fantasy

REVIEW: A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney

Alice is a normal teenager with school, a high-maintenance best friend and a mum who gets annoyed when she misses her curfew. But what her mum doesn’t know is that the reason she so often misses curfew is because she’s fighting monsters called Nightmares. Nightmares come from Wonderland, a dark realm where there’s magic, creatures and secrets. When Alice’s handsome and mysterious mentor Addison Hatta is poisoned, Alice must venture further into Wonderland than she ever had before to find the antidote. She’ll have to use all her skills and connections to keep from losing her head – literally.

As you might imagine, A Blade So Black is inspired by Alice in Wonderland and it’s fun to see the references to the sour material and how the author puts a spin on certain aspects like characters names and idiosyncrasies. When it comes to Wonderland itself, not a lot of the world is explained but what you do see of it is very weird and eerie. The Nightmares are indeed nightmarish creatures and Alice’s battles with them are fierce. Alice is strong and skilled, but she also makes mistakes, gets scared and doubts herself a lot which means it’s never clear if she’ll come out on top in a battle.

A lot of the conflict in A Blade So Black comes from the fact Alice struggles being a normal teenager with being a Dreamwalker. She’s keeping secrets and lying with the only person in her “normal” life who knows about what she does in Wonderland is her best friend Courtney. Alice is black and, in her neighbourhood, a teenage black girl has recently been gunned down which adds to her mum’s anxiety when Alice seems to disappear and not answer her phone, as she is almost constantly worried the same thing is going to happen to her daughter.

Alice is a bit of a stroppy teenager (which is allowed) and one with magical responsibilities, but she doesn’t often think things through and how her actions can hurt other people. Her mum has very justifiable reasons to be angry and scared when Alice isn’t contactable for long periods of time, but Alice can’t really see that which is frustrating.

A Blade So Black is bit of a weird book pacing-wise. The first half spends the time setting up the conflicts between Alice and her friends and family as she juggles her Dreamwalker duties and being a normal teenager and introduces you to Wonderland but nothing big plot-wise happens until the halfway point. It’s then that Hatta gets poisoned and after that a lot happens very quickly with new characters being introduced and you learn more about the history of Wonderland and what it could mean for Alice. It makes the second half of the book feel rushed and, while it is the first book in a series so it’s understandable that not all plot threads will be tied up, there’s a pretty major one that doesn’t feel like the characters make much headway with.

The premise of A Blade So Black and its setting is more interesting than the actual plot. Still, it’s a quick and enjoyable read and it’s a solid foundation for future books in the series to build on. 3/5.

Advertisements

REVIEW: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zélie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared as under orders of the ruthless king, all maji were killed including Zélie’s mother. Now she has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of her brother Tzain and rogue princess Amari, Zélie must outrun crown prince Inan who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. But she’s not only got to learn to control her powers, but she must also control her growing feelings for the enemy.

Children of Blood and Bone is told from three perspectives; Zélie’s, Amari’s and Inan’s and each of them had a distinct voice. Zélie is a divîner, which is someone who has dark skin and white hair which is a sign of the magic that would run through her veins if magic hadn’t had been destroyed. Divîner’s are an oppressed people, they are poor and are often abused and belittled by the King’s guards. Amarai and Inan are siblings who have both been brought up in the castle and, in Amari’s case especially, sheltered from what happens in their country.

I liked Zélie a lot, she’s fierce but impulsive and she cares fiercely for her loved ones. Amari was my favourite character and is probably the one who goes through the most consistent character arc. She’s lived a sheltered life, but she has a strong sense of morals and when she gets the chance to change things and stop her father she takes it, putting her life on the line. She is sweet and naïve to begin with but as she learns how the world works and how people act, she gets smarter and she’s more resilient than she realises. Inan is a character that I never really warmed to. He is desperate to show his father what a great soldier he is, and how he will be a worthy king, but then he also flip flops on his beliefs multiple times throughout the book. He doesn’t have a strong sense of self, will change his mind on things depending on who he’s with, and is generally a disaster and not in a fun, appealing way.

