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Georgiana89 (London)

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Sword of Destiny
Sword of Destiny
Price: £10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable collection of short stories and an essential read before the main novels of the series, 2 July 2015
This review is from: Sword of Destiny (Kindle Edition)
First things first - though it's the fourth (and currently most recent) book in the Witcher series to be published in English, it was the second book to be written in the original Polish, and chronologically, very clearly sits between The Last Wish and Blood of Elves. I've just started reading the latter - the first proper novel - and I'd have been extremely confused for the first two chapters without the background provided in these stories.

Like the Last Wish, this volume consists of several short stories following the Witcher, Geralt, as he deals with monsters and his own emotions and scrupples. Many of the stories here are still loosely tied to either fairy tales or traditional legends, but on the whole, the connection is a little less concrete this time around, which makes the plots feel less forced. They also follow on from each other better - the real point of interest is Geralt and his friendships and love affairs and self-doubts, rather than the "monster of the chapter," format that dominated the previous installment.

Like most short story collections, some are better than others, but I enjoyed them all, and loved some. Geralt's on-off love affair with the sorceress Yennefer, introduced in the final story of the earlier collection, is a key theme running through most of the tales. There was a surprising degree of emotion and heartache for what is in many ways a very masculine set of stories. The last two stories, in particular, take a turn for the dramatic, and start to set up what appears to be the main plot of the novel series.

Unlikely my slightly guarded recommendation for the Last Wish (which, with the exception of the final story, you could probably skip without missing any of the wider plot), I'd wholeheartedly recommend this. It functions as a fun and sometimes moving collection of fantasy stories, as a coherent piece of character development and worldbuilding, and as an essential lead-in to the novels.

The Last Wish
The Last Wish
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the world of the Witcher, but some flaws in this first installment, 2 July 2015
This review is from: The Last Wish (Kindle Edition)
Like most English readers, I came across this series of books via the computer game set in the same world, helped along by a heavy recommendation from my husband. The first thing to point out, for anyone who isn't clear, is that the books predate the games - this isn't some money-grabbing "book of the game," which tend to be awful.

It's a collection of short stories, each of which is a subversion of a classic fairytale - a version of Beauty and the Beast where the beautiful woman is the real monster, for example. These are artfully combined with elements of Eastern European mythology - lots of Strigas and Rusalkas and things - and an imaginative fantasy world.

They all centre around Geralt, a magically and physically enhanced "Witcher" who's job it is to deal with monsters - sometimes by killing them, sometimes by more diplomatic means.

I'm generally not a big fan of short stories, and while I enjoyed these, they suffered a little from the problem I often have with them - variable quality, and not enough time to become really invested in the characters or the plot before moving on to the next tale. Still, as they all featured the same hero and some other recurring characters and as they worked together to build up my understanding of the world, I enjoyed them more than most short story collections. It's perhaps telling that my favourite was the titular "The Last Wish" which was longer than the others, and gave the plot more room to develop.

In places, I got the impression that something was being lost in translation from the original Polish - moments that were seemingly intended to be profound or hilarious just didn't quite make sense (though other funny or deep moments managed to hit the spot).

I've since read the second collection of short stories "The Sword of Destiny" which, thanks to longer stories, a less rigourous application of the "each story is based on a fairytale" rule, and more continuity between stories, I enjoyed much more. I've just started the first full-length book, which gives itself space for more character development, world-building and extended plots, and which so far, I'm really loving. I'd therefore strongly recommend this as an introduction to the world, even though, as a standalone, it's an enjoyable fantasy read, but nothing remarkable.

Shogun: The First Novel of the Asian saga: A Novel of Japan
Shogun: The First Novel of the Asian saga: A Novel of Japan
by James Clavell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Impressive recreation of a time and place, but quite hard work, 2 July 2015
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First things first, it's impossible to read this and not admire the effort, research and skill that clearly went into it. On this basis, there's no way I could give it less than 4 stars. The author skillfully combines all the worldbuilding of a fantasy novel with all the detailed research of a historical novel set in a time and place your average English reader is more familiar with. I felt like I learnt a lot about 16th century Japanese people, politics and culture, a subject I previously knew little about. The food, the places and the traditions are lovingly described, so you can both vividly imagine them and long to experience them yourself.

