The Gift of Foresight by Raven Knox

Life was almost perfect until he left them.
Will was a good man, torn and confused.
Alyss was bitter, hurt, and lonely.
Harriet could never see what she always knew was there.
They always loved each other.

Blurb of ‘The Gift of Foresight’

*[This is a sponsored Ad review]

The Gift of Foresight is an intriguing and, at times, moving debut novel by Raven Knox, published by Ghost and Ribbon. It follows a fractured family – Alyss, Will and their daughter Harriet – as they each explore and come to terms with the ripples caused by Will and Alyss’ divorce, an event which takes place at the start of the book in an emotionally devastating flashback scene.

This is a novel which deals with divorce and disability; two weighty topics that are rarely explored in literature in one narrative, especially from the perspective of a young, disabled teenage girl. Knox explores this with a thoughtful and at times poignant hand, and I am a firm believer that representation in novels is important in today’s age so this is particularly wonderful to see tackled. To deal with such messy and stigmatic topics such as these is something that Knox should take credit for exploring and basing her novel around.

As the arguable main character of this piece, Harriet is a perceptive and bright girl who tries to navigate the choppy emotionally fraught waters left in the wake of her parent’s divorce since Will (her father) walked out 10 years ago. It is made clear that she harbours hopes that they might get back together, a drive that influences and shapes her behaviour in this book. She is also blind. Whilst I would say this is not the main point upon which Knox focuses her novel, it is still hugely important and rears its head at particular chosen moments in the text where it is discussed. It also makes for a simultaneously heart wrenching and heart-wrenching final chapter in the book.

“If knowledge and foresight are too penetrating and deep, unify them with ease and sincerity”

Xun Kuang, Chinese Philosopher (a quote used in the foreword of the book)

Will and Alyss’ relationship is a little more difficult to track, with their scenes and conversations at times slipping into melodrama, but Knox manages to teeter her work on the side of believability when it comes to this divorced couple. As the reader, we are granted a unique view, seeing every facet of these characters from their arguments to their quieter, more emotive moments. Their respective personalities take shape as the novel progresses, and you understand more how they met and fell in love in flashback scenes and discussions with other characters, which adds more depth and plausibility to Harriet’s desire to see her parents back together.

However, at times the book has a jumbled narrative voice and perspective – especially since Harriet’s blindness is aptly described and then, at times, strangely forgotten (for instance, there are times that she can “see” certain things – a jarring point which meant I had to re-read sentences to figure out just whose perspective this related to).

Despite this, I feel that Harriet’s characterisation is one aspect of Knox’s writing that is particularly strong. She is shown to be a normal teenage girl, with hopes and dreams and fears, and comes across as headstrong and funny. She is loved in spite of her disability and not alienated or ostracised for it. This is a refreshing approach I have not seen depicted much in novels, and is a welcome inclusive addition, which does much to break down any stigma perhaps associated with this disability.

At its core, this book is about the raw, tangled, messier parts of human relationships and the emotions that come with it. Although a little heavy-handed in the message it tries to present, it should not diminish the message it focuses on. Family and the relationships are poignant, complex things, and The Gift of Foresight aptly captures this with its unique, emotional perspective.

About the book: 

10% of the profit made by Ghost and Ribbon Limited per sale of this hard-copy book purchased by the consumer (plus VAT) shall be paid to RNIB Enterprises Limited which covenants all its taxable profits to RNIB, a registered charity with charity number 226227. RNIB have neither endorsed nor contributed towards the content of this book.

Donate here today.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by K.S Villoso

*[Thank you to the lovely team at Orbit for gifting me this book, in exchange for an honest review]

There is something incredibly refreshing about K.S Villoso’s debut epic fantasy novel The Wolf of Oren-Yaro, the first installment in the brilliantly titled Chronicles of the Bitch Queen. In a market arguably saturated with European faux-medieval epic fantasy books, the setting of this novel – heavily inspired from Villoso growing up in the Philippines – is a vibrant and welcome addition to the genre. From the way in which the language, food, or various cultures are depicted, to the historical lore and stories that pepper their way through the main story, the world of this novel is one that teems with life and character.

It follows Queen Talyien, the Dragonlord of Jin-Sayeng and Wolf of Oren-Yaro, as she goes to meet with her estranged husband Rayyel Ikessar five years after he mysteriously abandoned her the night before their coronation. However, the plans quickly disintegrate and during her visit Talyien finds herself the target of an assassination which almost kills her. Friendless and alone in a strange city, and abandoned by those she once trusted, the story charts her journey to try and find her husband, and moreover uncover the identity of those who tried to kill her.

“They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me”

For an introspective character-driven novel like this, it benefits from having a well-rounded and complex character at its head. Queen Talyien, the “Bitch Queen of Oren-Yaro ” is arrogant, brash, and proud, brought up amongst privilege and the daughter of a fearsome and brutal warlord from the Oren-Yaro clan. But she is also a woman who, for all her titles, is still very much human.

