Saturday, 30 April 2016

A bookworm's adventures in Paris

I don't normally do non-book related things on my blog, but one of my other major passions is travelling. These days its more long weekends away than years abroad, but I make it a personal mission to get out of the UK every few months. Sometimes it's with friends or family, and other times it's solo. So when I went on a solo trip to Paris for a week, I decided I'd blog about it too, more for my own benefit than anything else. I figured I'd spread my blogging wings a little. If you want to hear about my adventures and/or Paris, read on. If you want me to stick to books, tell me to shut up in the comments.

Still with me? Then on to Paris!

I normally stay in hostels or guesthouses on my euro-travels, but a lot of my friends have been raving about Airbnb, so I decided to give it a try and booked a studio apartment in Bastille. I've got to be honest, I was getting more and more nervous about this from the moment my plane landed at Charles De Gaulle, mentally checking off every worst case scenario on the way to the apartment. Taxis from the airport are hideously expensive so I jumped on an airport shuttle bus to the city for about 18 euros and then got the metro to Bastille which saved me about 50 euros in taxi fare. I had the HostelWorld app locked and loaded on my phone, family members awaiting "they're not a psychopath" phonecalls and my dad preparing to do his best Liam Neeson impression if things went bad.
Airbnb: for those who like a little added anxiety with their choice of accommodation.
Luckily, my apprehensions were totally unfounded. I was met at the apartment by my host, Alex, who was an absolute sweetheart. She showed me around - she'd even stocked the kitchen with teabags and milk for me! - and on learning that I hadn't eaten since leaving the UK that morning, immediately invited me over to her apartment (she lived in the building next door) for dinner. I wasn't going to turn down a free meal! I'd heard about the expensive food in Paris, and my god some places were eye-watering! 10 euros will buy you a three course meal in the Latin Quarter, whereas the same money just about gets you a coffee and croissant in places around the main sights.

My advice for getting around? Public transport all the way. If anyone tells you Paris is a walkable city, they must run marathons in their spare time. Paris is a walkable city in the same way New York is a walkable city. Yes, you can walk from one sight to the other, but it will take you forever and you'll be knackered when you get there, so unless you want to spent your whole trip walking from A to B, the metro is your best option. The major tourist attractions are fairly scattered and the Parisian street system is absolutely insane too! If you visit Paris, you'll have to be Bear Grylls not to get lost. I was glad I bought an Everyman map guide with me. I looked like a complete and utter tourist unfolding my giant maps, but it helped me get my bearings without waving my phone around, and on more than one occasion it brought over someone asking if I was lost.
The magnolia trees were in full bloom too, so everywhere looks extra pretty!
With the UK being pretty anti-smoker these days, it was weird that people in Paris smoked everywhere. I was constantly fighting through a cloud of smoke to get into cafes or walking behind someone puffing in my face. Apparently they sweep up 350 tonnes of cigarette butts on the street every year, and I completely believe this! Staff welcome you into a restaurant while puffing a cigarette in the doorway, it's cool how laid back they are about it, but it's still strange to a Brit! It kind of put me off sitting outside a lot of the time, which is a shame. Outdoor seating in Paris all faces outwards, not towards each other, so it's perfect of people watching. There are tons of Japanese restaurants around too, which is ideal for a ramen fan like me!
Is it weird that my first restaurant meal in France was sushi?
If you're a book-lover and you're in Paris, the Latin Quarter is a must! From the book stalls lining the streets to the infamous Shakespeare & Co bookshop, it's a bookworm's heaven! It's pretty much tourist central, with all sorts of languages and accents to be heard, but there's a lovely, relaxed vibe to the place and there are more books on offer than it's possible to read in one lifetime! Despite my terrible map-reading skills, I managed to stumble upon Shakespeare & Co. It's tiny, crowded and cramped, but I was in heaven. No photos are allowed inside (I guess they'd be rammed with people taking selfies) but trust me when I say, it's book paradise! From the floor to ceiling books, the book ladders that you can clamber all over and its YA section, I could have set up home under the stairs!

