August 28, 2011

Raa Raa! (Review: Rage of Lions by Curtis Jobling)

Wereworld: Rage Of Lions (Wereworld, #2)
Wereworld: Rage of Lions
Curtis Jobling
Puffin 2011

Rage of Lions is the second in Curtis Jobling's Wereworld series. If you haven't read the first book then this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS so in the nicest possible way, er, go away.

After the dramatic and life changing events of Rise of The Wolf, Drew of the Dyrewood is adjusting to his new position as future monarch of Lyssia by mastering his inner lycanthrope and brushing up his swordplay. He's also learning a lot about court politics courtesy of a self appointed Wolf's Council, let by the Bearlord Bergan, running the place while Drew himself trains up, so to speak. While Drew and the honourable amongst the Werelords emerged triumphant at the end of Rise of The Wolf and now reside in the capital of Westlands, Highcliff, there is still much work to be done. The disposed Werelion, Leopold has barricaded himself in Highcliff Keep and his less than stable son (not to mention Drew's half brother) Lucas is teetering on the edge of insanity having kidnapped the Werefox Lady Gretchen and spirited her away. As Drew sets off to save Gretchen and the Wolf's Council struggle to unite the Seven Realms none are aware of the greater danger that fast approaches...

The Drew that readers encounter in this installment of the Wereworld series is at once entirely different and also awfully similar to the boy who ran off to live wild in the Dyrewood. On one hand, he has learnt to live more peaceably with his inner animal, no longer fearing the Wolf and has grown up considerably. However, at heart he is still the country boy who grew up a farmer and cared nothing for the politics of his homeland and this aspect of his personality leaves him discontent in his new role and ill at ease with his heritage. When Gretchen is kidnapped he is quick to strike out alone and it is clear that he relishes the freedom from the expectations and traditions that weigh so heavily on his soldiers. While he is clearly no longer a boy, he is still a very young man and there are some lighter moments when he is faced with the determined Gretchen and the timid Whitely who have him besieged by feelings that he's not really had to think about until now, the most inappropriate of times. He is an extremely likable character and his development over the course of the book is, while often brutally forced by circumstance, entirely believable.

Other characters are equally interesting. Gretchen and Whitely are almost the only women to appear and are extremely different. Gretchen...well... pah to Gretchen. She's scarily focused when it comes to Drew and I generally found her pretty annoying. Saying that, she doesn't get much face time and there are a couple of instances where her bravery is truly impressive and her determined stance fun to read. Whitely is a far easier character to root for and her friendship with Drew seems, while confused, more honest than his relationship with Gretchen. I can't wait to see more of her – and it would appear that she's going to have quite a lot to deal with in the future so I'm sure that we shall. Of Drew's close friends, Hector is by far the most fascinating. He has little backbone and is, overall, rather pathetic although always willing to stick his neck out for his friend he does seems to spend an awful lot of time blubbing in the face of danger. However, this is absolutely what makes him so interesting – writing a character so blatantly spineless is a brave move on Jobling's part and a weak mind opens itself to many a temptation, which is exactly why Hector is going to be one to watch from this point on.

Once more, the attendant Werelords of Lyssia are a glorious lot. From brave Bergan and temper-some Mikkel, to the fabulous Vega, the Wolf's Council are a formidable group. It is, however, the many enemies that appear who rather steal the show. To say more would be to spoil the enjoyment but some are truly... devilish. A special mention for the crazed Prince Lucas who, when he appears, is really quite frightening in his madness. He truly is an, er, screwed up little lion.

The plot itself is fast moving and gripping. While Gretchen's kidnapping would at first appear to be the main storyline, it quickly expands to encompass an ambitious tale of a realm on the verge of civil war. Rage of Lions climaxes two concurrent and hugely exciting battles and be warned, Curtis Jobling takes no prisoners, killing off characters left, right and centre and presenting readers with some scenes with scenes of real brutality (the phrase “it's all fun and games until somebody loses an _____” could have been written for this series, just fill in the blank with any appropriate limb). However, the violence never seems out of place and always sits well within the plot. As with Rise of The Wolf, the land of Lyssia is beautifully realised, the original idea of Werelords excellently executed and the characters well drawn and carefully nuanced. Lovers of high fantasy (adult or young adult) will adore these titles and those who don't think they love high fantasy should pick up the Wereworld series and have their minds quickly changed. Great stuff.

Rage of Lions is available now.  Thank you to Puffin for providing me with this title to review.

August 23, 2011

Love The Lord Thy God (Review: There Is No Dog by Meg Rosoff)

There is No Dog
There Is No Dog

Meg Rosoff
Puffin 2011

Meet Bob. Teenage, male, over-sexed and under-appreciated (well, if you ask him), often troublesome, perennially petulant and... oh yes, God. Certainly, the fact that Bob is behind creation explains an awful lot about the state of the planet, never mind the sorry lives of those who live upon it. After a rather hurried spurt of creation several millenia ago, Bob has rather lost interest in earth. In fact, he finds it all rather boring. Particularly the prayers – all that moaning. In fact, the only thing that really keeps Bob going is the fact that he managed to create quite a lot of gorgeous girls and he's just spotted the most beautiful girl of all. Enter the lovely Lucy, who has no idea what is headed her way. Unfortunately for the rest of mankind, Bob long ago tied Earth's weather system to his emotions so with love (well, sex) in his sights there is literally a storm brewing. Watching over Bob is his assistant, the long suffering Mr. B, his erratic mother (who won earth for Bob in a poker game), calm, cool and collected Estelle and a curious creature named Eck – doomed to die (having been lost in yet another poker game) and dreadfully upset about the whole thing.