I read almost 400 pages of this 535-page book in the space of two days but then I got to a point, where I got so annoyed with what some characters were doing that I put it down for five days and had to make myself continue with it. Children of Blood and Bone has an enemies to lovers romance and while the foundations of this relationship were interesting, at that 400ish page mark, there was some serious instalove as these characters went from hating one another to barely being able to keep their hands off of one another in the space of about three pages. It was way too fast and seemed needless. Their romance caused conflict with other characters, but that conflict could’ve still happened with them being reluctant allies instead of being in love. Also, their sudden infatuation with one another seemed out of character for both parties and it was a detriment to Zélie’s character especially.

Besides from the romance which I hated, I really enjoyed pretty much everything else about Children of Blood and Bone. I liked the writing style, it’s has vivid descriptions of this world and culture without being overly flowery, and how the friendship grew between Tzain, Amari and Zélie was great. I especially liked how Zélie slowly opened up to Amari, and how Amari figured out her own inner strength.

Children of Blood and Bone is a fast-paced and action-packed story. The world and its magic system are interesting, and the mythology that is introduced can only grow in future books. As a first book in a series, it’s a great introduction to the characters and the world, but I wish it had taken its time with the romance as that did sour my experience of the last quarter of the book. I do plan to continue reading this series though and I’m intrigued to see where everything will go from that ending. 4/5.

REVIEW: Every Day (2018)

Teenager Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) falls in love with “A” someone who wakes up in a different body each day and must live that person’s life for a day, not causing any lasting problems before they go to sleep and wake up in another person’s body.

Based on the contemporary YA novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day is a surprisingly sweet, thoughtful and touching film. The supernatural or fantasy nature of “A” is explained well, and through inhabiting numerous characters (and the young actors performances) you get to see what their personality is like as they slowly get Rhiannon to believe what happens them each day.

The young cast are all great, but Angourite Rice is just wonderful as Rhiannon. Rhiannon has the typical teenage boyfriend drama, but as she grows closer to “A” she becomes a more confident person that has always been open and kind. Rice’s presence lights up the screen, bringing the laughs with the comedic moments but also can put across the pain of loving someone who she doesn’t know if she’ll see them again.

The soundtrack is great and everything about this film is so soft. Both in terms of the story and the way the film is shot with soft lighting and idyllic settings, whether it’s a lake house or a beach, makes it seem like Every Day takes place at the beginning of summer and “A”’s and Rhiannon’s romance will never end.

Every Day tackles ideas of sexuality and love in a broad way but it’s a way that’s accessible to it’s target audience without being preachy. It also features discussions of mental health which is handled well, however there’s so much more this story could have done with race and class as “A” spends time in these different people’s bodies and lives.

Every Day is a sweet film that’s about loving a person for who they are, not what they appear like, and its young cast does a fine job showing the different kinds of relationships you can have while in high school. 4/5.

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home and her quiet village, even though it’s close to the Wood, a corrupted place full of malevolent power. Close to her village in a tower lives the Dragon, every ten years he chooses a girl and keeps her for that time. The next choosing is fast approaching and Agnieszka, just like everyone else, knows the Dragon will take Kasia, her best friend who the most beautiful and talented. But events don’t go how everyone predicts and when the Dragon arrives it’s Agnieszka, not Kasia, he chooses.

Uprooted is a fantasy story with magical creatures and a beautiful magic system. How the magic worked for different characters and how different magic users would craft spells was always interesting to me. The Dragon is a wizard and he likes things in order and logical, especially when it comes to magic and spells. Agnieszka on the other hand, is more chaotic and organic when it comes to weaving spells. Her learning about her abilities and how it differs from so many traditional wizards and witches was both fun and interesting.

