Paper Plane Reviews

A Book Review Blog

Category: Historical Page 1 of 5

The Silver Mask by Christian Ellingsen

I return to TBRindr with The Silver Mask, a fantasy novel that promised a flintlock and alchemy story. I was really intrigued by this setting, because a lot of modern fantasy seems to forget that time periods between Medieval/Renaissance and Victorian exist, and I wanted to see how it would pan out.

Centuries after humanity has overthrown the shackles of slavery beneath the gods, the shattered moon and abominations roaming the countryside remain as evidence of their revolution. One of the city-states to have flourished since the destruction of the gods, Vasini, is on the verge of a momentous event. In the upper echelons of the city, Marcus Fox is investigating the murder of one of the city’s darlings, Dame Vittoria Emerson, found naked and lying in a pool of her own vomit. Venturing out into the wildlands surrounding the city, Elizabeth Reid is trying to retrieve pieces of quicksilver falling from the ruins of the moon goddess, in the hopes that she can prevent its use for sinister means. What the two don’t know is that their paths will cross as they uncover a grand conspiracy within the city.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Silver Mask. I’ll start with the setting, as that was the part that interested me first. The way that I see it, the Vasini chronicles appear to be set in a world where the Renaissance didn’t happen until the Georgian period. There’s a fantasy equivalent of the Whigs and Tories representing the interests of those “people of quality”, and then the Ranters who try and represent the interests of the poor, with significantly less success. There was magic of sorts, which was mainly alchemy or faith-based. The alchemical stuff was very traditional with an emphasis on bodily humours, requiring me to dig up knowledge I hadn’t used since my GCSEs, and miasmas as the source of alterations or disease. The deity-related magic was more vague, but more sinister for that vagueness. It was an interesting mix of elements that I would definitely want to read more of.
The characters are solidly written. My particular favourites were Doctor Fox and his lieutenant Locke, partly because they balance well against one another. They’re both quiet and considered, but when they do deign to speak, they couldn’t be more different: Fox the emotionally tired academic who feels bogged down by the politics that he needs to navigate, versus Locke the no-nonsense man of action who wastes no time mincing words. Elizabeth was a bit less interesting to me, if only because it takes her a lot longer to bounce back from failure. She’s passionate and committed to doing the right thing, but she does keep making the same mistakes, which I think can detract from her personal strengths.
The plot itself I won’t go into detail with, as I’m likely to give away some sort of spoiler if I do. What I will say is that it’s tightly plotted and has a lot of cool twists and cliffhanger moments. The final showdown part near the end was a bit on the frenetic, hard to follow side, but not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.
The only thing that I will mention as a possible issue is some of the chosen presentation in the e-book version. Between chapters, and occasionally in the body of a chapter, The Silver Mask will include quotes from in-universe texts, such as essays, newspaper reports or correspondence. Now I really like the idea of that, as it creates more immersion without having to have huge info dumps in the middle of the narrative. The issue came with trying to imitate the layout and look of these texts, as they don’t necessarily lend themselves well to the e-book format. While it was possible to read for the most part, there was one section that I had to skip entirely, and the harder to read fonts did slow reading down a bit. I like the idea, but I would have liked a bit more clarity with regards to how it was laid out.

A thoroughly entertaining read, The Silver Mask focuses on a distinctly Georgian fantasy world, with an interesting history and magic systems. I personally love my political schemes and conspiracies, so I was in my element with the plot. Some minor issues with how certain parts of the novel were laid out on my e-book version, but nothing that detracted hugely from my enjoyment. I would definitely pick up the next book in the series. 4.5/5

Next review: Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

Pirates! by Celia Rees

I have had Pirates! on my bookshelf for a long while, having originally read it when I was back in high school. I remember enjoying it at the time, and as I was feeling nostalgic I thought that I’d give it another read and see how it holds up against my older brain.

