Book Review: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

Hollow City

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

All-too-familiar Caveat: This is a review for the second book in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series. That means there will almost certainly be spoilers here for the first book. Rather unavoidable, really.

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Now, then. I have finally gotten around to the the second book in the Miss Peregrine series (Yay!). If you’re interested, you can read my review of the first book here.

So the kids, led by Jacob and Emma, have escaped Cairnholm Island with a severely injured (and unable to transform) Miss Peregrine in tow. On their own in 1940, the children, already exhausted from their battle with the wights, must journey through the bomb-scarred British countryside to find someone capable of healing Miss Peregrine. The war-torn landscape gives perfect cover for hunting wights, and the children must race both time and their enemies in order to save their ymbyrne.

Okay I’m going to come right out an say it: this book wasn’t nearly as much fun as the first one. The first book gave us the joy of experiencing new worlds, new folks to meet, and while we got a good dose of creepiness, it was still fun. Hollow City is, in a word, grim. Traipsing through the wartime English countryside is not really an enjoyable pastime. The antique photos, used to such great effect in the first book, take on a new cast here, sometimes seeming like the sole factor driving the story at points. And be warned, some of the photos in the book are of dead bodies. I don’t have a problem with this in and of itself (after all, dead folks are my field), but photos of actual dead people in a young adult book is a bit surprising. Maybe I’m being too delicate. After all, I’m old, and don’t know what the young people are into these days (presumably dead folks. Good for you, young people).

So bottom line: Hollow City isn’t nearly as good as Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but it’s still a fine example of the young adult genre. I’ll hold off on judging the series as a whole until I’ve read the third book.

Book Review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

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The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Tea has lived all her life in a small village with her family. Then, when she is thirteen, her brother, who had been called to the army to help protect the kingdom from fierce monsters called daeva, is killed in battle. The anguished Tea refuses to accept his death, and in her grief, she raises him from his grave. It seems that Tea is a necromancer, a dark asha (witch). Fleeing from the superstition and fear of her neighbors, she journeys to the schools at Ankyo where she can learn to harness her powers.

The lessons at these schools (called The Willows) resemble a geisha’s training more than anything you’d find at Hogwarts. Tea learns singing, dance, flower arranging, and how to pick out the perfect hua (magical outfit). She does also learn healing and combat, but the focus is certainly more on the refined arts and entertaining dignitaries.

When the school is attacked by a fierce daeva, Tea knows she is the only one with a chance of stopping the carnage, but the price that must be paid could mean the sacrifice of all she holds dear.

Right off the bat I’m going to stay that this book wasn’t my cup of tea (pun, sorry). I found the focus on the more mundane aspects  (like flower arranging, etc.) to be a bit dull. When the action finally hits, the book is nearly over. That is not to say that this book is bad. There’s quite a bit of good world building here, and the magic system is actually pretty neat, and interestingly done. I feel like this book will appeal more to a true YA audience than me (being old and curmudgeonly). As this is the first in the series, I would be curious to see how the future books pace out. I think the second book will be worth a chance, when it comes out.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bone Witch will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

shadow-bright-and-burningA Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. Along with all the other problems brought on with self immolation is one unfortunate fact: women in Victorian England aren’t allowed to do magic.

Welcome to a lovecraftian Victorian England, where a witch opened a portal into another dimension, setting free the Ancient Ones, hideous monsters bent on the submission and eradication of the human race. (Male) sorcerers are tasked with trying to hold the monsters at bay, and any magic outside the narrow confines of their purview is punishable by ugly death.

Henrietta Howel grows up in Jane Eyre-esque poverty at a charity school for girls, trying to keep her firestarter tendencies under the radar. But when a visiting sorcerer discovers her magical abilities, the cat is out of the bag. Rather than be put to death, she is brought to London to fulfill an ancient prophecy which will pit her against the Ancient Ones as humanity’s last hope. But is she really the chosen one?

