Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: The City of Brass (The Daevabad Trilogy #1) by S.A. Chakraborty

Firstly, thanks to Harper Voyager Australia for this review copy <3



Date Read: January 31 - February 17 2018
Date Released: January 22nd 2018
Publisher: Harper Voyager Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Nahri has never believed in magic. Certainly, she has power; on the streets of 18th century Cairo, she’s a con woman of unsurpassed talent. But she knows better than anyone that the trade she uses to get by—palm readings, zars, healings—are all tricks, sleights of hand, learned skills; a means to the delightful end of swindling Ottoman nobles.

But when Nahri accidentally summons an equally sly, darkly mysterious djinn warrior to her side during one of her cons, she’s forced to accept that the magical world she thought only existed in childhood stories is real. For the warrior tells her a new tale: across hot, windswept sands teeming with creatures of fire, and rivers where the mythical marid sleep; past ruins of once-magnificent human metropolises, and mountains where the circling hawks are not what they seem, lies Daevabad, the legendary city of brass?a city to which Nahri is irrevocably bound.

In that city, behind gilded brass walls laced with enchantments, behind the six gates of the six djinn tribes, old resentments are simmering. And when Nahri decides to enter this world, she learns that true power is fierce and brutal. That magic cannot shield her from the dangerous web of court politics. That even the cleverest of schemes can have deadly consequences.

After all, there is a reason they say be careful what you wish for..."

---

If you told me The City of Brass was Chakraborty’s debut, I wouldn’t have believed you. Set in a wonderfully built world, with gorgeous writing and complex characters, it was easy to fall into the world of 18th century Cairo and be transported to Daevabad.

I adored our protagonist Nahri. Bred on the streets of Cairo with no family whatsoever, she’s learnt to fend for herself. Cunning, at times sly and fully independent, she’s a rare sight in a world that expects her to be married. I loved her quick thinking and ability to leverage every situation so it turned in her favour. She’s untrusting and rightly so given her upbringing. I thought this was balanced nicely with her ability to heal – she could have been taken advantage of easily because of her powers but she doesn’t let that happen. Nahri is put in a lot of difficult situations and pushed to her limits but she’s so determined and when she puts her mind to something, she succeeds.

The book switches perspectives between Nahri and Prince Ali (wow I just started humming that song from Aladdin) and while I liked his character I can’t say I particularly cared too much for his chapters. Especially during the beginning and middle, Nahri’s and Ali’s chapters alternate and I just really wanted more of Nahri. I can understand why Chakraborty did this though because Ali’s character is basically the opposite of Nahri’s. Where Nahri’s ways can be morally questionable, Ali is all about morals. He’s very devout to his religion and lives in a world of black and white… at least in the beginning. Ali is so sheltered that when his dad and brother think it time to expose him to the world, it’s not surprising how confronting reality is to him. His once black and white world is suddenly harder to navigate as he learns there is no single right or wrong. I really did love his character growth. He learns to overcome his prejudices, his preconceived notions of people and the way the world works. His is a journey of politically and morally questionable choices that would leave anybody mega confused and conflicted by the end.

All the secondary characters are important and memorable. I loved reading their interactions with each other, with Nahri and Ali. I especially loved the dynamic between Ali and his brother the Emir, Muntadhir. There is so much love there which I find refreshing and rare in books with two brothers next in line for the throne. There’s also the sweet Jamshid which I have many THOUGHTS about but shall leave unsaid for reasons.

The romance though, am I here for that. I only wish there was more. I know that wasn’t the focus of the novel but boy does Chakraborty know how to keep a shipper on the edge of her toes. It made all the rare moments more precious and cherished. Honestly, THE ANGST. Like just get together already ya know? I still have hope after that ending though and will wait to see what the sequels bring.

