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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.

28 Sept 2021

Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

For Deka’s whole life, she has been raised according to the principles of Oyomo; that a woman’s place is to serve and honour men. Yet on the day of the Ritual of Purity, in which Deka will be cut to demonstrate the purity of her blood, everything changes. Instead of the crimson life force that flows through the veins of the other village girls; Deka’s blood is liquid gold. She is Unpure, and the sentence for this crime is death, because the Unpure are descended from demons.

Only Deka doesn’t die. Again and again, the elders try to end her life, yet her spirit and body remain intact. Just as the elders think they have discovered the way to truly kill her, she is saved by an unexpected source; an emissary of the emperor.

Instead of death, Deka must join an army of girls like her to fight the worst threat that the land has ever faced. And the emperor is willing to sacrifice them all to win.

But when training starts, Deka realises that there’s more to her new position, and the army itself, than she could ever have expected. What she learns shakes the very foundations of her world.

The Gilded Ones satisfies every possible craving a fan of Young Adult could have. Namina Forna has given us a glorious mythology with horrific yet strangely familiar limitations and social ills. We have a love story that is like no other, a generous dose of magic and intrigue, and even a range of action sequences. All of this has been woven together and perceived through a fantastic (literally) lens to make it pure magic. Once you start reading, you cannot stop. The characters are too enticing, the sub plots too arresting, and the writing too convincing and powerful to refuse.

The Gilded Ones will impress more than just YA fans – it will woo lovers of myth and legend, the seekers of fantasy, and those who want a peek of realism through struggle and inequality. It is superb.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna is published by Usborne, AND IS AVAILABEL IN South Africa from Penguin Random House South Africa.

10 Sept 2021

Review: Serial Killers of Russia by Wensley Clarkson

Wensley Clarkson has made a career of getting into the minds of the world’s deadliest and darkest murderers. And this time, he’s heading to unchartered territory: Russia. Serial Killers of Russia comprises the true events behind nine of Russia’s deadliest serial killers, and how these murderers evaded capture for so long.

If you though serial killers were purely an American phenomenon, prepare to be proven wrong. Just because we haven’t heard about these homicides before doesn’t mean they never happened – as Clarkson explains, it’s all due to something equally terrifying: Russian politics, and the refusal of the nation to admit to anything that might tarnish its reputation in the West.

It’s immediately apparent from the start of this book that Clarkson is incredibly confident. He claims that his experience with true crime writing and documentaries has given him an unusual and in-depth understanding of what makes a psychopath tick. Yet it pains me to say that the execution falls a little flat.

After several disclaimers of the morbid nature of the crimes, and warning to squeamish readers, this book isn’t as advertised. Perhaps it says something about the macabre nature of human interest and today’s media, but many of the crimes included in the volume are nowhere near as scary as Hollywood’s offerings. Instead, there is a glaring over-reliance on extreme adjectives which constantly forces the reader to remember that this is bad shit. But there are only so many times you can use words like heinous, gruesome or horrific in a sentence before the language loses its appeal and becomes distracting.

And then there are those inconsistencies. Despite promises of insights from killer’s minds, the majority of commentary about the mental state of these murderers comes in the form of unnamed experts, who seem to know a great deal about the inner workings of these homicidal maniacs without revealing how. Furthermore, Clarkson spends a great deal of time lamenting the state of Russian politics, and how this has affected the country’s lackluster policing. Yet his constant reminders that the Russian police force were inept and corrupt, with no interest in solving murders or putting in the work are peppered with notes from detectives, eyewitness testimonies (from sources that also remain nameless) and arrest details that prove the contrary. Altogether, this lends Serial Killers of Russia a degree of implausibility which reads more like fiction than non-fiction.

But it’s not all bad. The details about Russia’s socio-economic past are incredibly intriguing, and do wonders for helping the reader understand the various ways these killers could stalk their prey so successfully, while evading capture for so long.

Serial Killers of Russia by Wensley Clarkson is published by Welbeck, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.