Sunday, 7 December 2014

Review: This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Title: This Shattered World
Author: Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Pages: 400
Published: November 2014 by Allen and Unwin
Source: Publisher


These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner was my favourite book of 2014. To say I eagerly awaited the sequel was an understatement. With my hopes set extremely high, I started reading This Shattered World with some trepidation. Could the sequel live up to its predecessor? I am happy to report that not only did This Shattered World match These Broken Stars in terms of reading enjoyment and satisfaction, but it surpassed book one with its level of world building, plot and complexity.

In This Shattered World, Kaufman and Spooner focus on a war-torn planet: Avon. Avon is noxious to its inhabitants: there are no visible stars, everything smells of swamp and there’s something in the environment that incites an uncontrollable rage. Only soldier Jubilee Chase and the colonists are immune to this ‘Fury’. Added to this is a rebellion stirring within the labyrinth-like swamplands, led by local boy Flynn Comarc. Flynn demands answers as to why Avon has failed to terraform and thus left the locals stranded in a semi-inhabitable planet. Soldiers, such as Jubilee, have been sent to Avon to keep the peace. But when Jubilee and Flynn’s paths cross, the war heats up—with Jubilee and Flynn caught in the middle.

I powered through This Shattered World, revelling in the wonderful and complex world and likeable 3-dimensional characters. Kaufman and Spooner have a knack for creating immediately engaging stories. The characters leap from the page and the different planets' history and backstories are the right blend of familiar and otherworldly. You can understand how tempers from the locals would flare to the point of a rebellion, and how military would be implanted to try and keep the situation under control. It’s this balance of the familiar yet different that grounds This Shattered World in reality, making the sic-fi genre accessible to a wider audience.

I really enjoyed the military focus in This Shattered World. Where These Broken Stars was a tale of the two protagonists’ survival, This Shattered World amps up the stakes, the action and the intricacy of the world and its society. In These Broken Stars, much of the struggle was internal, and while both Flynn and Jubilee also struggle with their internal consciences and choices, it is the external conflict of the rebellion and the planet with all its secrets, that drive the plot in This Shattered World

The element of romance is not as central as in These Broken Stars, but there is more at risk with Jubilee and Flynn’s forbidden attraction. The fact that Jubilee quotes Romeo and Juliet in the first chapter mimics what is at stake for these two star-crossed characters.

I’m not usually a fan of dual points of view, but alternating chapters between Flynn and Jubilee lets Kaufman and Spooner delve deeper into their characters, their thoughts and motivations. It fleshes them out, and lets you empathise with both sides of the war. There are many of shades of grey in This Shattered World—aside from the main antagonist, who is plain evil—which is great to see in a novel about war, albeit a fictional one. There is truth and deception on both sides, and it fascinating to watch both characters evolve as they investigate the reality at the core of Avon's instability, both environmentally and socially.

I loved This Shattered World. It’s an epic story as well as intimate, personal journey for characters Jubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac. I can’t wait for the final instalment in The Starbound Trilogy.

I give This Shattered World 5 out of 5 stars.

*Many thanks to Allen and Unwin for the advanced copy.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas

Title: Heir of Fire
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Pages: 576
Published: 1/09/14 by Bloomsbury Publishing Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher):

Lost and broken, Celaena Sardothien's only thought is to avenge the savage death of her dearest friend: as the King of Adarlan's Assassin, she is bound to serve this tyrant, but he will pay for what he did. Any hope Celaena has of destroying the king lies in answers to be found in Wendlyn. Sacrificing his future, Chaol, the Captain of the King's Guard, has sent Celaena there to protect her, but her darkest demons lay in that same place. If she can overcome them, she will be Adarlan's biggest threat – and his own toughest enemy. 

While Celaena learns of her true destiny, and the eyes of Erilea are on Wendlyn, a brutal and beastly force is preparing to take to the skies. Will Celaena find the strength not only to win her own battles, but to fight a war that could pit her loyalties to her own people against those she has grown to love?


Sarah J. Maas’s Heir of Fire is a fantastic novel written by a truly captivating author. Always surprising, Maas’s writing transports you to another land that is rich in history and culture. Previously, I would have classified the Throne of Glass series as a 'low fantasy' despite its second world setting, however, Heir of Fire sits squarely in the epic fantasy realm and has reignited my dormant love for the genre. 

