Friday, 30 November 2012

Review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

The Immortal Rules (Blood of Eden, #1)

Goodreads summary: "In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity."Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of "them." The vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself is attacked--and given the ultimate choice. Die...or become one of the monsters.

Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. There she joins a ragged band of humans who are seeking a legend--a possible cure to the disease that killed off most of humankind and created the rabids, the mindless creatures who threaten humans and vampires alike.

But it isn't easy to pass for human. Especially not around Zeke, who might see past the monster inside her. And Allie soon must decide what--and who--is worth dying for.

Amazon UK

Julie Kagawa is a hugely talented writer – I’ve said that enough in my reviews of her amazing Iron Fey series. The first in Kagawa’s new Blood of Eden series is hugely different from her other books in many ways, yet the quality of the storytelling and character-building remains high as ever. I loved The Immortal Rules – it definitely revitalises the vampire myth, bringing back the fearsome, blood-drinking monsters from legend, and proving that it’s possible to breathe new life into a tired literary theme.

The Immortal Rules is set in a future world where vampires not only exist, they rule humanity. Forced to expose their existence after a disease which has decimated the populations of both humans and vampires, the immortals now dominate our race. Humanity – or what remains of it – lives in fear. Registered humans are used as blood cattle, with the most elite acting as ‘pets’, betraying their own to serve the ruling vamps. The Unregistered live on the streets, risking their lives for their very survival - because to steal from the vamps means death. But to Alison Sekemoto, the idea of belonging to the vampires is repellent.

The vampires may rule the city of New Convington, but outside it, rabids roam, victims of the disease. After a brutal rabid attack leaves Allie on the brink of death, she is faced with a choice: let the rabid virus spread and become a savage man-eating monster – or allow her rescuer to turn her into a vampire, one of the creatures she despises. Wanting to survive, she chooses the latter.

Now Alison must learn how to live as a ‘monster’, dependent on drinking the blood of humans. Under the guidance of her creator, Kanin, she tries to adapt to her brutal new existence. But when she learns her master’s shocking secret, she is compelled to leave, and finds herself joining a group of humans who are searching for a city named Eden, where there are supposedly no vampires – and even the possibility for a cure for the rabid virus. But how long can she last without revealing her true nature? And will she ever find acceptance?

The writing was, as usual, faultless, and the dystopian fantasy world was realised in vivid detail, from the ravaged, crumbing cities to the endless wilderness between. As I said before, this is very different from the Iron Fey series. Allie, the protagonist, is far tougher than Meghan – though of course, this is a different story entirely.  It’s great to see vampires as the feared creatures they should be – and it makes for an intriguing and compelling tale as Alison tries to do the apparently impossible:  live as an immortal whilst retaining her humanity.

Rating: *****

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Writing character

I've just been reading a book, which I was forced to abandon (something that almost NEVER happens) because I found the main character and her life to be completely unconvincing- and, in fact, I didn't actually care what happened to them. It got me thinking about all the things that can ruin a story for the reader, and a large number of them are connected to the protagonist - after all, it's through their eyes, be it in first or third person, that we experience the story. They don't have to be likable - I can think of plenty of classics with narrators who are downright detestable! - but in Young Adult and Children's fiction in particular, there has to be something there we can connect to. So I've written a list of important things to think about when creating your main character.

  • Backstory- don't bombard the reader with details, but in order to establish an emotional connection with the protagonist, we need to know who they are and where they come from. They have to feel like they've lived before the story began. In the first chapter of The Hunger Games, we find out the basic details of Katniss's life - in particular her love for her sister, Prim. An instant emotional connection is established. In other books, the characters act like paper cut-outs, or puppets of the plot (had to get in a sneaky reference to my book there!), and it's like they only exist for the purposes of the story. Even if the book's set on another planet, the character's life has to be plausible otherwise the story just won't convince.
  •  Think about the different elements involved in constructing a character: description, dialogue, action, memories, reactions to other characters. Above all, remember that showing us what a character is like is almost always better than telling us. Telling is best used for talking about the character's past and situation (though much of this can often be implied too), whereas the most effective way to show characteristics is through letting the reader watch the characters in action.
  • Dialogue - this is another of the most important ways to reveal character - in fact, dialogue IS character. We can infer so much about someone by the way they speak, what they say, and, crucially, what they don't say. The way characters speak to others can reveal social status, attitude towards life, and much more.
  • Details are key. Make profiles for all your main characters and include lots of detail, however apparently trivial: family, friends, favourite colour, hobbies. It's the details that make your character stand out like a real individual, and not simply there for plot purposes. But remember to stay consistent!
  • A novel should be about, in part, the main character's journey. They should have changed in some way by the end of the book. It's part of the key to a satisfying ending. I always write the main character's storyline out before starting a new project.

