Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Review- The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Queen (The Iron Fey, #3)
The third installment to the "New York Times" Bestseller.

My name is Meghan Chase.

I thought it was over. That my time with the fey, the impossible choices I had to make, the sacrifices of those I loved, was behind me. But a storm is approaching, an army of Iron fey that will drag me back, kicking and screaming. Drag me away from the banished prince who's sworn to stand by my side. Drag me into the core of conflict so powerful, I'm not sure anyone can survive it.

This time, there will be no turning back.

(Cover and description taken from Goodreads)

Amazon UK

A year has passed since she learned her true heritage, and Meghan Chase thinks she’s left the faery world behind. Having decided to exile herself in order to be with Prince Ash, the Winter fey prince whom she loves, she finds herself unwillingly dragged into battle with the Iron fey once more. And this time, it could be the end of faeryland as they know it…

Meghan’s father, who disappeared into the faery world when she was six years old, is still alive, but his daughter has no memory of him, having accidentally relinquished her memory in exchange for help from a deceitful Oracle. Now she finds herself facing the perils of Faery once more as she tries to get her memory back and to re-establish a connection with the man who, if not by blood, was her true father. But this is only the least of her worries. In killing the previous King, Meghan has inherited his power, and as Meghan tries to master her abilities she finds that the conflicting glamour of Iron and Summer warring inside her makes it impossible for her to use magic. To make things worse, she can never contact her family again without putting them in danger from the Iron Fey. The false Iron King will stop at nothing to kill her in order to get the power he sees as rightfully his - and he will stop at nothing to destroy Faeryland and the lands of Summer and Winter forever. Oberon, the Erlking, and Queen Mab of Tir Na Nog, must unite and face the armies of the Iron Kingdom. But the outcome of the battle seems inevitable: how can faeries of old win out against the relentless march of technology?

Meghan finds herself in the centre of this conflict as the Iron King unleashes all his forces to destroy her. Accompanied only by her faithful friend Puck; her knight, Ash, and the unpredictable cat Grimalkin, she takes on a final, desperate journey into the Iron Kingdom. Now she is a major player in the war, balanced between the faery and mortal worlds, but what is her destiny? Do Ash and Meghan have a future, a half-human and an immortal faery prince? Or will everything she loves be destroyed?

I knew there was a reason I picked up this series. The Iron Queen is even better than the first two books in the trilogy, and Meghan develops a lot more as a character over the course of the novel. The Faery world is fantastic; Julie Kagawa does such a good job of drawing on myth and fairytales to create something unique, and utterly absorbing. Her characters are three-dimensional, and I feel that we get to know them all so much better, even though the action doesn't let up from start to finish. At the risk of employing an over-used cliche, the term 'roller-coaster of emotions' fits this book exactly. In my view, this is one of the best young adult fantasy series out there - I can't recommend the Iron Fey series enough! Better still, I then learned that the story doesn't end with The Iron Queen - there's a fourth book to come, which gives me a tiny bit of hope despite the heart-breaking - albeit undeniably apt - ending.

Rating: *****

Review- The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa

The Iron Daughter (The Iron Fey, #2)

Half Summer faery princess, half human, Meghan has never fit in anywhere. Deserted by the Winter prince she thought loved her, she is prisoner to the Winter faery queen. As war looms between Summer and Winter, Meghan knows that the real danger comes from the Iron fey—ironbound faeries that only she and her absent prince have seen. But no one believes her.
Worse, Meghan's own fey powers have been cut off. She's stuck in Faery with only her wits for help. Trusting anyone would be foolish. Trusting a seeming traitor could be deadly. But even as she grows a backbone of iron, Meghan can't help but hear the whispers of longing in her all-too-human heart.