My spiritual home!
The Paris metro was ... an experience. I've travelled underground in virtually every city I've visited and had no problems (except New York. For some reason I just cannot get my head around it and always end up relying on the kindness of strangers to help me!) and Paris was no real exception. It's not the cleanest (that award goes to Tokyo) or most friendly (that one to Barcelona) metro, and those carriage doors wait for no one and you're likely to lose a limb if you cut it fine trying to get on board. They set off pretty quickly too. I accidentally stumbled into a French woman when the train got going, only to be rewarded with the word "putan" when I apologised in my best secondary school French. Google tells me that it means "damn it" or "whore". I hope it was the former!

I did all of the "must-sees" in Paris. The Eiffel Tower (awesome, and the view from the top is incredible!), The Louvre (underwhelmed by The Mona Lisa. In a huge room of incredible art, it's hard to see what makes it so special. I love the Napolean apartments, although I can completely understand why the French had a revolution!),
Too many chairs? Off with their heads!
the Arc De Triumphe, which I didn't realise you can actually go up (again, amazing views from the top! But be warned, there are a lot of stairs and no lifts),
Lots of very windy stairs!
the Champs-Elysees (and spent far too much money on fancy tea), Notre Dame (worth a visit, but I wouldn't rush back), the Paris statue of liberty (don't waste your time. It's a huge walk to get to along a street with few pavements, and when you get there it's just...there. Small and dirty and nothing is made of it) and walking along the Seine (lovely, but cold!).
With lots of bridges, most of which have padlocks on them!
But the best way to discover Paris is just to have a wander. It's quite nice walking the streets without knowing quite where you'll end up (as long as my mum doesn't hear me say that. She freaks out any time I go abroad alone!). I was a bit wary of beggars or tourist scammers given the issue with immigration that a lot of Europe is grappling with at the moment, and while there were homeless people on the streets, it's nothing compared with London. It was the first time I saw people with kids though, which made me feel horrible and my pocketful of change seem absolutely worthless. There were clashes between migrants and far-right protesters outside Stalingrad metro just before I arrived, and Alex told me it was best to avoid the area because of the huge number of people sleeping rough there. It was a bit of an eye-opener to see even the tiniest glimpse of what's happening on the continent. But at no point did I not feel safe walking around the city, day or night.

To stick to my budget, I took a couple of free walking tours with Discover Paris. These are informal tours where you meet a Parisian, usually a college student, at a certain landmark at a certain time and they walk you around some of the sights on whichever route you've joined. If you don't trust anything free, don't worry, you can tip at the end if you wish, and the guides will remind you of that fact a few times. It's kind of expected, and though a few tight arses did run away at the end without giving anything, I was more than happy to hand over 5 euros for the experience. I'd thoroughly recommend these tours! They were a great way to see the streets of Paris without fear of getting lost and the local guides had great knowledge, flawless English and were genuinely passionate about showing visitors around their city. The only downside is that they end miles from where you started, so it was back to the metro to figure out my route home! On one of these occasions I ended up at an older metro station that seemed totally abandoned except for me which was a bit unnerving given that it was about 10.30pm and nobody at all seemed to be manning this place. I was quite relieved when the train arrived!
I love the gothic Metro signs too!
It really cool meeting people from all over the world on these tours to. I buddied up with an Australian guy called Brett on my first walking tour and we ended up going on a couple more together, swapping travel stories and saying goodbye with the usual "see you again if you're ever in insert country of origin here" at the end of the day. It's weird how when you're abroad people go from strangers to friends and back again so quickly. Circle of travelling life, I guess!

I jumped on one of the "hop-on, hop-off" buses on my first day. These big green buses are emblazoned with graphics and you might as well get on and off them with the word "tourist" stamped on your forehead in big red letters, but they're a brilliant way of getting around the city and the main sights if it's too far to walk, and you don't miss everything like you do on the metro, which can leave you feeling like you're playing whack-a-mole sometimes, just popping up above ground here and there. I ended up being sort of adopted by a New Zealand couple, Janet and David, for much of the journey after I helped them with their headphones (you get these headphones to plug in the the bus for an audio tour. If you can get past the horrendously stereotypcial "French" accordion music that plays between the info, it's pretty good). They'd come on their first holiday without their kids and I think they were missing them! We went for lunch in a sushi place and they insisted on buying me dinner which was sweet of them.
There's zero chance of blending in with the locals on board this thing!
One frustrating thing about travelling solo is that you can never get particularly good photos of yourself at all these landmarks! I really wanted a photo of me in front of The Lourve with my hand on top of the glass pyramid.
They have these plinths outside to make it easier, but the people who took my photo were so bad at it! Honestly, I'm just stood there with my hand in the air, nowhere near anything. But after a few attempts I just gushed about how great the pictures were and gave up.
Believe it or not, this was the best one!
But I actually turned out to be really good at taking them, so much so that I ended up with a queue of people asking me to take theirs, and I just ended up sitting on the floor for about ten minutes with people handing me their camera, then climbing onto the plinth and posing (top tip; you have to get low to get the perfect angle!). Someone actually tried to give me a couple of euros which was a bit weird. If my career falls on its face, I can always make my living as the official "hand on the Louvre" photographer I guess!