That's it from me for today! I'm currently in Essay Hell and might not be able to update as frequently, but I'll be posting a review of The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa in the next few days, and I'm preparing to host my first author interview/feature!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Books I want to read!

I'm already counting down to Christmas! I'm really looking forward to finally getting a Kindle (reading books on my iPhone plays havoc with my eyesight!) so I can read all the great e-books I'm planning to buy with my Christmas money! Yep, that's basically my list: Kindle + money for books. Of course, all I really want for Christmas is a publishing contract for my Darkworld book series, but alas, that isn't something you can put in a stocking. So I just wait in hope...

Anyway, I've decided to post a list of five of the books I want to read, when I finally have money (the joys of being a poor student who can barely afford bus fare, let alone books *sniff*)!

The Lost Prince (The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten, #1)
Goodreads description: Don’t look at Them. Never let Them know you can see Them.
That is Ethan Chase’s unbreakable rule. Until the fey he avoids at all costs—including his reputation—begin to disappear, and Ethan is attacked. Now he must change the rules to protect his family. To save a girl he never thought he’d dare to fall for.
Ethan thought he had protected himself from his older sister’s world—the land of Faery. His previous time in the Iron Realm left him with nothing but fear and disgust for the world Meghan Chase has made her home, a land of myth and talking cats, of magic and seductive enemies. But when destiny comes for Ethan, there is no escape from a danger long, long forgotten.

I really, really want to read this. I love the Iron Fey series and was thrilled to learn that Julie Kagawa was releasing a follow-up, focusing on Meghan's little brother Ethan, all grown up! This looks like a fantastic read and I'll be buying this as soon as it's released!

Delirium (Delirium, #1)
Goodreads description: Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

Delirium has been on my list for ages but I just haven't had the money to buy books to read for fun (waaah!). Looking forward to finally reading it!

The Blemished (Blemished #1)
Goodreads description: A beautiful world comes at a price...
In a world filled with stunning clones Mina Hart is Blemished. Her genes are worthless and that takes away her rights: her right to an Education, her right to a normal life and her right to have a child.
Mina keeps a dangerous secret which she never thought she could share until she meets Angela on her first day at St Jude's School. But their friendship is soon complicated by Angela’s adoptive brother Daniel. Mina finds herself drawn to his mysterious powers and impulsive nature. Then there is the gorgeous clone Sebastian who Mina is forbidden from even speaking to…
The Blemished is a frightening take on a fractured future where the Genetic Enhancement Ministry have taken control of Britain. It will take you on a ride filled with adventure, romance and rebellion.

I read the first few chapters of this on Authonomy a while ago, and I absolutely loved it - it's a great take on dystopia, and I'd love to finally get to read the whole book!

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)
Goodreads description: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha…and the secrets of her heart.

I've seen this book around a lot lately, and it caught my eye as it seems such a cool idea! I've been starving for an original fantasy read, and this looks like something I'll enjoy!

Black City (Black City, #1)
Goodreads description: In a city where humans and Darklings are now separated by a high wall and tensions between the two races still simmer after a terrible war, sixteen-year-olds Ash Fisher, a half-blood Darkling, and Natalie Buchanan, a human and the daughter of the Emissary, meet and do the unthinkable—they fall in love. Bonded by a mysterious connection that causes Ash’s long-dormant heart to beat, Ash and Natalie first deny and then struggle to fight their forbidden feelings for each other, knowing if they’re caught, they’ll be executed—but their feelings are too strong.
When Ash and Natalie then find themselves at the center of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to pull the humans and Darklings back into war, they must make hard choices that could result in both their deaths.

Another book I've seen floating around the Blogosphere. It looks intriguing, so I think I'll give it a read!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Five tips for writing fiction

I was struggling to think of a writing topic to blog about this week, but I realised that some of the notes I have from my creative writing course might be useful for other writers. This is based on my lecture notes from over two years ago on writing short stories - I found it pretty useful! So here's my top five tips of the week:

