Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

the bone season samantha shannon“Knowledge is dangerous. Once you know something, you can’t get rid of it. You have to carry it. Always.”
The Bone Season, Samantha Shannon

Samantha Shannon’s debut novel The Bone Season has been much hyped and much criticized, as you might expect of any novel written by a 21-year old which sparks a bidding war that results in a six figure publishing deal and 20th century Fox optioning the rights. For every person touting Shannon as the next J.K. Rowling, there is someone keen to call her writing derivative and suggest that her style will improve “after all, she is only 21”.

So which is it? Another talented writer becoming the victim of tall poppy syndrome at the hands of those bitter about her success, or a precocious Oxford undergrad who struck it lucky? I picked up The Bone Season on my way home from shopping, started it on the bus, then took to my bed with the book until I finished it and let me tell you, her success is no fluke, the girl can write up a storm.

Set in 2059, The Bone Season follows Paige Mahoney, a powerful clairvoyant and member of crime syndicate The Seven Seals as she attempts to stay off the radar of Scion, the oppressive anti-clairvoyant system which controls several major world cities. Declaring war on unnaturalness, they have recruited voyants to help identify others of their kind who are then imprisoned, tortured and executed, whether they are aware of their ability to access the spirit realm or not. Of course, it isn’t too long before Paige falls into the hands of Scion, where her problems really begin when she falls into the hand of the Rephaim, rulers of the penal colony Sheol I in the lost city of Oxford.

I find it difficult to express exactly how much I loved this novel and the many reasons why. I really would love those who’ve called it derivative to explain what they think it’s been derived from to me, as I am pretty widely read and thought that it was a fresh, imaginative and punchy. Shannon has developed an entire lexicon, political system and history to fit her dystopian world, which splinters from our own universe in 1859 when the Rephaim first arrive. Her categorisation of the different voyant abilities is complex, with different voyants having varied abilities and degrees of power within these, of course Paige is a rare and powerful form of voyant, but I look forward to seeing the various categories of voyancy being explored later in the novel. I’m also wondering how far the theological allusions will be pursued in the series- are the Rephaim and the Emim more closely related than the voyants have been lead to believe? What’s the significance of Paige’s dreamscape being a field of poppies? Exactly how long can oil and fire mix before oil is burned up or fire extinguished?

The next book in the series, The Mime Order (in which I expect to find out the full extent of how much Paige’s Mime Lord, Jaxon Hall, is a psychopathic, evil, bad ass) is out in October 2014 and I cannot wait. I’ve already recommended it to loads of my friends who’ve enjoyed it as much as I did, and I received this text from my brother who deserves it published online for failing to call me back when he promised to:

Can you try and hook me up with The Bone Season author please? I think I have a crush on her writing ability x

Rose Petal Biscuits #SundaySnack

rose biscuits rose flavoured cookiesI made these rose petal biscuits for midsummer’s evening last week using the crystallised rose petals that I made at the same time because I thought they had a very Midsummer Nights Dream vibe- I could easily believe that they are fairy food. They are really pretty and perfect for a fairy themed or romantic look, though you could just as easily leave the rose petals off or use another decoration.

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 225g salted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon rosewater
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder

Decorations

 

Method

Cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk then mix in the other wet ingredients.

Once these are fairly smoothly combined, stir in the flour and baking powder until everything is evenly stirred in.

This dough is quite tricky to handle, especially if you’re making it on a warm day as I was. The easiest way to manage it is to shape it into a sausage and chill in the fridge or freezer until it’s fairly solid and then cut thin slices (about 3mm thick) from the sausage which will bake into the biscuits shown. If you want to use a biscuit cutter for a heart shape or similar, I would chill the dough until solid, roll out to 3mm thick between sheets of greaseproof paper and then freeze that before cutting the shapes out. This dough makes a lovely biscuit but is very difficult to handle.

Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes in an oven which has been preheated to 190°C until they are a light golden colour, then allow to cool on a cooling rack or fresh greaseproof paper.

When the biscuits are completely cool, beat the egg white with the water or rosewater (this depends on your individual preference, I find that the additional rosewater in the icing makes the biscuits a bit too perfumey, but if you like them strong add it to the icing in place of the water) before using an electric whisk to mix in the icing sugar so that it has a light, fluffy texture. Add in food colour very gradually until you’re happy with your shade. Then spread on the cool biscuits and sprinkle with crystallised rose petals.

