Cinder

Apologies for the delays in recent post. The night is dark and full of terrors, and I have been struggling to find the motivation to write up my reviews over the last few weeks. Especially due to the topical subject-matter of this one, but more on that shortly.

Cinder was written by Marissa Meyer and first published in 2012. It is a science fiction reimagining of Cinderella, set in a futuristic plague-struck Beijing. The novel forms the first part of The Lunar Chronicles and is followed by Scarlet (2013), Cress (2014) and Winter (2015).

Linh Cinder’s skills as a mechanic have been recognised all over New Beijing. She has even managed to catch the eye of Prince Kai, who has commissioned her to repair his personal android. However, she knows that she will always be a second class citizen. Almost everyone looks down on her due to her cyborg limbs and Cinder knows that her stepmother only tolerates her due to the fact that she is useful.

However, when Cinder’s favourite stepsister contracts letumosis – the deadly blue fever – her stepmother is quick to blame her unwanted child. She immediately donates Cinder to the government for medical research, knowing that this is likely to be fatal. With no right to resist, Cinder quickly finds herself at the mercy of Dr Erland. Yet, in doing so, she makes a startling discovery. She is actually immune to the plague.

The secret to Cinder’s immunity is hidden within her mysterious past, and Cinder is eager to crack it if it could result in a cure for her sister. However, the political situation within New Beijing is tense. The Emperor has recently passed away and the barbaric Lunar Queen is eager to marry Prince Kai to secure her power over the people of the Earth. As Cinder gets closer to the prince, she finds herself in a delicate situation. Can she help find a way to save all life on Earth before the Prince is forced to make a dangerous choice – one that could endanger the freedom of everyone?

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Frostheart

Frostheart was written by Jamie Littler and first published in 2019. It is a middle grade fantasy novel which focuses on a young boy with an incredible power, as he is whisked away on an adventure with the eccentric crew of a land-ship. The novel forms the first part of a planned series and its sequel – Frostheart 2: Escape From Aurora – is due for release in October 2020.

For as long as anyone can remember, the Snow Sea has been the domain of the Leviathans. The huge monsters hide beneath the ice, attacking anyone who ventures too far away from the safety of their stronghold. At one time, Song Weavers were able to use their powers to quell the rage of the beasts. Unfortunately, these people have now largely been driven away. After all, the Leviathans could also seize control of the Song Weavers and command them to do terrible things.

Ash has never fit in amongst the Fira. Although he has always struggled to keep his urge to Sing a secret, the Leviathans still call to him and people are starting to get suspicious. Since his parents disappeared, he has been passed from guardian to guardian and now only Tobu – an exiled Yeti – is willing to take care of him. Tobu seems to be intent on pointing out Ash’s flaws as a warrior and trying to prevent him from Singing, but Ash does not really understand why. How can being a Song Weaver be so wrong when the Leviathans sound so beautiful?

When Ash uses his power to save the crew of the Frostheart from the Leviathans, he finds himself exiled from the Fira Stronghold. Fortunately, Captain Nuk is more that happy to welcome Ash aboard her ship. While life on the Snow Sea is dangerous, Ash soon discovers that this comes with freedom that he could never have imagined. Finally he has the chance to follow clues left by his parents in the form of a lullaby – a riddle that could possibly lead him back to them!

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Nevertell

Nevertell was written by Katharine Orton and first published in 2019. It is a historical fantasy story set in Stalin’s Russia, focusing on a young girl’s escape from a terrible labour camp. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

Lina has never known anything beyond the fences of the camp. Although her mother has told her wonderful stories about her Grandmother – a fierce woman who lives in distant Moscow – Lina knows that she is unlikely to ever meet her. However, things change when Lina learns that three dangerous convicts have decided to make an escape. They have agreed to take Lina with them, so long as she can use her job in the camp greenhouse to secure them food for their long journey.

While the escape largely goes to plan, Lina soon realises that she is in big trouble. Not only would her companions kill her without a thought, but the wilds of Siberia are filled with danger. Lack of food and biting cold threatens their every step, and ghostly wolves haunt the darkness. Once these creatures find their scent, Lina soon finds herself separated from the others and imprisoned by a mysterious sorceress who calls herself the Man Hunter.

Lina knows that she needs to find a way to escape, as the only way that she can possibly rescue her mother from the camp is by reaching her Grandmother. She soon manages to befriend Natalya – one of the many once-human “shadows” that the Sorceress keeps as servants. With the help of this mysterious spirit and a little magic of her own, Lina soon discovers that she has the power to achieve the impossible. But will it be enough to get all the way to Moscow?

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The International Yeti Collective

The International Yeti Collective was written by Paul Mason and first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story about a young girl and her discovery of a secretive tribe of yeti. Although this novel is the first part of a planned series, at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Ella is thrilled to be spending her holidays in the Himalayas with her Uncle Jack, a famous adventurer. For his new television series, Jack is determined to prove the existence of the yeti. While the rest of his team is sceptical, Jack is confident that he will be able to use state-of-the-art technology to capture the elusive creatures on film and secure himself fame and fortune.