There were also some very good dramatic, romantic and tense moments, and the seemingly main character, an Englishman marooned in Japan, worked really well as both a genuinely sympathetic figure and a great lens for showing the cultural differences and mutual incomprehension between the two countries at the time.

When I picked up the book, I was a little nervous that it would either be a sort of boy's own adventure in which a plucky Englishman saved/educated the barbarians, or else an ultra-romanticized view of Japan. I was relieved that it was actually very well balanced, with each "side" regarding the other as uncivilised, and the narrative making clear that there are good and bad points about each culture, and good and bad people too.

On the more negative side, although I generally prefer to read something I can get my teeth into, this felt a little over-long. Between the huge page count and the dense and complex plot, it took me longer to read than anything I've read in several years, despite the fact that I regularly devour both heavy literary novels and fantasy doorstoppers. And to add insult to injury, after all those hundreds of pages, all those chapters that describe a hawking session or a trip to a spring or the intricacies of a family in loving detail, the book suddenly stops, and the outcome of the final, climactic battle is summed up in a single paragraph. I assumed the other books described as parts of "the Asian saga" were direct sequels, but apparently they are just works loosely linked by the theme of westerners coming to Japan at different times in history.

My other problem was the double-edged sword of recreating a culture that values honourably suicide over survival, and promotes absolute loyalty to feudal lords, right up to the point where you seem able to stab them in the back with total impunity. On the one hand, it was fascinating to read about, but on the other, it made it difficult to really understand or engage with the characters.

Similarly, the constant plotting and scheming was intriguing to some degree, but there was ultimately so much of it that it was hard to root for or be impressed by any one character, particularly as they had all done awful things. I struggled to see what made the man who ultimately comes out on top any different from his rivals, either in terms of morals or of cunning.

Overall, while I did enjoy it, I think this was a book I admired more than I loved. I'd still recommend it to people, but you need to be prepared to put in the effort to get through the length, get in the unfamiliar mindset of the characters and culture, and keep track of all the triple-crossing that's going on.

Bad Science
Bad Science
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A real education in the scientific method and critical thinking - but entertaining too, 17 May 2015
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This review is from: Bad Science (Kindle Edition)
Having studied biology and chemistry at A-level, while I'm far from an expert, I'm probably more knowledgeable about science than the average person on the street. And I'm certainly not one to panic about whatever the Daily Mail's decided to claim causes cancer this week, or to put my faith in homeopathic remedies, so I felt like this book might be preaching to the converted. Instead, I found it a bit of a revelation just how unscrupulous some providers or both traditional and alternative remedies can be and just how bad huge swathes of science journalism actually are.

This is far from a ranty polemic. While the author clearly has his own views, he puts his faith in research rather than opinion, and subjects everything from cancer treatments to detox regimes to the same level of scrutiny, starting from the principal that properly conducted experiments are the bedrock of all medicine. Throughout, he really shows his working. By the end, if you've been paying attention, you'll not just have learnt about specific examples of "bad science," but learnt what a good study should look like and the tricks people use. This isn't rooted in cynicism - far from it. The author is willing to give everything a chance, as long as there's strong research to back it up. And as a result, he scrutinises both medical journals and magazine articles and carries out his own bits of mini-research.

This was all very compelling. It's nice to read a book that actually teaches you something and that combines this with a bit of humour and some good storytelling. I felt that this should be taught in schools as part of both science and critical thinking.

I had a few complaints: though he was generally balanced and likable, the author occasionally came across as a little smug, and showed far too much disdain towards "humanities graduates." The book was slightly overlong and repeated a few key points over and over. Though I mostly enjoyed it, I found some parts to be a bit of a slog.

Still, this is a must read for anyone who realises that newspaper headlines about disease and the claims of some alternative medicine purveyors seem equally dodgy, but don't yet have the tools or knowledge to pick these arguments apart.

