Review: The City of Brass

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Published by HarperVoyager on 14 November 2017
Pages: 544
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike.

But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust.

Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes…

Be careful what you wish for.

I still don’t know how I found out about this book – an ad banner on Books and Publishing? A recommendation on GoodReads? All I know is I saw it somewhere on the Internet and bought it from the Book Depository immediately. I’m so glad I did, in a year filled with some STELLAR books, this one stands out.

This book is a good example of what an exciting genre new adult fiction can be – dealing with more serious issues than young adult fiction, but not quite as mature themes as typical ‘adult’ fiction (which is a varied and wide-ranging genre, and hard to pin down). It is one of the few fantasies I’ve read that has taken from Muslim/Islamic traditions and that is set in Africa – Egypt, to be exact (yes, I know that Egypt is a transcontinental country, but it’s considered a regional power in Africa, don’t @ me). Early on in the story, there are mentions of Napoleon and French occupation, which would place this story somewhere between 1797 and 1801.

The human world – which is incredibly important to the story – seems to sit alongside the magical world, which is populated with different creatures whose abilities vary according to their element (fire, water, earth, or air). The magical beings are split into tribes, and the shafits – halfbloods – kind of get treated like the Rohingya refugees of Myanmar, or the Stolen Generation. They are treated horribly: they are arrested for crimes they didn’t commit, their children are taken away and sold into slavery, they live in poverty, and are denied access to medical treatment, food… the list goes on. Ultimately, this is a story about oppression and persecution, and it mirrors what we see in the real world around us.

The story is told from two perspectives, something I normally can’t stand… but this worked. Our heroine, Nahri, is about 20 (she can’t be sure), and makes a living as a street healer, con artist, and thief. While she is hired to cleanse and heal people at Zar ceremonies, where she also leads prayers to banish ifrits, she finds the idea of magic preposterous… until she accidentally summons a daeva. We also see the story from Ali’s perspective. He is the King’s second son, destined to live unmarried and celibate, lest there be too many heirs for the throne. He’s extremely religious and his personality is quite… rigid. I really loved watching the friendship between the two blossom, because both characters are so self-righteous and have to learn to compromise. There are some great characters in here, but nobody is painted as being all good or all bad – they are all shades of grey, and it serves as a reminder of how dangerous it can be to hero worship someone and believe that they are anything more than a person.

If you’re looking for more diversity in your fantasy, pick this book up! It is a powerful debut novel, and one of the greatest debuts I’ve ever read – wonderfully plotted, exceptional prose, strong characters, and representation! Please show publishers that stories about characters of colour are just as marketable, digestible, and wanted as stories about white characters. Show this book the love and hype it deserves, and add it to your TBR pile.

Recommended for: fans of N.K. Jemesin’s Dreamblood duology

★★★★★

Review: Chimera

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Chimera (Parasitology #3) by Mira Grant
Published by Orbit on the 26th November 2015
Pages: 496
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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The final book in Mira Grant’s terrifying Parasitology trilogy. The outbreak has spread, tearing apart the foundations of society, as implanted tapeworms have turned their human hosts into a seemingly mindless mob.Sal and her family are trapped between bad and worse, and must find a way to compromise between the two sides of their nature before the battle becomes large enough to destroy humanity, and everything that humanity has built…including the chimera.The broken doors are closing. Can Sal make it home?


Chimera was an excellent ending to the incredibly gross Parasitology trilogy (seriously – I couldn’t help but think about what it’d be like to have a tapeworm hanging around in my intestines, and the thought made me gag a little). One of the things that has made me love this series so much is Grant’s ability to blur the line between human and tapeworm – the tapeworms are not presented as the “bad guys,” as such – at least not uniformly. Both humans and tapeworms make questionable choices, do awful things. We are given multiple perspectives and in the middle is Sal, who is torn between her fellow chimera and the humans she loves.

Being a monster is not the same as being a bad person. It just means you’re willing to eat the world if that’s what you have to do to keep yourself alive.

Moreover, as disgusting as I find the idea of a tapeworm crawling around my insides, I really came to care for Sal, Adam, and Tansy. I feared for their lives and hoped that they’d all survive against the odds – particularly with Tansy. After the events of Symbiont, Tansy appeared basically in name only in Chimera (she was the tapeworm equivalent of comatose), and I missed her dearly.The only character I didn’t really come to feel anything for was Juniper – I understand why she was created, and what she represented for Sal; ultimately she didn’t add anything to the story for me because we spent so little page time with her. Also, I’m not sure if this is a problem that any other readers had during the series, but Dr. Cale strongly reminded me of Dr. Abbey from Newsflesh, and I found myself conflating the two, pretty much. There were also a few plot points that were introduced, but weren’t addressed or resolved satisfactorily.

Grant raised the stakes for her characters in Chimera – I was never certain that Sherman would be defeated or that Sal and her family would make it out unscathed. I felt Sal’s fear, her hope, and her desperation. For the first time in this series, Sal is actively making choices (and recruits others into helping her) rather than letting things happen to her.
Was this book a perfect book? No, but Grant’s abilities as a story-teller made me enjoy this book so much I was able to overlook the problems I had with it. I loved being a part of this world, and I hope Grant revisits it in the future (with a book about Tansy or Fishy, please).

★★★★★

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

 

Review: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Orion on the 12th July 2015
Pages: 465
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
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Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other fir
st.

Until I picked up Six of Crows, I hadn’t realised how many books centred around a Chosen One or starcrossed lovers on a mission to save their country/the world I had been reading of late, so this one was a welcome change of pace. While I had adored Bardugo’s debut, Shadow & Bone, I felt that its successors weren’t that strong, and so I was a little apprehensive about this one. I’m glad I picked it up – Six of Crows is so much darker than the Grisha trilogy, more complex, and a hell of a lot more adult. Bardugo’s growth as a writer between Ruin & Rising and Six of Crows is near unbelievable.