My issue with The City of Brass was the pacing. It was immeasurably slow. The beginning starts off great, with high speed chases and magic carpet rides (YES MAGIC CARPET RIDES but we’ll get to that later). There’s flashy magic and it’s wonderful but then it starts to draaaaag. And drag. The middle consists of a heap of… political stuff happening? In excess too. To the point where I kind of lost the plot and didn’t really know where the story was going or if it was going anywhere. I lost the bigger picture. Was it about rebellion and Daevabad’s history, was it about Nahri’s heritage, was it about Dara’s history? But then the ending comes at me in a rush and it all comes back together again. There’s a lot of secrets going on what with the current royal family, all the history of the different characters (DARA ERMAGHERD) and the unrest in the city. Chakraborty reconnects everything for one helluva killer ending and it all makes sense again! I just wish it had been spaced out better.

Let’s talking about the world building though. Weeeooooow was it imaginative and lush. From 18th century Cairo to sudden magic I was immediately immersed in this world. There are magic carpet rides (YOU CAN SCREAM NOW), enchanted tea, cursed lakes and mythical creatures throughout. Then there’s Daevabad with its upside-down waterfalls and magic where you least expect it. Can we also talk about the food? *Drools* My goodness does Chakraborty know how to make me drool. I want to eat everything described in this book. The desserts and the wine and the platters of rice and dishes full of flavour and spices. I literally just had dinner but thinking about the food in The City of Brass has my second stomach growling.

None of these complex characters or beautiful world would have worked without Chakraborty’s lovely writing. Her style is sophisticated and her flowery prose is right up my alley (again I say FOOOOD). She doesn’t overdo it, putting in just the right amount of descriptions to make me really see/feel/hear/smell the wonderful City of Brass.

Complex characters, thoughtfully and thoroughly built world, my only gripe was the pacing which was a major setback for me. Overall, The City of Brass is a strong debut from Chakraborty and I’m eager to see where the Daevabad trilogy goes.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

Firstly, thanks to Hachette Australia for this review copy <3


Date Read: January 22 - 29 2018
Date Released: February 8 2018
Publisher: Gollancz (Hachette Australia)
Source: E-galley via publisher
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever."

---

The Belles was like nothing I’d ever read before. Clayton has created a completely unique world where people are born with grey skin, red eyes and straw-like hair. Nobody is exempt, not even royalty. Only the Belles, born with the gifts of the Goddess of Beauty, can alter someone’s appearance, give them colour and make them beautiful. Beauty is all that matters in the world of Orleans.

Protagonist Camellia (she prefers to be called Camille) is one of six Belles of her generation vying for the esteemed title of ‘favourite’ to serve the royal family as their Belle. Trained since birth she is determined to be the favourite and is adamant that not only does she deserve the title more than her sisters, she is also ready because she is the best. I’m now going to proceed and word vomit on her character. Camille is very obviously not ready to face court, she’s not even ready to face the real world. I don’t know what du Barry (the keeper of the Belles if you will) was teaching them for 16 years but it was not in touch with reality. Camille is extremely naïve with regards to the world around her. There is a time and place for everything. We’re meant to learn from our mistakes. She repeats her mistakes, and what seemed like naivety in the beginning, turns into ignorance and stupidity by the end. She has basically no character growth. After spending ages amongst aristocrats and royalty, being amongst their games, being the target of their games, you’d think she gets it. Know when to speak, know when to keep her mouth shut and observe, learn, strategise. Learn to play their games and be SMARTER than them. Nope. If she’d done this she wouldn’t have landed in as many as the horrible situations she did (but then I guess there’d be no story?). Her ignorance is obvious in the way that people tell her she’s being watched, listened to, her every move tracked. She goes and runs off, has what she thinks are ‘private’ conversations with other people, completely oblivious to the eyes and ears that are everywhere. I am so done with her. I got so frustrated I wanted to throw my Kindle. These qualities of hers dominated my reading experience and negated all the good in her.