Pirates! follows Nancy Kington, the daughter of a sugar merchant, who is forced to move to her father’s plantation after a storm that simultaneously ruined her father’s health and fortunes. Dismayed by the treatment of the slaves that have funded her comfortable lifestyle until now and by how quickly her brothers are willing to marry her off to maintain their fortunes, she decides to run away and try to reunite with her sweetheart, William. Accompanied by one of her late father’s favourite slaves, Minerva, she joins a pirate crew to try and outrun those pursuing her, and to pursue her own fortune in kind.
Re-reading Pirates!, I can definitely see why I enjoyed it as a teenager. The main cast of characters are sympathetic and interesting, and there is a lot of swashbuckling adventure to be had. Nancy is a bit of a worrier and a bit prone to melancholy, but a decent enough sort to be stuck with as a first-person narrator. If I’m honest, I always stayed because of Minerva, the fearless slave-turned-Pirate Queen, who rocks a set of breeches like a pro. I’m pretty sure she may have set off my personal love of cross-dressing women just in time to be introduced to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and I will be forever grateful. There are a few other colourful characters to be found in the crew. There’s Broom, the roguishly charming, if a tad bit dense, pirate captain. There’s Graham, the morose doctor whose sensibilities are more suited for the damp of the British countryside than they are for a pirate ship roaming the Caribbean. And of course, there is the relentless antagonist, Bartholome the Brazilian, a mysterious figure who seems to have an almost satanic attunement with the sea and its treasures.
The main issue that I have found when re-reading this book as an adult is that it now seems to lack bite, and the romance seems a bit tacked on. While I found that the plot seems to hold up overall, I’ve since read and seen pirate stories that are more ruthless, more bloodthirsty and just overall more exciting. Reading Pirates! as an adult, I could see just how much the setting had been watered down for its audience. I don’t necessarily think that that’s a bad thing, considering the audience that the book is aimed at, but it was something that I hadn’t taken into consideration with this re-reading. I would definitely still recommend the book, but perhaps not to those whose tastes are more hardcore.

Thoroughly enjoyable and definitely worth a recommendation to any young teens that you may know. It may come across as a bit tame and safe if your tastes run to the more violent or bloodier end of the spectrum, but is still a fun enough romp if you have the time. 4/5

Next review: The Stone Road by G. R. Matthews

Signing off,
Nisa.

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy

So Blood Meridian took me longer to get through that I was hoping. Evidently audiobooks are not something that I get on with. I’ve been looking to read some of Cormac McCarthy’s ever since seeing the film adaptation of No Country for Old Men, cliche as that may be. It was such an odd film that I was curious to see how much of that was the Coen Brothers’ direction and how much was from the original source material. But I got my hands on Blood Meridian first, so that will have to be my introduction to his works. 

Blood Meridian follows a runaway known as the Kid during his violent coming-of-age as a member of a group of scalp-hunters, headed by the infamous John Joel Glanton and the eerie and erudite Judge Holden. As part of the Glanton Gang, he is tasked with collecting the scalps of natives attacking settlements at the Mexico-USA border. 
Right, so something quick to start the review off: if violence is not your thing, then Blood Meridian is not for you, as it comes up startlingly often and usually in a great deal of detail. If I were to guess, I would say that the majority of the narrative can be filed into one of three things: an act of mass and/or out-of-proportion violence, travelling in some truly wonderful descriptions of the landscape, or sitting around the camp-fire listening to the Judge preach about the world. 
Weirdly enough though, I found that the violence wasn’t all that shocking. I have read that many readers who have gotten through to the end experience desensitisation, but it probably says something about me that, while the violence is vivid and utterly brutal, I just had a weird sense of dissociation. There was something about the stark nature of the writing style and the bleak, lawless setting that meant that when the violence did come along, it just felt like a natural extension. It didn’t feel as shocking to me as, for example, Chuck Palahniuk’s violent scenes, which stick out because they’re meant to be set in modern day and contrast with mundanity. 
The thing that really stuck out for me was the Judge’s speeches, just because he’s such a well-written Devil figure. He is an unusual figure in pretty much every way compared to the company that he keeps, from his huge stature and arresting lack of hair, to the eloquence with which he completely runs circles around his uneducated travelling companions, to the obvious enjoyment that he takes in the violence that he inflicts as opposed to killing from necessity or for money. In addition to his unusual features, he seems to get a lot more spotlight than the nominal protagonist, the Kid, which gives the reader a better idea of his nature, if not his true origins. For me, I couldn’t shake the idea that he was meant to be Satan, considering some of his actions appear to have no physical explanation at times, which gave the whole book a weird kind of Biblical parable feel to it. It felt like if new chapters of the Old Testament were written, but God never interjects as a guide, leaving the world to descend further and further into evil in their absence. 
A fascinatingly grim book, Blood Meridian is definitely not for those who can’t stomach violence. Personally I found the Judge’s speeches to be the far more disturbing part of the narrative, but I can understand it would be a deciding factor. I had this as an audiobook, but I would be really interested in re-reading it as a print or e-book at some later date. 4/5 
Next review: K-ON! Volume 1 by kakifly 
Signing off, 
Nisa. 

