Book review: Magic Burns – Ilona Andrews

4 out of 5 stars for Magic Burns (Kate Daniels #2) by Ilona Andrews.


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“Down in Atlanta, tempers – and temperatures – are about to flare…

As a mercenary who cleans up after magic gone wrong, Kate Daniels has seen her share of occupational hazards. Normally, waves of paranormal energy ebb and flow across Atlanta like a tide. But once every seven years, a flare comes, a time when magic runs rampant. Now Kate’s going to have to deal with problems on a much bigger scale: a divine one.

When Kate sets out to retrieve a set of stolen maps for the Pack, Atlanta’s paramilitary clan of shapeshifters, she quickly realizes much more at stake. During a flare, gods and goddesses can manifest – and battle for power. The stolen maps are only the opening gambit in an epic tug-of-war between two gods hoping for rebirth. And if Kate can’t stop the cataclysmic showdown, the city may not survive…”

(Read more here.)


I reviewed Magic Bites, the first book in the Kate Daniels series, in 2015. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars.

The second book in the series, Magic Burns, has a unique narrative voice that is both entertaining and engaging, and rich with personality. It also benefits from a structured and well-paced plot, memorable characters, and detailed world-building. Arguably action-heavy, with the crux of the plot hinging on a final big leagues clash, it nevertheless doesn’t scrimp on character development, or on admirably varied dialogue, as Andrews’ characters display a variety of approaches to their common language, based on experience, species and social factors, to name but a few. Additionally, while Magic Burns is rich with ever-popular biting one-liners, the novel isn’t a thoughtless supernatural romp with little to no plot, and an overabundance of sexual tension. In truth, it is the opposite, with an engaging vibrancy that it ensures that it is eminently readable.

The plot of Magic Burns hinges on the existence of “flares”, surges of magic during which modern technology is unable to function, and the unexplained and inexplicable has a tendency to pop unpredictably in and out of existence. This is more or less business as usual for the characters in this series, until these flares stop occurring in a vaguely predictable sequence, and, as well as fading in and out quickly enough to cause havoc, start building towards a destructive pinnacle.

Anything supernatural is strongly affected during the flares, strengthened both beyond reason and their normal capacity. It follows from this that those individuals that are already the strongest of their kind are rendered nigh-unbeatable. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the fallout is negative: a number of nasty individuals take the opportunity presented to consolidate their assets, and leverage a hostile relocation from one world – or plane of existence – to another. Their intentions are neither good nor honourable, and the ramifications significant.

The flares highlight the uneasy tension between technology and magic that is central to the Kate Daniels series. Instead of a vaguely functional harmony between the two, a familiar approach to urban fantasy, Andrews’ series takes place in a universe that is caught uncomfortably between them, effectively wavering on a precarious knife edge between two strong opposing forces. When magic reigns supreme, technology falters and fails, rendered obsolete. In some instances, technological devices are even permanently destroyed. When magic fades in turn, technology springs back to life. This has an impact on the characters: living (and flourishing) in that kind of environment requires the ability to adapt to a changing situation at a moment’s notice, and to develop skills that aid or at least do not actively hinder survival in a world belabored by powerful and unpredictable forces.

Characterisation in Magic Burns is equally detail-oriented. It is made clear that Andrews’ shapeshifters suffer from occupying the easy precipice between human and animal, and often struggle to restrain their toothier sides, especially during the flares. The failure to do so is widely considered to be indicative of weakness in the ‘shifter community, while the opposite is suggestive of potential leadership quality. This in turn feeds into aspects including the historical treatment and discrimination of shapeshifters, both from outsiders and other kinds of shapeshifters, and the immediate and the long-term ramifications for Magic Burns’ main characters. In bringing her characters to life, Andrews establishes a range of political, economic and social factors likely to have an impact on their lives, and introduces engaging and sympathetic themes such as found families.

The protagonist, Katie Daniels, can, at first glance, be mistakenly interpreted as a one-dimensional “strong” female character: she isn’t in a long-term relationship, she doesn’t have children, and if some nasty beastie tries to hurt her, she’ll hurt it right back, ready and willing to leave a lasting impression. However, Kate is also empathetic, supportive and loyal, and still in the process of dealing with the significant emotional impact of her last relationship. Further, her commitment to fighting the nasty things that go bump in the night is at least partially motivated by her desire to protect the vulnerable. She is by no means allergic to feelings, and her strength comes from emotional depth and compassion.

