Tag Archives: fiction

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt has sat on my bookshelf for years untouched. I’d obviously picked it up somewhere, quite fancied the blurb which promised a story of university students going “beyond the bounds of normal morality”, just not enough to pick it up when other books suited my mood better, and there it languished, gathering dust and very literal cobwebs in a corner out of sight.

Then I decided to take part in a bookstagram dark academia challenge, and The Secret History seemed like a natural book to start with as the book that effectively spawned the dark academia genre (and no, I’m not accepting Harry Potter novels as serious examples of dark academia). All of which is to say, I can see how wanting to join in and git in leads you to behave in unusual ways – it finally got me to read The Secret History after all.

Inspired by Donna Tartt’s time at Bennington College, touted by Esquire as the 1980’s most decadent college, and thinly fictionalised in the book as Hampden college in the book, The Secret History follows a group of Classics students under the tutelage of the Miss Jean Brodie-esque Julian Morrow – a Classics professor who hand pick his own cohort of five students on the basis of their youth, wealth and beauty. The narrator Richard has studied classics at another school, but is rejected from the Hampden Classics class until he overhears members of the group struggling with an esoteric point off Ancient Greek grammar in their translation, and is spoken for by the clique leader, a Rochester style brooding hero, Henry. At Richard’s next meeting with Julian, he turns up wearing designer tweeds and gold cufflinks, aping the privilege of the current Classics cohort, and is soon inducted into their world.

The novel opens with quite the hook – one of the group has been killed and the others have covered up their knowledge of the death – but the novel segues from there into an account of Richard’s strained relationship with his parents, the circumstances that lead to him gaining a place at Hampden college, and from there to the heart of it’s Classics department. I found this section of the novel quite slow – it’s weirdly timeless. We know that it’s set in the mid-1980s from the cultural references, all Grateful Dead and frosted perms, but the writing style and Richard’s narrative voice are weirdly timeless. They feel like they belong to another era, almost Fitzgerald like as Richard writes and rewrites his personal history to draw himself closer to the privilege and beauty that he, like Julian, so admires.

The characterisation in The Secret History is so extreme it should feel parodic – the academic encouraging the young minds in his care to experiment with drug binges and bacchanalia to fully immerse themselves in their studies of Ancient Greece; a clique of students keeping apart from their peers and dressing like they’re attending Oxbridge in the 1920s contrasted with the 1980s brats in sports cars snorting coke and popping any pill they can steal at a funeral. It should feel parodic but it works.  If anything, the wild characterisation is the glue that holds the vaguely surreal plot together through the bacchanalia, the winter freezing in an empty warehouse, the murder, the funeral, the rapid spiralling away from any veneer of control because somehow the improbable characters make the events somehow more possible.

It’s a funny novel, slowly gripping you with the fussy reserve of the great American novels from another era, before dragging your through the frantic disintegration at the end of the novel but it works. As a read, I enjoyed it a huge amount when the pace finally began to pick up. That said, I’ve had The Goldfinch on my shelf for quite some time now, and I’m still not sure that it will make me pick that up any faster.

One thing I did wonder, reading about the Bad Art Friend this week, was how those known to have influenced The Secret History felt about that at the time, or now.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

In a town full of secrets… Someone was murdered. Someone went to prison. And everyone’s a suspect. Can you uncover the truth?

In the small town of Lockwood, a couple recently returned from working with Medicine Sans Frontiers in Africa join a local amateur dramatics society and are cast in their production of All My Sons. At the same time, a two-year-old girl is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her family launch an appeal to raise money for life-saving treatment from the United States. In the course of these events, a murder is committed. The suspect is in prison, but a QC who worked on the trial believes that the murder is still at large and hiding in plain sight. He instructs two law students to review a portfolio of evidence to see if they too come to the same conclusion.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett is a whodunnit with a difference, with an innovative structure that brings detective stories into the 21st century, the story is told through whatsapp messages, texts and emails, with the build up to the murder thus told by an array of unreliable narrators, in which the victim is voiceless, and the two law students serve to direct the reader’s focus, before acting as the Columbo-like detective figure spelling out what really happened on the night of the murder.

