“Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.”
The Graveyard Book is essentially a children’s book, but that does not limit this story merely to that demographic. I believe that its lighthearted tone, philosophical life lessons and engaging nature makes it a book enjoyable for all, of any age.
I remember reading The Graveyard Book six years ago, when I was twelve, when my English teacher recommended it to me, after studying the first chapter in lesson. Although I loved it, I could now only vaguely remember a boy named Bod, a man called Jack, and some mischievous adventures. So, when my brother, Ed, listened to this on Audible, I thought it was time to dive in again.
“It's like the people who believe they'll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn't work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.”
This book is about a boy called Nobody Owens, Bod for short, after his family are killed by a man named Jack. He grows up being curious and inquisitive, like most children, but what makes Bod different is that he is raised by the ghosts of the graveyard.
The story is essentially a coming of age story about Bod, with each chapter forming what is practically a short mischievous tale, with a lesson and type of character growth from each. This structure put it nicely into bite-sized chunks that you can read in one small sitting. These essentially small stories link together and slowly drop more information about the world and plot in a very subtle manner that all builds up to a big finale.
I think anyone who has read a work of Neil Gaiman’s can agree that no matter the substance of the story, his prose is brilliant. There is a reason that he is one of the bestselling authors of all time, and part of that is how fluid his prose is. He manages to craft the perfect tone for his stories, and his skill as an author is shown by how this changes from book to book, with the melancholic tone of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, to this whimsical tale.
“If you dare nothing, then when the day is over, nothing is all you will have gained.”
Neil Gaiman loves a story that incorporates the world we live in, with a magical underbelly, like in Neverwhere, or Stardust. He does this brilliantly, and The Graveyard Book is another story that takes on those fun and intriguing aspects, whilst offering a new spin that differs from his other novels.
Sometimes with Neil Gaiman’s works, I feel that his characters are not as successful as they could be, and this is often my only critique. But, no need to worry with The Graveyard Book, fore in this story Neil Gaiman delivers a wonderful cast of characters each with their own amusing mannerisms and intriguing characteristics, from the serious yet kind guardian Silas, to the witch Liza Hempstock, to Bod himself. Neil Gaiman said that he wanted to write a different version of The Jungle Book, hence the relationship in title to The Graveyard Book, and in the ensemble aspect of this story, Neil Gaiman again delivers brilliantly.
“You're always you, and that don't change, and you're always changing, and there's nothing you can do about it.”
As with The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman narrates this audiobook. I think to appreciate his skill both as a writer and narrator, you have to listen to more than one of his stories, because he changes his entire tone and pacing according to what suits the story. Some narrators are great, but they are not malleable, and sometimes use the same formula for every book, which loses some of the potential. But, Neil Gaiman wonderfully crafts the whimsical tone and light-hearted atmosphere whilst equally conveying Bod’s curiosity that made me intrigued. One of the best narrations I’ve has the pleasure to read.
“You're alive, Bod. That means you have infinite potential. You can do anything, make anything, dream anything. If you can change the world, the world will change. Potential. Once you're dead, it's gone. Over. You've made what you've made, dreamed your dream, written your name. You may be buried here, you may even walk. But that potential is finished.”
The Graveyard Book is a wonderful story suitable for those of all ages, with something for everyone. It is reasonably short, and each chapter is structured into basically what is a short story, so you can bead this in reasonable chunks that leave you satisfied at every stop. One of my favourite reads of the year so far. It was really a joy to return to this tale that I had largely forgotten, and I hope this review encourages others to read this magical coming of age story.
We Are the Dead is a brilliant debut that marks Mike Shackle as an author to keep an attentive eye on. One of my favourite reads of the year so far for sure.
Firstly, I want to say a thank you to Filip Magnus for this great buddy read, which made the reading experience of We Are the Dead even better.
So, after hearing glowing reviews of We Are the Dead by many of my favourite reviewers, I thought I would enjoy this. But, I was surprised by how much I did. I loved it. This is a brilliantly constructed story, with a fast pace, engaging plot, compelling themes and a fantastic range of characters. Mike Shackle explores each aspect of storytelling and pulls them all together to form a great story.
“We are the dead who stand in the light. We are the dead who face the night. We are the dead whom evil fears. We are the Shulka and we are the dead.”