  • Remember the three part narrative structure: beginning, middle, end. Sounds pretty basic, but it's what readers expect. Of course, there are some examples of great novels which are told outside of the traditional order (with the end revealed at the beginning, or the story told through flashbacks) but these are the exception rather than the rule. The narrative doesn't necessarily have to be linear, but must have a compelling opening, enough in the middle to keep the reader entertained and a build-up to a great climax and denouement. It's the basic structure as set in the earliest stories told around campfires by our distant ancestors, and it's never been bettered.
  • Show don't tell...this one constantly comes up in writing advice, but it's amazing how easy it is to get into the habit of telling the reader things that can easily be shown through action. Why say 'It was raining' when you can show the raindrops drumming on the windowsill? The same goes for emotion. I've been told to avoid words such as 'angry', 'depressed', etc. It's so much more effective to convey emotions through the characters' speech, actions and reactions. Characteristics come through more strongly in this way, too. Showing brings your writing to life.
  • Conflict! Every story needs something that drives it, and that's generally linked to what the characters want, and the forces preventing them from achieving those goals. Before you start writing, think about what your main character wants, and what forces work against them. The conflict can be internal or external, but it has to be there.
  • Motivations: this one's linked to conflict, but it's important that you give the characters a reason for pursuing their goals. People act for a reason, and it has to fit in with their character. Without motives, characters fall flat, and their behaviour makes no sense.
  • Get right into the action - don't spend ages setting the scene, but hook the reader first and explain the background later. Giving the reader a reason to read on is the most important aim for Chapter One!

As you might have noticed, I've gotten into the habit of blogging twice weekly, posting one book review and one writing-related post. This is the most I can manage right now with the amount of work I have to do for university - third year is turning out to be a killer! But I'm still managing to do some writing, even though it isn't as much as I'd like to be doing.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Review - Angelfall by Susan Ee

Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, #1)
Goodreads description: It’s been six weeks since angels of the apocalypse descended to demolish the modern world. Street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. When warrior angels fly away with a helpless little girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back.

Anything, including making a deal with an enemy angel.

Raffe is a warrior who lies broken and wingless on the street. After eons of fighting his own battles, he finds himself being rescued from a desperate situation by a half-starved teenage girl.

Traveling through a dark and twisted Northern California, they have only each other to rely on for survival. Together, they journey toward the angels’ stronghold in San Francisco where she’ll risk everything to rescue her sister and he’ll put himself at the mercy of his greatest enemies for the chance to be made whole again.

Amazon UK

I confess that this was one of my ‘impulse buys’ – I was bored, found this ebook cheap on Amazon, and found the description interesting. I didn’t expect much – but Susan Ee’s storytelling blew me away.

In a word: wow. There are a lot of books about angels around these days, but I’ve honestly never read anything quite like this. Ee draws on the biblical depiction of angels as vengeful and merciless agents of God who hand out judgement on humankind, and the result is a brutal post-apocalyptic world in which avenging angels have laid waste to civilisation. Hunted by the avenging messengers of God, humanity has fractured, the survivors broken wrecks for the most part – some even turning to cannibalism.

Penryn spends her life looking after her disabled sister and her paranoid-schizophrenic mother, but when her sister is taken by angels, she is forced to ally herself with one of the beings she despises. Having been stripped of his wings by his own kind, Raffe may be Penryn’s only hope to save her sister, and the two make a reluctant alliance. But as the stakes heighten, it seems impossible for either to stay loyal to their own kind. Raffe wants his wings back, and Penryn intends to go right into the aerie, formerly San Francisco, to find her sister, no matter the cost.

We have little or no back story in the beginning; Susan Ee leaves it to the reader to piece together what happened to the world and focuses instead on the immediate action. The result is that you feel like you’re there with Penryn, whether it be hiding out in abandoned houses or trekking through dark forests full of unseen enemies. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking, and the narrative kept me in a constant state of tension.  Ee is a fantastic storyteller, and Penryn’s voice is both youthful and cynical, perfect for the story. Penryn is an independent, tough heroine reminiscent of Katniss from The Hunger Games. But Ee’s horrific future world is very different from Collins’s dystopia. In Katniss’s world, you know you’ll be punished if you break the rules. In Penryn’s world, there are no rules. The angels are mean, remorseless and want us dead. And I love it.

This book has to be one of the most gripping post-apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read - and in a genre full of great talent, that’s saying something. Every twist was unexpected,the action remains at a constant high, and the depiction of the world in ruins is eerie and haunting.  Maybe some readers will be annoyed at the lack of background information - other than what we gather from Penryn's observations - but I think the story works better that way. Angelfall has a gripping narrative full of nail-biting suspense and some genuinely shocking moments, yet the characterisation - particularly of the leading characters - is also well-developed, especially Penryn’s conflicting feelings towards Raffe. The cliffhanger ending left me, as I'm sure it did so many other, eagerly anticipating the sequel - it'll be hard to match this debut on quality, but there are so many things hinted at, including the angel politics that led to the invasion of Earth, the twisted experiments they were performing, and the history of Penryn's family.

A fantastic novel from an incredibly talented author: this is one end-of-the-world story you don’t want to miss.