I really enjoyed this book, there’s something a little voyeuristic about picking through the emails, but it’s highly readable and as a format it really works. The characterisation is brilliantly conveyed through the emails the characters themselves write, and they manage to evoke some really strong reactions to various characters throughout the course of the novel. I was a bit of a drama kid growing up, and I’ve always found that local amateur dramatics groups can be a real cesspit of politics and factions, and I thought that Janice Hallet skewered these beautifully in The Appeal. Some of the characters were all too recognisable!

At the end of The Appeal, the reader is invited by the QC to answer 15 questions which will help reveal the killer. Even though I managed a few like which character was never there at all, I have to admit I flunked it, but in the most enjoyable way.

I thought that this was a really fun read, and it’s one of those books which will definitely become one of my go to Christmas and birthday presents for fans of Agatha Christie style crime novels.

Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Picture of the cover of Kazuo Ishiguro's Klara and the Sun, on a red cover, a window of blue shows a sliver of the sun which is echoed in the sprayed edges of the pages to give the impression of the sun setting around the book.

“I’d begun to understand also that this wasn’t a trait peculiar just to Josie; that people often felt the need to prepare a side of themselves to display to passers-by – as they might in a store window – and that such a display needn’t be taken so seriously once the moment had passed.”

Klara and The Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara, an Artificial Friend spends her early life observing passers by from her shop window, waiting for a child to come and choose her. With profound observational and interpretative abilities, she forms her understanding of the world from the events she sees outside her window until one day she is chosen by a teenager Josie, with who she forms a profound connection. But when she arrives at Josie’s home, she realises that the world outside the shop is more complex than she had ever realised.

Klara and the Sun is very much a novel for the pandemic. Isolated characters, struggling with loneliness, teenagers all homeschooled via tablets/oblongs and needing lessons in how to socialise with one another, wealthy parents buying AFs, or artificial friends, to help their offspring through the modern world. Seeing the world through the childlike eyes of Klara, who almost worships the sun as a benevolent deity and accepts all she sees as normal and right within the context of her limited life experience, we as the reader don’t initially realise how deeply twisted the initially recognisable world has become. It is only as the novel pans out that we realise why Josie is so unwell, what happened to her sister, and what is so disturbing about Josie’s her portrait sessions with Mr Capaldi.

Like Kazuo Ishiguro’s other books there’s so much to think about in this; what decisions do parents get to make on behalf of their kids; where do we draw the line with technology; to what extent is anyone truly an individual and unique? Could you copy the human heart and soul?

My thoughts below here may contain spoilers for Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

I find that Kazuo Ishiguro’s characters are designed to challenge the reader, while what drives them is relatable, and you can sometimes have sympathy with the emotion that drives them, fear, loneliness etc. the actions that these feeling push them to are often repulsive. Klara’s mother is a clear example of this, she wants the best for her daughters so she has them genetically modified to allow them to reach their peak potential. But this kills Josie’s older sister, and yet she does the same for Josie, knowing the risk to her children’s health – repulsive- but then we see the consequences for the children who aren’t “lifted” like Rick, they fall behind and become social pariahs because of their unlifted status. Assuming such technologies were developed and became the norm, what would you do? Would your child resent you that they were left behind if they weren’t lifted? Would they lose their health and life if they did?

The urge to create an AF of your dying child. Urgh. I can understand that the grief would be maddening but the scenes where Josie’s mother is almost experimenting to see if Klara could convince her, if she could trick herself into loving her like she loves Josie, gut wrenching.

Throughout the novel I found I had more sympathy for Josie. She’s an innocent, she’s young, she’s ill, as a reader I forgave many of her actions but the way that Klara, her artificial friend who she brought home with promises of a life of equality and being able to stay in her bedroom is first pushed out to the utility room to make way for Josie’s guests, then abandoned at a rubbish dump as her faculties begin to run down even though her mind still seems to be intact. Throughout the novel she’s seen as less than human by the human characters, but her sentience is more often than not acknowledged and respected, so this end for her felt a little heartbreaking for me.

