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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Magical Monday Review: Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Gloriously spooky, yet witty and weirdly romantic, I really enjoyed this.

Author: Kendare Blake
Title: Anna Dressed in Blood
Series: This is book 1 of 2
Genre: Ghost/chiller (YA)
Publisher: Orchard
Published: 5 July 2012

Source: review copy kindly sent by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
Cas Lowood is no ordinary guy - he hunts dead people.

People like Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. A beautiful, murderous ghost entangled in curses and rage. Cas knows he must destroy her, but as her tragic past is revealed, he starts to understand why Anna has killed everyone who's ever dared to enter her spooky home.

Everyone, that is, except Cas...

My verdict: Creepy and tense reading for teens and above.
I really enjoyed this spooky supernatural read with a romance sub-plot. I feel the chiller and urban fantasy elements were far more important than the romance. Cas is wonderfully sarcastic and straightforward, even if he is a bit arrogant. But then, if you were a supernaturally gifted teen who never stayed anywhere long enough to make friends, how self-reliant and cocky do you think you'd be?

The novel uses Cas's voice as narrator, allowing us access to his secrets and helping to ensure we're on his side. He narrates in a chatty tone and in the present tense, also providing an immediacy to the story, and heightening the sense of danger (with the past tense, you always know they've lived to tell the tale). I loved his voice and this was definitely one of the strengths of the book for me; I love a smart character with attitude! I also enjoyed his awkwardness as he was forced to deal with others far more than was comfortable for him. The character development here is great, and some of the secondary characters are brilliant - well-drawn and engaging.

Anna is the most fleshed-out ghost character I've read (forgive me, please). At first, she's the stuff of whispered legend, but as her story unfolds, she becomes more human and the line between aggressor and victim blurs. The link between Cas and Anna is strange and not fully explored, but that is kind of the point. Cas is narrating and since he's fairly blind to it himself, and doesn't understand it even once he is more aware of it, he can't really explain it to us.

Some of the mythology behind the story remains unexplained, but not (for me) to the point of irritation. There are mysteries that may well be explored in the second book (Girl of Nightmares), but key facts are clearly established and Cas's voice is self-assured enough that you can't help but trust he knows what he's doing. I'm intrigued to know more, but don't feel let down by the mysteries behind Cas's gift and his family history.

The tension is steadily built at first, with startling peaks. I was surprised at the graphic intensity of the violence in this book, violence which is perhaps more shocking than frightening. The book didn't give me nightmares, but did compel me to keep reading to see what would happen, and I am keen to read the second in the series.

Overall, I felt this was a very well put together package of creepy plot, quirky mythology and great characters. Definitely recommended to teens and the (ahem) older YA reader.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Words on Wednesday Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Gorgeous writing, great characters and an intense timeline make up this lyrical YA romance.

Author: Cath Crowley
Title: Graffiti Moon
Genre: Romance (YA)
Publisher: Hodder Childrens
Published: 5 July 2012

Source: review copy kindly sent by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
"Let me make it in time. Let me meet Shadow. The guy who paints in the dark. Paints birds trapped on brick walls and people lost in ghost forests. Paints guys with grass growing from their hearts and girls with buzzing lawn mowers."

It’s the end of Year 12. Lucy’s looking for Shadow, the graffiti artist everyone talks about.

His work is all over the city, but he is nowhere.

Ed, the last guy she wants to see at the moment, says he knows where to find him. He takes Lucy on an all-night search to places where Shadow’s thoughts about heartbreak and escape echo around the city walls.

But the one thing Lucy can’t see is the one thing that’s right before her eyes.

My verdict: lyrical, and yet laugh-out-loud witty. A delicious holiday read.
There is so much to praise in this lovely little book! The writing is glorious: rich and clever and perfectly-constructed. It's one of those rare books where I could lose myself in the story, desperate to know what would happen next and how these characters would end up, without ever forgetting I was experiencing a constructed piece of art. I don't know how that's possible (Cath Crowley works magic, perhaps...?), but I was admiring the novel's artistry even while rooting for Lucy and Ed and their friends.

That beauty of writing doesn't make it a tricksy intellectual book, by the way, or mean it loses itself in imagery. There's simply a perfection to it, a rightness to each chosen word. In many places, I laughed out loud at the wittiness of the teen's dialogue - or perhaps more often at the clash between their perspectives and verdicts on things.

