Review: The Silver Witch by Paula Brackston

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Title:
 The Silver Witch
Author: Paula Brackston
Pub Date: 3rd December 2015
Publisher: Corsair
Obtained: Review Copy via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5*
Goodreads | BookDepository

A year after her husband’s sudden death, ceramic artist Tilda Fordwells finally moves into the secluded Welsh cottage that was to be their new home. She hopes that the tranquil surroundings will help ease her grief, and lessen her disturbing visions of Mat’s death. Instead, the lake in the valley below her cottage seems to spark something dormant in her – a sensitivity, and a power of some sort. Animals are drawn to her, electricity shorts out when she’s near, and strangest of all, she sees a new vision; a boatful of ancient people approaching her across the water. On this same lake in Celtic times lived Seren, a witch and shaman. She was respected but feared, kept separate from the community for her strange looks. When a vision came to her of the Prince amid a nest of vipers she warned of betrayal from one of his own. Prince Brynach both loved and revered her, but could not believe someone close to him wished him harm, even as the danger grew. In her own time, Tilda’s grief begins to fade beside her newfound powers and a fresh love. When she explores the lake’s ancient magic and her own she discovers Seren, the woman in her vision of the boat. Their two lives strangely mirror each others, suggesting a strong connection between the women. As Tilda comes under threat from a dark power, one reminiscent of Seren’s prophecy, she must rely on Seren and ancient magic if death and disaster are not to shatter her life once more.

This was the perfect read for a winter night. With a multi-generational narrative, plenty of history, and a dose of romance, The Silver Witch held my interest and kept me turning those pages. Not to mention it had a ghost story that captured me for the entire book and was extremely well done.

The story predominantly follows Tilda; a woman who has lost her husband and now lives alone in the house they bought together in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. Living an isolated life, Tilda is trying to put the pieces back together. Tilda then begins to experience visions; of an albino woman, an angry witch, and snapshots from another world. Tilda’s point of view was told in third person, with the other narrative point of view from Seren told in first person.

I loved having the dual perspective from the two women – one in Celtic Wales and the other in the modern day – but I found the change from third person to first person quite jumbled. I much preferred Seren’s tale – the tale of how she fell in love with a prince, of her isolated life, of her unique position in her community, of the corrag, all of it – though Seren’s chapters were the smaller sections. It was these chapters that truly gripped me, though that may be due to the fact that I’m a historical fiction reader at heart.

The plot was fast paced from both parallel plots, with spooky goings on in Tilda’s chapters, to the growing tensions at court in Seren’s. It was an extremely quick read, and one that was rewarding. The downfall of the fast pace was that the plot sometimes suffered. At times, it felt as if some scenes were passed over too quickly and that certain plot lines weren’t resolved. Seren’s chapters, as I mentioned above, felt too short. As the character with extremely interesting traits and a moving story, we didn’t get to know her as well as we got to know Tilda. So, when the two plots did cross over, it felt a lot less genuine.

One thing is certain though; this is a chilling, bewitching and enchanting tale of magic, love and loss that is the perfect read for the darker evenings. It was great to read outside of my usual go-to genres and to read a story with a multi-generational narrative. Paula Brackston has done a great job with the setting and atmosphere, making it so you can almost feel the chill of the air around you.

Recommended for those long winter nights!

Book Review: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

a thousand nights

Title: A Thousand Nights
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pub Date: 22 October 2015
Publisher: PanMacmillan
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 4/5*
Goodreads | BookDepository

Summary: LO-MELKHIIN KILLED THREE HUNDRED GIRLS before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next. And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time. But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air. Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

A Thousand Nights is a rare book – and a fantastic one at that. The premise alone hooked me in – a retelling of Arabian Nights, a story about stories, a dangerous love story – but I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so powerful and beautiful. Upon reading the first couple of pages, I was struck by the lyrical prose and intricate details of the setting. E. K. Johnston’s turn of phrase in A Thousand Nights is simply stunning, and the writing alone captures your attention. What struck me was that the characters, apart from Lo-Melkhiin, our anti-hero, are nameless. We get detailed descriptions of their personalities, their appearance, their history – but not one character, even our protagonist, has a name apart from the villain. At first, this frustrated me. How was I supposed to write a review about a book where I didn’t even know the main character’s name? Nor the name of her sister, her father, her mother – not one character, except Lo-Melkhiin. Looking back, this was a risky move from the author – but it paid off. This novel, after all, is about the oral tradition of story-telling, which was so prevalent in Arabian Nights – a story made up of lots of other pieces of stories. The characters needed to be nameless to serve this purpose – and even though I feel like I know these characters – our strong and fearless main character, her loyal sister, her clever father – I don’t really know them at all.

