February 28, 2013

I'm on my Knees, Looking for the Answer (review of Fragments by Dan Wells)

Fragments (Partials, #2)Fragments
Dan Wells
Harper Collins 2013

Fragments is the second book in Dan Well's Partials Sequence.  This review contains spoilers for the first book FROM THE FIRST SENTENCE.  You have been warned.

Having returned victorious from her sojourn to the world of Partials, Kira is being hailed as a local hero.  Finder of the cure for RM, she should be able to relax a little, bask in the glory…  Yet Kira knows now that she is more different to the rest of East Meadow than she could possibly have imagined, she’s no more human than the Partial, Samm. Additionally, she knows that the ongoing failure to synthesise the cure for RM is leading in only one direction: war.  With only a vague message from her missing guardian, Nandita, and her own gut instincts, Kira sets out to investigate RM, the Partials and the company at the root of it all, Paragen.

Kira remains as likable in Fragments as she was in Partials.  She remains stubborn, but despite the lack of first person narrative, her often impulsive (sometimes disastrous) decisions always seem understandable.  Her inner battle with the knowledge of her true nature is underplayed but ongoing and provides an interesting landscape on which to build her tentative (and, for the most part, pragmatic) friendship with Samm, not to mention relative newcomer, Heron.  She tries hard to understand them, while still struggling with the fact that they are not human and that nor, in fact, is she.  It makes for some interesting moments.

Heron herself is a bit of an enigma.  Different from other Partials by design, her motives are endlessly unclear.  Despite this, she is often the voice of reason in difficult situations, and oft times the saviour of the group that she and Kira find themselves with.  The third member of this group is the lumbering Afa Demoux.  An odd man-child, Afa is the erstwhile IT director of Paragen and has lived alone for 12 years, believing himself to be the last human on earth (a belief that alters not a jot when confronted by Kira).  He’s a character who engenders pity and fear, as well as a fair bit of respect.  The situation he is placed in by Kira is difficult and unfair, yet heartbreakingly necessary and he adds a welcome new dynamic to the storyline.

The final member of Kira’s gang is Samm.  Interestingly, Fragments starts from his perspective, which is both coolly remote yet oddly emotional.  He, more than even the strange Heron, is often almost robotic in his lack of emotion yet his fierce belief in Kira betrays deep waters under a still surface. As he slowly learns to emote via vocal and facial expression he becomes accessible to the reader at much the same time he becomes accessible to Kira herself.  He’s a solid character, who becomes more interesting as the story progresses.  By the end of the book he is by far the most compelling, despite spending much of the story as an observer, as he steps to the fore in an act of both bravery and possible sacrifice.  Elsewhere, we see East Meadow through the eyes of Marcus, another character who comes to the fore in Fragments.  While he still has a fairly laid back view of the world can come across as dangerously flippant, Marcus emerges here as the best kind of character – one who regularly exhibits a practical bravery despite the fact that it makes him want to pee himself.  He’s incredibly likable and adds an additional, often slightly lighter, component to what is essentially a pretty grim story.

The plot of Fragments is fairly straightforward.  Kira and her merry men set off across America to find both the heart of Paragen and hopefully a workable cure for both RM and the issue of the Partial expiration date.  As they set off, they are aware that Partial leader Dr. Morgan is busy waging war on the small group of humans on Long Island and that the answers they search for may be the only chance of avoiding out and out annihilation of both species.  Back at the ranch, Marcus teams up with the military to find answers of his own both about the mysterious Nandita, Kira and the various factions with in the Partial ranks. It’s all fascinating and nicely written, if a bit predictable. The answers are ultimately uncovered have been hinted at previously but they way in which they are found does lend itself to the odd twist.  

The writing is a great improvement on (the perfectly enjoyable) Partials, with the sections set in the toxic Badlands particularly arresting.  In general, Well’s physical vision of a world in ruins is striking (if not original for anyone who’s read I Am Legend or suchlike) and his series veers more to Sci Fi than out and out dystopia – not a bad thing when YA dystopia is an increasingly overcrowded arena.  The end of Fragments is pretty brilliant, with cliff-hangers abounding and promises of a thrilling final chapter in what has turned out to be a very clever series.  Recommended to those of you looking for something a little different in your dystopia, certainly we’ll be looking forward to finding out what happens next here at Mountains of Instead.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Fragments published in the UK on 28th March 2013.  Thanks to the publisher (via NetGalley) for providing us with this title to review.

