Review: City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare

City of AshesCity of Ashes (Goodreads)
Author:   Cassandra Clare

Rating: ★★★★☆

Clary Fray just wishes that her life would go back to normal. But what’s normal when you’re a demon-slaying Shadowhunter, your mother is in a magically induced coma, and you can suddenly see Downworlders like werewolves, vampires, and faeries? If Clary left the world of the Shadowhunters behind, it would mean more time with her best friend, Simon, who’s becoming more than a friend. But the Shadowhunting world isn’t ready to let her go — especially her handsome, infuriating, newfound brother, Jace. And Clary’s only chance to help her mother is to track down rogue Shadowhunter Valentine, who is probably insane, certainly evil — and also her father.

To complicate matters, someone in New York City is murdering Downworlder children. Is Valentine behind the killings — and if he is, what is he trying to do? When the second of the Mortal Instruments, the Soul-Sword, is stolen, the terrifying Inquisitor arrives to investigate and zooms right in on Jace. How can Clary stop Valentine if Jace is willing to betray everything he believes in to help their father?

Details

Series: The Mortal Instruments #2
Genre: YA Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Published: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008
Pages: 453

Paper copies: Amazon.com Amazon.co.ukBook Depository
E-copies: Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukBarnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Please note: This review is for the second in the Mortal Instruments series and so contains spoilers for the first book, City of Bones. You may wish to read my review of that book instead!


Review

It’s been quite a while since I read City of Bones, but after I saw the film recently I was keen to get back into Jace, Clary and Simon’s world to see what happens next. I didn’t think the movie was done very well, but that’s another story I’ll rant about another time…

At the end of City of Bones, (spoiler incoming) View Spoiler ». There’s no time to clean up the mess before Alec and Isabelle’s mother, Maryse turns up with the Shadowhunter Inquisitor, charged with finding out what is going on. Meanwhile, “Downworlder” children are being murdered in New York City and the Shadowhunters must find out who is behind it before they strike again.

In my City of Bones review, I mentioned I was disappointed by the cheesy one-liners that are everywhere in the dialogue (and I mean, everywhere). In City of Ashes the cheesiness is still there, but I think after having seen the movie and got used to the slightly toungue-in-cheek nature of Cassie Clare’s storytelling style, I’ll admit I didn’t find it quite so annoying.

There are still some annoying things about the characters in this story, mind you. Jace, for one, was just so whiny and brooding all the time. I mean, he does have quite a lot to be brooding about, but he’s always so grumpy, I’m not really sure what Clary sees in him! (my blogging buddy Philippa is going to kill me at this point, she loves Jace! Sorry!).

I did, however, enjoy the development in almost all the characters in this story – Simon’s transformation, the development of Clary’s powers, and the fact that we’re never quite sure which side Jace is actually on until the very end. Also, there is an almost exquisite awkwardness about Clary and Jace’s relationship. I’m going to hide this behind spoilers because really, if you haven’t read City of Bones, you don’t want to know yet! If you’re in a feed reader, click through to see the spoiler.

View Spoiler »

This series is written in such an engaging style – I struggled to put it down at all. I thought the storyline was a little thin, but it was the character interaction that kept me turning the pages all the way through.

Despite most of the plot threads being tidied away, City of Ashes ends on such a cliffhanger that I am almost having to jump right into the next book immediately!

Fans of YA Urban Fantasy, what are you waiting for? The Shadowhunters’ world is waiting for you.

The Mortal Instruments

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare City of Ashes City of Glass
 cityoffallenangels  cityoflostsouls

#6: City of Heavenly Fire

TBP May 2014

Review: Happy Hour in Hell, Tad Williams

Happy Hour in HellHappy Hour in Hell (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Tad Williams (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me – I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld – Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pandemonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

Details

Series: Bobby Dollar #2
Genre: Paranormal fantasy
Published: Hodder & Stoughton, 26 September 2013
Pages: 400

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository 
E-copies: Amazon.com  Amazon.co.uk Barnes & Noble

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Bobby Dollar series and so contains spoilers for the first, The Dirty Streets of Heaven. You might prefer to read my review of that book instead!


