*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*
Series: Twelve Baronies
Release Date: December 25th 2014 (eBook) January 14th 2015 (paperback)
When a stranger tells her she’s a mage, Ailith is intrigued but she’s also afraid. Magic is heresy, and heresy means death under the Temple Law. Even literacy is suspect in a girl of her background, and her sister’s impending wedding only serves as a reminder that she should be focusing on her future. Then a local priest asks her to rescue his son, and she starts to wonder if her talents could be a blessing, after all.
The Lord Baron of Watersmeet, Leofwin isn’t accustomed to welcoming uninvited visitors. A commoner turning up at his gates should be no more than a minor footnote to his day, but something about Ailith catches his attention. Alchemy can be lonely work and an apprentice might be just what he needs.
As their lessons grow into shared experiments, Leofwin wonders if he might even trust her with his greatest challenge. But Ailith can’t forget why she came to the castle.
(Warning: spoilers ahead)
This is the first novel of the Twelve Baronies. The upcoming sequels (although not promised to make twelve in all) will not follow on from the first but be self contained stories, set in the same world. I really love the idea of this and would be interested to see what came next in the series.
I found the story a little slow to begin with, but not necessarily in a bad way: I enjoyed the way the story and world were set up, with various things established, such as the religion and rules of this fantasy world. I’ll admit to stumbling on the first page when reading about Ailith and her twin sister Aidith (I know they’re twins but if they look alike do they have to sound alike too?!) I got used to that though, and also the twin doesn’t play a huge part in the story so she didn’t matter so much after a while.
I enjoyed the characters in this book a lot. Ailith makes a great protagonist and is very relatable, although I found that throughout the book, her lack of concern for her family started to bug me, and because of this, when they were used to blackmail her near the end, I didn’t feel as much of the emotional anguish as I think I should. She does mention missing them occasionally, but I thought they should play a bigger part, especially the twin sister, who you’d think she’d miss most, but is hardly mentioned once she’s married off.
I was pleased when Ailith’s relationship with Garrick didn’t go the way I thought it was going – although I’m fine for romance, it seemed a bit predictable – and he made an interesting villain as the spoilt, less powerful lord to Ailith’s new love.
Which brings me to Leofwin. I loved him as a character and I could see why Ailith loved him too (eventually) but I felt his character could have been revealed better. After Ailith has entered the castle and we have a chapter from Leofwin’s point of view, all the tension that had been built up over his supposedly evil nature vanished. It didn’t matter to me any more that Ailith was still dubious over his intents, because I knew he was a good guy (for want of a better term). I think it would have been more interesting to have the reader learn to trust him with Ailith rather than revealing his real nature so soon.
I think tension was my main problem with the book: when there was some, it was quickly solved. Once Ailith discovered Anselm and found our Leofwin wasn’t that bad, I wasn’t really sure where it was going. I felt like there needed to be more of a threat from Garrick, and that the ending needed slowing down a little. No sooner was Ailith captured than she’d found a way out and they were all about to live happily ever after.
BUT, despite all I’ve just said, don’t let that put you off. It’s an enjoyable read and I’d be interested in where the series would go next (if not a little disappointed that it might not feature Ailith and Leofwin again!)
…Or whatever it’s called.
So, today marks a whole week since I started blogging and tweeting as Maia Moore Reads. I’d thought about blogging on and off for a while and kept thinking it was something I should get into. But it was only last week that I started to get really obsessed by the idea and, instead of waiting around any more, I started it as soon as I got home from work last Wednesday.
I’ll admit, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing (and still don’t compared to the rest of you out there) but I figured out a fair bit on my own, through trial and error mostly (although I work in IT so this should probably come easier to me!)
Despite a few little hiccups over HTML and GFC (still don’t get it) I’ve really enjoyed this week. I’ve reviewed three of my favourite books, signed up to the British Books Challenge 2015 and had a lot of fun selecting my Top 5 Opening Lines. It’s been great having a browse through other people’s blogs (still working on this as well, just trying to follow and flick through lots and see what I enjoy) and talking to like minded people.
Another highlight was taking part in the #UKYAChat (my first ever Twitter chat, compliments to Lucy for that). I’ve not thought a lot about where my books come from and am trying to support UK authors more now.
To sum up my first week, as of writing this I have:
51 Twitter followers (including some authors of some of my favourite books, which excites me no end!)
115 people I’m following
131 Tweets I’ve written
725 blog views
4 blog followers
I’m aware that these are baby numbers compared to everyone else, but for me on my first week I’m very chuffed. I’m really looking forward to reading lots and chatting to loads of different people for the next few weeks.
