Review: When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

When the Heavens Fall by Marc Turner

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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When the Heavens Fall is a fantasy novel written by Marc Turner and was published in 2015.  The novel features the point of view of several different characters and focuses on the theft of ‘The Book of Lost Souls’.  As a debut novel I found it to have an interesting premise and on the whole it was enjoyable but there were also some negatives to the story.  I would, however, be interested in reading the following books in the series.

The biggest strength of this novel is undoubtedly the plot.  It is amazing and well written.  The plot is tight and there is no room for filler.  The novel hits the ground running and doesn’t stop until the final page.  This could be confusing for readers who aren’t used to this style but it works very well for this book.  Another aspect of the novel which could confuse readers is the narrative style.  It is common in fantasy to have numerous POVs of characters but they are usually separated by chapters.  When the Heavens Fall has been compared to Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series and, like that series, this novel focuses on all of the character point of views in one chapter.  This is an unusual choice for a novel and, as mentioned before, can be very confusing for the reader as they don’t necessarily realise when the POV has changed.  I would say that When the Heaven’s Fall does this better than Malazan because I could read several pages of Malazan without realising the character had changed but the characters in Heaven were all distinctive enough to know when the POV switched.

All in all, the story is a good one; the plot is intriguing and well written.  There are, however, some problems with the novel and that mean that it can only be classed as a good novel and not a great one.  These problems are with the characters.

I am not saying that the characters are bad, far from it.  The characters are all very well-defined and they play their parts well.  The problem is there is not a huge deal with character development.  It has been a week and a half since I finished the book and I am having a hard time remembering the names of most of the characters, even the main ones.  I can remember their stories but I couldn’t tell you much more.  I would have to consult the book for the names so this is a major down for the book.

Whilst I was reading the novel, I found the characters interesting but a little flat.  The story progresses but the characters don’t for the most part.  With the exception of Parolla, most of the characters are the same as they were at the beginning of the book.  I know that some readers don’t mind a lack of characterisation if the plot is good but I, personally, am the opposite.  The most important part of a novel, for me, is the characters.  I like to fall in love with the characters and I can forgive a weak plot if the characterisation is strong but, as in the case of When the Heavens Fall, if the characters are not strong I don’t feel as emotionally connected to the plot.

I know this is a very personal thing so don’t let my own feelings put you off reading this novel because, on the whole, it is worth reading.  I’m definitely going to pick up a copy of the second novel if I can ever find one that doesn’t look like it’s been read and returned to the shop.

Review of the Greatcoats series by Sebastien de Castell

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Traitor’s Blade
Knight’s Shadow
Saint’s Blood
Tyrant’s Throne

Series rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Greatcoat’s series, by Sebastien de Castell, consists of four books: Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood and Tyrants Throne. Set in the country of Tristia, the story commences five years after the Dukes and Duchesses of the country overthrew the King and turned the Greatcoat’s into traitors. The story focuses, and is written in the first person viewpoint of, on Falcio val Mond; the First Cantor of the Greatcoats and his friends Kest and Brasti as they attempt to restore order to Tristia.

Before King Paelis was deposed and executed he gave orders to each of the Greatcoats and in Falcio’s case it was to find his “charoites” and this is the focus of book one. Book two deals with what happens next; trying to unite a country behind a new ruler when the country doesn’t really want that to happen. Book three, takes it a step further when someone starts killing gods and saints before book four finally concludes with a threat from another country and problems closer to home.

This review is going to be split into two parts: a non-spoiler-y general review of my feelings towards the books and then a more in depth review which will include major plot points so if you don’t want to know what happens, don’t read that part.
I am going to start by saying that, quite simply, I loved this series. It is pretty much everything I look for in a book. It has action, it has fantastic characters and it has an easy, yet interesting plot. A review on the back of the first book describes the series as a cross between The Three Musketeers and Game of Thrones and I would completely agree. The relationship between Falcio, Kest and Brasti is very reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’ creations but in a more modern way. They bicker and argue a lot but there is a genuine love between the three characters.

Falcio is the main character and the POV for the series. He likes long speeches and he always manages to find trouble. He’s honourable but prone to seeing red and he would give his life to protect those he loves. He sounds like he could be a bit of a cliché but de Castell is aware enough to not make that happen and his actions are often lampshaded by other characters, Kest and Brasti in particular. Most of the characters could be read as clichéd; Kest is a humourless fighter, Brasti a shameless flirt who rarely comes across as anything but an idiot, but de Castell manages to make all of them sympathetic and interesting characters. Reading Falcio never giving up, even in the face of certain death, simply made me cheer him on more and I spent the books hoping that he would succeed and overcome whatever problem had arisen.

One criticism you could level at the series is that it does have a very formulaic plot. Each book has an interesting plot, don’t get me wrong, but every books starts out with a problem, things get worse, Falcio gets the absolute living daylights beaten out of him; physically, mentally and emotionally before the problem is resolved and the next one crops up. I have to give props to de Castell for being able to make each book interesting in their own right whilst using the same formula in four different ways.

There are characters that you love and characters that you hate. The three main characters are all wonderful, in my opinion. As the books is written in first person there are occasions where the secondary characters don’t feature at all, you can go fifty/a hundred pages without seeing them at all but they are just as interesting. Aline, Valiana, Ethalia and Darriana, in particular, stand out as characters throughout the series. The Duke of Rijou and his son, Tommer, are similarly as interesting. The only character I felt was underused, especially after Traitor’s blade, was Trin but we’ll get into that later.
The character who has the most character development over the course of the series is, undoubtedly, Valiana. You wouldn’t think that from her first appearance as the spoilt daughter of the very nasty Patriana that she would turn out to be the person she did and it is a credit to de Castell that he not only managed to turn initial perceptions on their head but to also create a wonderful, mature and strong female character who grows throughout the course of the series.