If you’ve read the novel, what did you make of Josie’s miraculous recovery? I wondered whether Klara’s ability to see things that humans couldn’t, even though she can’t explain how she’s arrived at these understandings allowed her to draw parallels between Josie and the failing AF’s to realise that her illness required exposure to sunlight to fix it, and that the spectacular sunset that made this seem almost like a miraculous recovery was just a serendipitous occurrence.

They accept that your decisions, your recommendations, are sound and dependable, almost always correct. But they don’t like not knowing how you arrive at them. That’s where it comes from, this backlash, this prejudice.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

If that is what lead to Josie’s recovery, does that to some extent mean that the modifications performed on her as part of the lifting have in some ways reduced her humanity, that she is to some extent a cyborg now? Is that partly what Rick means when he refers to the Josie he once knew?

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

If you loved The Bedlam Stacks, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street or the Lost Future of Pepperharrow (and I know I did) then good news, Natasha Pulley has written another mind-bending-in-the-best-way novel, The Kingdoms, which plays with our perceptions of time, picking apart and reconstructing possible futures like one of Keita Mori’s clocks.

In Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms, Joe Tournier wakes up in Londres on a train from Scotland, wearing clothes he doesn’t recognise and with no knowledge of how he got there. Now he comes to think of it, he can’t remember anything. He’s totally lost his memory and is taken to a psychiatric hospital to help with his sudden case of amnesia. While he’s there, he has a brief memory of a woman Madeline, who he thinks must be his wife. But when an advert is posted in the paper and his family come to claim him, he learns that he is a slave, and while he does have a wife, her name isn’t Madeline, and she’s unhappy in her marriage to him as she’d planned to marry his brother Toby who died in the army. But beyond the memory loss, something doesn’t seem right, and when Joe receives a post card from a Scottish island which was sent to him 100 years ago and written in English (a criminal offense) asking him to come back if he remembers, signed by M. he knows he must do everything to get to Scotland in case this is the Madeline he had forgotten.

A slight departure from her previous books which are linked within the same part steampunk part magic realist world with an overlapping cast of characters, this book is set in an alternate timeline which sees the French win the Battle of Trafalgar before it’s even started, changing the course of the Napoleonic wars and ultimately rewriting history as we know it. A group of architects and engineers inadvertently sail through a gateway to the past on a steam powered ship and are captured by the French, which allows them to access futuristic technologies and knowledge of the military history of Trafalgar and get the jump on the British, leaving an alternate future in which England is a part of the French Republic, slavery is both legal and rife, and Scotland is, ironically enough, the last stronghold of English independence.

I personally love any story that explores what the good doctor referred to as the timey-wimey stuff, and I think that this is a great concept. It has the hallmarks of what I’ve come to expect from Natasha Pulley’s writing, sheer originality and inventiveness, a strong emotionally focused m/m relationship, a rich woman railing against the restrictions of her time, history with a twist, and incongruous animals quietly playing critical roles (this time four tortoises) written with a brilliant playfulness and poignancy. Without giving too much away, because this is definitely one to read, I really loved the ways that changes in the past drastically and specifically altered the identities and fates of characters in the future. A timely reminder that the past is a part of us all, and the roles that generational wealth and privilege have played in making us who we are today.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars book cover appearing to be a crest carved from golden stone, the Ravkan double headed eagle is rampant behind a shield with three large tears as if from claw marks along it

The Darkling has been defeated, Alina and Mal are running their orphanage in Keramzin, and Ravka is experiencing a brief period of peace as King Nikolai Lantsov’s farming reforms bring improvements to the lives of the common man… but this is Ravka. Of course, things are never that simple. Nikolai is still possessed by a demon, a legacy of the Darkling’s merzost that lives on after it’s creator’s demise, its power seeming to grow stronger day by day. As enemies threaten at the borders and challengers of the Lantsov bloodline stake their claims for the Ravkan throne, a plague of miracles is breaking out across Ravka, pointing towards the fold where a cult of worshippers demanding churches and recognition for The Starless Saint agitate at home…

I regretted how long Six of Crows sat in my e-reader before I got around to reading it, and having gone on quite the Bardugo binge in the last few months I do have to wonder why I didn’t hop on the Grishaverse books faster. I think it might have been because I read that the Crows didn’t really figure in the books outside of the Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom Duology, but I think that the two clever fox backed into a corner can match Kaz Brekker for readability on his day.

