Vox Review

Vox, by Christina Dalcher, had me angry at the first page. Within the first chapter I could see the importance of having a voice and was surprised by the extent of cruelty inflicted by taking it away from women. A review on the front cover claims the novel is a modern retelling of The Handmaid’s Tale and while it features similar themes and holds a commensurate premise Vox does not anounciate the point quite as artfully.

When Congress decide that women should no longer hold jobs, money or a voice human rights step back about 100 years. Jean, formally a scientist researching ground breaking techniques to develop cures for brain damage effecting speech, is forced from her laboratory, strapped with a wrist band restricting her to 100 words a day and made to silently raise her children. But when the president’s brother has an accident that renders him at the mercy of the completion of Jean’s research she offered a rare chance at freedom. When provided her laboratory and voice back Jean is not only given the chance to finish her life’s work but could possibly save her community from The Pure Movement’s tyranny.

Think about waking up one morning and finding you don’t have a voice in anything.

Mirroring The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox follows a young mother. She is similarly minded to Offred before their respective oppressive regimes are installed: uninterested by the rights her predecessors fought for, believing her place in society untouchable. With Jackie drawing similarities to Offred’s Maura Jean is given the chance to fight for her rights but states she’d prefer to remain in her bubble. This stark reality Dalcher faces her readers with is a point Atwood made three decades ago: many young women would be in denial until it is too late, the novels themselves serving as a call to action. Jean’s character continues to develop throughout the novel as she slowly learns to hone the fight that dwells inside her, providing a hopeful undertone that only distracts from the serious nature of Vox’s message.

Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale Jean is given the chance to fight the political system oppressing her. Selected to research the cure Vox’s plot is more event filled than Offred’s story could be. Similarly, both plots intertwine the past with the novels’ present day, explaining the events, thoughts and feelings that led to the current situation, exploring each women’s thoughts and feelings at the time. Vox’s plot has a bittersweet effect on the overall message, the ending feeling much less powerful than The Handmaid’s Tale. With Jean’s ability to fight back a feeling of optimism is conjured throughout the novel and the events felt somewhat less shocking as our protagonist takes action against the regime. Offred’s fear and powerlessness makes The Handmaid’s Tale so startling as women realise the irreversibility of loosing their rights, understanding that it would take many lives and whole decades to regain those freedoms. This aspect was missing from Vox’s tale, given the illusion that Dalcher had almost missed Atwood’s point, making the novel less plausible and giving readers a comfort that such serious breaches of human rights could be easily fixed.

The writing style presented was akin to that of The Handmaid’s Tale. With a first person narrative lacking in description and flooded with our protagonists’ thoughts it is a personal and trialing read. With Jean’s narration at the helm the novel is compelling and relatable, her struggle with the ever changing dynamic in her family and the loss of her job prominent throughout the prose. Her status and modern way of life makes Jean a more relatable character to Offred, although both tales are harrowing. The novel interweaves the past with the present, demonstrating slow and detrimental conditions women began to face.

The balance, between the present and past, was well struck: the novels pacing never faltering and the two timelines were written well in conjunction to each other. The added plot points made Vox more intense than The Handmaid’s Tale, the storyline busier and more cluttered. The novel felt slow in the middle and picked up noticeably towards the end, although it never felt too much of a step up and didn’t lag to the point of boredom.

Vox makes a more political and current statement than The Handmaid’s Tale, referencing current affairs such as a wall surrounding America and alluding to America’s current political system. With fictional President Sam Meyers in charge, who’s policies and attitudes towards women allude to that perceived from some government officials, the events of this dystopian are set into motion. Vox includes particular details as it describes the detriment of society and women’s rights, presenting the reader with an extreme that gives them pause to debate the possibilities. The strange society Jean now lives in is closer to current society than Gilead was in The Handmaid’s Tale. As men remain at work and women are trapped in their homes and the novel presents a cruel reality that many will recognise from history. This startling realisation makes the novel all the more upsetting as readers are forced to comprehend with the unfair way the country was once run and the anger at how unprogressive some attitudes can still be. Although the novels relevance and illusions to current politics render it shocking, the narrative is only relevant within the coming years. The novel is set in our present and, again unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, Vox suggests the time it is in: describing technologies, lifestyles and school systems that any reader would recognise as modern. This familiar world makes a powerful point: speaking directly to the reader about the current political climate and addressing reader’s, and Jean’s, unreliable security.

My fault started two decades ago, the first time I didn’t vote, the umpteen times I told Jackie I was too busy to go on one of her marches or make posters or call my congressmen.

Jean’s relationships with the men in her life is difficult following the political shifts in society. Having had an affair prior to the events of the novel her relationship with her husband has always proved difficult, the events of the novel and his place in government providing further strains on an already strained relationship. As Jean and her daughter are unjustly treated in society she begins to resent her husband more, making his character arc all the more interesting, the novel missing more exploration of Jean’s feelings towards him at the end of the tale. Jean’s relationship with her three sons becomes increasingly difficult as she is left mute. Unable to speak she plays an almost robotic role in her children’s lives, no longer able to discuss their schooling or social plans with them. This is explored further through Jean and his oldest son, who represents a generation of brainwashed teens, Dalcher using this pivotal character to represent the large and quick shift in society. His fallible arguments shock Jean as it slowly dawns how easy it is to manipulate people, including her own children.

Julia and her family present another set of complex relationships. Her mother, Olivia, represents the doting wife women must now aspire to be and demonstrates how, even those who relish the new laws, are not safe from its tiranies. Julia, meanwhile, is more complicated. Jean often draws parallels between Julia and her own daughter, Sonia, both young women displaying the stifling growth of the next generation of women Meyer’s government has led to. When Jean’s eldest, Steven, enters into a serious relationship with Julia Dalcher takes the opportunity to demonstrate to readers the effect of The Pure Movement on young relationships between impressionable teens.

One thing I learned from Jackie: you can’t protest what you don’t see coming.

Similar to The Handmaid’s Tale Vox makes a point that women are not safer in a male dominated society that discourages infidelity, making references to brothels for the elite and wealthy men in society. Although not as focussed upon it does discredit what few merits the new system is attributed throughout the novel. Furthermore Jean’s world view is expanded in Vox to see how these restrictions have effected different families. While one neighbour is punished for an affair the President’s wife, a former super model, is drugged to facade her diligence. Both women show Jean the faults with this system, epitomised by Julia’s elicit relationship and the pain it later causes her.

This novel felt appropriate for both teenagers and adult. The subject matter is just as relevant and although some graphic scenes are discribed it’s not as distressing or gruesome as The Handmaid’s Tale. With references to sex, torture and murder the novel is not appropriate for younger readers and contains darker themese while handling delicate and important subject matter such as racism and sexism.

Evil triumphs when good men do nothing. That’s what they say, right?

Overall the concept behind Vox is well developed. A modern retelling of The Handmaid’s Tale provides a fresh perspective and brings and shocking tale back to life for another generation. However the novel presents and unrealistic plot and Jean’s priveledge of going back to work and regaining her voice makes the novels potentially shocking point frivolous.

⭐⭐⭐/5

Finale Review

The final novel in the Caraval series, Finale, is one of the most highly anticipated novels of the year. With the sinister ending of Legendary still looming over readers heads it’s no wonder how desperate Garbers loyal readership was to finish the series. However this anticipation begged the simple question: could any conclusion truly live up to these phenomenal expectations?