All in all I found this book to be an engaging and fast-paced read. Cluess borrows elements from several sources (Jane Eyre, Harry Potter, and Lovecraft being the most obvious), but she is able to make the combination work (and let’s face it, bringing Jane Eyre into the Cthulhu mythos is not a task for the faint of heart). Parts of the book were genuinely creepy, especially the familiars, humans transformed by the ancient ones to do their bidding. The major flaw in this book comes from the overdone romance angle, as our heroine has not one, not two, but three possible romantic entanglements within the book. Is it too much to ask for the protagonist to stand on her own for a bit before delving into the pathos of teenage love?

Ah well. In all, this book was very enjoyable and I look forward to the next in the series. I think Cluess has a promising future ahead of her.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. A Shadow Bright and Burning is currently available for purchase.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This was a charming, engaging story inspired by fairy tales of the Russian wilderness.

Vasya is the daughter of a Russian lord, and the granddaughter of a suspected witch. Growing up in the vast forests in the north, fireside tales of friendly spirits and dangerous imps dominate her childhood. Vasya knows to leave offerings for the guardian spirits of her home and stables, to placate the water demons and to pay obeisance to the guardians of the forest. When her father marries a high born woman from Moscow, the folk traditions of Vasya’s youth are branded as heresy and witchcraft, and the orthodox church forbids any practice of the old ways.

But something evil is stirring in the deep woods, something ancient and hungering. As the strength of the old ways wanes, it seems that Vasya may be the only one who can stop what is coming.

Fairy tale retellings are in vogue nowadays, but it is rare that an author takes the material and makes it their own. The usual fare simply regurgitates the story while incorporating an excess of teen angst. Arden manages to take the tropes of the fairy tale and make them into a story with familiar elements, but which is her own. It reminds me of the Sevenwaters books by Juliet Marillier, a compelling series based on English myth and fairy tale.

I suspect this book may be shelved in the young adult category, but it will appeal to older readers nonetheless. Fans of fantasy and magic will find a lot to like in this story. In all, this is a very strong debut novel and I look forward to Katherine Arden’s future work.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bear and the Nightingale will be available for purchase on January 10th, 2017.

Book Review: Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

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Iron Cast by Destiny Soria

Welcome to Boston, 1919. Well, perhaps not the Boston you are accustomed to. For you see, hemopaths (those infernally talented souls who would have been called witches in a bygone age) live among us; and their ability to ensnare the senses and manipulate ordinary, hardworking people is an ever-present threat.

Or so they would have you believe. Meet Corrine Wells and Ava Navarra, Wordmith and Songsmith, respectively. Ava and Corrine are part of a crew of misfits who work at The Iron Cast, a nightclub/underground entertainment venue on the eve of prohibition. Life isn’t easy as a hemopath, civil, lawful society has made their existence more or less illegal. But within the smokey atmosphere of their speakeasy-style club, hemopaths can feel at home.

That is, until Johnny Dervish, the owner of the club and de facto leader of the hemopaths it employs, is murdered. Suddenly the outcasts have nowhere to go and no one but themselves to turn to. With government agents, rival clubs, and difficult relations circling, Ava and Corrine must find out who is willing to kill to shut down The Iron Cast.

This book is a very enjoyable YA offering that drops you right into the middle of the action without so much as a ‘by-you-leave’. For many books, this is an irredeemable sin, but Destiny Soria manages to lead you through uncharted territory in an exciting way until you are able to find your own way through the world. The story is set in Boston on the eve of Prohibition. The Great War has ended, Jazz is king, Bolsheviks are to be feared and anarchists lurk around every corner. The entire book is infused with the energy of the era. I found Soria’s use of magic to be original and interesting: different types of hemopaths (wordsmiths, songsmiths, thespians, etc.) have different, and well defined abilities. I also rather liked how many of these gifts are tied to a form of creative talent.

In all, if you enjoy the young adult fantasy genre, magic, or the vaguely steampunk, you will likely enjoy this book.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Iron Cast will be available for purchase on October 11th, 2016.