The Wood is such a unique villain as it were. It’s something that is alive and has thoughts and goals that are sometimes beyond what people could imagine. It’s an unsettling presence throughout the story and when someone is taken by the Wood, it won’t give them back easily. It corrupts creatures, people and the land around it. There’s not only the Wood to worry about, there is also political intrigue with Kings and courts that Agnieszka and the Dragon have to deal with.

The problem I had with Uprooted was I never felt the urge to pick it up and continue on to the next chapter until I hit the 300-page mark – that was almost three quarters of the way through the book! I think that was down in part to the writing style, it paints a very eerie yet beautiful picture, and while stuff did happen before page 300, it was all building to that moment but it hadn’t really pulled me in. I mainly read Uprooted for my A-Z Reading Challenge. It’s a few days before 2019, the only letter of the alphabet I hadn’t completed was the letter U, so I did persevere with Uprooted when under normal circumstances I would have probably put it down.

Uprooted is a good magical story that somehow manages to feel whimsical and haunting at the same time. The setting feels like a fairytale but it has a darker undertone too. On the whole, the characters and their relationships were compelling, but the story never did enough to enthral me. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

One summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands what sort of asylum the woman was seeking….

The Bone Clocks had been sitting on my shelves for four years. I’d read, and enjoyed, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell but from that I knew his stories could be fantastical and epic and I was never really in the mood for the concentration I’d need to have to read a story like that. In the end, I got the audiobook from my library and that got finally got me to read this story. The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow and Anna Bentinck, and I thought they all did a fantastic job at bringing the many characters to life.

The Bone Clocks is so much more than its two-sentence blurb suggests, but at the same time, I have no idea of how to give this story a concise and somewhat spoiler-free summary. The Bone Clocks is a story that spans decades, and while the story might not always be told from her point of view, Holly Sykes is always connected to the characters you’re introduced to in some way. It’s equal parts confusing and fun, especially in the first half of the book, seeing how this character you are now following is connected to Holly and how their relationship with her will unfold. While Holly is the central character that a lot of the big events and decisions revolve around, the other characters each have their own story and personality that’s usually just as engaging as Holly’s.

Holly Sykes is a character that grew on me. She’s young and naïve when you first meet her, and somewhat unlikeable too but seeing how her experiences, good, bad and unexplainable, affect her life, she becomes more sympathetic and mature. She suffers a trauma at a young age and doesn’t know how her life will be affected by granting the strange old lady, Esther Little, asylum. She becomes entangled in something much bigger than herself, and it take a while for everything to become clearer, and even then, there’s some events and characters that almost can’t be explained. The other characters are fully-formed with some being unlikeable while others are almost undefinable. Ed Brubeck was probably my favourite character as he felt the most realistic and relatable to me.

The Bones Clocks is well-written with some beautiful passages and engaging characters. It is weird and fantastical, but at its core there’s Holly Sykes and her very human life. There’s so much going on in The Bone Clocks, it’s hard to give it a definitive genre. There is magic, secret wars, family drama, death, and souls play a major role too. The Bone Clocks is an epic story, but it is an odd and sometimes confusing one too. You spend so much of the novel, not know what’s really happening or how everything is connected, that when things are explained, there is a lot of exposition.

Still, I did enjoy the audiobook and I think consuming the story that way helped me take it in and become more enthralled by it than if I was reading a physical copy. 3/5.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

After Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from justice and starts to amass his followers, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with finding the powerful but dangerous Credence (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does.

Amazingly, a lot happens in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald but at the same time, the many characters and their actions do little to further the overarching plot. The main plot could take up less than an hour, everything else is loose plot threads that have the potential to come to fruition in future films but in this one they leave you confused and cold.

As well as many new characters being introduced in The Crimes of Grindelwald, Newt’s American friends return too – even though characters like Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) seemed to have a completed story arc at the end of the first film! You meet Newt’s older brother Theseus (Callum Turner) who works for the Ministry of Magic and is engaged to Newt’s childhood friend Leta (Zoë Kravitz), both are interesting but have little to do.