In Magic Burns, Kate comes across a vulnerable young girl whose mother is missing. Kate looks into the mother’s disappearance as well as taking the girl under her wing, going to considerable lengths to protect her from anything and everything that might wish her harm, including the girl’s own unwise and somewhat blinkered fondness for a boy. This is a true, realistic balance that reiterates Kate’s lack of practical experience without suggesting that she is too tough or emotionally isolated to care about a child left all alone in the world, or that her competency and strength equals a lack of maternal instincts.

On a different note, I don’t really enjoy urban fantasy novels of any kind that expand their repertoire to include deities, as happens in Magic BurnsIf the Next Big Threat is a worryingly powerful deity, then it seems to me that little space has been left to make the next an even bigger deal. In addition, it can only reach the point at which the relatively unprepared characters typically discover hitherto unknown super-secret superpowers, or unlock a quirk in their genetic make-up that guarantees their success in the latest manifestation of a high noon shootout – which is a bit too predictable. It works to some extent in Magic Burns, as Kate’s ongoing journey to discovering the full extent of her abilities is a strongly established plot point, but it was too obvious an ending to an otherwise exciting and intriguing narrative.

I enjoyed reading Magic Burns. Engagingly written, it has great characters, an interesting plot, and excellent world-building elements, all of which are symptomatic of a keen attention to detail, and admirable storytelling. However, I found some aspects of the plot to be predictable, and the conclusion of the novel felt inevitable. Additionally, I was disappointed by the lack of diversity in some areas – while a multitude of healthy and less-so heterosexual relationships are represented, there is little in-depth exploration of alternatives.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Bookish round-up: February 2018

As far as the weather is concerned, February is, often, an unpleasant sort of month. If it isn’t raining, it’s probably gearing up to snow, and the days are short on light and prone to being inhospitably freezing.

But, as far as reading is concerned, February is the perfect month. The poor, unreliable weather means that outdoor pursuits are usually non-existent, and, when they do take place, they are uninviting and frequently postponed. On the other hand, indoor pursuits, such as reading, are both infinitely more preferable, and strongly recommended during particularly bad weather, for safety’s sake.

A strong advocate of safety, I enjoyed February very much.

23403402The first book I read was A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab. This book came to my attention through the wonderful world of Instagram, and I am so very glad that it did. It’s brilliantly written, with wonderfully descriptive prose, interesting characters, and superb, detail-oriented world-building. Every part of A Darker Shade of Magic is expertly composed, and the richness of the setting engages the reader from the very first sentence. Books like this – dynamic, exciting, unpredictable and innovative – are the very reason that I love the fantasy genre so much. I gave A Darker Shade of Magic 5 stars.

Second was Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder. I first read Poison Study years ago, and this year, wanted to experience that world again. While the reader is presented with more than sufficient detail to comprehend the particulars of the novel, Snyder’s prose is sparse, with little emphasis on descriptive imagery. The factual aspects of the setting, and in regards to world-building, are not lacking, but more could have been done to flesh it out, and imbue it with greater vibrancy. That said, the plot and characters are engaging, the dialogue is consistently realistic, and the merging of fantasy elements with Synder’s detailed, thorough world-building, works well. The narrative is given depth and nuance by those very details, compensating for the arguably sparse, almost simplistic, prose. I gave Poison Study 4 stars.

I then read The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (translated by John Hodgson). I still don’t really know what to think of it. It’s a very peculiar book, incredibly morbid, and uncompromisingly dark. Reading it isn’t exactly an comfortable experience. But it is intriguing, with a considerable amount of philosophy held within its pages. Despite its subject, it doesn’t verge upon horror; instead, it provides a sophisticated exploration of human nature, bolstered both by an attention to detail, and a sincere willingness to delve, unflinchingly, into the darkest, deepest depths of the human condition. The Traitor’s Niche brings into sharp, discomfiting, and often shocking relief, the relationship between the mind and the body, and, even, the relationship between the head and the rest of the body, and ventures into a variety of topics including the importance of language in regards to culture. I gave The Traitor’s Niche 5 stars.

910154After The Traitor’s Niche, I turned to Stolen by Kelley Armstrong, which belongs to my favourite genre (urban fantasy). I have always enjoyed the way in which Armstrong weaves the supernatural into the unfailingly ordinary in regards both to her plot and to her characters, and this is equally the case in Stolen. Given voice by dynamic, first person prose, which lends it a considerable sense of personality, its detailed imagery, intriguing characters and engaging world-building all contribute to the presentation of an assured, well-paced narrative. Two long-standing themes from Armstrong’s work – that is, the treatment of women and found families – also appearestablishing the nuanced humanity of the characters and an extra dimension to the plot. I gave Stolen 5 stars.