All in all, the Greatcoat’s series successfully combines action, humour and emotion into one epic series. The characters made me laugh, especially the interactions between Falcio, Kest and Brasti. Their mocking of Falcio’s love of long speeches, Kest’s lack of humour and Brasti’s shameless flirting often leant wonderful moments of humour when the outlook for the three characters seemed bleak and you genuinely believed they all care deeply for one another. The series offers something new to the fantasy genre, which is amazing given how much fantasy, and how much excellent fantasy, there currently is out there to read. It is adventurous and action packed but never sacrifices plot or character in favour of the other. You fall in love with the protagonists and want them to succeed and that is the greatest strength of the book.

Also, “Shut up, Brasti” might as well be the subtitle for this series because the characters said is so often.

Now onto the spoiler-y part of the review.

As mentioned in the summary, the quest that Falcio was given by Paelis shortly before his death was to find his “charoites”. It is the big mystery of the first book and it turns out that they are his children, whom he sired in order to keep the line of succession going because he knew the Dukes would overthrow him. It is revealed that one of the Duchesses, Patriana of Hervor, has been killing these children since the death of the King and there is only one left alive, a girl named Aline who Falcio et al must protect and eventually see her crowned Queen of Tristia.

This is no easy task because not only are the Dukes against this, Falcio has to deal with Kinghts and Saint killers as well as internal and external threats from people he thought he could trust. The duchies want Aline dead, people believe the Greatcoats to be traitors, knights are trying to assassinate her, someone is going around killing saints so, all in all, it looks like a hopeless task but somehow Falcio, Kest and Brasti manage to save the day and keep Aline alive for another novel. As I said above, interesting and fun but formulaic.

Then something happened that I did not expect.

Tyrant’s Throne is the last book in the series and deals with the biggest problem to date: a rogue Greatcoat has united several warbands from the neighbouring country of Avares, a country which prides itself on its warriors and, of course, it is up to Falcio et al to solve the problem by getting beaten on multiple occasions and with a certain amount of wit. So far, so formulaic.

Then Aline died.

The girl, the almost Queen of Tristia, who Falcio has been trying to protect from the very first novel is accidentally killed, giving her life to save her newly discovered brother from being assassinated by his mother. It was completely in her character, I cannot argue against that, and it certainly moved the plot on. It also gives Falcio an out at the end of the book because there was no way he would ever have retired from the Greatcoats as he does at the end if Aline became Queen. Her death also gives a wonderfully emotional moment near the climax of the book which drives the Tristian army to give their all in the fight against the Avareans.

I just didn’t see it coming. At all. If I had expected it I might have found it sad but I was too busy trying to pick my jaw off the floor saying “WHAT?!” over and over again for a good five minutes so kudos to de Castell for providing a plot point that took my breath away because there aren’t many authors that have managed to do that.

My biggest issue was with Trin. I know she has a point and she plays the part well but I can’t help but feel that she was a completely superfluous character. Her inclusion in the first novel was interesting and she served an important point and in the second book she was a distant yet serious threat. Then she disappears from the third book entirely before popping up in book four in prison in Avares with King Paelis’ son, Filian. The character does what any character needs to do for the plot but, in the end, I can’t help but think that any character could have do what Trin did. She was made out to be an important and dangerous threat in Traitor’s Blade but she never really lived up to that threat/ She doesn’t die, and is instead exiled with her tail between her legs, so I am going to assume she will return in any future books set in that world but she didn’t feel completely right in Tyrant’s Throne. I didn’t miss her in book three and she was not an important enough character in book four and seeing her tossed aside so easily at the end just proves that she wasn’t really needed in Tyrant’s Throne.

On the whole, though, Tyrant’s Throne was a very good end to the series. Loose ends were wrapped up and all the important characters reached a point where they were either happy or at peace. We finally found out how Kest beat the Saint of Swords (hilarious laugh included) and the emotional final meeting between Falcio and Paelis was sad and funny in equal measure, but the series is definitely left open for future books, which I am happy about because I would happily read more about these characters and any future ones.

Pride and Prejudice: or, am I a bad woman for not liking books other women rave about?

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It is generally accepted that there are certain things that a woman should enjoy: Dirty Dancing, Grease, Sylvia Plath…

And Pride and Prejudice.

I am a 31 year old woman and, until last week, I had never read Pride and Prejudice, but since Andrea Leadsom declared that Jane Austen is Britain’s greatest living author (maybe it’s a good thing that she’s Speaker of the House of Commons and not the Education Minister) I finally downloaded it (because why pay when you can get it for free) and gave it a read.  I kind of wish I hadn’t bothered.

My main issue with this book is that I found it utterly tedious.  Not a lot happens.  There are a lot of conversations between characters and a huge amount of gossiping but that it about it.  Maybe it is just because I mostly enjoy books where a lot happens but I found the lack of anything of any note to be very boring.  At least it is only a couple of hundred pages of nothing happening unlike Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which was a thousand pages of nothing happening.  I couldn’t engage with any of the characters.  I found them flat and boring.  Yes, Elizabeth Bennet goes on a massive learning curve in regards to her basing her opinions on people on first impressions but I didn’t find her particularly interesting to begin with and I didn’t find her interesting at the end.

I know that Pride and Prejudice is a very highly regarded book (it has a rating of 4.24 out of 5 on Goodreads) so why was I not as in love with it as countless others are.  I can think of a few reasons.

The first is the genre.  I have never been overly enamoured by novels where romance is the overarching theme.  I like romance in novels but I don’t really like romance novels and Pride and Prejudice seems to be the origin of the proliferation of all those hate to love novels and films that I generally avoid.  The second is the period on which it is written.  I am a history graduate and my preferred periods of British history cover the period between the end of the Roman invasion and the Norman Conquest and the Victorian Era up to the Second World War.  The Regency Era of British History does not interest me at all (That period in French History, however, fascinates me greatly).  The only history book I own that covers the period is The Making of the English Working Class by E.P. Thompson, which leads into my third reason; the social class of the characters Jane Austen is writing about.