The novel is told from both Lucy and Ed's perspective, in alternating first person chapters with occasional sections from Shadow's graffiti partner, poet. Often these alternating perspectives present the same scene, or part of the same scene to accentuate the comedy of errors nature of these teens' interactions.

Since the novel tells the story of a single night, its intensity is enhanced, cleverly echoing the intensity of the characters' age. At the end of their school life, they are 17-18, poised to begin new chapters of their lives. Cath Crowley perfectly captures the earnestness sitting alongside recklessness of this age. The love of Art that Lucy and Ed share brings about a depth to their exchanges and, in some ways, provides them with an additional language. The idea of Art as a means of self-expression that risks exposing you whilst also allowing others to read it in their own way is central to the book, and clearly articulated as relating to many and varied art forms: poetry, glass blowing, graffiti are the examples used. At the same time, the characters' immaturity and vulnerability is exposed in some of their choices, providing darker moments. This is not merely a light and fluffy read, enjoyable and entertaining as it is.

Overall, this is a beautiful book, life-affirming and delicious. I recommend it highly.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Magical Monday Review: A Witch in Winter by Ruth Warburton

Fabulous witchy novel set in a realistic small-town community.

Author: Ruth Warburton
Title: A Witch in Winter
Series: This is the first in a trilogy.
Genre: Romance/Supernatural (YA)
Publisher: Hodder Childrens
Published: 5 Jan 2012

Source: purchased on my Kindle

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
Anna Winterson doesn't know she's a witch and would probably mock you for believing in magic, but after moving to the small town of Winter with her father, she learns more than she ever wanted to about power. When Anna meets Seth, she is smitten, but when she enchants him to love her, she unwittingly amplifies a deadly conflict between two witch clans and splits her own heart in two. She wants to love Seth, to let him love her - but if it is her magic that's controlling his passion, then she is as monstrous as the witch clan who are trying to use her amazing powers for their own gain.

When love is tangled up in magic, how can you be sure what's real?

My verdict: A great read for fans of magic and mystery in 'real-world' settings.
This is a skilful debut, creating a town with a long history with magic, and a group of realistic characters. It will be enjoyed by many YA paranormal romance readers, whilst offering them something slightly different.

The story is narrated directly by Anna, so understanding why she does things is effortless and we easily root for her. The novel begins with her move to a new town, Winter, into a spooky and dilapidated house, following family financial difficulties. We bond with her as she struggles to settle into a new place - a small-town community where clearly everyone knows everyone else's business, ensuring our sympathies are well-established with her before magic is brought into the story. And when it is, her reactions feel realistic and human, and we see her moral goodness through her horror at the spell's effect.

Seth is an interesting character, and the reasons for him and Anna to be drawn to one another (aside from physical attraction) are established, alongside some funny-but-disturbing scenes of spell-induced stalkerishness. I felt that (witchcraft aside) their relationship was a believable construction, and that the central barrier (can she ever be sure he isn't just bewitched?) was a really good one to unsettle the relationship.

The setting worked brilliantly in several ways: the realistic and modern sixth-form experience that Anna gets at school; the intriguing nature of Winter itself and its relationship to magic (which I hope we'll learn more about in books 2 and 3) and the glorious gothic ramshackle nature of Wicker House with its 'witch's house' reputation and general creepiness. Again, I'm sure there's more of the house's history to be discovered in later novels. The setting (and the dialogue) is very British, which was very welcome after reading a few US YA novels recently. There's something really comforting about the familiarity this offers, even when that familiarity is shot through with magic! As a language geek, I also enjoyed the Old English style spells, suggesting something ancient that's always been there, hidden.

The plot moves along effectively, and (other than questions of history/background) everything is resolved in this volume. The tension creeps up steadily before the spell is cast, as Anna is simply trying to settle into a new place and there is no explicit suggestion of witchcraft - but of course we know that this is where the story is going to go. The stakes are raised rapidly after this, and we're quickly into much bigger conflicts.

Overall, this was a book that I really enjoyed and would definitely recommend. The second in the series came out this month, and the third will be out early next year.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: Soul Fire by Kate Harrison

Turning up the temperature in the second instalment of the Soul Beach trilogy.

Author: Kate Harrison
Title: Soul Fire
Series: This is book two of three
Genre: Thriller with fantasy/paranormal elements (YA)
Publisher: Indigo
Published: 5 July 2012

Source: review copy kindly sent by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
Alice Forster regularly talks with her dead sister, Meggie, in the virtual world of Soul Beach - an online paradise where dead teenagers are held in limbo.

