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Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

31 Aug 2019

Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

The blood of a single family is all that protects Inys from the Nameless One. As long as a queen descended from the house of Berethnet is on the Inysh throne, the people of Virtudom are protected from the return of the fierce dragon, banished a thousand years before. However, the longer Queen Sabran the Ninth rules unwed, and without an heir, the more urgent is the need for a daughter in order to continue to ensure her people’s safety.

Despite the presence of the Knights of the Body, cutthroats are inching ever closer to the queen. Ead Duryan, a lady of the court despite her foreign nationality, has been sent to protect Sabran from forces and fates older than the land she rules. As Ead watches over Sabran and protects her from the shadows, she hopes that no one will discover the true reason for her presence at court, nor the magic which keeps her there.

Fantasy can be such a minefield to navigate – entire worlds and political orders built from nothing but the delicate pen strokes of an author. New languages, cultures and systems can come at the high costs of confusion, tedious prose and a need for constant paging back to check names or events. Not so in The Priory of the Orange Tree.  Even as a fantasy novice, I was enthralled from the first page, and immensely impressed with the world Shannon has created. Think Game of Thrones, but with powerful females leads and written by someone not hell-bent on killing all of the best characters. Or think Lord of the Rings, but at a faster pace and with a far more fluid narrative. Basically, this book is like your favourite fantasy, but better, and with a touch of feminism.

In addition, Shannon has employed various well-crafted skills to keep the reader riveted; romances, power struggles, myths and magic all vie for the reader’s attention in a buffet of tasty morsels. As impressive as the sheer size of the stories between the covers of this book is the fact that each is carefully weighted to add to the main storyline; no subplot is tiresome or too distracting. To read this book is to be transported into another world, the kind that the best and most elaborate dreams are made from, and it is glorious.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is published by Bloomsbury and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

19 Aug 2019

Review: Finale by Stephanie Garber

Caraval may have ended, but sisters Donatella and Scarlett need to prepare for games of an entirely different kind. While Legend prepares to tale the throne he claimed, the Fates have started to wake, and with them, an ancient magic that could change the world. In order to prevent the rise of the Fates, and the cruelties that will come with it, Legend must make sacrifices that effect more than just his life. Simultaneously, the sisters must decide who to trust and what path to follow to save their kingdom and themselves. In order to succeed, they need to learn more about their respective pasts, and uncover secrets that could help them restore order, but at what cost? Is there a happily ever after for the two young women?

There are so many things in this book to love, which make it so difficult to read – the closer you get to the final page, the more you wish the chapters would magically multiply, elongating your stay in the world. It seems to be an impossible feat to finally part with the characters and the immense sense of wonder that Garber has created. And yet we must; all good things must come to an end.

While there is nothing strictly formulaic about this book, it nevertheless adheres to the traditional conventions of the fairy tale – trials and tests conclude with a happy and deserved ending, and that makes it all the more appealing and wholesome. Despite the myriad gruesome acts the sisters are witness to, and the trickery that surrounds them, their love for each other and the men in their lives remains a golden, twinkling constant that wraps the reader in such comfort and joy that it would melt the coldest heart.

Garber is a master at portraying love and the beauty which it creates – cemented here as fantastic magic and impossible feats - and I don’t think there is a higher compliment I can pay her. This book had me wanting to literally crawl between the pages and never leave. The world of Caraval is rich, vibrant, and awe-inspiring, much like the characters themselves. This is a faultless narrative that makes the reader believe in the impossible, cherish the important, and stare in wonder at endless possibility. This book, like the world it contains, is nothing short of true magic.

Finale by Stephanie Garber is published by Hodder & Stoughton, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Review: Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

Cari Mora is the caretaker of a house with a turbulent history. Abandoned save the remnants of the movies filmed within it, the house is victim to a history of wealth. Originally belonging to Pablo Escobar, and subsequently the plaything of rich directors, it is a shell of its former grandeur. Yet like an oyster, it hides at its heart a secret; not a pearl, but gold. Several million dollars’ worth, to be precise. Leading the hunt for this prize is Peter-Hans Schneider, a troubled treasure seeker with a fondness for butchering and selling young women. As he gets closer to his shiny prize, Hans-Peter can’t help but notice Cari, and begins seeking a buyer for both treasures.

The problem with creating a brilliant series is that readers tend to compare any subsequent writing to it; unfortunately, I think Cari Mora has certainly, and erroneously, fallen into this trap. While Harris’ latest offering lacks the dark panache and hubris of the Hannibal series, it presents a female lead wrapped tightly in a cloak of mysticism, silent suffering, and ambition. What sets Harris’ characters apart from the hordes of other villains and heroes is their refusal to play victim, clearly and masterfully demonstrated by Cari Mora. Despite a past wriggling with fetid bodies and scars, she refuses to bend to the wills of men such as Hans-Peter Schneider. A damsel in distress she is not.