Tick is a young yeti who knows full well the dangers that humans pose. His own mother was exiled from the tribe for revealing her existence to them. However, Tick’s curiosity soon gets the better of himself as he tries to get a glimpse of Jack’s camp. Unfortunately, this puts his whole tribe in danger. As the yeti try to flee to safety, they are forced to leave behind the stone tablets that contain their whole history. Now that these are in human hands, it can only be a matter of them before humans learn the whereabouts of every yeti tribe on the planet.

It is up to Tick and his two friends, Plumm and Dahl, to track down the humans and reclaim the tablets. To do so, they will need to awaken the International Yeti Collective – a communication network between tribes that has been dormant for decades. Yet the most important help for Tick might come from a very unexpected source. Not all humans are bad, and Ella is eager to prove this…

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Red Winter

Red Winter was written by Annette Marie and first published in 2016. It is an urban fantasy story set in Japan, focusing on a shrine maiden who discovers that the spiritual world may not be as black and white as she was led to believe. The novel forms the first part of the Red Winter Trilogy and is followed by Dark Tempest (2017) and Immortal Fire (2017).

Emi is proud to be the kamigakari. Ever since Amaterasu’s mark appeared on her chest, she has led a sheltered life to ensure that her body and spirit are pure enough to be a vessel for the kami’s power. Although Emi is not sure what the future will hold for her, she is proud to have been chosen and nervously looks forward to the day when she and Amaterasu will become one.

However, not everyone is as keen for the goddess to walk the earth once again. For years, evil yōkai have tried to kill Emi to delay the descension. Due to this, she is regularly moved from shrine to shrine and always protected by sohei – warrior monks. Her final few months as a mortal are to be spent at the remote Shirayuri Shrine and she is shocked on arrival to discover that her new sohei is Katsuo – a boy who was indirectly linked to the greatest tragedy of her life.

Although shaken by seeing Katsuo once again, Emi is determined to not let this affect her duty. However, things start to change as she discovers what it truly means to be the kamigakari and saves the life of Shiro – a kitsune – who should be her sworn enemy. Shiro now owes her a debt, and Emi needs to find a way to change her fate. However, is a single fox’s magic enough to stand up to the power of the gods?

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Zeroes

Zeroes was written by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti and first published in 2015. It is a science fiction story follows a group of teenagers who all possess supernatural abilities, thought don’t have much of a grasp on how to use them. The novel forms the first part of a trilogy and is followed by Swarm (2016) and Nexus (2017).

Ethan Cooper – otherwise known as Scam – has a voice inside him that has the ability to give him whatever he wants. Unfortunately, the voice is not one to consider the long-term consequences of its actions. When Ethan wants a lift home, the voice is more than happy to assist him. However, this soon results in the theft of a drug dealer’s money and his inadvertent involvement in a bank heist that goes horribly wrong.

When he is taken into police custody, Ethan quickly learns that the whole series of events has been caught on film. Now, the police want to an explanation as to how he came to know personal details of a bank robber and not even the voice can get him out of this one. Luckily for Ethan, there are others who can. He once belonged to a group of “Zeroes” – teenagers with powers. Trouble is, he burned his bridges with them a year previously when he allowed the voice to reveal their darkest secrets.

Fortunately, Nate Saldana – or Bellwether – has been looking for a reason to get his team back together. Utilising their skills, the teens manage to rescue Ethan but find themselves in more trouble than they could ever have imagined. It’s not just drug dealers and gangsters that are now out to get Scam. He is also being hunted by the daughter of one of the bank robbers – a girl who has a powerful gift of her own…

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The Secret Commonwealth

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments in this series. You can read my reviews of these novels by clicking the links below:

His Dark Materials:  Northern Lights | The Subtle Knife | The Amber Spyglass | Short Stories

The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage

The Secret Commonwealth was written by Phillip Pullman and first published in 2019. The novel is the second part of The Book of Dust series, set 20 years after the events of La Belle Sauvage and seven years after The Amber Spyglass. The novel tells the continuing story of Lyra Silvertongue – heroine of the critically acclaimed His Dark Materials trilogy – and so I would strongly advise that you read all four of the previous novels to have any idea of what is going on.

Lyra Silvertongue is now twenty years old and has a problem. She no longer likes her dæmon. Ever since Lyra began reading the work of two philosophers who deny the existence of dæmons, she and Pantalaimon have been arguing more and more. Lyra feels that Pan is too critical of things that he does not understand, while Pan feels that Lyra has lost the creativity that he admired in her as a child. The rift between them has led to Pan spending more time wandering alone at night. This is how he comes to witness a murder.

Pan is shocked to see two men savagely ambush another, but is drawn into a larger mystery as he and Lyra uncover the missing man’s belongings. The botanical samples and notes that he carried seem innocent enough at first, but as Lyra reads the man’s journal she uncovers an incredible story about a rose with mystical properties and the Blue Hotel – a place were only dæmons can go. When her room is overturned by others who are desperate to find this research, she learns that she has an unexpected friend in her former tutor, Malcolm Polstead – a man who she is connected to in ways she could never have imagined.