We are thrust into a world that seems to be heavily inspired by Japanese culture. The Shulka are a warrior elite who appear to be a cross between Spartans and Samurai, who have protected Jia from the Egril for centuries. But this has led to overconfidence, so that when the Egril launch an invasion and take over the country in eight days, Jia has no plan. We see the people oppressed in this new regime where you must either submit or hide to survive. Everyone feels the threat of death’s cold touch on a daily basis, with no respite and no retribution of freedom in sight.
When you see that on the cover it says ’No More Heroes’, you get the feeling this is going to be a gritty read. And oh, We Are the Dead delivers in that arena. It is not extreme, but there are many Grimdark elements to this story. I think that Mike Shackle depicts violence in an authentic manner that avoids being gratuitous, but allows the brutality of the world to feed into the plot and further build on the circumstance and motivations of course characters.
"You should never make fun of a man with a knife."
I really enjoyed the structure of this story. Each section is a day in the world we enter, and within this we as the reader are greeted by short-ish chapters that together form a fast pace that does not let up at all. In this, we have five perspectives:
- Tinnstra, the daughter of famous General, Grim Dagen, who is a well-trained warrior, but considers herself to be a coward. During this book she must either break or face her fears.
- Yas, a single mother striving to earn money for her mother and baby son, but in doing so it pulled into political intrigue.
- Jax, a famous general of the Shulka, until the country was taken over and he lost his arm. He is now a leader of the Hanran, a resistance group, who is striving to keep the hopes of a revolution alive.
- Dren, a rebellious teenager consumed by anger who is the leader of his own group who oppose the new rule of the Egril.
- And then Darus, one of the most sadistic villains I have encountered. He has the ability to heal all wounds. The greatest gift anyone can be given. But, he uses this skill to heal those he tortures, so that they do not die and that he can be entertained by their endless suffering.
These are five great perspectives who each engage with their own interesting storylines and themes that expose their vices and virtues. Mike Shackle asks the question of whether revolution is worth the deaths of innocents caught in the middle, and to do so he presents these questions to each perspective, where they justify their approach and the reader is left to make their own judgement. We have antagonists and anti-heroes who you at times simultaneously feel sympathy, aversion and attachment.
“It had always been a fool’s hope from the beginning.”
The prose wasn’t out of this world, nor was the concept. But that does not demean it in any shape or form. I see a lot of people see this as a detractor in books they read, but I don’t see why. Mike Shackle took what he could do best, and wrote something I would say was fantastic, equal to those books people say does perhaps explore prose and contribute something radical to the genre.
We Are the Dead is one of the best debut’s I have had the pleasure to read. Echoing what I saw Petrik say in his review, it is crazy this has not had more attention and a wider readership. Honestly, this is a fantastic story that I think everyone would enjoy. Every aspect, from prose to characters to plot is just superbly crafted. Please read this!
“That was in the year 867, and it was the first time I ever went to war.
And I have never ceased.”
I finally began my journey into The Saxon Stories. I cannot fathom what has taken me so long to delve into The Last Kingdom. I love Bernard Cornwell’s writing, and I love the concept for this tale.
This is one of those rare occasions where I have watched the adaptation before reading the book. But, no worries, this did not take away from the experience. The disparity been book and program is large, with a significantly larger period of time spent with Uhtred’s childhood than in the singular episode round-up in the series. It was something that I actually longed for in the program, and I was glad that the growth of Uhtred into an adult was treated more slowly and effectively.
This is a retrospective tale from the perspective of Uhtred, who recollects in this first instalment his early days, and the beginning of his forging of a reputation as a great warrior and leader. He is an unreliable narrator who, as the Goodreads summary states, is a dispossessed nobleman who was born a Saxon but raised a Dane This conflict of interests and loyalties becomes a key part of the story, and I believe will continue to do so throughout this series. It is a very interesting, rarely explored dynamic, in which Bernard Cornwell shows the reality that there is no 'right' side.
“The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation... Men die, they said, but reputation does not die.”