Clayton introduces a whole host of secondary characters that are complex and memorable. These are the ones that kept me reading. There’s the other Belles, especially the temperamental rule follower Amber who is Camellia’s best friend and rival. The fiery Edel who loves to break rules and is my personal favourite. I was also intrigued by Camille’s guard Remy (can I announce now that I ship them, don’t worry no spoilers) who is perpetually stoic but has a good heart. Most interesting of all is the Princess Sophia. Erratic, controlling and in my opinion, something’s not right about her from the moment we meet her. There are parts of Sophia’s character that were blatantly obvious to me and I’m hoping Clayton explores her further and digs deeper into her personality. I’d made certain assumptions about Sophia very early on and so far to the end I was right. I’d like Clayton to prove me wrong and show me there’s more depth to her in the sequel. I loved reading about all these different characters Camille interacted with. They really painted a picture of the value of beauty, perfection and court life.

Of course there’s romance. Ship it I do not (haha punny, you’ll get it when you read). It felt forced, fake and totally lacking in chemistry. Honestly, I thought there was more chemistry between Camille and Remy who was basically expressionless so you know how I feel about all this.

I found the plot arc for this first book quite predictable but there’s also an overarching story regarding the Belles and their history which fascinated me. Clayton slowly peels back the layers and I loved discovering more about their powers. The pacing is slow for the majority of the book with the plot slowly unfurling but the big reveal happens quite quickly and it kind of ends in a cliff-hanger. Got me all excited for the next book which I can tell will expand on the world!

My favourite part of The Belles was hands down the world-building and Clayton’s writing. I went to see the Australian Ballet perform Sleeping Beauty late last year and it had the most beautifully opulent set, gorgeous pastel colours throughout and decadent costumes. Stepping into Clatyon’s Orleans felt like watching Sleeping Beauty all over again. The world is luxurious, opulent, ostentatious. In a society where people are born without colour, they substitute this loss by surrounding themselves with it. Not only by altering their appearances constantly to cover the grey, but by dressing in increasingly exuberant outfits and living luxurious lifestyles. Think Laduree on fleek. Pastel macarons, cakes, petit fours, all the dainty teacups and everything you’d need for a tea party. The most flashy gowns bordering on ridiculous. This is their daily life. Clayton pulls the reader in with her flowery writing and descriptions. It’s filled with imagery utilising blooms, desserts and a wide colour gamut. I fell in love with this world.

Clayton’s opulent world is enhanced with her lovely writing and balanced with the undercurrent of danger beneath the gorgeous façade of Orleans. In a world where beauty is literally everything, people will go to any resort to stay on top of the game. This is a game I’m quite happy to observe.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Review: Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Firstly, thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for this review copy <3




Date Read: December 20 - 28 2017
Date Released: December 27th 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

Synopsis:
"A contemporary novel about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream leads her to new friends—and maybe even new love.

The day of the last party of the summer, Claudia overhears a conversation she wasn't supposed to. Now on the wrong side of one of the meanest girls in school, Claudia doesn't know what to expect when the two are paired up to write a paper—let alone when they're both forced to try out for the school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

But mandatory participation has its upsides—namely, an unexpected friendship, a boy band obsession, and a guy with the best dimpled smile Claudia's ever seen. As Claudia's world starts to expand, she finds that maybe there are some things worth sticking her neck out for."

---

I still remember picking up Mills’ debut novel First & Then and being completely in awe of her simple yet sophisticated style and engaging characters. Foolish Heart is her third book and Mills is really showcasing her talent and ability to expand the way she writes personalities.

I found Foolish Hearts to be a bit different to her previous two books – First & Then, This Adventure Ends – in that while those two were definitely more plot focused (adjusting to a new family member and finding a painting respectively), Foolish Hearts was definitely more character focused. This is not something I regularly see in American books which are plot focused while Aussie contemporaries are more character driven, hence I found this very refreshing.