February 25, 2013

Neil Gaiman, Writer Genius.

I've been a fan of Neil Gaiman for a long, long time.  I first came across him in my mid-teens, when a copy of Good Omens was pressed into my hands.  I'd long since discovered, Terry Pratchett, the co-writer of this gloriously apocalyptic tale of a young anti-Christ, but Gaiman was a mystery to me.  I was instantly hooked on his curious blend of lyrical language, humour and not a little touch of darkness.  Incidentally, the protagonists of Good Omens, Crowley and Aziraphale, to this day (despite many re-reads) continue to inhabit my head looking like this:

Best. Author. Photo. Ever.
You can read about Good Omens several places in the Mountains of Instead, including here and here.

It took me a few years to look up Gaiman's other work.  I started with Stardust and was utterly enchanted, swiftly following it up with Neverwhere which remains one of my all time favourite books.  I still walk through London half believing in a world beneath my feet.  I talk more about it in the second link of the two above.

Later still, I discovered Coraline, which terrified me and The Graveyard Book, which made me think about many Big Ideas.  I then tore through Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors - both full of beautiful writing and stories that are glittering gifts to anyone who loves words. When my daughter was born, my reader relationship with Neil Gaiman took on a deeply personal note as I spent many nights reading Blueberry Girl over her crib in the kind of desperate prayer that every mother makes for her daughter and which Gaiman manages to articulate perfectly.  You can listen to Neil reading Blueberry Girl here (warning, may cause uncontrollable sobbing).

As my daughter started to appreciate books herself, we read Gaiman's books together. From The Wolves in The Walls and Crazy Hair to the stunning Instructions, they all contain great adventures that we continue to enjoy.

In part because I have a five year old and in larger part because I love everything the man writes I'm delighted that Gaiman has yet another children's book on the horizon:  Fortunately, The Milk.  Honestly, I'd buy it for the somewhat surreal title alone but it's the story of a perilous journey to get one very important carton  of milk - a story that contains a Jewel named the Eye of Splod, time travel, dinosaurs, volcanic gods and a Pirate Queen!  Seriously, what's not to like?!  Fortuntely, The Milk is published by Bloomsbury in September and you can listen to Neil tell you all about it here:

On listening to this, my five year old's eyes just about popped out of her head.

And as if that is not enough, the man has another adult book also appearing this year.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane (these titles!) is out in June and is a modern fantasy about three women, one of whom believes her duck pond is the ocean and one of whom can remember the big bang who are the final hope for a protagonist battling the dark.

What is so amazing about Gaiman is that he has the ability to write anything.  From dark fantasy, to humour, to children's tales, to Doctor Who, the man can do no wrong.  And when he's not writing, he's out there using beautiful words to inspire others to create things, imagine things, be things....  Which is what I'll leave you with as I sit down with American Gods.

See?  So if you haven't discovered Neil Gaiman yet - then DISCOVER HIM.  And do it now.

February 20, 2013

Shadows Hold Their Breath (Review: The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo

The Gathering Dark (The Grisha, #1)
The Gathering Dark/Shadow and Bone
Leigh Bardugo
Indigo 2012

Alina Starkov has never been anything special.  An orphan among many orphans, and a fairly unattractive one at that, the only thing she’s ever really had going for her is her friendship with Mal, a fellow orphan who is the light to Alina’s dark.  Alina and Mal are inhabitants of Ravka, a land inhabited by the normal and by the Grisha.  The Grisha are those with the ability to manipulate the elements and are set apart from the general populace, led by the strange Darkling and coveted by the King.  They are also at the heart of the Unsea, a Shadow Fold of darkness, inhabited by strange and terrifying birdlike beings, that separates Ravka from its own coast. Created by the long dead Black Heretic, the Unsea is stifling the land and with neighbours of varying friendliness the land is reaching boiling point.  Come of age, Alina and Mal find themselves in the King’s Army, accompanying a faction of Grisha across the Unsea, when they are attacked by the birdlike Volcra.  Despite having shown no Grisha tendencies in her childhood, Alina finds herself exhibiting a skill so rare as to put her in great danger – one that could save the whole country but which will, in all likelihood, move her out of Mal’s world forever.