A God in Ruins
A God in Ruins
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A simpler, but ultimately better, book than its predecessor, 17 May 2015
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This review is from: A God in Ruins (Hardcover)
I had extremely mixed feelings about the first book in this series, Life after Life (my review here -, which is based around the idea of Ursula, an upper-middle class English woman born in 1910, living and dying over and over again, making small changes with have huge effects each time. In my review of that book, I wrote:

"The book certainly had some good points. The heroine, Ursula, was likeable and well-developed. Her family, servants and friends were fleshed out and believable. The scenes set in the early 1910s and 1920s created a wonderful sense of time and place. The writing is great throughout, and on the whole, it made me want to keep reading. Interestingly, all of these would have been just as powerful with a straightforward linear narrative and despite the reincarnation theme being the book's major selling point (and certainly the thing that mainly attracted me) I actually thought that on the whole, it was the weakest part of the book."

In effect, my wish for the same writing and characters only with a more straightforward narrative is more or less what we get here.

Life after Life ends in an ambiguous and confusing way, that's provoked lots of discussion on book blogs and forums. Ursula kills Hitler (which has been hinted at throughout as being the reason for her constantly getting a second chance) but is immediately killed by his guards and born again once more. This time, she focusses on ensuring that both her beloved brother Teddy and his childhood sweetheart Nancy make it through the war (in every other life that's lasted beyond 1945, one or the other of them has died) and have a chance at happiness together. This could be seen as the culmination of her lives' work, or it could be seen (as the final chapter hints) that her cycle of reincarnation is genuinely neverending. Nonetheless, taking the book at first value, Ursula has placed saving her brother and his girlfriend over killing Hitler. So you've got to hope they make a go of their lives. A God in Ruins shows them spectacularly failing to do so, and as a result is utterly heartwrenching, both in and of itself, and with the context of the first book's ending at the back of your mind.

On the surface at least, this is a much more conventional tale than its predecessor. There's no playing around with Teddy dying and being reborn, just a beautifully told tale of his life from a boy in the twenties to an old man in the present day, with a particular focus on his life as a bomber pilot during WW2. It was a delight to return to the familiar characters, but this time around, without the reassurance that "it will all be better next life," I found it far easier to get emotionally invested in their fates. That said, it's far from a straightforward linear narrative. Most notably, the timeline is all jumbled up, with a chapter set in 1943 followed by one set in 1925, one in 1980, one in 1947 and so on. More subtly, within chapters and even within paragraphs and sentences, a narrator so omniscient that he'd have given a Victorian novelist pause reflects on earlier happenings and tells us things that will happen in the future. The same events take on different meanings depending on whether we are shown them as part of the past, the present or the future, and this is all beautifully handled, much more so than the resurrection in Life after Life.

And yet, in a way, the relatively conventional telling of the story is itself intriguing in the light of the earlier book. Speculation ran through my mind: which of Ursula's lives was this? The one from the end of Life after Life, or something else? If Teddy dies, will he start his life again too? And what happens when Ursula dies? In the earlier book, its as though time restarts, but here, when she dies in her fifties (and is presumably reborn) people in this timeline carry on without her. It all got quite wonderfully mind-spinning. And that's before you get to the final twist, which I was 50/50 between seeing as a cop out and seeing as total genius. Either way, it left me in tears.

Like the first book, this is ultimately about war and about family. Teddy, veteran of tens of dangerous raids, had almost reconciled himself to dying in the war, so living in peace proves a challenge. It left me thinking of the words we hear every Remembrance Day "we will not grow old as them who are left grow old. Age will not weary us, nor the years condemn," and with the chapter in 1993 called "we that are left," this verse must have been on the author's mind too. Poor old Teddy, more or less the hero of the first book, remains a lovely, if slightly dull, man, but gets thoroughly wearied and condemned. But while it reminds us that there is no such thing as a happy ending, there are touching, lovely scenes in amongst all the pathos.

