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The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman

To say that I am incredibly disappointed by this final instalment would be pretty accurate.
I enjoyed The Dark Days Club and I thought The Dark Days Pact was the perfect sequel. Goodman’s writing painstakingly depicted the Georgian era, its customs and language. Lady Helen, our main character, was both sensible and diplomatic, and she could also kick some serious ass. The slowest burn of them all, her infatuation with Lord Carlston was thrilling. Throw in some demons, action, and a lot of letters, and you get the perfect ‘Fantasy of Manners‘.
Or so I thought…
After reading The Dark Days Deceit I no longer feel fond of this world. This last novel left me with a bitter taste: nearly everything that I loved in previous instalments…I now sort of hate.

Positives:
Goodman’s writing is still par excellence. She makes the setting come life. Each scene that takes place is described with extreme detail, and the elegant prose resonates with the historical period itself. While there are plenty of dramatic and serious occasion, the style often comes across as satirical, poking fun at traditions and beliefs of that era.

Negatives
Where do I start?
It might be because the previous instalment came out nearly two years ago but it took me quite some time to readjust to this world. There are plenty of characters or things that have happened that I could not remember. The terms used to refer to the ‘supernatural’ elements were easier to remember but I was not a fan of the whole ‘Grand Reclaimer’ bond between Helen and Carlston. All of a sudden they seem able to share telepathic conversions?! And other people sort of notice?! Are they just obviously staring at one another? Subtle. Why even bother with the silent conversations.
Helen acted in such an irritating manner. The whole marriage plot was pointless and a real drag. Why save the world when you need to prepare your wedding? The world can wait. Worst still is that she was such a horrible friend. Carlston ‘s jealousy and short-temper made him just as likeable as Helen. Helen’s friends and the other members of the Dark Days Club seem to fade in the background, only to be (view spoiler)[ killed off (hide spoiler)] to make Helen feel as if ‘she had failed them all’.
The worst thing however is the ‘twist’ which made the whole plot ridiculous.


MY RATING: 2.5 of 5 stars


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Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare — book review

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“We don’t always love people who deserve it.”

To be honest, I thought I was over Cassandra Clare….and it turns out I was very wrong. There is something about the Shadowhunter world that I find interesting. And over the past ten years or so I have grown fond of it and the characters that inhabit it.
Chain of Gold sees Clare at the top of her game. The Infernal Devices series is my favourite by Clare…and Chain of Gold has the same atmosphere. Clare is great at rendering historical settings and I just loved the way she depicts the beginning of the 20th century.
There is angst, quite a few battles, drama, secrets, a few complicated love hexagons, and a lot of longing.

“Would you like to be a muse?”
“No,” said Cordelia. “I would like to be a hero.”

Cordelia Carstairs is perhaps one of my favourite heroines by Clare. Kind, just, not afraid of calling out her loved ones for their rude behaviour. There are so many other characters and relationships that I really loved. I was particularly fond of the bond between Cordelia and Lucie. The somewhat fraught relationship between Cordelia and Alastair was surprisingly poignant. The romantic relationships, often restrained, were engrossing.
The merry thieves (James and his friends) brought to mind Maggie Stiefvater’s the raven boys. James and Grace’s story had quite a few parallels with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.
This book made me laugh out loud, squee in delight, and stay up all night.
If I had to pick a favourite character it would probably be Alastair who is far from perfect but has a wonderful character arc.

I loved the setting (London), Clare’s writing, the atmosphere, the characters, the action, and the various mysteries that pop up in the narrative. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.

My rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars

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The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden

A very underwhelming follow up to the both magical and interesting The Bear and the Nightingale. The Girl in the Tower shares little with its predecessor. Yes, Arden’s writing style in undoubtedly gorgeous, made up by pretty phrases and vibrant descriptions. But, it didn’t make up for a slow story, one that involves a silly and overused plot-line as well as offering one-dimensional characters. What happened to the complex themes of the first novel? The tension between different believes? And Vasya’s own inner struggle? This sequel just abandons those elements which made the original story so intriguing. The plot revolves around the ‘gender-bender’ trope: Vasya dresses as a boy, many pages are wasted on her fearing to be discovered, as well as ‘near-discoveries’, and the final ‘reveal’. And Vasya…well. She was a rebel for the sake of being a rebel. There was nothing deep to her and or her behaviour. She becomes an exaggerated version of herself: certain aspects of her character take over completely and rendering her somewhat ridiculous. She was irksome and forgetful. Her ‘sort of romance’ with Morozko felt forced and ended up seeming like any other YA romance. Their scenes were eye-roll worthy. Vasya’s siblings act in such a predictable way that made most of their interactions forgetful.
The magic from The Bear and the Nightingale. The Girl in the Tower might be written in an enchanting style but it only offers an array of clichés. The uniqueness is gone. We are left with a dull novel that is set in an oversimplified Russia. Vasya’s ‘specialness’ is the limelight of the story and I did not care for it.
I was hoping that Arden had written something as compelling as The Bear and the Nightingale but…not in this case.

