Review: The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time #1) by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A highly immersive fantasy read that gives a hopeful strong start to the daunting (in terms of how much of my life will be spent reading it!) yet exciting series ahead.

This series was recommended to me by my boyfriend and on agreeing to give it a go, I was nervous for four reasons:
1) We enjoy very different books and rarely think too much about each other’s reading choices so our recommendations to each other are fairly few and far between but he loves the series so much I was convinced I had to give it a go.
2) Jack’s now on his second reading of the series within the space of a year so I already feel as though my head has been battered with the peripheral information I’ve picked up about the WoT universe and a lot of that information sounds bizarre out of context.
3) This series is huge! Weighing in at a mammoth 11,000 odd pages, it’s a daunting undertaking to say the least.
4) I’m not a great lover of fantasy fiction. Most of the time I find it too dry and overly full of complex lore and history that I just don’t want to understand. Hear me out here before you judge me! I’m a history student. Reading fantasy fiction feels too much like work and I get irritated that its work that I can’t actually do much with except grapple to understand it while thinking I should be spending that time learning actual history instead. So I’m not charmed by any fantasy other than LOTR and even that feels like a lyrical textbook I want to study rather than get absorbed in.

So I braced myself to hate the world of WoT and to have to read my golden rule of at least 56% of this first book (which would come to around 450 pages) before casting it as a DNF. But that didn’t happen. Instead, I fell in love with the world and pored over the new discoveries about its history, cultures and wonderfully thoughtful details. I was enchanted by the characters and the brilliant pacing of their developments and relationships with each other and their discovery of the world around them. The female characters are also like a breath of fresh air, I didn’t expect much given that the book was written in the early 90s and of my vaguely misogynistic impressions of the fantasy genre so it came as a huge relief when they weren’t just portrayed as damsel-in-distress love/sex objects but actually carried a huge punch of personality and independence.

The considerable downside was the plot; for me, it was meh. I didn’t care much for how it progressed and there were so many times where I wanted the pacing to be different. Sometimes the actions of the characters felt out of sync with their personalities just so it could move the plot and that bothered me. On top of that, it just felt like the plot was a vehicle to build the world rather than actually serving any other purpose. I didn’t care what happened, I cared about the characters and the world. Perhaps, for so early on in this huge series, that is enough for now.

Above all, I loved the readability of the writing and that is what makes me excited for the books ahead. Unlike a lot of fantasy fiction, all of the immense detail didn’t make the fantasy feel like work; it made it come alive. This could be because of how many ideas Jordan borrows from what I know of medieval and early modern Britain; the world feels familiar enough to make me believe in the fantastical. If this book is any indication of what the series as a whole will be like then I’m looking forward to seeing how the Wheel turns!

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Review: The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #4) by Rick Riordan

The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most exciting YA fiction books I’ve ever read!

Pros:
– It’s packed with high-quality action scenes
– The whole idea of the labyrinth is executed brilliantly
– There is so much in this book for an adult reader to appreciate
– This left me so excited for the fifth and final book that I finished this one and started the fifth one on the same night, reading until I fell asleep (book in hand!).

Cons:
– Percy isn’t as great as he could be in this book, we see him repeating his mistakes a lot and it feels like it’s done just to jump the plot along at times.
– This isn’t really a con but I’m clutching at straws here – as Riordan uses increasingly obscure creatures and references to mythology, it gets harder to decipher them and appreciate the work he’s putting into it. I’d love it if there was some sort of glossary or mythology accompaniment in the books!

Before delving into this book, clear your schedule in advance. After you get to the mid-point, it’s so gripping it’s almost impossible to put down and it is one of the best build-ups I’ve seen to a series finale. Aside from the plot itself being wholly absorbing, the characters are great too. Whereas many of the recurring characters have been quite two-dimensional up until this point in the series, they are given far more depth in this book which makes their previous dullness completely forgivable in the grand scheme of things. On that note, we also have some wonderful moments in this book that will no doubt make you reminisce about your own teenage years.