Finally, no bookish round-up could ever be complete without a nod to my ever-expanding TBR shelf.

In February, I added:

  1. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. I want to read more books written by women, and, in particular, by women with difficult cultural experiences to my own. The reviews that I have read of Freshwater are overwhelmingly positive; most suggest that the reader was overwhelmed in entirety.

  2. A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2). I added it to the list as soon as I finished A Darker Shade of Magic, which, given everything I said above, shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Newly introduced to Schwab’s work, I now can’t wait to delve into the rest of the series.

  3. All the Names they Used for God: Stories by Anjali Sachdeva. Again, I want to read more books written by women of varying experiences, and this has been given glowing reviews. It seems likely to be an exceptional read, and a journey that I’m very much looking forward to embarking on.

  4. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck. I like my books dark and atmospheric, preferably with an outpouring of strange strong to overwhelm the unwary trespasser. This collection of stories seems likely to deliver on all fronts. As far as I’m concerned, “here there by monsters” is an invitation to settle in for my favourite kind of reading experience.

  5. The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale. For similar reasons to the above, I’m interested in reading The Toymakers – that is, for magic, for mystery, and for the unexplained sparkle partially hidden behind half-locked doors. At the very least the chance to explore a world that isn’t my own, and to step into a text in which imagination flows free.

 


My most recent book review was of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Read it here.

Book review: Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

5 out of 5 stars for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.


Station Eleven

“One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time – from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

(Read more here.)


Station Eleven is an engaging novel that begins with a pandemic and ends with tenuous, uncertain survival. Its many good qualities include thorough characterisation, an intriguing plot, and the total avoidance of “strong” characters with little recogisable humanity and a plethora of unexplained skills. Often classed as sci-fi, I would hesitate to restrain it to one genre, as it is an assured and thoroughly enjoyable novel that should appeal to any reader with at least a passing interest in fiction that assesses the emotional complexity of the average human being, while presenting an equally intriguing plot. It also manages to avoid many of the stereotypes that science fiction is unfortunately prone to.

As for me, I loved it.

Throughout Station Eleven, there is a definite sense of inescapable danger, and of looming jeopardy. At the beginning, this comes from the Georgia Flu, undoubtedly the greatest immediate threat to the survival of Station Eleven’s characters, and later in the narrative it is the great unknown of life after the apocalypse that takes that dubious mantle. The surviving characters have little to nothing to rely on, and their experiences of a world prior to the arrival of the Georgia Flu are not much help at all. It is a fact of life for the survivors of the Georgia Flu that the changed world is profoundly unsafe, and for the reader, it is impossible not to appreciate the inherent vulnerability of Station Eleven’s characters.

This gives Station Eleven an impressive sense of realism. Intuitively, a post-apocalyptic environment is likely to be dangerous, at the very least because it is entirely unknown, a situation that no character could adequately have prepared for. With unpredictable challenges likely to be lurking around every corner, those that inhabit the changed world are placed in a difficult – and often dangerous – position.

I particularly enjoyed the way that Mandel establishes the clear difference between the characters that experienced and can remember life before the Georgia Flu, and those that cannot. The decisions made and actions taken by the first group are acknowledged to have been variously influenced by their memories and knowledge of the pre-Georgia Flu world, while the latter group call upon more recent experiences, of something and somewhere entirely different. This manifests in a range of situations,and more widely in their understanding of morality, and how they justify their behaviour.

The Georgia Flu is a powerful catalyst for Mandel’s equally powerful characterisation. Its decimation of the population brings about widespread destruction – including of the basic urban infrastructure on which many of Station Eleven’s characters are used to – and inevitably brings about irrevocable change, as a result of which ongoing survival is often uncertain at best, and the survivors left damaged if not crippled by loss. Their desperate situation often makes them unpredictable, wary of strangers and understandably hostile to the unfamiliar. The survival of each day requires, as well as skill and determination, a kind of ruthlessness that not all of Station Eleven’s characters are willing to contemplate, let alone utilise. The varying reactions to the situation and its inherent difficulties reveal the innermost foundations of each character’s personality, by establishing their strengths and weaknesses and revealing the preconceptions that ultimately give rise to their behaviour. The result is a richly detailed, in-depth characterisation.

