Friday, 25 January 2013

The Crow

Title: The Crow
Series: The Chronicles of Pellinor #3
Author: Alison Croggon
Pages: 528 (paperback)
Published: July 3rd 2006
Published by: Walker Books

Whilst his sister, Maerad, pursues her dangerous destiny in the frozen North, Hem is sent south to Turbansk for his own safety. But soon the forces of the Dark overrun the great city and Hem flees with his mentor, Saliman, his white crow, Irc, and a young orphan girl, Zelika, to join the resistance. He agrees to help fight the Nameless One by spying on the child armies of the Dark. Now Hem has a vision—he too has a part to play in Maerad’s quest for the Treesong. But Zelika has been captured by the child army, and Hem’s destiny must wait. Hem pursues Zelika to the Dark’s stronghold, little realizing that her cause is lost. He reunites with Saliman and, broken-hearted, starts the perilous search for his sister.

In The Gift, Maerad found her brother, only to have him cruelly torn away by their need to escape a terrible danger. In The Crow, we join Hem several months later and follow his journey as he grows into himself and his abilities through terrible times.

So in all honesty, this is probably my least favourite book in this series, and that's because we leave behind Mearad and Cadvan and go across the other end of Annar to follow Hem and Saliman instead. This has probably skewed my opinion somewhat because while the story related in this book is important, I didn't want to be reading it. I wanted to be reading about Maerad. We've spent two books following her and getting to know her, and then suddenly she's not there are all. But I'm aware this is probably more personal taste than anything else.

The story is quite slow in places: there's quite a lot of waiting about for things to happen, both for the reader and for the characters. This is in part the nature of the story as the city is under siege, but it felt like while the previous books had long periods of riding around this one had long periods of waiting, and it is a lot easier for other stuff to happen while your characters are riding around than when they are waiting.

Hem grows a lot in the course of the book, both physically (as we are reminded a number of times) and within himself. He grows in confidence as he helps those around him and finds his own strengths, which was nice to see. When we first meet him in The Gift, he is a broken little boy who struggles trusting people. By the end of this book he has matured and overcome some of his demons, relying entirely on his own abilities and what he feels is the right thing to do. He grows close to a number of people (and one crow - hence the name of the book) and it was nice seeing his healing.

This book also shows us more of the country of Annar and the Seven Kingdoms, although I suppose it's more specifically Suderain - one of the Seven Kingdoms. This is in the far south of the country, and is far removed from the other cities both in terms of distance and culture. And this is another reminder about how much thought and effort has gone into creating this world and its many different facets, different cultures.

This book is also quite a lot darker than the previous two. There's death and despair, which have always been present in the others but more as an allusion or being passed through rather than actually being present and experienced. You can't help but feel sorry for Hem and all he has to go through, and all the other characters who find themselves fighting for their survival and losing so much - their homes, friends families.

A good book, that quite possibly deserves a higher rating that what I'm giving it but I just didn't really feel it. It doesn't entrance me the way the others do in this series.


Friday, 18 January 2013

Lunula

Title: Lunula
Author: Alyssa Auch
Pages: ? (ebook)
Published: October 8th 2012
Published by: Malachite Quills Publishing


The witch knows he will hunt her.


If history repeats itself, as it always does, Wynn will have no choice but to cross paths with her feared counterpart, the warlock. If given the chance, he would kill Wynn, absorbing her aura and obtaining ultimate power. In a desperate attempt to outrun destiny, Wynn moves from place to place, hoping to stray from the map laid out by the Fates. But by chance, on an urgent errand for Queen Alexandria herself, Wynn finds she has fallen into the hands of the one man she so hopelessly fled from. Now his captive, Wynn must guard her secret and that of her kingdom, or risk bringing forth a dark age not seen in hundreds of years.

Every hundred years or so, and witch and warlock are born, opposites destined to be at odds. Every witch is hunted down by their warlock who tries to kill them for their power. Every time, they have failed to get there before the witch sacrificed herself. Wynn is a witch, trying to make her own way in the world while protecting her secret. When asked by her Queen to deliver a message to the Elves in the north, she gladly accepts.