Selfies are the future!
I'd heard a lot of mixed reviews of Paris before I went. It's dirty. Parisians are rude. They hate tourists, Brits and especially British tourists. And yes, it wasn't all sunshine and rainbows. From my unfortunate encounter on the metro, the hideously expensive food, the strange and sometimes uncomfortable juxtaposition of wealth and poverty and the completely illogical street system full of busy people who I constantly felt like I was getting in the way of, there were a few stressful moments I could have done without. Not least when I got the the airport for my flight home to find the terminal I was flying out of locked down and armed police all over the place. Luckily my limited french was enough for me to get the gist that it would be reopening in time my flight, though I never did find out why security was extra tight. I was a bit afraid to ask, but then again, I'd much rather be safe than sorry, and a bit of extra waiting around is a small price to pay to travel safely.

It was a shame that the weather was a bit rubbish when I was over there. At one point it was actually snowing, and for pretty much the whole week it was raining, about to rain, or just finished raining. But I'm English, I'm used to it. I did have to buy a coat though, because I didn't pack one and it was freezing. It was a blast from the past shopping in C&A again! It closed down in the UK ages ago, so it was weird seeing one in Paris! But I had a brilliant time, and I'd go back again in a heartbeat - which is perfect since it took me longer to get to the airport than it did to actually get from Bristol to Paris. It makes me realise how lucky we are in the UK to have all this practically on our doorstep. If you're looking for a relaxing holiday, it's probably not for you. There's so much to see and do, you can be constantly on the go and still not feel like you've done enough before you run out of time and have to come home.

Home again!
This was my first solo tip of the year, the others have been with my sister and my best friend, so it was kind of nice to get back to my travel roots. My first foray into solo travel was my gap year, which, looking back on it now, I have no idea how I worked up the nerve to do, and while I love going away with friends, I'm just as happy to go alone if they're not interested. I'd rather go by myself than not go at all, that's my logic. I think you're so much more open to meeting people when you travel solo, and with no expectations to fulfill or compromises to make, you end up doing so much more than you'd ever expect.

Bon voyage!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Leaving bad reviews

I don't like leaving bad reviews. I'm no writer, but I can only imagine the amount of work that goes into writing and getting a novel published, much less the heart and soul that gets poured into a book. I'm pretty sure my little blog doesn't register particularly high on many radars, but even so, I feel a prickle of guilt leaving less than glowing reviews for books. And if I got the book on free review, the guilt goes up another notch.

I think it's important to be honest in my reviews. Wall to wall five stars reviews don't mean anything, I might as well go on to Goodreads and five star every book I read, and like my disclaimer says; all views and opinions are my own. My reviews ratings are great, good, average, bad, terrible. They're loved, liked, ok, didn't enjoy, hated. Just because I don't like a book, doesn't mean it's not a good book and doesn't mean someone else wouldn't love it and give it five stars. I try and make sure my reviews are balanced and about the bits I didn't enjoy, as opposed to dismissing anything as rubbish. But still...the guilt...I need a box of kittens on standby for when I click post.

I've luckily only come across two books for review which I one-starred, some I haven't liked and others I've been fairly indifferent to. But my latest one star review made me feel a little guilty. It was a debut author with a fairly new novel, but I just really, really didn't enjoy the book. Giving one star to Allegiant by Veronia Roth seemed easier, maybe because she's a best-selling author with a multi-million dollar film franchise to her name. Even so, I try and stick to a couple of basic rules of human decency when critiquing books.

Don't get nasty
When I beta read, I'm super careful to word my criticisms carefully. There are ways of saying things constructively and tactfully. "It was crap", "how did this get published", "x is a terrible writer". I've seen these and more, there's no need for it.