Bernard Cornwell is known as one of the greatest writers of action sequences. It is a reputation that is of course, well earned. Bernard Cornwell immerses you into each and every battle, for the most part. By that slight detraction I mean that sometimes he suddenly changes from an adrenaline pumping sequence, to suddenly changing to a summary of the rest of the battle. I found this to be slightly jarring. But that is about the only criticism I have of this story.
Bernard Cornwell maintains strengths in all arenas of writing, but I would say his most impressive strength is his characterisation, and the ability to forge a cast of wide variety. Many authors are amazing at creating a certain type of figure, and they stick to their comfort zone. Any character is Bernard Cornwell’s comfort zone. From a pacifist priest, to an amoral raider, he has each one nailed down, without being stereotypical.
“Destiny is all”
Overall, I of course thoroughly enjoyed this tale. I love Uhtred’s character. I love the historical period. I love Bernard Cornwell’s prose and battle sequences. He successfully formed a gritty tone and atmosphere of 9th century, war-torn England, with an engaging plot and compelling characters.
“For the world seems never to offer anything worthwhile without also providing a dreadful opposite.”
Mythos is the first of Stephen Fry’s retellings of Greek Mythology, with this initial instalment focusing on the origins of the world, the gods, of mankind, and the early tales of these creations. It varies from the epic scale of Zeus and his siblings launching global warfare against the Titans, all the way to individual tales of clever interactions been mortal and immortal.
So, as you may know, I am a huge fan of mythology, of history and of folk tales, from Norse, to Celtic, to Greek. Surprisingly though, I have not delved much into Greek/Roman mythology, and it was time to rectify that. Mythos did a great job at filling the gap, and I really look forward to continuing this journey through Greek Mythology in Heroes, and then Troy, which complete Stephen Fry’s triad of Greek retellings.
Starting with characters, as I said, in Mythos we meet mortals and immortals, animals and monsters, and everything in-between. We are introduced to a huge cast of characters, many of whom are only present for a few pages. But, do not let this daunt you! As I will discuss later in this review, it is not intended for you to remember everyone. The very nature of most mythologies is for many temporary figures to rise and fall, and therefore for the large amount of stories to amalgamate into hundreds of figures with as much variety as you can imagine.
“Kronos was not quite the pained and vulnerable emo-like youth”
Now about prose. Unsurprisingly, given his personality, Stephen Fry has a very distinctive voice. He exudes what he is famed for. His charisma, his humour, and his intellect. In Mythos, he gives an elementary perspective to very confusing concepts, and manages to write in a manner that is simultaneously easy to read, yet also thought-provoking and then hilarious.
What I would say as a criticism is that the beginning feels a bit like the opening of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Whilst Fry injects his enthusiasm, the crafting of the world vital introduction of so many important characters significantly slows down the pace, and provides a bit of a slog early on. But again. Do not led this dissuade you, fore beyond this initial twenty/thirty pages, it was fresh, unique and a joy to read.
One of the aspects that really draws me to Greek Mythology is the presentation of the gods. I find it fascinating that those of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had religions that contrast so strongly with the modern conception of religion. I would say the main disparity is that Mythos shows that the Gods were designed to be inherently feared and worshipped, with love acting as a secondary factor. Very Machiavellian.
“It is their refusal to see any divine beings as perfect, whole and complete of themselves, whether Zeus, Moros or Prometheus, that makes the Greeks so satisfying.”
Continuing from this, I loved that the Gods were shown in their full. Stephen Fry crafted many tales that I found surprisingly compelling, as the virtues and vices, sacrifices and betrayals of the Gods and other characters were told and revealed. The reader is shown the abuse of power, the thirst for power, but also a willingness to sacrifice oneself for a greater purpose, as we see in the tale of Prometheus.
To talk a bit more about the pacing and structure. As with most mythological retellings, Mythos is essentially a large amount of short stories loosely tied together, with probably 50-60 tales told in this solitary instalment. This structure allows short bursts of reading, and satisfactory moments to be dotted throughout the book. Whilst there are bonuses to this structure, there are also shortcomings. Due to the sheer amount of story’s, and central focus on the exploits of the Gods, it is inevitable that many of these tales became repetitive in the final quarter. We see many variations of a God experiencing lust for a mortal, surprisingly falling in love, and then another God tricking their lover to cause a tragedy. This is evocative and engaging at first, but over time became a bit draining.