The characters that do not endure the same tests are no less richly depicted. Station Eleven’s narrative is non-linear, and by moving back and forth in time across the lives of her characters, and between life before and after the arrival of the Georgia Flu, Mandel brings to the reader’s attention events that take place across the full span of Station Eleven’s timeline, using examples of past behaviour to clarify future events and decisions, establish the history and often-complicated nature of the relationships alluded to throughout, and to give some indication as to the likely motivational factors behind a range of actions.

My favourite characters in Station Eleven are those that comprise the Travelling Symphony, a theatrical troupe that travel to bring something more than just plain survival to the friendlier, or at least civil, communities. (Usually in the form of Shakespeare.) The manner by which the musicians identify one another primarily by instrument is a wonderful detail, and the petty disagreements that arise within the group even under – and often because of – the severe circumstances, are inarguably authentic. Station Eleven’s characters are so richly depicted and characterised that they genuinely resemble real people, lending the narrative weight and pathos.

Music and theatre are not fresh innovations brought into the post-Georgia Flu world, and “musician” and “actor” are not new, post-apocalypse occupations. A holdover from before the arrival of the Georgia Flu, the fact that they remain constantly in use despite having no practical application to immediate survival shows that Mandel’s characters retain a very human desire for more than just the basic practicalities, reiterating the lasting complexity and depth of Mandel’s characterisation, and the realism central to Station Eleven. Her characters are irrevocably changed by their experiences, but they do not become unthinking and inhuman, deprived of identifiable humanity.

One of my favourite moments in Station Eleven is when Clark is told that his client is “sleepwalking”. Due to a range of factors, he has found himself in a particular occupation, one that he has come to realise that he doesn’t much care for. But while he might be interested in taking a different path, his responsibilities ensure that he considers taking a risk by leaving his stable career to be out of the question. Thus, dissatisfied, he works mechanically, with neither interest or passion. He sleepwalks. This is one of my favourite moments because it is so realistic, a state of affairs that many of us can relate to, and because it emphasises the often-painful relationship between dreams and reality in the novel as a whole. A world in which an infectious disease swiftly turns into an unstoppable pandemic that wipes out 99.9% of the population is not a world of happy endings, or a world in which dreams come true.

These are just a few of the many reasons why I enjoyed reading Station Eleven, and why I would definitely recommend it, even to readers who wouldn’t normally try anything like this. It has many excellent qualities, and on top of an engaging, well-structured and nicely-paced plot, it is insightful and empathetic, exploring the often-unpleasant depths and incongruities of the human condition in a manner that is assured and not without sympathy, and that contributes to, rather than detracting from, the plot. With an emphasis on character, it takes a refreshingly human-centric approach to its premise.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Bookish round-up: January 2018

Books read: 

  • Equal Rites (Discworld #3) by Terry Pratchett
    Genre: Fantasy
    My rating: 4 stars
  • The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1) by Samantha Shannon
    Genre: Fantasy, YA
    My rating: 4 stars

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I’m a dedicated Terry Pratchett fan. I love his characters, his settings, his consistently inventive turn of phrase, and his prose. Further, his books are a masterclass in wordplay, his use of parody is flawless, and his questioning (and dismissal) of well-established fantasy novel tropes is undoubtedly refreshing – and often a relief.

As such, the fact that I enjoyed reading Equal Rites probably won’t come as much of a surprise. It has all the key hallmarks of a Pratchett novel – that is, it’s clever, it’s entertaining, and it overturns a not inconsiderable number of the aforementioned fantasy novel tropes, as well as being populated with interesting characters and a rich variety of settings – all of which I enjoy. Further, while it arguably has a less firmly defined, rich plot than Pratchett’s later work, it has a clear narrative structure and plenty of depth.

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I also enjoyed reading Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season. It’s an excellent urban fantasy novel, in which recognisable modern developments and advancements are seamlessly merged with creative supernatural elements. Further, its intriguing plot is supported by thorough, detail-oriented world-building, which stretches from politics to the justice system and the criminal underworld, and covers cultural beliefs, prejudices, and discrimination, providing a firm foundation for the subsequent narrative. The basic outline of the plot doesn’t present a completely unfamiliar pattern, but Shannon’s detailed world-building, and the flair with which she brings the supernatural elements of her narrative to life, easily compensate for any deficiencies in that area.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Red Rising (Red Rising Saga #1) by Pierce Brown, which came to my attention when Iron Gold was published this year. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and this series promises to deliver on everything that I enjoy.