This book, is, in a word, epic. Grandiose. Ambitious. Unlike a lot of YA fantasy, this is not a romance novel masquerading as the latest trend. While there is a romance, it never takes over the story and when it does appear it feels natural and organic (that said, I spent the majority of the novel shipping Kaz and Inej). This is a story about six criminals attempting a high-stakes heist: breaking into the Ice Court, which has never been broken into successfully before, and smuggle out a prisoner in exchange for thirty million kruge split between them. Each character has their own agendas and loyalties, and you’re never entirely certain whether they’re going to achieve the impossible. These characters aren’t friends on a mission to save the world: they all agreed to participate in the heist for their own reasons. I don’t normally include quotes in my reviews, but I’m throwing some out here because I love this book and I want to share it with everyone:

Four million kruge, freedom, a chance to return home. She’d said she wanted these things. But in her heart, she couldn’t bear the thought of returning to her parents. Could she tell her mother and father the truth? Would they understand all she’d done to survive, not just at the Menagerie, but every day since? Could she lay her head in her mother’s lap and be forgiven? What would they see when they looked at her?

Although the book is told in third person, each chapter focuses on a different character, so you learn their backstory, their motivations, and their relationship to other members of the crew. I found myself coming to care for every single main character in this book, which is no mean feat when you’ve got a cast of characters as large as this one. Furthermore, the characters were all three-dimensional – layered, complex characters that were immensely likeable, despite doing fairly despicable things from time to time.

“Duping innocent people isn’t something to be proud of.”

“It is if you do it well.”

There’s also a lot of diversity amongst the crew in terms of race/sexuality/gender and it doesn’t feel forced, or like Bardugo is simply checking off a list – so if you’re looking for diverse reads, I would highly recommend this one.

If you haven’t read the Grisha trilogy, you might find the world a little confusing – however, I felt that the world-building was far more complex and fully realised in Six of Crows than it ever was in the Grisha trilogy.

This book was everything I ever wanted from New Adult Fiction. All I can say is: read the book.

★★★★★

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.

Review: Queen of Shadows

23848145Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass) by Sarah J. Maas
Published by Bloomsbury on the 1st September 2015
Pages: 645
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
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Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire—for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return. Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.

My goodness, this review is long overdue! I was quite disappointed with Queen of Shadows – it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2015, and it will most probably go down as one of the biggest disappointments I read this year. That sounds harsh, but it’s true. This series so far has been quite hit-and-miss for me: I found Throne of Glass to be a fluffy, fun light-fantasy read; I adored Crown of Midnight with every fibre of my being; I thought Heir of Fire was drawn out and could’ve done with some tighter editing. In all honesty, I cannot say whether Queen of Shadows was better than its predecessor, but this series has become riddled with ridiculous romantic subplots to the detriment of characters and this book was an endless source of frustration for me because of it.

I’ll start off with the good: Maas has definitely grown as a writer. If you compare Throne of Glass to Queen of Shadows, you will definitely find that the plot has become more complex, the world-building more layered, and the series has gone from ‘fantasy-lite’ to ‘high fantasy.’ This has meant, naturally, that the fluffy factor that made the first book so enjoyable has gradually receded from the series. I know I’m going to be in the minority with my opinion – if you look at the reviews on GoodReads, a lot of reviewers are claiming that this book is the best book of the series – but for me, the events of this book completely destroyed what the first three books established. I’m not going to go into that because there are also a lot of reviews on GoodReads – from reviewers who are a lot more passionate about this series than I ever was – that go into a lot of detail about the contradictions between Queen of Shadows and earlier books, but suffice to say I was incredibly disappointed.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s because Maas was also working on A Court of Thorns and Roses and Queen of Shadows just ended up suffering because of it, but the book felt scattered and incoherent. Reading Queen of Shadows felt as if Maas doesn’t have a projected outcome for the series and is just making up the plots for each book as she goes; A Court of Thorns and Roses (and even Crown of Midnight) tells me that Maas is a better writer than that. If I’m being completely honest, if this series were a television show, then Queen of Shadows would be a filler episode – nothing was really happening in this one. “But Kim,” you say, “this book is 650 pages long – how can nothing happen?” This book did not need to be 650 pages long. It was setting up things for the last two books. A lot of side stories are introduced alongside Aelin/Celaena’s story, but I struggled to connect with these side characters and found myself wanting to skim-read their chapters to get back to the Aelin’s story. The only side character I was truly interested in was Manon (and, to a lesser extent, some of the members of her clan), and even then, I felt that towards the end her story was pulling the book down.

I think the biggest detractor for me was just how much the male characters in this series moon over Aelin. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: romantic relationships are not the be all and end all of relationships. Friendships and familial relationships are every bit as important, if not more, to a person’s development and it’d be great if YA and NA novels could showcase that once in awhile. I was over the moon when a platonic Aelin/Rowan relationship was established in Heir of Fire, because I thought there would be a strong friendship in a popular new adult series. Sadly, after firmly establishing Aelin & Rowan’s platonic relationship, their relationship quickly became something I’d expect out of a 50 Shades of Grey-esque book while Aelin’s cousin got all jealous over their bond. I’m not in this series for the romantic subplots, and with Dorian, Chaol and now Rowan all waxing poetical about how great Aelin is at some point during this series, I don’t think I can take another character obsessing over how gifted and wonderful she is.

Would I recommend this book? Only for the Throne of Glass superfans – the ones who have committed themselves to this series and these characters and cannot walk away from them. For me, this was 650 pages of mediocre story-telling.

★★☆☆☆

Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.