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

After the disappointment that was The Mammoth Book of Body Horror, I was in the mood for something familiar. I hadn’t read Treasure Island in years, and remembered really enjoying it when I was younger, so it seemed like the perfect book to revisit.

Treasure Island follows a young boy named Jim Hawkins. Helping his parents run their inn, the Admiral Benbow, he meets a cantankerous old sailor who is rather keen on avoiding other seamen. When he dies after his old crewmates turn up to harass him, Jim gets his hands on the old man’s sea-chest, with a treasure map inside. Joined by Doctor Livesey and Squire Trelawney, they embark on a journey to retrieve the treasure, gathered initially by the infamous Captain Flint. But all is not well, as their crew of honest hands has been infiltrated by former members of Flint’s crew, most notably the one-legged Long John Silver.
It might just be the innumerable film adaptations overriding my memories of the book, but I do not remember there being quite as much malaria in Treasure Island. I’d also managed to forget a whole chunk of the book in which Jim manages to steal back their ship, the Hispaniola, which is probably more worrying. Regardless, I still enjoyed it about as much as I did when I was a kid. There was a small part of my brain making things weird by thinking of my two favourite adaptations (the Muppet version and Disney’s weird but somehow still coherent Victoriana Space Opera version), but it does definitely still stand up by itself.
One thing that I will mention for those of you who haven’t read Treasure Island, but have seen a bunch of the adaptations is that Hollywood has a weird obsession with trying to make Long John Silver into a kind of weird father-figure for Jim. There isn’t really much of that in the actual book, with Silver being more or less a child-friendly depiction of a psychopath. Sure he switches sides towards the end, but not out of any genuine affection for Jim; considering that the alternative is dying on a malaria-ridden island with three former comrades who really aren’t satisfied with the way that his grand voyage has panned out, it’s a purely pragmatic decision. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just something that would stand out if you’ve only ever seen film versions before.

Treasure Island is a classic for a reason. The characters are great, the action is gripping and who doesn’t love pirates? If you’ve only ever seen the film versions before though, you might want to prepare yourself for a significantly less likeable Long John Silver. 4.5/5

Next review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Three Musketeers is one of those classics that is so culturally prevalent that I felt almost duty-bound to look into it. So when I found that it was one of the free ebooks when I fired up Google Books, I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to take a look at a much-beloved classic.