The world of Heir of Fire is much more complex and diverse than touched upon in Throne of Glass. Maas has cleverly expanded her world with each book, allowing her to delve deeper into her mythology and the characters she’s created, without overwhelming the reader with backstory. 

While Throne of Glass was a more personal journey of Celaena’s transition from slave to Adarlan’s Champion, Heir of Fire explores the broader scope of Erilea’s people and their dark history. The grand locales, various regions, cultures and magic systems are completely immersive. There's not a moment that lags, which is impressive considering the novel’s length.

Celaena is unlike any YA protagonist I’ve read before; she’s often foul-mouthed, ill-tempered yet fragile and broken. Heir of Fire is particularly satisfying due to Celaena’s character arc. She was left shattered by the events of Crown of Midnight, and none of these events are forgotten in Heir of Fire. These events drive Celaena’s actions, they become a part of her. It’s thrilling to watch her journey unfold and witness the empowering rebirth of a hero.

While some could argue that the new characters in Heir of Fire dilutes the reader’s connection to the main protagonists: Chaol, Dorian and Celaena, Maas has the knack for rendering complete, flawed and empathetic characters where each addition improves upon the diverse cast. My favourite new character was Manon Blackbeak, a witch with iron teeth and claws who’s ruthless in her ambition to lead her clan. The cinematic chapters detailing the witches trials to train their Wyverns, dragon-like creatures, are so distinctive it’s as though Manon has clawed her way into Heir of Fire, regardless of Maas’s original plans. Manon is a fresh and wonderful addition to the Throne of Glass world and I can't wait to see where she journeys next.

I have to admit, I missed the main romantic thread that was dominant in Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight. Heir of Fire is a darker book, with serious themes of loss and sacrifice. Instead of focusing on romance, Maas’s shifts to follow the budding friendship between Rowan and Celaena. Their relationship is a kind of love story that slowly unfolds and it is a joy to observethis is what it feels like to read Maas’ novels, as if you are witnessing the dynamics of real, flesh and blood people as opposed to reading the stories of fictional characters.

Heir of Fire is an outstanding entry in the Throne of Glass series, there are no symptoms of the dreaded mid-series slump here. My only complaint is that I must now wait a year or so until I discover the fates of all the beloved charactersboth new and original.

*Many thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing Australia for the advanced reader copy.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Review: Masquerade by Kylie Fornasier

Title: Masquerade
Author: Kylie Fornasier
Pages: 350
Published: 23/07/2014 by Penguin Books Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher)

In the glittering masked world that is the Carnevale of 1750 everyone has a secret . . . Seven teens, from the highest aristocrat to the lowest servant are all consumed by their own secrets: their loves, desires, loyalties and betrayals. 
Their entwined dramas are played out in Venice's ballrooms, theatres, palazzos and promenades where delicious gossip, devilish fun and dangerous games threaten to unmask their secrets and even destroy their lives. 
All the world's a stage.  Let the show begin.


Masquerade follows the lives and loves of seven teenagers through one eventful Carnivale. In 1750, Venice is a beautiful but dangerous city that thrives on gossip and deception, where people, and their intentions, are never quite what they seem. Through this swirling tale of disguises and deceit, seven main characters learn the truth about themselves, and each other.

Masquerade depicts the tale of young Orelia, who arrives in Venice to seek answers to her past. She moves in with her uncle and cousins but is sworn to secrecy as to her real identity, and must pretend to be her Uncle’s goddaughter instead. He does not explain his reason for the deception, and from here on, identity becomes a fluid concept with all the characters pretending to be anyone but themselves. Yet it is through their various masquerades that they begin to discover who they really are and their heart’s true desires.

Although the characters enjoy the sights and splendour of Carnivale in various Venetian locations, the action and events feel contained—as if restricted to a play’s stage. This almost claustrophobic environment continues to entangle the main characters together, increasing the tension and propelling the story forward. I could easily see how this novel could be adapted as a play, as all the meaningful moments happen on the page and where backstory and important information is often narrated from one character to another.

The characters are the real joy in Masquerade, with numerous contrasting personalities as different and sparkling as the costumes and masks they wear. I particularly liked Veronica, a strong-minded young woman with a passion for oil painting and cynicism of love. I found her character journey the most enjoyable to read and Fornasier left me wanting to know more.