There’s so many scenes where characters just dump exposition and usually not in a compelling way either. There are also flashback scenes of when Newt and Leta were studying at Hogwarts together. These are sweet and the younger actors do a fine job but through previous dialogue between adult characters you got that they used to be good friends and Leta had a tough time at school. These scenes, while nice, weren’t needed and added little to the film.

The special effects are stunning, though the opening chase sequence is hard to follow, and when Newt is with his fantastic beasts, those scenes are a lot of fun and cute. However, going forward it’s hard to imagine if future films will keep featuring magical creatures (or even keep the “Fantastic Beasts” title) as these scenes while more light-hearted and show off what a truly wonderful character Newt is, do little to further the convoluted plot.

There’s some very odd and potentially insensitive choices as well throughout the film but especially when it comes to the future Grindelwald predicts. In his quest to show his followers how bad and dangerous Muggles are, he insinuates that the Second World War and all the horrors that come with it can be avoided if wizards were in charge. It is a sequence that is weird and almost unbelievable.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is just messy. None of the characters have a satisfying or complete character arc, very few of them achieve their goals, and the story as a whole is convoluted. The way some scenes are edited leads to confusion too as characters seem to suddenly appear or move from one location to another without much set up. Also, there’s so many connections or easter eggs relating to the original Harry Potter series – some of them are great whereas others seem to make little sense with what we already know. It’s as if J.K. Rowling is throwing in all these references, whether it’s a characters surname or an object, and hoping that these cool things will detract from the fact that the new story is overstuffed and chaotic.

My main takeaway from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is Newt is a sweetheart, I love his brother Theseus and I hope there’s more of their relationship in the next film(s). There is a lot of set up in this film, for so many characters and plot threads, and little pay off so hopefully future film(s) will be more exciting and satisfying. But that does mean Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has little about it that’s memorable or important. 2/5.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York with a suitcase full of magical creatures and when some of them escape he has to find them before they get hurt. Unbeknownst to Newt, he’s chosen the worst time to come to New York as there’s strange things happening in the city and trouble is brewing as a group of No-Majs (non-magical people) stir up fear and hatred in the city.

This was the first time I rewatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them since I saw it in the cinema two years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it more than I remembered.

It’s interesting to be reintroduced to the magical world of Harry Potter but it’s different to what you know from the books and the film series. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is set in 1920’s New York, it follows adult characters and is about witches and wizards in America and how their rules, ideas, and terminology is different to what we’ve seen British witches and wizards know.

Newt is a wonderful character. He’s sweet and awkward and loves his creatures so much. He forms a friendship with No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) who gets pulled along for the ride and their friendship is quite lovely. Seeing the magical world through Jacob’s eyes reaffirms that awe-inspiring feeling magic and everything associated with it can bring. The other two main characters are sisters Porpentina (Katherine Waterston) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol), both are witches and work in the magical law enforcement agency. These four all fit together nicely and their scenes together are sweet though they sometimes can wander into the realms of cheesiness – Queenie especially is a character that appears sugary sweet.

The titular fantastic beasts are indeed fantastic. They are all interesting and different and some of them are truly stunning. These creatures all have their own personalities and Newt’s relationship with them all is delightful.

A lot of the film shows off the magical creatures and the world. In fact it’s more like a sequence of animal rescues than a film with an overarching plot. There’s little hints and murmurings of things sprinkled throughout, Colin Farrell’s Auror Graves being a part of that. He is a great character and Farrell shines whenever he’s on screen, but it does mean the finale is rather sudden and rushed. That’s probably where Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them suffers, the pacing is inconsistent. There’s definitely some slower scenes that could’ve been tightened up and have more of a balance between the creatures and the mystery, however having such a likable main character in Newt makes some of the films faults easier to ignore.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has the beginnings of a great new franchise. It has interesting characters, a cool world and some fantastic creatures. 4/5.