Tagged: Fantasy

Game On

I reckon about a third of my life is dedicated to books and another third to my toddler but that last third is taken up by gaming. I’ve always had a console, my mum got me a Sega Megadrive when I was tiny and I haven’t been without a console since. I’ve never considered myself a gamer as growing up it was always a mild interest but in the past few years I’ve fallen in love with RPGs. I love the epic sprawling ones that take way too much to complete like the Final Fantasy games, Kingdom Hearts, Bioshock and the Tales series.

This week I finally caved and got Persona 5. I’ve played the others and I avoided getting this one as I knew it’d take over my life. I only started Persona 5 a few days ago and I’m already nine hours deep, it was while I was playing I was mulling over why I got so absorbed in these types of games and it’s obvious: they’re great stories.

The story writing and editing of these types of games parallel the best novels out there. Bioshock Infinite for one left me shook and years on I’ll still go back and watch the ending on Youtube just to fathom it once more (and tbh I’m still trying to get my head round it). More recently I’ve devoted a large portion of my life to Final Fantasy XV. I bloody love everything about this game, I haven’t been as emotionally invested in a FF game since FFX which left me in bits by the time I got to the end. The fact that each part of the game is divided into chapters says that you’re not just playing a game, you’re taking part in a story that a team have put their heart and soul into.

If like me you love a game for it’s story you might find these books right up your street.

Lyonesse by Jack Vance – I read the first book in the Lyonesse trilogy about six years ago. I picked up a copy purely because the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks edition has a stunning front cover and I wasn’t expecting much from what sounded like a paint-by-numbers fantasy novel. This book is very epic considering it’s the first in a trilogy, it’s a heady mix of fantasy, fairytale, myth and legend. I’ve not made it round to books two and three yet but I managed to get copies with the original 1986 cover.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor – Taylor’s previous series was wonderful escapism so obviously this new novel was going to be just as ace. Strange the Dreamer starts with Lazlo running away from his abusive life and he takes refuge and solace in a library where he becomes to inhabit. Lazlo’s love of books is so beautifully written and as he starts to discover that there’s a strange truth to the books he considered as fairytales you find yourself being sucked into an emotionally deep fantasy. It’s got really brilliant characters and some wicked cool Gods, have a read.

The Dark Tower by Stephen King – OBVIOUSLY THESE BOOKS WOULD BE MENTIONED! I think everyone should read them, not only has King created an epic intricate world that could rival any Final Fantasy game, he also gives readers an amazing journey. Seven books (and Wind Through the Keyhole) which leave you wanting so much more and a cast of characters so rich you can’t help but agonise that you hadn’t read them sooner. This is must for Bioshock fans, the complexity of the story is outstanding. Most of The Dark Tower books read like really cool RPGs and there’s so many chapters and fights that you can’t help but think “this would make an amazing video game”.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – It’s magical realism at it’s finest. 1Q84 is a book made up of three volumes and from the start you feel your world changing around you as you become so completely involved in Aomame and Tengo’s story. When her taxi becomes stuck in a traffic jam Aomame is warned by the driver that getting out of the cab could change reality the world, not wanting to be late for her meeting Aomame gets out of the car. 1Q84 is one of the greatest novels I’ve ever read. It’s long, it’s complicated but it’s as close to perfect as a novel gets. It’s David Mitchell meets FFXV.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer – Now this is a bit of a life-ruiner of a book. It’s weird, really weird and mind bending and amazing and just head-shattering. I finished Annihilation about three months ago and I’m still numbed by the ending. I can’t bring myself to even consider book two in the Southern Reach trilogy yet. The story follows a nameless biologist and her companions as they set out to explore Area X. That’s all you need to know about Annihilation, just go and read it.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – This is one of the best road stories out there. After being released from prison Shadow ends up travelling across the States with a ‘man’ only known as Mr Wednesday. American Gods is beautifully written balance of travel, mystery and mythology. This is a must read and I’m about to re-read this as I first finished it about five years ago. I just finished the television show (which was brilliant) and after watching I had the strangest sense to play Devil May Cry for the billionth time.

Honourable mention – The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

I hope you enjoy these recommends for gamers and give me a shout if you know of a stand out RPG I must play!

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Uprooted

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From the moment I saw Uprooted I couldn’t help but think “that looks like my kind of book” but like many other books I see and like the look of I knew it was one I wouldn’t get round to reading any time. Uprooted was going to be one for the ‘tsundoku’ pile. Not too long after its paperback release and number of friends and colleagues kept going on about Uprooted. So another few months past and it got to January 2017 and I was deep in a reading binge, what better time to start Uprooted?