The narrative structure is fascinating. The writing is beautiful. The characters and any number of times and places are artfully created. And the research that must have gone into recreating the experiences of a bomber pilot is truly impressive. Overall, a definite 5 star read, keeping all the strengths of its predecessor and benefiting from a change of approach, though be aware that it's really quite depressing in parts. In addition, while its structure is clever on its own terms, once I saw the big picture, it didn't gel well with the first book - I don't want to give spoilers, but this book's ending and that book's ending just don't work well together. Even so, this is a must read if you loved book one or even, like me, enjoyed it but found certain aspects frustrating. It's also worth a look if you like stories of WW2, books that give an overview of the twentieth century, or just artful storytelling.

Granny Was a Buffer Girl
Granny Was a Buffer Girl
by Berlie Doherty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A very personal read for me, 9 May 2015
I'd always meant to read this book as a young teenager - it was heavily promoted as my school - but somehow never got round to it. I spotted a copy in a charity shop last week and dived into it in a fit of homesick nostalgia.

This felt like a very personal read for me. It's set in Sheffield, where I grew up, which isn't a place I've often seen represented in fiction. And when I have, it's tended to be a grim vision of strikes and/or post-industrial malaise. This book portrays the city as somewhere with a proud industrial heritage and sense of community, but just as importantly, a place where the town segues into the dramatic countryside of the Peak District and that has beautiful views from its seven hills.

It wasn't just the setting that got to me either. My Grandma, a Yorkshirewoman born and bred, died last Christmas, and while I don't think she'd been a buffer girl per se, she did work in the steel factories from the age of fourteen, so I wanted to read about the titular Granny to remind me of her.

From the title, I was sort of expecting a fairly gritty tale of life in industrial Sheffield in the early half of the twentieth century, but (almost to my relief) that wasn't really what I got. Instead, this is a collection of ten chapters that to all extents and purposes are individual short stories. Each of them gives a snapshot from the life of one of Jess, the nominal main character's, relatives, and each deals with the broad theme of love, be it romantic, familial, or platonic. This structure reminded me of a teenage version of one of my all time favorite novels, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and if it never quite reached those heights, there were some really touching moments. I was on the verge of tears at several points, but I think a lot of that was due to the personal resonance. I'm not sure it would hit the average reader as hard.

The history, and the changing times, fashions and mores made for an interesting read. Rather strangely, the book was written in 1986, the year I was born, so the "present day" sections felt almost as historical as the bits set in the twenties or fifties. I can't quite decide if that added to or detracted from the book's appeal.

I have to say there were a few things that sat a little uneasily with me as a modern reader. The implication that it was touching that a woman stayed with her emotionally abusive husband. The suggestion that Jess was overly cruel in pushing aside a slightly predatory OAP. The idea in the titular story (probably my favourite) that the "granny" - then a girl in her late teens - did the right thing by immediately settling for marriage to the boy next door after being rejected by the man of her dreams.

Overall, this is a bit of an oddity, but worth a look, particularly if you have any connection to the area and/or a particular interest in twentieth century social history.

Ignite Me: Mafi Teen #3 (International Edition)
Ignite Me: Mafi Teen #3 (International Edition)
by Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.44

4.0 out of 5 stars strong end to a great series, but not without its issues, 6 May 2015
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From about halfway through Book Two to about three-quarters of the way through this third and final instalment, I felt really quite in love with this series.

I loved our heroine, Juliette’s, increased physical/supernatural strength and emotional stability, and I loved the way that Warner became ever more nuanced and likable, while still maintaining an edge. I liked the way the emotional rollercoaster kicked in from page one and barely let up, and I liked both the scenes of restrained sexual tension and the really quite seductive more conventionally steamy ones. On balance, I think I liked the fact that, in homage to Juliette’s improved mental state, the author almost completely abandoned the strikethroughs and flights of fantasy, though part of me slightly missed the weird prose that made this book so unique.

So in summary, this is basically a fitting end to a great series, and if you’ve enjoyed things so far, you should definitely read this installment, though I preferred book two (5 stars) on balance.

That said, I did have some quibbles. The first was the extent to which crucial things were left unresolved. The most obvious was the lack of even a token explanation for where people’s powers had come from, but others including things like why Adam has a tattoo of the bird Juliette always dreamt about. And what the hell did Warner had to do to convince his father he was suitable to head Sector 45? Seriously, his father mentions how he did something awful, and Juliette never asks him about it.