“What Pandora did not know was that, when she shut the lid of the jar so hastily, she for ever imprisoned inside one last daughter of Nyx. One last little creature was left behind to beat its wings hopelessly in the jar for ever. Its name was ELPIS, Hope.”
So, overall, Mythos is a great retelling of Greek Mythology. It supplied me with an enjoyable, funny read that managed to be simultaneously educational and light, with Fry avoiding dense sequences where he could. The only criticisms I have do not regard the mastery of Stephen Fry himself, but more the nature of mythological retellings. So, if you enjoy this type of story, I highly recommend! It is certainly one of, if not the best, mythologically books I have read.
“Typically, a constable only sits in the commissioner’s anti-room when he’s been very brave, or very stupid, and I really couldn’t tell which one applied to me.”
Rivers of London is an urban fantasy story set in modern London. After constant recommendations from my dad, and then my brother recently, I decided to finally dive into this popular series. Thank you to them for pushing me into this read.
Rivers of London is a unique story that is full of dry humour, engaging plots, unique characters, and a wonderful setting. Listening to this on Audible, I was often laughing out loud, earning some strange looks from my family in the process. The narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who has won an Olivier Award for Best Actor, was absolutely fantastic and really elevated the story, which by its own was already great.
“On the plus side, there were no rioters in sight but on the minus side this was probably because everywhere I looked was on fire.”
Ben Aaronovitch has a prose that just seems to click with me. It is engaging, and perfectly crafts the tone that he appears to be seeking. Regarding prose, I thoroughly enjoyed the slight shift in syntax that was implemented in different situations to mirror our protagonist’s thoughts. From the more clinical, efficient, tentative process when working, to the more decisive and more tangential shift when approaching other spheres of the story. This is something that is not incorporated enough. Our thought processes adapt to our situations, and that is mirrored here. It makes the story more engaging, and also subtly tells us so much about the central character. Loved it! Alongside this is his dry humour, which I said earlier I found hilarious. I loved the historical and pop references, such as the quote below. It is so funny you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel…
“I have an idea," I said.
"This better not be a cunning plan," said Leslie.
Nightingale looked blank, but at least it got a chuckle from Dr Walid.”
Much of what I had heard before reading was that the portrayal of London and Ben Aaronovitch’s world-building was a strong point. This is so true. He obviously knows London inside out, and it is made evident by the easy description and laying out of the setting and tone of urban life. His passion for London is just infectious, and it was really enjoyable to be caught in that as a reader.
Alongside the depiction of London, Aaronovitch adds an underbelly to the setting that is a fantastical world. This reminded me strongly, in a good way, of the vibes of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The coexistence of the magical world and the ‘normal’ world with the ignorance of the latter is something that we have seen many times, such as in Harry Potter. But it never gets old. Aaronovitch introduces his own spin and gives his own concept that is fresh and new.
"So magic is real," I said. "Which makes you a...what?"
"Like Harry Potter?"
Nightingale sighed. "No," he said. "Not like Harry Potter."
"In what way?"
"I'm not a fictional character," said Nightingale.”
The characters were great as well. Our protagonist and perspective throughout the story is from constable Peter Grant, a given up scientist who begins in total ignorance regarding the magical world, until he talks to a ghost at a crime scene. He is wonderfully flawed and one of the best central characters I have read in a long time. Nightingale was an interesting character, and one that I hope to see more off. His role as guardian and teacher I feel was somewhat limited due to often serving as exposition. It was required for the plot, but I feel like it slowed down the pace and made Nightingale less engaging than his character appeared to initially appear. But, I am sure that he will be developed further on into the series.
Rivers of London introduces us to all manner of weird and wonderful scenarios and monsters. With a chance to view the development of London from the Dark Ages, to meeting the embodiments of the London rivers, to revenants, ghosts seeking vengeance, and troublesome spirits. They were all really unique and I look forward to encountering many more in the rest of the series.
“Keep breathing,’ I said. ‘It’s a habit you don’t want to break.”