Alina is a character who at first seems to know herself entirely.  She’s aware that she’s not much to look at and, unlike many female protagonists who seem to think this while actually being horribly attractive to all around the (er, hello, Bella) this seems to be pretty true.  She’s sickly looking and not very strong.  Her strength seems to come largely from her friendship with Mal – a still point in a shifting sea.  However, as she learns more about herself she comes into her own in more ways than one.  While her head is turned by the beauties of the Grisha lifestyle, she remains a fairly shrewd character and her development is interesting and believable.  While at first she seems rather remote, she becomes more and more likable as the story progresses and by the end has won the reader over completely with her bravery and sacrifice.

The Grisha themselves are an interesting lot. It’s hard to tell how genuine even the lovely Genya is, never mind the upper echelons of their society.  Chief among them is The Darkling, whose nameless status cleverly makes him difficult to get a bead on.  He’s a superbly written character and even in his most decisive and transparent moments, readers will find themselves (like Alina) wondering as to his motivation. Mal is another character who is fairly ambiguous.  Seen initially as a rather ebullient child, he morphs into a hormone driven adolescent and then into an embittered young man. He is incredibly well drawn and his friendship with Alina is one of the most believable I’ve read in a long time.  They interact in a way that one might expect lifelong friends to interact, squabbling lovingly and not so lovingly while trying to figure out how to be friends now that they are no longer children.

The Gathering Dark carries a very plot that twists and turns its way through the pages, never becoming remotely predictable (well, not after the first few pages, anyway). The idea of a land divided is not a new one, but the Unsea is a fabulously original creation – not to mention a very frightening one. Again, while the idea of people being able to manipulate elements may have been seen before, the Grisha most certainly have not and The Darkling’s power is truly sinister, particularly when you see its full potential.  The first in a series (of course), the book ends rather beautifully, resolving the initial storyline to an extent but leaving the protagonist in a position that is incredibly perilous, in danger from both outer and inner factors.

High fantasy is a tricky genre but when it works, it works and when working it’s largely due to the author’s ability to create a believable world, which in turn comes down to the writing at the heart of their story.  The writing in The Gathering Dark is extremely accomplished.  The prose is simple yet incredibly evocative with the lush world of the Grisha gorgeously contrasted with the poverty of Ravka and the desolation of the Shadow Fold. Leigh Bardugo also subtly asks readers to consider the fine line between duty, obligation, free will and slavery and the characters and factions in her story all inhabit the grey moral area that one might expect in a society such as Ravka – it’s all very clever.  Additionally, the story is bookended by oddly fairytale-esque chapters which are quiet, beautiful and moving.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1)If I were to make one criticism of this excellent title it would be regarding the UK marketing, for some reason the striking title and cover of the US edition of this book has not crossed the Atlantic and we seem to have been lumbered with a generic cover and a title that sounds like it should be part of The Wheel of Time series – hardly original.  But don’t let that put you off, Bardugo has the potential to rival Kirsten Cashore and Melina Marchetta as current Queens of Fantasy and The Gathering Dark is most certainly worth a read.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird who, for the record, really quite enjoyed The Wheel of Time. The Gathering Dark is available now. 

February 18, 2013

Human Voices (Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green)

The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in our Stars
John Green
Penguin 2013 (UK P/back)

Hazel Grace is dying. She’s been dying for quite a while from the cancerous tumours submerging her tired lungs and she is quietly resigned to the end of her personal story. This doesn’t stop her from getting a bit depressed (an understandable side effect, as she so succinctly puts it, of dying) and, some years after her initial diagnosis of fatality, she finds herself attending a support group for cancer kids.  It’s not really her bag but she gets through each session exchanging silent cynicisms with one-eyed Isaac.  Until the day that Isaac turns up with a friend, cancer-free Augustus Waters, who sweeps into Hazel’s life on one leg, a wave of bad video games and an overwhelming lust for life.  He quickly inveigles his way into Hazel’s one great passion, the book An Imperial Affliction, and her desire to find out what happens after the last page. 

