Thursday, 21 June 2012

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

(You have probably heard what the story is since this novel did its rounds on blogs ages ago, but in case you didn't...) This book follows Cas Lowood who, like his father before him, is a killer of the dead- ghost or otherwise. In addition to this he has to contend with being a teenager and trying to make a somewhat normal life for himself. When he and his mother come to the town of Thunder Bay, his usual method of killing the dead is disrupted by something he never expected.

I have to say I was highly wary about approaching this book. By the time it had my interest, the hype had been so built up and so great that I doubted it would live up to my expectations. I spent some time convincing myself that it wouldn't reach this hype because (a) it's not what I would consider my kind of book and (b) the hype was way, way too high.

Yet I do think this is a fantastic book and is truly gripping. Some of the elements of horror didn't really feel scary for me (and I'm really jumpy) so this may bug some people, but I don't think it is meant as a scary book. And anyway, it wasn't important. And the single thing that made this book so awe-inspiringly awesome was Anna herself. I think she is probably one of my favourite characters ever.

On one hand, she appeals to my urban fantasy side. I don't think I'm giving anything away by saying she is an insanely powerful individual, which I just loved when reading about it. So many romances seem to like making romance interesting or edgy by giving one of the participants a dark mysterious past, or by simply telling us how the protagonist feels threatened. Now, Blake does all this BUT she before doing us she shows us without a shadow of a doubt why exactly you don't mess with Anna and how she is the genuine article of bad-assery.

And then on the other hand, she's simply a great character. Her back-story is so, so sad and soul destroying that despite the horror surrounding her, you can sort of understand her. And then when the whole "Goddess of Death" thing starts to come into perspective, you can begin to understand her as the shy, adorable individual she is.

Don't get me wrong, Cas is great and the story about the Dad and how everything ties in is gripping and makes for great reading, but I doubt I would have loved this book as much if not for Anna. I actually thought the story itself was predictable and I guessed what would happen when the cat growls near the start.

One thing I thought might have perhaps been better if it had been looked at a bit more was the whole disjointedness of the romance. It was never going to be like Lia Habel's Dearly, Departed; but I do believe more should have been made of it. The limit of consideration was "This is weird, but it doesn't matter because love surpasses all."

So overall fantastic. You should read this just to see Anna in action.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Following the events of the magicians, Quentin Coldwater is now one of the Kings of Fillory. It’s something he never dared to dream he’d have…but he’s still not happy. He’s restless. In trying to find occupation in adventure, Quentin stumbles upon something much more cosmically important leading to revelations and undesirable outcomes.

Though this is a sequel to The Magicians, this book doesn’t really feel that way to me. There are some references to Alice and Brakebills (the magic school) days, but they are almost pointless in the grand scheme of things. If you haven’t read the Magicians, it won’t be a problem in terms of understanding the story. I mean, if the names had been changed this could have easily been a separate stand-alone novel. For me, this wasn’t the best choice since what I like about sequels is those nods to the first book or when something in book one directly affects book two. For me these weren’t really there, and though I can appreciate the book it doesn’t feel like too much of a sequel to me personally.

The magic aspect was also elusive. The world was fantastical and there were other times when the magic of landscape was obvious, but other times it felt like the book had forgotten it was a fantasy book and things like magic were forgotten. Book one was a bit like this, but not to the extreme of the Magician King. There is only really one bit that this seems to go away, when Quentin is blasting magic left, right and centre.

But this highlights the crafting that has gone into the book. One thing Quentin says is that he doesn’t feel like a king, let alone a magician, most of the time. By the lack of magic and these things, we really feel this too. And it annoyed me, even enraged me, which only meant I could understand Quentin better.

This was the same for the general idea of Fillory and “real-life magic”. Quentin reminds us every few chapters that magic in books is often good and there is always a happy ending. Even the sadder endings are not so harsh on the characters. This book is not like that though. Even though book one improved at it’s very, very end, the whole final sequence was heart-wrenching and one of the most depressing endings I’ve ever read. In the Magician King, I’m reminded of this again. I don’t want to give anything away, but Quentin’s fate is almost unforgiveable. That one line that Elaine gives just made my heart sink, since I knew it wouldn’t end well after that.

There are also other dark elements involved, especially in Julia’s story. She was never accepted to magic school so she pursued magic however she could and sacrificed almost everything dear to her to get it. And how did that end up? For a long time it was horrifying for her. There’s this one scene which I shan’t repeat and which I don’t even like to think about which disgusted and depressed me so much. But at the same time I couldn’t stop reading. It’s was gripping and, though it pains me to say, realistic.

On a personal level, I struggle to read Grossman’s book. I get headaches from trying to process so much and some of the events genuinely affect me and my view of life for a short. I’ll be depressed, or feel lost, if only for a few hours. That could just be me (!!!) but I credit some of it to these books and these stories that seem to affect me so much. Sometimes I was just reading in a daze.

This book is something else, in a good and bad way. It’s bad in that I sometimes just want to walk away from this book and turn my back on some detestable truths, but then it is just so good at the same time that I can’t even begin to explain. This whole review is my trying to just give you a glimpse of how I feel about these books because in all honesty it’s so mixed up and indecipherable even for me. So read these if you want something magnificently compelling, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.