Following numerous main characters from different social hierarchies, provides a broad view of Venice, including the highs and lows of living in such a vibrant, almost alive, city. The downside to juggling so many characters is that we only scratch the surface and sense a hint behind the mask each character wears, and there’s not as much time to delve deeper into their thoughts and motivations. I wished the chapters were longer, allowing us time to breathe and settle within the character’s skin before moving onto the next character. 

Masquerade does a spectacular job of captivating the sights, sounds and smells of the era and setting. While I’ve never been to Venice, after reading Masquerade I feel as though I’ve navigated the winding cobbled alleyways, travelled down the canals on a gondola and attended a glistening masked ball. I really enjoyed the details of Venice and Carnevale and would happily spend more time there with Fornasier as my guide.

*Many thanks to Penguin Books Australia for the advanced reader copy.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Review: Ghost House by Alexandra Adornetto

Title: Ghost House
Author: Alexandra Adornetto
Pages: 313
Published: September 2014 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Source: Publisher

Synopsis (from publisher):

'Alex is more real than anyone I’ve ever known. And him being dead ... really doesn't change a thing.'

After the death of her mother, Chloe Kennedy starts seeing ghosts again. Spending time at her grandmother's country estate in the south of England helps Chloe deal with her grief and the spirits that haunt her. Until she meets a mysterious stranger. Alexander Reade is 157 years dead, with a secretive past and an alluring force that draws Chloe more strongly than any ghost she's encountered before. But the bond between them infuriates the vengeful spirit of Alexander's past love, Isobel. And she will stop at nothing to destroy anyone who threatens to take him from her.


Ghost House begins with Chloe’s mother’s funeral, immediately drawing you into Chloe Kennedy’s ghost-ridden world. It’s a dramatic start and I was interested to see how this tragic event would weave through the novel, as often grim inciting incidents fail to have a knock-on effect with the rest of the plot. But I was happy to discover that her mother’s death is not immediately forgotten as soon as Chloe steps foot inside Grange Hall and meets Alexander, Isobel and Joe. The death has a lasting influence on Chloe's actions and decisions, without darkening the overall mood.

Ghost House is not too macabre or jump-out-of-your-seat frightening, but rather a foreboding tale of mystery and suspense. The setting of the novel, Grange Hall, is mystical and gothic, and the dreary English countryside is a perfect setting for a scary story. I liked that the backstory of Alexander and Isobel unravels slowly and the payoff is equal parts creepy and surprisingly moving. While the ghosts are classified as “good” or “evil” in the beginning, more complex layers of motivation are revealed as time goes on, further fleshing out the ghostly characters.

I was enthralled by the mystery of Grange Hall and the beguiling ghosts that haunt its walls. Perhaps it was the impending darkness that I wanted to avoid, persuading me to devour the novel in two sittings—uncertain I could face the chilling chapters without reassuring daylight. Whatever the cause, I couldn’t put Ghost House down.

I enjoyed the authentic relationships between Chloe, her brother and grandmother, although I would have liked more “screen time” with Grandma Fee. I couldn’t help but wonder what Grange Hall was like without Chloe’s presence, or were the ghostly encounters only awakened when someone with the “gift” walked through the front door? I felt there was more history hidden within the walls, more depth that could have been uncovered. I particularly enjoyed the flashback scenes to Alexander’s time and was disappointed there were not more journeys back in time for the reader.

While I enjoyed Ghost House, I was surprised I didn’t enjoy the romance between Chloe and Alexander more—which is the core of the novel. I preferred discovering the mystery behind Alexander and Isobel’s deaths and the dark history of Grange Hall. Alexander and Chloe’s relationship seemed a little rushed at times, and would have benefited from more time to develop their connection. The relationships between Isobel and Alexander (in the past), and Chloe and Joe (in the present), felt more organic and believable.

I hope that the sequel Ghost Hour will delve further into Chloe’s abilities and how they work, and include more details of Adornetto’s ghostly mythology.

Overall, I enjoyed Ghost House as a suspenseful, entertaining read. After finishing the novel, don’t be surprised if you start checking your wardrobe for malevolent spirits!

*Many thanks to HarperCollins Publishers for the advanced reading copy.