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Noami Novik’s novel, it’d been ages since I’d read (and enjoyed) a full on fantasy book. I tend to lean towards fantasy that has its roots in reality. I didn’t read the blurb of Uprooted but kept in mind all the people who had recommended it.

I was tired when I started this book, I wasn’t sure if i was in the right mind for to start a book in which I was so unfamiliar with the author. It had been a long day at work, my daughter was poorly and I was read to settle in with an episode of Fleabag. It took me a little while to get into Uprooted. The novel starts with Agnieszka being chosen by a sorcerer called The Dragon to be his servant for ten years. Being taken away from her friends, family and the village that she loves, Agnieszka is distraught especially when everyone thought her best friend Kasia was certain to be taken by the Dragon.

Agineszka is a fantastic leading lady, she’s a bit of a mess, scrappy and but she’s strong willed and you can tell she determined. She’s not necessarily book-smart but makes up with common sense.

Novik’s writing is so enjoyable, its fluid, fairytale-like and way more engaging than I was expecting. I was roaring through this novel and the evening I started this I found myself 100 pages in and fully invested. It was the first proper fantasy novel I’d really sunk my teeth into since Lyonesse.

When I was about half way through Uprooted was bringing back all the memories of the fantasies I’d enjoyed when I was younger like Kyou Kara Maoh, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ink Heart.

The last quarter of the novel includes a dramatic fantasy battle and Novik’s writing is so good, she’s stops it from getting too OTT fantasy. The writing had me thinking of the sort of believable fairytale like The Bloody Chamber in some parts and sometimes felt like I was reading a grown up version of Diana Wynnne Jones’ work.

The ending of Uprooted was ace and left feeling warm and satisfied. I enjoyed Uprooted so much and it’s an amazing bit of escapism. Agineszka reminded me of Lyra from His Dark materials by the end and The Dragon was so mysterious at the start so when the book reaches its conclusion I was captivated.

Time Is, Time Was, Time Is Not

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Next to my bed for the past two months there has been a proof copy of Slade House by David Mitchell. I read the first chapter of Slade House four times. Why read the first chapter of a book four times?

My first excuse was “my baby doesn’t let me read!”, it’s true that during the daytime it’s full on baby mode so the chance of stopping to have a cup of tea and a read is non-existent. My second excuse was less of an excuse and more of something I was a bit scared of. I knew that Slade House was something to do with The Bone Clocks and last year The Bone Clocks was the most outstanding books I had read. I LOVED The Bone Clocks. What if Slade House ruined it or didn’t live up to the enjoyment of The Bone Clocks. And a little part of me thought, once I finish this book I’m going to have to wait years until the next David Mitchell book!

So after two months of putting off this mysterious short novel, I settled in with a glass of wine and finally started Slade House.

The novel begins in 1979, with a drugged up thirteen year old Nathan Bishop on the way to the lavish Slade House with his mother Rita. Upon arrival at Slade House Nathan is introduced to Lady Norah Grayer and young Jonah Grayer. After a few pages readers will realise that something strange is afoot. Much like it’s predecessor, Slade House then jumps forward to 1988. Unlike Mitchell’s other novels that brush with fantasy and strangeness, Slade House goes full on bizarre and eerie. I consider myself a semi-grownup and I’m only phased by spiders but as I was reading Slade House I got genuinely freaked out.

The latter parts of Slade House will have Mitchell fans bubbling with excitement. There’s about five “oh my goodness” moments in the third chapter alone. You suddenly realise exactly what direction this novel is going in.

This is a David Mitchell book for David Mitchell fans and he indulges us by making what I personally think is his best story to date. It’s the sort of book you can tell he enjoyed writing.  Slade House is certainly the most chilling of Mitchell’s novels and reads like a gothic mystery at some points. When you’ve finished Slade House don’t forget to check out the twitter feed for @I_Bombadil

BEST BOOK EVER.

A friendly desert town…

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Months ago when Joseph Fink announced that there would be a Night Vale novel I knew I’d be doing everything in my power to get hold of an advance copy. Last year I was lucky enough to get tickets to Welcome to Night Vale at the Union Chapel in Islington and it was easily one of the best events I’d ever been to, so when the release date of the novel was announced I was ready to drop everything and start badgering Orbit for a proof copy. Then I had a baby and completely forgot, so I was over the moon when @BooksellerEmma contacted me saying she had a proof of Welcome to Night Vale, I knew what I had to do….

A wonderful woman at Little Brown made sure there was a copy of Welcome to Night Vale in my hands within a couple of days of asking and I can not thank them enough for making sleepless nights bearable. So, with my copy of Night Vale in hand I managed to read the first chapter about 4 times before my daughter finally gave me a full hour to get into this book.

