Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge

cuckoo song cover

The first things to shift were the doll’s eyes, the beautiful grey-green glass eyes. Slowly they swivelled, until their gaze was resting on Triss’s face. Then the tiny mouth moved, opened to speak.

‘What are you doing here?’ It was uttered in tones of outrage and surprise, and in a voice as cold and musical as the clinking of cups. ‘Who do you think you are? This is my family.’

When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.

Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest find the truth she must travel into the terrifying Underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family – before it’s too late.

My Thoughts

Cuckoo SongCuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cuckoo Song is a dark, creepy fairy tale that comes out like Diana Wynne Jones’ The Time of the Ghost but then twists itself into a very dark and atmospheric fairy tale.

It’s told from the point of view of the ‘monster’ – the fake Triss that is created by magic and made from twigs and ribbons and hair to cover up the kidnap of the real Triss. She doesn’t know what she is at first, she wakes up with no memories and can’t understand why nothing in her life feels quite right and why her little sister hates her.

Underneath the fairy tale story is a story about a family falling apart. Triss’ older brother Sebastion was killed in the war and her parents are devastated, turning all their attention on protecting sickly Triss and ignoring her little sister Pen, who can never behave herself. They are distant and cold and all the love has gone from the family.

I was wary of starting this one after I didn’t like the first Frances Harding book I read, The Lie Tree. I’m glad that I gave it a chance though, in this book the oddness that I couldn’t get to grips with in The Lie Tree was done perfectly with a decent and layered story to back it up.

Frances Harding manages to make me have sympathy for the villain. Ok, he’s crazy scary and way too obsessed with revenge, but the root of his motivation is that he is trying to help his people find a place to live where they won’t be persecuted. As much as I want not-Triss to stop his plans and save real Triss I also understand why he’s done most of what he’s done.

Pen and Violet are two of the best characters I’ve read about all year; Violet is sensible but a total badass and I adore how fierce and wilful Pen is.

I loved it, I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved everything about it. It’s a strange and dark and odd story and I couldn’t stop reading.

Cuckoo Song
Frances Hardinge
Young Adult Fantasy
May 8th 2014
Paperback
409

The Obsidian Tower (Jewelfire #3) by Freda Warrington

obsidian tower cover

In this final volume of the Jewelfire trilogy, all seems lost for the humans of Aventuria. The shape-changing Bhahdradomen have invaded and Queen Helananthe has been forced to step down or see her mother and brother murdered. Meanwhile Tanthe is attempting to rescue her sister, Ysomir.

My Review of The Obsidian Tower

The Obsidian Tower (The Jewelfire Trilogy #3)The Obsidian Tower by Freda Warrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is not ok to play with my emotions like this Freda Warrington! Excuse me while I go sob in the corner, please.

So, at the start of The Obsidian Tower, everything looks bad. The Bhahdradomen have invaded and taken the throne, Helan, Tanthe and the others are in captivity and Rufryd has been left for dead. Well, things only get worse from here!

I’ve grown to love this series. I wasn’t convinced by the first book but it grew on me and I ended up heavily emotionally invested in it. The writing is lush. The descriptions of the worlds are beautiful: this world is alive in my head, I could almost step into it.

And there is SO much character growth. Characters I hated at the start ended up being my favourites and characters that I thought were going to be the heroes or the villains are anything but. There are no truly good or bad people in the worlds Freda Warrington creates. There are no superheroes and no evil villains. Her characters are very real, often messy and usually contradictory. And don’t get too attached to any of them because Warrington is not averse to killing off the people that seem like the stars of the show. None of them is safe!

The storyline is very, very clever. There are lot’s of different characters and different stories going on but they all weave in together and bring a very satisfying, if bittersweet, resolution with all the different storylines rounded up and finished off.

I got off to a wobbly start with this series but by the end, I’d fallen in love with it. It’s clever, dark and as realistic as high fantasy gets. Give it a go, it’s worth the investment.

The Obsidian Tower
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
2001
Paperback
708

The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles #1) by C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld

The Secret Fire Cover

French teen Sacha Winters can’t die. He can throw himself off a roof, be stabbed, even shot, and he will always survive. Until the day when history and ancient enmities dictate that he must die. Worse still, his death will trigger something awful. Something deadly. And that day is closing in.