Villoso is careful to depict her protagonist so that we see her strengths and flaws as believable, and so we buy into her as a protagonist. She is anxious, conflicted, and afraid of where she currently finds herself, but she is also brave and stubborn. In fact, Talyien’s emotional introspection about her situation and those she cares for strengthens the character, adding a surprising extra layer of pathos and depth as the novel progresses.

“Wolves ran in packs, and lone wolves didn’t live for very long. However I looked at it, I was on my own.”

Of course, the supporting characters do much to aid the novel, even if some are more believable than others. From people in Talyien’s past, to those who appear suddenly and unexpectedly in her current travels, their connections to the Bitch Queen seem for the most part convincing and real. The character of Khine the penniless good hearted con-man, whilst a welcome breath of fresh air in what can seem to be an inescapably dark narrative, is at times a little too conveniently placed for him to seem convincing. But perhaps that is the point of this novel, that you – along with Talyien – are supposed to question everyone and everything.

Indeed, even in this murky grey world of corruption, murder, and shady moralistic choices, Villoso still manages to deliver up a spine-tinglingly grotesque antagonist, despite only making his appearance in the last third of the book. This character’s description and actions actively made my skin crawl, and so superbly adds to the impending claustrophobic tension that is increased throughout.

The resultant atmosphere is one that makes for a suspenseful and well-paced narrative that teeters on a cliff edge between being an action-packed thriller, and a slower intriguing mystery as Talyien tries to evade capture and figure out just who she can trust. However, mention has to be made of the description of the food – something that I felt particularly stood out about about this novel. Not only did it make me wish I could replicate the food described, it did much to cement the world as real and palpable in my mind (and made for a colourful, flavourful change, separate from your typical fantasy meal fare of meat and some sort of cheese).

“A wolf of Oren-yaro fights to make it right, down to the last breath. A wolf of Oren-yaro does not beg. A wolf of Oren-yaro suffers in silence”

Yet, there’s a lot more going on in this novel that Villoso doesn’t delve into and there are places where the story and the lore becomes a little too saturated by its own richness. There are so many names of clans and peoples, history, stories, and monsters (I particularly liked the lore about the dragons who were said to roam the northern lands but who we hardly see) all bubbling away that made me want to find out more. But seeing as this is the first part in a series, I can only imagine that any loose threads will be picked up and focused on in later books.

In fact, the resultant pay-off towards the end is worth the denser, and sometimes confusing, earlier parts of the novel. The final 100 pages or so are where most of the questions are answered, character’s motives and identities are questioned, and in a world that seems murky and grey, a stark and unnerving revelation comes to the fore that shows you the story is only just beginning.

Taylien continues to fight, and if there’s anything you learn from reading this novel, despite the oppressive turn of events that seep in and try to smother the bitch Queen, is that this particular wolf does not do well in a cage.

A rich and expansive novel, The Wolf of Oren-Yaro is a brilliant opening book to what promises to be a uniquely epic series, and well worth your time if you’re looking for a vivid change of setting for your next fantasy novel fix.

-:-

To be released on the 6th February 2020 (published by Orbit Books) this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Don’t want to wait? Read a segment of the book here.

"Uprooted" by Naomi Novik

There have been few books which have pulled me into the story with such giddying force that it meant I stayed up until 1am, speedily reading with tired eyes, to try and finish it. And yet – somehow – Naomi Novik’s Uprooted manages to do just that. (If you’re a fan of her Temeraire series, then you should definitely give this book a read). 

A high fantasy novel, the narrative follows the protagonist Agnieszka, a young woman in the village of Dvernik who is taken by “the Dragon” – a local wizard who takes a girl every ten years, as payment for protecting them from the magical, and extremely dangerous Wood – and their ensuing, ongoing battle against this ever-spreading malign entity.

“All those stories must have ended this same way, with someone tired going home from a field full of death, but no one ever sang this part.”

Right from the start, there is something enthralling about Novik’s work. The world building is rich and dramatic, blending rural folklore and the nightmarish monsters of the Wood seamlessly with magic of the Dragon’s high tower and religion of the large cities. The description of magic styles too is intriguing, and we see how different the Dragon is in comparison with Agnieszka or indeed with other wizards – like the “Falcon” – who appear later in the story.

Indeed, Novik’s characters are brilliantly realised. Agnieszka is a welcome, if unlikely heroine. She is clumsy, messy, stubborn, wilful, and full of heart; a character who you cheer on and empathise with as the narrative progresses. In comparison, the Dragon is irritable, but whip-smart – a perfectly realised grouchy, learned scholar with the face of a young man (even though he’s more than one-hundred years old) and a surprising, albeit begrudgingly bestowed, soft side.

“His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength, and the rasping whisper of scales.”

There is something joyously real and warm about the relationships depicted. Agnieszka’s friendship with Kasia is a wonderful example of the power of loyalty, platonic love, and friendship – and the character is a strong addition to the story in her own right, the epitome of the human, non-magical heart that Agnieszka and the Dragon fight for. Certainly, for all the character’s battle an inhuman, terrifying foe, at its heart Uprooted is packed with raw, human emotion about friendships, family, love, and loss. It is this that grounds the high fantasy tale, and – although I won’t spoil it – makes for a wonderful ending, gripped full of pathos.