Don't get personal
It really bothers me when people say "so and so can't write for sh*t" or "so and so is talentless/lazy/a rip-off etc". I'm happy(ish) to criticise lazy plot developments and characters that seem ... "inspired" by more popular, successful ones, but criticise the writing, not the writer.

Don't get snarky
I admit, I enjoy reading a good snarky review. I gave myself a stomach ache laughing so hard at some of the epically snarky one star reviews of Fifty Shades Of Grey on Goodreads. But even if I utterly despised a book, I couldn't bring myself to write anything like that because I can imagine how I'd feel if it was my novel and someone was tearing into it. If you're a millionaire living it up on the NYT bestseller list these things probably don't worry you so much, but if it was me, that stuff would sting!

Keep it balanced
Even in a complete lost cause of a book, I can usually find something I liked. And I don't use the phrase "lost cause" in my review!

Try and find something nice to say
I was always told if you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all. And I've been tempted to skip a review if I didn't really like the book. But I wouldn't think of myself as much of a blogger if I couldn't or wouldn't say anything that could be perceived as negative.

Put it down
I don't think there's anything wrong with DNF-ing books you just don't get one with. Life's too short to read bad books! If I'd promised an author a review, I'd get in touch and say I just wasn't feeling it, otherwise, I'd just stick it on Amazon and get started on the next thing in my tbr pile. Whether or not I'd review what I'd read and call it a DNF is another thing entirely, one I've not had to deal with yet ...

Does anyone else struggle writing, and especially posting, bad or even just less than glowing reviews? What are your coping methods?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Assassin's Heart

In the kingdom of Lovero, nine rival Families of assassins lawfully kill people for a price. As a highly skilled member of one of these powerful clans, seventeen-year-old Lea Saldana has always trusted in the strength of her Family. Until she awakens to find them murdered and her home in flames. The Da Vias, the Saldanas’ biggest enemy, must be responsible - and Lea should have seen it coming. But her secret relationship with the Da Vias’ son, Val, has clouded her otherwise killer instinct - and given the Da Vias more reason than ever to take her Family down.

Racked with guilt and shattered over Val’s probable betrayal, Lea sets out to even the score, with her heart set on retaliation and only one thought clear in her mind: make the Da Vias pay.

There are certain words I try and avoid in book titles. Assassin. Throne. Crown. Iron. Heart. Queen. Princess. Use of one or more of these words usually indicates that I'm in the presence of a book that's not going to be my cup of tea. I don't mind YA cliches, I mean I love YA books, but I do like books to offer something different to what I've read before, have their own voice, their own identity, to stand out from the crowd. Despite the questionable title, I was super excited for this book. Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather. Maybe a vigilante assassin operating in a mafia-esque fantasy world.

Instead, what I found was a mess of YA cliches, an irritating protagonist and half-baked Italian stereotypes with a bit of a magical twist, but ultimately one that never felt fully realised.

In the kingdom of Lovero, killing is legal for nine assassin families in tribute to some old saint or other. These families are bitter rivals for territory, respect and of course, money. The Saldanas. The Da Vias. Valentino. Rafeo. Marcello. Dante. Estella. The author amazingly manages to restrain herself from calling anyone Corleone - although hilariously there is a minor character named Brando. Seriously, this book is about as subtle as a Michael Bay movie. The Da Vias even own a restaurant - one that smells of rosemary and olive oil. I can only imagine that the Dolmio puppets are manning the bar.

I'm not suggesting that this was the inspiration for the characters in this book, but I am insinuating it.
The plot hinges pretty much entirely on how much you buy into Lea and her desire for revenge when her family are killed by their sworn enemies; the Da Vias. But I just couldn't get invested. Lea is utterly insufferable. Even one character outright stating "you must be very special indeed Lea Saldana"  - subtlety, thy name is Assassin's Heart! - couldn't do anything to make me believe she was worth caring about. Barring one or two instances of ghostbusting which are exactly as stupid as they sound, there's zero interesting about her. Her love of Val seems to be limited to a bit of kissing and a few gropes in an alleyway, there's certainly nothing in her inner voice to suggest she's interested in anything more than his body (we're treated to several loving descriptions of how muscular he is in the first three chapters alone) which doesn't make his betrayal hit as hard as it probably should. When Lea finally flees, we immediately get The Transformative Haircut scene. She drags Les along in her quest to kill the Da Vias even though she knows he's so useless he'll probably be killed. She complains about the terrible fashions and boring nightlife in the kingdom of Ravenna while she searches for her uncle. She's less a character than a particularly annoying walking stereotype of all the worst elements of a YA heroine.