For anyone reading, thanks for making my first week blogging a welcoming one 🙂
I’m aware that there are some websites that are supposed to help with such things but I’ve had no luck on them yet, and thought I’d try some bookish people instead.
I’m trying to remember a book I read when I was probably in my early teens (about 10 years ago, although that’s not to say it was published around them). I obviously don’t know the title or author, otherwise it’d be easy to find these days.
So, what I remember is:
- It’s set in a theme park, I think the protagonist lives there and it’s run by his parents (though don’t quote me on that)
- The protagonist is male, I think a bit quiet/geeky and has asthma (pretty sure that becomes a plot point later)
- There are some shady men hanging around the theme park (vague, I know)
- I’m pretty sure there’s a new park ride that’s themed around a black hole. The protagonist doesn’t like this ride, and I think in the end it actually takes him up into space and I think he might use his inhaler to help people breathe…
Here are my Top 5 opening lines from some of my favourite novels.
You would not think, to look at me, that I was a dangerous alien.
Maggie Prince, Memoirs of a Dangerous Alien
It is said, in Imardin, that the wind has a soul, and that it wails through the narrow city streets because it is grieved by what it finds there.
Trudi Canavan, The Magician’s Guild
There was once a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
When the Dead Man got Rachel I was sitting in the back of a wrecked Mercedes wondering if the rain was going to stop.
Kevin Brooks, The Road of the Dead
The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.
Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go
Let me know what you think should be on the list!
Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: 2004
The young warrior Otori Takeo has been told by the blind prophetess, ‘Your lands will stretch from sea to sea. But peace comes at the price of bloodshed. Four battles to win and one to lose.’
Takeo’s passion for Kaede has made him powerful enemies, and he faces a war to secure her future and his own. He has legendary magical skills and is the deadliest assassin of the secret Tribe, but now he must lead an army into combat that will be savage and merciless. Can his small force of untrained men defeat the warriors of might warlords? Takeo rides into battle hoping there is truth in the last words of the prophecy: ‘You yourself are safe from death, except at the hands of your own son.’
If the first book was Takeo and Kaede being played by others, and the second was them making their own decisions, this book is all about the consequences of those actions.
Their biggest (and most rash) decision at the end of the last book was their marriage to each other, and we quickly see that the anger this has roused in their rivals will be one of the main conflicts of the book. Kaede’s dealings with her neighbour, Lord Fujwara come around to bite her. He is the true villain of the trilogy: unsettling, cruel and yet all too human and familiar – everything, perhaps, Iida should have been in the first book.
Takeo is now led by the prophecy, interpreting events in his life through her words. He recognises as well that is just interpretation: the prophecy isn’t really set as a concrete thing that is going to happen, more one that he can manipulate events to fit around. He decides a short skirmish with bandits is a battle, and that’s one checked off his ‘battles to win’ list. His vendetta against the Tribe also shows the ruthlessness he has developed throughout the series, executing many members in case they try to assassinate him (this book contained some of the more grizzly deaths, including someone biting off their own tongue and choking to death on their blood…)
There is a lot more action than the last book, as can be expected when there are five battles to go ahead (four to win and one to lose). The majority of these are satisfying (especially the one he loses, increasing the distance between himself and Kaede) but I felt the final battle – the one you’d expect to be the biggest and baddest – was surprisingly brief. The betrayal of Arai was all too expected and the battle was over before it really began, which seemed a little anticlimactic.
Overall I enjoy the way it ends the trilogy, but only because I know there is a sequel to go on to. The third book leaves the question of Takeo’s son open and I know I would not be satisfied not knowing whether his son eventually kills him or not. I’m not generally a fan of happy endings, but this one had just the right amount of bitter-sweetness to it: Kaede and Takeo are reunited but both scared by events and both have lost things very dear to them. But amidst that tragedy there is the the feeling of a fresh start just around the corner, which promises a better life for them from now on.
As an overall note on the trilogy, I have to say that, during this read, I sometimes found the prose somewhat strange. As writers, we are constantly being told the golden rule ‘show don’t tell’ but this book seems to go against that entirely. That’s not to say there isn’t beautiful descriptions and interesting little details, as all books are full of them, but a lot of it does seem to be telling all the time rather than showing. I wouldn’t let that put you off though: it’s a beautiful, involving series and well worth the reading time.