Hazel is a character who jumps of the page and is far from the atypical Young Cancer Sufferer of other books.  Partly, this is due to the fact that she has no hope of survival.  From the day she was first diagnosed she has known that her illness was terminal and it is only due to a wonder that she continues to live at all.  Additionally, Hazel does not Live Every Day As Though It Were Her Last.  Rather, she watches a lot of America’s Top Model.  She doesn’t feel the need to do great things but rather wishes to leave as few ripples as possible.  She’s OK with her fate, she really is, but she’s not so sure about the fate of those left behind.  Never more clearly is this seen than in her fascination with An Imperial Affliction and particularly in her desperation to know what happens to its protagonist’s mother.  Hazel is fascinating and massively sympathetic without ever really engendering pity.  She’s simply a unique and marvellous creation.

Augustus is less likely to watch life from the side lines.  Having survived a pretty survivable cancer almost intact he is desperate to make his mark.  He doesn’t know how he’s going to do it, but he’s driven to affect the world in a way that Hazel is not.  He seems to be constantly searching for meaning and the way in which he latches on to An Imperial Affliction and its ideas is unsurprising. To say more about Augustus would detract from the pleasure you will find in reading him for yourself so suffice to say that he is a character of utter luminosity, he shall be left for you to discover alone.  The list of additional characters is small yet they strong.  From the minor (hilariously tragic and testicle-less Patrick) to the major (Isaac, eyeless and lovelorn) to the vital (every parent in the book) they are beautifully realised.  Particularly mention, however, must go to Van Houten, a man introduced largely through the excerpts of his book, An Imperial Affliction. He is a tour de force of belligerent insanity and searing truth.

John Green has gone out of his way to avoid the tropes so often seen in Cancer Books (to the point where his characters witheringly decry the stereotypes throughout); apart from anything else, The Fault in our Stars is extremely funny.  Even in its saddest moments, Green is able to surprise you with a scene that will have you crying with laughter.  But not just laughter.  Lest we forget, this is a book about a dying girl and if it doesn’t have you in floods of tears at least once then, quite frankly, you should consider the fact that you may not actually have a soul.  Particularly moving are the portrayals of parents who deal constantly with the prospective loss of their only child.  Hazel’s father is especially heart-breaking as a man prone to tears and reading this book as a parent was particularly difficult.  The writing is, as one might expect from Green, excellent be it describing children leaping from bone to bone or petals strewn on water.

The Fault in our Stars is by far the most accomplished book yet from King of the Internets, Green.  While all of his previous work has been impressive, there has been a tendency on his part to use his super-smart teen protagonists as a mouthpiece for what you have to assume are Big Ideas that have been rattling around his own conciousness.  It’s always worked but has always left me with the suspicion that I’m really reading John Green being John Green (which, admittedly, is massively enjoyable).  However, in TFIOS, he avoids this almost entirely.  Hazel is his first female protagonist and he’s given her a fantastically strong, utterly unique, narrative voice.  Yes, her and Gus are very bright and yes, they have a lot of deeply philosophical thoughts on the world but John Green saves the real existentialism for Van Houten and An Imperial Affliction, a book I very much hope he actually writes one day. 

This is a book that feels like it should carry some sort of message in its worthy pages, but I don’t know it if does other than whatever the individual reader takes from it.  Green is clearly a man who Thinks Deeply and would like us all Think Deep Thoughts.  Well, mad props, Mr Green, you got me.  On finishing The Fault in our Stars, I wiped away my tears and stepped outside to observe the universe wondering if it, in turn, observed me but above all awed at the ineffable elegance of it all. I hope that, on finishing this extraordinatry book, you do too. 