I started off reading this book in dribs and drabs, when I was travelling or waiting for people to arrive places and whatnot. Its start was intriguing (and well written) enough to keep me reading, but not to hook me. There's enough mystery to keep you reading without you feeling completely lost, helped by the fact that the world isn't too different from our own. The magic system isn't too complex in that there are really one two people who can use it, and it seems to work mainly off will rather than any real degree of learning. How could it, with 100 years between each appearance of witch and warlock? It's not like anyone's still going to be alive to teach them.

So I was kinda making bits and pieces of progress, reading a chapter here and there but not particularly attached to the story. Then it really hit its stride about a quarter of the way through, and it was the introduction of Gethin that did it for me. I love the interactions between him and Wynn, especially that she just doesn't lie down and go with what he wants and tried to tell her to do. She's defiant and sticks up for herself and what she wants. Not always incredibly successfully, but that's no bad thing.

Wynn is strong-minded and a deeply caring person, somewhat surprising given her own personal history and the history of witches in general. Gethin is surly and strict, but also someone who cares deeply for people, even if he doesn't always show it. And I like that you got to see different sides to them, Gethin especially. He's strict commander, caring leader and rather sweet man all rolled into one.

Of course, the story is a little predictable and you can see most of it coming from miles away but I like that in a book sometimes. I spent a fair portion of the last few months reading Dickens and you really have to pay attention to him - it was nice to escape into a book which was easy. And once it got going, I found it rather hard to put down. I was all like, 'Yeah, I'll just read a chapter then go to bed.' Next thing I know it's 2:15am...

For all that it was an easy book to read it wasn't full of clich├ęs, and the story and writing was generally good. The descriptions in places were wonderful, but in other places were clumsily done and confused me rather than enlightening me about things. But this was the minority of the time, so it's not the end of the world. There were some gaps and inconsistencies and things that didn't quite make sense but you'll find these in most books and none of them were that major. Except the phrase 'very silent', which appeared a couple of times. This annoyed me somewhat, as you are either silent or you aren't. I don't think you can be very silent. Especially as we are told people are talking quietly among themselves soon after one of its usages. And someone managed to have a 'round, heart-shaped face' at one point too.

But then the ending...I really didn't like the ending. I like happy endings, where everything works out. Not so in this case. On top of this, it was one of those 'blink and you miss it' endings - over in a matter of paragraphs. I prefer there to be a little more to them, and a little less ambiguity. It seems like there's going to be a sequel, but I can't find anything about one.

This book was so close to being 5*, but it just wasn't quite there. Still, overall it was a good book and one I'd easily recommend.


Friday, 11 January 2013

It Began With Ashes

Title: It Began With Ashes
Series: Wroge Elements #1
Author: D. E. M. Emrys
Pages: 200 (ebook)
Published: November 24th 2012
Published by: Four Branches Publishing

Wroge has not seen war for twelve years, not since the Arneuton invasion. The Arneut rule, the Keltir serve, and the Vikir and Narz remain in exile. The blood of four races belongs to the earth of one land.


But what if blood was to run again?

Draven Reinhardt is a man with a nightmare of a past, dreaming of a better future. He paid his dues in blood and coin, settling for a quieter life, a better life. Gone are the knocks at the door from his past. But what happens when the future comes knocking?

Like any boy, Kale wants to follow in his father’s footsteps – if only he knew what they were. It’s hard enough to find his own feet in the walk of life, without knowing where he came from.

The walk of life is a lonely one for an outsider, Astartes will vouch for that. Raised a tax collector’s son, and born of foreign blood, he searches for a friend who will overlook the divide.

Divided, four races stand. United, someone will fall. Will the past shape the future, or can blood be washed clean?

‘It Began With Ashes’ is the story of how life’s greatest struggle is to accept who you are – a tale of broken promises, bitter grudges, and brotherhoods bound in blood.


