Skullsworn by Brian Staveley – Book Review


Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan, Tor)

Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Genres: Fantasy, Sci-Fi

RATING: 4/5

 

The Story

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.

 

The Review

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.

Staveley can be contacted via his website, Twitter and Facebook.

 

The List by Patricia Forde – Book Review


The List by Patricia Forde (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)

Review copy provided by Netgalley.

Genres: Dystopian, Sci-fi, Drama, Futuristic

RATING: 3/5

 

The Story

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

The Review

The idea behind The List is an extremely compelling concept. Language is severely restricted in order to be functional without allowing for freedom of thought or belief. Devised by John Noa, it is an attempt to remove the ability for movements to form, for ideas to be created, and for beliefs to be born. Noa believes that The Melting, a planet-wide disaster, could have been prevented if not for language. Politicians who denied global warming used words to persuade and distract citizens from dealing with the problem.

It is a very relatable idea- just look at the 2016 presidential elections. This Wordwatchers blog tracked the use of language in the last presidential debate and explains how words can be used to sway and manipulate an audience. Trump did it so effectively that he is soon to become the most powerful man in the world.Against the backdrop of our own global climate, both politically and environmentally, The List is very fitting for our times. It’s exploration of both the importance and the danger of language is exceptional.

Aside from the obvious links between the concept in the novel and the real world, the use of List made me aware of my more personal beliefs about language. In the novel, when characters speak in List, I noticed that I would assume those characters had lower intelligence. This happened regardless of the concepts they were discussing or the ideas they were trying to communicate.

Of course, there are arguments that language does impact intelligence. Abstract concepts cannot easily be conceived of without a language to describe them. Nevertheless, we are still capable of having, understanding and applying knowledge without using words.

The List has many specific and more general opportunities for self-reflection on the part of the reader.There are many moments where the protagonist, Letta, is playing double-agent. Each time Letta must make a decision within these moments, I feel as a reader that I can’t help but think about how I would behave. Novels which encourage introspection are, in my opinion, quite important. You can learn a lot about yourself when reading a book.

Unfortunately, despite the unique concept of the novel, I feel Fordge promises something she doesn’t quite deliver on. The plot itself is not, perhaps, as intricate as it could have been. For instance, there are brief mentions of the ‘Wordless’, people who have lost the ability to speak entirely. These people are discussed with fear and confusion, and I was hoping for a moment when they would prove themselves worthy of more. Unfortunately, this moment never came.

Futuristic dystopian novels are becoming very popular. I believe for an author to be truly successful, they need to step away from the obvious story – a restrictive society which is disrupted due to a desire for more freedom. There was a pleasing reveal about two-thirds of the way through the novel regarding Letta’s family, but aside from that there were very few surprises.

As well as the somewhat unimaginative storyline, I struggled a little with Letta as our main character. For starters, I found I wasn’t able to easily decide on her age. We are told she is under eighteen, but to me that didn’t help much in really understanding her. There is a big difference between 13 and 17 years of age. This difficulty in placing her age made it tricky to completely relate to her.

Throughout the novel there are hints of her affections for another character, but these are not fully explored. Are these feelings the earliest flutterings of attraction within a young teenage girl, or more fully-fledged emotions emanating from a young woman? Rarely mentioned, and not at all acted upon, I think this plot device was thrown in for the sake of it. There is little to no chemistry between the two characters, and they don’t even speak to each other particularly frequently.

On top of this non-romance, I was also disappointed in the relative rarity of moments which encouraged me to feel for the characters. I believe Forde did attempt to show the strength of connections between her cast, but for whatever reason I found it difficult to empathise with them when characters were in danger. As a result, I was interested in what happened to the characters, but I didn’t really care what happened.

I would recommend The List for fans of the dystopian novel who want something new, but don’t expect to be wowed. An intriguing concept which could have been more fully explored.

The List (alternative title: The Wordsmith) is released on 8th August 2017.

You can find out more about Patricia Forde via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiter Ascending Review: 5.5/10


Three words: dumb but fun!

I’m not going to say much (because I’m in a car typing this on my phone) but I think this was a film with loads of potential but it was poorly executed.

Bad things first:
– there were quite a few cringy/cheesy lines
– too much story and not enough time, resulting in poorly developed characters and plot
– Potentially an over-reliance on CGI, but I’m not really sure cos it was quite cool to look at

Good things:
– see last point
– Eddie Redmayne. Need I say more? Yes? Ok, best actor in this by far. Creepy, scary, insane, menacing, and yet a little sympathetic at the same time
– very interesting story which had loads of potential cool characters and backstory – maybe a sequel could do better?
– Channing Tatum is the hottest human-wolf hybrid ever

I’d say it’s a good ‘silly’ movie, and I wish they’d split it into two and focused more on character development, backstory explanation and had gotten a little more creative with the script.