Alice has learned that if she can solve the mystery of someone's death in the real world, then that person is released from the Beach. Meggie needs Alice to solve her murder so she can be free, but as Alice is getting closer to discovering the murderer, the murderer is getting closer to Alice!

The second thriller in this utterly gripping trilogy for teens that explores social networking in a whole new way - Facebook for the dead!

My verdict: Tantalising and tricky; a good read for the YA audience.
It was clear following Soul Beach that the mystery of Meggie's murder is not going to be resolved until the end of the trilogy. This book narrows down the suspects, while providing compelling reasons for you to think it can't be each of these suspects. The overall effect is teasing and intriguing. Again, like the first book, there are smaller plot threads which are tied up in this novel, while the big whodunnit is left for the grand finale. We also still have no clue how Soul Beach 'works' or what its purpose is. Why are only the young dead there? For those who leave, where do they go? Is the Beach some version of Limbo or Purgatory or something else entirely?

Alice develops as a character in the course of this novel, and it's easy to be on her side and root for her as she digs through evidence and theories to try to figure out who's responsible. Her parents worry about her immersion in the virtual world, creating a further complication when her laptop is confiscated 'for her own good'. Her relationships also develop further in this instalment, although there is much more focus on mystery and threat than romance.

As with Soul Beach, our narrator is Alice, ensuring we see everything from her perspective and are emotionally tied to her. This is broken only occasionally, with a passage from the murderer's point of view, showing us how much danger Alice is in as the murderer seems obsessed with her as well as Meggie. This is a tense read, and the fire theme is a good match for this level of intensity and potential danger.

Overall, I'd recommend this series and can't wait to see where it all ends up in the final book. I'm hoping that Soul Beach itself will give up its mysteries as well as the crime angle.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Story Lab: Summer Reading Challenge

The Story Lab site
My youngest and I went to the local library yesterday to sign up for this summer's reading challenge: the Story Lab. She's been excited for these for the last few years, not least because a nice lady (from the libraries service perhaps?) visits her school to tell the kids all about it. I think, though, that this is the first year she's been able to also join in online. There's a moderated site where kids can talk about books with others, as well as learn more about the Story Lab characters and their quests. She knows that I talk about books online all the time (here, Goodreads, Twitter...), so she feels like she's able to do the same as me - which she's still young enough to see as a Good Thing, bless her. She's also majorly excited about the writing competition to finish a story started by one of the participating authors. You could win a laptop, you know!

The challenge runs through the summer and asks kids to read six books - of any length or type - and record their titles on the special card provided. They are expected to visit the library three times over the period. On the first visit, they get a cardboard lab to assemble at home and some scratch 'n' sniff stickers. Next time, there'll be a wristband and on the final visit, they get a medal and certificate. There's a whole storyline going on around the cute characters you see above, as they search for special items of bronze, silver and gold (do you detect an additional timely theme...?).

It's a great way to kickstart (or revive) a library habit, and libraries are fab for taking a risk on new authors or genres. And visiting the local library feels like a political act these days (assuming of course you still have one ...)

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Letterbox Love 4

This British meme allows us to discuss books arriving through our letterboxes (or Kindle whispernet of course ...) every week or so. It came out of a Twitter conversation and is hosted by Lynsey at Narratively Speaking. All links will take you to Amazon UK.

Review Copies:

A Witch in Love by Ruth Warburton from Hodder
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers from Canongate (via NetGalley)
Katya's World by Jonathan L Howard from Strange Chemistry

Well, these are quite different from one another, and each intriguing in its own way: a witchy YA romance, a dystopian focused on women and childbirth, and a YA sci-fi set in a colony world that is entirely sea. I've just read A Witch in Winter to get ready for the second in the trilogy and I loved it, so I'm expecting good things!


Willard Price: Leopard Adventure by Anthony McGowan from Puffin via Twitter comp

I loved the Willard Price Adventure series as a kid and was very excited to hear the series has been reinvented for contemporary kids - and so much more excited to win a copy in a Twitter competition! The trailer looks great too:


Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb (my review here)
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: A Throne of Glass Novella by Sarah J Maas (my review here)
The Assassin and the Desert by Sarah J Maas (my review here)
The Assassin and the Underworld by Sarah J Maas (my review here)

The three Assassin novellas are all prequels to the novel Throne of Glass, and Witchstruck is the first in a fab new historical paranormal series.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Guest Post from Victoria Lamb, Author of Witchstruck

Witchy goings-on for Friday 13th at the Hearthfire today, with Victoria Lamb here to answer a few questions. Her first YA novel, Witchstruck is just out with Corgi this month, and she's touring blogs to celebrate.