Review

Hell is a pretty horrible place, designed to be eternal punishment. Somewhere you’d ideally avoid, right? Bobby Dollar, angel and advocate is heading down there, though, to rescue his girlfriend.

Trouble is, Bobby has no idea how to get there, let alone how to steal Caz from Grand Duke Eligor and get out again. Then there’s the strange business with the Third Way and the investigation by the Archangels Bobby is embroiled in. It’s a mess, and it’s only about to get messier.

I’m having trouble putting words together for this review. On one hand, the detail, depth and imagination in this book is amazing, as I always expect from Tad Williams. On the other hand, the story didn’t quite flow as well as I would have liked and I got the feeling that not much actually happened, even though Bobby goes through a hell of a lot (pardon the expression).

Williams’ Hell is Dante’s Inferno gone mad – a cylindrical piston tube with each level designed for progressively worse levels of punishment. At times, places Bobby visits almost seem like really nasty parts the real world – the inhabitants still need to eat and drink, but everything is designed to keep everyone as miserable as possible, for eternity. Here’s where Bobby finds some interesting aspects to Hell – do the damned really deserve to rot in Hell for ever?

There’s not just horror and pain in this story, although grisly torture and humiliation is a major part of it. There is also hope, redemption and loyalty down there. I’m actually really looking forward to reading more about how the penitent inhabitants of Hell can redeem themselves. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating your lunch (from personal experience).

I didn’t like Bobby as much as I did in The Dirty Streets – time and again he reiterates that it’s his love for Caz that is getting him through this, but it seemed to me more like its his lust for her that drives him. Casimira herself is portrayed as less of the bad-ass Countess of Cold Hands and more like a helpless victim of Eligor, which I thought was a bit of a shame. Anyway poor Bobby gets taken to some very dark places in this story, both in Hell and within himself. I got the feeling several times that Mr Williams seemed to be enjoying his torture a little too much.

Because most of this book is spent with Bobby moving from one horrific situation to the next, being chased or dragged or sneaking about, there’s not a lot of dialogue. The constant descriptions of travel are great, but after a while they tend to slow the story down a bit. There is plenty of action, but it happens in chunks in-between narrated scenes.

I did enjoy the descriptions of locations in this story, even if I didn’t particularly what was happening to the characters. There are some very interesting concepts explored but, frustratingly, nothing resolved. I will be grabbing the third book though – Sleeping Late on Judgement Day is due during 2014.

Warnings: Graphic violence including plenty of torture, explicit sex scenes, some abusive.

Bobby Dollar series

The Dirty Streets of Heaven Happy Hour in Hell 3: Sleeping Late on Judgement DayTBR 2014

What did others think of Happy Hour in Hell?

  • “… it’s scary in here in Tad’s imagination!” – Letters and Leaves
  • “The Dirty Streets of Heaven showed that Tad Williams was on top of his game, Happy Hour in Hell proves this even more the Bobby Dollar series is utterly brilliant.” – The Book Plank
  • “Of course if you’ve read any of Tad Williams’ work prior to the Bobby Dollar series then you probably weren’t surprised to hear that he gets a little, ah, descriptive in this book. The difference between the exposition in this book and, say, his Otherland series is that HAPPY HOUR IN HELL is way shorter.” – All Things Urban Fantasy

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red SkiesRed Seas Under Red Skies (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Scott Lynch (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.

The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist…

…but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait.

Someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentleman Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.

Details

Series: Gentleman Bastards #2
Genre: Steampunkish Fantasy Adventure with Pirates!
Published: Gollancz, 2007
Pages: 630 (and tiny print in this edition)

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Gentleman Bastard series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, The Lies of Locke Lamora. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

Red Seas Under Red Skies had all the adventure, danger and excitement of The Lies of Locke Lamora, but with even more detail and intricate plot twisting. At times it felt more like a snarl of tangled wool than a coherent story, but if you’re familiar with the first book you’ll know that’s what the Gentleman Bastards are all about.

Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have escaped from Camorr with their lives, their battle scars and little else. After a couple of years, the setup of a new major heist in the city of Tal Verrar seems to be going well until they run into some old friends from the Magi of Karthain. Suddenly, things start to unravel and Locke and Jean find themselves working against their wishes for several different masters – not only the master of their original target, the Sinspire, but also the Archon of Tel Verrar himself, not to mention the other random attempts on their lives.

In order to preserve his rule, the Archon sends Jean and Locke out to sea to stir up the pirates of the area – something that turns out to be much more easily said than done. Throughout this part of the story, Locke and Jean are tested to the limits of their friendship, their resourcefulness and their courage as they try to fulfil their obligations and keep themselves alive, while still pulling off their planned heist.

There are two things I think Scott Lynch is absolutely brilliant at. The first: convoluted storylines with intricate detail. In fact, sometimes the story got so complicated that I lost track of the characters and aliases involved and had to go back to pick up the threads again. There is also the overwhelming detail relating to ships and their anatomy and operation. If you don’t know your craplines from your binnacle then you might be a bit confused by the plethora of nautical terms used in this story, but for the most part it doesn’t hurt to have no clue what’s being discussed.

Secondly, Lynch is a master of insults. One of my pet peeves in books is the use of the phrase, “So and so cursed under his breath” or “uttered a few choice words” or similar. It is infinitely more satisfying to me as a reader when the character simply says, “Shit.” when something bad happens – I’m not sure why, and I understand why the swear words are omitted, but I like it better when they’re in. It’s why I don’t usually mention swearing in book warnings – if you’re old enough to read these books, you’re old enough to know what swear words are, in my opinion. Anyway, I digress.

In Red Seas Under Red Skies, there is no such holding back with swearing. Locke and Jean themselves have a colourful vocabulary – in fact their banter with each other is the absolute highlight of this book for me. The rest of the cast of characters are not shy with their insults either. I won’t repeat any examples here but rest assured there are plenty of occasions that had me laughing with delight.

Locke and Jean are just slightly too honourable to be believable thieves – they aren’t shy of picking random pockets but they are loyal to each other and their allies to a fault and won’t allow the vulnerable be hurt. Gentlemen, indeed! I love them.

The other characters are interestingly cast as well, from the Majordomo of the Sinspire, Selendri, who was tragically burned all over exactly one half of her body, to Captain Drakasha, a badass mum of two small children who charges into battle without fear. There’s plenty of intrigue, romance, betrayal and tragedy in the pages of this second volume, and even though the story threads are neatly tied up at the end, the story is by no means over for Locke and Jean. This book has been out for quite a while now, but the third in the series, The Republic of Thieves, is due out in a few weeks time and I am quite looking forward to seeing how Locke and Jean cope with the new trials in their lives.

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy adventure, pirate tales and casino heists, in no particular order. Just be prepared for slow points with elaborate detail.

Warnings: Graphic violence and torture, sexual situations

The Gentleman Bastards

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora, 2006
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies, 2007
  3. The Republic of Thieves, October 2013
  4. The Thorn of Emberlain
  5. The Ministry of Necessity
  6. The Mage and the Master Spy
  7. Inherit the Night

 

Roundup: August 2013

It’s time for a look back at the past month on the Oaken Bookcase.

I realise it’s already the 5th and I completely missed the end of August. No excuses, it’s just that things have been so frantic around here that I totally forgot.

Several things have been going on that have disrupted both my reading time and my blogging mojo. Firstly, not sure if I mentioned this already, but I’m due to have another bub at Christmas time (seriously, my due date is Christmas Day). That’s not much of an excuse but it is making me more tired and less likely to want to do anything in the evenings!

We also had my sister’s wedding during August (congrats!) involving a trip to Sydney, plus random preparations for my brother’s wedding in a few weeks (yes I know, my poor parents).

Lastly, there’s the Secret Blogging Project which I’m not allowed to talk about just yet, but you should see some news regarding that very soon so keep an eye out!