I understand the themes of the book.  I know that Jane Austen is critiquing and making fun of the societal conventions of upper class society in the early nineteenth century but, at the same time, I have no interest in reading about the upper classes.  As a history student, I was always drawn to the lower end of the social scale (more Les Misérables than War and Peace) so reading a book where the upper classes sit around drinking a variety of hot beverages, gossiping about balls and who marries who does not interest me no matter the level of satire involved.

So why is Pride and Prejudice so beloved?  Is it because it is written by a woman?  Is it because it is oh so romantic and the relationship between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy one for the ages?  Or is it because Colin Firth looked so good walking out of a lake in wet clothes so hot (I’ve never seen it but that scene is universally well known)?  It’s not my cup of tea but I’m not going to criticise anyone who loves it so much.

I am using a review of Pride and Prejudice as a way to segue into a discussion of a larger issue that I have been thinking about for quite a few years which is why are certain books always cited as “books that all women should read” and why should I be expected to love them simply because of my gender?

Recently, someone I was chatting with asked me if it bothered me that the Lord of the Rings books hardly had any female characters in them and, no, it has never bothered me.  The gender of the characters, or even the author, has never factored into whether I enjoy a book or not.  I am more likely to look for good characterisation and a gripping plot than if the protagonist is female.  Am I not supposed to enjoy the Lord of the Rings because there are few female characters simply because I am a woman myself?  Yes, there are a lot of things a person could complain about with that particular book, and I am sure a fair few feminists would make that very complaint, but I am not one of them.

Does that make me a bad woman?

There are a lot of books that women think other women should read.  I googled “books women should read” and compiled a list of which books were recommended from ten separate lists.  I learned three things:

  1. These lists are very pretentious
  2. A lot of the same books crop up time and time again
  3. I have read barely any of them

I have created a chart of the most popular books recommended; twenty one books with three or more recommendations from ten lists.

Pride and Prejudice 6
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings 6
Little Women 5
To Kill A Mockingbird 5
Beloved 5
Jane Eyre 5
The Diary of Anne Frank 4
Eat, Pray, Love 4
The Second Sex 4
The Bell Jar 4
The Handmaid’s Tale 4
A Room of One’s Own 4
Fear of Flying 4
BossyPants 3
Bad Behavior 3
Slouching Towards Bethlehem 3
Bad Feminist 3
White Teeth 3
The Color Purple 3
Middlemarch 3
Harry Potter 3

For the most part, I am not surprised by the entries on these lists.  Of course, there are some books that I have never heard of, Beloved and Fear of Flying, for example, and the only reason I have heard of Slouching Towards Bethlehem is because there is an episode of Angel with that name.

As I said before, most of the books on the list don’t surprise me; nor does the number of lists they appear on.  Of ten lists, both Pride and Prejudice and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings were on six of them, Jane Eyre on five, The Second Sex and The Bell Jar on four and Middlemarch on three.  The same books keep appearing on the lists so that obviously means that women think these books are worth other women reading.

But why?

I think the main reason is that all of the books were written by women.  I can understand the reasoning behind this, women showing solidarity with their gender by recommending other women read books written by women but is a book worthy of being read just because of the gender of the author.

I, personally, am going to say no.

I have read six books on that list.  As I said above, I found Pride and Prejudice tedious but that’s not because it was written by a woman.  I found War and Peace equally tedious.  I hated The Handmaid’s Tale, I never finished To Kill A Mockingbird, I know I’ve read Little Women but I can’t really remember anything about it and I enjoyed Harry Potter for what it was but I was never a massive Potterhead.  The only one of the six I truly loved was The Diary of Anne Frank.

The lists I compiled my overall list from, on the whole, only mentioned books written by women which, and I may be the only person in the world who has this opinion, offends me quite frankly.  Are we, as women, only placing value on books by the gender of the author?  Only one of the lists included books written by men (1984 was one of them which I wholeheartedly agreed with).  I do understand that some women identify with these books and their authors and there is nothing wrong with that, but that does not mean that they can be reduced to a list stating that ALL women should read them.  Maybe it’s just because I don’t like being told what I should and should not like.

Being told that I should like something because of my gender annoys me but not as much as the complete lack of representation the science fiction and fantasy genres have on these lists.  Yes, Harry Potter is fantasy and The Handmaid’s Tale could be classified as science fiction at a push but, for the most part, the books on the list fall into either general fiction or biography.  What annoys me is that these two genres are almost always ignored by women simply because of the genres.

Science fiction and fantasy are almost always considered as masculine genres.  This is for a number of reasons but the reason that annoys me (and I think the reason why they never appear on these sort of lists) is the perception of the genres as being for nerds and sad, pathetic virgins who will never have a girlfriend.  For some reason it is generally believed among the sort of people who write these feminist lists that science fiction and fantasy are for losers who engage in these genres because they can’t find love in real life but that it not true.  As I mentioned in my post on people being pretentious about books (go read it if you haven’t #shamelessplug), a female reviewer of the Game of Thrones series outright stated she didn’t know why any woman would want to read the books or watch the show.  Why not?  Ok, the series is nearing its conclusion and there have been some dodgy episodes, there were sections of A Dance of Dragons where I would rather have gouged my eyes out than read any more (*cough*Dany’schapter’s*cough*) and the longer it takes for the next book to be published the less interest I have in the series (just get the damned things written) but on the whole it is a very good series.  Fine there may be a lot of T and A and violence but that doesn’t mean women can’t enjoy it.  Would you read a book on Tudor history and complain that Henry VIII fucked around a lot?  How many women have read Fifty Shades of Grey?  That sex is somehow inappropriate for women is a belief that seriously needs to be consigned to the history books and even if you argue that sexual violence is inappropriate then are you going to then denigrate all books written by and for women that include it as well?  We’re all adults and we can all decide what we want to read about but don’t write something off as something women wouldn’t like because you view it as too masculine.