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who cried writing it. The Fault in our Stars is available now.  Thank you to the publisher for sending us this title to review.  You can also find a YAck of the book here (which contains spoilers).

February 09, 2013

Not With a Bang, With a Whimper (Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller)

The Dog Stars by Peter HellerThe Dog Stars
Peter Heller
Knopf 2012

Where do you imagine yourself after the fall of civilisation? Are you a Mad Max, simply fighting for your own survival in a world gone feral? Or are you the lone scientist trying desperately to reverse whatever grim fate befell your fellow man? Do you batten down the hatches in your personal fortress, keeping the mutated hordes at bay with your private arsenal? Or do you strike out into the unknown, desperate to uncover some other fragment of your seemingly lost race? We've all played this game, at least in our minds, after an enjoyable slice of post-apocalyptic entertainment. Here's the kicker though - we don't get to choose. Life deals your hand, and in a world gone to hell it's not likely to be a good one.

This truth finds Hig, protagonist of Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, and never lets him forget it. Not long from now the world is subject to a hideous plague, unimaginable in its virulence. One by one the population drops away, victims of the bad blood. Precious few were granted the gift of natural immunity; Hig was fortunate, his wife less so. Seemingly abandoned by the rest of the world, Hig finds himself drifting from one day to the next on an abandoned airfield. A former pilot, he makes regular excursions in search of other survivors - friendly or otherwise - in The Beast, his trusty Cessna. His sole companion on these missions is Jasper, an ageing but loyal beagle.

Hig's universe is shrunk to the size of the Cessna's fuel range. The occasional interlopers into his territory are invariably unfriendly, bandits looting the remains of the ravaged world. Warnings of plague emitted from the plane's PA are usually enough to deter them. Those foolhardy enough to press on find themselves dealing with Bangley.

Gentle dreamer Hig is no Mad Max. His survival would have been drastically curtailed were it not for the other inhabitant of the airfield. Bangley is a perfect stereotype of the survivalist. Rugged, no-nonsense and with an encyclopedic knowledge of firearms, carpentry, electrics, plumbing and the rest. Thrust into an unlikely partnership the two of them settle on a deal. Hig performs reconnaissance from above while Bangley deals with trouble on the ground. Hig is the early warning system, Bangley the one-man minefield.

The Dog Stars focuses on Hig's attempts to adjust to his loss, not only of his wife but of the world at large. His present and future in tatters, he struggles to get through every hour. Bangley's brusque nature leaves Jasper as his only companion. In this stark setting even the most pedestrian of happenings becomes major news, anything to relieve the tedium of a daily grind with no end in sight. Before long a major development in Hig's life causes him to re-evaluate his situation and decide once and for all whether to continue being a passive observer of an uncaring world.

Heller pulls no punches in his treatment of Hig. The Dog Stars is the first book I have read in years which has had me on the verge of tears, yet at no point did this deter me from pushing on. Hig's desperate situation forces you to get behind him, even in the darkest moments. By refusing to dwell on the gorier details of the plague or its aftermath, Heller forces us into Hig's mind. In this world there in barely anything left with one's thoughts, a dangerous state of affairs. You either dedicate yourself entirely to a task like the unpleasant Bangley and his survival or you risk losing yourself forever to dwelling on the world you've lost. Hig's tale is one of trying to find the balance, trying to recover the sense of self and purpose he once had.

The Dog Stars isn't a cheerful book, not by any stretch of the imagination. It's full of setbacks, unjust punishments and cruel twists of fate. It takes a likable character and subjects him to torments both violent and subtle. In the end, however, its positive message comes to the fore. The simplistic and stark way in which Heller paints this grim world lends it a beauty seldom seen in other post-apocalyptic fiction. It's a reminder that it doesn't all have to be zombies, floods and fireballs - the end of the world has a human face too.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones. The Dog Stars is available now.