Tea in the Treetops is still on hiatus for a short while until Philippa and I get our busy lives under control, but we hope to have a new episode for you very soon.

To the books! This month was all about sequels – I seemed to read more sequels than anything else. It’s always nice to return to a world and characters that you already know and (most of the time) love!

Reviews for August:

  • Shudder, Samantha Durante (Stitch #2) – Dystopian adventure. Part of a massive blog tour. Incidentally, there’s a tour wrap-up post at Colorimetry with a big giveaway, check it out!
  • Black Sun Light My Way, Jo Spurrier (Children of the Black Sun #2) – Adult high fantasy. Quite a brutal story but wow, cannot wait for the next!
  • Crown of Midnight, Sarah J Maas (Throne of Glass #2) – YA Fantasy. Love, love, love. Have re-read most of it already.
  • The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon – The first in a new series, elements of fantasy, the paranormal, sci-fi and awesome.
  • Siege and Storm, Leigh Bardugo (Grisha #2) – Enjoyable YA Fantasy.
  • Kinslayer, Jay Kristoff (Lotus War #2) – Steampunkish fantasy. Actually this one was in Sept but I’m including it because it’s so very awesome.

Books I read but didn’t review yet:

  • The Throne of Glass novellas 3 and 4, The Assassin and the Underworld and The Assassin and the Empire. I’m not really sure why Sarah J Maas didn’t just combine the four pre-quel novellas and release them as one book, but I suppose they are separate enough stories.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (#7), JK Rowling. I finally finished my re-read of the series and I think number 7 remains my favourite. It’s a very epic ending, and I’ll get around to writing a review of this and number 6 at some stage I hope.

 

Goal Update

  • Goodreads challenge – I’m currently sitting at 64 books read, 3 books behind schedule. I have been reading some rather large books lately, but that’s only part of my excuse… I may have to drop my goal to 90 books for this year I think. No harm in that, I’ve been reading some awesome epic fantasy lately!
  • My list of books that I wanted to get to this year is looking woefully neglected! If I didn’t keep getting such awesome review books to read, I’d make a dent in that. There’s just not enough hours in the day, I tell you!

 

Coming up in September

At this stage I don’t think there are any big events happening during September, but I’m hoping for a big reveal of the Secret Blogging project before too long so stay tuned!

It’s a gorgeous time of year here in Brisbane, warming up towards summer. Have a lovely September!

Review: Kinslayer, Jay Kristoff

KinslayerKinslayer (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Jay Kristoff (website)

Rating: ★★★★★

A SHATTERED EMPIRE
The mad Shōgun Yoritomo has been assassinated by the Stormdancer Yukiko, and the threat of civil war looms over the Shima Imperium. The Lotus Guild conspires to renew the nation’s broken dynasty and crush the growing rebellion simultaneously – by endorsing a new Shōgun who desires nothing more than to see Yukiko dead.

A DARK LEGACY
Yukiko and the mighty thunder tiger Buruu have been cast in the role of heroes by the Kagé rebellion. But Yukiko herself is blinded by rage over her father’s death, and her ability to hear the thoughts of beasts is swelling beyond her power to control. Along with Buruu, Yukiko’s anchor is Kin, the rebel Guildsman who helped her escape from Yoritomo’s clutches. But Kin has his own secrets, and is haunted by visions of a future he’d rather die than see realized.

A GATHERING STORM
Kagé assassins lurk within the Shōgun’s palace, plotting to end the new dynasty before it begins. A waif from Kigen’s gutters begins a friendship that could undo the entire empire. A new enemy gathers its strength, readying to push the fracturing Shima imperium into a war it cannot hope to survive. And across raging oceans, amongst islands of black glass, Yukiko and Buruu will face foes no katana or talon can defeat.

The ghosts of a blood-stained past.

