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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.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Review: The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

Fabulous urban fantasy YA fusing Japanese folklore and contemporary UK setting

This novel is beautifully constructed and grabbed me right from the start. Zoe Marriott has really nailed everything about this book. It's the perfect opener for a trilogy: sets up a truly epic battle whilst still having a complete and resolved story arc in this instalment. It's also a skilful urban fantasy, bringing fantasy elements to life in a fully realistic contemporary UK setting.

That realistic setting is one of the novel's core strengths. There is a quirkiness (but not too studied or false a quirkiness) to many aspects of this novel which made me smile many times while reading. And, as a language geek (forgive me, it's my thing), I noticed the voice and tone of narration and the dialogue, all of which completely ring true for contemporary UK teens. The fantasy elements are pretty unusual and make a lot of demands on the reader (and characters!) in terms of suspension-of-disbelief, so the novel's realism for the 'urban' side is essential.

Talking about the characters - they are all brilliant. I wanted to say I loved them all, but please don't misunderstand me: I loved the solidity of them, their construction as characters. Trust me, the baddies are plenty bad enough to not be 'loved'! Again, the author's ear for dialogue helps a lot here, and Mio's voice as narrator is an easy shortcut into her mind, enabling us to easily be fully on her side. I loved Jack! I bet Jack (Jacqueline is her 'trouble name') has the affection of many readers. I loved that once Mio starts revealing a little of the fantasy side of the story, Jack pulls her up on it, not doing the sappy sidekick thing of dumbly accepting anything her mate tells her. I also love that she's a lesbian and that this isn't 'a thing' (and agonised about mentioning it, since that undoes the coolness of her existence without fuss, but I do think it's a plus point even while wishing it wasn't rare enough to merit mention). I apologise for the clumsiness of that sentence, but it expresses a clumsy emotion.

Plot-wise, the book is strong again (I told you it did everything right!). Things move along at a good pace for an action-type fantasy, and there was tension and danger aplenty. The trilogy centres on Mio's sword, so you can be sure there are plenty of fight scenes and risk to life and limb. At the same time, a romance subplot is bubbling up and clearly sowing seeds to be developed later in the trilogy. The key ingredients of a great urban fantasy are all here.

There is so much to rave about in this book. It's definitely a contender for my top books of the year. Strongly recommended.

From the blurb:

When fifteen-year-old Mio steals the katana – her grandfather’s priceless sword – she just wants to liven up a fancy-dress costume. But the katana is more than some dusty heirloom, and her actions unleash an ancient evil onto the streets of modern-day London.

Mio is soon stalked by the terrors of mythical Japan and it is only the appearance of a mysterious warrior that saves her life. If Mio cannot learn to control the katana’s legendary powers, she will lose not only her life … but the love of a lifetime.

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Published July 2013 by Walker Books
Find more info and an extract at the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending a proof for review

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