Astartes and his tax-collector father Nicolas are travelling to the village of Hearth in the Emberfen forest when Astartes sees a haunting silhouette in the forest. A man with horns. There are soon all too many of these about, and old friends and ex-mercenaries Draven and Shrike fight to protect their home, their wives Morganna and Wynne fight to escape, and their sons Kalekht and Deule fight to survive. After a short introductory story in From Man to Man, this is the first story in the Wroge Elements series, and the first real introduction to the world at large.

This is a well written book, and I found it quite easy to get into. The descriptions are good - if a little repetitive at times when it comes to describing people: we are constantly being reminded about the defining characteristic of some characters - and the story is intriguing. There is plenty of action, with the fight scenes not being skimped on but explored quite thoroughly, evoking more of the senses than just saying what the characters can see.

But From Man to Man was written purely from Draven's point-of-view, and I enjoyed his voice, his little humorous thoughts that he kept to himself, the things he left unsaid in general. We don't get any of Draven's POV in this book and I missed that a little. I hope he comes back later in the series. Not that there is any real reference to From Man to Man. There is one remark about Nicolas and Draven being friends, but nothing else. I expected a little more link between the two, but then maybe this was written first which would make it understandable.

We are introduced into the world well, not left confused by a lack of information but not having it all thrown at us at once with info dumps. There are a number of clans resident in Wroge, as well as the occupying Arneut people, who all seem quite ignorant about each other (the children at least), giving the perfect excuse for explanatory sections here and there about the war, or the world, or the politics or whatever. But these aren't cumbersome, giving us just what we need to know without being excessive and going into too much detail.

I liked the whole 'clan' thing, and that each has its own rites and areas of general expertise. Thought has obviously gone into it all and I'm looking forward to finding out more. One problem I had with the created societies was their oath - "Fraid and Govannon's bloodied blades". It just seems like a bit of a mouthful, and I sure wouldn't be able to be bothered to say this all the time. And as far as I can remember, you're never even told who Fraid and Govannon are. And people are basically lazy - think about how many contractions there are in our language, and how easily people fell into 'text speak' - and I think even something like this would have been shortened down somewhat, except maybe for things you really need to swear about.

The descriptions of people - as I've already mentioned - were sometimes a little cumbersome as well. Deule is often referred to merely as 'the knotted-haired boy' (and in all honesty I'm not even sure what image this is supposed to portray: I'm torn between general messiness and dreadlocks), and Morganna and Wynne as 'the two mothers' as if they are the only ones about who are mothers. Near the end of the book Draven is referred to as the Blacksmith of Hearth, as if we haven't been following him about for the past 150 pages or whatever and know who he is quite well by this point.

There were a couple of other little things that didn't quite make sense, some that didn't quite sit right with me, but overall I very much enjoyed this book. There is a definite ending, but it is open enough to give you some clues as to what will be coming in the next instalment and keep you interested.


Saturday, 5 January 2013

Watching the English

Title: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour
Author: Kate Fox
Pages: 432 (paperback)
Published: April 11th 2005
Published by: Hodder and Stoughton


In "Watching The English" anthropologist Kate Fox takes a revealing look at the quirks, habits and foibles of the English people. She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo and many more ...


Through a mixture of anthropological analysis and her own unorthodox experiments (using herself as a reluctant guinea-pig), Kate Fox discovers what these unwritten behaviour codes tell us about Englishness.


Starting off, I loved this book. It was generally well-written, easy to read, insightful and funny. Yes, I was mainly laughing at all the things I recognised that I did myself, but it was still funny. These were things I didn't even really notice, or rather didn't realise were peculiarly English (I almost wrote British there, but the book is exclusively about the English!The Scots, Welsh and Irish would probably hate to be lumped in with us). The topics were interesting and easy to relate to - things you see all the time and think nothing off. It's just the way you, or others act; it's the norm. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for Fox to remove herself from her own culture and get inside of it.