There are a large number of female fans of the two genres so why not recommend good fantasy novels in these lists?  What would the type of women who write these lists say if I said that the only women who read Pride and Prejudice are those sad, single cat ladies who can’t find a husband?  It’s blatantly not true so why generalise sci-fi/fantasy in the same way.  If a woman is looking for novels written by women or novels with strong female roles then there are plenty of science fiction and fantasy novels that could be recommended.  These genres also include many themes which are prevalent in general fiction, they are not just men with big swords and women with no personality so maybe it’s time to stop being so elitist towards the genres.

This was simply just meant to be a review of a book.  Granted it was a book I did not personally enjoy but it kind of descended into a rant.  There are a lot of areas where feminism is needed, so I am not trying to trivialise the movement in any way, shape or form, but I think book reading is not one of them.  It is my opinion that either gender should choose what books to read based on their own personal interests and not because they have been recommended to us based on whether or not we are female.  There are so many great books out there that we don’t need to base our preferences on a few lists.  Maybe these lists need to branch out a bit from their narrow view of what women should be reading and embrace the millions of other books written which are just as amazing.

Or maybe we should just stop referring to lists for out reading recommendations and just browse in a bookshop for a while.

And if nothing else, you can make a drinking game around how many times Jane Austen mentions the word “pride”.

 

 

Five Books Which Made Me Cry

I’m just going to start this by saying I had to look up all of the quotes for the books included in this post and now I’m crying at them all again.  They affect me that much.

A well-crafted book with a complete plot and wonderfully written characters has the ability to break a person’s heart.  These books don’t have to be masterpieces but they do have to be able to draw the reader in and make them fall in love with the world and the people within that world.  Books, like every other form of media, have the ability to transport us to other worlds, experience things we will never get to experience in our short lives.  We can go on adventures, fall in love and become best friends with the characters who we are sharing our lives with for days and weeks at an end.  A good book will pull you in completely and the characters and events will stay with you for a long time afterwards.  George RR Martin said it best when he wrote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.  The man who never reads lives only one.”

Despite having read a lot of books, and loving a great many of them, there are only five which have ever made my cry, and by cry I don’t just mean one single tear; I mean full on sobbing.  There have been many books which have affected me emotionally but only five that have affected me to the point where I cry so this was a very easy list to compile but not to write.

Spoilers ahead

There will be spoilers in this post, lots of them due to the nature of what I am writing about.  Look at the photo and if you have any desire to read any of the books in it, don’t read the rest of the post.

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  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien
    Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace!  I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.

I must have read The Return of the King close to ten times since I was sixteen and it has made me cry every single time I have finished it.  The film is even worse, I cried for two full days after I saw that for the first time.

I know that LOTR is not for everyone, quite a lot of people find it boring but I find it wonderful.  I always feel emotional when I read it because I find it hard not to spend so much time reading something and to not become emotionally attached to the characters and the story.  At the end of the day, the books end is about saying goodbye and that it always a topic which will upset me.

No-one wants to say goodbye to their friends, especially when they have literally been to hell and back together.  Bonds are forged and breaking those bonds hurts more than anything.  Frodo may not have died but saying goodbye forever feels about the same as if he had.  I’m sure there is not a person out there who would want to think about having to say goodbye to their best friend forever and that is where the great emotionality lies in this book.

It’s such a basic feeling.  It’s not something we often think about but it is an inevitability.  That is why the book makes me cry so much.  I can’t read the last chapter without crying because it is not just Sam, Merry and Pippin who are saying goodbye to a friend, I am too.

 

  1. The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
    Shotvarfet.  Again and again, each time louder, ringing across the ward.  He opened his eye and gazed directly at Rivers, who had come from behind the screens and was standing at the foot of his bed.‘What’s he saying?’  Major Hallett asked.

Rivers opened his mouth to say he didn’t know and then he realised he did.  ‘He’s saying “it’s not worth it.”’

World War I will always be an emotive subject.  Whatever your views on warfare, whether it is justified or not, no-one can disagree that the loss of life in the First World War was horrific and seeing it written on the page, with characters we have grown to care about over the course of several books, makes it feel a lot more personal.

There is something about World War I that always makes me cry.  I cannot get through watching the Remembrance Sunday service without shedding a tear.  As soon as the Last Post starts playing after the two minute silence I always start crying.  I haven’t read The Ghost Road for a long time (it might be time for a re-read of the entire trilogy, I think) but the scene described above between Rivers and a dying soldier’s family, alongside the death of Billy Prior got to me in a way I never expected it to.

 

  1. Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
    Wait for you? Not likely!  I’ve always had to run ahead of you and show you the way.

Nighteyes.  Dear Nighteyes.  Animal deaths always seem to really affect me, which is why I’ve never seen Marley and Me because, although it is not a film I have watched, I can guess how it ends and it will end with me in tears.

I knew Nighteyes’ death was coming.  Fool’s Errand is set fifteen years after the end of Assassin’s Quest so he was an old wolf at the opening of the book but I didn’t expect it when it happened and I didn’t expect it to upset me so much.  I loved Nighteyes and I loved his relationship with Fitz and I think Hobb wrote his death perfectly.  The idea of him running ahead of Fitz using the hunting metaphor is so heartbreakingly simple but extremely effective.  I mourned Nighteyes as if I had lost  a friend and I hadn’t even been bonded to him.  What was even sadder was that Fitz was not able to show his grief in the way he wanted.

