A Crown of Wishes

Author: Roshani Chokshi

Date of Publication: 28th March 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5

Book provided for review via Netgalley. Thanks to Roshani Chokshi, St Martin’s Press and Netgalley for the opportunity.

I was a great fan of The Star Touched Queen when it came out last year – in part because it was fantasy and I love fantasy unendingly, and in part because I was one of the people who really loved the lyricism in Chokshi’s writing. It felt, and has always felt, that the way she tells a story is intertwined with the type of story she tells. The culture Chokshi takes from almost demands it.

A Crown of Wishes takes what I liked in the first instalment and expands it, with the ever popular overarching plot of a fantastical competition. Whilst the Hunger Games trilogy is the most famous, A Crown of Wishes definitely feels more like Caraval to read. Except, in my opinion, Chokshi does it better.

Whilst this is a romance there isn’t just romance here. The development and growth of the two main characters (Vikram and Gauri) is as important as their growing feeling for one another. Both feel like outcasts in their own homes and both are fighting to claim what they feel is owed to them. Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, lives by his wits. Gauri, the Jewel of Bharata, lives by the sword. They’re a classic tale of opposites, which is what makes them so fun to read.

I read this slowly, savouring the way the story was told. It’s not a sequel, more a companion. But it’s still as magical and engrossing as the first.

My Lady Jane

Author(s): The Lady Janies (Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows)

Date of Publication: 7th June 2016

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5/5

Wow. After a month and a bit of being stuck in a reading slump, My Lady Jane has brought me back to the land of the living. I, of course, had been doing my typical stubborn thing of avoiding this – because everyone seems to love it. “It cannot possibly live up the hype” I kept telling myself.

Spoiler – it does.

This is a lighthearted, well written and fantastical re-telling of the tragic story of the nine days queen – Lady Jane Grey. For those who don’t know that much about Tudor England, just know that real life Jane was knocked off the throne after a week and a half by stringently devout Catholic pyromaniac Mary Tudor; otherwise known as the Bloody Queen. Mary torched “heretics” (see here anyone who didn’t believe exactly what she did) by the hundred. So it’s not surprising that when poor cousin Jane sat the throne instead of her, Mary got chop happy and Jane’s head rolled.

I’ve always had a yen for Jane Grey. She is impossibly tragic. If anyone has ever seen that 1986 film “Lady Jane” with Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Elwes, you can almost force yourself to believe that Dudley and Grey cared for one another. In reality this is highly unlikely – they were married for less than a year and it’s apparent that Guildford Dudley’s interest predominantly lay in the crown. However here we have a much more palatable version of events – a love story!

I can’t say how refreshing this was. Jane was sharp and massively enjoyable, and this version of Dudley (named Gifford here – or G) was the right blend of proud, funny and warm, bringing a great foil to her. Side characters include Edward VI and the one day Elizabeth I. The whole thing is magical, hilarious and transporting. The additional of magical shape shifting into animals only elevated things further.

Retellings are common place these days and even the most devout seekers of a re-imagining of history are often coming up dry for new material. The irreverence, and yet at the same time obvious care and love, put into My Lady Jane makes it stand out. This is the curve of a new wave in my mind – a step forward from what Seth Grahame Smith did with Pride and Prejudice et al.

I will be looking out avidly for more from these authors in the future (I hear their next project is Charlotte Bronte and her own Jane, Eyre – YES).

Ariadnis

Author: Josh Martin

Date of Publication: 9th February 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: Two rival lands produce two Chosen Ones – Aula and Joomia. Both lands want a prize; a book of knowledge. But only one Chosen One can prevail. The twist? It’s prophesied that the two girls will need to work together if they want to save their homes.

Rating: 4/5

I often say with my fantasy that I’m looking for something new and different. You can only take so many tales based on girls with hidden talents competing in competitions and winning the hearts of princes or lords (often both, creating the dreaded love triangle) before enough is enough.
Ariadnis caught my eye because it seemed to avoid all of the above. Yes, our main characters are special girls. But that’s not all they are. Both Aula and Joomia are the Chosen Ones of their rival, post unexplained apocalyptic event, homes. Each have their strengths (Aula is literally strong, and Joomia has power over nature) and their weaknesses (Aula is desperate for affection – often driving those around her away in the process of trying to get it – and Joomia is a mute who is unable to use her powers for fear of losing control). Instantly this humanity in the face of a very fantastic setting made both girls compelling.
What made Ariadnis stand out for me was how the central “quest” – trying to get a book of knowledge which was pre-ordained in prophecy hundreds of years before – isn’t really the central theme of the book. At least not for me. My favourite thing, other than the wonderful world building, interesting supporting cast of characters, and great heroines was this; the story was of Aula and Joomia growing up and becoming the people they were capable of being. It’s a coming of age story which is steeped in fantastical elements, and yet it is also incredibly relatable. Aula is every young girl, trying to find love from those around her and responding to rejection with rebellion. Joomia is every shy and introverted teen who is too afraid to stand out, for fear of the expectations attached with it becoming too much. There’s also great diversity here; characters come in a wide variety of colours and sexual orientations – just what modern fantasy needs more more more of.
I also felt that the writing style, especially the sometimes incredibly frequent changes between narrator, worked really well. When you reach the end of the book you will draw your own conclusions as to whether the device is used well (the plot indicates why it is done so very frequently, and I loved the result) – it keeps things fast paced and connected. However it might not be for everyone, so be forewarned if you’re not a fan of this.
I would have liked to know more about the worlds the characters lived in, and would be really interested in a prequel about how the life changing event which set this into motion came to pass. However in many ways this is perfect as a standalone (another rare trait for a fantasy novel). A good, solid read.

Windwitch (Extract)

Author: Susan Dennard

Date of Publication: 12th January 2017

Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis: We rejoin our cast of characters two weeks after the events of Truthwitch; finding some paths merging and others moving farther away from one another than ever before…

Rating: 3/5

This was provided in exchange for an honest review. My thanks go to Susan Dennard, Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for the opportunity 

Just like Truthwitch before it, this extract of Windwitch left me conflicted. Once again there were stories I loved; I will contest until my last that Aeduan and Iseult would cause the book to fare far better, were they the only POV characters. Safi and Merick I found decidedly lacklustre, their stories barely capturing my attention.

There is, as I have said before, a great foundation here. The idea of Witchery and the forms in which it comes is a good basis for a solid fantasy series. However Dennard seems to almost lose control of her characters, carving out mediocre pathways for them instead of forging plot forwarding journeys.

I am interested to read the rest of this, as Iseult and Aeduan on a road trip together is too good of a deal for me to pass up. However has this sample added anything to my experience? Not enough to up the rating or change my lukewarm review.

January Wrap Up

For me the January blues are a real thing – especially when it comes to reading. My job allows me a nice portion of the Christmas holidays off. However come January 3rd all that lovely empty space in the day which I could fill with reading it ripped away – and the real world inevitably settles into the cracks left behind.

 

So considering that rather bleak outlook, six books isn’t bad. Here is my January 2017;

Best Book: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

Worst Book: Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken

Most Frustrating Read: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

Most Addictive Read: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Most Sumptuous Ride: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Most Likely to Make Me Question My Mortality Whilst Lying Awake at Night Too Scared to Fall Asleep: The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough

Tune in next month for more monthly awards!

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