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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Falconer by Elizabeth May

I received a copy of The Falconer from Gollancz as part of their Gollancz Geeks project. I applied for this book mainly because the strange premise tickled my fancy. Who wouldn't be intrigued by a Jane-Austen-style heroine going out at night and hunting down monsters? In any case, did the premise live up to its promise of great things?

The Falconer follows Aileana Kameron, a debutante who spends her days carrying out a standard aristocratic life, attending balls, entertaining friends and the like; her nights are quite different, usually involving the murder of faeries. She must keep up a balance between propriety and murderous rage in order for both of her lives to carry on as expected. Or at least that's the plan. Since her mother's murder at the hands of a faery, she's been consumed by the need for revenge and a general homicidal feeling towards faeries as a species. Homicidal tendencies tend to somewhat muddle more mundane intentions, so her whole social life is a mess: society thinks that she killed her mother in cold blood and her frequent disappearances at balls is tipping her reputation closer and closer to total ruin. 
I'm not really sure whether I like The Falconer or not. On the one hand, it's a competently written debut novel, with a sympathetic protagonist, engaging side characters and a real feeling of threat and constant danger; all of that makes me tend towards liking a book. But on the other hand, there are two major flaws to the novel that stop me from actively liking it. 
First, there is the protagonist, Aileana, or Kam as she is just as often called. I know I said she was one of the good points, but hear me out. Aileana is sympathetic, there's no denying that. She's justifiably angry at the faeries for brutally murdering her mother in front of her, and the restriction she feels from her former debutante life is just as understandable and engaging. The problem that some may find with her though is that this makes her in no way likeable. At the beginning at least, there seems to be little to her character beyond bitterness and anger. She does develop a little more as the novel progresses, but by and large she is still defined by her reactions to events happening around her: she gets angry about the faeries that she comes across, she stews about the things that she has to do as her duty to society, occasionally feeling nostalgia for the person she used to be. There wasn't really much that I could point to and say "This is what makes her a character that I want to root for." I don't particularly want her to fail due to her sympathetic nature, but at the same time I finished the book more because I'm not feeling well and wanted something to distract me. 
The second major problem that I had with the novel was the ending. It doesn't so much end as stop, and rather abruptly at that. You know how most stories go: hero(ine) starts quest, it gets progressively more difficult until a final climactic struggle, at the end of which they either win the day for good or fail and emphasise the tragic futility of the whole endeavour. The Falconer doesn't do that. Instead, it gets to the final battle and stops right at the most tense moment. I cannot tell you how irritating that was. I'm not unfamiliar with cliffhangers at the end of books, most often when said book is part of a series. I guess I should have seen it coming, considering all the loose ends dangled invitingly in my face in the preceding chapters, but I sort of assumed that there would be some kind of quick resolution, or they would stay a mystery and create a sense of poetic tragedy. Nope. Instead, there's a clumsy grab for a sequel. It irritates me because I expected a complete story when I started reading, maybe not Aileana's only story, but something complete at least. It irritates me because there was no hint given that this would be the first in a series. It irritates me that so much was brought up towards the end, hinted at only to be snatched away by this forced ending. Most of all, it irritates me because it worked: I do want to find out what happens next, even though I'm angry at the book. 

Overall, a solid book marred by a slightly over-simplistic and unlikeable main character and an ending that is a shameless sequel grab. I'd still say it's better than a lot of books I read as a young adult, so it might be a good present for a teenager. I will probably read the next instalment, regardless of how it annoys me. 3.5/5 

Next review: The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare 

Signing off, 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

This was another Young Adult fantasy novel that I had lying around my room, so I decided to give it a read, as I've been in a fantasy-type mood recently. Not that anyone would have noticed.

The Warrior Heir follows Jack Swift, a 16 year old boy who has spent his entire life in an unremarkable town in Ohio. He has had to take medicine for a heart condition ever since he can remember. It is only when he forgets to take his medicine one day that he realises that there might be something different about him: instead of feeling ill, he feels stronger and faster than he ever has before. It leads to the realisation that he is a warrior, a type of magical individual, prized for his incredible rarity and his innate talent for combat. As such, there are certain factions who will do anything to get their hands on him.
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will be familiar with my term "popcorn reading". For the newbies in the audience, allow me to explain: popcorn reading covers a sub-section of books that are entertaining and don't really require a huge amount of brain power. The Warrior Heir is one of those books. The characters are very solid and, where appropriate, touching. It is a touch simple, and there will be very little doubt as to whether a character is good, bad or somewhere in between: Garrett Lobeck, for example, is your stereotypical bully archetype and nothing more. Likewise, the plot is well-constructed and exciting in all the right places, even if some of the twists are a bit easy to figure out. I imagine it would be a good place to introduce someone to the fantasy genre, especially if they're teenagers or younger; there are a couple of sexual references that an audience in their teens or older will understand pretty quickly, but they're very subtle, so I can't see younger audiences catching on.

A solid, if somewhat predictable, novel. Certainly, there are much worse fantasy novels that you could be reading, and it's a great introductory point into the genre. I'll most definitely be looking into getting the second and third instalments in the trilogy. 4/5

Next review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May.

Signing off,

Friday, 4 October 2013

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I realise I'm a few years behind the curve here, seeing as the last instalment of the trilogy came out at least a year ago. But I had heard really good things about Graceling, so I figured I'd do what I normally do: check out the hype long after it has died.

In the world of Graceling, the title word refers to individuals who are born with an exceptional talent for something, identified by their heterochromia (known as differently coloured eyes to those of you who have better uses of their time than I do). The main heroine, Katsa, is one such individual, who has the unfortunate Grace of Killing; as a result, she has been raised to be the strong-arm of the King of Middluns. Despondent about the way her life is going, she decides to investigate the seemingly motiveless kidnapping of an old man from the Lienid royal family. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she finds that the evil mind behind it could threaten the entire world as she knows it.
I'm rather sad that I didn't get to this earlier. I honestly can't think of anything that Graceling does wrong. The characters are complex and incredibly sympathetic, the most obvious, spoiler-free, example of which is Katsa herself. On the one hand, she is incredibly proud of her ability to defend herself, but she's just as scared of that ability and the potential that she could abuse it. The romance that's included is touching, very subtle and, for once, plot relevant. The plot itself is really well-written, to the point that the tag line on the cover, stating that Graceling "will slake the thirst of Twilight fans", genuinely bothered me; the two books are in such different leagues that it ceases to be funny. I really want to express how much I loved this book, but everything that I love is something that people should discover for themselves.

A fantastic book. Definitely something that I would recommend as a gateway into the fantasy genre. It also has one of the coolest heroines I've read in a long time. 5/5

Next review: The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

Signing off,