For a month with only 28 days, I’ve managed to power through a lot of books this February. This month, I read an emotional rollercoaster of a YA sci-fi, a moving and powerful non-fiction book, a character-driven fantasy series set across parallel worlds, and the highly anticipated YA novel, Caraval.
Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Gemina is the second book in Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s The Illuminae Files series. As usual, I’ll be keeping this spoiler-free for both books, so this won’t spoil anything if you’ve never read the series before. The story in Gemina takes place on Jump Station Heimdall, a precariously-balanced space station with a wormhole at its centre to allow travel between solar systems. The story features two new characters: Hanna Donnelly, the pampered but combat-ready daughter of the station’s commander, and Nik Malikov, member of the station’s most notorious criminal family. When the station is invaded, the unlikely pair are faced with the task of taking on a highly-trained assault team.
I really enjoyed the first book in the Illuminae series, but Gemina completely blew my expectations out of the water. The characters were interesting, and the plot was gripping, and continued to surprise me throughout – its twists even seemed to have twists! Like Illuminae, this book did a great job of creating a high-stakes, but still humorous YA sci-fi. Gemina really tugged on my emotions – one minute, I was laughing, the next, punching the air for one of Donnelly’s awesome moves, and the next, staring slack-jawed with horror.
While Illuminae initially felt slow to build, Gemina was perfectly paced, throwing me quickly into danger and excitement. The format still felt a little strange, as the story is told through a collection of security logs, emails, messages, and illustrations, but I actually think this helped with the pacing, and I love the unique feel this gave to the novel. I would highly recommend this series to YA readers who are looking for something unique.
Rating: 5/5 – Book of the Month!
The War on Women
Sue Lloyd Roberts
This book is a brilliant piece of journalism, which tells the stories of women around the world, from Ireland, to Saudi Arabia, exploring the dangers and injustices faced both in the past, and the present day.
The War on Women is well-written, engaging, and emotional. It is by no means an easy read, and that has nothing to do with the quality of writing, but with the subject matter. Sue doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of “honour” killings, female genital mutilation, or abuse. By collecting personal narratives, she reveals injustices that otherwise might go unnoticed by more privileged individuals, and she does so in a very personable manner.
This book is so eye-opening, so insightful, and I would recommend it to absolutely anybody. If you’re a feminist or a human rights activist, it will empower you and remind you why action is needed. If you don’t think you are either of the above, it will make you realise why you should be.
A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows
V. E. Schwab
A Darker Shade of Magic has been on my to-read list for a while, and after seeing the excitement surrounding the final instalment in the Shades of Magic trilogy, I decided it was finally time to catchc up. Having raced through the first two books, I cannot believe I waited so long to read this series.
The series is set in London – or more specifically, Londons, each one part of a different parallel universe, and with its own unique qualities and characters. The main character, Kell, is one of two individuals with the ability to travel between the parallel Londons, acting as an ambassador between the cities. Grey London is the familiar capital city of England, where few are even aware of the existence of magic; in the dangerous White London, magic is a thing to be controlled and coveted, whilst in Red London – Kell’s London – magic openly flourishes under the rule of the Maresh Empire. Then, there’s Black London, the mysterious city Kell is forbidden from visiting, and of which nobody speaks.
These two books were fantastic. I instantly fell in love with the characters, particularly Lila Bard, the bold and canny thief who longs to escape the dull streets of Grey London, though she knows nothing of the magical parallel worlds the city is linked to. The character development throughout these first two books was incredibly rewarding, as I learnt each of the characters’ strengths and flaws, and watched their relationships transform. The intricately and cleverly crafted relationships and witty dialogue between characters were two of the biggest strengths of these books.
The writing was both engrossing, and vivid, and the magic was unique but not too complicated. The plot was original and character-driven, and I find both books almost impossible to put down. A Gathering of Shadows built perfectly on A Darker Shade of Magic, with more character development, more world-building, and new characters and challenges. This is the best series I’ve discovered in a while, and couldn’t be more excited to move onto the final instalment.
A Darker Shade of Magic Rating: 4.5/5
A Gathering of Shadows Rating: 5/5
I’m hoping to write a full review of Caraval in the next couple of weeks, because I had a lot of opinions about this highly anticipated read.
Caraval is a YA fantasy told from the point of view of Scarlett, who until now has been confined to the tiny island where she lives with her sister Tella, and their abusive father. For years, she has written letters to the legendary organiser of Caraval, a strange and magical game in which players compete for magical prizes. Now, as Scarlett’s arranged marriage to a mysterious count approaches, Scarlett and her sister are invited to take part. When Scarlett finds her sister has been kidnapped by the organiser, Caraval becomes more than just a game, as it turns into a race against time, magic, and a host of unusual characters to rescue Tella.
There were a couple of things I loved about this book. I thought the imagery and the language were beautiful. I’ve seen a few criticisms of the “flowery language” and cliched romantic descriptions, but these were actually my favourite things about the book. The descriptions were wonderful, and painted a vibrant and unusual setting that was easy to escape into, and which has stuck with me for days after I fiinished reading.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure about the characters. After finishing the book, I still don’t know what I think of Julian, the charming but arrogant sailor who travels to Caraval with the sisters, and I didn’t find Scarlett or Tella particularly relatable. I would have enjoyed this book more if a little more time had gone into character development. I’m also unsure about the romance – it wasn’t particularly realistic, but neither did it sweep me off my feet.
Overall, the descriptions and setting made this an enjoyable and worthwhile read. It wasn’t a disappointment and I can see why it appeals to a lot of readers, but it didn’t excite me as much as I expected.
Next month, I’ll be reading and reviewing Anna Kendrick’s Scrappy Little Nobody, Andrzej Sapkowski’s Sword of Destiny, and whatever else I can get my hands on.