Fool’s Assassin (Robin Hobb)

Fool’s Assassin (Robin Hobb)Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on 12-08-2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, General
Pages: 640
Format: eARC
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Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FARSEER AND TAWNY MAN TRILOGIES STOP READING NOW! (and go read Assassin’s Apprentice instead)

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

The storyFitz is happily ensconced in Withywoods, married to the woman of his dreams, far away from the deceit of Buckeep Court and his old life.  He and Molly are raising Molly’s children, dealing with the normal pleasures and trials of family life, running Withywoods and their marriage – a far cry from his old life.  So when a messenger shows up in the middle of Winterfest, Fitz doesn’t think too much of it – until the messenger disappears without a trace.  Fitz has no idea who sent the messenger or why, and has no idea of the problems racing to catch up with him.

The story is definitely character-driven rather than a fast paced plot, but it’s still engrossing.  There are enough hints to the overarching plot to keep you guessing about where the story is going, but the day to day problems are also beautifully handled and it’s fun to sink into Fitz’s new life as Tom Badgerlock.

Fool’s Assassin is a slower read – I would say it’s more similar in feel to Fool’s Errand than to the original Assassin’s Apprentice – but not in a bad way.  I think everything in the story is needed – it helps you remember all those things you love about Fitz, and also see how he lives now, in his happy but Fool- and Nighteyes-less future. I personally loved the pacing; a slow, gentle ease into Fitz’s world, with a mystery that picks up pace slowly and I love where the story seems to be heading.  Having said that, I’ve always loved character-driven stories, so I can see how this might be something others don’t love.  I also loved the faster paced final section of the book and would have liked a little more of this, because to me it feels like Fool’s Assassin runs the risk of doing a little too much setting up for the rest of the trilogy rather than starting the story.  I would personally have preferred a little more length and a little more action even if it meant we had a book closer in length to Fool’s Fate.

 

The characters

Despite the fact there are 11 years between the publication of Fool’s Fate and Fool’s Assassin, Fitz is perfect.  After such a quiet period of happiness, he’s obviously changed a little but he’s still very clearly the same character.  He hasn’t changed fundamentally, his voice remains the same, and I thought Linette’s review which says it’s like catching up with an old friend is an absolutely perfect description.

There are some new characters in the story, some of whom are hard to talk about without spoilers, but suffice to say that as always, Hobb’s characters draw you in.  The characters in this are so real, so beautifully three-dimensional, you could easily imagine sitting in Fitz’s study listening to them.  Expect to laugh with them, cry with them, feel proud of them and feel furious on their behalf.

Although we return to Fitz, unlike the Farseer trilogy we get to see more points of view than just Fitz’s in Fool’s Asssassin, which works perfectly for the story.  Both points of view are told in first-person, so you still feel immersed as you did in the Farseer trilogy, but having more than one point of view really helps with the world-building and the setting up of new characters.  I did find it a little difficult at first to keep track of whose point of view was whose, as there’s no chapter headings or anything to give this away, but I found that it became more clear as the novel went on.

 

final thoughtsAfter more than 10 years, a return to the world of Fitz has been a long-term dream for many Hobb fans, and for me at least, it did not disappoint at all.  It has beautiful descriptive writing that never feels slow, characters who feel so real you could reach out and touch them, and the hints of a plot related to some of the most intriguing questions ever asked throughout the Realm of the Elderlings’ series.

 

Buy it? This is absolutely one worth buying for me.  Like…right now. Go!
In a nutshell: An emotional, beautifully character-driven start to a new series – I’m already wishing for the next book

 

Other Reviews of Fool’s Assassin: BookishSwint | Super Fast Reader | Avid reviews

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Prince of Fools (Mark Lawrence)

Prince of Fools (Mark Lawrence)Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on 05-06-2014
Pages: 522
Format: Paperback
Source: From the publisher
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The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other.

Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north.

