Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Review: Throne of Jade by Naomi NovikThrone of Jade by Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #2
Published by Harper Voyager
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Temeraire

When Britain intercepted a French ship and its precious cargo–an unhatched dragon’s egg–Capt. Will Laurence of HMS Reliant unexpectedly became master and commander of the noble dragon he named Temeraire. As new recruits in Britain’s Aerial Corps, man and dragon soon proved their mettle in daring combat against Bonaparte’s invading forces.

Now China has discovered that its rare gift, intended for Napoleon, has fallen into British hands–and an angry Chinese delegation vows to reclaim the remarkable beast. But Laurence refuses to cooperate. Facing the gallows for his defiance, Laurence has no choice but to accompany Temeraire back to the Far East–a long voyage fraught with peril, intrigue, and the untold terrors of the deep. Yet once the pair reaches the court of the Chinese emperor, even more shocking discoveries and darker dangers await.

Thoughts: I don’t usually start a sequel straight after reading the first book – especially if I adored said first book.  I like to savour the series I love by spreading them across months, and sticking mediocre books in between the gems. So, that I started Throne of Jade right after reading Temeraire is a tribute to the awesomeness of Naomi Novik.

However.

Yep, there’s a big fat “however”. You see, Throne of Jade? It’s just nowhere near as amazing as Temeraire.  For starters, the novel is bizarrely balanced.  I’d say about 3/4 of the novel is spent getting to China – and then the rest is a huge mishmash of action set in Beijing. While this is realistic timescale-wise, it did not make for the most entertaining of books. That said, it’s not as if the novel would have been better if it had been set entirely in China. I didn’t enjoy a minute of the time spent in Beijing – someone scratch Imperial China off my time-travel holiday list.

On top of that, I had some rather serious issues with the relationship between Temeraire and Laurence. For all his supposed genius, Temeraire acted like such a spoiled child in this book. And Laurence? He spent the entire book desperately pandering to Temeraire’s whims. I could forgive Laurence, but Temeraire… just… guh! *strangles dragon* He could get so bloody self-involved! I really do hope that he matures by the next book.

Throne of Jade also lacked the brilliant aerial fleet. We get only a few brief scenes with the gang at the start of the novel, and then they are left behind in Europe. They are some of the best characters in the verse (especially pseudo-love interest and kick-ass dragon rider extraordinaire Jane) and their absence was keenly felt. I’m hoping for a lot more of them in the next book.

Bottom line? A mediocre episode in an excellent series. Nevertheless, Naomi Novik novels = The Bee’s Knees.

Review: Exile by Rebecca Lim

Review: Exile by Rebecca LimExile by Rebecca Lim
Series: Mercy #2
Published by HarperCollins
Pages: 304
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Mercy

Mercy is an angel with a shattered memory, exiled from heaven for a crime she can’t remember committing.  So when she ‘wakes’ inside the body and life of eighteen-year-old Lela Neill, Mercy has only limited recall of her past life. Her strongest memories are of Ryan, the mortal boy who’d begun to fall for her – and she for him.

Mercy soon discovers that circumstances have forced Lela into waitressing at the Green Lantern, a busy city café frequented by suits, cab drivers, strippers, backpackers and the homeless, while caring for her terminally ill mother.

Just as Mercy is adjusting to Lela’s life, her beloved, Luc, reappears in her dreams, and she begins to glimpse her true nature and true feelings for Ryan. What she does not know is that her attempts to contact Ryan may have explosive consequences for everyone around her.  Meanwhile, ‘the Eight’ — the angelic beings responsible for her banishment — remain determined to keep Mercy and Luc apart, forever...

Thoughts: Wow, this book was just… lovely.  Just as ethereal and otherworldly as the first book in the series, Mercy, albeit not quite on the same epic scale. But even still, it was fantastic.  Beautiful and just… lovely.

OK, specifics.  Our amnesiac heroine, Mercy, is as tough as ever.  This is an angel who may not have any idea who she is, but that hasn’t made her weak. She’s fearless and strong – she can do anything, except, well, escape her body. She’s a protector, not the protectee. Mercy is one of my very favourite YA heroines and she deserves more fans!

While I can still call her an amnesiac, she actually grows a lot more aware of her powers, her history, and her relationships with Luc and Ryan. She becomes more “awake”, looking at her situation without the love-spectacles forced on her by Luc. Suddenly things she had never been capable of thinking about – the circumstances that led to her being trapped in mortal bodies, the reasons why Luc actually wants to find her, and her growing feelings for Ryan – become all she can think about.

And while we are only the subject… Ryan. I am so glad Rebecca Lim brought him back for Exile! I fell for him as slowly as Mercy did – it took me up until the last page of Mercy to really start to feel for him. But by the time Exile came around, he was the highlight. This is a guy that fell in love with a body-snatcher while she was wearing the body of an underdeveloped, acne-ridden teen.  In other words, he’s a diamond in the friggin’ rough.

Bottom line? You have to read this series. If you’ve been let down by other Angel YA, this will restore your faith… literally.

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

Review: Beauty by Robin McKinleyBeauty by Robin McKinley
Published by HarperTeen
Pages: 272
Genres: Fairytale Re-tellings, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, "Cannot a Beast be tamed?"

Robin McKinley's beloved telling illuminates the unusual love story of a most unlikely couple: Beauty and the Beast.

Thoughts: Two things you should know before reading Beauty:

1 – Beauty was written in 1978, about 15 years before Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out.
2 – This is Robin McKinley’s very first book.

