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The Paper Menagerie & Other Stories

I read The Paper Menagerie and other stories by American author Ken Liu after having the great pleasure to listen to several panel sessions and meet him at Continuum in Melbourne. I was unfamiliar with his writing until hearing an excerpt from the first story in The Paper Menagerie, “The bookmaking habits of select species”. I immediately loved the detailed and provoking fiction that combined philosophy with history to create an imagined future or alternate past that was immensely enjoyable to read. A unique and diverse collection of stories, The Paper Menagerie is a must-read for anyone interested in speculative fiction.

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Godsgrave

Godsgrave is the second volume in the adult dark fantasy The Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff. Continuing from the dramatic conclusion of Nevernight, Mia Corvere is now a Blade in the Red Church and with Mr Kindly and Eclipse, she becomes suspicious of a single patron repeatedly requesting her services. After the attacks against the Red Church, Mia’s suspicion grows and she forges unusual alliances to continue her revenge against the murder of her familia. When the unique opportunity presents itself for Mia to destroy both Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo in one strike, Mia takes the risk, selling herself into slavery to a gladiatorial collegium for the chance to stand victorious at the grand games in Godsgrave, destroy Duomo and Scaeva and avenge her familia.Godsgrave continues the dark humour, historical and political satire of Nevernight as the violence and intrigue increase. Highly recommended!

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Beautiful

I recently had the pleasure to read Beautiful by Juliet Marillier in audiobook format. I thoroughly enjoy all of Marillier’s re-imaginings and re-telling of classic folktales and mythologies. Beautiful was certainly as detailed and well-written as previous novels I have read by Juliet Marillier. The inspiration for Beautiful was the Nordic fairy-tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon where a princess overcomes numerous tribulations to discover her true self. In Beautiful, the young princess is Hulde of the Hill-folk, viewed as trolls by the human populations, Hulde is completely innocent of the world beyond the Glass Mountain where the queen keeps her secluded and ignorant. Hulde’s only companion is a white bear named Rune who teaches her kindness and to trust her own judgement. Orchestrated by the queen, on Hulde sixteenth birthday, a curse will be fulfilled. When Hulde discovers the falsehood and betrayal, she prevents the curse from coming to fruition and begins her own quest to find her true self, to honour the memory of a father she never knew and to lead the Hill-folk with kindness, wisdom and justice.Beautiful was a story of wonder and wisdom, where beauty should be considered on many levels, different personalities and physical forms.

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Catching Teller Crow

The YA supernatural mystery, Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, explores Australian history, indigenous legends and cultural understanding through the characters of three young Aboriginal women.Catching Teller Crow follows Beth Teller, a recently deceased Aboriginal girl who has remained as a ghost, trying to stop the grief consuming her father by urging him to continue his work as a detective. Only seen by her father, Beth convinces him to investigate a recent fire and subsequent murders in a small, rural town in the Australian outback.Early in the investigation into a fire and murder at a children’s home, Beth meets Isobel Catching, a young Aboriginal woman found wandering in the wilderness after the fire. But Catching can also see Beth and soon the mysterious connection between Catching and the children’s home take a dark twist as Catching recounts her strange tale of survival and escape from another dimension inhabited by beings from Australian legend. To endure and survive the strange events, Catching relies on Crow, a shape-shifting young Aboriginal woman. Through hearing Catching’s tale and solving the mystery at the heart of the town, Beth finds the closure she needs to move onto the spirit world and Beth’s father gains the strength he needs to continue living in a world without his daughter.Catching Teller Crow is a magnificent novel combining history, sorrow, hope and culture to craft a unique mystery and ghost story for modern Australia. Highly recommended!