The humour in this is noticeably better than the previous books too, although some jokes are clearly more for a younger audience, there’s a lot in this instalment that adults can whole-heartedly enjoy as well. This works hand-in-hand with making the whole novel feel far more well-rounded than its predecessors (and indeed, many other YA fiction series) as it’s as though Riordan is paying attention to what older readers want without compromising any of his appeal to younger readers.

All in all, this is a great fantasy adventure book that I’d recommend to anyone looking for an entertaining read full of suspense.

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Review: The Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan

The Sea of Monsters
The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

For me, this second instalment of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was a disappointing flop.

Perhaps the first book left me with too much expectation but The Sea of Monsters didn’t grip me at all. It left me racing through the pages out of boredom to reach the end and just get it over and done with. I’m trying to read these books while being mindful they’re written for young teenagers and also trying to ignore the gross similarities to the early instalments of the Harry Potter series (though, without their depth and finesse…as a huge Potter fan since childhood I may be biased here!).

Even so, this book was frustrating. It had the potential to be so much more but any interesting storyline or character development was sacrificed for action scene after action scene in which the characters handled every challenge in a similar way each time. The character who was meant to be the main villain was poor and barely seemed worth mentioning, it was the second villain (to avoid spoilers, I’ll just say the creature villain!) that added some interest to the story and that was limited at best. I feel like the book could have been ten times better if only Riordan concentrated on the plot and the characters rather than churning out ridiculous life-death situations all the time. This worked in the first book when we were finding out new things about the characters and the Olympians in the process but in this book, it felt sloppy, pointless and just a way of getting cheap movie-like thrills without having to include anything of substance.

Percy’s cheesy jokes, much in the style of Harry Dresden in the Dresden Files, make the ridiculousness of the action scenes far more bearable and have their occasional moments of brilliance but not to the point where they outweigh how repetitive all that action, action, action is.

A few reviewers have defended the excess of action scenes by saying that they’re true to Greek mythology which is fair enough but they shouldn’t come at the cost of everything else that made the first book so great. Far too many characters in this book were dismissed too quickly and given too little page-time. The ones that we were left with had weak portrayals, cliché predictable reactions/phrases and the ‘show don’t tell’ rule just fell out the window.

I mean, we get it – Annabeth is smart. Percy is brave and loyal. That was all established in the first book, no need to have it featured on almost every page in this book. Barely anything else was added to these characters despite them dominating the plot.

It was interesting how the author’s incorporated the Greek mythology into these books, so far that is definitely their greatest asset and seems to be carrying the weaker parts of the story. The contemporary take on classical stories is both entertaining and for the most part, seamlessly done, but the series just can’t survive on that alone. I’ll read the next book in hope that there’s a bit more substance to the whole thing before I give up on the series completely.

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Review: Death Masks (Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

Death Masks
Death Masks by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Satisfyingly Different.

Although this book loosely follows the formula of the preceding Dresden Files stories, this instalment packs a political punch and is a worthy follow-up to the drama of Summer Knight. This time, we’re introduced to a darker side of magic that makes the sidhe we encountered previously look like childsplay.

Fortunately, we’re also introduced to a host of new characters and its the relationship Dresden builds with these (and the old favourites, naturally!) that really makes this book work. This gives Dresden’s personality the time to shine and really brings more to his character other than the self-pitying, misogynistic smart-ass side we’ve seen too many times at this point. Though a lot of that still exists, the well-needed added depth to Dresden is enough to keep the reader hooked as we follow him through his barmy world of wizarding adventures.

Death Masks takes quite a while to really get going thanks to a lengthy intro about the White Council which initially put me off the book despite Dresden’s cringey comic relief comments. Still, the book more than makes up for this with its crazy action scenes that build a prepackaged action movie into your imagination. Although by this point these are cliché to the point of cringeworthy, they’re still a worthwhile guilty pleasure that seamlessly works with the plot.

All in all, the Dresden Files has came along way by this point from the cheesy first three instalments and is now turning out to be a pretty exciting, light-hearted series with enough dollops of suspense and darkness to hold interest.

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Review: Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight
Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finally an instalment in the Dresden Files series that I can confidently give a 5 star rating to!