What was a bit strange was that Fool’s Fate didn’t affect me in the same way.  I always say to my friend that Fool’s Errand broke my heart and Fool’s Fate ripped it out and stamped on it but the latter never made me cry.  Maybe it is because I didn’t read it until after Fool’s Assassin was released so I unknowingly spoiled myself.  That doesn’t take away from the emotional devastation of the Fool’s death and resurrection.  “My dream was dead in my arms” is a sentence that went straight to my heart and the scene where Fitz gave the Fool his own name because he knew he would never be the same person afterwards was heart wrenching.  It didn’t make me cry though.

I saved the tears for a later book.

 

  1. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
    Il mourra. Je le sais, j’en ai la conviction; je ne veux pas le voir mourir.

Again, this is not a book where I expected to cry.  The Musketeer novels were full of adventure and political intrigue but, in my opinion, not a great deal of emotion.  I felt excited reading the adventures of d’Artagnan et al but I never felt anything when a character, Constance for example, died.

This book changed that.  To lose so may beloved characters in such a short space of time was too much and I did cry pretty much constantly for the last third of the book.  From the moment Athos admitted to d’Artagnan that he couldn’t bear to watch Raoul die, I started crying and I never really stopped after that.  You can feel the pain of the old man as he says those words.  It is hard to lose a child but to know it is going to happen, and to know that it is a fate his son, himself, chose is too much to bear.

Then you have to go through Porthos’ death, Roaul’s death, Athos’ death and, finally, d’Artangnan’s.  Porthos’ death was really painful because if Aramis hadn’t involved him in his political games then he wouldn’t have died and to see his strength fail him at the end was painful because you knew he was going to die shortly afterwards.

I think, for me, Athos’ death was the saddest.  Seeing him slowly waste away, only staying alive long enough to hear of Raoul’s fate was heart-breaking.  Then, d’Artagnan arriving moments too late and his following grief were the worst parts to read.  You can really feel for the man who has just lost one (three if you also count Porthos and Raoul) of his oldest friends.  Once again, it is an emotion which is very familiar to everyone, a basic human emotion that everyone feels eventually.

Finally, there is d’Artagnan’s death: a quick and seemingly senseless death at the very end of the book from a stray bullet.  It is not as expected as Athos’ death but it still hurt to read.  Saying goodbye to the friends who’d had so many adventures together over the course of the series is hard, but for most of them to die was even worse.

 

  1. Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
    His cracked lips moved.
    Beloved.
    He could not say the word, but I knew it.
    So did his Fool.

Of all these books, Assassin’s Fate was the most painful for me to read.  After I finished it I told my friend (who was similarly affected as me) that if I couldn’t talk about the book because, if I did, I would start crying again and he agreed with me.  This book emotionally destroyed me and, what was worse, I knew it was going to.

When Assassin’s Fate was released I travelled all the way to Sheffield for a book signing and as soon as I read the dedication I knew my heart was going to break.  I even read this book slower than any other because I was trying to delay the inevitable of having to say goodbye.

Assassin’s Fate is the most painful book, for me, because of the characters.  I grew to love Fitz and the Fool as if they were my best friends.  I love them.  I think they may be my favourite characters in all of the books I have read so, to say goodbye to them affected me the most.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to re-read this book.  The sadness of The Return of the King is hard but bearable.  Assassin’s Fate isn’t bearable.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved this book and I love how it tied loose ends together and brought everything to completion but that doesn’t make it any easier.  Four days into slowly reading it, I said to my friend that I knew it was going to emotionally destroy me but I wanted Fitz and the Fool to end their stories together.  I’m glad they did because I couldn’t bear for one of their story’s to continue if the other wasn’t in it.  The end broke my heart but I am happy that Fitz, the Fool and Nighteyes are together forever because they really are three parts of the same whole.

There is another problem, I don’t know if I can continue reading the books if they use the same characters because the pain is always going to be there and they are going to be reminders of how much this book broke my heart.

So, there they are: Five books which made me cry.  I swore after I read Assassin’s Fate that I wasn’t going to allow myself to become emotionally attached to any more characters but I know I will and, one day, those characters will break my heart all over again.  I don’t want to read a book where I feel nothing for the lives and fates of the characters because they will not be good books.  I want to continue to love and care about the people whose lives I am sharing for a short while because to share the emotions of these characters is such a human feeling.  So long may it continue and maybe in a couple of years I’ll have another five books which made me cry.

My Five Least Favourite Books of All Time

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It probably says a lot about me that I find it easier to say why I don’t like a book rather than why I do. Often, when I love a book, I just say “the plot was awesome” or “I loved that character”, but I can rarely go into great depth as to why I liked it. On the other hand, if I don’t like something then I find it much easier to say why; which is why I’m writing a post on books I disliked when I couldn’t even begin to start choosing a list of my favourite books. They change depending on my mood.

I didn’t set out to dislike any of these books, so don’t be offended by what I write on here. My views are my own and I dislike these books because they don’t suit me. The list is written in order in which I read them, not by how much I hate them.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The depressing thing is I read this book nearly fifteen years ago when I was starting my A Levels (where does the time go?). I have actually read it three times. One of my A Level teachers said that you should read a book at least three times when you are studying it. I didn’t. I read it twice then never looked at it again after the exam until this year when I read it for a third time to see if my opinion had changed.

I really disliked this book when I was sixteen. I know a lot of students hate the books they have to study but I never really did. I don’t feel the same level of dislike towards Lord of the Flies which I also studied. I know now that The Handmaid’s Tale is considered a feminist classic but I really should have guessed that it was when my other, feminist, English literature teacher raved about it but it never clicked with me.

The two things I look for most in a good book are interesting characters and a good plot. The Handmaid’s Tale, in my opinion, had neither. Offred is the most annoyingly passive protagonist I have ever encountered. She doesn’t do anything unless it is instigated by other characters, otherwise it would just be a book of her describing her damned leg hair. Her descriptions of the other characters make them annoying, her hero worship of Moira elevates the character on such a pedestal that I hated the woman despite never seeing her actual point of view. Offred is a terrible character. Her narrative is both simplistic and trying to make her sound more intelligent, which makes her sound stupid. How can she remember the origins of the phrase mayday but she she can’t remember something so simple as putting a buttercup under your chin to see if you like butter?