When a particularly vicious argument causes Pan to run away, Lyra is convinced that he must have gone in search of the Blue Hotel. Desperate to find him, she sets out on an epic journey across Europe and beyond. However, danger follows in her footsteps. People are naturally fearful of those who do not have dæmons, and villains from Lyra’s past are desperate to get hold of her in order to have their revenge…

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The Bone Houses

The Bone Houses was written by Emily Lloyd-Jones and was first published in 2019. It is a fantasy story with horror elements, focusing on two teenagers who team up in order to stop an undead army. The novel stands alone, so you don’t need to read any of the author’s earlier work to fully appreciate it. It’s also currently only available to buy as an eBook in the UK, though the hardback is due to be released at the end of the month.

Ryn has struggled to keep her family together following her mother’s death and father’s disappearance. There is not a lot of work for a gravedigger in a village where the dead do not tend to stay buried. The forests beyond the village of Colbren are the domain of the Bone Houses – corpses that have been doomed to wander as the result of a faerie curse. Although the Bone Houses can be very dangerous, they have always been held back by the iron fence that surrounds Colbren. Unfortunately, this does not last.

Ellis has arrived in Colbren for a different reason. The young mapmaker has grown up in the lap of luxury, but has never known his true parents. Using his skills, money and influence, he has made the long journey in the hope of discovering his roots. However, when his arrival coincides with a particularly brutal attack, he finds himself teaming up with Ryn to find a way to stop the Bone Houses.

Their journey takes them deep into the forest and the mountains beyond, tracing the Bone Houses back to their birth place on lands once occupied by a ruthless fae king. Along the way, they also learn more about themselves and discover that their destinies are entwined with the restless dead in ways that they could never have imagined…

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Mossflower

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Redwall. You can read my review of this novel [here].

For tonight’s review, I think it’s time to take another nostalgic look at one of my childhood favourites. Redwall was an epic series of middle grade fantasy novels that was published between 1986 and 2011. It ran for twenty-one books and the series only ended due to the author’s death. The series focuses on a medieval society of woodland creatures, in which the good creatures are forced to fight against those that would enslave them. For the purpose of this review, I am going to be looking at the second book – Mossflower (1988) – only.

The creatures that live in Mossflower woods have long been oppressed by the wildcat king – Verdauga Greeneyes – who rules over them from the impenetrable fortress of Kotir. While their lives have always been hard, things are about to get worse when Verdauga is poisoned by his ambitious daughter, Tsarmina. The wily wildcat is quick to pin the crime on her brother, sentencing him to a life of imprisonment as she assumes her place as queen. Ruthless and psychotic, her first command is to crush any resistance and bring the creatures of Mossflower to heel.

It is truly fortunate for the woodlanders that Martin the Warrior happens to be passing by. When Tsarmina destroys his cherished sword and throws the mouse into Kotir’s dungeons, he swears that he will have his revenge. It is not long before he befriends Gonff – a light-hearted mouse thief – and through him learns of Corim (the Council of Resistance in Mossflower). When the rebels orchestrate a gaol break, Martin is more than happy to dedicate himself to their cause.

Yet victory will not be easy. Tsarmina has an army of rats, weasels, ferrets and stoats at her disposal, while the woodlanders are scattered and small in number. It will take a great leader in order to be able to unite them all and assure their victory. On learning of the location of the legendary badger lord – Boar the Fighter – Martin sets out with a small band of allies to find him. Yet they must hurry. Corim cannot remain hidden forever and, if Tsarmina finds them first, there will be no hope of victory…

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Soul of the Sword

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Shadow of the Fox. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Soul of the Sword was written by Julie Kagawa and first published in 2019. It is the second part of the Shadow of the Fox Trilogy, continuing Yumeko’s quest to deliver a fragment of the legendary Dragon scroll to the Steel Feather Temple. As the novel carries on directly where Shadow of the Fox (2018) left off, you really do need to read the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Although Yumeko and her allies managed to defeat Lady Satomi’s forces, their victory came at a terrible cost. Hakaimono has escaped imprisonment from within Kamigoroshi and has completely taken over Tatsumi. The former demonslayer is now a prisoner in his own body, forced to watch as the monster exacts its bloody revenge on the Kage clan.

Although she is desperate to save Tatsumi, Yumeko does not know where to begin. Hakaimono is too powerful to be expelled by an exorcism and would surely rip apart anyone who tried. Yet a mysterious silver fox appears to her in a dream with a solution. If she can master the dark art of kitsune-tsuki – fox possession – she will be able to drive out Hakaimono from within.

Yet saving Tatsumi is not her biggest priority. Yumeko’s piece of the Dragon scroll still must be delivered to the Steel Feather Temple for safe keeping. The trouble is, no one knows precisely where the temple is hidden. Will Yumeko and her friends be able to uncover its location, or will Genno’s army of yōkai, witches and oni find them first…

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