And in King of Scars, backed into a corner he is. But it’s nice to see Zoya come to the fore- I love, love, love her for not being a people person but actually having a heart and the weight of all the people she’s responsible for and her formative experiences making her who she is in this. With a nice Nina Zenik side plot and various old friends and foes popping up in these books there’s a lot here for established Grisha fans before we get on to the newer characters (like Isaak and Yuri offering us lessons in being true to ourselves and the perils of letting a man live rent free in your head, not to mention Juris, aaaaaah Juris!), though it would make a lot of sense to read the Shadow and Bone trilogy and Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology before branching out into The King of Scars/Rule of Wolves duology for context and to avoid spoiling all the other books.

I love how this book takes the whole a legend is a story based in fact idea and plays with it, twisting it out to the point where the characters stories are legends being written and colliding with actual legends within the context of the Grishaverse, there’s something very meta about it but at the same time in a way that doesn’t seek to intellectualise, it’s clever but so part of the action you don’t really notice it happening.

Masterful as always from Bardugo, and I’ve now bought Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo for my e-reader because I have almost no impulse control and couldn’t wait long enough to get to the bookshop and pick up the next in the series. Now I’m just really intrigued to see how Netflix will cast Nikolai or Sturmhond for the Shadow and Bone series, I think it’s only Nikolai and Wylan who have yet to be announced of the more major novel characters from the Grishaverse.

Witchshadow by Susan Dennard a review

I’ve been pre-ordering a few new releases recently, and have been so excited to have them turn up in the post a week or two ahead of the advertised publication date. The most recent of these has been Witchshadow the fourth book in the Witchlands series by Susan Dennard, which I’ve been itching to get my fingers on for ages.

The novel focuses on Iseult det Midenzi, on the run from the Hell-Bards with Owl and a weasel who isn’t a weasel, following a foiled scheme to save Safi’s uncle Eron by marrying her to Emperor Henrick. In theory it picks up where Bloodwitch left off, with the major characters scattered across the Witchlands as they mobilise for war.

I say in theory, because it took me a little while to gather the threads of where things had left off… what happened to Aedun? Becoming possessed by an ancient being feels like something the reader needed to be shown but I missed that. I’ve loved the Witchlands books so far, but for me this was a little chaotic. I was struggling to keep up with who and what was a Paladin and the Witchlands lore at time, and I think that may be because I have yet to read Sightwitch which was billed as being a separate non-essential novel in the series but I suspect might actually be key to some of the passages in this book making instant sense as supposed to sense that you have to work for. The novel was still enjoyable without the context, but I suspect that it would have helped contextualise the sections with Stix and Ryber in Baile’s Slaughter Ring.

Having said that, despite the chaos and the occasional moment of feeling like I was struggling to grab at the threads that flew everywhere, I really enjoyed getting back into the Witchlands novels. I think Susan Dennard writes action scenes really well, so while the mythology could have been clearer, when the time came to initiate and complete, the writing was on point.

If you haven’t read any of the Witchlands series, I’d strongly recommend them, especially if you’re a Leigh Bardugo fan looking for somewhere to bide your time for the next Grishaverse novel, the Witchlands series is a little less dark, in my opinion, and probably well suited to readers who are maybe a little young for the Grishaverse novels, but at the same time, there’s nothing light about them and the characters have a slipperiness and moral greyness in many cases that leaves you wondering where the series will take you. Just read them in order and probably don’t skip Sightwitch!

I’m just wondering when I’ll be able to pre-order the next book now, I understand it’s the last in the series and there’s a lot to bring together. Eeeeek.

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, a review

“Rhen,” she calls after me.
I pause in the doorway and face her.
“I’m not going to fall in love with you,” she says.
Her words are not a surprise. I sigh.
“You won’t be the first.”