With the promise of the Fates return, released from a pack of playing cards that previously kept them prisoner, Scarlett and Tella can do nothing but wait. Grounded by their comatosed mother, unsure how to fight and nervous about the assuring doom they’re bound to face, nothing can prepare them. Surrounded by untold truths and desperate lies the sisters embark on the most dangerous game they are yet to play as their quest leads them to fated lands in search of long lost objects. Meanwhile time is running short in Valencia as the Fates turn their greed to its struggling population, guiding them with elusive and sinister lost heirs. With a Kingdom unknowingly rested upon this task, and the illusory comfort that it is only a game lost Scarlett and Tella are in more danger than ever.

I used to love the idea of something being so tremendous that it was worth dying for. But I was wrong. I think the most magnificent things are worth living for.

Having narrated a novel each, Scarlett and Tella share the recount of Finale. With Tella’s fiesty personality and quick temper her chapters stand apart to her sister’s reserved and cautious ones. This dynamic makes both women and their respective chapters distinctive as they each show bravery in their own way, both in a frenzy to protect the other. While Legendary taught Tella to be brave Finale teaches Tella loyalty as she is appraised more than ever: her childhood fascination with Legend growing dangerous and her plight as she struggles to cope with the risks Scarlett must take. Her character development, although less of a focus in this novel than Legendary, is still complex as she learns the value of her choices and decisions.

Scarlett, meanwhile, is forced to be audacious where she’s always favoured protective. It falls to her to step into the path of danger, aligning herself within the Fates’ twisted game, demanding a gallant composure she has previously lacked in earlier novels of this series. Throughout Finale Scarlett slowly develops under the cruel circumstance she is forced into. During the events of Caraval and Legendary she has learnt to trust Tella to be responsible for her own safety, however now she must form a character of her own, away from Tella’s protective older sister. This multifaceted challenge shapes Scarlett for the remainder of the novel. Her first step to independence, proposing a game between her two suitors where the prize is her hand, is jovial and cruel however this protagonist is quick to realise and her character continues to shape from there: becoming shrewd and intrepid as the novel progresses.

I’m the villain, even in my own story.

The plot of Finale is engaging enough. The ending was somewhat confusing, particularly Scarlett’s place, appearing particularly out of character and random, while Tella’s conclusion felt better suited. Paloma was disappointing, after the build up and struggle from the first two novels, she presents little interaction with the events of the novel while still remaining pivotal to the plot. The storyline was further perplexing and muddled as the characters explored various options and potential solutions for defeating the Fates. Often various leads feel random or pointless and the focus on Tella’s romance was somewhat repetitive and tiring, while Scarlett’s romantic game was resolved quickly and added little gravitas to an already cluttered storyline. Overall, however, the events are engaging and interesting bolstered only by the sinister backdrop and crucial character development talking place.

The pacing felt even and kept the novel engaging. Finale lacked the structure the Caraval game has always provided but the world still felt magical as Scarlett and Tella were faced with an even more difficult task. The storyline progresses slowly and rarely appears to drag, even when the plot hops between the different plans, yet it never feels like it’s dragging. Finale doesn’t feel slow, even when the sisters were merely waiting for the Fates to appear, however the pointless leads and random events could frustrate some readers.

Setting the novel in Valencia, introduced to the reader in Legendary, was creative and exciting. Having explored the city through Tella’s curious eyes in the last novel made its decline under the fates return even more prominent, highlighting the loss the Fates’ destruction would cause to such a enchanting setting. The inclusion of Fated objects and Fated places added a new element to the series, previously restricted to Legend’s magic and capabilities and this extension added a unique dynamic to the environment. The brief visit to the past only added to the complex world building and both these settings breathe fresh life into what could have become stale backdrop. A multitude of locations are presented to the reader during this novel and, although not fully explored, they leave an enchanting feel to the world as the implication of further wonders and sinister ploys is suggested.

Garber’s writing has only improved throughout the series, Finale at its pinnacle. Enchanting descriptions, illusions conjured with vibrant colours and a dusting of beautiful quotes creates an exquisite ensemble of this spectacular world. The almost fairytale feeling of the novel did somewhat contradict to the more serious and deadly subject matter, a line Garber has always been treading in her work, creating a picturesque fairytale and tainting it with monsters. The enchanting world spun up in this tale, made even more vibrant through the eyes of Scarlett and Tella, and the compelling touches of lost love make this novel well written. The prose provided only sparse descriptions of locations, picking up unusual and quirky details rather that in depth descriptions, often leaving settings to the reader’s imagination. This technique gave each location a storytelling vibe as peculiar details could be slotted together to build an overall picture of the events.

He smelled of magic and heartbreak, and something about the combination made her think that despite what he claimed, he wanted to be her hero.

Love remains core to Finale’s plot. As previously developed in her previous work the plethora of complex relationships are explored throughout the novel as Garber encourages the reader to consider what drives each character. While Scarlett and Julian present the passionate love affair that usually drives YA stories, it’s Tella’s cliché love triangle that takes centre stage. As Tella chooses between two men who desire to possess her more than anything her choices for happiness appear restricted. With neither suitor acting particular well throughout the novel it was troubling to read Tella, an independent and forward thinking character, so desperate to fall in love. Scarlett’s love triangle, although less central to the plot, was also disappointing as she favoured childish games over the use of communication and careful consideration, dragging along her potential suitors in a cruel manor. Both relationships glorify unhealthy romantic tropes.

The sibling relationships featured throughout the series were touched upon. Tella and Scarlett appeared to be drifting apart, the independence they’d shown in Legendary persisting as they slowly and sadly left each others lives. Meanwhile, Julian and Dante, although said to be brothers, played little part in each others stories, carrying only a passing interest in their relationship. Although the odd moment of brotherly advice or loyalty was conjured they remained mostly isolated throughout the novel. The breakdown of the sibling dynamic that always featured so heavily in Garbers writing was disappointing. Furthermore, the opportunity to fully explore the relationship between Paloma and her daughters felt missed as the novel persists with romance at its core, the loss of the themes of family truly centralised when Tella explains that she is happy to step out of Scarlett’s life for Julian.

Just because something is real doesn’t mean you believe in it.

The target audience for Finale remains very similar to that of Caraval and Legendary. The novel does not contain particularly dark themes and is digestible for any YA reader. Mentions of sex and death make it potentially unsuitable for very young readers.

Overall I can’t say if I’m disappointed by this final book. It didn’t live up to my expectations but the novels have gained so much traction it was near impossible to. It was difficult for Garber to satisfy a demanding readership and, although a good novel, it wasn’t as compelling or outstanding as I had hoped.

⭐⭐⭐/5

A Curse so Dark and Lonely

Beauty and the Beast is an adorable cartoon with a questionable storyline that screams Stockholm Syndrome. Anyone who grew up with this treasured classic will know, although charming for its time, is not appropriate for a modern audience. This makes Brigid Kemmerer’s endeavour to write a modern retelling even more harrowing and leaves any potential reader questioning whether A Curse so Dark and Lonely can portray strong women, healthy relationships and admirable friendships all the while riding on the coattails of such a demining fairytale.

Harper’s brother is running out of time. Trapped in a stranger’s house, desperate to pay back the loan sharks plaguing their lives he has just ten minutes to get out before she flees. There can’t be a less appropriate time to fall into a fairytale of which the only escape is to fall for a degected Prince who’s played this game so many times he no longer believes he is capable of love. But if she can’t save her Prince, and she can’t save her brother, maybe she can save the Kingdom the curse forgot.

“I am always surprised to discover that when the world seems darkest, there exists the greatest opportunity for light.”