While I'm on the subject, does anyone else find it a bit creepy how many YA protagonists list assassin as their job title? It isn't cute, these aren't vigilante killings, Lea is a straight up murderer. First thing, we see her poison a drunk in a back alley. What did he do to deserve it? Your guess is as good as mine, we never find out. But she's the main character, so bow down to her badassery instead of questionning her ethics.

For a book that has such an exciting plot, I found it unforgivably boring. Things happen, people die, but I felt no emotional connection to the goings on. When your protagonist is so slash-happy and willing to drop anyone for a price, why should you feel sympathy when she gets a taste of her own medicine? Why should you believe in her self-righteous cause? Lea's family are little more than ciphers, hastily introduced with barely a defining characteristic between them (Rafeo probably comes off best, but he's still a cardboard cutout masquerading as a character), so I couldn't have cared less when they were killed off. Family tragedies can be gut wrenching - see The Hunger Games, Storm Siren, Daughter Of Smoke And Bone - but this tragedy is pure plot device to kick off Lea's adventures, and it shows.

The pacing is all over the place too. Within the first chapter Lea is poisoned, something that's abruptly swept under the rug for a few chapters of mooning over how hot Val looks in his leathers. The entire Saldana familiy is slaughtered in one, almost throwaway chapter, and we're then treated to chapter after chapter of Lea kicking about in the neighbouring country of Renne where literally nothing happens. Her search for her banished uncle who knows the location of the Da Via's family home consists of sitting on rooftops waiting to see if he stumbles into her path. She has a couple of run ins with a lawman who seems to sense her unique and special snowflake-ness, but aside from forming an uninteresting subplot, this goes nowhere. There's a confusing sense of time in the story as well. Lea seems to cross cities and countries in moments, while her sulking in Renne seems to go on forever. She goes to see the king after her family's murder, saying that she expects a long wait, and barely three sentences later he turns up, with zero indication that any length of time has passed.

Her rambling about murder being a blessing didn't do a lot to endear her to me either. It reeks of someone indoctrinated from birth into a cult that is never more than one step away from rat poison-laced kool-aid. These aren't her beliefs, they're merely what's been drummed into her from birth. The rationale behind all the killing - "I killed them to honour my saint and free them to a better life" - is some psychokiller talk if ever I heard it.

Of course this book wouldn't be complete without a love triangle, now matter how unncessary and gratuitous.

Val Da Via ... uh ... well, he looks good in leather from what I hear? And clipper-in-training Les ... blah. His sole motivation is to be a clipper/assassin and when we meet him he's killing anyone whose name is on a piece of paper, no questions asked. He's not a born clipper, he's just a guy who wants in on killing people. He volunteers to murder an entire family just to get in the good graces of a girl he's just met and he bumbles around like an idiot after Lea because she's an assassin. Am I supposed to care what happens to this amoral jackass just because he calls the lead character beautiful? Even when he's supposedly finding his backbone it's all purely to advance the plot. He and Lea fight over her stealing money from him (our wannabe assassin has no issue with murder, but apparently takes great offence to thievery), he ludicrously overreacts - for "conflict" I assume - claims he's done with her forever, and then five pages (seriously) later, he's back and all is forgiven.

And as for the ending ... urgh. Just ... urgh. I've never seen such a blatant "get out of jail free" card. It's a pair of "get out of jail free" card aces. Rather than a tragic ending in the vein of Romeo and Juliet, or a lesson about the futility of revenge, there's a hastily written twist that undoes the previous few chapters and sets up a by the numbers finale with a half-hearted revelation that means nothing because nothing has been done previously to set it up. While I would normally be irritated by this, I was just glad the book was nearly over. It's also another book that tries to make a tragedy the protagonist's fault, only to lose its nerve at the last minute and backtrack.