Taylor Montclair is a normal English girl, hanging out with her friends and studying for exams until she starts shorting out the lights with her brain. She’s also the only person on earth who can save Sacha.

There’s only one problem: the two of them have never met. They live hundreds of miles apart and powerful forces will stop at nothing to keep them apart.

They have eight weeks to find each other.

Will they survive long enough to save the world?

My Review of The Secret Fire

The Secret Fire (The Alchemist Chronicles, #1)The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sacha is 17, he lives in Paris and he can’t die. Until the day he turns 18 when the curse that protects him will kill him.

Taylor is just a normal English teenager trying to do well in her exams. But she starts getting terrible headaches and odd things start happening around her when she gets upset.

Their teachers ask them to work them together so Taylor can help Sacha with his English but they soon start to realise that it’s not an accidental pairing – Taylor holds some sort of key to breaking the curse that is going to kill Sacha.

I got caught up in the story behind Sacha’s curse. I liked his storyline better than Taylor’s and I liked reading the parts from his point of view more because they felt like they flowed better and were grittier and just more interesting than Taylor’s.

Taylor’s magic is explained as being ‘spiritual alchemy’ – it’s basically a science, where certain people are capable of manipulating atoms with the mind. Erm, no, I don’t think so. I can accept magically manipulating elements and all that but trying to pass it off as ‘just a science thing that some people can do’ just feels daft. It might not make much sense but it just doesn’t work for me.

Everything else about the book I liked though. Taylor and Sacha’s friendship and their trust in each other develop realistically, it wasn’t rushed and they just work well as a couple.

It’s a pretty standard young adult plot but it has enough new ideas and a strong enough personality on its own to make it worth picking up.

It’s easy and fun to read and there’s more than enough magic, action and adventure to keep it interesting. I started the next book as soon as I finished this one!

The Secret Fire
The Alchemist Chronicles
C.J. Daugherty, Carina Rozenfeld
Young Adult Fantasy
September 3rd 2015
Kindle
424

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat #3) by Jen Williams

The Silver Tide Cover

From Jen Williams, highly-acclaimed author of THE COPPER PROMISE and blistering follow-up THE IRON GHOST, comes the final epic instalment in the Copper Cat trilogy. 

Tales of the Black Feather Three and their exploits abound far and wide, and Wydrin of Crosshaven, Lord Aaron Frith and Sir Sebastian have become sell swords in demand. Having foiled powerful mages and evil magic, they now face a challenge unlike any before – in the form of Wydrin’s mother.

Devinia the Red, notorious pirate and captain of the Poison Chalice, is intent on finding the fabled treasure hidden within the jungles of the cursed island of Euriale. She needs the skills of her daughter Wydrin and her companions to get there, and our heroes cannot resist the lure of coin and adventure. But no explorer has returned from the heart of the island, and it’s not long before the Three find themselves in the clutches of peril. Deep within the island of the gods, there are remnants of forces best left undisturbed.

My Review of The Silver Tide

The Silver Tide (The Copper Cat, #3)The Silver Tide by Jen Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Silver Tide brings to a close a massively fun ride that has been full of magic, gods, dragons and mayhem.

I’ve absolutely loved this series, I tried to read this slowly to eke it out longer but it’s hard when the story is so exciting. I just wanted to turn the world off and cosy up with a big cup of tea and read all day.

The Silver Tide introduces us to Devinia the Red, Wydrin’s mother, who is even more of a loose cannon than Wydrin herself! And when Devinia gets the idea to be the first to reach the centre of a cursed island you just know it’s going to end badly. She enlists the black feather three for help but Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion are still reeling from the events of The Copper Promise. They go along with her plans but as usual for the trio events soon spiral out of their control.

It’s fresh, modern and fun and packed full of action. The story is a riot but there is also a serious side and I don’t want to give too much away about the plot but there is lots of chance for character growth. And an ending that left me happy sad.