Then there is the plot. Or lack thereof. Whilst reading the book, the reader is only offered the barest bones as to what has happened in the past. We know that a bunch of religious nutters staged a coup and have remodelled American society into their warped view. The handmaids are what are viewed as “fallen women”, Offred was married to the man she’d had an affair with. However, we never really learn anything more about this society so the world building lacks any depth. Was writing this as a first person narrative a deliberate choice on Atwood’s part so she didn’t have to go into much depth about the world? Offred doesn’t offer many details, even when she is reminiscing about the past and you glean more information of the structure of society from the epilogue which is written as a presentation at a conference far in the future. The plot is practically non-existent, it reads more like Offred’s stream of consciousness but, because she is a character devoid of personality, it is a very boring stream.

Like I said earlier, I re-read this book in 2017 to see if my 2002 views had changed and now I find I actually dislike it more. I am probably in the minority of women who dislike this book judging by the number of women that have recommended it to me over the years but I still hate it. I hate the characters, I hate the lack of plot and I hate the lack of word building.

2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I think your level of enjoyment of this book completely depends on how much you empathise with Holden. This book is very popular for students to study, apparently (or so I read on Wikipedia) because of its themes of disillusionment, identity and teenage angst. Maybe it is because I wasn’t an overly angsty teenager (I was moody but swotty but not rebellious) but I never connected with Holden. I found his actions childish and petulant. I found myself thinking “oh just grow the fuck up you annoying little shit” and I was only eighteen at the time. I found him to be far too self obsessed, as if the world owed him a favour. The chip on his shoulder was so big I’m surprised it didn’t cripple him. I didn’t find him sympathetic in the slightest, I couldn’t relate to him in the slightest and that is why I think I never got along with this novel.

As with The Handmaid’s Tale, I didn’t like the protagonist and that was my main problem with these books. The plot of Catcher in the Rye isn’t bad, it’s very typical and there’s nothing wrong with that but I couldn’t relate to Holden so I didn’t like it. I still own the book book but I know that I will never re-read in.

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I first tried to read War and Peace in 2009. It is one of those books that literature lovers are told they have to love and it is often found on lists of what are considered the greatest books ever written. I have even read critics claim that if you haven’t read War and Peace then you can’t be considered a reader. I made it to page 100 (I always give a book 100 pages at least) and then I gave up. I didn’t like it.

Fast forward to 2016 and my brother, a friend and myself decided to take part in a reading challenge. One of the topics was a book you had previously abandoned so I chose War and Peace. It was at the same time that the new BBC version was airing on TV so I thought I would at least be able to follow along with that whilst I read. Strangely, I enjoyed the series while I still disliked the book. The series trimmed the fat of the novel and was not as slow paced and boring.

The main issue I had with War and Peace was that it was incredibly turgid. I find this to be the case with other Russian classics I have read and my friend agrees with me so I know I’m not the only one. It is dense and very dull. I disliked almost all of the characters and not just Helene and Anatole, who you are meant to hate. Andrei was one of the most boring characters I have ever encountered and Natasha was stupid beyond belief. Yes, pet, you have a handsome and good, if boring, husband to be and all you have to do it wait a year so you go off with the first bit of tail that shows you any attention. Moron. Pierre was fine most of the time and Nikolai and Marya made me go aww when they met but they were the few bright spots in an overall disappointing novel.

Also, fuck Napoleon. Fuck him all the way to Hades. Yes, I know he’s been dead for two centuries but, still, fuck him.

4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke

Another book which I read due to the hype surrounding the television adaptation, although in this case I didn’t watch the series. I’m glad about that because I have already lost far too many hours of my life on this and I don’t want to waste any more. This is the only book on this list that I have yet to finish and, since I donated my copy to the charity shop just after Christmas, I probably never will. I managed to get through 600 pages out of 1000 and when I saw that I still had 400 to go I just gave up. I didn’t have the will to read anymore. This novel was so hyped up before the series started you would have thought it was the best book ever written. There was a quote on the front from Neil Gaiman saying pretty much that.

Well, Neil Gaiman lied.

What the hell happened in this book? It was so boring that I genuinely can’t remember. Something about fairies, I think. I don’t know. I just remember being bored. Oh, and that five page footnote; what was the point of that? I know the entire book was supposed to resemble a historical text but, being a history graduate, I’ve read a lot of historical texts and none of them have any footnotes that long. If you don’t think something is good enough to include in the main story and it’s too long to fit into a concise footnote then stick it in an appendix like Tolkien does. If not, don’t include it. It was very distracting from the non-existent plot.

One last thing: this book could have been good. There were a great many occasions where Clarke mentions something that has happened but it is always in the past and other characters are discussing them. Why not actually write about those interesting tales instead of having boring characters talking about them?

Just a thought.

5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

The question asked throughout this books is ‘Who is John Galt?’ The answer I gave on Twitter was “a man who disappeared up his own arsehole.” Since I also donated this book (really regretting the £10 I spent on it in the first place, at least I didn’t have to pay for a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale) I can’t actually remember the names of any of the characters and I can’t be bothered to look them up. I also can’t remember the plot other than something about trains. And John Galt’s million page long (#exaggeratingfordramaticeffect) speech which I wasted hours (ok, not hours, but an hour at least) of my life trying to wade through.

There is no discernible plot in my opinion, and plot is something I require if I am going to enjoy a book. The characters manage to be both forgettable and annoying, which has got to be a first and the writing style is laughable. I did read that Atlas shrugged is sometimes studied in schools and all I have to say is: Why? Why would you force your youth to read this long, boring and garbage book? It’s truly awful. I can’t think of any redeeming features about this book at all. I thought it was bad having to read The Handmaid’s Tale at 16 but if I’d been forced to suffer through this hell then I probably would have given up on English literature.