How did you go about researching/creating the magick in the novel? Are there any juicy details of Tudor witchcraft you couldn't use that you'd like to share with us?
I've always been very interested in witchcraft, and know a fair amount about modern Wiccan practice in particular, so it wasn't that tricky to research even a Tudor novel on the subject. Witchcraft really hasn't changed that much over the centuries! I don't think I left anything out about witchcraft, though some details about their methods of detecting, torturing and executing witches were too disturbing to use in a YA novel. I have used some though, like the Devil's Mark which my heroine Meg is accused of bearing - this was usually a birthmark they believed was left by the devil, or some other mark (like an extra nipple) where witchfinders claimed the devil had suckled on the witch. Pretty horrible.

You're working on both adult and YA historical series at the moment. What would you say are the most important differences between the two?
The adult historicals have far more history in them! That may sound like an odd thing to say, but my Lucy Morgan novels are far more concerned with political and historical events than my Tudor Witch series is. Witchstruck is essentially a paranormal romance set in Tudor times, rather than a straight historical where the setting is the most important element of the book. Having said that, the violent and dark dystopia of Tudor England is a vital part of Witchstruck and lends the book great intensity. Meg would have had a much easier time of it in Victorian times, for instance!

How much of a plotter are you? Do you outline in detail?
I'm a major planner, yes. I dislike starting a book without knowing more or less what's going into each chapter, and how the story will pan out for everyone. When I first started writing novels, I had a far looser approach, often starting in great excitement only to peter out partway through because I'd lost the thread and had no real idea what was going on. Some people work like that very successfully, but I'm afraid I'm too cautious to do that anymore. I like to know the world of my story as God knows this one, to paraphrase Hollywood script guru Robert McKee.

How do you name your characters?
Well, in a historical novel, many characters are either already named for you or have names limited by what was normal for that age. (I couldn't have called my Tudor heroine Chardonnay or Buffy!) But when I have a choice and nothing leaps instantly to mind, I tend to flick through a baby name book until I find one that's perfect for my character.

You've published poetry (as Jane Holland - Boudicca and Co is great), adult historical and now YA historical-paranormal novels. Do you see yourself expanding further and writing something different again like a children's book or something with a contemporary setting?
Well, yes. I actually have a children's fantasy novel completely written and hidden in a file somewhere, unpublished. But that's maybe something for the future. I'm very restless as a writer, and although I'm excited to be writing Tudor fiction, I already know what I want to write after the series finishes; in my spare moments, I'm developing an idea for a Victorian slipstream thriller. It's all still top secret though, so I can't say much more than that.

What would be your top tip for new writers?
Write what you're most comfortable with, not something you think will 'sell'. The authentic voice of a writer  enjoying him or herself is what publishers really want - even if they don't always know it! And write every day if you possibly can. Writing is like exercising on a freezing winter's day. You have to do it to remind yourself why you like doing it, because when you're not actively writing, it can seem like the hardest thing in the world to start.

Thanks for having me, Beth! 

It's a pleasure, Victoria - thanks for visiting! 

So there you have it: some great info and advice there. Do check out Witchstruck if it appeals to you at all - it's a great read.

Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.

Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg's existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn - despite their very different attitudes to witchcraft.

Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

Witchcraft and a little historical intrigue: a great combination for a YA audience.

Author: Victoria Lamb
Title: Witchstruck
Series: This is the first novel in the series
Genre: Historical paranormal (YA)
Publisher: Corgi
Published: 5 July 2012

Source: purchased

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
When the power falls on me, it buzzes in the warm, dark spaces of my skull. It stings like nettles at the tips of my fingers.

Meg Lytton has always know of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a witch from early childhood, concocting spells from herbs and bones is as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the punishment for any woman branded a witch is death.

Sent to the isolated palace of Woodstock, Meg discovers her magic is of interest to the banished princess Elizabeth, who is desperate to claim the throne. But Meg's life is soon thrown into turmoil by the ruthless witchfinder, Marcus Dent - and the arrival of a smouldering young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo.

The first pulse-quickening book in a bewitching new series.