Frustratingly, I felt that there was a really good book in here trying to get out. The idea of ghosts haunting the cities and plains had so much potential, but ultimately it just felt a little half-hearted and used to explain away plot twists rather than a believable part of this world. The themes of blood and family, loyalty and love could have been fantastic, but got swept aside in a standard story that seemed to squander all the elements that could have made it something really special. One thing that did pleasantly surprise me though was the lack of a blatant, sequel-baiting hook, it's been so long since I read a book without one I'd almost forgotten that they exist. But that said, if there are any more books in this series, I certainly won't be reading them.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The Glittering Court
I am so excited that THE GLITTERING COURT by Richelle Mead releases today and that I get to share the news, along with a special giveaway! If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Richelle Mead, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a signed copy of the book and a $25 Sephora Gift Card courtesy of Richelle, Penguin Teen, and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

For a select group of girls, the Glittering Court offers a shot at a life they’ve only ever dreamed of, one of luxury, glamour, and leisure. To high-born Adelaide, whose wealthy family is forcing her into a loveless marriage, the Glittering Court represents something else: the chance to chart her own destiny, and adventure in an unspoiled, prosperous new land across the sea.

After a chance meeting with the dazzling Cedric Thorn, Adelaide poses as a servant to join the crop of impoverished girls he promises to transform into proper ladies. But her familiarity with upper class life comes with a price: she must hide her identity from her new friends, mysterious refugee Mira and fiery former laundress Tamsin, and most importantly, from Cedric himself - even though she’s falling in love with him.

Everything begins to crumble when Cedric discovers Adelaide’s ruse, and she catches the eye of a powerful young governor, who wants her for a wife. She didn’t leave the gilded cage of her old life behind just to become someone else's property. But nothing is as daunting - or as wonderful - as the potent, forbidden attraction simmering between Adelaide and Cedric. One that, if acted on, would make them both outcasts in a wild, dangerous, uncharted world, and possibly lead them to their deaths.

Exclusive exerpt

About Richelle

Richelle Mead has written over twenty-five novels for teens and adults. She is the author of the international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series and its spinoff series, Bloodlines. Her recent standalone novel, Soundless, draws upon Chinese mythology and history, and her forthcoming series, The Glittering Court, follows the adventures of girls destined for arranged marriages in a fantasy world inspired by colonial America. A lifelong reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses to wear on tour. She is a self-professed coffee addict, works in her pajamas, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington, where she is hard at work on her next novel.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads


One winner will receive a hardcover of The Glittering Court and a $25 Sephora gift card. Unfortunately this one's only open in the US, so even I can't enter! But if you're US-based, make sure you check it out!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, 4 April 2016

Trial By Fire

Bryn’s hopes for a peaceful new semester at school go up in smoke when someone tries to kill her - again. She’s not sure which is scarier, facing the radicals who want to sacrifice her for their cause, or her impending nightmare of a Directorate-arranged marriage to her nemesis, Jaxon.

The one bright spot in her life is Valmont, her smoking-hot knight who is assigned to watch over her twenty-four hours a day. Is what she feels for him real or just a side effect of the dragon-knight bond? At this point, stopping the impending civil war might be easier than figuring out her love life.

She may have to live in their world, but she doesn’t have to play by their rules.

Goodreads | Amazon

Award winning author Chris Cannon lives in Southern Illinois with her husband and her three dogs, Pete the shih tzu who sleeps on her desk while she writes, Molly the ever-shedding yellow lab, and Tyson the sandwich-stealing German Shepherd Beagle. She believes coffee is the Elixir of Life. Most evenings after work, you can find her sucking down caffeine and writing fire-breathing paranormal adventures and snarky contemporary romance.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Sleeping Prince

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin's life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won't reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom. 

The Sleeping Prince is not an easy read, nor is it a particularly pleasant one. So I've decided to lighten the tone of my review with GIFs of Donald Glover as the adorable Troy in Community.

"Some fairy stories should never come true ..."

Melinda Salisbury says on her Twitter bio that she likes making people cry. She is not kidding. I can only imagine her laughing maniacally as she writes, putting her characters through the wringer and sustaining herself with the anguish of her readers. I loved The Sin Eater's Daughter, the first book in this series, but if I wanted fairytales cliches and happily ever afters, I would have been sorely disappointed. It was an incredible book, but one that pulled no punches. But book twos in trilogies are notoriously tricky, so would The Sleeping Prince be a bit more restrained in setting up the grand finale in book three? I was hopefully optimistic.

