BOOK REVIEW: The Devourers, by Indra Das

BOOK REVIEW: The Devourers, by Indra DasTitle: The Devourers by Indra Das
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: July 12 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 306
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Goodreads
Goodreads

 Yes, you looked at me and I wished you were not human, that I could cleave your soul in two and watch your second self emerge, a beast as lovely as your first.

I received this book last year as part of a Goodreads giveaway, and am just now getting around to reading it and reviewing it. I’m making a serious effort to reading and reviewing those review copies I get, and I feel like I read this at just the right time. I started it last year when I received it but couldn’t get into it the way I had hoped. Sometimes we just have to wait for the right moment to read something!

Anyway, I was initially interested in this book because The Devourers draws comparisons to Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman, two of my favorite authors, and I can see why it does. The Devourers is a violent, fantasy-infused exploration into India’s shapeshifting mythology. If you are turned off by graphic mentions of violence and rape, then this might not be the read for you, but if you can stomach that sort of thing, then this might be something to consider picking up! Das explores concepts of gender identity and expression in The Devourers, and this exploration becomes really apparent in the last third of the book.

The thing that bothered me the most was the rape and then the constant referral later on to the act. It felt like a third of the book just kept constantly referring to it in a very weird way, as if it affected the shapeshifter who did the act more rather than the woman who experienced it. I did like, however, that the woman brought up her assault every time the man who attacked her tried to dismiss his behavior. It’s difficult to talk about, in real life and in books, and I think once I got to the end, I liked how Das wove it into the story.

It’s a very interesting story, very much a fairytale that explores the deepest, darkest parts of humanity, and once it’s done sweeping you away, it leaves you with a lot to think about.

Thank you to Del Rey and Goodreads for a copy of this book to read and review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie Garber

BOOK REVIEW: Caraval, by Stephanie GarberTitle: Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Series: Caraval #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 31st 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 407
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

 Hope is a powerful thing. Some say it’s a different breed of magic altogether.

The buzz for Stephanie Garber’s Caraval said it’s perfect for those who like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Neil Gaiman in general, but you know, for teen audiences. While it lacks the complexities found in Morgenstern’s and Gaiman’s works, I can see why other people made the connection. It’s magical, and it’s that kind of YA fantasy that’s like candy, all sweet, a little sour, not much by way of depth, so if you’re expecting the kind of depth and complexity that The Night Circus offered, you’ll be disappointed. This is the kind of book I can see myself reading again while at the beach or outside in the summer with a cold drink. I really enjoyed reading this. I struggled for the first fifty or so pages because I think I was expecting a similar kind of world-building that came with The Night Circus or the ominous, lingering darkness found in Gaiman’s works, but once the story really started picking up speed, I couldn’t put this down.

Caraval follows two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who live with their overbearing, abusive father. They’ve never left their homeland, and Scarlett has especially dreamed of visiting the mythical, traveling Caraval. The invitations are exclusive, but Tella and a mysterious sailor whisk Scarlett away to the oft-dreamed about place. Once there, Scarlett realizes that there is so much more to Caraval that she could imagine and danger is always within reach, that all sorts of risks are involved with games.

The romance and everything seemed to be a whirlwind ride and almost a little too fast-paced, but then I remembered what it was like to have a crush on someone when I was younger, and the rise and fall of that crush seemed to only take a week with a burst of intense emotion between the beginning and the end. In that sense, it almost seems like a warning to the younger crowd – be mindful of your heart, your desires, and your hope, because it might be destructive if you don’t think it through.

I received an advance copy of this book through my work. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey
Published: January 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 322
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale is a superbly magical fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore. The story is lyrical and engaging, and even though I’m not a reader who is familiar with Russian fairy tales and folklore, so much of it seems both familiar and strange that I felt like this story has both been part of that fairy tale lexicon of sorts and wholly new all at the same time. I love it when a writer weaves together the old and the new to make a new effortless-feeling tale that lingers in the mind long after the book ends.