My verdict: A historical setting, the spice of witchcraft and a touch of romance make for a thrilling read for teens and above.
This novel uses some aspects of Tudor history and plays 'what if ' with others (as you might expect fiction to do*). Set in the period when Mary was on the throne and the future Elizabeth I imprisoned, the atmosphere of religious intolerance and the threat of treason is ripe for a paranormal adventure with plenty of danger provided by the witchfinders and their control through fear.

The first-person narration in Meg's voice gives us immediacy and clarity about the constant dangers around her, and her feelings about them. She lives in a world of secrets and uncertain loyalties, and this is the source of most immediate threats. She is largely a bright and sensible girl and understands the complex threats around her, even when she feels she must take risks to protect those she loves. I warmed to Meg quickly and enjoyed the time I spent in her world. I will definitely get the next in the series to see what happens to her next.

I feel also that this is a strong start to a series as the key players are well established, along with the broader setting and context. The immediate plot is resolved (I hate it when a series book feels like half a book), but there is clearly scope for more adventure ahead. I also appreciate that there was a strong storyline and plenty of action in the book (again, a series opener can be slow and stodgy in building up characters and a world, but not so here).

Overall, I found this to be a greatly enjoyable read that offers tension on several fronts and is likely to give lovers of YA romance, fantasy, paranormal and historical plenty to get their teeth into.

*There has been some criticism that kids reading this might think, for example, that Anne Boleyn really was a witch. I would hope that if they're interested, they might look up a bit about the period. You never know... But still, surely teen readers don't assume everything in novels is true? Victoria Lamb's post at the Overflowing Library about historical fiction and the YA market makes clear what the author feels about this.

Victoria Lamb is stopping by the Hearthfire tomorrow to answer a few questions about Witchstruck and her writing generally, so do come back!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

I loved this epic fantasy so much that I immediately purchased the three e-novella prequels. My reviews of them are here:
The Assassin and the Pirate Lord
The Assassin and the Desert
The Assassin and the Underworld

Author: Sarah J Maas
Title: Throne of Glass
Series: This is the first novel in the series
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publishing: 2 August 2012

Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says...
Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly. Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament - fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin's heart be melted?

My verdict: sweeping fantasy, fabulous heroine, fully-realised world. Recommended for fantasy YA fans of all ages.
This novel started out as a Fictionpress project, first shared with the world ten years ago. This background is apparent in the depth of knowledge Sarah J Maas has of her world; knowledge that she doesn't need to beat us over the head with, but which underpins solid plotting and careful characterisation.

The character of Celaena is extremely well-developed in this novel (and in the accompanying e-novellas). She is a complex character (as people tend to be...) who swings between brattish arrogance and uncertainty. As an eighteen-year-old with exceptional skills in a strange - and deadly - environment, this makes emotional sense, allowing us to warm to her despite her bouts of sulkiness. I also appreciated her moments of girlishness, delighting in fine clothes and being obsessed with the court parties and feasts.

The plot is centred on the tournament to find a Champion, and it is this that drives much of the action, but it is not the main focus of much of the novel. This is a story about people and relationships, trust and loyalty, and that is where most of the action is really concentrated. That is why the book is not one action scene after another, and some of the tournament's heats are barely touched on. A slow-burning love triangle, the social comings and goings of a royal court, and the mystery of how competitors are picked off outside of the tournaments by something vicious and primal all complicate and add further intrigue to the story. I enjoyed the hints at an element of magic which are seeded throughout and am keen to see how this line progresses, as magic has been banned by the power-hungry King.

There are many secondary characters worth a mention. Both Prince Dorian and Captain Chaol Westfall are worthy heroes, at least in some ways. Reinforcing the idea of Celaena's dual nature as girl and assassin, the two men both see her quite differently, responding accordingly to her. This contributes to revealing and building up her complex nature. The Princess Nehemia, on a diplomatic visit from another Kingdom, proves to be another interesting character (and gives Sarah Maas the distinction of having not only the central female be strong and active). The way her relationship with Celaena develops forms another subplot supporting the theme of trust and loyalty.