Secondly, plot has never been at the forefront of this series. Character development, romance, and emotional intensity have always taken precedence, and that’s basically fine with me, it’s just the sort of series it is. But I would have liked to have seen a bit more action here, perhaps by speeding up some of the scenes of everyone training/sitting around emoting, and slowing down the final confrontation.

My biggest complaint, however, was probably the way the dealt with the love interests. Let me be 100% clear. It’s not the outcome that bothered me (which was 100% in line with what I wanted to see) but the way that she released Juliette from having to make a difficult choice. Rather than either having to break a nice guy’s heart and/or by having to come to terms with her attraction to someone who’s done terrible things, she made Adam significantly less pleasant than he’s ever seemed before and she attempted to explain away literally every bad thing Warner has ever done. Some of these explanations were clever, and were necessary to make him an at all palatable love interest, but I’d preferred that a little more darkness had been maintained. And while we’re on the subject of characters, in a world of nuance, the cartoonishly evil Anderson felt a little out of place.

I’ve lingered on these faults because it’s a shame to see such a genuinely good and potentially great series not quite fulfil its potential, but they didn’t actively detract from my enjoyment, and I’d still strongly recommend this.

Unravel Me (Shatter Me)
Unravel Me (Shatter Me)
by Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.44

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Improves on book one in nearly every way for a genuinely sexy and emotionally intense novel, 4 May 2015
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Despite having some issues with the first book in this series, Shatter Me, I enjoyed it enough (particularly the last few chapters) to immediately pick up this sequel. I’m glad I did, because the things that made the earlier instalment good are present and correct and in many cases improved and most of the things I was less keen on – notably the wilder excesses of flowery language and the ultra-convenient plot points – have been resolved. There were still some strikethroughs and some strange metaphors, but partly due to an in-book calming of Juliette’s mental state and partly (I suspect) to an out of book maturing of the author’s style) they are much more restrained, and as a result, much more powerful when they do occur.

Plotwise, there are two key differences between this volume and the first, both of which should be obvious to anyone whose read Shatter Me.

Firstly, for most of the novel, the action moves to Omega Point, the rebel stronghold, and safe house for people with abilities like Juliette’s. Sadly, we’re seeing this amazing place through Juliette’s eyes, and initially at least, she mostly sulks in her room, so we don’t learn much about its ways or its inhabitants. I understood her fears and thought her behaviour was actually more believable than this traumatised girl suddenly been a happy part of a team, but it still made for a frustrating read.

Secondly, while still maintaining most of his role as primary antagonist, Warner makes clearer his true feelings for Juliette, and starts to feel like a viable love interest. Fair warning – this does all basically descend into full-blown love triangle territory. Personally, despite the fact it’s been horribly overdone recently, I still enjoy a good love triangle when it’s done well, and this is one of the best I’ve seen, particularly in this volume. But I know many people really dislike them, so if that’s you, I’d steer clear, as despite all of Omega Point’s plotting and a climactic battle towards the end, the romance is still centre stage here.

As a further warning, I’d strongly suggest that you read the novella Destroy Me before this, as it really explains his personality, demonstrates that his feelings for Juliette are genuine, and cast a different light on some of the seemingly indefensible things he does in Book One. Unless you really, really love genuine villains, I think you’d struggle to see him as an acceptable love interest if you haven’t got this background – however hot someone is, you probably shouldn’t get steamy with them if they previously made you torture a toddler.

Warner is an exceptionally strong character here, moving from the compelling but rather one-dimensional villain of the first novel to someone gloriously nuanced and conflicted, but still ultimately fun to read about and terribly sexy. His scenes with Juliette are a masterclass in sexual tension, surging emotions, and on her part at least, a desperate attempt not to give into forbidden love.