Bob really is the most horrid of characters. Gob-smackingly selfish in the way that only certain teenagers can truly manage, he's really quite, quite vile. His lack of interest in his creation is absolute. Not only that, but he's pretty pissed off that Mr. B seems more concerned with mankind's plight than with Bob's lovelorn existence. It's all about them and never about him which he considers to be exceptionally unfair. Many characters, no matter how unlikeable, are redeemed by love – their passion shining light upon hitherto unseen realms of care and hope. Not Bob, his passion merely makes him more selfish and, much like his 6-day creation spree, his pursuance of Lucy shows a distinct lack of forethought.  Towards the end of the book, it is possible to feel the odd twinge of sympathy – he is terribly lonely, and he has been that way forever but each twinge is tempered by his inward-looking self pity and one can't help but think he's really brought it all on himself.  And everyone else.

Conversely, Mr. B cares for Earth very much indeed. Every day, he sits at his desk and shifts through file upon file of prayers debating action. Mentally (he's just about giving up vocalising anything to Bob) he wonders just what God was thinking when he got to work on Earth. Having watched Bob's creation with confusion, worry and occasionally wonder (Bob does have his moments, after all) he himself created the whales, whom he now worries about desperately as their soulful voices lift in prayer. He's a truly brilliant character, kind yet cutting, beleaguered yet not uncaring – really, it's completely believable that he's been able to stomach God for an eternity without killing him... not something you'd necessarily think possible having met Bob. Also, to my mind, he's clearly Bill Nighy.
The women of the story are all very different. God's mother, the gambling Mona, is at once entirely irresponsible, vaguely useless but also loving, albeit in her own peculiar way. Estelle is powerful, clever and the kind of character one might actually give a planet to – her concern over Eck's plight is both lovely and imbued with hope. Eck, for the record is entirely adorable (and stuck firmly in my head has Gorey's 
Doubtful Guest). 

Then there is Lucy. Lucy is every bit as lovely as Bob imagines her to be (I say imagine because he doesn't actually spend very much time listening to what she's got to say). She's at that striking age where young women are at their most beautiful and least aware of it. She's also a happy character, if a little naive and completely unprepared for seduction by heavenly being (which makes a change from the protagonists of a zillion of those angel books).

With her simple premise ( simple, yes, but also genius) and these compelling characters, Rosoff has, once again pulled another brilliantly original rabbit out of her literary hat. While There Is No Dog is often extremely funny (a must for fans of the Pratchett/Gaiman collaboration, Good Omens) it also has true pathos and invites thought on creation, Earth, mankind and the nature of both God and faith. One imagines that, if there is a God, he might often look at his creation in slight desperation – let's just hope he's not actually a teenager because then we are all well and truly screwed. As with her previous work, Meg Rosoff's writing is beautiful and her storytelling skill nigh on unmatched. While There Is No Dog is perhaps closer in style to Just In Case rather than, say, How I Live Now there are moments of not only levity but also of dark despair, utter beauty and true magic. It has been a long time since a book captured my imagination as this one has and I highly recommend it – buy the hardback, it's gorgeous and will look even prettier on your favourites shelf, which is exactly where it will end up.

There Is No Dog is published on 1st September. Thank you to Penguin for providing me with a copy of this title to review.

For UK based bloggers, There Is No Dog will also soon be on tour at UKBT

August 15, 2011

Still Here...

....and I mean that in the nicest possible way....

Yep, it's true - I have returned from the lost lands of computer problems, reading slumps and questionable dalliances to resurrect The Mountains of Instead from its currently rather sorry state to one of regular reviews, interviews, guest posts and more.

The last few months have been extremely busy in the Splendibird household, sometimes stressful and always hectic but a quieter time has come and I'm excited about getting back to blogging, studying and (whisper it) even a bit of writing as well as ongoing freelance editorial bits and bobs. As you can see, blogging is not my sole focus and as such I'd love any offers of guest posts, ideas for regular features, requests for specific discussion posts (or, as is so often the case on MOI, rant-ussion posts).  While I plan on returning to posting twice weekly reviews, I'd like MOI to become more varied.  Last year, Zombie Week was a huge hit and I'd like to run something similar again (minus the zombies) - any ideas/contributors are more than welcome.

Finally, are you a reader and possible wannabe reviewer?  If so, get in touch - I'd love to host reviews by non-bloggers and can provide a variety of titles for this purpose.

So yes!  It's all go here at MOI headquarters (er, my desk... in, er, my bedroom...) and I can't wait to get started all over again.  Bear with me for just a couple more weeks while I stack up some reviews and get myself organised.  I'm nearly there and big love to all of you who have stuck with MOI through this ghastly dry patch.