Loved this novel. An epic fantasy novel with characters who make you think.
Read my full review here.
Buy the book here.
If you’re only gonna read one fantasy novel this year, this wouldn’t be a bad choice!
A Work of Art by Micayla Lally (She Writes Press)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Romance
Letting go after her abrupt break-up with Samson is harder than Julene thought it would be, especially since her ex has wasted no time in burying himself in the local dating scene. But during an extended visit to her parents overseas, Julene rediscovers her love of art, and a burgeoning career develops. Samson, on the other hand, after trying valiantly—and unsuccessfully—to forget Julene, has settled instead on his own new career. When Julene returns home to Australia, a coincidental meeting leads to an emotional reunion—but her love and patience will be tested when she finds out just how busy Samson has been in her absence. Yes, they have both made mistakes they can work through and move past—but when a spectre from Samson’s past looms, Julene wonders: Can she trust him again?
This is one of the most frustrating novels I’ve read in a long time, and the reason for that is simple. The story is great, but the telling is distinctly not. The novel is very fast paced, but there is little detail in any of the scenes. What’s more, when there is detail, it seems to occur during the most inane occasions. There are some quite dramatic moments in this novel which have the potential to be extremely emotional and involving, but they are written about with the air of an afterthought. The most important aspects of the story are glossed over, whilst mundane conversations about rice pads are dealt with in great detail.
Now that I’m at the end of the novel, I still don’t feel that I have a good grasp of who the characters really are, what their motivations are and how they feel about anything that’s happened in the book. I think part of this is down to the dialogue. The conversations don’t seem realistic, and the writing style brings the phrase ‘hoity-toity’ to mind.
Focusing on the more positive aspects of the novel, the story is a very relatable and realistic. What happens in this novel could easily happen to anyone, and yet there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Unfortunately, you don’t have to guess for very long.
For example, the beginning of the novel is involving, as the two main characters, Julene and Samson, have ended their relationship but we don’t know why. Rather than use this as a way to keep readers interested, the tension is broken a few chapters later when the author reveals the reason for their break-up. I would have loved for her to have drawn this out a little more, as the majority of the book is much less interesting. 70% of the novel could perhaps could be entitled ‘the Sexcapades of Julene and co.’, but sadly this is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. In some cases, her circumstances actually make it feel a bit ‘icky’.
If I could turn back time and read this novel again, I’m not sure I’d bother. I did read it until the end (the story was interesting enough for me to persevere through the bad writing) but maybe it would make a better movie?
A Work of Art is released on 2nd May 2017.
Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan, Tor)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Pyrre is on trial. She has committed murder. But she isn’t a criminal. She is Skullsworn, acolyte of Anashael, the God of death.
To become a Priestess, she must complete the trial, a 14 day long mission to fulfil the words of a song. The song is a list of offerings to the god, victims of the acolytes training in death. One such offering must be “the one who made your mind and body sing with love”, and so Pyrre travels to Dombang, town of her birth, in search of a man from her past.
If she can fall in love with him, and then kill him, she is certain she will pass her trial. What awaits her in Dombang, however, is much bigger than her trial, and the requirements of her trial may not be as easy to fulfil as she believed. If she fails, all that awaits her is a violent death. She must not fail.
Phew! I feel like I need a breather.
Brian Staveley’s novels are truly epic. He has an uncanny ability to create entire worlds with a vast array of characters, religions and cultures. I was first introduced to Pyrre when I read the Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne series. Skullsworn is a prequel to those novels, and works brilliantly as a stand-alone story, so is perfect for readers new to Staveley’s work. Pyrre was always an intriguing member of the Unhewn Throne cast, however, so I’m delighted to learn more about her story.
She’s different in Skullsworn, though I can definitely see how she’ll evolve into the gruff, ferocious woman from the Unhewn Throne series. She’s a little more uncertain but I think she’s also more willing to take risks and accept and experience her own emotions. She’s a refreshing take on a female protagonist. One of the things I love about Staveley is that you’ll find no stereotypes in his work.
In Skullsworn you’ll also find no black and white. Each individual could be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but there is always something sympathetic to create a bit of tension and interest. It would be incredibly easy to view Pyrre and the other Skullsworn as evil murderers with a vile and depraved religion, but when Pyrre explains how she feels about Anashael and death, it kind of makes sense! Anashael is not a malicious god. Death should be painless and quick, the furthest from suffering. His followers also accept that there is no sacrifice in death without having known the beauty and wonder of life. Many of Anashael’s followers are great lovers of the arts, in particular music. It is these intricate details, so thoroughly explored, which take Staveley’s novels from the run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure to the masterclass in expert story-writing.
Skullsworn, at its centre, feels like an adventure novel. There are plenty of swashbuckling action scenes, intriguing plot twists and warring cultures to stop the novel from being a bit of a slog – it’s a big book! The novel is certainly not for the faint of heart, and I think to really enjoy it you’ve got to love reading. It’s long and involving and there are complex themes which can take a bit of thought to wrap your head around. Luckily, Staveley is great at knowing how to get this information across. He tells you what you need to know and when, but doesn’t rely on giving the reader too much description at any one time. By the end of the novel you’re left with the feeling that you really understand the world he’s created.
You’ll also be left with the satisfying feeling of a story well-finished. He really knows how to end a book. So often, novels fall at the final hurdle. The longer the book, the greater the build-up, and often the finale can seem a little lacking in comparison to the rest of the story. In contrast, I think Staveley’s novel is weakest in the middle. We’re met all of our characters, Pyrre is well into her trial and at times I feel the story may have been progressing a little too slowly for my liking. I do wonder, however, whether a faster pace would have made the ending a little less enjoyable.
Skullsworn is a great adventure with a dash of romanced, wrapped around a core of characters who will play with your emotions (and even your moral compass), I can’t recommend this novel enough. Just make sure you’re not going to be too busy for the next couple of weeks.
Skullsworn is released on 20th April 2017.