Blog Tour: Cold Iron

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Today in case you couldn’t tell from that big banner there (yes my blog name is wrong; no, I didn’t notice until it was too late to do anything), I’m on the blog tour for Cold Iron today. This is the first book I’ve read by Miles Cameron, and there was lots to enjoy about it.

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Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her. One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . . 

A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.

So, I did really enjoy Cold Iron. Aranthur is a likeable, if rather naive, lead character, and I enjoyed seeing him become a little bit wiser as he moved through the events of the book. It would have been nice if he’d learned a little bit faster, instead of repeatedly making the same mistakes, but as one of my pet bugbears in books is characters hiding vital information from the protagonist for “reasons”, I shared a lot of his frustration at his friends and colleagues. I realise that sometimes there’s no plot without this, but if one conversation can solve everything, then that seems a little bit like lazy writing to me. But I digress. This wasn’t actually an issue in Cold Iron, because there were legitimate reasons for not sharing the information, and while Aranthur’s life might have been easier if his friends had talked to him, I can understand why they didn’t.

The secondary characters were actually my favourite thing about Cold Iron, especially the ones we got to know  – there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and as a result we don’t necessarily get to find out much about a lot of them – but I really liked Dahlia, Tiy Drako, Sasan and Ansu, and even the military characters we only met briefly, like Equus and The General. Cameron is very good at getting a lot of personality across in a few words, and it’s surprisingly effective in getting you to care about people.

The world building is also impressive. The magic system makes sense, and there’s a lot of history built into the story. I’m not going to lie, some of it is dropped in an info-dump way, but most of it is woven into the story very effectively. The setting is also described in a very vivid way – I could easily imagine the Inn of Fosse, Aranthur’s rooms and even the streets of the city as events played out. There’s a hefty political system at work too, and a lot of political intrigue and conspiracies. I did find some of this confusing as I was reading, but it ties together beautifully by the end, and I did think the way Cameron built the story was very clever.

The one thing I really disliked about Cold Iron was the racist way Aranthur refers to himself and the people he comes from. It happened a few times, and while I understand that Cameron was probably trying to show how Aranthur had internalised external attitudes, it was a very bad choice of words, which just came across as racist.  The first time it happened was very near the beginning of the book, and it did have an effect on the way I read the rest.

Overall though, Cold Iron was a very enjoyable book. I think it could have been smoother in its writing, as it did seem to jump about quite a lot and the timescale wasn’t always clear, but it all tied together brilliantly. However, I also think that Cameron needs to think a bit more about the language he uses and the connotations it might have, whatever his intentions actually were. The blurb doesn’t lie though – it is a powerful story, well told, with a fascinating cast of characters. If you like your fantasy epic, this is for you!

Cold Iron is out now from Gollancz.

3.5/5

Advance copy sent to me by Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

 

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Book review: I Was Born For This

I’m not going to lie, I thought twice about requesting this. I’d read Alice Oseman’s previous two books, Solitaire and Radio Silence and found something missing from them for me. I’d decided her writing wasn’t for me, so I wasn’t going to read I Was Born For This, because it didn’t seem fair to keep trying and keep saying she’s not for me. I’d like to say this book changed that for me; unfortunately it didn’t. I still didn’t connect with it in the way so many other readers did. However, I’m happy to say that I felt it was miles above the previous two, and I do think it’s Oseman’s best book yet.

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For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be. 

For me, Alice Oseman is one of those writers who I can see is technically very good. And she really is. I’m convinced my issue with her books is exactly that – my issue. I can see exactly why people love them, just like I can see why people might find a famous actor attractive, even if I don’t like them myself. I Was Born For This was no exception. Written from two perspectives – superfan Angel and band member Jimmy – it looks at how fandom can give its members a space to belong, while also piling the pressure onto everyone involved. Angel and Jimmy both struggle to deal with these pressures, and it was interesting to see their two viewpoints and the push and pull between a fandom and its subjects.

One of the things Oseman always does well is diversity, and it was something I loved about IWBFT. There’s clear, important LGBT and mental health rep on the page, and Angel is a young Muslim woman who wears a hijab. These aren’t plot points, they’re just facts that makes these characters who they are, which is exactly how diversity in books should work. There are also excellent side characters, like Bliss, the girlfriend of one of the band members, and Jimmy’s grandad. I’ll admit that I found the other members of the band a bit annoying, but I think that’s because we mostly see them from Jimmy’s point of view, and he has a lot of issues with them during the course of this book.