  2. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1) by Katherine Arden, which was recommended to me by a reader with excellent taste. It looks like it will fit perfectly into my favoured ‘weird and wonderful’ category, and has excellent reviews.

  3. The Mime Order (Bone Season #2) by Samantha Shannon, which I added to the list as soon as I finished The Bone Season. I wasn’t previously familiar with Shannon’s work, and I’m looking forward to reading more of it this year.

 

Bookish round-up: December 2017

Books read: 2

  • Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
    Genre: Historical fiction
    My rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed reading Star of the Sea. Rich with detail, its prose draws the reader effortlessly into the setting and the time period, establishing not only the historical significance of the events, and the position of the characters in relation to them, but also the associated frustrations felt and the difficulties experienced by all kinds of people at that time. Star of the Sea brings that period of history to life with great confidence, and with an engaging plot and prose, is well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little (or a lot) of history with their fiction.

But Gormenghast is one of the strangest series of books that I have ever read, and one of the most enjoyable. Its prose – equipped with both vivid, highly descriptive imagery, and an incredibly nuanced attention to detail – applied distinctly to the physical features and accompanying personality of each character, accentuates each to the extent that the ordinary turns into the grotesque, twisted into the unusual while remaining just recognisable. Ultimately, Gormenghast is strange – a strange set of books with strange characters and oppressively strange weather – and that is exactly why it is such an enjoyable read. Every inch of the setting and every twitch of every character’s expression forms an important, inescapable part of the narrative, and it is all equally, uniquely strange. No detail is omitted, no stone left without consideration. Well worth a read for anyone who enjoys a little creative flair alongside detailed imagery and exceedingly memorable characters.

What did you read in December 2017? Let me know in the Comments below.

Added to TBR shelf:

  1. Singapore Saga Vol 1: Forbidden Hill (Singapore Saga #1) by John D Greenwood.

  2. The Speckled People: A Memoire of a Half-Irish Childhood by Hugo Hamilton.

Check out my most recent book review.

Book review: Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

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“Without this child, we shall all die.” Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…”

(Read more here.)


Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, the first book in the series entitled His Dark Materials, is about a young girl named Lyra Belacqua. A ward of Jordan College, she knows the parameters of her world well, and spends her time almost entirely as she wishes, acquiescing only rarely and very reluctantly to the instructions conferred upon her by a variety of well-meaning if usually distracted authority figures. When children go missing, however, plucked uncaringly from their lives, Lyra’s world changes. Finding herself too close to comfort to those responsible, her principles – and loyalty to her best friend, Roger – demand action.

When I first read Northern Lights, I was enchanted. The plot, the characters, the setting, and the number and nature of the ideas lending weight and coherency to the entirety were a veritable feast for the imagination, and the novel had admirable depth and undeniable quality. I was hooked from the very first page, and held spellbound until the very last.

That is to say: Northern Lights trounced even the greatest of my expectations.

A quietly undisclosed number of years later, a re-read has proven that Northern Lights is just as enjoyable, and just as relevant in its approach and themes now as it was when I was first fortunate enough to read it. Readers of all ages continue to love and devour it, and such wide and lasting appeal should not – and cannot – be underestimated.

Northern Lights isn’t needlessly complex or disappointingly simple. It is clever and accessible, never condescends to younger readers, and postulates the concepts that form the foundation of the narrative in an understandable and engaging fashion. Aiding comprehension is the fact that they are presented to the reader in intuitive terms by the protagonist, Lyra, and the rich, logical details are easily enough to satisfy even the most discerning mind. Lyra’s youth and refreshingly direct approach make her an ideal character to shepherd readers through Pullman’s world, and the possibility of thorough engagement with the protagonist’s perspective encourages an immersive experience.

Thematically, Northern Lights has broad scope, from the representation and perception of children, and of youthful characters, to the ramifications of pursuing unchartered waters and unprecedented, live-changing, discoveries. The protagonist, Lyra, proves to be a useful vehicle in the exploration of such topics, for her practical, no-nonsense approach and unflappable sense of fairness cast the inconsistencies and uncertainties behind popular assumptions into sharp relief, and she regularly challenges groundless prejudices. An obvious example is the moment in which Lyra played a pivotal role in liberating Iorek from his captors – while many of the other characters were hesitant to take a stand, or concerned by his ferocity, Lyra just saw a brave, proud, misunderstood creature that had been treated with needless cruelty, and knew that she had to offer what assistance she could.

