What I read in February

 

Midnight Never Come
Marie Brennan, 2015

A faery tale court beneath London mirrors the court of Queen Elizabeth 1, thought Onyx Court is far more dangerous. Courtiers are killed at Suspiria’s leisure and faeries must tread carefully to avoid arousing her wrath.

Lady Lune has already fallen from grace, and plans to redeem herself on a mission in the human court – she must get close to Elizabeth’s Spymaster Walsingham.

Michael Deven, an agent of Walsingham, has begun to suspect a ‘hidden player’ in Elizabethan politics and comes closer to the truth of the faery court than anyone has before.

This is a slow-moving tale of political intrigue across the two courts, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns and a gripping finale. With three more books to come, I’m looking forward to further exploration of the faery world.

Sorcerer to the Crown
Zen Cho, 2015

This promises to be as beautiful in paperback as it is in hardback! I 100% judged Sorcerer to the Crown by its cover, and I’m glad I did as it’s one of my new favourite books. I love comedies of manners, I love alternate histories with magic in them, and I love stories of outcasts finding their happy places – Sorcerer to the Crown is all of these things, and there’s even some riding around on clouds.

Zacharias is the Sorcerer Royal. Rescued from slavery by his predecessor, Sir Stephen, he faces racism and prejudice almost every which way he turns. To make matters worse, rumours abound of his having killed Sir Stephen and destroying his familiar, Leofric.

Prunella is a serving girl cum assistant teacher at a magic school for girls – although it is more an anti-magic school, as girls with an aptitude for magic are supposed to be learning how to quell and subdue and their powers. Of course, they pick up a lot of spells and knowledge along the way. Prunella is one of the most gifted, but her plan is to find a wealthy husband so that she can live a life of relative peace.

When Zacharias is roped into giving a talk at the school, Prunella seizes her chance to escape, and wangles her way into becoming the ward of the Sorcerer Royal. Along the way she discovers more about her past and unlocks her heritage, navigating the society of Regency London while learning magic. She faces a multitude of trials including disdain for her class and ethnicity, derision as a woman learning magic, and ultimately, a boss fight.

The finale comes in the shape of an epic dragon battle which is both fearsome and funny, much like the rest of the novel.

Weatherland
Alexandra Harris, 2015

It took me two months to read Weatherland, which is an unusually long time for me. Every few pages I needed to pause for a day (or more!) while I absorbed it. Every line is packed with #facts about artists, writers, meterological information and history.

While it sounds like an expansive read, the tales told in this tome are all of an intimate sort, just as weather affects us on a global scale, yet we all experience it on our own personal terms. I found her theory that our perception of the weather of certain time periods comes from art and literature interesting. This is illustrated primarily by the Victorians, with their weather having a reputation for being damp, foggy and dull. Bleak House is described as being ‘the dampest house in literature’, and the Gothic Revival is blamed for its influence. Life in Victorian literature becomes ‘dimly lit for preference, even when not be necessity’.

Having an intimate knowledge of World War One literature (an A-level module’s worth really) I was surprised that this era only takes up a few hundred words of this otherwise incisive work, but I assume that anyone with an intimate knowledge of say Shelley or Wordsworth would be wondering at their minimal inclusion in the same. Racing through the centuries from the 8th (or 9th) right up to present day, there is a lot to cover but the references are extensive for anyone looking for further reading.

Thief’s Magic
Trudi Canavan, 2015

Don’t buy this book though, get it from your library if you think you’d like to read it. If you enjoyed The Black Magician trilogy, I don’t think you’ll enjoy this. But if you enjoyed The Traitor Spy Trilogy then perhaps you will also like this, the first book in the Millennium’s Rule Trilogy.

Some books do well from being very simply told, but in the case of Thief’s Magic the characters fall completely flat. There is a lot going on in this tale, and the world(s) are intricately developed with an incredible amount of detail having gone into the magic and technology. However, the characters almost seem to be robots, acting very dispassionately with little thought given to the consequences of their actions. Canavan tells us that they feel fear or love, but we rarely feel their emotions along with them. Every plot point seems to unfold inexorably, as if every move made by the characters was planned beforehand and there was never any doubt as to the outcome of their behaviours. (Obviously, this is the case! But I feel that a good writer will do their best to make their characters more afraid of an uncertain future.)

There are a few moments in Thief’s Magic (and in The Traitor Spy Trilogy) where actions speak louder than words and the reader can feel along with the characters, but it soon devolves back into a dry descriptiveness which feels more like a history lesson than an exciting action-adventure novel.

Nimona
Noelle Stevenson, 2015

Monster girls unite! You should absolutely go out and buy this immediately. Nimona is a cute chubby chick who is also occasionally a shark, a little red cat, a giant fire-breathing dragon and is sometimes referred to as a shapeshifter. The story is an excellently quirky take on the Villain/Sidekick dynamic which also skewers the Good Guy/Bad Guy setup.

This is a supercute graphic novel which explores friendship, rivalry, trust and also what it means to be a monster, when being told you are a monster is all you’ve ever known.

I also read a couple of Steve Berry novels this month which are historical adventure romps along the lines of National Treasure and Dan Brown which I love and no-one can take them away from me, but I’m not going to review them fully because they are by a man and by all accounts he already does pretty well for himself.

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