I had chills as I read the introduction page. I knew this was going to be the most anticipated book I’d read all year.

From the number one podcast, Welcome to Night Vale opens up this ‘friendly desert town, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while everyone pretends to sleep.’ And Night Vale fans need not worry as this novel is every bit as creepy, contradictory and down right weird as you’d expect it to be.

The main story revolves around Jacky Fierro, the nineteen year old owner of Night Vale’s only pawnshop and her encounter with the elusive ‘man-in-the-tanned-jacket’ and Diane Crayton, treasurer of the Night Vale PTA, who is trying to track down her ex-husband/father to her teenage son.

If you’re anything like me you will end up reading the entire novel with Cecil’s voice in your head. Welcome to Night is a really interesting read and was not what I was expecting but still entertaining, nevertheless. I’d gone weeks without having any real reading time but I was so hooked with Welcome to Night I sacrificed my own rest to read as much as I could whilst my spawn slept. Once reaching the end of this long awaited novel I knew I’d gone in over excited and I had high expectations that were definitely met, so other Night Valeans will be very pleased. There is so many references to characters, storylines and pivotal plot points that you end up going back and listening to certain episodes just to catch the snippet of story you may have just read.

The one problem I did have with the novel was some of the dialogue. Every now and then the story veers into one of Cecil’s broadcasts and these just don’t read particularly well compared to the main story involving Diane and Jackie. It jars with the other chapters and takes you out of the moment sometimes. But it does feel like these chapters are more a benefit to the forthcoming audiobook as the podcasts aren’t just about the story but about Cecil’s voice, the audio effects and the soundscapes created by the Fink and Cranor that are woven into the Night Vale experience.

I didn’t dislike the broadcasts but by the end of the novel it’s really obvious that the writing style in the rest of the novel is much better.

This novel is a great achievement for Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and I hope it’s the first of many in the Night Vale canon. They haven’t just created a strange fictional town, they’ve created a real community that accepts everyone, however weird or wonderful of five headed you (unless you’re an interloper, in that case you can get out). But I urge every Night Vale fan to pre-order a copy of the novel because Fink and Cranor have really done the podcast justice.

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Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

published by Orbit – UK Hardback 9780356504834

For the sake of your Father

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Hile gunslingers! Obviously I’m going to spoil everything that happens in the final book, so go back and read them now!

It has taken me literally months to finish the final Dark Tower novel. Back in September I caved into curiosity, I had to find out what was going to happen to Susannah and her impending birth, not to mention the death trap that Jake and Pere Callaghan were about to walk into. I was so excited, book six had ended on such a level tension i couldn’t handle waiting any longer.

So first things first; I thought the start of the final book was awesome, the Susannah/Mia chapters were outstanding. I had just started to feel sorry for Mia and I loved how vulnerable she was, as a reader you really start rooting for Mia and Susannah… Until it came down to the birth stuff. When baby Mordred turned up and we came to the end of the Mia arc of the book it was Stephen King writing at his finest, it was sharp, tense and down right horrible.

So while Susannah was off having her chap, Jake and Callaghan had to face off with the low men and humes inside the Dixie Pig. The happenings inside the Dixie Pig were easily up there with my favourite parts of the Dark Tower saga, King portrayed a truly detestable place and I found myself roaring through the pages. This is where we suffered our first casualty, Callaghan’s time had come to a timely end and I for one was extremely disappointed. Even though he’d only been with our ka-tet for a short time I thought he was such a brilliant character and every sentence involving Callaghan made me want to read ‘Salem’s Lot all over again.

After the departure of Callaghan I hit a major reading speed bump and I stalled my literary car. I moved house and work went insane and I put down the last instalment of The Dark Tower for about two weeks.

I managed to get back into the swing of things not too long after my little Dark tower hiatus, King introduced so many great characters in this final part of Roland’s tale, it was a shame to not have them around for longer. John Cullum was a fascinating character and the trio from Devar-Toi perked up the pace of the story. Until King hit with the shocking death of another one of our beloved ka-tet. I didn’t see the death of Eddie coming at all, I was so taken back and his parting words to Susannah and the rest of his allies made you realise this really was the end of their journey.

When Roland and Jake head back to Maine to save Stephen King I was knocked-for-six. The last thing I expected from this part of the story was the death of another main character.

The final leg of the story was brilliant. I wasn’t massively keen on the introduction of Patrick to the story but following up his introduction with the departure of Susannah had me tentatively racing towards the end of the Dark Tower.

I only finished the Dark Tower last night and the ending has left me cold and hollow. I thought I had figured out the ending but I was completely surprised but it. I don’t know whether to start reading the first one again or to sit in a dark room for a long time.