At the beginning of A Curse so Dark and Lonely Kemmerer presents her reader with a strong Belle. Rather than clutching library books, skipping through town or wishing for red roses she’s brandishing crowbars at trained guardsmen, stealing horses and scaling trellises unhindered by the effects of her cerebral porsey. Although a strong lead Harper is still flawed: judging those around her too quickly and leaping to ill thought through decisions and conclusions. Her character develops throughout the novel to finally become the mature and thoughtful queen she spends so much of the novel impersonating is pivotal and engaging. Along the way she also gains confidence in herself and her abilities to help people, an insecurity she harbours from being useless as anything other than lookout for her brother as he struggles with the loan sharks. The mature emotional development she demonstrates throughout the novel, coupled with her fiesty character and strong moral sense, makes her an excellent female protagonist.

Rhen, meanwhile, is caught mid character arc. Much like the cartoon beast some readers will remember from childhood he has lost his arrogant ways as the guilt and severity of the curse seeps in. But, unlike his Disney equivalent, he doesn’t learn table manors from his Belle. The fight and moral duty instilled by Harper throughout the novels allows Rhen to show complicated moral character development throughout the story, realising he can do more than wait to fall in love. His transformation from hopeless to spoiling for the inevitable fight makes his storyline unique, this progression adding hopeful tones to the novel as the reader too begins to admire the hope Harper is bringing to Rhen’s land.

“Failure isn’t absolute, just because you couldn’t save everyone doesn’t mean you didn’t save anyone.”

Rhen, meanwhile, is caught mid character arc. Much like the cartoon beast some readers will remember from childhood he has lost his arrogant ways as the guilt and severity of the curse seeps in. But, unlike his Disney equivalent, he doesn’t learn table manors from his Belle. The fight and moral duty instilled by Harper throughout the novels allows Rhen to show complicated moral character development throughout the story, realising he can do more than wait to fall in love. His transformation from hopeless to spoiling for the inevitable fight makes his storyline unique, this progression adding hopeful tones to the novel as the reader too begins to admire the hope Harper is bringing to Rhen’s land.

Central to the plot of the original fairytale is love. While readers enter A Curse So Dark and Lonely expecting a beastly lead cajoling the young Belle to love him while trapping her in his castle, they are in fact presented with Rhen whose all but given up on destroying the curse and Harper who couldn’t care less for romance given the circumstance. Rarely, the focus in this retelling is not on the blossoming moments that the original fairy tale centralised but instead on a forlorn prince, fiesty heroine and resigned guard attempting to salvage what is left of their ruined Kingdom. The decision that they have bigger priorities than their personal happiness which this story pivots is a unique and refreshing take, delivering a far more genuine story for the reader to invest in.

Central to the plot of the original fairytale is love. While readers enter A Curse So Dark and Lonely expecting a beastly lead cajoling the young Belle to love him while trapping her in his castle, they are in fact presented with Rhen whose all but given up on destroying the curse and Harper who couldn’t care less for romance given the circumstance. Rarely, the focus in this retelling is not on the blossoming moments that the original fairy tale centralised but instead on a forlorn prince, fiesty heroine and resigned guard attempting to salvage what is left of their ruined Kingdom. The decision that they have bigger priorities than their personal happiness which this story pivots is a unique and refreshing take, delivering a far more genuine story for the reader to invest in.

The writing style felt simple yet effective. There weren’t many descriptions to embellish the world building but the first person narrative made it easy to understand and connect with the protagonists. The well known setting the author favoured meant readers could confidentially build up a picture of the events of the novel without needing many extra details and the complex and tense discussions between our three protagonists served to highlight their ongoing character development. There were few monologues to delve into each characters individual feelings leaving the reader guessing as to whether the curse could be lifted and questioning if the events of the original fairy tale would come to pass. The novel was, surprisingly, event driven rather than character driving giving it a more adventurous take on the predefined plotline.

“We are all dealt a hand at birth. A good hand can ultimately lose – just as a poor hand can win – but we must all play the cards the fate deals.”

The plot of the novel was unique and unexpected, Kemmerer broadening far beyond the original fairytale yet still keeping a few key elements. This difference leaves readers guessing as to how she will take the plot, her characters far away from the original storyline. Rather than remaining in the castle, slowly falling in love as would have been akin to the original tale Harper reaches out to explore Rhen’s world as they attempt to give the realm the leadership it has lacked since Rhen’s father’s death. The pacing was well done, the novel never feeling predictable as Kemmerer strives to constantly thwart her characters through the dangerous surrounding circumstances or through Lilith, the tale is well constructed. The additional plot points create an engaging and charming storylines that encompasses crucial and interesting themes the original tale never explored.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely takes libities on the word ‘modern’ in its retelling. Disappointingly it is not set in the modern world and instead follows Harper to a magical realm where the retelling is carried out. The world felt unoriginal for a fantasy setting: almost medieval age living conditions, a feudal system hierarchy and predictable monarchy. However the familiar setting made for easy world building as Kemmerer takes well known constructs and simply embellishes them, adding detail to what is already familiar to most fantasy readers. Few details of Washington DC are provided and, despite our heroine being American readers of any nationality will understand the simple city setting presented.

“I’m not going to fall in love with you,” she says.

Her words are not a surprise. I sigh.

“You won’t be the first.”

A Curse so Dark and Lonely takes libities on the word ‘modern’ in its retelling. Disappointingly it is not set in the modern world and instead follows Harper to a magical realm where the retelling is carried out. The world felt unoriginal for a fantasy setting: almost medieval age living conditions, a feudal system hierarchy and predictable monarchy. However the familiar setting made for easy world building as Kemmerer takes well known constructs and simply embellishes them, adding detail to what is already familiar to most fantasy readers. Few details of Washington DC are provided and, despite our heroine being American readers of any nationality will understand the simple city setting presented.

A Curse so Dark and Lonely does not only draw on romantic love as the only form of relationship presented, like the cartoon and fairytale do. Friendship is somewhat more central to the overall plot as Grey’s loyalty to Rhen is often proved to go above his bound duty while Rhen continuly puts Grey’s needs above his own. Furthermore, Harper’s relationship with Zo, the midnight chats and inside jokes, presented the reader with a pair of women who built each other up and lent each other strength in a way few literature heroines do. The novel’s focus on the unromantic love each character shows for one another was unexpected and well written, adding an important dynamic to the plot.

“I had no time to say goodbye. But she knew I loved her. I knew she loved me. It is not the moment of passing that is most important. It is all the moments that come before.”

Despite the whimsical fantasy feel the novel presents it does contain some darker themes. There are trigger warnings for suicide, murder and torture which some may find distressing. The novel is not particularly graphic in its descriptions of these events however and the novel is manageable for most older teen readers and young adults.

Overall this retelling presents unexplored themes of friendship and bravery that always lacked from the original tale. Providing a refreshing take while presenting the reader with many defining character arcs and heart warming scenes of bravery Kemmerer crafts a well written and enchanting tale, adding crucial and complex layers to a questionable fairy tale.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Red Queen

A recommendation printed on the back of Red Queen announces that it’s ‘a clever blend of The Hunger Games, The Selection, Graceling and Divergent’, and I can’t argue. Rather than adding to an already saturated market it blends together established tropes and story telling techniques in a cliché, unoriginal and predictable fashion that has a premise of so many other big YA novels. Crucially the novel also presents negative and damaging tropes to young readers.

