Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Arden’s descriptions in this second novel of her gorgeous Winternight Trilogy of Vasya’s world are as stunning as they were in the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale but what she describes is far from beautiful. From the oppressiveness of medieval Moscow to the violence of the times, The Girl in the Tower is a more brutal read with a bit less magic and more of the realities of the era, especially as they pertain to women.
It was often as infuriating for me as the reader as it was for Vasya to read about the way women in feudal Russia (and everywhere in these Dark Ages) were seen as property or prizes that were little more than vessels for carrying heirs. As modern women, our frustration comes not just from the lack of rights and choice women suffered 500+ years ago or the knowledge that in many cultures women are still treated that way. What is frustrating is that even in cultures not governed by religious strictures, we often still feel that lack of choice and that some people still view women as prizes to be won.
I make it sound like The Girl in the Tower is a feminist rant but, while there is a feminist undertone, it is a gorgeous folklore based fantasy that serves as a riveting exploration of nature versus civilization as well as a fascinating glimpse of a time and place not often observed. I am already reading the third installment of the trilogy and cannot wait to see where Vasya’s tale goes next.

If like me, you enjoy novels that combine fantasy with folklore and history, I highly recommend this series, beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale.  When you’ve finished with this trilogy (as I soon will be 😞), I recommend Juliet Marillier’s beautiful Sevenwaters series, starting with Daughter of the Forest

View all my reviews
Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

A great read is one that has you craving to know what happens next while wishing that the story would never end. When it does it, however, you are left wanting more. The Bear and the Nightingale is one such book. I long to read more about the characters, more about the lore that inspired the tale, and more about the history surrounding the story. I rushed through the haunting story of the family of a wealthy landowner in the far north of what is now Russia as they struggle to survive a clash between their old beliefs of spirits that dwell in the surrounding forest and the creatures that protect their homes, and the still-new Christian religion, anxious to know what would happen to the family, especially Vasya, who is more attached to the old ways than even she knows.
I’d had this book on my TBR list for a while and I’d almost picked it up at the library a few times; it was only when I saw that the third book in the trilogy was a finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award that I decided that this first book would be a good winter read.  I’m so glad that I did and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.  Arden’s writing is gorgeous, transporting me almost immediately from the mild south Louisiana night to the great northern forest and the seemingly endless winter. The lore which battles with the new ways is fascinating, leaving me with a desire to read the folk and fairy tales that inspired Vasya’s story. It was a perfect read for a long winter’s night.

I’ve really been looking for some good fantasy fiction over the past few years and I particularly enjoy the fantasy fiction that combines history and mythology or folklore like The Bear and the Nightingale does.  If you like this fantasy/history/folk tale combination, I highly recommend Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.  The first book in the series, Daughter of the Forest, in particular, has a lot in common with The Bear and the Nightingale.  

View all my reviews

Fantasy, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first book in Genevieve Cogman’s steampunk fantasy series, The Invisible Library, brings to mind both Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Take a less confident and exciting Thursday and drop her in Carriger’s version of Victorian London and you have Irene, a Librarian on a mission.
Though it lacks the fun of Carriger’s novels and isn’t as well put together as Fforde’s, the concept of an all-encompassing library with agents recruited, trained, and sent out to alternate worlds to collect special, rare, or important books, has potential. The setting of Irene’s mission is wrought with dangers that include the Fae, Vampires, Werewolves, giant metal insects, and one fabled rogue Librarian. It is these dangers that give the story its thrills but I often found myself confused about the magic of Cogman’s creation. It seemed as though the rules of the Library (and the alternate) change to suit the story. I couldn’t get a hold of Irene’s character either – sometimes she’s modern while other times she’s old-fashioned like the setting of her mission; sometimes she’s a strict rule follower and sometimes she’s making things up as she goes. As for the other characters, I like Peregrin Vale very much because, like Irene, and a big Sherlock Holmes fan; I am looking forward to getting to the mysterious Kai better as I continue to read the series (because I will be continuing though I wasn’t sure I until the end of this book whether I would or not), but Bradamant I could have done without.