Series: Tales of the Otori
Release Date: 2003
Takeo knows he will love the beautiful Kaede until death. But after one night together they are destined never to meet again.
The young warrior is torn between two futures. His life is pledged to the merciless Tribe, who need his amazing magical skills in their secret world of assassination. He is also heir to the powerful Otori clan. But if he tries to claim his birthright, the Tribe will kill him.
Kaede, alone in a distant land, fights her own powerful enemies, while Takeo must make his choice. Ahead of him lies a journey that will test him to the limits of his being. And reveal the truth about who he really is…
I always find the middle of a trilogy is where it falls down a little: the first one sets everything up, the last one rounds everything off and often the middle can seem like a tedious setting up of the pieces.
There is some element of this in Grass for his Pillow: the pace can feel a little slow, there’s a lot of talking and training but not a huge amount of action. Even so, the characters and their conflicts are compelling enough to make you fly through the book, ready for the sequel that ends it all with a bang/a lot of battles.
Takeo’s mixed heritage is a driving force in this book. His Tribe blood and promised allegiance to him takes him away from his life as an Otori lord and two of the most important things to him: revenge on those who betrayed his adopted father, Shigeru and his love, Kaede. If stays with the Tribe he will never be happy, but if he leaves them he’ll never be safe.
Kaede, makes an alliance with an mysterious neighbour that, although working in her favour, seems like a pact with the devil. She continues to be the book’s answer to a feminist, not acting or thinking as women were supposed to at the time, but it doesn’t feel like a modern thought shoved into a different time zone: she still struggles with the idea that she is not ‘normal’ by other people’s standards and worries her strength will make the powerful men around her want to crush her.
While the previous book, Across the Nightingale Floor shows Takeo and Kaede being controlled by those around them, this book allows them to make their own choices and then face the consequences their actions have. While they generally choose well for themselves, it is their passion for each other that leads them to rash decisions – like getting married without the clans permission – which may lead to disastrous consequences.
The pace is a little slow, perhaps reflecting the frustrations of the protagonists, who spend a lot of their time inside due to the harsh winter, and by the time the snow thaws both reader and characters are anxious for things to start moving: the final installment of the trilogy promises to deliver a lot.
Check out The Brilliance of the Moon, the next in the series.
Today J. R. R. Tolkien would have been 123 (beating Bilbo, who celebrates his 111th birthday at the beginning of Lord of the Rings).
While growing up, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were the only books my dad ever read, and I was honoured when he leant me his very battered copy of The Hobbit when I was 11, which looked a little like this (only more creased and worn):
And inside was an even more beautiful message (I won’t embarrass him by writing the more soppy parts, but the beginning is lovely):
I like old books. Simply because they have a history. I like to wonder who over the years has held it, flicked through its pages, who loved and cared for it, or if it just got forgotten, left on a shelf somewhere.
There is something wonderful about an old book. Old messages scribbled on covers capture my imagination the most. For me the book becomes more personal. A token of love and adoration that continues being long after the person who wrote it. It becomes a physical manifestation of an emotion frozen in time.
And so, that is what I am doing here.
I hope this new book becomes an old book.
It’s only had a couple of reads and still looks pretty new, but this book is on its way to becoming an old one, with it’s scrawled message inside preserved for whoever owns it after me.
So today I took part in my first ever twitter chat: #ukyachat 2015, by the lovely Lucy Powrie.
It was great to chat with follow YA readers and get some suggestions on what to read in 2015 – I’ve been a little stuck in the past with my books for a while and, much as I love my comfy old ones, I need to get out there and try something new!
These books will now be on my list for reading in 2015:
The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)
The Sin Eater’s Daughter (Melinda Salisbury)
The Chronicles of Prydain (Lloyd Alexander)
Dark is Rising sequence (Susan Cooper)
Vendetta (Catherine Doyle)
Read Me Like a Book (Liz Kessler)
The Boy Who Drew the Future (Rhian Ivory)
I’ve also resolved to try and read more UK authors, something I started with the British Books Challenge. While composing my lists of books to read, I realised how many books I have aren’t by UK authors and have decided to mix it up a bit this year.
I’d also like to try and shop locally more: being a poor graduate I often just slip on to Amazon and order cheap books, but I’d really like to find more independent bookshops and support authors that way.
Big thanks to everyone who talked to me in the chat, it’s really great to be joining such a friendly community!