Importantly, Northern Lights isn’t a feel-good romp. While it is definitely a tale of adventure and grand exploits, helmed by a young, heroic protagonist, it is also poignant and sensitive, moderating victory and achievement with prevailing loss and realistic complexity. The destruction wrought upon the lives of the unfortunate children cruelly experimented upon is undeniable, and while Lyra succeeds in liberating them from the facility in which they were being held, the damage cannot be reversed. Further, she ultimately delivers her best friend, Roger, into the greedy clutches of Lord Asriel, as a result of which he tragically perishes.

Roger’s death is an important plot point, propelling Lyra into a startling new world, freshly determined to pursue and fight for her beliefs, and to discover more of what she was so ignominiously introduced to. It also provides evidence for the maturity of Pullman’s approach to a narrative primarily populated by youthful characters, as difficult scenes are neither sugar-coated beyond all recognition nor needlessly, starkly harsh. The vulnerability of children – especially to adults – is recognised, but so is their strength and their tenacity, within realistic bounds.

It would be remiss of me, even foolish, to conclude a discussion on the merits of Northern Lights without reference to “daemons”. From the experiments conducted by the Oblation Board into the possibility of separating children from their daemons, to the armoured bear wishing to obtain one so that he might become human, “daemons” are foregrounded in Northern Lights, presenting an important aspect of the narrative, and an interesting addition to the development of the characters. A daemon is the physical manifestation of the human soul, visible in the form of an animal, and they vary in accordance with the person with which they are linked, changing constantly throughout childhood, and settling upon a final form during puberty. Assumptions can be made about personality and mood from a daemon, and there are strict, unspoken rules against touching that of another person. Pullman’s development of his characters involves establishing their daemons, and as such it is an exciting and inspiring addition to a narrative already rich in detail. Their inclusion remains a unique and impressive concept when considered in the wider context of fantasy novels.

Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights is a clever, imaginative novel, filled to the brim with intriguing ideas and many details capable of engaging and inspiring readers of many ages. The language is, on occasion, plain, but never tedious, and lacks neither detail nor rich description. Pullman’s world building is arguably my favourite aspect, but everything from the structure of the plot to the variety of the characters is enjoyable. As such, I am happy to give Northern Lights 5 out of 5 stars.

Bookish round-up: January 2017

I finished just two books in the cold, unfriendly month of January, both by the incomparable J. V. Jones.

I am always amazed by Jones’ flawless world-building, and the uncompromisingly high quality of her work. Her novels arguably fall into the bracket of traditional (or epic) fantasy, but there are no embarrassing instances of inexplicably all-powerful ‘mysterious’ men, or tiresome heroes somehow able to wield a sword with unbeatable skill despite being in possession of no prior experience and little physical strength. Jones’ work is complex and nuanced, her characters are realistically diverse, and her prose is immersive.

To clarify:

Books read: 2

Started: A Song of Ice and Fire by G. R. R. Martin

Favourite read: 

J. V. Jones’ A Cavern of Black Ice

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“In Spire Vanis, an uncrowned ruler steals magic from tortured captives, while an innocent girl is haunted by nightmares of ice. On the frigid steppes, two brothers find their kinsmen slain by swords that draw no blood. At a remote homestead, a hardened warrior leaves his family to follow a raven’s summons.

And in a deadly wilderness where nature and the gods have no mercy, two young fugitives will confront the unfolding of an apocalyptic prophecy…”

Read more about A Cavern of Black Ice from the source.

A Cavern of Black Ice is an unforgiving, atmospheric tale. The known world hangs in the balance, teetering on the thinnest of edges, and Jones’ characters, irrespective of the sides on which they stand, or the purity of their motives, find no easy successes. They suffer often and harshly, victories are ordinarily fleeting, and those most deserving of kindness and peace are rarely fortunate enough to find it. Hideous prophecy compels action, not laxity, and seems ill-disposed to look kindly upon reluctance.

I would strongly recommend any novel written by J. V. Jones, but A Cavern of Black Ice is a particular favourite, for the prose, the characters – Raif Sevrance, skilled and knowledgeable in many areas, painfully helpless in others, and consistently tortured by an act denounced by the traditions of his people as an unforgivable betrayal – and, of course, the unarguable vibrancy of the setting.


Check out my most recent book review here.