A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Prince Rhen of Emberfall has been eighteen for over three hundred seasons. Cursed by a sorceress to repeat the Autumn of his eighteenth year until he manages to convince a woman to fall in love with him, Rhen sees the curse as a game at first. But at the end of the first season Rhen begins to turn into a monster, and as he does, he forgets who he is. As a beast, he has no control, and murders his entire family, before coming back to himself for the final hour of the season to see the havoc he has wreaked. For three hundred seasons he has turned into a beast, his murderous rampages decimating his kingdom leaving his guard Grey as his only company. And his memory of each season never fades. In his final season, Rhen is ready to accept that he will turn into a monster forever, until Grey is attacked by a young woman who witnesses his attempt to kidnap Rhen’s latest conquest, and he accidentally brings her to Emberfall instead…

On the surface, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is hugely problematic. How could it not be when the obvious slap slap kiss love story at the heart of it centres on a handsome prince who with the assistance of his trusty guard kidnaps hundreds of women to use in an attempt to break a curse each season. Details are hazy on what happens to the women (selected for being what the agents of Criminal Minds would call high risk, no family, no support network, no one to miss them when they’ve gone…) when the season is over. Rhen says they return to their world, but it also sounds like he ate a few of them in monster form, so it looks like a few of them at least are now forever Emberfall as it were.

So yes, a romantic fantasy which starts with two men kidnapping a young woman and keeping her locked up in a castle should set alarm bells ringing, and neon signs flashing problematic, but I actually really enjoyed reading Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

By bringing the reader in towards the very end of the curse skips over the worst excesses of Rhen’s former character that the novel hints at and lets us see him at his most vulnerable. He’s lost everything, and despite his own morbid curiosity about the limits of his curse (he’s tried to end his own life several times, and tried to persuade his Guardsman, Grey to behead him) he’s resigned to his fate, a broken man who is now only concerned about his citizens and owning his failure… And then there’s Harper.

Harper is to A Curse So Dark and Lonely as Clare Randall/Fraser is to the Outlander novels. An intelligent, loyal and empathetic heroine who acts rashly but always with the best intentions. A teenaged girl living in poverty in Washington D.C., she accidentally makes the trip to Emberfall when she sees Grey attempting to kidnap a young woman outside a nightclub, and barely hesitates to rush in and attack him with a tyre iron despite that being even more challenging for Harper than the average woman, because Harper has mild cerebral palsy that affects her balance and movement in one leg.

I haven’t lived with cerebral palsy personally, but I have taught students with mild CP, and I found the portrayal of Harper really refreshing. Finally, a heroine in a YA novel with a named disability that places realistic boundaries on her physical capabilities who isn’t portrayed as a burden, a damsel in distress or in need of fixing. She might take the role of the warrior woman, learning to throw knives and shoot a bow, but what sets her apart is her empathy and fierce intelligence. She’s easily the equal of her kidnappers, and while she doubts she will ever fall in love with Rhen and break the curse, her strong sense of social justice allows her to see that there are plenty of ways he can still help the Kingdom of Emberfall in the meantime.

Part of the reason that the highly problematic kidnapper/captive love story doesn’t become as problematic as it could is the dynamic between Rhen, Grey and Harper. Rhen is an overthinker, always calculating with the need to feel twenty steps ahead of any scenario, Harper is rash and impulsive, Grey acts as the balance between them, and in a move that has shades of Outlander again, teaches Harper to defend herself with a dagger when she tries to attack him. Both young men treat Harper with the utmost respect at all times, almost to the point of deference, and this leads Rhen to quickly drop any pretence of seduction and be honest about his plight.

It was good to see a YA novel where a relationship grows out of total honesty, though despite Kemmerer’s best efforts, I have to admit I struggled to feel much empathy for the Rhen, I found his character fairly brittle even when the ultimate Big Bad, sorceress and magesmith Lilith was brought out to torment him (in fairness it’s hard to blame someone for wanting revenge on a man whose family were responsible for the genocide of her people). In comparison to Rhen, Harper and Grey were far more interesting characters to read about, even though the novel is narrated from Harper and Rhen’s points of view, and I suspect that Kemmerer may have enjoyed writing them more too.