February 06, 2013

Never Gonna Give You Up... (Review: Last to Die; Tess Gerritsen)

Last to Die (Rizzoli & Isles, #10)Last to Die
Tess Gerritsen
Random House 2012

Three families, three homes, three massacres, three survivors – no connection.  Or so it seems until the three survivors have to survive again. All three are children and all three find themselves alone in the world and deposited at strange boarding school/survival camp Evensong. Maura Isles knows all about Evensong and finds herself there as the final child arrives, escorted by Jane Rizzoli.  The two women quickly realise that Evensong may not be all it seems linked, as it is, to the ever mysterious Mephisto Club and that the seemingly unrelated deaths surrounding Claire, Will and Teddy may not be entirely unrelated. With strange stick figures and dead chickens starting to appear around the grounds, Jane and Maura find themselves increasingly intertwined in a place that may very well be harbouring the killer that they seek.

As always, Gerritsen writes her female leads with subtlety and warmth.  The rather frosty Isles is still pretty much as miserable as ever but has found her light at the end of the tunnel in the shape of Julian, her quasi-adoptive son, who seems to have given her some perspective on a life that has, after all, revolved around death.  She’s still remote and yes, still quite cold, but Gerritsen is skilled at cracking open her hard shell and letting readers peak inside.  Rizzoli is as frenetic and stubborn as ever, but motherhood has tempered her more hot-headed impulses, if not her interactions with her increasingly infuriating family.  She’s an extremely moral character, with set ideas on right and wrong.  Of the two women, she is certainly easier to like but is no less flawed and, as one has come to expect, the time they spend together in the book is interesting to read.  Their friendship has been on the rocks for a while but Last to Die resolves this somewhat and shows, more than ever before, how much their strange friendship means to them as individuals despite them often being woefully ill-equipped to express it. Other characters are well drawn.  The teaching staff at Evensong are caring yet unsettling, while Anthony Sampson continues to shroud himself in mystery in a somewhat irritating manner.  Detectives Frost and Crowe are respectively solid and horrid while Julian emerges as an interesting young man.  The children at the heart of the story are particularly well expressed, damaged, sympathetic but also deeply unsettling, carrying as they do, the weight of much violence on their small shoulders.

Last to Die gets off to a great start, tracking the attacks on Claire, Will and Teddy, the latter of which draws Boston PD and their medical examiner into the story. While Maura Isles is ostensibly about to take some time off to spend with Julian at Evensong, Jane Rizzoli ultimately ends up taking young victim Teddy to the school for his own protection while trying to investigate a string of killings that she has a gut feeling are tied together.  The plotting is simple yet effective. Gerritsen takes readers from the woods of Maine to the science centres of NASA without the story every feeling particularly contrived and the mystery behind the three families is nothing less than compelling throughout. And then there is the Mephisto Club, around who so many things in the Rizzoli/Isles universe have started to swirl. Gerritsen has been tiptoeing around the Club, leaving unresolved trails of breadcrumbs ever since they first appeared in their titular book.  They were an odd fit then, with their talks of inherent evil, and they’re an odd fit now, adding an almost supernatural bent to what was previously pure crime writing.  However, on close reading it is clear that Gerritsen is trying to look at philosophies rather than demons. I’m not sure that she’s entirely successful but it does make for interesting reading. The way in which Rizzoli and Isles have responded to the Mephistinos (for that is what they should be called) in the past has been interesting (not to mention refreshingly dismissive) but Last to Die seems to hint at a sea change, particularly where Maura is concerned.  Certainly, it will be interesting to see where Tess Gerritsen heads with this thread.

Regardless of the Mephisto storyline, what Gerritsen is sure to do in the future is produce yet more endlessly readable crime fiction.  For those who have only seen the rather dreadful, oddly comedic and horribly miscast TV series based around Rizzoli and Isles – don’t let it put you off.  The series that Gerritsen has written around these characters is an altogether darker place that the frivolity of the show, with intricate characterisation and seriously sinister stories abounding in every instalment.  A must for lovers of a good thriller, Last to Die doesn’t disappoint and will absolutely keep you guessing until the last page.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird and you can expect more like it as here at Mountains of Instead we are embracing our secret love of thrillers. Last to Die is available now.