(Cover and description taken from Goodreads)

Amazon UK

Meghan may have defeated the Iron King, rescuing her younger brother, but her time in Faeryland is far from over. As part of her bargain with Prince Ash, she now finds herself a prisoner in the Winter Court. Tir Na Nog is a deadly place for a half-human Summer fey, but without her Faery powers, and with Ash gone, Meghan has no hope of escape. But then, during the Exchange ceremony when summer becomes winter, a group of Iron Fey break into the palace and steal the Sceptre of Seasons, leading Queen Mab to blame Oberon and to declare war on the Summer Court. Refusing to believe the Iron Fey exist, the Unseelie prepare themselves for all-out war on Arcadia. Meghan can only rely on Prince Ash, the fey prince she came to love during their journey into the Iron Kingdom, and the two set off on a journey to defeat the new Iron King and prevent the Kingdoms from destroying one another. But can she trust the son of Queen Mab?

Even after the defeat of the first Iron King, the deadly new faery kingdom continues to grow, fuelled by mankind’s dreams of progress and technology, whilst the old faery world gradually fades out of existence. Meanwhile, Meghan struggles to deal with the fact that she and Ash, coming from enemy courts, can never be together; and her lifelong friend Robbie – actually Robin Goodfellow-‘s confession of his feelings for her. More than anything, she wants to return to the human world, to her normal life, but now she has glimpsed the world of Faery, there is no going back to normality. Instead, she finds herself teaming up with both friends and enemies in an attempt to overthrow the false Iron King, and prevent an all-out war between Summer and Winter.

Once again, Julie Kagawa tells an enthralling tale of magic, romance and danger. Old characters including Puck, Grimalkin and Ironhorse make a comeback and new faces appear, such as the deceptive queen of exiles, Leanansidhe. Meghan once again faces up to the perils of Faeryland, which is depicted in such vivid detail that you feel like you’re right there: from the ice palaces of the winter court to the terrifying labyrinth of the Briars. As the Iron fey grow in strength under a false king, Meghan finds herself having to make impossible choices to save those she loves – and all of Faeryland. 

I am now a confirmed fan of this series. For a trilogy to work, each book has to be better than the last, and The Iron Daughter had me turning the pages, desperate to know how events were going to play out. Julie Kagawa has a real gift for writing emotions intensely, and creating characters you can't help but root for. I was initially worried that Meghan was going to turn into another Bella Swan-incarnate, helpless and dependent on the men in her life, but thankfully, the novel moves away from that, with Meghan developing some interesting powers of her own, and I get the feeling that in the final book she'll be more than capable of holding her own against the Fey - not least because, as human, she isn't affected by the magic of the Iron Fey. I can't wait for Book 3!

Rating: *****

Monday, 18 June 2012

To travel the world...

The past week's been a very productive one, writing-wise. Having no exams (and therefore no responsibilities!) meant that I've actually been able to concentrate on my writing - with the result that I've written over 12000 words in just over a week! This is a record for me, as ordinarily 3000 words a week is good going! I've always been envious of writers who can do 1000 words a day - unless I'm particularly inspired, or have nothing else to do, that never happens to me! Primarily because I usually have a million other things to be doing. But not now! Basically, it's as if I'm writing full time, as I'd love to do for real someday. And not because I'm too lazy to get a 'real' job, but because writing's my calling, it's what I want to spend the rest of my life doing. I've known it since the age of ten and nothing's been able to convince me otherwise. 

True enough, I'd love to work in publishing. But the dream's always there.

Anyway, writing aside, I've also been preparing for my five-week trip to Costa Rica in less than three weeks, which I'm ridiculously excited about. I might have mentioned it in this blog before, but if I haven't, it's a volunteer programme with an organisation called International Student Volunteers. I went to Australia with ISV last summer and had an amazing time, volunteering in the rainforest for two weeks before embarking on a two-week tour of the east coast of Australia. This time I'm off to Costa Rica, first for a week of Spanish lessons and learning about the culture, then a volunteer project (in the rainforest again!), then a two-week adventure tour. Exciting times! Before last summer I hadn't done any travelling at all, except through reading, but I'd always fantasised about travelling the world, so when I heard about the Australia project I knew I had to do it! Yeah, it cost me more than I should probably have spent, but it was worth it to jump out of a plane at 14000 feet (skydiving = awesome) and do various other daredevilish things. And of course to see such fantastic places. If I ever make it as a writer, I'll be sure go back! As of next year I'll be deep in the debt of graduation and will most likely no longer be able to afford even to leave the house, but it's nice to make the most of having time for stuff like this!