Rivers of London is a well crafted story, with fantastic characters, a wonderful world, great prose and wonderful narration on Audible. My only small critique other than Nightingale’s exposition would be that I felt the middle third of the story lost some of its momentum, but that is me being picky, and certainly does not mean that I found it to be a slog at any part. It is just that drop from brilliance that makes me give this a 4.25 star rating. As I have now read the sequel, Moon Over Soho, I can confirm that all the great storytelling aspects of Rivers of London are built and improved on, and this definitely seems like a series that anyone would enjoy, and one I will be recommending even to those who do not read fantasy.
“The only path to becoming what others cannot is to suffer what others will not.”
My favourite read of the year, so far.
The Fires of Vengeance is the second instalment in The Burning, by Evan Winter. So far, this series is what I would call a masterpiece. I enjoy most books, but rarely do I have no complaint at all. The Firs of Vengeance accompanies The Rage of Dragons in providing a perfect reading experience for me.
When I started reading this, I expected to love it. But, The Rage of Dragons was so brilliant and had so many unique plotting points that I thought this second instalment would not quite reach its predecessor. I am happy to say that I was wrong. So, so wrong.
Before I continue, this is a spoiler-free review, but there might be a few references to The Rage of Dragons. If you have not read the first instalment in this series, I urge you to stop reading right now, and rather, go and buy it both of these books!
“Keep fighting, and I swear that before it consumes us, we’ll burn our pain to ash in the fires of vengeance”
Whilst The Rage of Dragons is one of my favourite books of all time, I had forgotten some of the intrinsics of the ending, and the roles of some characters as well. But Evan Winter subtly provides a summary throughout the first chapter that immersed me back into this world and had the plot up and running without leaving the reader in confusion. This brilliant crafting of pace would set a precedent for the rest of the book.
The Rage of Dragons was described as having aspects of Game of Thrones and Gladiator. In contrast, The Fires of Vengeance does not revolve so much around arena combat as its predecessor does, but it still maintains the well-crafted dynamics between the members of Scale Jayyed. Whilst they are maturer now, it is still similar to Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song and Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister in continuing the always enjoyable tale of a group of friends forged through adversity.
Tau’s desire for vengeance is a driving force for this tale, but I love that Winter has provided extra layers that make this more than just a story for revenge. It shows the rifts in friendships, combats social constructs and offers a multifaceted story that is not simply good vs bad. Tau now has increased responsibilities as champion of Queen Tsiora. He continues to seek revenge, but must make compromises to maintain his role. He is faced with a whole new set of trails and tribulations, as he must either prioritise his duty, or his revenge. He continues to be a fantastic central character who acts as the almost continuous perspective.
I read a while back in Petrik’s review of The Fires of Vengeance that he found the rare chapters attributed to other characters to be a brilliant implementation from Evan Winter. I completely agree. It really showed that whilst I love Tau, from other perspectives he can be seen as a fearsome, monstrous figure. It added another layer of authenticity that showed that there are no clear-cut ‘right’ sides, and rather that each force has their own justifiable motivations.
“Rage is love...twisted in on itself. Rage reaches into the world when we can no longer contain the hurt of being treated as if our life and loves do not matter. Rage, and its consequences, are what we get when the world refuses to change for anything less.”
Overall, I think it is clear that I loved this story. It is paced perfectly, with a wider array of enjoyable characters. It is punchy, intriguing, thought-provoking and really just everything I yearn for in a read. Epic fantasy at its best. It incorporates the right amount of characterisation and small scale interactions and partners it with shocking action sequences of a massive scale that are written beautifully, conveying the confusion of battle but keeping the reader in the loop at the same time.
“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”
I read this last Summer, but the review somehow slipped through my fingers. I realised this recently and wanted to rectify that mistake, fore this is a book that is a joy to talk about.
The Old Man and the Sea is a beautiful story contained within 100 pages that made me feel humbled and mesmerised at the same time. Hemingway's prose is just once again incredibly smooth and languid, allowing the character development and scenes of conflict to unravel perfectly. It was written in 1952 and was apparently very progressive given the period, having a huge impact on how literature would be crafted in the future. I have not looked into this enough to know the details, but I imagine this is one of the many reasons Hemingway is such a celebrated literary figure.
The Old Man and the Sea serves as a literal story on one level, as well as crafting an extended metaphor where Santiago’s isolation and loneliness is symbolised by the sea.