So with that The Dark Tower is a phenomenal fantasy saga and I say a thankya to Stephen King and to Hodder & Stoughton for letting me get so lost in Mid-World.

On the path of the Beam.

Only 6 hours ago I finished The Wolves of Calla… Now I have no idea of what is real anymore.

The end of this book will really knock readers for six.

I’m so confused.

If you haven’t read any of the Dark Tower books then this review will spoil the first five.

The Wolves of Calla starts with Tian Jaffords hearing the news that soon the ‘Wolves’ will be coming to Calla and when they commala they’ll take half of the children with them.

We pick up pretty much from where our four left off, Roland and his ka-tet are still following the path of the beam towards the tower. Within 50 or so pages I had to stop and put this book down for a small while, King’s description of Mia feeding herself and her chap made me feel ill. The start of this novel is dark and full of nothing but intrigue.

When Roland’s group finally encounter the group of men from Calla readers of King’s backlist will get the shock of their lives. Now hear comes the spoiling.

The last person I expected to show up in this small farming town in Mid-World was Father Callahan from ‘Salem’s Lot. The Wolves of Calla seems to be the most character driven of the Dark Tower saga so far, we had a lot of back story and getting to know one another in books two and four but this book really sees how the group react to an impending terror. We see how Roland still keeps his group in the dark about certain developments and we also see his relationship with Jake take on a more paternal role. Eddie and Susannah are going through their own relationship tests, but in this book it felt like Eddie was less Eddie and becoming more Roland. The biggest character development in this novel is by far Jake, it’s only towards the end of the novel you see that Jake has become a young man.

Around the half way mark I realised that I really didn’t like The Wizard and the Glass. It wasn’t half as good as The Wolves. Now some of you are going “but we finally got Roland’s back story!” and to that, who cares. The Wolves is fast paced, sharp as a knife and the last 100 pages of storytelling in this novel is utterly genius. Some of my favourite things happened in this novel but most of all I was taken in by the language. At the start you often have to re-read a sentence or two to understand the dialect of the Calla residents but by the end of the book you get every word and if felt like the Calla folk really had a voice.

Next up I intended on reading Cujo or some of King’s short stories. That plan is totally out of the window.

On to book six.

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The Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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After I finished The Stand the last thing I wanted to do was start another book.  The Stand had exhausted me but after a couple of days and few boring train journeys I realised I couldn’t handle not having something to read.  I had purchased a copy of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone a few weeks ago because the final part of this trilogy by Laini Taylor (Dreams of Gods and Monsters) had just been published and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

So after three chapters I put this book down. I couldn’t get into it. The writing style was good, but I didn’t connect with this book.  It wasn’t until I had mentioned this book to a colleague ( @MeghanCurteis ) and she had told me that this book would be amazing and that I had to stick with it. I’m lucky that I work with people that have such great tastes in books.

On a sunny Saturday afternoon I found a spot in the garden, grabbed a beer and settled in with The Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I reached to polish off the last of my beer and found that it was warm and undrinkable, that when I realised that two hours had passed and I was already half-way through this book.  I think I’d read so many Stephen King books in a row my brain had preconditioned itself to disengage with any other authors. After a slow burning start this book goes full swing into a beautifully written fantasy novel.

Karou is a wonderful leading lady and within a few more chapters I felt slightly protective of her. It’s weird but Taylor writes in a somewhat maternal way towards Karou which proves how much love she has for her work. When Karou runs her ‘errand’ in the Marrakech market I felt such an urgent worry for her, Taylor had built up the peril in such a way the reader is compelled to plough through.

Upon finishing this book I realised that this is probably the first adult fantasy novel I’ve ever read by a female author and that made me feel a bit sad.  This book could have easily taken the path of turning into Twilight-esque drivel but Taylor keeps her characters grounded and has heroin that is loveable and easy for the reader to connect with. Taylor has a real knack for writing a believable romance without it being overblown or sickening, it was a love reminiscent of Will and Lyra from His Dark Materials and there’s a real kindness when Taylor writes the final chapters of this book.

My only criticism with this book is that is suffers a little from the’Harry Potter’ factor. In the latter Harry Potter books J.K. Rowling used to go a bit mad with description and there’s a few points in The Daughter of Smoke and Bone where it befalls this fate but aside that, this book is incredible.

I rarely finish a book in one sitting but The Daughter of Smoke and Bone deserved it. I found myself wanting to dye my hair blue and itching to book a flight to Prague… But instead I decided to count down the hours until my local bookshop opens so I can buy the second part of this whirlwind trilogy.

This novel deserves a lot more recognition than it’s getting and it’s inspiring to read such a magnificent fantasy by a female author. Thanks for doing such a stand-up job Laini Taylor.