In a world ruled by those with magic, the Silvers, the Reds are left as fodder for their wars and used only for labour. Mare is the oldest daughter of her impoverished red family who are struggling after conscription took away her three older brothers and the war left her father in a wheelchair. Without a job and facing conscription herself Mare is left as nothing but a thief, forced to steal from her own struggling community. But when it is revealed that she has powers only silvers should possess she learns that poverty and war are not the only perils her world holds. Desperate to keep her talents secret the monarchy force Mare into Silver society knowing they must do anything in their power to prevent an uprising. Surrounded by revolution and treasonous plots Mare is slowly discovering not everything is as it seems in the upper echelons of her society.

“All together you are poor, rude, immoral, unintelligent, impoverished, bitter, stubborn, and a blight upon your village and my Kingdom.”

Mare’s status at the beginning of Red Queen is unique: she is dependent on a younger sister, struggling with her inadequacies and not the confident, capable protagonist often presented in YA novels. This made for an unlikely heroine but it was disappointing that this individuality was not reflected in her character or during the events of Red Queen, as she remains self-assured and accomplished as the story progresses, leaving her with very little character development. Her backstory felt very familiar: an impoverished family with a quick and fast teenage girl bent with anger and determined to see rebellion, a feeling she shares with her only, equally athletic and impoverished, male best friend. Red Queen had a strong air of familiarity from the start. Mare is lost and lacking in direction, a theme which persists throughout the novel as she remains unsure of her future. Her development was minimal, maintaining her cocky nature and sure decision making until the conclusion, making the final scene all the more shocking to this young protagonist.

Cal and Maven were often guarded making it difficult to determine character development from simple deception. The confusing undertones and Mare’s own narrative casts doubts on both Princes which left frustratingly little information for any reader to decipher these characters true motives. Particularly for Cal, this made the ending confusing as the reader was told his personality and development rather than shown it throughout the novel. Maven was better crafted. This prince remained less illusive as he was engaged to Mare, making him a more developed and dynamic character. His contribution to the plot was more intriguing as Mare interacts with him often through the events of Red Queen.

“The people rose, the empires fell and things changed. Liberty moved in arcs, rising and falling with the tide of time.”

Despite the overdone premise, Red Queen does present the reader with an unusual, although slightly predictable, plot. The sense of revolution conjured throughout was hardly imaginative, neither was Mare’s character and unique qualities that set her apart from other reds, however the unsurprising plot points that are pivotal to this novel showed more originality. The repetitive writing style made the novels twists and turns disappointingly easy to decipher as the author simply leaves too many clues within the text for the integral illusion of surprise to remain. The story-line is intriguing and the pacing feels smooth. The story never drags and the plot progresses steadily throughout the novel, Mare’s history relayed to the reader in an engaging although predictable way.

Set in first person, the writing style felt clunky, dotted with unnecessary phrases and limited descriptions: favouring a plain, informative approach. The novel presents very few unusual words or pretty descriptions and those few added felt at odds with the remaining stoic prose. Red Queen’s writing style is easy to read and entertaining enough but lacks any personality which would embellish the novel. Furthermore Mare’s unreliable narrative; casting doubts across the motives of other characters, made it difficult for any reader to build up a true picture of the events. This suspicion made it particularly difficult to gage Cal’s character, who rarely makes an appearance except in Mare’s suspicious ramblings. This sense of distrust Aveyard conjures makes the novel’s ending confusing.

As is cliché to the genre relationships are central to the plot. The ever present love triangle trope makes another appearance, although presented to the reader in a slightly unusual way: it was difficult to decipher which feelings were real and which were put on to make political gains, drawing more parallels between this novel and popular dystopian The Hunger Games. Mare’s determination to focus on her rebellion, family and friend was refreshing although somewhat half hearted given the plot, ultimately, revolved around love. There is a strong sense of romance throughout the novel that steered large proportions of the plot. The romantic build up between Cal and Mare was confusing. With little introduction to Cals character past Mare’s suspicions. It was confusing why this relationship was so pivotal to the plot, the budding romance formed of scarce interactions making it feel almost random.

The portrayal of female relationships is what ultimately makes Red Queen a disappointment. The female characters presented to the reader show disparagingly little respect for each other. Mare’s jealousy of her sister, her quarrels with Evangeline and the bitchiness between the girls in the training arena was disappointing to read. Each female character, even Mare the narrator and protagonist, acts with her own cattiness, pushing away other women and fawning over men. Meanwhile the two princes, Mare’s brothers and best friend, Kilorn, are heralded for their strength and composure. The women of Red Queen are catty and histerical, easily upset and quick to turn on each other, providing no positive role models to the young women reading this novel.

“Words can lie. See beyond them.”

The theme of trust is prominent throughout Red Queen. Mare is regularly questioning the motives of those around her as a sense of distrust is crafted in the palace, a constant and foreboding backdrop to the events of the novel. As both Princes struggle to gain Mare’s trust, and those around constantly remind her that lies are ripe in the Silver’s world, this theme foreshadows the predictable. This pivotal theme forms the basis of Aveyards plot as the novel endeavours to explore it’s possibilities.

The target audience for this novel would be teenagers. Although there are violent themes, very few scenes are graphically described and I can’t recall any trigger warnings from the material.

“In the fairy tales, the poor girl smiles when she becomes a princess. Right now, I don’t know if I’ll ever smile again.”

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this novel. It adds very little to this genre, presents problematic views of women and, frankly, the writing felt clunky and flat.

⭐⭐/5

The Raven Boys

With the arrival of Maggie Steifvater’s new novel, Call Down the Hawk, coming out in November The Raven Boys has been circulating across social media for the last few weeks. I last read the book a handful of years ago, mere hours after listening to a hilarious, anecdotal rendetion of Steifvater writing process, diving into my personalised copy straight after the event. Having loved it while in university I was more than eager to stumble into a reread when I found the Audiobook, free, on Spotify last month.

Rich, affluent, well bred Gansey wants the one thing his genes never afforded him: magic. Travelling the world in search of a power he can never own, attempting a quest centuries old, spurred only by small methodical breakthroughs, he drags his three idiosyncratic friends into a strange world they are only on the cusp of believing in. But when a fifth joins their group: a psychic’s daughter with no power of her own, answers start to unearth themselves and leads begin to appear. Suddenly, their collective quest pitches from the improbable to the dangerous. As events start to repeat themselves the group begin to wonder if they’re the first to search for the magic Henrietta kept secret. What lengths did the last quester go to and where are they now?

“She wasn’t interested in telling other people’s futures. She was interested in going out and finding her own.”

Characters remain at the heart of this novel. From angry and abrasive Ronan to quiet and mysterious Noah, a multitude of clashing personalities are shown throughout The Raven Boys. Gansey, as the group’s leader, is confident and likeable. His wealth makes him popular while his infectious love for the supernatural and unwavering loyalty to his friends keep him as an interesting and dynamic personality. Blue, meanwhile, is always described as sensible and restrained, although in reality her character appeared more spontaneous and rash than practical. Apart and desperate to enter the supernatural world her family love Blue never could belong, making it clear why she is drawn so heavily to four boys desperate to find magic themselves. The shared enthusiasm for their plot and ever changing relationships with one another as they gradually accept Blue into their male dominated lives creates an amiable undertone to an otherwise dark novel.

Ronan, meanwhile, was guarded and complex. His fiesty character and alluded asides to forbidden secrets make him captivating and mysterious, the reader desperate to discover what’s behind his difficult exterior. The dark and twisted past he presents, accompanied by difficult family and lack of care for his studies, intrigues readers as it is an oxymoron to the close friendship he has with his hard working, kind and almost kingly roommate, Gansey. Adam is simple and honest. Dreaming of escaping his run down trailer and abusive family he is filled with desperation and hope, the only member of their group who needs the favour Glendower promises. The final member of the group, Noah, is difficult to gauge. Illusive and quiet he feels less developed than the other protagonists, almost like a character added for plot purposes rather than creating a unique personality of his own. The dynamic between these five characters throws an unusual light on this peculiar tale, revealing five questers who are almost as nonsensical as the quest itself.

“Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.”

While most fantasy novels favour the enchanted backdrop accompanied by a whimsical senses of magic and discovery The Raven Boys is all grit and blood. With dangerous, unexplained and aberrant occurrences that almost allude to a Shakespearean sense of perturbing the novel plays on a twisted use of nature. These darker aspects present an unnerving, yet somehow beautiful, prose that unsettles and captivates the reader equally. The setting of Henrietta, a small almost rural town in Virginia, America, nursing an uncharacteristically posh private boys school, in unique. The elegant school and it’s expensive cohort make a stark comparison to the natural mysteries that Henrietta offers, the incongruities between the two creating a compelling and well written backdrop to such a sinister tale. The environs are reflected throughout the characters as parallels are drawn between the wealthy Ronan and Gansey and Blue and Adam, who are both local to Henrietta. These stark contrasts adds a further dynamic to both the world building and the character development presented throughout the novel.

In a similar Shakespearean style the plot stems from a dangerous greed for the unnatural, promising sweet rewards at a great price, led by ambitious and selfish young men. With a sinister story and a foreboding sense of danger, amplified by ominous visions of the future, the plot is dark and twisted, nervously guiding the reader to its conclusion. The pacing is well balanced, the events spaced evenly and the tale never dull. The confusing and anomalous events of The Raven Boys make the plot unclear at times, with plot points alluding to future events that do not currently make sense in this novel’s context. This only adds to the already sinister undertone Steifvater has created. These unexplained mysteries and dark offerings of potential futures create an eerie atmosphere and foreboding sense of danger as the reader is unknowingly dragged from their comfort zone, desperate but fearful to see where this dark tale is heading.

Class is a prominent theme throughout the novel. With Ganseys wealth giving him a status he doesn’t deserve, rarely humbled as he glides through his expensive life it is often used in contrast to Adam. Adam’s worn out, second hand school uniform, struggling income and outstanding grades that pay for his place at private school creates a struggling yet determined character. Of all the Raven Boys in this novel Ronan is most oblivious to the money his father has bestowed. Ignoring the expensive education and indulging in the exclusive life he is accustomed to his care free attitude is of great envy to Adam, his education so taken for granted he rarely tries. This theme is often explored throughout the novel as Steifvater examines the various characters at their school and the desperate need money can have on individuals as the plot progresses.

The changing dynamic and relationship between the five protagonists in The Raven Boys are constantly explored in the prose. As a budding and almost awkward romance develops between Blue and Adam, awkwardly appearing around their friends, the group slowly begins to shift to accept this new presence. With Blue’s influence her new friends become more aware and embarrassed by the wealth they’ve come to expect, as a deep routed friendship starts developing between the four from a mutual curiosity with magic. The individual percularities of each character combines together to form an unusual dynamic that remains a basis for the rest of the plot. Throughout the novel Gansey’s unusual choice of friends is often discussed, his relationship with Adam and Ronan being almost fatherly. This complex friendship is unusual and suggests further development as the series inspects the extent of each of their loyalty and the lengths they’ll go for one another.

“They were always walking away from him. But he never seemed able to walk away from them.”

The Audiobook of this novel can be found on Spotify. The slow American drawl of the narrator was difficult to acclimatise to at first, given the accent is so different to my own, but overall it is more authentic and ties in well with the plot. The book is well read: the narrator keeps a good pace and the volume is not pitchy. The reader masterfully creates each character with their voice, from Adam’s slow and defeated drawl to Persephony’s airy and mindless tone, adding another depth to the novel and helping the reader understand which character is talking. Overall the audiobook is well read and I would highly recommend this as a way to digest the novel, the reading making it more engaging and entertaining.

The characters in this novel are at sixth form shortly to be finishing their school careers. The novels sinister backdrop and earie tone lends itself to older YA readers, as do the age of the characters and the darker events presented. There are themes of violence and murder which could upset some readers. The protagonists presented are complex and the novel should definitely be considered creepy.

“Is this thing safe?”
“Safe as life,” Gansey replied.

Overall The Raven Boys is a gripping and sinister read, with compelling characters and a eldritch storyline that plays on a Shakespearean approach to the supernatural. It’s complex plot and darker themes make it a creepy yet enthralling read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Throne of Swans

Proudly proclaiming itself as ‘the most thrilling fantasy you will read all year’ Throne of Swans boasts high expectations on its cover. With dull prose, a washed out lead and predictable storyline, sadly this novel does nothing but disappoint. Throne of Swans will be published January 2020, I read a proof I won at YALC this year.

Set to inherit the powerful dominion she is trapped in Aderyn longs for freedom. Seizing her opportunity upon her father’s death, with nothing but fleeting knowledge of the outside world and a dangerous secret, Aderyn leaves for the king’s court, desperate to avenge her mother’s murder that still leaves her dangerously scarred. Suddenly she steps into the dangerous world of secrets and politics she should have been raised in, yet has little understanding of. In a world where nobles are marked by their ability to transform into birds and executed if they loose this power nothing can be more dangerous for this flightless dominion ruler than entering her uncle’s, the King’s, court. Especially when her claim to the throne and the important dominion under her control ensures that the court must surely want her dead.

“We can’t any of us out-fly fate.”

Aderyn, our protagonist, narrates with equal parts niavity and selfishness. As the young, inexperienced and doted upon leader of a powerful dominion her narrative rings with gullibility as she determinedly ignores the advice of others for a pointless quest that she earnestly undertakes, forsaking a dominion she claims to love. The events of the novel are so self inflicted it’s impossible for any reader to truly care about her situation. Even her character development is marred by inexperience: rather than truly regretting her choices or growing in maturity she simply convinces herself of the justification behind her decisions. Her friendship with her flightless maid, Letya, further served to highlight her priveledge and ignorance as they talked endlessly of tiresome problems the flightless face yet never sought solutions, Aderyn’s focus always on herself.

The surrounding characters present little complexities: Aderyn, her mother and her father’s loyal clerk are good, kind and attractive, while the other nobles were ugly, greedy and cruel. Sparsely detailed beyond their rich, greedy stereotypes it is a struggle to recall which noble is which. The central characters show minimal character development throughout the novel: Odette remains ignorant and uncaring about politics or her role as heir to the throne, Aron is portrayed, and the reader is often told, as the perfect just ruler, continuely resentful to have lost his birthright and Lucien is permanently arrogant. While these characters present unique flaws and details that effect the plot none of them overcome these issues or even realise they are flaws, their characters remaining stubbornly flat during the events of Throne of Swans.

World building proved an easy task for the Katherine and Elizabeth Corr as their simple setting was merely a predictable feudal system, the nobles ability to transform into birds providing the only sprinkle of originality. The reader is presented with a cliché backdrop: nobles are cruel to the flightess, a wicked tyrant rules and peasants are left struggling. Although the sparse and unexplained details about medieval castle design is correct the world holds little originality and the setting adds nothing to the saturated fantasy genre. It was further disappointing that the only unique aspect this world held: the nobles ability to transform, shaped the world itself very little. Aside from nobles flying to court and additional landing platforms placed atop castles the world was impacted disappointingly little from this development. The authors favoured the unimaginative medieval feudal system and standard setting any reader would recognise.