As the icing contains uncooked egg whites, be careful feeding to people with weakened immune systems and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Crystallised Rose Petals

crystallised rose petals

This weekend I spent a lot of time hanging out in my garden, chilling out with my guinea pigs, weeding the borders and checking out how my crops were coming along. I decided to make some rose petal biscuits to celebrate midsummer, and thought that crystallised rose petals would make a lovely decoration. If you’re an organic gardener, they are really easy to rustle up. All you need is a rose, some greaseproof paper, an egg, a paint brush and some caster sugar.crystalised roses step by step

 

 

Pick your rose, and gently pull off the petals, abandoning any that are torn or spotted.

 

 

 

 

 

Gently paint each petal with some lightly beaten egg white, I add a tablespoon of water to my egg whites for a thinner and a finer glaze.

 

 

 

 

 

Gently sprinkle caster sugar all over the rose petal, shake off the excess and then lay on a sheet of greaseproof paper to dry for a few hours.

 

 

 

 

City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare

city of heavenly fire cassandra clareWay back when, I mentioned that I’d started reading Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series and was quite enjoying them. I dutifully worked my way through the various cities (namely, City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls) before realising that City of Heavenly Fire wasn’t due to publish for about another year. Hate it when that happens.

Fast forward a year and I spotted a copy in Tesco while shopping with my father and niece. Readers, I have read it and my thoughts are below- these WILL contain spoilers, you know I normally don’t but there were some very specific points that stuck in my head and I wanted to get these down.

 

*Here Be Spoilers*

On the whole, I enjoyed the book well enough. It has many of the strengths of the previous books in the series, snappy dialogue, beautifully wrought magical worlds and some engaging characters but for me this book went a little bit off the boil and at times felt as though the author was writing fan fiction of her own work.

While Clare’s series standalone, she works characters from other series into her books to maintain the world narrative throughout (something you can do when you have cast of immortals) but in this book, she begins foreshadowing a new series which for me left a chunk of the narrative unresolved. I don’t mind characters being brought in from elsewhere, but when I read the last book in a series I do want to have a sense that the book is finished. Otherwise it feels a bit like a fanfiction hook to get you reading the author’s corpus. I won’t be reading The Dark Artifices on principle.

As I hinted before, there were times when it felt a bit like the author was… fangirling. Nowhere was this more evident for me than in the scene (massive spoiler here) where the Heavenly Fire has left Jace’s body and Jace and Clary have sex for the first time. I felt as though the author seemed overwhelmed by the fact that she’d been building up to this for so long that her writing felt very clichéd and a little too saccharine. It also felt very politically correct to the point that I felt that the characters were lapsing out of character. I get that you have to be very careful writing a sex scene in YA literature because there are so many issues and sensibilities are at stake, so the emphasis on consent in the passage was fine and in keeping with the characters. But the issue of contraception and STD protection is an interesting one (and no, apparently shadowhunters don’t have a rune for that). Shortly before the scene takes place Clary “wished she’d worn something prettier, but it wasn’t like ‘fancy lingerie’ had been on her packing list for the demon realms”.  Reminding us that at this point, the characters are in the midst of hell, awaiting a battle in which there is a very good chance that they will die. And Jace, a reckless character and brilliant strategist who would have been focussed on preparing for the battle with weapons etc has made sure that he’s brought a condom on the off-chance… to hell. Right. Since it was so explicitly brought up (enough to really stand out in the text) it felt really incongruous to me.

But don’t worry, because everything turns out fine in the end. I think this bothered me most. It was as though nothing had ever been at risk. Everyone gets out fine, and Simon who has exchanged his immortality and memories for their freedom gets to be a shadowhunter and regain his memories. Very much like they all lived happily ever after (except Jordan who Maia replaces very quickly with Bat). Maybe I’ve been dabbling too much with Divergent and The Hunger Games, but I don’t think it’s a real battle unless a central character is harmed. I think I would have let Isabelle die from the demon wound and have Simon stay in hell after that. It felt a lot like fan pleasing at the expense of a story, but I can see that I’m not the primary market.

On the whole, an enjoyable enough read but a bit too neat and sterile for my liking.

Quote me on that… we shall ne’er be younger #Shakespeare

we shall never be younger shakespeare

Adapted from an original image by Brett Davies under creative commons

The Taming of The Shrew has never been a play I’m particularly fond of, for obvious reasons but even so, Shakespeare had some great lines especially about grabbing hold of life in the face of your own mortality. I like to think of this as the more romantic equivalent of gathering rosebuds while you still can…