Details

Series: The Lotus War #2
Genre: Japanese-inspired Steampunk, Fantasy
Published: Tor/Pan Macmillan, September 1 2013 in Australia, (Tor – Sept 12 in the UK, Thomas Dunne – September 17 in the USA)
Pages: 618
My copy: the publisher for review

Paper copies: Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Book Depository
E-copies:  Amazon.com • Amazon.co.uk • Barnes & Noble

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Lotus War series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, Stormdancer. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Review

Stormdancer was one of my favourite books of 2012. I’m happy to report that Kinslayer not only lived up to the first epic story but completely surpassed it in awesome. Excuse me while I have a bit of a gushy moment! I’ll try to describe what I love about this book without actually talking about what happens – you need to read that for yourself.

It’s been a few months since Yukiko and Buruu killed Shogun Yoritomo, losing her father and kick-starting a massive rebellion in the process. The Stormdancer and her arashitora have been travelling around to various cities, stirring up unrest and generating sympathy for the Kagé rebels. Since the fateful killing, Yukiko has struggled with crippling headaches brought on by the sudden flood of power through the Kenning, her ability to sense and communicate with life around her.  At the Kagé base in the Iishi mountains, the erstwhile Guildsman Kin is struggling to fit in with the other rebels – they don’t trust him at all and the feeling is mutual. How can their common interest in bringing the Shima Empire and Guild down progress if they cannot work together?

Meanwhile, the Guild is plotting to put a new Shogun on the Imperial throne. Can they bring the four clans together when their loyalties lie on a katana edge?

How to describe my enjoyment of this book? Passion, hatred, heartbreak and determination combine to create a truly epic tale. I couldn’t get enough of it. Don’t get me wrong, this is in essence a very dark story – desperate people doing horrible things to each other to try to free their land from tyranny or bring it back under peaceful rule. I read it mostly through a crack in my fingers and missed my stop on the train while engrossed in it.

I was hooked right from the start – the action just keeps coming and the way the paths of each group are threaded together makes it almost impossible to put the book down. There’s an almost ASoIaF-style structure to it – there are several characters telling their story throughout the book and each chapter is devoted to one character. Occasionally I found myself wishing sections would hurry up because I enjoyed some of the story threads more than others, but mostly the action is passed between the threads so the tension stays high all the way through, dodging through all the unexpected twists in the story.

The overwhelming highlight of this story for me continues to be Buruu and Yukiko’s relationship. Their often-hilarious banter lightens up what is otherwise a pretty grim tale, especially since poor Yukiko spends the entire time in agony with crippling migraines and blood pouring out of her nose. Not the most glamorous way to save the world.

There are new characters to get to know and some that were in the background become integral parts of the action. Kin’s part in this story is quite unexpected – I have no idea what’s coming for him! Also, Michi – while the consummate rebel bad-ass, she’s pretty much a psychopath. She makes me shudder, and not in a good way!

Then there’s Jay Kristoff’s writing style. I love his lyrical descriptions and settings – the action in Kigen City makes me feel all gritty and dirty, and the scenes at sea or in the Iishi Mountains are almost a relief. Although the characters tend towards the melodramatic at times, they have realistic reactions and my heart broke or rejoiced right along with them. I may have said this in my Stormdancer review, but Kristoff is not afraid to torture his darlings. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted!

I’d recommend this series to those who enjoy gritty, raw and completely brilliant fantasy. The fact that this is described as Japanese-style Steampunk is just an added bonus, right? I cannot wait for the final instalment – in fact it is likely to be my most anticipated release of 2014. Bring it on!

 

The Lotus War

Stormdancer Kinslayer  Book 3 tbr: 2014

 

What did others think of Kinslayer?

  • “It is a brilliantly written, emotionally-packed book. But I must warn you, it’s going to break your heart. ” – Kat @ Cuddlebuggery
  • “Kinslayer is the second book in the Lotus War trilogy and Jay Kristoff Empire-Strikes-Backed the hell out of it.” – Dan Schwent @ Goodreads
  • “With his signature prose, elegant and descriptive, and an extended cast of characters to follow and learn about, to love and to hate, as well as the beginnings of an all-out war, Kristoff has here a sequel that you’ll wish you had read it slower, breathed in every word and every moment that lingered on every page.” – Braiden @ Book Probe

 

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