In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

Experience does not lend Jalan wisdom; but here and there he unearths a corner of the truth. He discovers that they are all pieces on a board, pieces that may be being played in the long, secret war the Red Queen has waged throughout her reign, against the powers that stand behind thrones and nations, and for higher stakes than land or gold.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★

The storyPrince Jalan loves his life. There are enough relatives between him and the throne to keep him safe from that responsibility, but being grandson to the Red Queen allows him plenty of freedom….Until he gets caught up in a ridiculous quest with an enormous Norse man and his axe that is. Dragged away from his life of luxury, Jalan reluctantly travels with Snorri, encountering danger, hard conditions, and terrifying truths – and not nearly enough in the way of women, pleasure or wine.

I should start by saying that I’ve read Prince of Thorns from Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, but not the second or third books (yet!). So far at least the two series seem to link together in the same way as Robin Hobb’s work tends to – you might get a few chuckles and connections if you’ve read both, but you won’t struggle at all to keep up with Prince of Fools if you haven’t read Prince of Thorns.

The characters
Jalan is a fantastic character. He likes women, gambling, drinking and generally indulging in life’s pleasures. He’s loose with his morals, and the principles he does have become very flexible if sticking to them seems dangerous. He racks up debts, sleeps with all sorts of women he shouldn’t and above all, Jalan’s number one priority is Jalan.

“Humanity can be divided into madmen and cowards. My personal tragedy is in being born into a world where sanity is held to be a character flaw.”
p400, paperback ARC

I should admit first of all, that I have a definite weakness for this kind of character. Silk in David Edding’s books, Tyrion Lannister from a Song of Ice and Fire, even characters like James Bond and Eric Northman… They’re bad but not evil, and they always make for the funniest, most likeable, most sympathetic characters.

Snorri on the other hand, is more like your typical fantasy hero: he’s a trained warrior, set out on an impossible quest driven by family, honour and revenge. He’s immensely likeable, in a totally different way to Jalan. Jalan is the guy you’d want to go on a night out with – but Snorri is the guy you’d want to save you from getting your ass kicked and for making sure you made it home safe.

The two of them together are absolutely brilliant. They’re thrown together by circumstance, and neither of them is thrilled about it. Jalan wants to stay home and continue on his life of pleasure, but Snorri isn’t about to let a spoiled prince get in the way of saving his family. The two personalities play off each other perfectly, and the story is definitely character driven, which I loved.

“Is there anything good about the North? Anything at all? Any single thing that I can’t better find somewhere warm?”
“Snow.”
“Snow’s not good. It’s just cold water gone wrong.”
“Mountains. The mountains are beautiful.”
“Mountains are inconvenient lumps of rock that get in people’s way.”
p324, paperback ARC

final thoughtsI loved the mythology in Prince of Fools. A mixture of traditional fantasy and Norse mythology, the plot is unique, exciting and enthralling. The plot twists, the characters, and the first-person point of view add up to make this one fantasy book you will not want to put down. Lawrence’s humour shines through to add in completely unexpected laugh out loud moments.

Prince of Fools is probably a 4.5 out of 5 for me, mostly because I like a bigger cast of characters in my fantasy!  As I don’t give half stars I had to decide between four and five. I eventually settled on the four, because while I think it’s a fantastic start to the series, I thought the world-building wasn’t as clear as it could have been, and my gut feeling is “I really enjoyed it” rather than “I loved it”.

Take one part fantasy, one part Norse mythology, add two fantastically likeable characters, a dash of horror and stir together with humour. A gripping tale that makes you want to stay up late reading it, but also a story you want to savour so it doesn’t have to end.

Buy it? This is definitely one worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: Vikings, humour and great characters – what more could you want? A great start to the series and I’ll be eagerly awaiting book 2!

Other Reviews of Prince of Fools: Whedonopolis | Blog of Erised | Bloody Cake News

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Panic (Lauren Oliver)

Panic (Lauren Oliver)Panic by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins on 04-03-2014
Genres: Friendship, Girls & Women, Love & Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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Panic began as so many things do in Carp, a dead-end town of 12,000 people in the middle of nowhere: because it was summer, and there was nothing else to do.

Heather never thought she would compete in Panic, a legendary game played by graduating seniors, where the stakes are high and the payoff is even higher. She’d never thought of herself as fearless, the kind of person who would fight to stand out. But when she finds something, and someone, to fight for, she will discover that she is braver than she ever thought.

