Blog Tour: Shadows of the Short Days

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for Shadows of the Short Days by Alexander Dan Vilhjalmsson. Set in an alternate Reykjavik, I was intrigued by the premise of this from the start so I was excited to have the opportunity to read it. Many thanks to Waseem and Stevie at Gollancz for my gifted copy!

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Sæmundur the Mad, addict and sorcerer, has been expelled from the magical university, Svartiskóli, and can no longer study galdur, an esoteric source of magic. Obsessed with proving his peers wrong, he will stop at nothing to gain absolute power and knowledge, especially of that which is long forbidden.

Garún is an outcast: half-human, half-huldufólk, fighting against an unjust government that refuses to grant people like her basic rights. A militant revolutionary and graffiti artist, recklessly dismissive of the status quo, she will do anything to achieve a just society, including spark a revolution. Even if she has to do it alone.

This is a tale of revolution set in a twisted version of Reykjavik fuelled by industrialised magic and populated by humans, interdimensional exiles, otherworldly creatures, psychoactive graffiti and demonic familiars.

The first thing I’m going to say, because I’m always honest in my reviews, is that the first 150 pages or so were something of a struggle. There’s a lot of world-building to do, and although it’s well written, it is also the teensiest bit dull. Or at least, it is in my opinion. Not everyone will agree, and that’s good! But if you do find yourself thinking that maybe Shadows of the Short Days isn’t for you, do stick with it, because it improves massively once we get into the action. I actually found myself breathless at one point, as I wondered if a character was going to escape the situation they’d found themselves in.

Neither of our main characters is particularly likeable, although I did have a preference for Garun, who was at least working for a cause and not just for herself. Yes, she’s pretty reckless and doesn’t really think about the other lives she’s putting at risk, and she doesn’t really value her own life much, but she believes in what she’s fighting for. Saemundar, on the other hand, thinks he’s a misunderstood genius, and sets in motion a chain of events that has unforseen consequences, in an attempt to prove his professors at the university wrong. I found myself thinking “don’t be an idiot Saemundar” quite a lot throughout his point of view chapters!

The industrial/steampunk Reykjavik setting was very interesting. Dark, but interesting. I particularly liked the interdimensional pocket version, which was even darker than the main city, and filled with exiles, huldufolk and forbidden magic. It was also interesting to see how being in that setting affected the characters in a different way to how they normally behaved. I did feel that a level of knowledge of actual Reykjavik was assumed – I might be wrong on that, but I did find it difficult to picture certain parts of the city and I’m normally a very visual reader and I wondered if the descriptions of certain places weren’t as detailed because of that assumption. But like I said, I might be wrong and actually, the Reykjavik in the book is completely different to real life Reykjavik.

There were some loose ends at the point the book finished, and it definitely ends on something of a cliffhanger, so I assume there’s a sequel on the way. I must admit, I’m intrigued to where Vilhjalmsson might take a next installment!

If you like grimdark fantasy with an industrial twist, I definitely recommend you check out Shadows of the Short Days!

Shadows of the Short Days is out now.

Don’t forget to visit the other blogs on the tour, and thanks again to Gollancz for my gifted copy.

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Blog Tour: I Hold Your Heart

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Please be aware that this review discusses the themes of I Hold Your Heart and as such contains references to abusive relationships.

I am a HUGE fan of Karen Gregory – Skylarks was my favourite book of last year – so I knew as soon as I heard about I Hold Your Heart I had to be part of the blog tour. I am therefore absolutely delighted to be reviewing this book as one of the first stops!

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‘You make me feel like there’s something good in the world I can hold on to,’ Aaron says. He kisses me again, draws me so close it’s almost hard to breathe. ‘I love you, Gem. And I promise I’ll hold your heart forever.’

When Gemma meets Aaron, she feels truly seen for the first time. Their love story is the intense kind. The written-in-the-stars, excluding-all-others kind. The kind you write songs about.

But little by little their relationship takes over Gemma’s life. What happens when being seen becomes being watched, and care becomes control?

Told in both Gemma’s and Aaron’s words, this is a raw, moving exploration of gaslighting in teenage relationships that skewers our ideas of what love looks like.

I absolutely loved I Hold Your Heart. It’s a brilliant, and important book, looking at something that isn’t really covered that often in YA. A lot of contemporary YA is all about the romance, the cute relationship, the happy ending, but I Hold Your Heart looks at what happens when that cute relationship is actually an unhealthy and controlling one. Where it really comes into its own though, is in giving us both points of view. In doing so, it doesn’t invite us to empathise with Aaron, or make excuses for him, but to see how easy it is to become entangled with someone who has poor intentions.

Given that, it’s definitely important to go into this book aware of its contents. There is an emotionally abusive relationship throughout, it’s sometimes physically abusive and violent and there’s a scene where the main character is unable to give full consent to sex. These scenes were difficult enough to read without any personal experience; I can’t imagine what it would be like if you’ve lived through similar situations.

Obviously, as someone who doesn’t have any personal experience of the situation in the book, I can’t speak to how realistic the portrayal is, but it seems very realistic to me. Gemma, our main character, has some brilliant friends who see Aaron for what he is immediately, but he still manages to isolate her completely, and persuade her that her friends are jealous of their relationship and she’s better off without them. The first chapter from Aaron’s point of view is quite chilling, because he knows exactly what he’s doing. Does he set out to purposely abuse Gemma? Probably not, because I don’t think he thinks of what he’s doing as abuse. But I do think he wants to be the only person Gemma cares about and he will do whatever it takes to get that.

Gemma herself is a fascinating character. Ostensibly, she has a good life. She has parents who care about her, a nice house to live in, friends who love her and dreams to follow. But her brother (who is adorable by the way) is on the road to becoming a professional footballer, which takes most of her parents’ time, and she feels she matters less because of it. Her dad wouldn’t let her go to the college of her choice because it was too far away, but he’ll drive her brother anywhere he needs to go. It’s easy to see how Aaron is able to exploit that feeling. Aaron makes Gemma feel seen, that she is the most important thing in the world to him, and it’s the first time she’s ever felt that. I absolutely understand why she can’t see what her friend, Esi, sees, and I can equally understand that she wants to show she reciprocates. I loved (while hating that it was happening) that you could see Gemma changing right there on the page. She starts off so confident, and you can actually see her confidence being whittled away. I’m in awe of Karen’s writing skill to be honest, because that’s so hard to do when it’s written in first person.

I need to talk about Esi for a bit, because I loved her, and there’s a part of me that would have liked to see more of her, even though that wouldn’t work in the story. She’s the best sort of friend, the sort who isn’t afraid to call you out on your BS, but is also fun and caring and looking out for you, even if you aren’t doing the same in return. Everyone needs an Esi in their life!

I can’t actually talk about some of my favourite things, because they would be firmly in spoiler territory, more so than what I’ve already talked about, but trust me when I say the entire book is fantastic. It is, as I said above, hard to read at some points, because you can see what’s happening so clearly and it’s frustrating that Gemma can’t, and there are scenes that are actually painful, but that’s what makes it so brilliant. I can’t recommend I Hold Your Heart enough – Karen Gregory has definitely done it again!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour!

5/5

I Hold Your Heart is out on 11 July from Bloomsbury. Many thanks to Bloomsbury and Faye Rogers for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review