This novel is told in a first person narrative from our main character, the desert girl who is Lo-Melkhiin’s latest wife, and her voice was a pure delight to read. She was intelligent, pious and devoted to loving her sister. Interspersed between our main character’s chapters were brief interludes from another first person narrator – the demon that lives within Lo-Melkhiin. Now this voice was uncomfortable to read. Sadistic, calculating and chilling, the demon’s voice provided an unsettling undertone to the novel, giving it an edge that I believe was what helped the novel develop. Not a lot of background detail goes into the nature of this demon, or where it comes from, but it’s powerful nonetheless and I loved this addition to the plot.

Aside from this brilliant plot device, the world building in this novel was fantastic. Our main character’s descriptions of her desert home and her move into the city upon marrying Lo-Melkhiin were absorbing, and you really feel like you can sense the sand underneath our main characters feet, that you can feel the heat of the dry sun on your skin. Another powerful description was the magic. Our main character develops these curious powers, this strange magical ability, which is due to her sister’s pious devotion towards making her a ‘smallgod’ – a local, smaller god with a connection to a family. I completely fell in love with the relationship between magic, power and religion in A Thousand Nights and how this resonates in the sacrifice that our main character made to save her sister.

That brings me on to another thing I loved – the love between these two sisters and the lengths they are willing to go to to save each other. I think that was what made our main character so interesting and readable; she was steadfast in her love for her sister and would do anything to secure her happiness. This love replaced romantic love in the novel – which struck me a bit at first. I presumed that this novel would be a powerful love story between Lo-Melkhiin and our main character, but it really wasn’t. There’s hints of a romantic conclusion towards the end of the novel, but we don’t get to see how this plays out.

The conclusion of this book was unfortunately a bit too brief for me, I think. There was such an incredible build-up, with our main character saving the day and saving the world – but I would have loved to have gotten a glimpse into what happened next. I feel like our main character, her family and Lo-Melkhiin deserved a few pages of a triumphant happy ending after all the hardships they go through in this book!

On the whole, however, this book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Lyrical, powerful, entrancing and poetic, I adored the storytelling and vivid descriptions of this novel. It was exotic, mysterious and an engrossing read. One novel that you need to read this year!

*Thanks to PanMacmillan for providing me with an early review copy!*

Book Review: Red Rose, White Rose by Joanna Hickson

red rose white rose

Title: Red Rose, White Rose
Author: Joanna Hickson
Pub Date: 4th December 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Obtained: Review Copy via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5*

Red Rose, White Rose is a historical fiction story based on Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard Plantagenet of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Plantagenet history is a topic that I’m hugely passionate about, and any books, movies or TV shows about this period I’m sure to love.

Some of my favourite books about the Plantagenets are written by Philippa Gregory – namely The Cousins War series. Where Gregory excels is in bringing the Plantagenet era to life – her writing is stunning, her characters believable and the history weaved into the fiction so naturally.

My problem with Red Rose, White Rose was in the fiction element. First, let me say that the historical details were brilliant – I felt like I learnt a lot from reading this, which is always a good feeling!

The narrative is split between two first person perspectives – Cecily and her half-brother, Cuthbert. I was, unfortunately, in two minds over whether this worked or not. A lot of the action (and historical events) happened in Cecily’s chapters and there were times where I felt like Cuthbert’s chapters weren’t really necessary.

However, his chapters introduced us to some of the lesser-known figures during that time. I knew about Cecily Neville and Richard Neville (The Earl of Warwick, who features in Gregory’s The Cousins War series a lot) but the rest of the Neville family were unknown to me. The copious amounts of detail surrounding the Neville family and the family split were often quite hard to process at times, and I often had to do a quick Google search into the Neville family tree – but once I ‘got it’, I felt like I enjoyed the novel a lot more.

What I couldn’t quite get to grips with, unfortunately, was the characterisation and the writing. There were times where I often felt as if I wasn’t immersed in the plot and this effected my motivation to finish it. However, I did love the fact that it introduced me to events and historical figures that I wasn’t already aware of. An enjoyable historical read, but perhaps not one for those who aren’t familiar already with the Plantagenet’s history.

Thanks to HarperCollins for providing me with this copy for the purpose of review.