Even if I do have to leave my writing behind. No room for my laptop in my limited luggage. Ouch.

Notebooks, however...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Review- The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

The Iron King (The Iron Fey, #1)

Meghan Chase has a secret destiny; one she could never have imagined.

Something has always felt slightly off in Meghan's life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six. She has never quite fit in at school or at home.

When a dark stranger begins watching her from afar, and her prankster best friend becomes strangely protective of her, Meghan senses that everything she's known is about to change.

But she could never have guessed the truth - that she is the daughter of a mythical faery king and is a pawn in a deadly war. Now Meghan will learn just how far she'll go to save someone she cares about, to stop a mysterious evil no faery creature dare face; and to find love with a young prince who might rather see her dead than let her touch his icy heart.

(Cover and description taken from Goodreads)

Amazon UK

Meghan Chase has always felt there was something slightly amiss in her life, ever since her father disappeared before her eyes when she was six years old. Even her own mother and stepfather seems to forget she exists most of the time, and at school, only her friend Robbie takes any notice of her. Then the day before her sixteenth birthday, things start going weird. A gremlin only Meghan can see appears in the computer room and plays a prank on the most popular boy at school- resulting in Meghan being a victim of his cruel revenge. But public humiliation is the least of her worries, because the world around her is turning bizarre. Her little brother Ethan is seeing monsters everywhere, which Meghan is beginning to believe may have some truth to it, and her best friend is acting odd. But it’s only when Ethan disappears, leaving a vicious changeling in his place, that Robbie tells her the truth: the faeries are targeting Meghan because she is one of them, the daughter of Oberon, king of the Seelie Court. In order to save her brother, Meghan must travel to Faeryland, the Nevernever, home to the creatures thought to exist only in the imagination. Her best friend Robbie is actually Robin Goodfellow, Puck, her guardian in the human world.

The Nevernever is a dangerous place filled with horrifying creatures. She and Puck encounter nixies, goblins, and a talking cat called Grimalkin as they travel to the Summer Court to request help from Oberon. But there Meghan finds herself a target of the vindictive Queen Titania, and comes no closer to rescuing her brother. When the court is attacked by a chimera during Elysium, a meeting between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, each blames the other, leading to threats of a war unless someone can find the culprit. In the chaos, Meghan and Grimalkin flee the court in order to search for her brother in the Winter Court. But it becomes clear that something is very wrong in the Nevernever. According to Grimalkin, Faeryland is dying, as humanity loses faith in faerytales and imagination. Although with the rise of progress and technology- which is fatal to faeries- it is inevitable that belief in faeries would decline, this is on a scale unparalleled, and the Nevernever may soon cease to exist…

Then, en route to the winter court, a deadly battle ensues between Puck and Ash, son of Queen Mab and Prince of the Unseelie Court, who appears to take Meghan to his queen. It seems the two have a history, and are prepared to fight to the death…But midway through comes an interruption in of a swarm of deformed fey who take Meghan prisoner, telling her that the King of the Iron Court has her brother! It seems that with the advent of technology a whole new race of fey has been born, unbeknownst to the other fey. The Iron Fey are immune to the damaging effects of metal and technology, and are the reason the Nevernever is dying! Desperate to save her brother, Meghan makes a bargain with Prince Ash: if he helps her to rescue Ethan from the clutches of the Iron King, she will willingly go with him to the Unseelie Court. But complications ensue. Not only does she find herself falling for the Prince of the Winter Court, but it seems that many expect her to do more than save her brother – they expect her to kill King Machina, the Iron King, in order to save the Nevernever and all the fey.