My critique of this book has nothing to do with Harris’ other works – I refuse to dampen my enthusiasm for Cari because of my admiration for Lector – to do so is an injustice to both. My sole complaint about Cari Mora is that there is not more of it. At times, it felt as though Harris were sprinting through the narrative, denying the reader the chance to explore and savour this new creation. However, this rapid pace also makes the book alluring and easy to follow; it is a crafty demonstration of the best of both.

Can Cari Mora become a cult classic like Hannibal Lector? Perhaps, but that is not the question we should ask. In a world in which Mora exists, Lector does not. There is no basis for comparison for the two, and I beg readers to keep this in mind when you hold this book in your hands. I certainly hope to see more of Cari, as I have a sneaking suspicion that the glimpse afforded to us in this book is not all there is to her story.

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris is published by William Heinemann, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

18 Aug 2019

Review: The Colorado Kid by Stephen King

On the small island town of Moose-Lookit, a reporter from the Boston Globe hurries away from an unfulfilling interview with local journalists. Commissioned to write a periodical about unexplained mysteries, he had high hopes for far-fetched stories and hair-raising tales. Sadly, he left without the scoop he expected, although that’s not to say the island hasn’t seen its fair share of mysteries. Behind the boring tales regurgitated for the umpteenth time by the local journalists, there lies a closely guarded story of true mystery. The Colorado Kid, a dead man found on the beach by local youths, was a case that remained unexplained for decades; a story composed entirely of unknowns and ‘what if’s, and becoming fodder for the imagination.

It is worth noting that The Colorado Kid was the inspiration for Haven, a TV show that epitomizes the odd world created by Stephen King. If, like me, you reasoned that you’ll read this to get a behind-the-scenes, sneak peek at the workings behind the show, a glance at its roots – you will, like me, be left with a sense of lacking. However, that is not to say that the book is not a hit in its own right.

A quick and perplexing read, The Colorado Kid deviates from King’s usual world-building; it hits you like a punch to the solar plexus. The particular genius of this book is no doubt what 90% of readers will find the most frustrating aspect, and as such, proves a huge risk for the King of horror, who has crafted his career on explaining the most bizarre circumstances. Ghosts, mind-readers and Lazarus pets are thus part of the natural order in King’s world; they have a place. The Colorado Kid is a jarring and taunting exception. In a style reminiscent of Hemingway’s anticlimaxes, The Colorado Kid is the antithesis of an ending with a bang. It is strangely pleasing to the reader who recognizes that not all questions can be answered – a delicious mockery of society’s obsession with conclusions. Not all things in life can be neatly filed away, and this is one of the stories that refuses to be put to bed. What it certainly does do is put the reader to a test – will you relish its cleverness and satire, or disregard it as a frustrating narrative that ends with no point or period?

The Colorado Kid by Stephen King is published by Hard Case Crime, a division of Titan Books, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

13 Aug 2019

Review: The Beauty of the Wolf by Wray Delaney

Lord Rodermere began writing the curse when he felled the first tree, yet he was only able to read it after half the forest had fallen. As the trees disappeared, Rodermere disturbed more than just the earth – the fury of the Sorceress was unleashed with each saw tooth. A faerie boy will be born to you, whose beauty will be your death. Though he scoffed at this proclamation, he is tempted in the forest by a beautiful maiden, and disappears. A decade later, his wife finds a basket containing the most beautiful baby boy she had ever seen, announced as her husband’s, yet the latter has never returned.

Later, as his wife is to marry anew, Lord Rodermere returns, and amid his arrogance lies the curse. The sorceress returns to witness the murder she foretold, and is unsettled to discover that Rodermere’s son, Beau, is far from the gorgeous but ghastly tool she predicted. Here lie grace, passion and humility, and intervention is necessary to install the murderous rage Beau needs for the task. Unaware of her plans, Beau is occupied by the arrival of Randa; an unseen voice he comes to call his little soul.

Cleverly representing modern themes against old-school artistry, The Beauty of the Wolf marries traditional fairy tales with modern fantasy, creating an impressive, polished story with depth and emotion. This ode to Beauty and the Beast is dark, seductive, and delicious – with prose akin to poetry and vivid and tenebrous imagery, this story is a feast for the imagination. It has added layers of depth, tension, and desperation that are impossible to imagine in the original fairy tale, making it more of an evolution from the story than a retelling. Nevertheless, it delights the inner child through wonder and magic – a dash of witchcraft, a hint of madness, a passionate affair, and a love that transcends form – what’s not to love?

The Beauty of the Wolf by Wray Delaney is published by HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.