However most of all, is Agnieszka’s relationship with the Dragon that I adored, and quietly grinned over as I read (I do love a good slow burn romance). They are two people bourne together through magic and the dangers that seep out of the Wood, their interactions gradually giving way to a burgeoning sexual and romantic tension that weaves itself through the story nicely.

“There was a song in this forest, too, but it was a savage song, whispering of madness and tearing and rage.”

When it comes to the Wood, the antagonist that creeps like a particularly poisonous set of vines beneath the surface of this story, there is something wonderfully sinister about how it affects, and infects, the lives of the people throughout the novel. Novik conjures up horrific images and fairy-tale like horror stories, and there are plenty of action-packed scenes and shocking reveals that keep you constantly alert. The Wood plants seeds and subtly infects everywhere, showing the reader and the character’s that danger and corruption is never really far away.

Uprooted is a darkly enchanting book, gripping and thrilling in equal measure. I promise that if you like your fairy tales dark and high fantasy rich, you won’t want to put it down.

Rating: [5/5] 

Buy it here 

"Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier

As someone who unashamedly loves all varieties of historical fiction and romance (preferably placed together in one work), and has many copies of Jane Austen’s novels sitting on my bookshelf at home, you’d have thought I’d have come across this book years ago.

It was only until I was enthusiastically recommended and sent du Maurier’s Rebecca by a friend (who ardently promised that this would be a book I would love) did I realise about twenty pages in – why on earth hadn’t I read this sooner?

In a similar vein to Northanger Abbey (albeit with far less satire) or Jane Eyre, this book is a timeless example of just how gripping a gothic romance can be. And now with an upcoming Netflix film scheduled for later this year, what better time to review the book it is based off?

“We’re not meant for happiness, you and I”

The preface is a simple yet effective one – an unnamed young woman (the heroine of the novel and its narrator) marries the recently widowed Maxim de Winter, moves into his house, and is haunted by the metaphorical ghost of his late wife at every turn. The narrative, however, is anything but.

There is something instantly captivating about du Maurier’s writing. There is also something eerie too. An uncomfortable sense of foreboding and suspense clings to every page, conveyed wonderfully through the Nick Carraway-esque unreliable first-person narration of the heroine. There are plenty of nail-biting twists and turns as we follow the heroine settling into her new life, that made me feverishly tear through the book just to find out what happens next.

What makes this novel so effective is that you are just as kept in the dark as she is. You are privy to her every flight of fancy and are gripped by her over-active imagination. Every piece of information – true or not, important or not – is tantalisingly drip-fed to you. As I read I found myself trying to figure out the clues, if only to try and understand and see what the heroine could not.

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again” 

Of course, then there’s Maxim’s late wife Rebecca. As I learned more about her, I was slowly horrified and enthralled. Her presence is everywhere, in the people the narrator meets, and in the clothes she wears. For instance, there’s a fantastically creepy part where the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, delights in showing Rebecca’s old bedroom like some sort of glorified, well-preserved museum wing that had me wanting to fling the book away from me and shudder.

But, despite all this, it is how du Maurier writes about Manderley that is my favourite thing about the novel. There is something rich and alien about it. It is a sprawling, unfamiliar house the narrator gets lost in upon arriving, a place where she feels watched from every window, and where the garden, with its skeleton-like trees, is a monstrous place with “no sense or beauty” to it. The claustrophobic nature of it only serves to heighten the suspense, and when the events of the novel and actions of its characters have run their course, you find that Rebecca – like all good gothic novels – begins and ends with this house.

So, if you’re a fan of gothic horror, romance, suspense, or even detective novels, and are looking for a new read, I’d heartily recommend this book.

[Rating: 5/5]

An Introduction

“A book has been taken. A book has been taken? You summoned the Watch,” Carrot drew himself up proudly, “because someone’s taken a book? You think that’s worse than murder?”

The Librarian gave him the kind of look other people would reserve for people who said things like “what’s so bad about genocide?”

Guards! Guards! – Terry Pratchett

Welcome to the very first post on my very first blog. I won’t pretend that it doesn’t feel a little strange, having never ventured into the slightly terrifying realms of blog creation before. And yet, here we are.

So, why this? Well, this blog is a creative outlet for all the collective hours I’ve spent in immersed in other worlds. Because I wanted a place to put all the things that I don’t write for magazines to have a home.

I like reviewing books, recommending them, gifting them, sharing them. I like discovering the stories beneath the covers, especially stories that I might not at first have picked up. I like seeing other people’s faces light up when they discuss their favourite novel, and hearing why it makes certain parts of their brain tick (or, indeed, why they hate a book. Not every review is good, after all).

I’ll primarily be reviewing fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction works, but honestly, if something off those beaten genre paths takes my fancy, I’ll chuck it into the pile too.

So, if this site encourages you to pick up or leaf through a book, then I’ll consider this a job well done. 

-Lucy