And that’s my list. I didn’t mean to make The Handmaid’s Tale the longest post by c good couple of hundred words but it’s the novel I’ve read most recently so my gripes with it are the freshest in my mind. I don’t suspect many people will find this particularly illuminating but sometimes it just feels good to rant about things.

Once again, please don’t take offence at my choices. These are all my personal opinions and if you like these novels then you can obviously see something different in them that I can’t. At the end of the day, we’re all different and we all like different things and that’s ok.

 

Fifty books in 2017 part two

I didn’t expect to post this until later in the week but *spoiler* Elantris was just so good I couldn’t put it down.

Here are the mini-reviews of books 26-50 of 2017

Robin Hobb
Fool’s Quest, Assassin’s Fate, Assassin’s Quest

Two were re-reads and I love them.  Assassin’s Fate just about emotionally destroyed me, but in a good way.

Brandon Sanderson
The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages, The Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, Bands of Mourning, The Way of Kings, Steelheart, Elantris

Sanderson has rapidly become one of my favourite authors with his interesting plots and excellent characters.  I enjoyed all of these books, especially the Mistborn series but Elantris was another highlight when I wasn’t expecting it to be.

Sebastien de Castell
Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood

Described as the Three Musketeers meets Game of Thrones and I would agree with the Musketeers comparison but I much prefer them to Game of Thrones.  Loved this series so far and still need to read the final book.

J.D. Oswald
Dreamwalker

Disappointing.  Felt like it went nowhere and had a weirdly unsatisfying ending. Don’t know if I’ll continue with this series.

Brent Weeks
The Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge, Beyond the Shadows

The Way of Shadows was great, the plot worked and the characters were interesting.  Then it fell apart.  The first half of book 2 was awful but it redeemed itself with the end.  The third book was a mess.

Peter V. Brett
The Daylight War

Fuck Leesha, Fuck Leesha, Fuck Leesha.  Enjoyed the rest of the book, though.

Robert Harris
Conclave

I enjoyed this book.  The end had a twist which I don’t think would ever work in real life but it made for an interesting plot point

Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale

There are a lot of adjectives I can use to describe this book.  None of them good.  This was a re-read to see if my opinion had changed in fifteen years.  I found it worse than before.

Susan Ee
Angelfall

God, this was awful.  YA bullshit at it’s very worst.

Anne Rice
Interview with the Vampire

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would.  Maybe because Tom Cruise isn’t in it.

James Islington
The Shadow of What Was Lost

Didn’t know what to expect from this book but I really enjoyed it.

John Gwynne
Malice

Oh, this was good.  Loved it.  I want to know why Corban is so important.  Need to get my arse to Waterstone’s to get the second book.

 

 

Fifty books in 2017 part one

I am about to start my fiftieth book this year so I have decided to post mini reviews on whether I liked them or not.  I have grouped them by author rather than order read so I could post a general review rather than anything specific.

Here are the first twenty five.  The next twenty five will be posted once I finish book fifty.

Jules Verne
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the Moon, Five Weeks in a Balloon.

On the whole I enjoyed these books. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was the best, I liked the characters and the plots, whereas Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the weakest in my opinion.

Peter V. Brett
The Painted Man, The Desert Spear

The Painted Man is a good start to the series. Arlen is a sympathetic character in this and the plot is interesting. The Desert Spear isn’t as good and Leesha Paper maybe just be the worst character I have read in a long time. Mary Sue for sure.

Patrick Rothfuss
The Name of the Wind

This one pains me because I really liked it but I will not read book two until there is some inkling of when book three will be published. I also dislike Rothfuss’ attitude.

William H. McNeill
Plagues and Peoples

Interesting if you want a historical discussion on the spread of diseases.

Robin Hobb
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince, Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Fool’s Assassin.

I’m not going to bore you with my Robin Hobb obsession (maybe another post) but I loved these books. All except Wilful Princess were re-reads.

Scott Lynch
Red Seas Under Red Skies

I found this rather disappointing after the Excellent Lies of Locke Lamora. It just lacked something that I can’t quite put my finger on.

V. E. Schwab
A Conjuring of Light

A good end to the series that wrapped everything up while keeping things open for a sequel. Love Kell and Rhy, hate Lila and Alucard’s backstory was so cliché it began to grate on me.

John Julius Norwich
The Popes: A History

Very good book, would recommend. You can see just how corrupt the papacy was in the past.

Terry Pratchett
Witches Abroad

Another excellent Pratchett book featuring characters we all know and love wrapped in a funny and insightful plot.

Eric Hobsbawm
Captain Swing, On History

Essential reading if you like nineteenth century social history but probably too niche for general readers.

Hugh Kearney
The British Isles: A History of Four Nations

See above but still a good general history of the British Isles.

Marc Morris
Castle

A very good book about the rise and fall of castles in the UK after the Norman Conquest. interesting and accessible. Morris uses colloquial language and doesn’t talk down to his audience.

Muireann ní Bhrolchain
Introduction to Early Irish Literature

Good but, again, very niche and academic.

C. Robert Cargill
Dreams and Shadows, Queen of the Dark Things

Interesting concept and sympathetic characters but it is a rare case of the books should have been longer. Certain themes could have benefitted from being expanded upon.

Brandon Sanderson
The Final Empire

I cannot stress just how much I loved this. Put off reading it for years and I shouldn’t have. Well written with a good plot and interesting and layered characters. Would recommend without hesitation.

 

Literary Snobbery, or why we need to stop being pretentious cunts and just enjoy reading.