Dodge has never been afraid of Panic. His secret will fuel him, and get him all the way through the game, he’s sure of it. But what he doesn't know is that he’s not the only one with a secret. Everyone has something to play for.

For Heather and Dodge, the game will bring new alliances, unexpected revelations, and the possibility of first love for each of them—and the knowledge that sometimes the very things we fear are those we need the most.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Panic is one of those books that seems to have confused people’s expectations. I’m not sure whether it’s because people had preconceptions of Lauren Oliver, or whether the blurb was too vague, or whether it was a bit like a game of chinese whispers, but I saw so many people who tagged/referred to Panic as dystopian.

Panic is most definitely not dystopian. It’s a contemporary story of a group of teenagers who push themselves to their limits (and beyond) to try and win a jackpot that would change their lives forever.

For Dodge, Panic has always been on the cards. He has a secret, and Panic is a key part of that secret, and coping with it. For Heather, Panic is a spur of the moment decision, fuelled by anger, unhappiness, and a desire to prove herself. For Nat, Panic is about the money. For Bishop, Panic is a risk, one he wishes his friends wouldn’t get themselves into. The teenagers each have their own motivations, but all four are drawn into a world of secrets, drama, and danger.

Panic is of course, about the game, and once the game began, I was hooked. I wanted to know what the next challenge would be, who would go through, who would drop out, and above all, who would win. The game keeps you hooked: it’s the dramatic, high intensity plot-line that has you flicking through pages feverishly, up until 2am dying to know what happens next. Despite that, it’s definitely not all the book is about, and Panic is a truly multi-layered story.

As well as the game itself, there’s also romance, which I enjoyed. Perhaps most brilliant is the way Lauren Oliver has written the characters, the insight into their personalities as they cope with the psychological toll of the game, and the way they grow throughout the story. Whether you like the characters or hate them, I found all four to be three-dimensional, and completely realistic.

I found I had to suspend my disbelief a few times in the story, because in a tiny dead-end town like Carp, where everyone knows everyone’s business, there were an awful lot of secrets. The banned game of Panic is not particularly discreetly played, there are relationships and associations people know nothing about, and a fair amount of law-breaking. In that sense, Panic felt a bit unbelievable, but once I suspended my disbelief, I enjoyed it.

My only real issue with Panic was the ending, which I was slightly disappointed by. Obviously I can’t say much about that without spoilers, so all I’ll say is that I felt it was a little too neat for me. If you’re curious, there’s a spoiler-laden paragraph further down the page!

Buy it? This is one that’s worth buying for me (but probably on a deal).
In a nutshell: Great characters, and a quick, gripping read, but this didn’t live up to Delirium.

Other Reviews of Panic: Miss Page-Turner’s City of Books | Little Birdie Books | It was Lovely Reading You

SPOILER ALERT

I have a few thoughts on the ending that I wanted to share, so don’t read on if you haven’t read the book yet!

Continue reading

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Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)

Eleanor & Park (Rainbow Rowell)Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Orion Books Limited on 1-2-2013
Genres: Fiction, General, Love & Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ebook
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.

“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be,” she says, “we’re 16.”

“What about Romeo and Juliet?”

“Shallow, confused, then dead.”

“I love you,” Park says.

“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.

“I’m not kidding,” he says.

“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, Eleanor & Park is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Eleanor & Park is one of those books I was hearing about for months, and then couldn’t resist reading out of curiosity.  I’m glad I did, because I ended up loving it.

Eleanor is the new girl.  With her curly red hair and a curvy figure, Eleanor stands out to everyone on her first day on the school bus, and no one moves over to let her sit down.  Eventually Park grudgingly lets her sit with him, though he’s decidedly unhappy about potentially disturbing the status quo.  In 1986, Park is the only half-Korean student, and although he seems to have found his place in the social hierachy (and it isn’t at the bottom) by letting Eleanor sit down he’s risking status he doesn’t have to spare.  Despite a less than amicable start, the two slowly go from pointed silences, to an unexpected friendship, and eventually a budding romance neither of them can quite understand.