Oh how naive I was!

Right off the bat, there's a major character death - seriously, page seven! - and the tone is set from there. This time we follow the story of Errin, the sister of Lief and one third of the love triangle in the previous book, as the fallout from The Sin Eater's Daughter ripples across the three kingdoms. The legendary Sleeping Prince has awoken from his enchanted sleep and is bringing death and war to the land in his quest to claim total power. Errin's brother Lief is missing, presumed dead, her mother is a werewolf-esque liability and she's left to fight off the lecherous advances of her landlord while war gathers at the borders of Tregellan.

It's far to say that Melinda Salisbury embraces the darkness of her story, almost making it a character all of its own. It permeates every scene, every character interaction, the shadow of The Sleeping Prince and approaching war hanging heavily over the story. As you can proabably guess, this isn't a particularly cheerful read. The harsh realities of war and what it means for those caught up in its wake are not sugar-coated, and there were times when I just had to put the book down for the unrelenting bleakness of the story. What Melinda Salisbury writes about is not pretty, but her writing is beautiful. It's a strange juxtaposition of talk of torn out hearts and huge, faceless, lumbering monsters mass-murdering their way across the land, with lush, haunting imagery and vivid, almost lyrical description.

Errin's situation goes from bad to worse at every turn, and despite her refusal to give up and fall apart, there's plenty of times when the sheer hopelessness of her situation threatens to swamp the story. She's all but crushed by her existence, lacking Twylla's cautious optimism and hope, and that made this book a much harder read. The first person pov is harder to digest than it was with Twylla in The Sin Eater's Daughter, because Errin's predicament is so much more bleak. There's no escaping her grief, her terrible memories or her thankless toiling. A different character's pov or third person would have given the reader a break from the endless downers. But then, this is probably why we don't get it. Thank goodness for her relationship, such as it is, with Silas. It's unconventional sure, but their meetings are bright spots in what would otherwise be an unbearably bleak story.

"Mysterious boys are not as enjoyable in reality as they are in stories."

I'm glad an author finally acknowledges this! In so many books, the "hero" gets a pass for treating the protagonist like crap in an effort to play up to the brooding, bad-guy-comes-good cliche, so I was glad to see that there's a payoff in that set up here. While it seems unlikely that Errin has never seen Silas' face - how the hell does he see where he's going with a hood over his damn face all the time? - it's not hard to see why she's put up with his lack of answers and at times outright hostility for the faint promise of something more, an escape from the oppression and responsibility of her everyday life.

But as great a pairing as Errin and Silas were, this book fell short of The Sin Eater's Daughter in that respect. Perhaps I'm just bitter that my ship of Twylla and Lief appears to have gone down with all hands on board. The final third of the book ties Errin's story with Twylla's and several characters make a reappearance but, whilst I don't want to say too much for fear of spoilers, suffice to say the reunions were not happy ones.

I said in my review of The Sin Eater's Daughter that I hoped the characters ventured out into the rich world that had been created but only mentioned in passing, but I almost regret saying such a thing! I was torn on how to rate this book, because whilst it's incredibly well written and perfectly plotted and paced, it wasn't an enjoyable read a lot of the time for much of the first half. It's raw, brutal and above all honest in the devastation it portrays - it's quite nice to see a YA fantasy author acknowledge the harsh realities of war rather than just using them as a backdrop to a love triangle - but it makes for a difficult read. Part two of the book is definitely my favourite of the two. After all the doom and gloom of the first half, Errin flees her village and spreads her wings. It's no bright and breezy roadtrip, but I loved reading about the Three Kingdoms and what Errin was capable off once she was cut free from her responsibilities. Her friendship with Twylla was beautifully written and Silas turned from YA cliche to a genuinely lovely character. Part two was such a great read I blasted through it in one go (after taking four or five breaks getting through part one) which quickly swept me up enough to all but forget the issues I'd had with earlier chapters.

But of course, it wouldn't be a Melinda Salibury book without a punch in the face of your feelings ending. All I will say is, I am not ok! My beloved Lief ... plot twists ... poor Silas ... and part three doesn't even have a release date yet!

I'm a glutton for punishment, but I cannot let this series go!