Overall, I’m glad I read I Was Born For This. It was certainly enjoyable and is a book that makes you think. It’s ultimately a book about finding your own path, and I think it’s an important addition to the YA canon – even if it wasn’t quite for me.

4/5

ARC received from Harper Collins via Nina Douglas, in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Nina!

Book Review – Ravencry

Last year I got the chance to read an early copy of Blackwing by Ed McDonald, and I absolutely loved it,so when the lovely Stevie Finegan from Gollancz offered me the chance of reading the sequel, Ravencry, I had to jump at it. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed!

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Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

I have to say, it did take me a little while to get into Ravencry, mostly because I was craving light, fluffy, romantic summer novels, and absolutely none of that describes Ravencry. It did, therefore, take me longer than I expected to read. Once I did get into it though, I raced through it.

I loved that it started four years after the end of Blackwing. Plot-wise, it has to, because there has to have been a significant amount of time for the events to make sense. But so often when you have a series like this, major events just pile on one after another and you get to the point that you’re wondering how the lead characters are still standing. A break of four years between potentially world-ending events makes a bit more sense, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the world of the Misery and Galharrow et al has moved on from where we left it, and things seem to be improving. Obviously that means everything is about to go horribly wrong.

Galharrow is, if anything, in worse shape than he was in Blackwing. He doesn’t sleep. He barely eats. He drinks a lot. He blames himself for what happened four years earlier, but can’t do anything to fix it. Pretty much all that’s keeping him going is the mystery of the Bright Lady, and who she might be, although he’s not quite sure whether she’s worth his hope yet. That, and a moral obligation to do the right thing – whatever that might be, even if it’s going deep into the Misery in search of answers. I love Galharrow. I loved him in Blackwing and I think I love him even more in Ravencry. He’s just so broken, in so many ways, yet he keeps on keeping on. The people he cares about are everything to him, so obviously that’s where his enemy hits him. Numerous times. I don’t know anyone who would be able to cope with everything that’s thrown at Galharrow. It changes him, in deep and, I suspect, as yet unseen ways, and he knows it’s going to, but he does what he has to do anyway.

The other characters (mostly) aren’t shortchanged. The events of Blackwing have had their effects on everyone, and they’re generally not good.  We’re also introduced to a couple of new characters – a potential love interest, Valiya, and Galharrow’s ward/servant Amaira, who I loved with the passon of a thousand suns. She was fantastic, and I’m guessing we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in book three. There’s also a scene where we’re re-introduced to an old friend (no spoilers here!) and I actually cried at the description of them. We hadn’t seen this character for a long time, but they had been witten so well that that was how much I cared about them (gosh, it’s difficult to write this without spoilers!). And the ending nearly broke me, never mind Galharrow!

(I have issues with the ending too, but I really can’t discuss them without spoiling both Ravencry and Blackwing, so you’ve escaped the rant.)

Apart from my issues with the ending, Ravencry is an astounding book. Once it gets into its stride, it never lets up, and it’s one disaster after another. I could barely catch my breath, and I was properly living the story alongside the main characters, which is maybe the highest praise I can give a book. I highly recommend you read it, although you should really start with Blackwing. You might be able to get away with reading Ravencry as a standalone, but you’ll miss a lot of the emotional beats and completely spoil the first book, so do try to read them in order. But do read them.

4.5/5

Advance copy received from Stevie Finegan at Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

YALC 2018

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Last weekend was THE event in the UKYA calendar, the Young Adult Literature Convention. Many of you were there, and are probably also writing up your posts about it! It was, as always, a weekend of bookish fun, in which I got to see lots and lots of friends, chat to some of my favourite authors and buy a ridiculous number of books. However, this year, I also found it to be full of frustration, to the extent that I’m seriously considering not going next year – and I’ve been to all five of them so far, so this is a big thing for me.

But let’s start with the fun. Friday was a mostly excellent day. I love wandering around the publisher stands and picking up freebies (although what was with the lack of totes this year guys?!) and just chatting to the teams. I may also have bought books – I wanted the early copies of Giant Days by Non Pratt and Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes by Holly Bourne, and my pre-order of Record of a Spaceborn Few hadn’t arrived before I left, so I needed to buy that too – but it was generally a relaxed, sauntering sort of day. Yes, Non Pratt’s queue was HUGE, and I foolishly stayed in it, thus missing Katherine Woodfine, even though I knew I was also going to have to queue on Saturday for Non, but that was my own bad decision, and those two and Ed McDonald were the only people I planned to see, so all was fine.