The reader follows D’Artagnan, a young and hot-tempered noble who sets out for Paris seeking glory and fortune. Upon arriving in Paris, his attempts to gain acceptance into the elite musketeer company are initially hindered when his haste to avenge a slight causes him to anger three musketeers: the quiet and stoic Athos, the boisterous and vain Porthos, and the womanising would-be priest Aramis. And having befriended his would-be opponents, he finds himself getting involved in the private affairs of several august personages.
I went into The Three Musketeers expecting adventure and maybe a bit of intrigue. I hadn’t realised just how much modern adaptations remove some of the more unsavoury aspects of our heroes’ behaviour. I mean, I was kind of expecting some dissonance with regards to values, considering when it was written. But at the same time there is a surprising amount that adaptations leave out, such as the utterly shameless way that they seduce married women in order to get funds that is almost immediately squandered on high-living, or the servant girl that D’Artagnan uses and casually abandons to avenge himself on her mistress. While they are undoubtedly the lesser of two evils compared with the duplicity of Milady de Winter, it does feel a bit more grey than was perhaps intended by the author.
The unexpected underhandedness of the eponymous heroes aside, The Three Musketeers is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, with a fair bit more depth than I had expected at first. And while I do have some reservations about some of his misogynistic tendencies, I did end up developing a bit of a soft spot for Athos. That may well be because he seemed to be the most competent and collected of the four protagonists though.

Overall, The Three Musketeers was an enjoyable read. The heroes are perhaps less likeable than adaptations would have you expecting, but they still have their good points to them. It has a lot more depth than I was expecting with regards the whole political powerplay aspects, and a surprisingly bittersweet ending. 3.5/5

Next review: The Mammoth Book of Body Horror edited by Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan

Signing off,
Nisa.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

First of all, just an apology for taking so long to review this one. It has been a hectic three weeks, as I have just moved into my first home. As you can probably guess, this is a long process of settling in, and as of yet I haven’t had as much time to sit down and read as I used to have.
As for Birdsong itself, I picked this up because I had previously read it in high school, but couldn’t really remember it terribly well. I remembered snatches of it, and have found reviews to be generally positive, so I found myself wondering if I would enjoy it the second time around.

Birdsong follows Stephen Wraysford, a strange and intense young Englishman, in the years of the First World War and those immediately preceding it. The narrative starts with his passionate and scandalous affair with the wife of his host whilst visiting France on business. Following that are the years spent in the front line of the Western front and his growing apathy towards the war effort. Additionally, there are sections set in the late 1970s, with Stephen’s granddaughter attempting to piece together his life whilst also trying to deal with her complicated affair with a married man.
Re-reading Birdsong, I realised why I could only remember parts of this book. It is somewhat uneven in tone and quality. The narrative can be roughly divided into three strands, all of which have their own separate issues. The first is the pre-war section, with the focus on Stephen’s affair. This is by far the best part of the novel, with an engaging and intense affair between two very suppressed, unhappy people. The second strand is the 1915-1918 period, which I found to be mostly positive, but not as engaging as the pre-war strand. While the mood is appropriately grim and deeply uncomfortable, I found it made less impact than it possibly could have done, because while the slaughter of trench warfare is very well expressed, it’s difficult to keep track of the cast of characters when almost none of the average soldiers get character development beyond being given a name. While the sheer amount of bloodshed and the awful living conditions are impressive and sobering to read about, it lessens the impact when it’s happening to a cast of cardboard cutouts. The third strand is the 1970s section about Stephen’s granddaughter Elizabeth, and honestly it’s a complete waste of space. If there is a particular era of films that I remember disliking from my university studies, I found that they all seem to have been made in the 1970s. There’s something about that decade that lends itself to ennui and a conscious level of detachment, and it’s really quite grating to me. In terms of the plot itself, it’s only really relevant in its penultimate chapter, where you get some closure in regards to what happened to Stephen after the war. As for the rest of it, it follows a woman who has by all standards a wholly uninteresting life. Sure, she’s having an affair with a married man, but compared to her grandfather’s affair it comes off as boring, because no-one seems to want to upset the status quo. Her quest to piece together Stephen’s life could have made a good story by itself, but here we know far more about what she’s researching than she does for pretty much the entirety of her plot. It was an exercise in wordcount padding.

A powerful novel let down somewhat by some poor characterisation and an entirely useless and irritating plot strand set in the 1970s. While still powerful, it does hit harder when you give people more character than just a name before sending them to be mowed down by machine-guns. The less said about the 70s sections the better really. 3.5/5

Next review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Signing off,
Nisa.