Book Review: Talon by Julie Kagawa

talon

Title: Talon
Author: Julie Kagawa
Pub Date: 25th January 2015
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 3.5/4*

‘There are a dozen soldiers hiding in that maze All hunting you. All looking to kill you.’
To the outside world Ember Hill is an ordinary girl, but Ember has a deadly secret. A dragon hiding in human form, she is destined to fight the shadowy Order of St.George, a powerful society of dragonslayers. St. George soldier Garret is determined to kill Ember and her kind. Until her bravery makes him question all he’s been taught about dragons. 

Now a war is coming and Garret and Ember must choose their sides – fight to save their bond or fulfil their fate and destroy one another.

Talon is unlike any other dragon book I’ve read. In Kagawa’s world, dragons are able to take on human forms, and are trained to assimilate into human society in order to protect their species. We meet Ember and her twin brother Dante, both of whom are soon to complete their training from Talon – the dragon establishment – and the final stage of this is to mix with humans and not raise suspicion. This story is told in multi-narrative – we hear Ember’s first person point of view. a rogue dragon called Riley’s point of view as well as from the perspective of a human dragonslayer, Garret.

Ember was a brilliant character – funny, adorable and with that extra bit of sass, I couldn’t help but root for her in this novel. Character wise, I feel that Kagawa has written another solid character, one that I can relate to (minus the being a dragon part…) and one that I feel really jumps off the page. The other characters in this book were brilliant also – Riley was one of my favourites and of course, so was Garret!

Talon‘s pacing was also one of the highlights. I flew through this book! Bearing in mind that there are more than 400 pages in this book, I felt that it was the perfect length, and the story progressed to an exciting and engrossing conclusion.

Now, I feel that I can’t properly review this book without mentioning Julie Kagawa’s unusual take on dragons. I’ve read books before, namely Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, where dragons have the ability to change into human forms. However, these books have always been traditionally fantasy in genre; meaning, they have a historical fantasy setting, in an alternate world/time period. In Talon, Kagawa surprised me completely – by setting this in modern day America, in a beach front town called Crescent Beach. I feel like this was a huge risk – and it paid off as a whole.

Talon was a thrill ride from start to finish. With the alternate point of views, from Ember, the dragon, to Garret, the soldier of St George, an elite group of dragon slayers, a reader’s sympathies were pulled in many different directions – but one theme remained the same throughout: the discovery that Talon was in fact not what it appeared to be. Talon was an extremely interesting facet to the story. Ember and her twin, Dante, were trained by Talon individually during their time at Crescent Beach and Ember starts to suspect that Dante is being taught something quite different than what she is. I may be mistaken, I don’t think we ever discovered what was happening during Dante’s training sessions, which adds to the mystery further. And with that Epilogue, the next book (called Rogue, out April this year!) is sure to delve deeper into Dante and the deceit of Talon.

And what is a YA Fantasy novel without a romantic refrain? The love story between Garret and Ember was AH-MAZING. I was completely rooting for them the whole time. My one complaint with these two was that their love story was predictable – though I enjoyed every moment reading about it!

There is a sort-of love triangle in Talon – between Ember, Riley and Garret – and this was one of my main (minor) reservations with this book. I loved Garret. I loved Riley. And importantly, I loved Ember – but I hated that throughout the book, she seemed to like one of the love interests immensely and then as soon as she was with the other, seemed to forget about the other. The ending did settle my annoyance, only slightly, but I still dread to think about what lengths the love triangle will go to in the sequel.

One of the biggest problems I had with this book, despite loving the plot so much and the characters, was with the dragon concept. I think what puzzled and confused me, and prevented me from giving this book five stars, was Ember’s point of view. Ember was our main dragon protagonist. She was a dragon – but her voice sounded too human. It wasn’t until she shifts into her true self that I realised how much her narrative voice did not suit what she actually was. The message, of course, is that dragons are no different from the humans – or the St George dragon slayers – in the book. However, I felt that perhaps her point of view should have sounded focused on the less human side of her. This really held me back from enjoying the dragon moments of the story, when Ember shifted into her true self. It was perhaps a bit too out of my comfort zone, and I felt that I couldn’t delve into Ember’s head space and immerse myself in the story in this way.

Aside from that, Julie Kagawa has done an incredible job – not that I expected any different! She really does know how to construct characters and settings, and I could read her books all day.

3.5-4 stars for this exciting fantasy read. Looking forward to Rogue, the sequel!

*Thanks to MIRA Ink for providing me with this copy to review!