There’s a lot going on in A Curse So Dark and Lonely – deeply troubled families, dying parents, broken kingdoms, debt, bad choices, the weight of the crown and the responsibility that comes with it, but Brigid Kemmerer has woven it all together beautifully in a fantasy novel that does the hard work for you and doesn’t shy away from embracing its characters vulnerabilities.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“A dreamer,” scorns her mother.

“A dreamer,” mourns her father.

“A dreamer,” warns Estele.

Still, it does not seem such a bad word.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

I’m enjoying books that takes the thought experiments that you turn around in your head when you can’t sleep and renders them magnificent at the moment. Like Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library exploring a world in which you could erase past regrets, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab explores some of those most human of what ifs, what if you could live a life without responsibility? What if you could life as long as you wanted? What if you could be truly loved? What would you give to make these dreams come true? And what else would you be giving without realising?

In 1700s France, Addie LaRue is about to be forced into a life she doesn’t want, pushed into marriage with a widower to become a replacement mother to his three young children, she runs from the church and makes a Faustian pact with a man who might be the darkness, might be the devil, but agrees to give her an unlimited amount of time in exchange for her soul when she doesn’t want it anymore.

But pacts with old god, devils and the darkness are rarely as straightforward as the human making the deal might hope, and Addie soon realises that she’s traded her soul for a curse. She has unlimited time, but no one remembers her, and no one can remember her. She’s forced to walk the world alone, never able to settle or find security, with the darkness stalking at her heels waiting for her to yield. For nearly three hundred years she’s totally almost totally alone, lovers forgetting who she is when they wake in the morning, or a door closes between them until one day, a man in a book shop, with a secret of his own, remembers her.

I’m going to put it out there now that I wish that Addie LaRue was as forgettable as in the book – because then I could read it again for the first time. I don’t often re-read books but with this one I’m tempted. I love the concept, the characters, the writing, the dialogue… I haven’t read any of V.E. Schwab’s other books but after reading The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, I’m tempted. It will be my go to birthday present for so many people this year who I think would love it to.

I’m going to add some more specific thoughts and spoilers about the content below….

Ah sympathy for the devil. I know, I know, Luc is a complete bastard in many ways but I do feel sorry for him gradually falling for Addie, trying to hold back on the tormenting her, telling her he loves her only to have it thrown back in his face. Given that he’s the devil, the darkness, one of the malevolent old gods, it can’t come as a surprise that he’d want to twist the knife with a Henry shaped trap.

I’ve seen reviews which didn’t buy the Henry/Addie love story but I completely did. Because there are so many different types of love and I think that Addie’s love for Henry is much more about herself than him. It’s less a selfless love, than a need he fulfils. There’s obviously the physical attraction – at first she thinks he’s Luc who has based his own appearance on Addie’s ideal man, and joked about how many of her lovers look like him, she has a type, but also there’s the other needs that he fulfils. He’s the first person who can remember her in three hundred years, he can say her name, he can write her story and she goes for men and women who can leave a mark for her, and this one isn’t allusions in a song, freckles in a painting but her story explicitly spelled out on paper. He also reminds her so much of herself before she was cursed, the fear of time running out, of never being able to do enough, that speaks to her. She relishes his company, the experienced of being remembered, of building a story together…. But I would argue that in the story V.E. Schwab has written, it doesn’t really matter if Addie LaRue loves Henry Strauss, she certainly isn’t sure, even before she realises the full nature of his curse, whether she loves him. She wants to, but she doesn’t wholly believe that she does.

“And then he whispers three words into her hair. “I love you,” he says, and Addie wonders if this is love, this gentle thing. If it is meant to be this soft, this kind. The difference between heat, and warmth. Passion, and contentment. “I love you too,” she says. She wants it to be true.”