Rating: *****

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Review - The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

The Alloy of Law (Mistborn, #4)

Goodreads summary: Fresh from the success of The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, best known for completing Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time®, takes a break to return to the world of the bestselling Mistborn series.

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice. 

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will. After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

The Alloy of Law is Sanderson’s follow-up to his epic fantasy trilogy, the Mistborn series. Sanderson is an extraordinary fantasy writer, with the enviable ability to create unique alternative worlds operating on fascinating and totally original systems of magic. The Mistborn trilogy is far and away one of my favourite fantasy series of all time, and I was eager to read this follow-up novel despite knowing that it would not feature any of the classic characters from the original series, being set in the future.

The Mistborn series contains one of the most original magical systems I’ve ever read. Allomancy and Feruchemy are magical abilities which work by ‘burning’ metals to enhance one’s abilities, and those with either skill generally have only one such ability. An issue I often have with adult fantasy is that it can get too bogged-down in world-building and complex details. As original as Ian Irvine’s fantasy world in the Well of Echoes trilogy may be, I confess that most of the detailed explanations of Geomancy went right over my head (possibly because I’m not a science person!). But this never happens with Sanderson’s novels:  they’re both complex and readable, and that’s no easy feat.

The protagonist, Waxillium Ladrian, is a Twinborn, one of the few people with abilities in both Allomancy and Feruchemy, capable of Pushing on metals for limitless movement, and of becoming lighter or heavier at will. A reluctant aristocrat who spent most of his life in the Roughs, catching criminals, he is expected to assume his role as the head of his House and to find a suitable wife.  But in the city, mysterious crimes are being committed, with seemingly random thefts and kidnappings. He and his former partner-in-crime Wayne - a man capable of healing himself even of a life-threatening injury - and Marasi, a friend of his kidnapped fiancĂ©, have to join forces to uncover who’s behind the robberies – and what their true motives are.

Whilst not quite as intensely gripping as the original trilogy, The Alloy of Law is an excellent book, drawing us into a future world far away from the world left ravaged at the end of The Hero of Ages. The book is intended as a companion to the series and, as such, it would be better to have read the trilogy first (I highly recommend them!) to gain an idea of the context of the events. That said, The Alloy of Law is a great story in its own right, with the same page-turning quality, epic fight sequences, and vivid, well-developed characterisation that makes his Mistborn series so stunning.

Rating: *****

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Review - Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

(Cover and description from Goodreads)

This book intrigued me, mainly because I had an idea for a dystopia in which people are segregated according to their personality type a while ago, which never got past the planning stage. But this was different to what I expected, and in a good way. Veronica Roth creates an interesting version of the dystopian world, one based on conformity rather than fear. In this world, there are five paths in life: Abnegation, Amity, Erudite, Candor, and Dauntless, each based on a virtue which they value above all else. The factions live separately, and at sixteen, everyone has to take a test to see which of the factions they will spend their life in. For Beatrice, this will mean staying in Abnegation with her family, or being permanently separated from them.

But what if you don’t fit comfortably into any category?

When Beatrice takes the test, she learns something about herself that could put her life at risk: she is Divergent. This gives her the choice of whether to stay with her family in the selfless, giving world of Abnegation – or to join the Dauntless and realise her full potential.  She decides to start an new life and switch factions, unable to commit to the selfless existence at home. Renaming herself Tris, Beatrice fights to pass the gruelling initiation. If she fails, she will be cast out, factionless – which, to her, is a fate worse than death. But can she survive the tests that follow?

As she fights for a place in the world, Tris is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about herself and her family, and has to face her deepest fears. In a world where everyone is out to compete, can she trust anyone? And with plots brewing in the background, her secret might not be as safe as she assumed.

Divergent didn’t grip me as much as The Hunger Games, but this is an action-packed, engaging read. The action is high and tension and suspense are maintained throughout.  The only criticism is that the majority of the novel is taken up by the long initiation process, which may frustrate some readers that we have to wait until three quarters of the way through the book for the main action to start. But the gripping finale is worth the wait, and the final part of the book is an emotional rollercoaster. The writing is well-paced throughout and the characters are convincing. Tris is a strong heroine, if a bit unfeeling, but it’s refreshing to see a protagonist who isn’t caught up in petty love triangles. The tentative romance is believable, even though Tris’s relationships with the other characters, particularly her family, are a little underdeveloped.

Divergent is well worth a look for anyone looking for their next dystopian read, even if this particular dystopia isn’t quite as absorbing as Katniss’s, and perhaps not entirely plausible under close scrutiny. But the story is enjoyable, and it’s easy to see why it has so many fans. I’ll definitely be reading the next in the series, and I’m interested to see where Roth takes the story next!

Rating: ****