana, who was the head Bard at the School of Pellinor, which was burned to the ground years ago, killing everyone inside. Maerad eventually gets used to the idea of women being equal to men, and gains confidence as she becomes a skilled, independent woman.

Here, I’ll clarify that in Edil-Amarandh Bards are the learned who have The Gift, the ability to cast spells etc. The Schools are the places where Bards live a life of peace and learning. The loss of Pellinor, which was meant to be one of the most beautiful Schools since the first.

The books of Pellinor transport the reader into another world more thoroughly than any other book I’ve ever read. It mixes run-of-the-mill fantasy ideas with things I’ve never really heard of before. Maerad is taken in as a Bard and under Cadvan’s tutelage comes into her own as a Bard.

After it becomes apparent that dark Bards are out to get Maerad for an unknown reason, the pair set out to find out more about a lost prophesy and Maerad’s heritage.

The storyline gets complex, and the language is beyond what some younger readers can deal with, as Croggon’s skills as a poet translate into her novels, and the detail into which Croggon develops the back story of the characters and the complexity of the history of Edil-Amarandh actually had me completely engrossed. It is difficult to start, but once you get used to the language you can’t put it down.

I mean I actually kind of began to understand The Speech, which is the language with which Bards can only speak the truth, and cast magic. I got a tad obsessed with these.

The Appendices at the back of each book in the series talks the reader through a detailed history of Edil-Amarandh and in a very non-fiction way discusses how Croggon translated the original legends into English through extensive study and research.

For about two hours after first reading the book, I was checking the Appendices and internally debating the possibility of a lost civilization which produced legends about Bards.

Of course, then I checked the internet.

Turns out it’s a fiction novel.

But a very engaging and kind of persuasive novel. It’s not that I’m stupid or gullible… but it was a couple of years ago. And I kind of wanted Maerad and Cadvan to be real. 🙂

MC out.

The War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I read this one for book group here in the village, it’s a kids book told from the point of view of the horse. *sigh* Well, I am not a huge fan of animal point of view stories as a rule, there are some I love, Black Beauty is iconic and wildly sentimental but still holds some power, Felidae is is silly but entertaining but the War Horse. Oh dear. Pretty early I on I had a thought along the lines of…if such and such happens I am not going to be surprised but I am going to be appalled. Needless to say that’s exactly what happened.
It failed to get me choked up at the sentimental parts and the horse went on and on about how he’d find out soon enough how rare kind owners were yet all but one were much better owners than most and the only one that was bad, when he was a gun horse, wasthrough neglect rather than cruelty and the horses were no worse off than the men frankly.
Honestly? Not for me and there are definitely better kids books.
The rest of the book group liked it better though and are going to see the stage show, so maybe i’m just a miserable old witch.
The stage show is meant to be incredible.

JC De La Torre – Mythology in fiction.

On the other side of guest blogging, I am delighted to welcome JC De La Torre to Un:Bound to talk about working with established mythology when creating a new story. His books deal with a lot of ancient gods in new ways. His books are available from amazon

I will be reviewing it pretty soon and I am enjoying it so far.

My thanks to Jason for joining us it is lovely to have you here and on that note I shall hand you over:

Mythology in Fiction

By JC De La Torre

Business is good for those who enjoy writing about mythology. Everywhere you look, you see tales of vampires, wizards, and gods taking over the fantasy genre. Of course, elements of mythology have always been there. Fairies, elves, gnomes, dwarves – you name it, it’s been written about a million times. We’ve all seemed the genre established, so the challenge is finding something that conforms to what the reader expects while coming up with something fresh – a story different than what they’ve read before.

It’s been done extremely well of late, as evidence by the expanding popularity of the genre. Still there are so many different aspects of our fantasy passion that has yet to be explored and as an author; I tried to apply that in my fantasy thriller series, Rise of the Ancients. As I wrote the first two installments of the series, Ancient Rising and Annuna (released on July 31st), I wanted to weave the fall of Atlantis with a religion that impacted the world for quite awhile – the mythology that was the Greek gods. Considering how important the deities were not only to Greek culture, but the Romans as well – who took their likenesses and applied their own Roman names to them – I felt that there would be believable substance for a story to actually consider the Greek gods were as real as you or I.

In fiction, you can invent your own mythology around the lost continent – but if you aren’t true to the source you get scenarios like flying cars and laser beams, while interesting to the story, may not really be plausible in the mind of your reader.

I had to dig further into antiquity, to the earliest recorded mythology – the Ancient Sumerians and their Annuna deities – gods from heaven.

It came together as a benevolent race of ascended beings planting the seeds of life on our world. It would incorporate the pantheon of religious belief, including Jewish and Christian tradition.

It’s funny, when I began writing my first novel in the summer of ‘04, Ancient RisingRise of the Ancients Book I, the gods and Atlantis were a subject that had been ignored for a long time. Sure, comic books had tackled Atlantis and the gods, there were a handful of novels that had Atlantis or the gods as a major theme including Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series and Clive Cussler’s Atlantis Found but interest in mythology seemed to deaden out in the 90’s. No one was interested in retelling or re-imaging the old myths.

My own personal interest in Atlantis came from my love of ancient history and reading a non-fiction (or semi-fictional, depending on how you view the subject matter) novel by an author named Herbie Brennan called the Atlantis Enigma that introduced me to the mythology of Atlantis and the theory of ancient astronauts. As I researched Atlantis, I grew interested in Greek mythology as a method of distribution for my own ancient astronauts fiction.

Similar to the way Stargate used Egyptian deities posing as gods called the Goa’uld, I used our known Greek mythology, combined it with the ancient Sumerian and Babylonian stories of the Annunaki (another Brennan inspiration) and even sprinkled in Jesus Christ. I threw it all in a pot, stirred until I came up with a wild tale about a devastated widower who was greeted by the Greek god Hermes and set on an Indiana Jones-meets-Clash of the Titans type adventure.

While I’d love to believe I started the trend, I know its more due to the success of Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and Thomas Greanias’ Atlantis saga that have brought mythology back into the mainstream. Video games like God of War introduced Zeus and the other gods to a new audience. While we know Percy Jackson’s movies are coming, I also recently saw an article that said that Dreamworks optioned Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s comic mini-series Atlantis Rising.

I have a feeling that the gods are going to be with us for awhile.

JC De La Torre is the author of fantasy thriller Rise of the Ancients – Annuna, released on July 31st to retailers everywhere.