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Assassin’s Fate

Assassin’s Fate is the final volume in the Fitz & the Fool trilogy by American author Robin Hobb. Assassin’s Fate also marks thefinal instalment in the acclaimed series of novels following the Farseer dynasty. Assassin’s Fate sees the conclusion of the story surrounding Fitz, the illegitimate prince and assassin introduced in The Farseer Trilogy and the unlikely but important friendship with the Fool, a powerful prophet contriving to influence future events and return dragons to the world as is the focus of the Tawny Man Trilogy. Assassin’s Fate follows FitzChivalry as he embarks with the Fool on a journey to destroy the Servants who abducted his daughter, Bee. Together, Fitz and the Fool plan to avenge the wrong committed against them both by the Servants, travelling the long distance to the island of Clerres , the traditional home of the White Prophets. On the journey, the Fool recounts the torture he had been subject to at the hands of the Servants, detailing how corruption has led the leaders of the Clerres, known as The Four, to use the powers of the White Prophets to influence events that best suit their own survival and power. Fitz and the Fool are forced to race to rescue Bee from Clerres as an ancient wrong committed by the Four brings the wrath of the dragons against Clerres and with it total destruction. The mysterious Liveships are closely connected with venture by Fitz and Fool and tied to the vengeance sought by the dragons.Assassin’s Fate interconnects several storylines from the Farseer, Liveship and Rainwild series, offering closure and completion of these acclaimed and much-loved Fantasy series.

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Nevernight

Nevernight is the first instalment in an adult Fantasy series The Nevernight Chronicle by best-selling author Jay Kristoff. Nevernight is a complex book with many wonderful aspects and qualities revealed amid the violence inherent to the story. It is told on a grand scale and never pretends to be anything else. Mia Corvere is the young female protagonist of Nevernight. As a ten year old, she is forced to witness the brutal execution of her father for treason and the imprisonment of her mother soon after. Escaping death, Mia survives the streets of Godsgrave, beginning a journey to avenge her once-privileged family, now destroyed by the Republic. When she turns sixteen, Mia becomes a student of the Red Church, an Order of the Lady of Blessed Murder, training the most-skilled assassins in the Republic. Among the Academy, Mia begins a new battle to survive her training and discover the secrets about herself and the unique affinity with the shadows which are both a power and weakness. In the halls of the Academy, Mia sacrifices much to gain the skills necessary to avenge her family and destroy the Republic but finds a new a sense of belonging among her new family of assassins in the Red Church.
Initially, I was hesitant of Nevernight until the epic style of storytelling became clear, reminiscent of troubadour songs and tales in classic mythology. Jay Kristoff writes with skill making The Nevernight Chronicles very enjoyable and the worldbuilding behind this first novel is incredible. I look forward to reading the next instalments in the series!

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The Winter of the Witch

From the Blurb:

“Vasilisa Petrovna is an unforgettable heroine determined to forge her own path. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.”

Review:

The Winter of the Witch is the final volume in The Winternight Trilogy by American author Katherine Arden following female protagonist Vasilisa in this Fantasy series based on Russian folktales. The first book followed Vasilisa’s childhood and the burgeoning of her identity and powers as a witch. The second book set in Moscow explored Vasilisa’s conflict to be with her family but need for freedom and her eventual understanding that her identity as a witch placed her between the realms of men and the supernatural powers of Russia, the cherti.

The Winter of the Witch continues directly from previous events in Moscow. Vasilia struggles to gain her freedom from the confines of Moscow and the vengeance of Father Constantine and his master, Medvedev, the chaos cherti. In the last moment, Vasilia surrenders herself to the magical powers that are her heritage and escapes into the realms of the cherti. The fire that engulfed Moscow when the firebird was released is soon dwarfed by an invasion of a massive Tatar army. Against the backdrop of warfare and the enslavement of Russia, Vasilia struggles to keep her own humanity and rescue Morozko, the Winter King from an imprisonment devised by his twin, the chaos spirit, Medvedev. In the final battle to save Russia, Vasilisa and her brother Sasha, a warrior monk, unite forces against the overwhelming numbers of the Tatar army with Vasilia uniting all the cherti of Russia, even binding Medvedev to her cause.

Final Thoughts:
The Winter of the Witch was a satisfying and powerful conclusion to the Winternight Trilogy, the culmination of Vasilia’s story and the vibrant Russian folktales made this series an absolute favourite of mine.

My Conclusion?

Highly recommended! A fabulous read.