This is a captivating tale from start to finish, filled with unforgettable characters and inventive magic. Meghan’s teenage voice is completely believable, and we stand beside her as she faces the perils of the Faery world. The settings are vivid, from the bright colours and bewitching music of the Summer Court to the iciness and deception of the Winter Court, and the treacherous, tangled paths of the Wyldwood. This bewitching contemporary fairytale for teens is a clever twist on the old superstition that faeries are vulnerable to the touch of iron. Julie Kagawa asks us to imagine what would happen if a new species of fey was born from the dreams of humans today, of progress and technology. Will the traditional characters die out, and the old faeryland disappear forever?

Rating: *****

Friday, 8 June 2012

Perseverance pays off!

Yes, today's the day I can finally call myself a published author! True enough, it's only a publication in an online literary magazine, not a contract with a publisher (I wish!) but in all honesty, I never thought I'd even achieve this much. Short stories aren't generally my medium (usually when I think of an idea, it expands into a novel or series before I can write it down!) but I've written a few. Being a passionate self-critic I rarely actually LIKE anything I write, especially short stories - most of my attempts fall under the category 'Artistic Failures'. But there are two I've completed in recent years that I've grown attached to (bizarre anecdote about a homicidal duck aside!): the first is a 5000-word fantasy story entitled 'Behind the Mask' (featuring dragons, magical portals to other worlds, and a delightfully evil protagonist - perhaps the reason no one bar my family, friends and boyfriend actually like it!), and the second is a dystopian sci-fi piece of around 1700 words called 'Wedlock', about a couple's doomed attempt to evade the laws of their society in which love is irrelevant: everyone must marry the partner whose 'identity tag' matches their own. Before I get shot down by the Plagiarism Police, I realise that this idea has been done a LOT in recent  literature - however, in my defence, I planned this story over three years ago, long before dystopia became THE genre, and before many of the books which use similar ideas were published. It may be the current vogue for dystopia that caused the magazine to take notice of my piece - if so, I'm eternally grateful for it!

In any case, here it is:

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


As I’m about to begin the momentous task of starting my final-year dissertation, I decided to browse Amazon for some potential sources of good ideas. Fantasy literature was always going to be my topic of choice: it’s the genre I read the most and have a never-ending passion for, and I want to write about books I actually like! After skimming through The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature (I was extremely pleased to find this: it gives me hope that someday the prejudice against fantasy in academia may be lifted, and the genre will gain the respect it deserves!), I decided to take a psychoanalytical approach (much as I disagree with pretty much anything Freud says!), looking at fantasy stories as examinations of the human condition and of our need to narrate the triumph of good over evil - or alternatively, as morally ambivalent, with different characters reflecting attributes of others (like Frodo and Gollum as doubles in LOTR, and Harry and Voldemort in the Harry Potter books). Of course, I'm not just going to do the obvious texts, but the most popular fantasy novels of the past decade seem like a good place to start! Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea is also on my list, as are the books of Diana Wynne Jones. This isn't just an excuse to reread my favourite books (well, maybe it is a little...) but a chance to unearth new meanings beneath them - which is what the study of literature is really about.

But in my opinion studying literature is also the study of the human mind (hence the psychoanalytical approach). I want to look at why we keep coming back to classic stories, and the best book I found for this is Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots - subtitled Why we tell stories. I love the idea of fantasy stories as being rooted in myths which are effectively timeless, and have existed since the dawn of civilisation. So when I happened to find Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots- which was mentioned in a couple of lectures- I decided to buy a copy.

The basic argument is that there are seven fundamental plots (hence the title), which all follow the same basic pattern, a pattern that lies at the centre of every story ever told. My verdict? Every writer should own a copy. True, some people might not like the idea that ultimately there is only one plot, but this doesn’t compromise individuality. The purpose of the book is to analyse WHY we read stories in the first place, that there are certain things we come to expect from stories which is ultimately the reason why we find them so satisfying. What better way for an author to discern whether their own story will appeal to their readers in the way its predecessors do? I’m fairly certain I’ll find it a useful resource when I encounter difficulties in plotting my own stories. If I ever lose the plot, I’ll be sure to consult this wonderful 700-page volume!

In other news, I’m currently waiting impatiently for next Friday, when I will finally, after nearly 21 years, become a published author! How long I’ve dreamed of that day…