Overall, this is a compelling and complex novel introducing a world which has been thoroughly realised by its creator and peopled with rounded, realistic characters. I would strongly recommend it to fans of YA fantasy.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Assassin and the Underworld: Throne of Glass Novella III

This is the third prequel novella to Throne of Glass, the first being The Assassin and the Pirate Lord, and the second The Assassin and the Desert. Like the earlier ones, this novella gives us an episode from Celaena Sardothien's past before the events of Throne of Glass. This novella picks up immediately at her return from the desert mission in the second novella, and focuses on her life with the assassins in the city. In a way, this novella is where we see her normal world, working for the King of the Assassins and living a double life as a young society lady, whilst preparing for a job that she's been hired to do. The blurb says:
When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, Celaena jumps at the chance to strike a blow against the evil practice. The mission is a dark and deadly affair that takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer - and she doesn't like what she finds there.
The title of this one is a little less literal, but still revealing as we see the dark and seedy underworld of the city that Celaena has grown up in (as well as the actual sewers, of course). The novella is about trust and love and this is the first time I was frustrated with Celaena - not anything like enough to stop reading, more like when a friend is acting like an idiot and you want to point out the obvious to them. But then, she is sixteen in these stories (as well as being extremely arrogant) and it's hardly strange for a teenager not to see what's best for them!

I relished the opportunity to 'see' the world that Celaena inhabits and has grown up in, and to see the character of Arobynn, her master, more closely. Again, I feel this novella adds to the whole Throne of Glass experience and would recommend it. 

Check back tomorrow for the review of the novel! The fourth novella will be available on 20th July, and the novel is released next month.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Assassin and the Desert: Throne of Glass Novella II

This is the second prequel novella to Throne of Glass. Yesterday's post focuses on the first, The Assassin and the Pirate Lord. Each novella gives us an episode from Celaena Sardothien's past before the events of Throne of Glass, and this one focuses on Celaena's quest, at her master's insistence, to be accepted and trained by the desert-dwelling group known as the silent assassins. The blurb tells us:
The Silent Assassins of the Red Desert aren't much for conversation, and Celeana Sardothien wouldn't have it any other way. She's not there to chatter, she's there to hone her craft as the world's most feared killer for hire. Quiet suits her just fine - until she begins to suspect there's a traitor in the fortress, and she must determine which of the mute and mysterious assassins is her deadly adversary.
The big theme here is loyalty, explored from different angles through the plot. Her character is also developed further in this novella, with her arrogance naturally giving way to a little less certainty and even a hint of fear. This is only natural as she is alone in an unfamiliar place and made vulnerable by her need to gain the Mute Master's approval. 

Again, I enjoyed getting lost in this addition to the Throne of Glass world, and would absolutely recommend it.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord: Throne of Glass Novella I

This is the first of the prequel novellas for Throne of Glass, each of which relates an episode in Celaena Sardothien's life before the novel. This instalment is concerned mostly with honour and morality, establishing Celaena as a character with strong morals (somewhat of a tall order, since she is an assassin). The Amazon blurb says:

On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She's been sent by the Assassin's Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes - and she will risk everything to right the wrong she's been sent to bring about.
I found this to be a great little read, which snatched and held my attention. I read these the wrong way round (the novel first), so it's impossible to know for sure what it would be like to read this first, but I really enjoyed 'seeing' an additional area of the novel's world, and some of Celaena's past, and believe that it would serve to introduce these effectively for those managing to get things in the right order.

Her character is also well established here, and this is something I felt was a strength of the novel. I loved this arrogant girl assassin! OK, she can be aggravatingly arrogant, but that's fairly normal for highly talented teens, which is essentially what she is. As this novella also shows, she has a keen sense of what is a step too far in moral terms, and she can be compassionate. She also has a backstory which explains some of her attributes, and this novella contributes some pieces to that jigsaw too.

Overall, as a Kindle novella at under a pound, this is a fab addition - or introduction - to the Throne of Glass world, which I would recommend for fantasy fans.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Week of Celebration for Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas is being published by Bloomsbury next month and it's set to be one of the big YA fantasy novels of the year. This novel has been ten years in the making, with earlier stories set in its world published on Fictionpress. As part of the lead-up to the novel's release, three standalone stories from Celaena Sardothien's past have been released, with a fourth due out soon.

Hooked on Books revealed the back cover of this gorgeous book on Friday. It works so well for this novel about an assassin which was originally inspired by the Cinderella story. Here's that back cover copy:

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake. She got caught.
Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament - fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin's heart be melted?

I read Throne of Glass this week and enjoyed it so much I downloaded the novellas immediately upon finishing it, and I've decided to devote next week here at the Hearthfire to this great new series. Starting tomorrow, I'll be reviewing a novella a day, then the novel towards the end of the week. Here's the short version though - this is a great epic fantasy focused on a young female assassin.
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