The writing style was tedious and simple. Descriptions were few and it fell to Aderyn’s narration to tell of the state of the realm. The reader was told the roads were bad, which dominions were cruel and the kindness Aderyn’s family showed towards the peasants but this world building was never detailed through action or event. Neither captivating nor beautiful, with an unengaging commentary from Aderyn’s perspective, there is little encouragement for a reader to continue. At times it was difficult to discern the events of the novel and impossible to connect with the protagonist from such an uncompelling monologue, the only description the novel presents being a typical ball scene where Aderyn’s dress is described in some detail. The reader is predictably told that Aderyn looks beautiful by a male character and the dreary monologue continues.

Similarly, Aderyn’s affection for Lucien was told to the reader but never shown, as the authors make no attempt to build chemistry between the two characters. Their romance was fast moving, from knowing little of each other to sex in one paragraph without a single conversation in the middle. This whirlwind romance quickly leaves Aderyn and Lucien to a declaration of love as the two begin discussing marriage. Most worrying was Lucien’s demeaning tone and derogatory comments, dismissive at best but more often taken to be bullying, towards only Aderyn. These cruel quips were quickly forgiven and dismissed as Lucien explained his love for Aderyn had fueled his degrading commentary. Lucien’s cruelty and this damaging series of events, a negative trope to be portraying, was never criticised during the novel, a damaging relationship that is often glorified through the YA genre.

He was a good man. But a good man can still do terrible things.

The relationship between Aderyn and her lady’s maid, Letya, was included purely for plot purposes. Again, Aderyn’s affection for this character was told to the reader by Aderyn and was impossible to discern from the dynamic between the two characters. Despite Aderyn’s insistence, her control over her friend, as Letya’s ruler and boss, made the friendship uncomfortable. This fact, although mentioned, is never explored in the text. The brief mention of Letya’s family and the toll her extended stay at court has taken on the young servant, is similarly brushed aside and stirs no compassion in our neglectful and childish protagonist. This friendship further bolstered the disappointing view of Aderyn already emerging: a tendency to be selfish and ignorance of surrounding situations and characters. Her relationship with Letya shaping her character very little beyond what the plot required as the authors never fully address Aderyn’s priveledge.

Trust was a prominent theme throughout the novel. From Seigfried’s persistent questions on the subject to Lucien’s insistence that Aderyn should trust no one a dark undertone was added, foreboding what the reader can already deduce. This theme is used to further highlight Aderyn’s limited understanding of her uncle’s court and her niavity as her readiness to believe others makes her vulnerable. The complex relationships shown throughout Throne of Swans make the reader question motives that Aderyn simply believes as this underlying theme was woven throughout the text.

The plot was predictable and only served to highlight Aderyns flaws: her greed and selfishness leading her to dangerous situations, her niavity compromising her position, all the while the reader cares little as she steps into yet another obvious plot twist. Furthermore, the events of the novel seemed inconsistent. The antagonists appeared to orchastrate varying conflicting strategies that appeared placed by the authors to cause Aderyn as much anxiety as possible without actually considering the purpose behind each event. The pacing felt disjointed as the novel stumbles from one problem to the next without fully finishing the original storyline. This made both the pacing and the plot difficult to follow, all the while the protagonist dragging the reader around these seemingly random events pursuing her own selfish aims.

But I realise, sitting there alone with Siegfried on the roof of his house,v exactly how much I have allowed myself to become dependent on him.

The target audience for Throne of Swans would be older teenagers. With themes of torture, images of death and implications of a sex scene it is definitely not middle grade however the immaturity of the main character makes it difficult to place in the older Young Adult market. Aderyn, the novels heroine, is about eighteen throughout the story.

Overall, Throne of Swans was not the most thrilling fantasy of the year. Ripe with obvious twists and confusing turns it adds little to an unoriginal backdrop disappointingly coupled with an uninspiring and frustrating protagonist.

⭐/5

August Wrap Up

It’s the end of the month and that means it’s wrap up season. Time to say goodbye to the confusion of damp rain, scorching sun and everything in between that was August. Would love to hear your favourite read or activity of the month in the comments section!

Also if you think you’ve seen this post before, WordPress did some weird republishing thing, please ignore it.


What I Read

📚 When Dimple Met Rishi – I’ve wanted to read this ever since my friend told me the main character was a coder, but this ensured nothing but disappointment. Review coming soon.

📚 Into the Crooked Place – oh gosh, this novel, it was amazing. Possibly my favourite read of the year.

📚 Finale – ok, I take it back, maybe this was my favourite read of the year?!


What I Wrote

🧀 10 Realities Library Goers will Know All Too Well – this post was too fun to write, I had to include it here.

🧀 Review?

🧀 Problematic Tropes – I wrote all about the YA tropes that really shouldn’t be glorified so much in front of young people.

🧀


Things I Read Online

🍊 Humongous Books and Do You Read Them – Shaz just effectively summed up all my big book feels in one neat post.

🍊 Why is Harry Potter so Successful – the question we’ve all been wondering, this is a very well written answer!

🍊 2019 What I’ve Read So Far – we had a nice little chat on Twitter about how awesome VE Schwab and her books are, plus there’s some great recommendations here ☺️

🍊


What I Did

Ran a Coding Summer Camp – I mentored a team at a coding summer camp and I can confirm kids are scary.

Went Camping – it’s summer and my friend has this massive tent. It easily fit seven of us, snuggled in surrounded by wild ponies in the New Forest after a tasty summer BBQ

Picnic – ah yes, another picnic. Would it be a summer month if I didn’t meet up with some friends and go Picnicking

Practiced table tennis – they plopped a free table tennis kit slap bang in the centre of London so my friend and I are failing to play everytime we have Chinese (and one Greek meal because we brought a friend who didn’t like Chinese along)

Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo Review

Alexandra Christo’s first novel, To Kill a Kingdom, was a fairytale. From the blossoming romance, sarcastic quips and relatable characters it wove magic and adventure throughout a charming, compelling storyline. Into the Crooked Place is a nightmare. Full of burnt magic, twisted characters, underhand dealings and powerful threats it presents a dark and unexpected tale that drags any reader into its sinuous depths.

Decades ago Crafters, a race powerful enough to create magic, were forced to make a monster: Dante Ashwood, ruler of the realms’ underworld, has stolen their magic to the point of twisted madness. While he will stop at nothing for his mad desire for power it is only when he threatens to destroy the realms and drag the underworld with it that Wesley, Ashwood’s protégé, knows he must be stopped. Unable to watch the realm crumble that Wesley spent everything building he decides to fight his deadly boss with just a group of loyal buskers, a fistful of charms and a team of unpredictable Crafters bent on vengeance. But can Tavia, Saxony, Karam and Wesley, enemies thrown together with one deadly goal, defeat this wicked monsters, or will they loose themselves trying?

“The realms make monsters of us all,” Eirini said.
“It’s not the realms.” The blade felt too light in Saxony’s hands. “It’s the people in them.”

The four protagonists of Into the Crooked Place will snatch any readers attention. With four main narratives, written in third person but infused with individuality and perspective, Christo’s vivid writing allows readers to become intimate with each protagonists’ ambitions and fears, while keeping their personalities complex enough that the plot is peppered with the unexpected. Wesley, Ashwood’s protégée and betrayer, is dark and troubled. Marred by choices and allegiances he’s grown to regret his dark narrative drags readers into his sinister world, showing them his elusive motives and insufferable charisma. Saxony, meanwhile, will go to any lengths to restore what little is left of her family, her chapters sharp with determination and ringing with passion for a war that is more than justified in her opinion. As the fight becomes ever more personal her unpredictability and continual fight morphs as she develops throughout their perilous journey.