That’s not to say that there weren’t other strong characters or that nothing else interested me in the novel. I enjoyed some of the twists the plot took, and there were some great dramatic moments. James, Adam’s little ten year old brother, was utterly adorable and pretty funny, while Kenji, who I’d found infuriating in book one, trod a neat line between comic relief and voice of wisdom. And it was great to see a female character have a straight, platonic male friend for once. But at the same time, whenever Warner was offscreen for too long, some of my attention started to wane. This was particularly striking in the first fifth or quarter, where he doesn’t make an appearance at all, and nothing much else of note happens either. But from then on, things get very good very quickly, and overall, while it still had faults, I absolutely loved this, would highly recommend it, and went straight onto book three.

Shatter Me
Shatter Me
by Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.44

4.0 out of 5 stars If sexy villains are your thing, look no further - as long as you can also cope with experimental prose, 4 May 2015
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This review is from: Shatter Me (Paperback)
I’ve seen this book recommended time and time again over the past year or two in online conversations where one or both of The Forbidden Game or Shadow and Bone have been mentioned and fans have asked for suggestions of other novels featuring a character who combines being a charismatic villain and a dark love interest.

I’ve got to admit that characters like that are a guilty pleasure of mine, and one of the main (though not the only) reason the two books mentioned above are amongst my favourites, so I was really looking forward to indulging. It’s worth saying upfront that you don’t really get a villainous love interest in this version – that bit of character development comes later in the series.

The writing is one of the first things you notice when you open this book. Words, and in some cases whole sentences, crossed out like this. Numbers everywhere. And overblown, surreal metaphors. At first, I struggled with this, but after a few pages, I started to get use to and perhaps even enjoy the author’s unique style. And as the book goes on, the strikethroughs and weird imagery become less frequent. It’s designed to show the initial state of mind of the main character, Juliette, who begins the novel after nearly a year in solitary confinement in a brutal asylum, an ordeal that’s come on top of an already traumatic early life. I’m not sure that this always worked, but I’d much rather an author tries something a bit literary and a bit different and not 100% hit the mark than just play it safe.

In the case of the plot, on the other hand, it did feel as though she played things relatively safe. There was little here likely to come as a surprise to anyone who’s read any YA dystopia before. That said, it was enjoyably dark (how many YA heroines can you think of who’ve killed a baby at some point?!) and the old ground was trod in a smooth and reasonably fresh way.

I’ve seen some reviewers complain about the world-building and the lack of action, and it’s a fair point. But I think that’s just something you have to accept. Fundamentally, this series is a character driven romance. It’s about Juliette falling in love and discovering her strength, and about the similar journeys that supporting characters go on. What wider plot exists is mostly an added bonus. If character driven romance isn’t something you’re interested in, them stay away from this novel. To read it and complain about the lack of action is a bit like watching Fast and Furious 83 and complaining that no one stops to discuss their feelings.

That said, there were some plot points that I found a bit ridiculous. First, the fact that the main love interest, Adam, has a tattoo of the same bird Juliette keeps dreaming about (this is never adequately explained). Second, the fact that no one in the world can touch Juliette without dying in horrible pain – with the fairly notable and convenient exceptions of said love interest, and Warner, the villain who seems to have a bit of a crush on her. To be fair, the author pulls of a decent explanation of this in the second book, but there’s still a degree to which it felt like the worst plot device ever.

I liked Juliette, and Adam was a perfectly solid love interest. With crushing inevitability, however, to me, Warner was by far the most compelling character, and I don’t think that’s just because of my natural tendency to be fascinated by the bad guys. That’s bad in the sense of “I’m running a brutal dictatorial regime” rather than in the sense of “I’m a bad boy who drinks and sleeps around” for the avoidance of any doubts. He made an excellent villain – definitely appearing as more evil than romantic for most of the book - and dominated every scene he was present for. It was a little unbelievable that a nineteen year old had been given this much power, but he was the son of the leader of the Reestablishment, and I suspect Saddam Hussien’s sons were similarly terrifying at a similar age. And it was a little convenient that he was that ridiculously good looking, but it made the book more enjoyable.

Overall, this was a strange read, merging a fairly clichéd but well-managed plot with a very unique writing style. There were things I loved and things that irritated me, but it was enough to make me read on, and the series only gets better from here, plus latter instalments help to convincingly explain some of the things that felt a bit too convenient in book one. So I’d recommend that anyone who likes this sort of thing gives the book a go, and bear with the series if you have some doubts at the end of it.