Claudia Wallace was an interesting character and at first, I didn’t think I’d like her. She was so ordinary and seemed like the wallflower type before the story really got going. As someone who’s not rich but goes to a prestigious school she kind of hides and tries to be invisible, not making an effort to make any friends despite it being her senior year. She observes and hangs back but whenever someone asked her to do something she’d do it and she came across as a bit of doormat. But then the story progresses and I realise she’s a genuinely nice person. She cares about other people and she’s also got an awesome sense of humour - +1 to anybody who speaks sarcasm. When someone really gets to know her, they know they’ve found a true friend in Claudia Wallace – she’s the person who’ll give you a lift when you’ve no one to drive you home, who will listen when you have problems, who has a wicked sense of humour when you need to hear a good joke. I also loved that she’s a nerd – SHE GAMES. She is extremely passionate about this MMORPG called Battle Quest and I was like omg you love this game like I love mapulsutoriii *hums MapleStory login theme song* (to be fair Battle Quest has way more purpose than Maple… actually on second thought what MMORPG doesn’t have more purpose than Maple?)

Anyway poor Claudia gets stuck helping out with her school’s joint production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with their brother school as extra credit for her poor co-written essay with Iris. Iris was such a well-written character. Kind of hate her because she’s a bitch who says some really scathing things and has no filter, but kind of love her too because she says it like it is and once Claudia/the reader got to know her, Iris is actually trying. She’s the kind of person who looks at a situation and doesn’t need to be told twice to get it, she’ll do the right thing. Iris also has an amazingly fascinating obsession with a boyband called TION (This Is Our Now… is that like 1D in Mill’s world?) and the singer Kenji. I could relate to this because I love my Korean boybands… not at the Iris Huang level though… but still! Her passion!

Senior year is definitely the year everything changes for Claudia though because not only does she get landed with Iris but she catches the attention of popular boy Gideon Prewitt from the brother school. And ohmygod does Mills write the most uniquely lovely boys. When we’re first introduced to the full force that is Gideon Prewitt I thought he was going to be one of those fake nice boys who plays with girls’ feelings, knows he’s hot and does drugs just because he’s a rich kid. I was so wrong. This boy is so genuinely sweet, lovely and full of excitement I fell in love with him so easily. He is extremely thoughtful, considerate of his friends and doesn’t hide his feelings to be ‘manly’. You know when guys tease each other about liking a girl in front of everyone and they get all weird about it and deny it? Gideon is the kind of guy who will earnestly say yes, he likes her. And that I find, shows a guy who feels confident in his own skin and is genuine about his feelings. This makes the romance immensely adorable and there was a lot of squealing on my part because there are so many moments that could have turned out differently HAHA. Like to the point where I’m like, is anything ever gonna happen? So cute guys, SO CUTE.

Foolish Hearts also has one of the best family dynamics I’ve ever seen. Claudia has quite a decent relationship with her parents but it’s her relationship with her siblings I enjoyed. She games with her brother Alex and their older sister Julia and her husband Mark! They go on quests and run dungeons together along with Claude’s best friend from pre-school, Zoe. It’s a different way of bonding with each other, learning how to work together in your different character classes to battle bosses. Alex is a great brother to Claudia, protecting her and while Julia may not live at home anymore, they obviously all care about one other what with the constant calls and texts like you’d have with friends. Great family dynamics like this aren’t usually explored and despite their non-constant presence, Mills managed to really give their personalities depth.

Another aspect I really appreciated was the amount of diversity Mills explored. I acknowledge that her previous books didn’t have as much of this (I recall This Adventure Ends had gender diversity) and it kind of felt like it was included amidst all the outcry of whitewashing in books. However, I think Mills did diversity right. There’s diversity of class, of race, of sexual orientation but it’s never used as an excuse for anything or as a plot device. These characters just are and don’t impede on the overall story.

All of this to set to the backdrop of the progress of turning A Midsummer’s Night Dream into a fully-fledged production. Friendships are formed in rehearsals, whilst sewing costumes and practicing lines. Romance is lowkey forming watching each other on stage and interact with others. There’s misunderstandings and drama… just like a Shakespearean comedy!

With the genius that Mills has established early on and continues to display, Foolish Hearts is like a standard high school romance but when you look closely, resembles a piece of literature the book heavily references. With a cast of stunningly unique and memorable characters, Foolish Hearts is a lovely contemporary that further cements Emma Mills as a truly talented YA writer.