Before She Ignites (Fallen Isles Trilogy #1) by Jodi Meadows Review

Due to work, my reading has seriously dipped, still, I’m glad I picked this up. It was a very pleasant surprise. I’m not too familiar with Jodi Meadows, but based on this book, I do want to check out her other works.

Before She Ignites is a fast-paced YA Fantasy. It has a great heroine and a compelling plot. Did I mention dragons? Yep, they’re there too. My only complaint with the book was that we didn’t spend nearly enough time with the dragons as I wish we had.

Mira is the protagonist. Having an all-important treaty named after you is no easy task, turns out it’s a lot to live up to. I loved Mira from the beginning. She’s not physically skilled nor is she some great tactician. She’s just a regular girl who’s powerful because of her station but has no other power outside of that. She is also one of the few YA heroines who genuinely cares about her appearance. But it’s not because she’s vain or vapid but because, all her life, she’s been told it’s her only asset. Her intelligence and opinions are constantly belittled. After years of hearing this from her mother, it’s an idea that she’s internalised, believing that her only asset is her beauty.

Mira also suffers from panic attacks and they were so well written and described that it was easy to imagine what she was going through. Her coping mechanism of counting was also handled well. I liked that the panic attacks were a constant, they didn’t suddenly disappear halfway through the book.

I also really liked Ilina, Mira’s best friend and wingsister. Their bond of friendship was refreshing and I was so glad that the emphasis, in this book at least, was firmly on friendship. Completing their trio was Hristo, Mira’s friend and protector. I hope we see more of them in the next instalments.

Aaru, the quiet boy from the cell next to her is shaping up to be the love interest. But I was so thrilled that there was next-to-no romance in Before She Ignites. Aaru is an ally, first and foremost, one of the first people who tries to help her when she’s sent to the pit and he does it with no ulterior motive. I liked him and his quiet quality. He was a soothing presence in an otherwise dark and chaotic world.

The other secondary characters were also well written, I especially liked Chenda and Gerel. Two of Mira’s prisonmates who become allies due to necessity.

Altan was the chief antagonist along with another character (who’s name I won’t spoil here) and I only wish that we learn more about the antagonists, not in terms of backstory but just more details.

I have a special dislike for Mira’s family who treated her so poorly, from her father’s disinterest, her mother’s constant disappointment and her sister’s apathy, she could not have wished for a worse family. She had no support on that front. Seriously, I think I like the antagonists better than her family.

As it is, I am eagerly looking forward to the next book in the series and hope that we learn more about this world and Mira and her friends, not to mention the dragons.

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Archangel’s Viper (Guild Hunter #10) by Nalini Singh Review

This was relatively enjoyable. I liked Honor and while Venom has never been on my list of characters I like from this series, he was surprisingly likeable. Overall, I liked the relationship and I liked that they were more evenly matched than some of the other couples in this series.

My gripe is with the plot, the main plot was fine. A little bit of Uram which is threatening to overtake Honor was a good idea especially since I didn’t see it coming. I think a lot of readers expected the powers to be overtaking her since her body was not ready but that couldn’t be further from what ended up happening. My problem was the secondary plot, the fact that it turned out to be Charisemnon who was behind her kidnapping attempt or that it was linked to him felt too far fetched. All I could think of when I read the reveal was “really?” It felt off and contrived.

Archangel’s Viper, like its predecessor doesn’t really pull the larger plot further. In fact, the events in the two books take place simultaneously with each other. So now that’s two books with self-contained plots. Are we waiting for Lijuan to wake up? It would be a little unrealistic for her to wake up so soon after going to Sleep. And coming up with a new villain doesn’t make sense since Singh spent so much time building her up as the big bad, a new villain at this point will just feel half baked. I hope the next book is different in that regard. As it was Archangel’s Viper felt more like paranormal romance with a more heavy emphasis on romance.

I did like that Michaela continues to be a complicated and layered character and each passing book, adds a little bit more to her. It is the same for Neha who is not simply cruel the way Charisemnon is. She continues to be a warrior. If only she hadn’t been so blinded where own daughter was concerned. It was good to see Illium coming back to himself and seeing that he wasn’t very reasonable where Aodhan is concerned.