Vasya, the main character, is lively and complicated, as fairy tale heroines often tend to be. Arden’s villains are nuanced and complex, making you think that perhaps villainy is only a construct of our perspectives rather than a factual thing. The atmosphere feels like a chilly Russian wilderness, and its distant enough in time and distance to be all the more enchanting.

And, like many traditional, “original,” fairy tales, The Bear and the Nightingale is beautiful and terrifying in a very Neil Gaiman-esque sort of way, and I love the sort of terror that sneaks up on you and faces you full-on, making you come to terms with the terror of your own reality in contrast to this fairy tale one.

If you are a fan of Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman and enjoy reading terrifically beautiful fairy tales, this is one you need to add to your TBRs immediately!

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a review copy!

BOOK REVIEW: This Savage Song, by Victoria Schwab

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BOOK REVIEW: This Savage Song, by Victoria SchwabTitle: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
Series: Monsters of Verity #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
Published: July 5th 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 427
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

There’s no such thing as safe.
Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.
August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.
Their city is divided.
Their city is crumbling.
Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.
But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

 You wanted to feel alive, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re monster or human. Living hurts.

I really enjoyed this book. Victoria Schwab has quickly risen to be one of those authors that I’ll auto-buy anything she writes. This Savage Song is set in a post-apocalyptic North America in which humans and monsters are separated by a literal divide. August and his siblings are monsters who use musical abilities to wreak havoc against their enemies, and Kate and her father are humans who are on the opposing side of monsters. August is sent across the border to get to know Kate, and instead of becoming enemies, the two become friends.

There are things I didn’t really enjoy but I know, in the end, are acceptable and understandable in the grand scheme of the narrative. The first fifth of this book was a little slow for me (and I wondered if I was going to even like it, but then it got unputdownable) and Kate is very similar to other main female characters in Schwab’s other novels (her snark seems almost forced and goes against her character for a bit of the novel). I think for a world that’s unfamiliar it’s good to have a little bit of a build-up with a slower beginning, and it’s perfectly understandable to have a signature sort of character.

The idea of August’s weapon music through his violin is amazing, and I can’t wait to see how that develops in the sequel. I also really enjoyed that the two main characters weren’t romantic in any way. I find that refreshing in the sense that so many books geared for YA audiences seem overly focused on romance instead of friendship, and friendship is a very important aspect of anyone’s life. The horror aspect of the monsters gave me the shivers and added a depth to the terror rising throughout.

It’s not an entirely new type of story in the world of YA fantasy, but it bends expectations and thrilled me while reading it, and it earns a solid recommendation from me.

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

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BOOK REVIEW: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom RiggsTitle: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Series: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1
Published by Quirk
Published: June 7th 2011
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.
A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.
A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.

Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is one of those odd books that I liked but also didn’t like. It’s difficult to explain, and the only thing I can come up with is that I like the premise and I like the atmosphere created, but I found the characters and a lot of the writing to fall flat. I couldn’t put it down while I was reading it, but after I finished the book, I just felt sort of ehh.

It’s pretty much a meh execution of a really excellent idea. I was expecting something scarier, but it wasn’t all that scary. The writing most of the time felt juvenile, and I feel like I might have liked this book had it been shelved in the children’s section rather than in Teen/YA. I have expectations of depth of writing when books are categorized in certain sections, and this being shelved in the YA section most of the time is misleading in terms of the depth of the story.

The best parts about this book are the weirdly manipulated photographs that add more to the story than just the words (which shouldn’t be the case, but it is) and Miss Peregrine herself. I like the idea of time loops and that the children are stuck in them forever, and I wish that idea was developed a little bit more in this book (and maybe it is in the following books!).

I wish the book had a different narrator. Jacob seemed bland and boring, and I’m over the whiny rich boy narrators because I felt he had no depth and no change in character, but I do understand the bland character as a narrator as it allows the reader to self-insert and connect with the story more (which is not the greatest tactic in grabbing your reader’s interest).

I may eventually pick up the rest of the series (or borrow them from the library) because while I enjoyed this story for what it was, the executed concept fell flat and didn’t totally wow me enough to rush out and read the next two.