It’s through Tavia, Wesley’s best busker, the reader is introduced to the five realms and it’s underbelly, hazy with her jaded moral compass, desperation for escape and regret at the decisions she’s been forced to make. Her longing for freedom and misplaced loyalty makes her chapters unique and uplifting. Our final protagonist, Karam, is Wesley’s boxer. Sworn to protect the magic Ashwood is abusing Karam is spoiling for a fight and desperate to prove herself, her monologues depicting the pain of her past and her need to justify it. Together these four contrasting characters drag the reader through their pasts and present in an intimate yet unreliable journey where readers are never truly certain they understand these characters’ motivations. The choice to show each protagonists biggest regret further deepens the already poignant understanding between the reader and each personality. A plethora of side characters are included to further the plot but remain mostly undeveloped making it clear the readers focus is to remain on Saxony, Wesley, Tavia and Karam.

“If my Kin dies, I will drag you into the doomed spiritlands myself,” Arjun said to Wesley.
“You won’t need to. You’ll be there right beside me.”

In such a complex world Christo weaves a simple yet harrowing plot. The single aim our heroes share: to defeat Ashwood gives their group and the novel structure and purpose. Although this goal is simple it is wrought with complexities that leave nothing to certainty as Karam, Wesley, Saxony and Tavia take a precarious journey to fight an impossible war they cannot afford to loose. A foreboding tone is conjured throughout the novel from its inception when Tavia accidentally coerces a doomed prophecy from a dud orb, which only adds to the haunting tone. Combined with the treacherous mission it becomes immediately clear in this battle, the stakes are high. The pacing, too felt well done as the novel never drags: danger and action balanced well with monologues from characters or scenes from the past. Christo artfully tells her tale with equal parts anticipation and fear, producing a compelling and haunting read.

Cristo’s writing style in Into the Crooked Place is darker than To Kill a Kingdom. Dotted with poetic prose and beautiful imagery the reader sees darker twists and graphic scenes, brutal fights and desperate hopes as they are guided between each dramatic event. At first the multiple often changing viewpoints accompanied by shifting tones made the plot confusing as the reader was slowly introduced to the realms. However, as the novel progresses the internal monologue of each character draws readers into the storyline and their individual struggles while striking the perfect balance between delicate composition and intense action to further the plot. The personal relationship each reader builds up with each protagonist as they follow this dark tale creates a powerful connection that makes each difficulty even more poignant. The writing was beautiful yet purposeful crammed with plot, description and personality that makes it captivating for any reader.

“Magic was a language made from wishing, with glyphs in desire and consonants shaped from dreams.”

The setting of this novel is extremely complex and it is occasionally difficult to fully comprehend the extent of the realms and their powers. Christo attempts to introduce her readers to four multifaceted heroes and their backstories, an unconventional magic system, four realms, an unorthodox government and an underground criminal network. The imagination of her creation is remarkable and the effectiveness and simplicity with which Christo carries out the daunting task of Into The Crooked Place’s world building is impressive. The writing never tends towards clunky as the reader is drip fed information, but they must accept to not fully explore the extent and intimate complexities of Christo’s setting. The vastness of the complex world laid out in Into Crooked Place, impossible to fully probe in just 400 pages, leaves readers yearning for it’s sequel.

Apart from an already saturated genre Into the Crooked Place does not use romance as plot motivation. Although romantic relationships are portrayed throughout the book it is rarely focussed upon in our heroes’ motives. Meanwhile, strong bonds form slowly between this haphazard group, highlighted particularly between the surprising friendship crafted by Karam and Tavia, exploring a new and refreshing trope: enemies to friends. Through Karam and Saxony an LGBT relationship is depicted and it becomes clear to the reader that this is accepted within all the realms. Finally the tension between Tavia and Wesley, as they ponder whether their friendship could be something more is woven cleverly throughout the plot adding a layer of excitement from the potential slow burn romance brewing while not detracting from the events taking place.

“She stiffened but Wesley stayed still, staring at his hand on hers, wondering who would walk away first. One of them always walked away.”

It is not just Tavia who questions the integrity of her world. Morality is a key theme throughout the novel as each protagonist almost compares themselves to one another, questioning how similar they are to Ashwood’s twisted personality. They strive to make the correct decision while weighing up the consequences of each choice, internal turmoil interweaving throughout their stories. Combined with their unsightly underworld origin and complex character this theme is conjured often throughout the course of the novel.

Dark themes persist throughout Into the Crooked Places. There are trigger warnings for murder, madness and suicide. Although disturbing at times and containing graphic battles it is not horror and should be considered a darker fantasy. The target audience is older YA/adult. I managed to win an advanced reader copy of this novel, it will be released in all its glory October 2019.

Overall I would highly recommend Into the Crooked Place, coming out in October. It’s poignant protagonists, captivating plot and enchanting writing make it a firm favourite and I look forward to reading whatever else Christo writes.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale has made its gory entrance on TV screens across the UK every Sunday at 9pm. With the show’s success and it’s sequel, The Testimants, being released on the 10th of September I was grateful to be gifted an audiobook copy by Penguin Random House of The Handmaid’s Tale read predominantly by the actress who plays the protagonist on the big screen: Elizabeth Moss.

With the rise of birth control and infertility the United States is faced with a dwindling population. In the ensured panic a Christian extremist group overthrow Congress and form a new government: Gilead, which treasures the sanctity of life above all over values. Women are valued as mothers foremost and young, working and middle class women suspected of being fertile are commissioned to upper class households as handmaids, their only task to produce a baby by the man of the house for his wife to raise. Gilead claims to be a better and safer society for all women but with the rapid loss of her rights Offred still remembers having a job, money and choices. Dangerously she begins to wonder if, even with the population crisis, she should be viewed as more than just a fertile womb.

“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

Offred’s character was complex. Desperate to fight back and find her family yet unsure how in the strict Gilead setting, her spirit crushed by the hangings, public displays and Moira’s harrowing tale, she is conflicted for most of the novel. Before Gilead she was a young, middle class woman who went to college, had a simple job, best friend and daughter. Offred’s pre Gilead life resembles that of many modern readers making the gradual persecution her backstory explains all the more personal. Her fearful narrative is also congenial, her fear and subtle defiances being more realistic than protagonists presented in many dystopian novels who offer unobtainable bravery and unrealistic abilities. The choice of a first person narrative makes Offred’s fear all the more real and relatability makes Offred a powerful lead. The character development she shows at she gradually decides to fight the system is pinnacle to the story and the journey the reader takes with her.

Gilead’s society slowly unfurls to the reader throughout The Handmaid’s Tale. Written as a diary the narrator assumes her listeners knowledge of her world and the events that led to it, leaving the reader to piece together the history as the tale progresses from minimal details dotted throughout the text. Although occasionally frustrating this innovative world building style creates a unique dystopian that encourages readers to delve into The Handmaid’s Tale with almost an analytical context. Offred’s comparisons to society as she remembers it, which are vague enough to be in the present day as much as the 1980s when the novel was published, are a powerful tool used to express the dynamic and underlying threats Gilead presents. Furthermore, Offred’s diminished world view: confined to one household and one small high street with limited knowledge of the outside filtering through from Gilead sources only, leave both the protagonist and reader guessing the scope of Gilead’s cruelty providing a powerful and haunting atmosphere. The historical notes supplied at the end of the novel supply additional and initially missing information which adds further gravitas to the tale.

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print.”