Wydrin is one of the best characters in a fantasy series in my opinion. She’s fiery and can hold herself in a fight but she’s not the stereotypical ‘badass’ women. She has flaws and a realness to her that just bring her to life.

Jen Williams has put herself up there as one of my favourite fantasy authors, one of the few I will auto-buy when a new book comes out. She takes the standard fantasy plot and gives it a big kick up the arse.

I love the characters – Wydrin, Frith and Sebastion will always have a special place in my heart. I’m sad to see this series come to an end and I’m tempted to go straight back to the first book and start over.

The Silver Tide
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 25th 2016
Paperback
608

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

Magonia Cover

Since she was a baby, Aza Ray Boyle has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak—to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name.

Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world—and found by another. Magonia.

Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power—but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies the fate of the whole of humanity—including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?

My Review of Magonia

Magonia (Magonia, #1)Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I loved the writing style, it’s almost poetic and a bit dreamy but never too much that it overwhelms the story.

I didn’t like Aza or Jason to start with, every paragraph was about how intelligent and special they are and honestly, it made me hate them a little. And Aza is horrible to everyone, she’s nastily sarcastic and treats everyone like they are idiots. When Aza was kidnapped by the sky people though it’s turned around and she’s the one that has no idea what’s going on. She becomes a lot more likeable when she has no one she can act superior to!

The story is just too far-fetched: birds that live in your lungs and sing magic I could just about believe in, doors in chests, birds that turn into people, air plants? And people on the ground never see any of it? Hmm. I tried to go with it but it’s just too much “how is that even possible? It would never work” for me. It actually felt a lot like watching a pantomime.

In the end, the writing style won me over and I did enjoy reading it. I’m just not sure I want to read more of this daft story – I might look at the other books she’s written and try those instead.

Magonia
Magonia
Maria Dahvana Headley
Young Adult Fantasy
April 28th 2015
Paperback
309

Fire (Engelsfors #2) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren

Fire Cover

The Chosen Ones are about to start their second year in senior high school. All summer they have been waiting for the demon’s next move. But the threat comes from another direction, somewhere they could never have foreseen.

It becomes more and more obvious that something is very wrong in Engelsfors. The past is woven together with the present. The living meet the dead. The Chosen Ones are tied even closer together and are once again reminded that magic cannot make you happy or mend broken hearts.

My Review of Fire
Fire (Engelsfors #2)Fire by Mats Strandberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fire is very Buffy inspired in that it’s as much about dealing with the horrors of high school and adults that think they know better, as it is about dealing with actual demons and magic users intent upon nefarious deeds. It even has a morally dubious magic council trying to police and control the witches powers. But Fire is moving and deep and transcends its Buffy influences by creating a wonderful story all of its own. This is definitely one of my favourite series about high school magic users, up there with the Brooklyn Brujas books by Zoraida Córdova.

I’d say the first 50% of the book there isn’t really any magic in it though, it’s just the girls dealing with life and family and friends. The magic side of the story is a slow burner, building up in the background all the time the girls were dealing with the fallout from Anna Karin’s magic use in the first book. Then when I’d actually stopped caring about the lack of magic because I was just enjoying the story, it all starts to kick off and the magic use amps up!

All through the book, there has been a demon touched witch lurking in the background influencing and controlling the townspeople. The girls kinda brush it to one side whilst they are surviving the magic council’s attentions as the ‘bad’ witch gains more and more power.

Both sides of the story are done well, I wasn’t bored waiting for the magic bits like I would normally find myself with this sort of book. I know what it’s like to be an ‘outcast’ at school and I think Fire captures that feeling so well. The girls are dealing with all sorts of family and relationship issues and then on top of that they have to deal with the magic council turning up too. It’s very realistic in the way it portrays the girl’s personalities and the cliques which exist in high school.

We have Minoo – super shy and retiring, she struggles to make friends and has little confidence in her magic.

Vanessa – a wild child whose self-worth is wrapped up in her boyfriend.

Ida – the school bully who has had her eyes opened to the effect her actions have on other people.

Linnea – an independent loner that tries to deal with everything on her own.

Anna Karin – an overweight outcast who feels that she has no control over herself or her life direction.