To some extent, Addie realises that her love for Henry is like Luc’s love for Addie – they are in love with the only person who knows them. She as much as acknowledges this to herself as she and Henry drive away for the time away by themselves as he runs out of time and Henry asks her if she would have made the same deal again, when she weights up what she’s gained and what she’s lost “She fell in love with the darkness many times, fell in love with a human once.”

So for me, how sincerely we believe in Addie and Henry’s love, the type of love, the depth of it is irrelevant, because to all intents and purposes, the whole relationship is another part of the twisted game that Addie and Luc are playing with each other, with shades of Cathy and Heathcliff, how much can you hurt the person you know you really love? Luc has deliberately set Henry’s curse in motion for him to stumble into the path of Addie, remember her, and for their relationship to grow with the full intention of his big reveal to Addie that surprise, I was always behind it in the dark, twisting the knife, looking for a new way to break you. But for centuries, Addie has revelled in the game of finding the cracks in the curse, of beating Luc at his own game, leaving her mark despite him, to spite him. Henry’s just another extension of this and becomes her trump card in the game she’s been playing against Luc. By apparently submitting to Luc, to free Henry from his curse, she’s setting an example of how she wants Luc to love her by taking her soul out of the deal, and because he believes that she’s chosen him and he’s won he agrees. But by doing this, this allows Henry to survive long enough to publish her story, her name everywhere. A strike against Luc that he doesn’t seem to even be angry about. But then we realise that all of this served a bigger purpose, not only is Addie’s soul now off the table, but the revised deal has provided her with the prospect of the freedom that she’s always truly craved – the terms are now that she will stay by his side as long as he wants her there, and she’s willing to play the twisted love game long term, because never underestimate the hold of a toxic relationship when both parties are determined to win.

“Perhaps it will take twenty years. Perhaps it will take a hundred. But he is not capable of love, and she will prove it. She will ruin him. Ruin his idea of them. She will break his heart, and he will come to hate her once again. She will drive him mad, drive him away. And then, he will cast her off. And she will finally be free.”

So yes, sympathy for the devil, poor Luc has no idea of the hell Addie has in store for him.

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon – a review with some theories

“It is a beautiful mask, but all masks fall. In the end.”

The Mask Falling by Samantha Shannon

Such were the joys of home schooling and working around the children that I didn’t realise that the fourth book in Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series The Mask Falling  had published until two months after the release date even though I had been counting down to the release date.

It felt as though I had been waiting for the fourth book forever though it’s all relative, cough cough, Patrick Rothfuss . I’d managed to feed my series addiction with forays into Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season spin off novellas The Pale Dreamer (really good, a pacey and exciting prequel to the series) and The Dawn Chorus (which bridges the events of novels three and four) in the summer but I was looking forward to getting my teeth into what happened to Paige Mahoney after she’d escaped the clutches of Scion in London and headed off to Scion Paris with the enigmatic Arcturus Mesarthim.

I found The Mask Falling quite different to the others in the series, as the first section had a slower build and concentrated quite closely on the relationship between Paige and Arcturus as she was stripped of her usual affiliations and networks in Scion Paris, which I’m sure will be welcome to many but at the same time, albeit necessarily, retrod some ground covered in The Dawn Chorus. The pace builds though, and it isn’t long before Paige is running around Scion Paris, exploring catacombs and subterranean cities, not to mention infiltrating the heart of Scion Paris and running into old friends and acquaintances along the way.

I felt at times as though The Mask Falling lacked the full punch of other books in the series – it had the slightly stretched feel of the classic middle novel in a series that has to fit just so much in that the final books will depend on – but for all that it was a really enjoyable read and I’m now frustratedly wondering when the fifth book will be released because what the hell sort of a cliffhanger was that to end on?! I suspect that the follow up novels will reveal the importance of lots of tiny details from this book.

If you haven’t read the first novel in the series but are interested, you can read my review here.

Spoiler section below for anyone else who has read it and wants to know what I was left wondering about….