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

I picked up Empress Orchid for one kind of shallow reason. I know practically nothing about pre-Communism China, and this seemed like an interesting way to dip into some history that I have been intrigued by for some time without getting bogged down in text-books of varying dryness.

Born into an impoverished family of aristocratic blood, Orchid decides to compete to be one of the Emperor’s wives when the alternatives are to marry her cousin or become homeless. Winning a place as one of Emperor Hsien Feng’s concubines only proves to be the beginning of her troubles though, as it soon becomes apparent that being one of his wives is to be part of a treacherous race to be the first to bear the Emperor a son. And those who are favourites today can easily be forgotten tomorrow.
I vaguely remember hearing about the woman who this novel is about, Dowager Empress Tzu-Hsi. What I do remember was basically that she essentially ruled China via her son during the final years of the Qing dynasty, and that she was something of a person to be reckoned with. I remember my teacher telling us about her with more than a little admiration. So it was nice to learn about her life in more detail, if perhaps a bit embellished. I’m happy to say that Anchee Min’s depiction of her is utterly absorbing, and I am more than a little interested to read other books that she’s written. Certainly, if you’re after a book that has both tragedy and courtly intrigue up to the hilt, then Empress Orchid is definitely one to consider. The ways that the concubines in particular fight amongst one another is probably my favourite aspect of the novel, because it can be utterly devastating in its effect whilst still being so much subtler and unassuming in appearance.
Orchid herself is also very well written. I can’t tell for sure how accurate her depiction is compared to what we know about her from historical records, but I certainly found her to be an engaging protagonist. Developing an iron will in order to flourish in an environment that she is incredibly unhappy in, she is fascinating if not always entirely likeable. Likewise, the people that she interacts with, like her fellow Empress Nuharoo and her personal eunuch servant An-te-hai, are a varying mix of fascinating and repulsing. Nuharoo in particular is brilliantly written, if only to see how easily she hides her spoiled and jealous nature.
The one thing that bothers me is the ending. It doesn’t so much finish as screech to a halt once the word count is filled. I know that this is the first in a duology, but I still feel that the ending of Empress Orchid could have been handled with at least a little more grace than it is.

Empress Orchid is fantastically written with some really nasty court rivalries and some impressively evoked characters. The fact that it’s based on real events only makes this more interesting, and I wouldn’t mind learning more about the era depicted. My only issue is that the ending is too abrupt, a move that is surprisingly clumsy compared to the elegance of the rest of the novel. 4/5

Next review: Rose Madder by Stephen King

Signing off,
Nisa.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

There are two main reasons that I can think of why I picked up Perfume. Firstly, the idea of a man who kills in order to preserve the scent of a young virgin is kind of fascinating in a sickening way, and there is a part of me that does relish narratives like that every once in a while. Secondly, I have very little sense of smell myself and I was curious to see what a novel with smell as its primary sense would read like. I guess I wanted to see if it could be conveyed clearly even to someone with my dulled olfactory sense.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer follows Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an intensely strange and disturbing man throughout his equally disturbing life. From the moment that he is abandoned by his mother to die beneath her fish stall, he is seen as different by those who meet him, though they couldn’t necessarily be able to explain why. Whilst growing up, he realises that he has an unusually heightened sense of smell, and he develops a desire to become the world’s greatest perfumer and to recreate the particularly exquisite scent of a young virgin girl. And he will do anything in order to possess that scent.
Perfume is an odd book to try and review, because while there is nothing that I can point to within the novel and say that this part is badly written or included unwisely, there is something about the work as a whole that left me a bit cold.
I suppose that I can start with what definitely did work, which was the writing itself. It is kind of unusual for me, most of the time I can point at characters, scenes or even themes that endeared me most to the book. But here, it was the style itself that really caught me. In some ways, it reminds me a little of The Child of Pleasure by Gabriele d’Annunzio, because the two have a similar way of enriching their comparatively simple narratives with grandiose sensory accompaniment. Where d’Annunzio focuses on visuals, Suskind brings this world to life through a cavalcade of different scents. I keep trying to think how to describe it and the word lush always seems to come to mind: rich and abundant, if not always (or indeed often) pleasant. It is an enthralling experience to imagine that crush of scents and definitely makes up for some of the lesser elements of the book.
I suppose that my main issue is with the main character, Grenouille. Don’t misunderstand me, in his own way he is an interesting and well-written character. It was certainly refreshing to have a villain protagonist at least. I suppose my issue with him is that he is more or less a static character. While he creates conflict and has epiphanies about himself throughout the novel, I didn’t feel that there was much real change in him at all. At various points in the narrative, he is compared to a tick, parasitic and infinitely patient. Neither of those key personality traits change at all, and considering that his is the perspective that the narrator sticks to for long chunks of the novel it does start to feel a little flat and one-note at times. It’s not a huge issue, but I found it noticeable enough to bother me.