IMG_2712At the beginning of this year I was reading the Jules Verne novels that I had received for Christmas and, as usual, I was posting Goodreads updates on Facebook and on Twitter.  One of the updates, I can’t remember for which book, received a comment from someone on Twitter and, although I can’t remember exactly what they said, the person said something like that “classic” novels were better than modern ones.  I use inverted commas because I do not believe that just because a book is old that it means that it is a classic (although I do really like Jules Verne) and I began to wonder why some people think this way.

Literary snobbery is everywhere.  From Brian Sewell criticising the Da Vinci Code despite having never read it to Jonathan Jones criticising Terry Pratchett despite having never read any of his books (are you sensing a theme here?), people always feel the need to shit on books because they deem them to be too populist, or lacking depth because, apparently, lots of people enjoying a book is a bad thing.  Of course, popularity is no indication of a good book, many popular books have poor plots, terrible characters and are badly written but, somehow, they manage to capture the imagination of their intended audience so why not just let them get on with it?

I’m not saying that people have to like every book ever written.  We all have different tastes and one man’s cup of tea is another’s poison but what right does a person have to criticise a book when they haven’t even bothered to read it?  I quite frequently criticise books but at least I bothered an attempt at reading them before I gave up and told the world I hated them.  Opinions are not bad, snobbery is.

My three favourite genres of book are fantasy, pre-twentieth century literature and history (actual history books, not historical fiction), and I very often see fantasy literature criticised for various reasons (see the Terry Pratchett example above).  So why do people think that pre-twentieth century literature is better than fantasy, because you rarely see articles in newspapers saying that novels written before 1900 are trash, or not worth reading.

Is it because the novels are old?  As I said above, age is no indicator of how good something is but for some reason people think older is better.  There are thousands, possibly millions, of books written prior to the twentieth century which have been long forgotten by everyone except the most dedicated academics so the novels which are cited as superior to all modern fiction must have something going for them.  Is it because older novels are wordier?  Many pre-twentieth century novels use long and/or obscure words that aren’t used as widely in modern novels but is that an indication that they are superior or is it just because nowadays authors can reach a wider selection of the public?  We are now a more literate society than at any time during the past but modern books are held up to an impossible standard of being compared to older books when no such comparison should exist.  Books are there to be enjoyed so age should not be a factor in determining what makes something better than something else.

Some years ago I attempted to read War and Peace.  This is a novel which is highly regarded and I have seen several newspaper articles claim over the years that if you haven’t read War and Peace then you are not a reader.  I gave up on it after a hundred pages.  I didn’t like it.  I found the characters boring and the story turgid beyond belief.  I find most Russian literature to be that way.  I went back to it last year and finished it as part of a reading challenge I was taking part of but my opinion hadn’t changed.  I still found it turgid and uninteresting.  I still disliked the characters immensely so, even though it is regarded a classic, I would not regard it as better as some of the more modern books I have read.  On the other hand, I read Alexandre Dumas’ Musketeer novels around the same time and I enjoyed them immensely.  Two authors who were publishing at the same time elicited two completely different reactions on me and, although, Dumas is held in high regard no critic ever says “if you haven’t read Dumas then you’re not a reader.”

If age isn’t a determination of how good a book is, then what is?  Is it genre?  Certain types of books are held in higher regard than others; a novel about a deep introspective search into the mind or life of the protagonist will always be received better in literary circles than a sword and sorcery novel just because it is “literary fiction”  (my brother always rails against literary fiction because he finds it boring and he also liked The Da Vinci Code which just goes to show that nobody is the same when it comes to books) but I have read fantasy novels that are just as deep.  Fantasy novels often have quite deep themes.  Yes there are the obvious tropes, good vs evil being the most common but highly regarded fiction holds the same ones.  People suffer, people rise up, people try to chase the political landscape, for example.  Is the suffering of the Skaa in Brandon Sanderson’s amazing Mistborn series any less than the suffering of the French poor in Victor Hugo’s excellent Les Misérables just because one is considered a classic and the other is a fantasy.  Okay, yes Victor Hugo’s writings are closer to us because they are based on his experiences with French society in the nineteenth century but social issues can transcend genre because they are something that everybody thinks about and they never go away whether you live in the twenty first century, the nineteenth century or in a fantasy world populated with magical beings.  Charles Dickens is seen as a classic author nowadays but at the time in which he was writing he was looked down upon because he published his stories in newspapers.  He is a man who campaigned against social injustice, like Hugo (and at the same time as Hugo) but literary snobbery at the time prevented many from seeing him for the great author he was.

Of course there are books which transcend this snobbery.  No-one goes around criticising The Lord of the Rings for being low rent just because it is fantasy but it is all too common, unfortunately.  Just recently I read an article posted by SFX magazine about initial reviews for the Game of Thrones series and there was a female critic who just couldn’t believe that any woman would want to read the books (female perceptions of the fantasy genre is a rant I will save for another time) but why?  Yes, I will admit, I am fed up with the constant wait for the next book in the series (seven years and counting) but why wouldn’t a woman want to read it?  Just because your snobbish preconceptions of a book get in the way of you potentially enjoying something and I (and I am assuming many others) do not appreciate being looked down upon for liking something  is deemed beneath a critic.

Because that’s what it is all about in the end.  It’s not about the age of the book or the genre that makes it worthy in some people’s eyes, it’s the taking of any opportunity to show that you are better than the unwashed masses.  A critic will criticise a book they have never read because it is popular whilst quoting some obscure tome to show they are more intelligent and educated than the general book reading public.  So I say this to them, who gives a shit what you read, it doesn’t make you better?  At least a popular book will inspire a person who normally wouldn’t pick up a book and lose themselves in a story for a while.

That’s all books are, stories.  Whether they are morality tales, social diatribes or descents into the darkest human psyches, they are just stories and stories are written to be enjoyed.  Therefore, the last thousand words or so are saying one thing: read what you like and don’t give a damn about what anyone else thinks because it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, if you enjoy it then it is good.

Happy reading.