My one problem with Singh’s books continues to be the use of the Hindi words. It’s my mother tongue so one could say that I’m familiar with it. Her use of the words sounds really weird, like someone not used to speaking the language. And words like ‘jaanu’ made me cringe. Words like that are only ever used in the cheesiest of cheesy films. As for ‘bhai’ which means brother in Hindi, it would have been better to use to ‘bhaiya’ which is more commonly used for elder brother. It’s the little things like this that immediately pull me out of the story because it’s so jarring.

Archangel’s Viper is a fun addition to the series if not particularly memorable.

Godsgrave (The Nevernight Chronicle #2) by Jay Kristoff Review

Where do I even begin with Godsgrave? To say that Jay Kristoff revels in the misery of his readers would be an understatement (and I mean that in the best sense possible). If Nevernight took me time to get used to the writing style and the world, I jumped right into Godsgrave and didn’t come up for air till I finished it. I tried pacing myself but it was virtually impossible.

I literally just finished the book and I’m reeling from it. The world is as rich as ever and the cast of characters keeps growing and most are people that you can’t help but root for and it’s a pity because, it’s a given that most will not survive the end. The pace in Godsgrave felt faster than the previous book’s and the scope of the book is also broader. While in Nevernight, the world was largely limited to the Ashkahi wastelands and the Red Church, Godsgrave goes beyond to the world outside, the rich cities of the Itreyan empire.

The world of The Nevernight Chronicles is heavily influenced by the Roman empire, towards the beginning of its downfall. There are riches to be found, both in terms of wealth as well as the beauty of the grand structures that are highlighted in the book. But there is also a deep rot in the system. A corruption that has gone long unnoticed and even thrived under the rulers. When Kristoff describes a beautiful structure, he undercuts its beauty by revealing who actually built it, the countless slaves with no alternative but to do as they’re told. It is one of the aspects I really enjoyed while reading Godsgrave.

In the previous book, Mia had to compete with other people her age to be accepted as an assassin for the Red Church. Godsgrave picks up a little after the events of Nevernight. Mia is an assassin and is being sent out to kill people and she’s really good at it. But as it happens, her life is headed in another direction. Just when she thinks that she has what she wants and can soon set her sights to those who wronged her and her family, she receives a setback. She learns that the Red Church isn’t what she thought it was leaving her disillusioned and with no idea what to do or who to trust. Her quest to handle things her own way with two surprising allies leads her to the gladiator matches. During much of Godsgrave, Mia spends her time training with the other gladiators and planning how to take down Duomo and Scaeva.

Like The Lotus Wars Trilogy, The Nevernight Chronicles also has a large number of characters and the list just keeps on growing. The gladiators were a fun bunch and I liked most of them so I knew immediately that things would not end well (I have learnt my lesson from the previous Kristoff books) Of the lot, I really liked Maggot, Bryn, Byern, Sidonius and Bladesinger. They were such an eclectic bunch and so much fun to read about. And yet, even the other gladiators weren’t just mindless fighters. They had hopes and dreams of winning their freedom. Even here, the rot of the empire was plainly evident. Many of the gladiators had been bought because their families had been unable to pay their debtors and the rest had been kidnapped by slavers, while a small percentage had been criminals who were good fighters. The person I liked least in Godsgrave was Furian, the undefeated gladiator from the same collegium. An idiot with a head full of superstition and false notions of honour. He was by far the most annoying character in the book, way more than the actual bad guys, Scaeva and Duomo. I even liked Leona, trying so hard to make her father pay for what he did to her and her mother, wanting to succeed in a field where women didn’t have a place and the odds rigged against them.

 

SPOILERS BEWARE!
One of the best moments of the book was when Ashlinn came back. She had been my favourite character in the previous book and it was the same in Godsgrave. I love her relationship with Mia and the fact that they came close enough to be their true selves with each other. Ashlinn was brave and single-minded in her quest to help Mia achieve her objective. And Ashlinn didn’t try to hide her feelings for Mia and never lied about them, always facing them head-on knowing that Mia might never forgive her for what happened to Tric. Her personality was sunny as always and it was fun to see her brand of lightness in an otherwise bleak and dark world. She always spoke her mind and didn’t let anyone brow-beat her. I love Ashlinn.

Mia, what can I say about her? She’s a strange mix of bloodthirsty and a fighter for those who can’t fight for themselves. We see these two sides of her warring with each other more and more as the series progresses. She wants to kill those who took her family from her but she also wants to help protect the weak and defenseless and the people who are important to her. I loved that she finally trusted Ash enough to open up to her.