I found Perfume an odd book, but a mostly satisfying read. I would give it a shot simply for the lush sensory element of the writing style, although I did find myself a bit bothered by the static characterisation of the villain protagonist Grenouille. A book that I would recommend maybe reading once, but I can’t see myself re-reading it any time soon. 3.5/5

Next review: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

There are some of you out there, very few I would imagine, who can remember when this blog reviewed books on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Those of you who do remember my experimental phase will remember that the second book that I looked at was The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Turns out there’s a series of children’s/young adult’s novels that he’s written, of which my current subject of review, The Midnight Palace, is the second installment of. I had certain issues with the previous installment, so I wanted to see if they carried over to this newer story.

The Midnight Palace starts in 1916 Calcutta, as a man desperately runs through the city streets, attempting to find safety for a set of newborn twins whilst being pursued by assassins intent on the children’s deaths. The story then jumps forward 16 years, to the summer in which Ben and his friends grow out of the orphanage system that has been their home for all or most of their young lives. Coming together for a final meeting of their secret society, they stumble upon a mystery that is closely tied to Ben’s unknown family past when Ben meets the sister that he never knew about. Much as he would like to get to know his sister better, Ben finds their reunion cut short as they are hounded by the same shadowy figure that tried to kill them as newborns.
I’m kind of disappointed to say it, but Carlos Ruiz Zafon doesn’t really seem to write young adult novels terribly well. Right, so I suppose that I should start with what I liked about The Midnight Palace, give me at least something positive to say here. So, I really liked the atmosphere of menace and uncertainty that the book manages to keep up for the majority of the plot. There’s something palpably unnerving about a group of teenagers attempting to combat an entity that is so far beyond the scope of what they can even begin to deal with, and it’s a source of tension that Zafon is very good at implementing and has implemented just as masterfully in his adult novels. It does get you rooting for the heroes quite effectively, a desire to see the underdog win as it were.
Onto the first thing that I wasn’t fond of. Apart from the villain Jawahal and the twins, the characters are practically two-dimensional. Possibly this is where The Prince of Mist benefitted, as that had a comparatively small cast. Here, there are eight teens to try and flesh out, and there just isn’t enough room to give them anything more than a couple of superficial character traits. For example, there was one character whose sole characteristic shown in the narrative is that he’s a fast runner. According to some of the narration, he can also pick locks like a champ, but it never comes up as a skill that he actually used. Not that it matters, since running and lock-picking are not personality traits. Sure, one can imply certain things from someone who is good at these skills, but really those are traits that should be shown directly. There’s another character whose sole trait is that she’s the female member of the group. Practically nothing else. It’s frustrating as I started reading Zafon’s work via his adult works, The Shadow of the Wind specifically, where there is a large cast that still manages to be vivid and interesting and utterly heartbreaking. So to see the cardboard cut-out excuses of characters in The Midnight Palace gives me no end of frustration, because I have seen him do so much better when he gives himself room to breathe.
The second thing that bothers me is the ending. Up until the ending, I was having a reasonably good time. Sure, the characters were flatter than pancakes, but the mystery was engaging and I wanted to see how the villain could be overcome. My disappointment with the ending is twofold and kind of spoilery, so if you still want to read the book, I’d advise maybe skipping to the summary at the end of the review. Okay, so firstly, it’s disappointing because Zafon wrote almost the exact same ending in The Prince of Mist: the villain is exorcised, but only at the cost of the life of one of the protagonists, hanging over the lives of the rest of the cast from then onwards. I don’t mind there being thematic or symbolic similarities between the two books if they’re meant to be part of a series, but when your ending follows the same pattern, then I start wondering what the point of reading any of the other installments is. Secondly, it just smacked of adult bitterness and in terms of tone, it just felt wrong. Up until the final confrontation between Ben and Jawahal, it had been a young adult book, leaning more towards the younger end of the genre’s age range. The ending itself would have been more fitting in an adult novel about childhood and growing up, because it just felt too bitter to appeal to an audience of around the same age as the characters. I guess that I’m disappointed because up until then, there had been an emphasis on the family that a person chooses for themselves through their friendships, and the cast’s desire to hold onto it even as they moved into the uncertainty of adult life. It’s a theme that I can really get behind, but it was all dashed by an epilogue that could be more or less summed up as “everyone has died or will die alone and isolated from humanity.” I tell you, it’s saying something when the young adult’s book has a bleaker ending than the violent and mercenary world of Joe Abercrombie’s books, and it’s nothing good. Sure, make the ending bittersweet if it makes sense, but there comes a point where you may as well have not bothered with the narrative at all if the finale makes everything a pyrrhic victory that the author hasn’t signposted well enough.