February 04, 2013

Two Roads (Review: The Indigo Spell; Richelle Mead)

The Indigo Spell
Richelle Mead
Razorbill 2013

The Indigo Spell is the third in Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series.  If you haven’t read the first two books then this review will contain. You have been warned.

Life for Sydney Sage isn’t getting any easier.  In charge of the protection of Jill Dragomir, sister to the Moroi queen (and in hiding because of it) she has found herself spending more and more time with those whose existence she has been taught was repellent her entire life.  And it’s making her question everything she’s ever believed.  After her recent discovery of the Warriors of Light, an intimate interlude with a Moroi, not to mention the discovery that she seems to be some sort of magical adept, Sydney has no idea what has happened to her life.  Desperate for information, she sets out to find the mysterious Marcus Finch, a rogue Alchemist who may just have the answers she seeks.  At the same time, she discovers she’s in danger from some sort of evil old witch who might just want to suck away her power and youth while continuing to battle with her conflicting feelings for the increasingly alluring Adrian Ivashkov.  Same old, same old, then…

God love Sydney and her indefatigable work ethic.  Regardless of what task she sets herself to, she knuckles down like there’s no tomorrow.  From meeting and then dealing with Marcus, to learning a host of the magic she’s so very scared of, to looking after her charges (a job seemingly more akin to herding bats than anything else, especially in terms of the glorious Angeline), to ignoring Adrian, she tries terribly hard.  Interestingly, when she then decides to question her own personal rhetoric, she sets about things with the same kind of gusto – an attitude which is both in keeping with her character and great to read.  Sydney, despite her conflicting loyalties is proving that she is nothing if not true to herself.  This true self is something that is coming into clearer focus for readers of the Bloodlines series.  While The Golden Lily touched more on the fact that Sydney was woefully under-socialised, The Indigo Spell shows her starting to relax a little, to enjoy life and to confront her own true feelings.  As a character she just gets better and better and is a truly enjoyable protagonist to read.

New character, Marcus, while vital to the plot is rather underwhelming.  He’s very pretty with a sort of Robin Hood-esque charm about him but at first seems to only exist for the sake of some interesting exposition.  However, he quickly emerges as a character who provides Sydney with options, both practically and personally, helping her on her journey as a person (dude).  Eddie, Angeline, Jill and Trey remain well written with Jill particularly lovely and Ms. Terwilliger gets more page space this time round, emerging as being pretty awesome.  Obviously, though, as with ALL the other books he appears in, Adrian completely steals the show.  I may have mentioned this before, but Adrian is just my kind of trouble.  Disregarding the fangs, he sounds like 90% of the men I’ve dated.  Gorgeous?  Check.  Be-clothed in a cloud of smoke and whiskey fumes? Check.  Charismatic?  Hilarious?  Poor, but in an I’m-a-struggling-artist-and-secretly-probably-live-in-a-garret sort of a way? Check, check, check!  He could have been written just for me.  Mead has always written his character well, especially when she’s put him through the ringer and The Indigo Spell is no exception.  He clearly adores Sydney and watching him patiently pine for her is both touching and swoonsome (yes, it’s a word).  In short, yum.

The Indigo Spell moves Richelle Mead’s series along at quite a pace.  The writing is as slick as ever, with the dialogue particularly believable regardless of the supernatural subject matter.  Her world building remains superb even as she carefully deconstructs the Alchemists and their secrets and there are plenty of intriguing questions dangling in terms of final book, The Fiery Heart.  The main strengths of The Indigo Spell, as with her previous books, remain her characters all of whom are immensely likable (or immensely unlikable when appropriate).  This and the steady humour she peppers her stories with set Bloodlines apart from other vampire tales.  To be honest, you’d be hard pushed to get me to pick up a book that mentioned the word vampire in its blurb these days yet I find myself eagerly awaiting what is sure to be an enjoyable and classy denouement to Bloodlines later this year. Even if you can’t stand vamp stories, or feel like you've read them all, Richelle Mead’s books are refreshing, fun and contain NO sparkles. Highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who really does love a bad boy.  The Indigo Spell is published on 12th February 2013. Thank you to the publisher for sending us this title to review.