I loved the way their relationship grew in Godsgrave. It was clear to anyone who had eyes that Ash liked Mia as more than a friend, even tried to protect her, seemingly at the cost of her own revenge against the Red Church. But at the time Mia was with Tric and didn’t pay much attention to Ash’s deeper feelings. But here, they wouldn’t be dismissed. And it was pleasant to see that it was a slow awakening for Mia, discovering her own sexuality. It was done well and Kristoff didn’t cut any corners here. Their relationship was one of the high-points of the book.  A note for book 3: there is a trope in media called bury your gays because more often than not, the gay/lesbian character dies and only serves to drive the protagonist back into the arms of the heterosexual love interest and I hope that doesn’t happen to Mia and Ash. They’ve both had such crappy lives that I want them to be happy in the end, happy together.

Now, for some theories. In the end, Ash sees Tric but I don’t think it’s Tric. It’s just a Shadow that’s taken his appearance. We know from that chapter about Mister Kindly and Eclipse, that the shapes they carry now are not what they had always carried and also that Mister Kindly was considered taking Mia’s father’s shape but decided against it because the shape of the kitten had been simpler to assume. I think this is the same Shadow that helped Mia when she was trying to escape after killing Gaius Aurelius. I think it’s the same thing but at the time it didn’t have a shape that would be familiar to Mia. Also, I think it heard Mia when she killed Furian and their shadows merged together, making her stronger. If this ShadowTric wants Mia to indeed to “seek the crown of the moon” then killing Ash doesn’t help forward that plan. If however it saves Ash from the Red Church, well then, that’s a different story.
END SPOILERS!

 

Godsgrave was every bit as thrilling as Nevernight and worse, it ends on a cliffhanger and I have no idea how to survive knowing that the third book is not even close to being finished? The wait will be agonising!

P.S. – the artwork in the B&N copies were beautiful and I was fortunate to get a copy with Jay Kristoff’s autograph on it! 😁

IT by Stephen King Review

I read this after I saw the film and I don’t often read horror books but decided to give this a shot. IT is a fairly long book which I wasn’t expecting and I started this when what I actually wanted to read was something light.. But I’m glad I chose this because it was exactly what I was looking for.

This is my first Stephen King book, though I’ve seen a number of adaptations based on his books (one of the most memorable being Misery) and had no idea what to expect from the book. It is worth noting that King goes into great detail in terms of the plot. For instance, if a character is narrating an incident, then King will go into great detail, writing about everything from the weather to the conversations and often a little bit of a backstory within the backstory. Which makes for a very vivid reading experience. He really allows the reader to visualise what’s happening. The atmosphere here was stifling more often than not and there was always an air of doom hanging about the characters.

I read a number of reviews that stated that the book was very scary and to be honest I wasn’t scared. It’s more creepy than scary and it was oppressive. The book is also non-linear which I wasn’t expecting. I thought it would be probably be broken into parts 1 and 2, instead it weaves back and forth between the past and the present. This works in the book’s favour because it allows the reader to see how the main characters have changed from when they were children. The main characters are remarkably well defined and Pennywise’s character is suitably creepy and unsettling and gives off a strong sense of malice.

There are a number of antagonists in the book besides Pennywise. People that inadvertently fall prey to IT’s malignant influence. Truthfully, it’s these people who are more scary than IT itself. Also, the adults in the book are such disappointments, from abusive to negligent.

My one big problem with the book however is the sexualization of Beverly, the lone girl in the group. It’s blatant and it’s there pretty much across the book. That was unnecessary. There is also a sex-scene which was also absolutely unnecessary and left a bad taste in the mouth. Her portrayal is extremely problematic and I am glad that the film-makers decided to change that.

It is not a perfect book and there are parts that are pretty problematic but it is a decent read.

Things I/m Looking Forward To Seeing in GoT Season 8

1.  Tyrion and Sansa reunion – this one is rife with so many opportunities. I don’t ship them romantically but they did start to get along and I think they would have eventually found their way to friendship if not for the Red Wedding and the rest of Tyrions’s family.