Friday was also the day of the Floored quiz. Last year’s quiz was a highlight of the weekend for me, so I had great expectations this year, and they were all met. My Kinda Book had kindly provided a free bar and food, and six of the seven Floored authors were team captains (Mel Salisbury had a prior appointment with Aidan Turner, so who can blame her for skipping out on us?). I was on Non’s team, with Sarah, Alice, Bella and Lucinda AND WE ONLY WENT AND WON! It’s over a week later, and I’m still in shock!

 

So that was Friday. Friday was great. Saturday was less so, and I have since come to the conclusion that Saturday at YALC is just too busy for me. It was also, in my opinion, terribly organised. Like, who decided to have seven separate queues for the Floored authors? So many people were disappointed not to get everyone’s signature because one queue closed while they were in another, myself included. Fortunately, I only needed Lisa Williamson’s signature to complete my copy at that point, and the ever lovely Non sorted that out for me, but I was really disappointed not to have a chance to chat to Lisa. I’d already queued for literal hours for Frances Hardinge and Laura Wood, so I was exhausted by now – only there were no seats except in the panel area, because despite promises to do better on the accessibility front, the only seats in the chill out zone were beanbags. I don’t have accessibility issues, but I can’t get down to a beanbag, or the floor, very easily and I felt bad going into a panel just so I could sit down for a bit. It didn’t stop me doing it, but if I’d needed it during some of the panels, I’d have been stuck, because they were full. All the queueing really put a damper on my day, and it was a real shame. I wouldn’t have minded so much if they didn’t already have a system in place to deal with it, but they do, they just weren’t using it properly. Anybody attending on Saturday could have told you which queues were going to be huge, so why didn’t they start virtual ticketing straightaway for those authors like they did for the Fletchers?

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Anyway, it wasn’t all bad. I got to see one of my very favourite authors for the first time in a couple of years and was incredibly chuffed that he not only remembered me, but he got up to give me a huge hug. I also noticed a group of people sat on the floor near the signing area, and something told me that they knew that that was where Becky Chambers was signing, so I went over, made some new friends and got to be almost at the front of the queue for Becky. I also got to see plenty of old friends who helped me decompress after the stressful morning, and my copy of Second Best Friend is signed to Donna the Quiz Queen, which is always going to remind me of the fantastic time I had at the quiz.

Sunday was a much better day, because it was quieter, and I only had two books with me to get signed. I didn’t get into any of the workshops I wanted, because I arrived late and they were full already, but I didn’t mind too much. I just wandered, actually attended some panels and entered some competitions, before buying lots of books. Oh, and I finally saw Jason Momoa, who was this year’s Benedict Cumberbatch!

I did enjoy myself. I know it doesn’t sound like it from the above, and Saturday has inevitably coloured my whole experience, but I did. YALC as a member of the UKYA community is a whole different beast to YALC without knowing everyone, and I love that aspect of it. I love being able to start up a conversation about books with anyone in sight, I love meeting people who I’ve only known online up to now and I love making new friends. This year I also got to introduce myself to publicists as someone they might know, which was amazing. But Showmasters/YALC desperately need to sort out their organisation and accessibility for the event. I know some people were in tears at the way they were treated by staff, and that’s not what YALC should be like.

So how would I fix it? More seating for starters, and more scattered around if possible. Virtual ticketing from the start for the authors that everyone knows will be busy. Staff/volunteers who understand what an extra help wristband means and what they should do. And speak to the publishers about how they run their giveaways. It’s true that they didn’t do any ‘first here gets this’, but a lot of them still involved standing in line for a long period of time if you wanted a proof. I know just running raffles over and over again isn’t as fun or exciting, but it’s honestly the fairest way. Or do what Hot Key did, which was a mix of twitter competitions and making silly poses. They need to be as inclusive as possible, and it just wasn’t this year. Again. Kudos to Atom, Chicken House, Hodderscape and Penguin, who did make their giveaways into raffles or competitions that didn’t involve standing around for ages, and half a kudos to Harper Collins who did some, but not all, of their proof giveaways like that.

Anyway, I’m sure you all want to see my haul, so voila!

Getting all that back to Liverpool was FUN, as some of you might have seen on twitter!

That feels like it was the longest blog post ever, and it certainly took me a long time to write. I hope I haven’t been overly critical, but I did find parts of YALC incredibly frustrating this year. I still love it though!

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Did you go to YALC this year? Did you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!