“Holding Eleanor’s hand was like holding a butterfly. Or a heartbeat. Like holding something complete, and completely alive.”

Eleanor & Park is told in third person, from two alternating view points; his and hers.   Park is the more romantically minded of the two, whilst Eleanor is the more cynical and sarcastic.  Park has a pretty normal home life: a close family, parents that are still in love with each other but a slightly difficult relationship with his dad.  Eleanor on the other hand, has an awful home life.  She lives with her mother, her five siblings, and her stepfather Richie.  Their family doesn’t have much money, and Eleanor and Richie have an awful relationship, but Eleanor loves her siblings dearly.

“He made her feel like more than the sum of her parts.”

I loved watching the relationship between Eleanor and Park grow, fuelled by comic books and music.  The pop-culture references in their relationship keep the story light and interesting, without making you feel like you needed to be an 80’s geek to keep up.  I personally thought the relationship was wonderfully done.  I’ve read a few reviews where people said they felt it was too sudden, but I thought it was beautifully portrayed.  Rowell has captured those feelings of early love – the excitement, the nervousness, the intensity.  The push and pull of those first few weeks of will-they won’t-they, the phone calls and the hundred times a day you think “I can’t wait to tell him/her about….”

“And because I’m so out of control, I can’t help myself. I’m not even mine anymore, I’m yours, and what if you decide that you don’t want me? How could you want me like I want you?”

Park was a wonderful love interest.  At the beginning of the novel, he’s just like everyone else: he doesn’t want to risk becoming the next victim of bullying so that the new girl can sit down.  He thinks she’s weirdly dressed and awkward, but eventually he lets her sit down.  As the relationship grows, Park becomes less interested in what everyone else thinks, and more interested in Eleanor, and sharing with her things he knows she’ll love.  Eleanor is very easy to relate to, with her self-confidence issues and her love for her siblings.  She has feelings she can’t get her head around, and she finds it hard to articulate things romantically the way Park seems to find easy.  Whilst I found it easier to connect with Eleanor, Park is ultimately the character that sold the story for me because he is, lets be honest, pretty swoon worthy.

Eleanor & Park reminded me in some ways of Pushing The Limits, but one of my biggest complaints with Pushing the Limits was the adults.  I felt like they were two-dimensional, almost cartoon villains.  Thankfully, this is not the case in Eleanor & Park.  Although we have some awful adults, we also have some great ones to balance that out, to show that it isn’t always a case of teenagers on one side of a line and adults on the other.

The ending for me was the only tiny disappointment, because although I liked getting an ending for Eleanor and Park, I’d have liked to see more about what happened with Eleanor’s mum and Richie.

Buy it? This is definitely one that’s worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A beautifully developed romance with fantastically interesting characters and fun pop-culture references.

Other Reviews of Eleanor & Park: Helen’s Book Blog | 2 geek girls Review books | Pretty Books

Worth mentioning:

I’ve read a few negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, particularly regarding Park’s race and the historical context, and while I’m not sure I necessarily agree, those reviews really made me think (try this one for an example).  I absolutely loved Park as a character, but at the same time, I felt like he was labelled as ‘a misfit’ partially just so that he and Eleanor could share that.   Rowell has been quoted as saying that “The neighborhood Eleanor and Park live in is the neighborhood I grew up in. And at that time, it was white and racist”.  Despite that, Eleanor is the one who gets abused, because she’s bigger, she dresses unusually and she has bright red hair.  Park, despite getting some ignorant comments (such as being referred to as Chinese or assuming he knows all about Kung Fu), fits in reasonably well.  He’s not overly popular, but a popular girl is interested in him, he has a civilised relationship with the loud mouth on the school bus, and he wears eyeliner and reads comic books without being bullied every day.  I know plenty of kids who were treated worse for dressing ‘emo’ or being a geek when I went to high school more than fifteen years later, so Park’s social stability in a time frame known for racism felt a little strange to me.  In all honesty, most of the negativity towards Park’s race felt like it came from Park himself, which is a completely different issue (and one that wasn’t explored in my opinion).