2. Varys and Sansa –  They’ve interacted very briefly and I don’t think they’ve ever done that on camera. After her wedding and Tyrion is already drunk, Sansa excuses herself and can be seen talking to Varys. Varys may not have cared about her as much in the beginning except that she was and remains the key to the North, but that might begin to change once he sees the way she’s readied her people for the wars to come. I think in Sansa, he’ll see someone who has a sharp mind and has stopped hiding it. Remember, she’s learnt the game from someone that Varys respected, so I’m looking forward to seeing them interact.

3. Jamie and Brienne – We saw them briefly interact in season 7 at the Dragonpit but at that point they were on opposing sides and hardly got to speak to each other. Season 8 may give us more screen time with these 2.

4. Jamie and Sansa – Jamie only knows of Sansa what he remembers seeing when she was a young and naïve girl and knows a little from what Brienne has told him so far. He’s seen a bit of Dany when she burned him men to cinders so I’m curious what his reaction will be when he sees Sansa who is quite different from the other queens.

5. Jon and Arya – Jon hasn’t seen Arya since they both left for their respective destinations. Since then, they have both gone through traumatic situations that have vastly changed them from the people they used to be. It’ll be interesting to see them navigate their way to each other while, at the same time, realizing that neither is who they used to be.

6. Jon and Bran – A lot of what’s true for Jon and Arya is also true for Jon and Bran. They are vastly different people from who they were when they were younger. Jon died and came back while Bran is now the 3-Eyed Raven. Their meeting will have even more significance considering the news that Bran has for him. The news that has the power to change a lot of things.

7. Dany and Sansa – Dany and Sansa have had a pretty similar arc, both were underestimated and sold, used and abused by others. They both also managed to survive and got rid of their abusers along the way. But the one thing that Dany had that Sansa never did were allies. Even when Dany was a nobody, she was married to a Khal who loved her and she had Jorah who served and protected her. Sansa, on the other hand, lived in the vipers’ pit, surrounded by enemies on all sides and no allies, she judged a person’s decency based on how hard they hit her and that is a truly sorry state of affairs. They have come out on top and both have something that they didn’t earlier, agency. They finally have control over their lives. Sansa has Winterfell and her family, Dany finally has the forces to take back the IT (whether or not she deserves it or would be a good ruler is not the point right now) Seeing these two women facing each other should make for interesting television, provided the writers handle it well. They are vastly different women and their approach to ruling reflects that. Add to that, Jon will probably come with the news that he did a lot more than merely bend the knee. This should make for an interesting dynamic between the ladies. Ideally, I don’t want them to have fights or disagreements because of Jon, that would  be a disservice to both characters. So here’s hoping.

8. Sansa and Jon – Now, this would be truly interesting to watch. We know that Jon and Sansa have a very different methods of ruling. When he comes back, having bent the knee and with Dany in tow, his already position will be made even more so. He’s going to come back to a Winterfell that is in a far better condition than he left it in. It’s going to feel more like the Winterfell that he grew up in, when he was truly happy. He’s going to realise that while the Northern Lords did swear loyalty to him, they give more weight to words from Sansa. Sansa who can address their concerns while also not undermining Jon’s crown. The Sansa that he will meet upon his return will again be different from the one he left, more confident, self-assured. Sansa was never going to just sit back and let him make decisions that affects all of them. She was far from happy when he bent the knee without consulting her. He’s going to have an even tougher time making snap decisions like that while in Winterfell, especially once he finds out that the Northern Lords feel more loyal to her than they do to him.

When I Hit You or a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy Review

When I Hit You was a tough read. Its plot is fairly simple, woman gets married, the husband turns out to be an abusive a-hole and she manages to escape. The plot is not novel, but what makes the book an absolutely gripping read, is the way it is written.

I found out about the book completely by accident when I read an article about it in The Wire, I’ll post the link to it because even the article is worth a read. I am not entirely sure how the book would read to a non-Indian reader because there are so many local references that a lot of them would be lost on someone not familiar with the country and some of the cultural aspects. But there are other things that are universal and therefore should not impede the reading experience. I cannot use the word enjoy because this is not an enjoyable read.

The book didn’t shy away from the violence that the wife suffered, Kandasamy described the violence in a very matter-of-fact way. The novel is narrated in the first person and it really allowed the reader to inhabit the mind of the protagonist. The book is not particularly thick and is a fast read, however, the incidents described are disturbing enough that the book is not easy to get through. There are no saviours here except the protagonist herself.