Spoilers, Theories and Questions about The Mask Falling

Okay, so we’re into bears now. Paige Mahoney, Cade Fitzours and Emma Orson… the dreamwalkers all have Bear names, and Arcturus apparently means guardian of the bear. Fitz means son, and there’s also the suggestion that Orson is son of the bear…. so are they all descended from a common relative? Is that why the Poltergeist in Senshield (presumably also a dreamwalker since Nashira needs Paige to make Senshield work) marks Paige as kin? And if it’s not too much of a leap, is Arcturus the guardian of the bears because he fought in support of the Mothallath and has never had an issue with the concept of “flesh treachery” guarding the ancestors of a Reph/Human hybrid that has resulted as the result of the previous contact between humans and rephs that caused the waning of the veils? Is that otherness part of what makes Paige’s father call her a changling under torture?

Speaking of her father, what had he left her in his will? Sounds like a possible future plot point.

Paige gets to meet one of Arcturus’ exes when she meets the chained Kornephoros in the basement, and it’s surprising that he lets her go and doesn’t harm her, after she failed to keep her promise and free him. Which makes me wonder which oath is more pressing to him than getting his revenge on Paige? And who let him go? Cade would be the most obvious, but why wouldn’t he have had his head ripped off as promised? Though Cade has presumably been in Arcturus’ head at this point… what happened when he was in his Dreamscape?

Cade/David’s allegiances are still unclear. Why does he attack Paige? Because she’s realised he’s a dreamwalker? If he wanted her gone it would have been easier to get rid of her by in other ways surely, and then why chain her up. He seems to be working with Nashira but didn’t sell Paige out in the first novel, or deliver her to Nashira in this one. And when Paige attacks the Rephs while Arcturus is possessed, she says something along the lines of she called to the aether and something answered. At the same time, she seems Arcturus return to his eyes – did Cade leave Arcturus to help fight off the Rephs? All kinds of confusion around his true intentions.

And speaking about confusing people. Dearie Lord, Jaxon, what to make of you…. An interesting twist in their relationship as it seems that Jaxon is now trying to impress Paige in the ways she used to try and impress him.

And who is Cordier working for? She’s basically saved Paige’s life, but is painted as likely the person who sold out Paige and Arcturus…. And now she’s rocking up in a war zone to chloroform Paige when she was nearby and vulnerable to the Rephs if any had survived the bomb falling.

My guess, for what it’s worth, is that Arcturus is still alive. Provided the Rephs can take aura and aren’t touched by the red poppies when injured, they seem to recover pretty well from most things…. And was it just me or did he seem to know that the bomb was going to be dropped?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

“The only way to learn is to live” The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nora Seed has had enough. Ground down by bereavements and break ups, we meet her on what she decides will be the last day of her life, which sees the death of her cat, the loss of her job, and rejection by the friends and family she reaches out to. Reaching rock bottom, she takes an overdose and finds herself waking up in the Midnight Library.

In the Midnight Library, the time is always frozen at midnight. And the miles and miles of shelves contain all the possible lives Nora Seed could have live had her choices been different. If she hadn’t broken up with her fiancé. If she had gone to Australia with her best friend. If she hadn’t quit the band. If she’d kept swimming. If she’d gone for that coffee.

I loved the concept of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I think it’s a thought experiment that everyone has played, if not a fantasy harboured by many, to think what your life might have been like if you’d made a different choice at key points in your life. In some ways, this is a self-book masquerading behind the thin veil of a novel, showing the reader that everyone is more valued than they realise; that their lives have meaning, if not in the way they might have planned as teenagers; that you might find, if you were totally omnipotent, that some of your most nagging regrets are misplaced.

And in The Midnight Library, Matt Haig does that very well. For all that its message is worthy and necessary, the novel is really enjoyable, and I was invested enough to keep reading until I finished the book to find out what ultimately happens to Nora Seed. While there’s an argument that at times Matt Haig has left the plotting a little on display – there’s a lot to set up in the opening chapters to allow Matt Haig to draw out Nora’s possible lives as she explores the Midnight Library later in the novel –  I don’t think that stops the potential of the idea being brilliantly executed.

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who is looking for a gentle and ultimately affirming and upbeat read. Novels steeped in positivity and hope are what I need on my TBR list right now.