There is massive character growth in Fire: these five girls are still almost strangers at the start of the book but by the end, they see the good and the potential in each other. They start to trust their magic circle.

I’m kinda heartbroken by the ending, but I feel hopeful it’s just setting up for a killer storyline in the final book.

Basically, I loved it all! I can’t wait to read the finale.

Fire
Engelsfors
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren
Young Adult Fantasy
June 20th 2013
Kindle
687

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1) by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost Cover

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation – and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland.

My Review of Labyrinth Lost

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A young adult fantasy about a Bruja living in Brooklyn.

The book starts when Alex is living with her mother and sisters in Brooklyn, dealing with school, family, and the emergence of her magic powers. This was my favourite part of the book. The story moves to the world of Los Lagos and though I enjoyed their fairytale-like journey through that land it was the parts set in Brooklyn that felt the most real and the most interesting to me. I’m hoping that the next book in the series will be set in Brooklyn.

I feel like it does take a lot of inspiration from the Mortal Instruments series but it manages to completely have its own personality and actually I enjoyed this a lot more. There’s a lot of original elements in to keep it interesting, the story is fun and fast moving, and I loved the characters. Rishi deserves a book all of her own, and Alex is fun to read.

If I wanted to look for faults with it I could say that the writing is mostly ok but has moments where it’s a bit stale; there’s a fair bit of explaining what’s just happened instead of showing it. The ending felt rushed and the big fight at the end was over almost before I realised it had started, there wasn’t enough of the Labyrinth in it! But these are only minor issues for me, I very much enjoyed reading it and really I just wish it were longer.

Give this one a go, it’s a fun and interesting read with a lot of originality and characters that will get under your skin, in a good way!

Labyrinth Lost
Brooklyn Brujas
Zoraida Córdova
Young Adult Fantasy
September 6th 2016
Kindle
336

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2) by Jen Williams

The Iron Ghost Cover

Beware the dawning of a new mage.

Wydrin of Crosshaven, Sir Sebastian and Lord Aaron Frith are experienced in the perils of stirring up the old gods. They are also familiar with defeating them, and the heroes of Baneswatch are now enjoying the perks of suddenly being very much in demand for their services.

When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow, it looks like easy coin – retrieve a stolen item, admire the views, get paid. But in a place twisted and haunted by ancient magic, with the most infamous mage of them all, Joah Demonsworn, making a reappearance, our heroes soon find themselves threatened by enemies on all sides, old and new. And in the frozen mountains, the stones are walking.

My Review of The Iron Ghost

The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat, #2)The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved this. It’s fun and fast and Wydrin is brilliant, she’s my new hero. She never thinks, she acts first and leads the way for everyone else.

So the Iron Ghost goes a bit more in-depth with the characters than the first book. Now the scene has been set there’s more time for them to develop beyond the stereotypes and we see more complex personalities come out.

But it also feels more focused and like there is more time given to developing the story. The tone is darker with scarier monsters and a seriously twisted bad mage that thinks he’s actually doing good things. To fight him the Black Feather Three have to do things that make them question their own moral values.

It’s the second in a trilogy but what I like about this series is that they are stand-alone stories. It does help if you’ve read the first book, but the story here has its own beginning and ending. No cliffhangers! *happy face*

It’s super enjoyable, action-packed, and it has a cast of diverse characters. It left me feeling happy when I’d finished it! I already want to go back and re-read it.

The Iron Ghost
The Copper Cat
Jen Williams
Fantasy
February 26th 2015
Paperback
544

Wizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm

Wizard of the Pigeons Cover

Seattle: a place as magical as the Emerald City.

Subtle magic seeps through the cracks in the paving stones of the sprawling metropolis. But only the inhabitants who possess special gifts are open to the city’s consciousness; finding portents in the graffiti, reading messages in the rubbish or listening to warnings in the skipping-rope chants of children.

Wizard is bound to Seattle and her magic. His gift is the Knowing – a powerful enchantment allowing him to know the truth of things; to hear the life-stories of ancient mummies locked behind glass cabinets, to receive true fortunes from the carnival machines, to reveal to ordinary people the answers to their troubles and to safeguard the city’s equilibrium.