The character is a modern Indian woman, she is well-educated and opinionated, she is a feminist and considers herself to be a strong woman but Kandasamy never offers a physical description for her. In an interview about the book, Kandasamy stated that she did that because she wanted to tell every woman’s story. She wanted women to be able to relate to what the protagonist was going through. She takes it to the extent where she doesn’t even name the main character. The novel is partly inspired by the author’s own abusive marriage but she draws from more than just that.

The language is matter-of-fact but there is a certain beauty to it. It’s not cut and dry. The novel also weaves between the past and present, offering a glimpse into her past relationships. Kandasamy uses anecdotes and letters that were written and them promptly deleted among other things to drive home the fear, abuse and humiliation that the protagonist lives with on a daily basis.

I liked that the character was not some virginal young girl but an adult woman who had had her fair share of relationships. There is no sense of shame in this, she talks about these past relationships with the same candour as she does when describing the abuses that she suffers at the hands of her husband. She addresses the age-old question that people love asking victims of domestic abuse, ‘why did they continue to stay?’ It is easy to stand outside the relationship and judge the woman while still giving the man the benefit of the doubt. The problem is compounded because in this case it’s a ‘love-marriage’ and not an arranged one. This adds another layer of difficulty for the woman because now it’s a matter of choice, therefore meaning that she clearly chose this man, she knew him. How could he change so drastically after marriage? But the truth is that it’s so easy to hide aspects of your personality when you’re married and not even living together, that it’s not a stretch to believe that he could turn out to be a very different man post marriage. To the outsiders, he is a charming, intelligent man but to her, he’s a very jealous man with violent and vicious temper.

In the husband she paints the picture of toxic masculinity. He is a repulsive character and one who is genuinely terrifying. There is no one thing that sets him off, it could be anything or nothing. There is no reasoning with him, no appeasement save for the wife to submit in both body and mind. He isolates her physically as well as socially, there is no one she can call for help because he’s painted himself as the victim. It is his need to dominate and dictate every aspect of his wife’s life that is truly stifling, all the while stating that he’s doing it for her own good. Constantly slut-shaming her for all her past relationships while never being honest about his own past.

This book left me feeling so infuriated, the fact that she reached out for help to her parents and was told repeatedly that all men take time to get used to being married and that she should not rile him by arguing by him and so on. All of it useless advice. They never once told her that she could leave immediately and never look back. They were more interested in making sure that their social standing was intact, their daughter’s pain was secondary to that.

When I Hit You is not an easy read but it is an important one. It paints a picture of a house that was meant to be home that instead turned into an prison and the man who was supposed to be a lover and a friend and instead turned out to be a monster. I’d recommend reading the book as well as the article that lead me to it. You can find it here.

It (2017) Review

I love horror films but good horror films are rare and hard to find. So many of them are so formulaic that it’s almost like if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all. The scares are the generic, jump-scares that might work initially but have no long-term value. The characters are hollow and two-dimensional cut-outs with no depth. 

It has the jump-scares like most other horror films but it executes them wonderfully. The film also does a great job of setting up the atmosphere as well as the somewhat dreary setting of the entire town. One of the best aspects of the film are the characters, those are beautifully realised.

It is a lot of fun to watch because it balances the scares with several laugh-out-loud moments. That elevates the film above the dull and often dour horror films that we are usually saddled with.

The film also makes sure that the kids are entirely on their own. The adults are either oblivious or not present. Some of the worst characters in the film are the adults, other parents. They are supposed to protect the children and far from that, they are the threats that the kids must stand up to on their own, whether it’s an overbearing bully of a mother, or an abusive father. They might not look as disturbing as Pennywise, but they were just as horrible.

The casting of the kids was great and they all worked so well together. It was easy to believe that they quickly formed a bond and stuck together even when they were terrified. I also loved that the only girl in the group, Bev, was not treated any differently than the boys and she was just as brave as the rest of the group. I loved that the film stayed away from the usual tropes and clichés associated with girls that one encounters in the films from this genre. That was a welcome relief. All the kids were amazing in the film and the film could not have been better cast.

Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise was brilliant. There were a number of scary elements in the film, but Pennywise the scariest among them. I would not like to meet Bill dressed as Pennywise on a quiet street. He did an amazing job.

If you liked Stranger Things, then this film is right up your alley