Now, the first point is key, as there are a number of details with which the book seems to overlap with the Disney film. In fact, as I was reading McKinley’s book, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Disney epic had been based on her novel. Since I adored the film, I had absolutely no problem reading a similar (yet very, very different) version of the Disney tale. Still, it is important to remember that any Beauty/Disney overlaps are not at all the fault of McKinley.

In regards to the second point, I found it rather reassuring to know this was not the pinnacle of McKinley’s achievements. Although I enjoyed Beauty, it was not a breath-taking literary achievement. Having heard so many great things about McKinley’s writings, it was good to know that she’s had 30-odd years since the publication of Beauty to refine her style.

Now on to the good bits. Although I have no knowledge of the first Beauty and the Beast tale, McKinley’s style made me feel like I was reading the original version of the story. It was almost as though I were reading the un-filtered first version of the tale – without the weight of an author behind it, visibly guiding the story. Instead, this book just… was. You know what I mean, right? When you read Beauty, you can’t even begin to imagine someone actually writing it. The book, surely, just came into existence by itself.

And, because of that, I feel rather odd describing my issues with the plot – or rather the lack thereof. Even though, yes, this is Beauty and the Beast, everything still felt rather mundane. Beauty does this, then that, then the other, and then things work out to be such-and-such. It was more of a historical account than a dramatic novel, with none of the twists and curves you’d expect in “real” book.

But still, I really did enjoy Beauty. My unwavering love of the tale probably made me more forgiving of its dull moments… yet, I’ve no doubt that McKinley is a skilled author worth of praise.

Bottom line? Beauty is a must if you are a fan of the Beauty and the Beast tale. But if you’re not, I’d try something else from McKinley’s repertoire.

Review: Temeraire by Naomi Novik

Review: Temeraire by Naomi NovikTemeraire by Naomi Novik
Series: Temeraire #1
Published by Harper Voyager
Pages: 352
Genres: High Fantasy
Source: Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Throne of Jade

When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes its precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Capt. Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future–and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

Thoughts: This book was absolutely, positively lovely. It’s elegantly written, in that detached-yet-emotional style I’d attribute to Jane Austen (in other words, Novik adopts a style that ordinarily makes me yawn). But, despite the style, this novel really really worked for me. Novik doesn’t go out of her way with flowery text – instead she keeps true to the Napoleonic period she is writing in, and allows the characters to speak for themselves.

And what characters. Laurence is not exactly the warm and cuddly type. His strict, rule-abiding nature (along with his tendency to be outraged by the slightest breach in protocol) at first made him rather hard to relate to. He is a product of his environment – a symbol of the age, and whatnot. But as he grows closer to his dragon Temeraire and meets the fascinating cast of characters that make up the Bristish aerial fleet, he starts to loosen that stiff upper-lip of his. It was wonderful to see him come loose, while keeping all the gentlemanly qualities with which he was raised.

I also loved the aerial fleet. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I had been afraid that they would be the same upper-crust and bigoted types that made up Britain’s historic armies. That’s one of my main problems with historical war novels – even though I know they are depicting things in a certain way in order to be historically accurate, that doesn’t make it PC. Novik had the advantage of being able to logically insert a more “modern” group of armed forces into history.

But what really carries this book is the bond between Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. It is an extraordinary, beautiful relationship that made me gush more than any romance could have. It’s a difficult relationship to describe, as Novik’s dragons aren’t pets but neither are they “equals” to the humans that become their captains. Since they can speak, they can become a captain’s best-friend as well as their constant companion. There’s little room for family or relationships when you captain a dragon, yet you would want for nothing.

I found myself thinking about this book whenever I wasn’t reading it. Imagining what the characters were getting up to, and dreaming of their future endeavors. It was a rare pleasure.

Bottom line? If you’re looking for detailed fantasy/alternative-history novel, Novik is a must. If you’re looking for a fantastic novel about dragons, Novik is a must. If you’re literate, Novik is a must. Just don’t be put off by the formal style!

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Review: Delirium by Lauren OliverDelirium by Lauren Oliver
Series: Delirium #1
Published by HarperTeen, Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 411
Genres: Dystopian YA, Young Adult
Source: Received for review from publishers
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Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

Thoughts: I read a number of reviews for Delirium before writing mine, and was surprised by the diverse reaction. There are a ton of glowing reviews out there, a few “I don’t get the fuss” reviews, and a some “this is just a bad book” reviews. And each and every review I’ve read – across the spectrum – I have agreed with. There are some themes are raised by the book that some people hated and others loved – it’s just a matter of taste. You know when you really enjoyed a book when the negative reviews don’t change your mind.

While I really enjoyed the plot and the characters and all of the over-arching themes explored in Delirium – it is Lauren’s writing that makes this book a keeper.  Lauren just has such a soft, elegant style to her writing. She molds and shapes her words and sentences with stellar technique. The way she writes reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater: she writes lyrical books that make you want to draw hearts around paragraphs while you’re reading.  Lauren understands love – not just romantic love, but family love – and her descriptions of the emotion are simply stunning.  This book made me re-examine the relationship I was in at the time, reminding me to appreciate love – and the delirium that accompanies it.

Even though I wasn’t over-the-moon-in-love with all of the characters, I enjoyed their part in the story.  I went in expecting to read a straightforward forbidden romance, but what I ended up with was, well, something else altogether.  Delirium was romantic, but it was also so much more than that.  It was a book about the bonds we share with family, friends and even our pets.  Stunning stuff. Not to mention, it has a few pretty fantastic twists that I never saw coming.

Bottom line?  Go out and get yourselves a copy right now – especially if you are a fan of Linger or Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater.  Delirium is a lovely, elegant novel that I’d recommend to even the most hesitant of readers.  And don’t be put off by the doom-and-gloom you’re rightly expecting – it’s totally worth it.
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