The magic has its price; Wizard must never have more than a dollar in his pocket, must remain celibate, and he must feed and protect the pigeons.

But a threat to Seattle has begun to emerge in the portents. A malevolent force born of Wizard’s forgotten past has returned to prey upon his power and taunt him with images of his obscure history; and he is the only wizard in Seattle who can face the evil and save the city, his friends and himself.

My Review of Wizard of the Pigeons

Wizard of the PigeonsWizard of the Pigeons by Megan Lindholm
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written in the 1980’s Wizard of the Pigeons is an urban fantasy set in Seattle. Wizard, the title character, is living by his wits on the streets, protecting the pigeons and telling the truth when he Knows it. He has no memory of his previous life before he arrived in Seattle and found his magic.

Megan Lindholm is very, very good at world building and creating atmosphere. She brought Seattle in the 80’s to life for me and filled it with such a strong cast of characters. Cassie and Rasputin also have magic – Cassie always has a different appearance and can only be recognised if you have magic and Rasputin is constantly in motion, his hands dancing if he can’t.

There are a lot of layers and hidden meanings in the story, and in the end, it leaves you to make up your own mind – is Wizard a Vietnam vet with a mental health problem imagining his magic powers or is he really a wizard? Is he protecting Seattle from the evil Mir or is the greyness in his own mind? Is Cassie real or does Wizard imagine her in the women that he meets?

Normally I don’t like books where the plot and the ending are ambiguous but I think it gives you enough to be able to decide for yourself one way or the other. The layers and the ambiguity and hidden meanings seem to add to the story rather than make it murky.

It’s a dark and unique urban fantasy story, and I very much enjoyed it. If you like Neil Gainman’s dark and inventive style then I think you would get on with this one.

Wizard of the Pigeons
Megan Lindholm
Urban Fantasy
January 1st 1986)
Paperback
304

The Amber Citadel (Jewelfire #1) by Freda Warrington

The Amber Citadel Cover

Two hundred and fifty years ago, humans defeated the shape-changing Bhahdradomen in the War of the Silver Plains. Although they are exiled – or even thought to be extinct – the shape-changers’ hatred and jealousy of the humans live on. Now, in the failings of a human king, they find a way to assuage that hatred. Meanwhile, the third race, the mysterious Aelyr, keep apart from human realms although they also consider the Bhahdradomen enemies.

Tanthe and Ysomir are sisters, living in the village of Riverwynde, 2,000 miles from the capital city Parione. Ysomir is in love with Lynden, son of the village leader. Tanthe is bored with rural life and longs for the wonders of Parione. But the growing madness of King Garnelys and the Bhahdradomen’s wiles soon lead to terrible events, the abduction of Ysomir, and the beginning of a long journey for Tanthe, Lynden, and his brother Rufryd, as they set out for the Amber Citadel of Parione.

My Review of The Amber Citadel

The Amber Citadel (The Jewelfire Trilogy #1)The Amber Citadel by Freda Warrington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have to say The Amber Citadel is not as good as the other books I’ve read by Freda Warrington. The writing is still fantastic and her descriptions are just as lush as ever but it’s all a bit overwhelming with a lot of back story and history to remember and lots of different characters. I found the plot a bit messy and hard to keep track of and the characters not very likeable. But it is very inventive and she manages to stay away from a lot of the standard fantasy clichés.

The characters bicker a lot. Tan doesn’t speak, she shouts and gets angry at everything anyone says to her and I found her very childish and hard to like. Rufryd was the same and I really could have done without their relationship drama.

The ending was dark and full of surprises, it did not go the way I expected at all! The story had all started to come together and the characters were growing up a bit. I think there is a lot of potential for the next book to really take off. Hopefully there will be less of the bickering!

I didn’t get on with the characters but I’m hooked by the ending and I want to see where the story goes. I will definitely be reading the next book, I just hope there will be less relationship angst and more story.

The Amber Citadel
Jewelfire
Freda Warrington
Fantasy
1999
Paperback
599