My rating: 3 stars

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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

This novel has quite a lot of potential. The summary is made to intrigue, and I soon found myself buying a copy of it. Overall, I did ‘sort of’ like it, however, there were quite a lot of things that kept me from really enjoying the story. My main ‘issue’ is that Creatures of Will and Temper is very superficial. The characters are flimsy, the story is shallow and the execution is far too tentative.
First of all, I believe this is a pastiche of certain Victorian novels.I knew that the tone of the novel would be rather light so I was hoping for an amusing parody. The ‘connection’ that this novel claims to have to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray isn’t really apparent. Mentioning one beautiful painting isn’t the same as reinterpreting Wilde’s story.
Onto the novel itself…There is too much focus on small petty arguments between the two sisters; a good 70% of the story is the two fighting with each other and feeling ‘angsty’ about their lives. I know that the author is making fun of their dramatics, but, the length spent on these stupid quarrels makes them harder to laugh at.
A lot of the dialogues and the characters’ inner monologues came across as frivolous. Trivial talk that didn’t really bring the plot forward slowed the storyline’s pace. The story itself isn’t really fleshed out: I was expecting so much more from the supernatural element, which to my mind, played a very minor role in this novel.
There were moments in which I was amused by the over the top characters but they just didn’t last long. The story is rather inclusive and the finale is just laughable.
I think this would have worked much better if Tanzer had kept to a light-hearted tone without stressing the conflict between the sisters, and by better incorporating the supernatural element into her story.

My rating: 3.25 stars

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The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

“Would you say you are a person who follows her head or her heart?”
She stared at him, momentarily diverted. Such an odd thing to ask. “I am rational person, sir. I believe I follow my head.”
“I see.” The Comte boed. “Then I wish you good luck.”

After having recently read a few sequel that suffered from the dreaded ‘second-book-syndrome’ I am more than happy to say that The Dark Days Pact was perhaps even better than its predecessor.
I think I have read that this series is being called a ‘Fantasy of Manners‘, and I couldn’t agree more. Lady Helen is a must for any fans of authors such as Jane Austen. Not only does Goodman paint an incredibly vivid and detailed picture of Regency England but, she has also included a cast of complex and realistic characters.
It was hard to put down. Helen’s world is simply beguiling: the atmospheric setting is combined with dialogues that can be both full of wit or quite moving. It is the kind of book that makes you smile like an idiot, laugh-out-loud, and clutch your paperback copy very hard.
In short The Dark Days Pact is a gripping and delightful read.

‘Every moment of every day she was having to pick her way through lies and secrets to find a pathway over a deadly and muddied morality. And it was never going to end. This was her life now.’

I found this sequel to be a bit darker than the first one. It had a more mature vibe to it. Helen no longer is a naive girl, and the world she inhabits is far from pretty or safe. Her new position in the Dark Days Club asks a lot of her and to be Reclaimer means to abandon the ways in which she was raised: rules that restricted her life as a ‘lady’ are no longer valid. Still, Helen is far from free.

“Indeed I think that everyone is of the belief that a woman’s world is always lesser and smaller than a man’s. Perhaps they are right. It is what the Church teaches us, after all. But you, my lady, cannot abide by that belief. You must live the kind of woman’s life that has never been lived before.”

She is soon made to learn how to pass as a man: the way they talk, walk and act. Goodman makes many clever observations in this regard. The freedom of men at the time is somewhat exhilarating for Helen. She enjoys walking in their comfortable clothes and the privilege of saying more or less whatever she wants. In fact, Helen starts liking being in charge. She likes her powers and the strength and advantages they give her.

“I will not let you disappear,” she said, tightening her hold. “You kept me sane when my strength came upon me. I will do the same for you.”

Helen herself grows a lot in this book. Carlston isn’t always there for her and she faces quite a lot all on her own. She has the best intentions at heart, but she isn’t a softy. She pushes her fears away when needed. In brief, she is a tough yet sweet cookie. Both level headed and passionate.

“There have been many times when I have wanted to walk away,” Carlston said softly, as if he had read her mind. “But you and I have been brought up with the same immutable knowledge: without adherence to our word, we are worth nothing.”

Since Helen comes really ‘into her own’ in this story, her relationships also ‘grow’ alongside her. Her interactions with other characters could be in equal parts amusing, witty and sweet. Despite Helen’s lack of control over recent events, she is not one to back down. Her steadfast behaviour inspired and surprised others; Darcy, her maid, is her number one fan. Mr Hammond thinks of her as a comrade whom he admires deeply.