But then the chapters started getting longer. And longer.

And the time it took me to read each one got longer. And longer.

Even though each chapter has subsections (often very similar ones), it is still rather disheartening to have been reading for half an hour and still only be half-way through a 50-page chapter. I think this book would have benefited from being broken down into more bite-sized chunks. The early chapters were easy to wizz through in a sitting, and I enjoyed them a lot more like that.

There was also rather a lot of repetition. I understand that she's looking for the commonalities of English-ness in various aspects of everyday life and therefore the same things will keep cropping up, but 'social dis-ease' and 'props and facilitators' came up so often it began to annoy me a little. Similarly when it came to class and the endless lists and repetitions of what the lower/lower-middle/middle-middle/upper-middle/upper class would do in each circumstance, call each thing. Towards the end even the author made a joke about how often these had been referenced, and couldn't we work it out for ourselves by now?

In all honesty I skipped over the conclusion section. I'd read the little summary at the end of each chapter and figured this would just be a general gathering of everything said there. I scanned and skipped bits, but nothing more. Because I couldn't be bothered reading the same things all over again.

This book was quite interesting in places, but could have been written more concisely I think. Being English, I appreciated it, but I doubt people from other nationalities would unless they had spent a lot of time in England or around the English.



----
Some of my favourite quotes from the book:

"Formality is embarrassing. But then, informality is embarrassing. Everything is embarrassing." (p. 41)

"If you are socially skilled, or come from a country where these matters are handled in a more reasonable, straightforward manner (such as anywhere else on the planet), you may need a bit of practice to achieve the required degree of embarrassed, stilted incompetence." (p. 52)

"English men can turn almost any conversation, on any topic, into a Mine's Better Than Yours game." (p. 55)

"[T]he English...can spot the slightest hint of self-importance at twenty paces, even on a grainy television picture and in a language we don't understand." (p. 63)

"When waiting alone for a bus or at a taxi stop, I do not just lounge about anywhere roughly within striking distance of the stop, as people do in other countries - I stand directly under the sign, facing in the correct direction, exactly as though I were at the head of a queue. I form an orderly queue of one." (p. 91)

"I would suggest that home is what the English have instead of social skills." (p. 134)

"The opportunity to moan or, even better, the opportunity to indulge in some witty moaning, is irresistible." (p. 143)

"...when any inadvertent, undesired contact occurs (and to the English, almost any contact is by definition undesired), we say 'sorry'." (p. 150)

"We huff and puff and scowl and mutter and seethe with righteous indignation, but only rarely do we actually speak up and tell the jumper to go to the back of the queue." (p. 154)

"Moderation is all very well, but only in moderation." (p. 195)

"...the English take great pleasure in being shocked and outraged, and righteous indignation is one of our favourite national pastimes" (p.196)

"The English are human; we are social animals just like all other humans, but we have to trick ourselves into social interaction and bonding by disguising it as something else" (p. 241)

"The English are not keen on random, unstructured, spontaneous, street-corner sociability; we are no good at this, and it makes us uneasy. We prefer to socialize in an organised, ordered manner, at specific times and places of our choosing, with rules that we can argue about, an agenda, minutes and a monthly newsletter." (p. 250-251)

"Even an Anarchist meeting I attended followed the same sequence, although it was much better organized than most, and at the demonstration the next day the members were all dressed in uniform black, carrying professional looking banners, chanting in unison and marching in step." (p. 252-253)

"...our obnoxiousnesses are about as awkward, irrational and inelegant as our politenesses." (p. 265)

"'I get the impression,' said one frustrated American, 'that at some deep-down, fundamental level the English just don't really expect things to work properly" (p. 303) *We don't. It's more surprising when things go right than when they go wrong.

"At funerals we are left bereft and helpless. No irony! No mockery! No teasing! No banter! No humorous understatement! No jokey wordplay or double entendres! How the hell are we supposed to communicate?" (p. 375)