The majority of this tale emerges from one specific fishing escapade where The Old Man struggles to capture a giant marlin, which would be the most impressive catch of his experienced life. During the days the proceed in this great conflict, Santiago enters a dream like state that causes a tangential stream of consciousness that we as the reader follow.
“No one should be alone in their old age, he thought.”
Again, as I said in my review of For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway has a really wonderful prose that exudes an almost mythical quality that mirrors the strain of the mind his protagonist faces.
Throughout this novella, Santiago faces all kinds of tribulations, on a physical and mental standing. He loses many. But what makes him such an endearing and beautiful character is his indomitable spirit.
“But man is not made for defeat," he said. "A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
The Old Man and the Sea says a lot about human nature, and about the grim realities of life. The Old Man is shown to have lost a lot, but he knows that that will only become more extreme if he loses his optimism. Despite recent failures in fishing and his now lonely lifestyle, he continues and presses on. It reminds us as the reader of the fickle nature of life, but also the importance of resilience, even if failure is inevitable.
Firstly, thank you to Julie Crisp who sent me an early digital copy of The Councillor to review. This did not influence the opinions shared in this review.
This is a gripping story with fully developed characters, beautiful prose and a fresh approach to the fantasy genre that was a joy to read.
The Councillor is a debut novel by E.J. Beaton, in what I believe is designed to be a duology. It is a Machiavellian fantasy tale that offered me something completely new and fresh. It is dominated by political intrigue, unique characters and a well established world. This is a book where you do not know what is going to happen, and then when the penny drops, it all makes sense. That feeling when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together was amazing.
“Strength without swords.”
“How does one conquer without a sword? Without a weapon?”
“The real leader conquers with her mind.”
One of the many strengths of this story is the prose. It is rich, but stripped back as well, in what I thought was a perfect style for the tone, in dripping bits of information slowly, whilst allowing the plot to progress. There is a lot to take in, but E.J. Beaton brilliantly avoids unnatural exposition, and expertly implements it into the story.
My favourite part of this story was the characters. Rarely have I had the pleasure to journey through a story with such developed, refined and believable characters, from the central protagonist and PoV, Lysande, to the supporting cast of Derset, Litany, Luca Fontaine and many more. Accompanying this, their dialogue was masterful, and managed to relay their motivations and personalities wonderfully. If for nothing else, you must read The Councillor for these figures!
“Confidence before the nobility. Humility before the people. Books had a strange way of making themselves useful in your life, words sprouting up when you least expected them.”
The plot of The Councillor is driven primarily by political intrigue, interactions and the acquiring of information, where Lysande tries to discover who murdered her Queen, and who to choose as the next ruler. This is done in a way that builds the tension from page one all the way to a huge climax at the end. And when I say ‘huge’, that is what I mean. The story erupted into an epic scale in one of what is only two action sequences, with an immersive, shocking bang. The only factor that pulls this from being a perfect read is that there was probably a small part in the middle third that I thought was focused more on the bigger picture, when I was just yearning for more of those wonderful character interactions. But that by no means is a bad thing, it means that it was great, but just dipped from brilliance temporarily.
‘Oh, you could tell yourself that you were doing it for the people and you could turn the pages of tracts in your mind, making all the connections to justify it, but it was still a ladder, stretching up into mist, the top obscured. For the people — the other side of that coin was the people for oneself.’
The Councillor has been advertised as a Machiavellian fantasy. And indeed it is! It is full of brilliant political intrigue and twists and turns throughout. But, whilst this is great, I would say that the shining light of this debut is the characterisation. It is some of the best that I have had the pleasure to read in fantasy. Each character is fleshed out, fully developed and acts in ways that complies perfectly with their motivations. It was wonderful to read.
The Councillor comes out on March 2nd. I would recommend this to most fantasy readers, due primarily to the fantastic characters and overall new approach to the genre that was so fresh and engaging.
"It is wiser to stand in front of the bear than to turn his back to him.”
After reading Giles Kristian’s Raven trilogy and then Lancelot and Camelot, I was certain that this would be a 5-star read. I was not disappointed.