If you enjoy The Invisible Library because you are a bibliophile who dreams of living in a library or inside the books themselves, pick up Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series beginning with The Eyre Affair.  If it is the fantastical setting you like, and you wished this book had a bit of romance, I highly recommend Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, the first book of which is Soulless.

View all my reviews

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop TimeHow to Stop Time by Matt Haig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I understand that the way you stop time is by stopping being ruled by it.

Thank you to Goodreads for the opportunity to read Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time. Rarely do I come across a book as potentially life-changing as this one. How to Stop Time is the story of Tom who has a rare but not, he learns, a unique condition where he ages slowly – like only 1 year to every 15 years of an average human’s life. More than 400 years old and Tom still struggles with how to live his long life. Heartbroken and scarred by the loss of his love during the Elizabethan era, the only thing that keeps him going through his loneliness and the overwhelming memories is the hope of finding his daughter which he hopes to do with the help of the Albatross Society, a network which claims to protect people with this condition in return for a bit of ‘recruitment’.
There is a deep melancholy running through Tom’s tale but even in the darkest moments, the moments when he must remind himself what he’s living far, the narrative shines with rays of hope. Albeit thin ones throughout most of the novel. Tom’s struggle and fear of a world filled with superstition and prejudice forces the reader to examine not only how they would live if they had hundreds of years to live rather than our brief time here but also to ponder how the world and our relationships would differ with the perspective that longevity would bring. Haig talks often about how little the world as far as the human experience goes changes despite the importance we give each event we experience. Is the 21st century really that different from the 20th? Or the 20th from any of the centuries before it?
The novel gives the reader a lot to think about. My favorite parts of How to Stop Time, though, are the forays into the immense chunk of history Tom has lived through – performing at the Globe Theater with Shakespeare, discovering new lands with Captain Cook, meeting Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald at a Parisian nightclub.
This is not a book made for light reading. While you could pick it up and quickly read one of its short (sometimes only a single page) passages, it is best read when you can curl up and devote a few hours to it and disappear into Tom’s long history. And to absorb its many, many words of wisdom.

I haven’t really read anything else like How to Stop Time but at times it reminded me of Jon Cohen’s Harry’s Trees.  While they aren’t similar in subject matter, they both gave me a sense of hope belied by their melancholy beginnings.  Both novels also spoke of our connections through things bigger than our human lives – history, nature, books, love.  Also, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tout Harry’s Trees again. 

View all my reviews

Adventure, Fantasy, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: The Philosopher’s War (The Philosopher Series #2)

The Philosopher's WarThe Philosopher’s War by Tom Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read the second book of Tom Miller’s Philosophers series, The Philosopher’s War in which Robert Weekes, after having proven many doubters wrong by showing the female-dominated world of Philosophy that males could, in fact, fly fast and well has joined R&E and is sent to Europe to rescue the injured on the battlefields of World War I.
I had some issues with the first novel, The Philosopher’s Flight pertaining to the characterization of the female philosophers and, I’ll admit, I had the same issues with this book but that has more to do with my personal experience than with the writing. Despite this being the second of the series, a lot of explanation is still required of the rules of this world especially of the missions and the special equipment that the flyers and other branches of philosophy use and those passages tended to get tedious to me. Also, I’m not much of a war story fan and, as it is set in France at the end of WWI, there are several passages with detailed descriptions of casualties and dangerous missions. However, the action sequences did read more quickly than most of the rest of the book. What Miller does especially well is to delve into Robert’s evolution from excited/nervous young man ready to prove himself in the war to the battle-tested and battle-scarred man torn between two loyalties.
The Philosopher’s War is yet another book with an interesting and unique concept that explores pertinent ideas it just wasn’t necessarily for me.

If The Philosopher’s War is for you, definitely read The Philosopher’s Flight first to get a better understanding of the rules and branches of philosophy.

View all my reviews