Finally, if you’ve already read this, I’d strongly recommend tracking down Destroy Me, a short novella told from Warner’s point of view that sits between the official first and second instalments, and which makes a lot of things make a lot more sense.

The Young Elites
The Young Elites
Price: £5.31

4.0 out of 5 stars Feels like an enjoyable copy of several good stories - until things move in a different direction, 14 April 2015
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This review is from: The Young Elites (Kindle Edition)
If someone had told me there was a book that basically takes the plot and characters of the Grisha Trilogy, pops them in a Renaissance Italy fantasy world instead of an Imperial Russian one, adds in a healthy dose of Assassin's Creed 2, and throws Warner from Shatter Me in there too, I'd have had two thoughts - firstly, "that sounds horribly derivative," and secondly, "that sounds like the perfect YA novel, and I must read it right this second."

The Grisha is probably my favourite YA I've read since I've been too old for the genre, the Renaissance was my specialist subject at university, and Assassin's Creed is my favourite computer game of the last five years. (I've never actually read Shatter Me, so I may be wrong on that one, but enough people have recommended it to me because off my love of villainous love interests that I feel like I can speak with authority!)

No one had given that me description of the Young Elites, but for the first 80% of the book, for better or worse, that's what kept churning through my mind.

In this Renaissance Italy-esque world, a strange disease killed every adult that caught it, marked every survivor, and gave a selected few strange powers linked to elements and emotions. Our "heroine" (I'll get to those quotation marks in a moment) Adeline knows she was marked, but doesn't discover she also has particularly special (but dark) powers until the opening of the book, years after the fever. She joins the titular Young Elites, a group of similarly gifted youths, and along with them, plots to overthrow the Queen and put the Crown Prince on the throne.

Said Crown Prince leads the Young Elites, controls fire, is super hot, brooding and charming, and is the perfect mixture of a slightly more chilled out Darkling and a slightly edgier Ezio (and is even called Enzo). Apologies to anyone who doesn't get either of those references, but basically, if he feels a little cliched, he's also basically everything you want in a romantic hero. We also have Teren, the psychotic, sadistic and obsessive leader of the Inquisition, tasked with wiping out the Young Elites, despite secretly having powers himself. He's also super hot and super intense, but miraculously, somehow manages to avoid becoming one side of a love triangle. He starts out as the villain and remains the villain despite having nice eyes. Whether he'll manage to keep this feat up in subsequent volumes is anyone's guess!

For that first 80% of the book, I really enjoyed it as a fun but predictable read. Everything was well done, but nothing felt really new or unique and nothing that happened really surprised me. Now, unlike some people who get up in arms about it, I don't really mind books not being original - after all, no novel's been truly original in centuries. Give me "good" over "different" any day. On the other hand, I never felt it ever quite reached the heights of the stories it was clearly inspired by.

Halfway through, I'd almost have put money on where I thought the plot was going to go, so it was a pleasant surprise when, towards the end, there's a major plot development that sends things off in a different direction and turns this into quite a different sort of novel. This turn of events genuinely shocked me and made my take far more of an interest in the book. It also made some of the comparisons feel a little less fair. It's hard to explain without giving huge spoilers, but as it's basically the USP of the series, I think I can get away with saying that the take home message seems to be that the "heroine" of this novel is basically going to be the villain of further installments in the series - and not even through the influence of a man! I didn't actually see much evidence of real villainy here, and I really wish the author had a)moved things in this direction earlier, and b) ramped them up a bit, and I hope she really goes all out in the sequel. But there's nothing I love more than a good anti-heroine or even villain protagonist, so I'm excited to see where this goes.

It's worth a read if you like the sources I've mentioned (and according to other people, also X Men, which I know nothing about), but if you ever feel it's too much of a rip-off, keep plowing on, and hopefully the ending will change your mind. This book didn't quite hit the heights of greatness, but I did enjoy it, and it's left me really looking forward to the next installment now the world is set up and the unique factors are coming out of the inspirations.

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