Female suffrage is central to The Handmaid’s Tale. The inequalities before Gilead are explored in Offred’s backstory through her mothers feminist views, marching for women’s abortion rights and burning sleazy magazines, and through Moira pointing out the injustices she feels as a lesbian. Our narrator shows little regard for these causes until her rights are slowly removed: her job, her money and finally the rights to her own choices and body. Atwood encourages readers to consider the place of women in a modern society as she explores the depth of Offred’s place in the unnerving Gilead regime, bringing to the readers attention that, despite proclaiming itself as a ‘safer’ society high ranking officials still exploit women.

Using the actress who plays Offred in the TV series was a powerful and haunting tool. Although soft spoken at times her poignant telling was harrowing for any reader to listen to, the novel being told from Offred’s perspective making this choice of narrator even more preeminent. As stated in the fictional historical essay at the end of the novel Offred’s story is recorded on a series of tapes making an audiobook version appropriate. The Audiobook’s cast also includes Amy Landecker, Bradley Witford and Ann Dowd. The transitions between the four narrators is seamless and effective, further embellishing this telling.

The pacing of The Handmaid’s Tale is difficult. The first half is slow and methodical as Offred narrates her daily life as a handmaid: focussing on her shopping trips, the gruesome wall and the fellow maids in her household. This slow beginning sets an earie tone to the novel as the reader slowly realises, from knowledge of Gilead society and the population crisis that rape is central to the handmaid’s cruelty. In the later half of the novel the pacing is quicker when Offred faces disruption from her routine as dangerous choices open up to her. The plot is scarce and subtle, led by small sparks of defiance from Offred and tidbits of information about her past and present. Readers are given time to consider the events slowly as Offred navigates them, her small acts of rebellion giving an atmosphere of dread, the foreboding undertone of how Gilead will react to Offred’s small decisions and rebellious spirit ever present.

The novels writing style was simple yet effective. Told by Offred herself the more gruesome scenes are often depicted with similes and Offred’s accompanying reflections, making powerful images for the reader to ponder. Atwood’s use of simple fact like prose over long and detailed descriptions adds an earie tone to the story as the reader is left guessing at what further detail the unreliable narrative has opted not to share. The fictional essay Atwood chose to end the novel with was unusual and well crafted. The historian’s viewpoint added any context the reader may have been missing and a valuable broader viewpoint, previously only glimpsed from Offred’s narration.

“A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.”

The Handmaid’s Tale is not for the feint hearted. With it’s dark backdrop our narrator often swears and there are scenes of rape, murder, suicide and rape portrayed. The details aren’t graphic and I wouldn’t class the novel as a horror but any potential reader should keep in mind these trigger warnings. The target audience is adults.

Overall The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful dystopian. The narrative was harrowing and well written however the pacing slow at first. Although I found the plot unrealistic and suspect it’s more akin to an exaggeration than a foretelling the message is effectively given and remains relevant to readers today.

⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

Uprooted

Jumping onto the ever popular fairytale bandwagon, Uprooted takes it’s reader to a magic realm ruled by an enraged king loosing an impossible war against the monstrous wood that stole his adulterous queen. With its fairytale backdrop and an enchanting premise it presents a popular read to ample waiting readers.

While feudal lords commonly demanded taxes or soldiers, Agnieszka’s village pay a rare price: once a decade the Dragon chooses a seventeen year old girl to live in his tower with him. The girls are often pretty, always exceptional and exactly like Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. But when the impossible occurs and Kasia isn’t chosen Agnieszka is faced with a daunting ten years, all the while questioning why the Dragon would choose her instead?

What an unequaled gift for disaster you have.”

Despite being presented as her principle, and apparently only, flaw clumsiness gives our chaotic protagonist Agnieszka no hindrance. She excels at defeating all offenses the Wood throws at the realm and her aptitude with magic was prevalent from the beginning. Agnieszka disheveled appearance and disregard for pretty dresses, presenting a ‘tom boy’ persona, gave the all too familiar whiff of the overused ‘not like other girls’ trope, each character being besides themselves to express how special she is. This uniqueness in the eyes of the Dragon and her mother was disappointing to read as it implies that feminine qualities possessed by other girls make them weak.

The Dragon’s character was guarded and difficult to engage with, his dialogue always clipped and often cruel, calling Agnieszka demeaning and insulting names, made him difficult to like. I was disappointed by the minimal character development shown by these two pivotal characters, adding to the overall feel that Agnieszka is already perfect in every way. The Dragon’s dry, indifferent and cruel interactions with Agnieszka also remained constant making it difficult for readers to believe in the romantic undertones of the tale.

Kasia, meanwhile, presented a strong female lead. Her humility, selfless attitude and bravery made up in ways Agnieszka’s character was lacking and the friendship between Kasia and Agnieszka was thankfully pivotal to the plot. The dynamic between the two friends provided a refreshing and heart warming embellishment to Uprooted.

And I wasn’t old enough to be wise, so I loved her more, not less, because I knew she would be taken from me soon.

The fairytale setting of Uprooted is the novels best feature. Although not unoriginal, the quant villages, picturesque valleys, ominous wood and medieval court created an exciting fantasy location. The familiarity of this setting gave rise to uncomplicated world building as Novik embellished an already familiar setting.

The relationship between Agnieszka and the Dragon felt uncomfortable. The Dragon being over a hundred Agnieszka being just seventeen made the romance difficult to read, coupled with the teacher student, lord and peasant power balance the two maintained throughout the novel. Novik is careful to include explicit consent between the two lovers, but this didn’t make the romance feel any less like a teenage girl being manipulated by an old man. With this uncomfortable backdrop and power dynamic it was difficult to see genuine chemistry between these two characters, the reader having to be told explicitly by the narrator that love is in fact blossoming. No clues are given within the prose itself: the Dragon’s closed character making his feelings difficult to discern while Agnieszka appearing nothing more than belittled in his presence.

I leaned against his side, his irritation oddly comforting. After a moment he grudgingly put his arm around me.

Like in many fairytales, family and community are persistent themes throughout Uprooted. Agnieszka leaving her community leads to the internal conflict and turmoil featured often in her narrative. Furthermore the Dragon being abandoned by his family at an early age and the complex relationship between Kasia and the mother who gave up on her are briefly noted. From mothers sacrificing their lives for their children, sisters morning one another to brothers quarrelling for a thrown a plethora of family dynamics are presented to the reader and explored throughout the events of the novel, adding an extra gravitas to a theme so rarely seen in YA novels.

The writing style was digestible enough. Simple descriptions with a fairytale like narrative from Agnieszka’s perspective. A dislike of this disheveled yet always exemplary protagonist made her narrative infuriating to read at times. The pacing felt slow at first, Agnieszka’s initial stay with the Dragon and her time at court feeling unnecessarily drawn out. However this wasn’t necessarily to the novels detriment as it added crucial world building and gave the author space to demonstrate the development of the relationship between the Dragon and his seventeen year old ward.

The premise of Uprooted was intriguing and the wood made a formidable enemy, it’s unknown powers and mysterious origin being a source of anxiety to the characters. However it was difficult to feel invested in the crises of the novel when Agnieszka simply always came to the rescue, her seemingly limitless magic often failing her just after she’d saved the day. There were clear inconsistencies in her powers: she’d struggle to do a simple spell one day, then defeat a great evil the next and return to struggling with simple spells after, which made it difficult for her and the reader to be invested in any struggles struggles presented.

As Agnieszka is seventeen the novel is probably aimed at teenage fantasy readers. With an explicitly described sex scene and graphically detailed, gory battles it would be for older, more mature teenagers and young adults.

Overall, Uprooted is disappointing. With an interesting premise and exciting plot it’s despondent there is not a more complex and unique protagonist narrating the tale.

⭐⭐/5