Mr Hammond bowed his head. “Of course he knows. How could he not? But there is a chasm between what is said and what is said.”

And Carlston…Well, I am glad to say that despite not dominating the story, we get to see a lot more of him. He was a bit of cypher in The Dark Days Pact, but here, we suddenly start to understand him. His relationship with Helen was a deliciously slow burn.

‘[…]she could feel his gaze upon her skin like a whisper touch. It seemed she could not please him whatever she did; either she was too much the warrior or too much the woman.’

Their feelings for one another are sadly not their priorities. Carlston isn’t doing so well while Helen is forced to obey Pike’s orders – despite despising having to. Still, Goodman offers us a few heartfelt moments between Carlston and Helen.

She cupped his jaw, his breath warm against her fingers. Slowly, he turned into the curve of her palm, cut lip pressed against her skin. She heard two whispered words, felt them kissed into her flesh: amore mio. My love. Two words: the shock of them held her still.

As far as the ‘baddies’ of this book, it is hard to say. There aren’t any, not really. Most of the characters fall somewhere onto a morally ‘gray-ish’ area. Deceivers are not always as evil as Helen was made to believe. Helen herself will be forced to discover a darker side to herself.

“Your sense…mon Dieu. You humans do not appreciate the glory of your senses. To taste food, to touch skin, to hear music.”

Goodman’s writing is detailed and evocative. She meticulously depicts the social behaviours and moral conventions of the time. Each scene was made incredibly vivid by her carefully thorough descriptions.
The theme and settings often reminded me of typical Gothic novels, however, Goodman never falls into any clichès of that genre. If anything she is mocking the most stereotypical tropes by having a strong – and powerful – female character such as Helen.

“Oh my,” Delia breathed. “Stolen bodies, energy whips, feeding upon human energy. It is all so,” her shoulders twitched, “Gothic.

Once again, I want to stress just how exciting The Dark Days Pact is. It has it all: humor, drama, action, mystery and romance. And, as the cherry-on-the-top, it also has an interesting and complex main character. Go read it!

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

“They dare not follow, thought Vasya. They fear the forest after dark. And then, darkly: They are wise.”

The Bear and The Nightingale is an enchanting tale imbued with Russian folklore and traditions. Arden has crafted a story that abounds with fantastical creatures and mystical prophecies that will entice the reader from the very first pages:

“In Russian, Frost was called Morozko, the demon of winter. But long ago, the people called him Karachun, the death-god. Under that name, he was king of black midwinter who came for bad children and froze them in night. It was an ill-omened word, and unlucky to speak it while he still held the land in his grip.”

Set in a vividly rendered feudal Russia, The Bear and The Nightingale follows Vasilisa Petrovna the youngest child of a wealthy boyar, Pyotr Vladimirovich, in the north of Russia, who is predestined to be the heir of old magic. Vasilisa, who can see the spirits and creatures that crowd her house and neighbouring forest, grows into an untamed and fierce child feared by the villagers and loathed by her step-mother Anna, who is also able to see magical beings. Unlike her step-daughter, however, Anna fears these creatures and it is her religious zeal that will bring a new priest into the Vladimirovich household, Father Konstantin, who sees it as his duty to eradicate the locals paganistic customs. The strain generated by the clash of these diverse beliefs soon spirals out of control forcing Vasilisa into action.

Arden has created an endearing protagonist: Vasilisa’s resilience and bravery are shown throughout the novel. She will fight for her own freedom and to protect the ones around her. There is a focus on her struggle against the restrictions given by her gender, as well as, on the tension between duty and choice. Her relationship with her family is another vital aspect of her story, especially the bond she shares with her older brother Alyosha and her younger half-sister Irina. Arden depicts a realistic family portrait which sees a well-meaning father, a brusque yet kind grandmotherly nurse and a few protective older brothers who like teasing each other.

These interesting and relatable characters feature in a tangible medieval setting that is enriched by Arden’s graceful descriptions. Her expressive and poetical rendition of an unforgiving yet tantalizing landscape bring into being an incredibly atmospheric tale. Her lyrical prose and beautiful allegories, such as “the years slipped by like leaves,” and “the clouds lay like wet wool above trees”, are in resonance with her richly evocative world. The author has painted an immersive and magical tale redolent of old lore and populated by poignant characters. The Bear and The Nightingale is a lavishly written and alluring fairytale that entwines traditional motifs of the genre with an original and fascinating storyline.

I would definitely recommend this to fans of The Night Circus or The Golem and the Jinni which also combine accurate historical setting with the otherworldly. Or if you particularly enjoy fairy-tale-esque stories I would suggest writers such as Catherynne M. Valente – author of Deathless and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – and Kate Forsyth. The clash between pagan traditions and non reminded me of The Witches of New York.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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