I want to like The Midnight Palace more than I do. While I was frustrated by the stunted character development, I was still enjoying myself with a pretty decent mystery compounded by a supernatural threat. Then the ending ruined it all by being almost identical to The Prince of Mist in formula, and by being bleak for bleakness’ sake. The tone just went all wrong. 2.5/5

Next review: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

Signing off,
Nisa.

The Fire Thief by Terry Deary

Nostalgia is the primary reason for my picking up The Fire Thief. A massive part of my childhood was spent pouring over whatever Horrible History books I could get my hands on. My collection is almost complete in fact. So when I found out that Terry Deary had strayed into fiction, I couldn’t resist taking a look at the result.

The Fire Thief follows two sets of protagonists. The first protagonist is the Titan Prometheus fresh from his rescue at the hands of Hercules, who makes a deal with Zeus: in exchange for a chance of permanent freedom he must find a hero and prove to Zeus that humans deserve the knowledge of fire. If he uses his godly powers, however, he runs the risk of being discovered by the eagle and being destroyed forever. The second protagonist is Jim, a young thief in Victorian England who is about to embark on what will be his last confidence trick.
I am of the belief that there are two kinds of children’s book. There are those that are aimed at children but have appeal to those of any age, and then there are those aimed at children and only really appreciated by the target audience. I feel that The Fire Thief is firmly in the latter camp. While I can’t point at any one thing and say that it’s badly written or poorly considered, I couldn’t help but be intensely conscious that I was at least a decade older than the intended audience. It leaves me in a weird situation. On the one hand, I find the characterisation a tad too simple for my tastes, the narrative brings attention to itself as a narrative too often for my liking, and I’m a little wary of footnotes these days. On the other hand, this is not aimed at my age bracket whatsoever and I can well imagine that the issues that I have with the novel aren’t things that would necessarily register as faults.

Not really to my tastes, but as a children’s novel, it is perfectly functional. The characterisation is simplistic, as is the style at times. But in terms of plot and the writing itself, it is solid enough and does what it should. Maybe not for adults, but I would maybe add another point to the score if you’re considering this book for someone within its intended age group. 2/5

Next review: Hater by David Moody

Signing off,
Nisa.

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