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Wolfskin

I recently read Wolfskin, the first volume in the duology, The Saga of the Light Isles by Australian author Juliet Marillier.Wolfskin begins in Rogaland among the Norseman of the Viking Age, following a young protagonist Eyvind on his journey to become a wolfskin warrior, one of the most esteemed warrior class in Rogaland. Eyvind befriends Somerled, an outcast younger son of nobility, a highly intelligent but socially awkward boy. Eyvind and Somerled remain friends through to manhood, where both vow by a blood-bond to be as brothers to each other. As young men, Eyvind soon becomes a Wolfskin warrior famed for his prowess in battle while Somerled masters the intricate power games of court life. Sudden events overtake both young men and they begin a dark journey across unmapped oceans to the Light Isles, islands inhabited by the native people, the Folk. Once on the Light Isles, Somerled’s desire for power stretches beyond Eyvind’s control. Witness to Somerled’s ruthlessness, every code Eyvind has believed in is challenged. Although Eyvind is initially saved from desolation by Nessa, royal priestess of the Folk, the two soon form an alliance to save the Folk and the Norseman from Somerled’s destruction.Wolfskin was a satisfying novel, combining dark history and ancient folktales to explore conquest, victory and self-discovery.

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A Court of Thorns & Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first novel in an adult Fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas. Although listed as young adult Fantasy like previous novels by Maas, A Court of Thorns & Roses is unsuitable for younger readers and contains appropriate warnings despite the booksellers listing and conflicting publisher imprint from Bloomsbury YA. A Court of Thorns & Roses follows the protagonist Feyre, the youngest daughter of a once-wealthy merchant but now greatly impoverished. To keep her two older sisters and father from starving, Feyre learned to hunt in the forest south of the great wall dividing the mortal realm from Prythian, the faerie realm. While hunting, Feyre kills a large wolf she suspects is a disguised faerie but generations of mortal hatred toward the Fae justify her kill. Soon, Feyre’s fears manifest when Tamlin, High Lord of the Fae Spring Court punishes Feyre for her crime, taking her to Prythian as his vassal, forcing her to forsake her family.Once in Prythian, Feyre discovers the hatred borne by the mortal world is slightly misfounded, for Tamlin is neither cruel nor merciless. In the relative safety of Tamlin’s power in the Spring Court, Feyre soon learns the greatest danger to the mortal realm is also a threat to Prythian. Although bargaining with the Fae is dangerous, Feyre acknowledges her love for Tamlin, she is determined to break the curse binding him and the other Fae High Lords. So Feyre bargains at great cost to herself to save Tamlin and, in doing so, protect the fragile peace between Prythian and the mortal realm. A Court of Thorns and Roses has a familiar fable quality like the classic tales of Beauty and the Beast but the stronger themes from folktales and folklore of the Fae give depth to the world-building behind Prythian.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a solid foundation to a series that can only expand and explore the complex history hinted at in this first book.

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The Girl in the Tower

I recently finished reading The Girl in the Tower, the second novel in the Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden. After the conclusion of The Bear and the Nightingale, Vasilisa’s life has changed forever. Unable to return to the simple life in her father’s holding, Vasilisa decides to travel. Although Medvedev, the Bear is bound again, Morozko, the Winter King, warns Vasilisa not to leave the safety of the northern forests. Determined as always, Vasilisa takes her stallion Solovey, and travels through the vast Russian forests. Vasilisa happens upon a bandit campsite and rescues several kidnapped girls. When Vasilisa seeks refuge for herself and the kidnapped girls, she finds the nearby monastery and her brother, Sasha, the warrior-monk. Since travelling on the road alone, Vasilisa has disguised herself as a boy. Relieved that Vasilisa is not dead as he had feared, Sasha agrees for Vasilisa to continue her disguise. For Sasha does not travel alone, but in the company of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Conscious of Vasilisa’s safety and reputation, Sasha takes Vasilisa directly to their sister Olga’s household in Moscow where Olga is now the Princess of Septecov. Vasilisa is reunited with Olga but delight quickly becomes restlessness as the claustrophobic lifestyle led by the noble women of Moscow begins to strangle her. For the noble, virtuous women of Moscow, their lives are spent within the seclusion of their households and tower rooms. The Girl in the Tower continues the story of Vasilisa and Morozko. Behind the main events, the scene in Moscow is one of political intrigue and the very real dangers of the Grand Prince’s court at Moscow. When Vasilisa becomes embroiled in a danger far more explosive than hiding her true identity from the Grand Prince, Vasilisa must risk her own life to save her family. Against the fading powers of the pagan magic, Vasilisa discovers a dark, sorcerous magic that holds a generational family truth.
The Girl in the Tower was just as enchanting as The Bear and the Nightingale, drawing on the wonderful Russian folktales and imbued with the same fable-like qualities. Here you can read my review of The Bear and the Nightingale