God of Vengeance is book one of The Rise of Sigurd, Giles Kristian’s prequel trilogy to Raven. This is the beginning of an epic Viking saga tale about Sigurd, who begins as a young man. A fantastic story that was great to listen to on Audiobook, narrated by the fantastic Philip Stevens.
Sigurd is the younger son of Jarl Harold, an inexperienced warrior who yearns to prove himself to both his father and brothers. But, unbeknown to him, he will receive more opportunities to become a warrior than even he would like. This is a tale of a pursuit of vengeance, where Sigurd with a small band of allies fights to survive, with the goal to one day get revenge on King Gorm, the Oathbreaker, who betrayed and killed Sigurd’s father and brothers.
“As with all the stories, there's always smoke before the fire kindles.”
As always, Giles Kristian’s prose shines through in the narration by Philip Stevens. I would say that the pacing of this story was perfect, with the fantastic blend of characterisation, action and intrigue for my tastes. This is somehow made even better by the fantastic reading by Philip Stevens, who has a voice that completely immerses you into Kristian’s gritty, authentic, dangerous world.
One of the strongest aspects of God of Vengeance is the characters. From Sigurd himself, to the bloodthirsty priest Asgot, to the steadfast Olaf and the frenzied Black Floki. In this, Kristian again forms a band of warriors, each with their own distinguishable characteristics that makes them all unique. He forms the tone and atmosphere of such a band brilliantly, showing the tensions between each other but equally the camaraderie they forge through the blood of their enemies.
Part of what creates such an immersive experience is how Giles Kristian makes sure to omit modern sayings, and instead adopts seemingly authentic Norse figures of speech. Combined with the historical detail, this immersed me into the beginning of this tale of the rise of Sigurd.
“Even the old hounds can bite.”
Overall, God of Vengeance is a great first instalment in The Rise of Sigurd trilogy. The plot, prose, narration and everything else blend together to craft a fantastic experience. Whilst The Rise of Sigurd is a prequel to the Raven series, you can begin with this.
“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”
The Song of Achilles was a unique, thoroughly enjoyable take on the story of Troy and in particular, that of Achilles. I have always loved Greek Mythology, the tales of Greece, of both fantasy and history. The Song of Achilles combines both, presenting a gritty realistic world, and then introduces a great dose of magic and mythology.
The story is told solely from the perspective of Patroclus, a noble who is raised by the father of Achilles. It is here he meets the legend we know today as a young teenager.
Madeline Miller, in a similar book to her other novel, Circe, masterfully crafts her world, slowly and carefully dripping information to the reader in a bearable manner that still pushes plot forward. There was not a single moment that I noticed was just exposition, and this was not in detriment to the story, as I found myself to have a complete visualisation of the world Patroclus was living in. The prose is not particularly incredible, and I would say not as fluid as in Circe, as Miller has obviously perfected her style, but it is simple and effective.
“Odysseus inclines his head. "True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another." He spread his broad hands. "We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?" He smiles. "Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
It would have been easy to rely too much on the dramatic irony that we as the reader know much of the story, or to spend less time on characterisation as many readers would be familiar with the heroic figures, But Madeline Miller took those great elements and the familiarity of the topic, and added her own spin to keep the story equally as interesting as if it was completely new.
“There are no bargains between lion and men”
Perhaps one of my only criticisms would be that what is preventing this being an all-out 5-star read for me was that the beginning third was just a bit too slow. I felt that there was a bit of space where characterisation and plot had been cemented enough to advance the pace, but it continued to plateau, until the second phase began. This is not to say it was not enjoyable. It is just that I thought the rest of the story was brilliant, and the beginning in comparison was a bit weaker.
I listened to Song of Achilles on Audiobook, narrated by David Thorpe. It was a good experience, and definitely a story you can listen to without being confused. I thought that the performance by David Thorpe was solid, and enjoyable, being above the norm, but not perhaps brilliant in my opinion. He is very good at slowly building tension and narrating moments of calm, whereas I felt at times a but more passion or urgency would have improved the experience during some of the action scenes.
“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
Overall, The Song of Achilles was a great experience. It was about Greek Mythology, which I love, specifically about Troy, from the Iliad, arguably one of the greatest stories of all time, and was formed into a well-crafted story with fantastic characters by Madeline Miller. The story was given an interesting new spin that I thoroughly enjoyed.