I feel a little like Park’s race was treated as more of an afterthought than a relevant element of his character.  That may be because Rowell didn’t want to go in depth into racism in a YA book, which is a perspective I can respect, even if I don’t necessarily agree.  It may be because it is meant to be a minor part of his character, rather than the defining characteristic, which I agree it should be but this feels like a very open-minded perspective for a racist community.  It may be because it’s not relevant to the plot; after all the romance is the most important element of the story (although if that’s the case, I’m not sure I understand the need to set it in 1986).  It may simply be that I’m being swayed by some well written critical reviews.  I’m not honestly sure, but what I do know is that if I’m being completely honest, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the story so much as change how I thought about the book after finishing.  Most of these thoughts didn’t really materialise until after reading some negative reviews of Eleanor & Park, so they won’t be affecting my review rating.  I still very much enjoyed the romance, the characters and the story itself; it’s just something I’ll be paying closer attention to when I re-read the book.  And I admit, I have no doubt I’ll re-read the book eventually because I really enjoyed it.

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

What’s Left of Me (Kat Zhang)

What’s Left of Me (Kat Zhang)What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang
Series: The Hybrid Chronicles #1
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Limited on 27-09-2012
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 343
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Amazon
Goodreads

I should not exist. But I do.

Eva and Addie started out the same way as everyone else—two souls woven together in one body, taking turns controlling their movements as they learned how to walk, how to sing, how to dance. But as they grew, so did the worried whispers. Why aren’t they settling? Why isn’t one of them fading? The doctors ran tests, the neighbors shied away, and their parents begged for more time. Finally Addie was pronounced healthy and Eva was declared gone. Except, she wasn’t . . .

For the past three years, Eva has clung to the remnants of her life. Only Addie knows she’s still there, trapped inside their body. Then one day, they discover there may be a way for Eva to move again. The risks are unimaginable-hybrids are considered a threat to society, so if they are caught, Addie and Eva will be locked away with the others. And yet . . . for a chance to smile, to twirl, to speak, Eva will do anything.

Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Readability: ★★★★★

Like Crewel, What’s Left of Me has a wonderfully unique premise, and I really enjoyed it. In Eva and Addie’s world, children are born with two souls, one of which will be naturally less dominant and should fade throughout childhood, until eventually only the dominant soul remains. In Eva and Addie’s case, the less dominant soul (Eva), never faded, and the two are having to hide their dual nature, or risk being shipped off to be treated for being a ‘hybrid’.

What makes this story really work is that Kat Zhang has created two unique, distinct characters in Eva and Addie. The story is told from Eva’s point of view, despite the fact that Addie is the dominant soul; the one calling all the shots. The perspective feels a little strange at first, particularly as where we would use ‘I’, Eva and Addie use ‘we’, but it makes sense for the story and it doesn’t take long to get used to. The relationship between the girls is fascinating and brilliant. Closer than twins, Eva and Addie still don’t agree on everything, and their disagreements only make the moments of co-operation more believable and meaningful.

The storyline is thought-provoking and had me mulling over possibilities for days, both before and after reading What’s Left of Me. Eva has clung onto life, but it’s now left her as almost an observer of her own body. Addie is the one calling all the shots, but could she ever let go of Eva? How do the souls not end up traumatised by the loss of their closer-than-twin? How do families cope with losing a child? What happens if the two souls survive but one wants to go on and study medicine while the other wants to be a professional ballerina? What if one soul falls in love but the other doesn’t like the partner in question? (As you can tell, I really wasn’t kidding when I said it made me think!)

The world-building was a little too vague for me, and I’d have liked to see more about the history and formation of the world. Despite that, the characters, the plot, and the quick pacing kept me riveted to What’s Left of Me and I’m definitely curious enough to pick up book 2, Once We Were.

Buy it? This is one that’s worth buying for me.
In a nutshell: A wonderfully unique premise in a genre that can feel done to death.

Other Reviews of What’s Left of Me: The Thousand Lives | Respiring Thoughts | A Bookish Heart

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