Throughout my progress on the series so far I’ve met many reviewers saying ‘it gets good around book 3/4/5/6’ (the number varies massively depending on who you ask), and at long last I’ve found where in the series that moment happens for me and it’s here, right with this book which fortunately for me, is almost unrecognisable from the confusion and incoherence that was Grave Peril.

So why such a big turnaround?

First of all, Harry Dresden gets some long-awaited character development beyond the overly done funny-underdog-saves-the-day-by-a-hair’s-breadth-and-is-at-the-brink-of-death-two-dozen-times (phew!) formula that Jim Butcher keeps on winging out for him. Now we’re treated to only a little of self-pitying instead of being swamped by it and this alone does great things for Dresden’s likeability. We’re also introduced to much stronger and more interesting characters than Butcher has ever given us in the past and seeing Harry’s reactions to these gives a solid plus in his direction. It’s nice as well to see some old faces in the book – their personalities really took on a realistic shape thanks to the intricacy of the plot (more on that later).

Secondly, the humour in the books is either improving greatly or I’ve finally became used to it! It took some time to see it as anything other than cliché and cheesy action-hero lines but in Summer Knight Butcher finally takes the humour a little further and pulls it off to great effect.

Thirdly, the plot! Wow did this book get intricate! A far-cry away from the previously simplistic plots of figuring out the bad guy and taking said bad-guy down via several drawn out action scenes (view spoiler), Summer Knight’s plot takes on a much more ambitious storyline and manages to make it work throughout the entire book. I must admit, I was a little lost-off around 200 pages towards the end but I soon managed to pick up on what was going on thanks to brilliant pacing and plot development.

Last but not least…

How much more incredible does the magical world get in this book? You need to read it to believe it. I didn’t think the series would ever go beyond anything more than ‘whodunit’ with a pinch of magic thrown in for variety but instead, it becomes much much more.

Finally this series is starting to live up to the hype that surrounds it by giving us a glimpse of where Jim Butcher’s world-building talent lies. I can’t wait to move onto to Death Masks and see what more adventures Harry Dresden has in store for us!

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Review: Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3) by Jim Butcher

Grave Peril
Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Finally we’re starting to see some plot appearing in the Dresden Files series!

Though I preferred the previous book as the story was more interesting and coherent (more on that later!), the characters in Grave Peril help keep the plot interesting and build it up nicely to make the foundations of a more intriguing series.

For me, the best bit of the entire book was the first encounter we have with a ghost in the beginning chapters. After that (which is to say most of the book), the story is really let down because it just doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. It feels like the series has skipped a few books and has just landed us with this to compensate, so much so that I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the 4th/5th instalment of the series instead. I’m assuming this is done to make the plot a little meatier and add more weight to the characters we encounter but it just doesn’t work well. It feels far too ambitious and it casts a shadow on the best bits of this book: the characters and the development of a much larger, more interesting plot.

A definite boost for the outlook of the series is that Dresden is almost a likeable character now! Yes, he still spends too much page-time brooding in self-pity and moral dilemmas, but now he has back-up from the comedy relief that is Bob and the loyalty of our newly-introduced character Michael, we can see him in a much more forgiving light.
Unfortunately, this is still let down somewhat by the female characters – why do they all suck so much? It’s like the author has decided he doesn’t understand women therefore he’ll write them as one dimensional as possible and hope that everyone nods along in agreement. The only female characters that are vaguely interesting barely get any attention in this book and it’s a noticeable gap that frankly, tired me out. It’s a letdown, especially after the male characters were such a huge positive in this book and female characters were finally starting to gain some substance in Fool Moon.

Give this a read if you plan on continuing with the Dresden Files – I get the impression that it’d be hard to make sense of the series if you didn’t have this book as a stepping stone but that’s all it is, a stepping stone and an intriguing, albeit slow and irritating, one at that.

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Photos & Words: Madness in the Woods

– ‘Deep in the woods the girl wandered, her curiousity making the air shimmer and glow around her. As the shackles of self-doubt loosened on her mind, her imagination revealed a door lying in wait for her arrival. Something beyond it called to her softly and she followed, drawn to its spell.

They say that when the girl returned to the village some years later her senses had all but left her. No child ever went near the woods again.’ –

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