Miss Possum

Miss Possum
Pale but dynamic

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Assassin's Curse

Publisher: Angry Robot, Imprint: Strange Chemistry
Publication Date: October 02, 2012

Thanks to NetGalley and Angry Robot for the ARC.

This is a sparkling, magical book singing with fresh ideas in a saturated paranormal YA universe. A strong young female voice, a belting plot, exotic imagery and strange magic immediately capture the reader and keep the pages flipping.

The story explodes into being when a determined and wilful pirate girl runs away from an arranged piratey wedding into an unknown future. Her problems increase when the scorned clan seek revenge through an unbreakable assassin sent to kill her. In a night-time desert fight, Ananna desperately uses magic given her by an enigmatic woman whom Ananna believes she cannot trust. The unexpected consequences bind the handsome young assassin to Ananna, in an adventure which crosses seas in search of a forbidden island.

Striking features of the book include the sensual and exotic imagery and the unusual, sparkling magic, which is also creepy and scary magic. The binding of the assassin and victim is a terrific device for plot development and the building of romantic tension. The immediacy of the writing style is very effective. Like Ananna, we do not know what kind of magic is happening to us, and who to trust.

Ananna, as the female protagonist, is satisfyingly determined and courageous (most of the time). Ananna is handy with a knife or a lie, and has quick hands for essential thieving. She has great character: as Ananna explains to her prospective husband, ‘Oh just stop!...Why would I want to marry someone who won’t even listen to me?..I want a ship of my own, not yours.’

This wonderful, magical story unfolds in a desert setting. We feel the cold harsh bite of the sand in the wind; the rich smells and colours in the night markets, and the uneasiness inherent in the slipping, sliding shadows which could so easily become something both corporeal and menacing. With Ananna, we feel alone, desperate but determined to find our own way.

This story is filled with vivid, individual characters, immediacy of action and great backstory. Cyberpunk elements add a strange contrast in the desert scenes: ‘The creatures stood there for a long time, creaking and heaving and letting off smoke.’

I particularly love the unusual magic: ‘The thing crawled across the sky, long thin strands like a ghoul’s fingers’, and ‘..he spat out a word in a language like dead flowers, beautiful and terrible all at once.’ This is Ananna discovering a type of magic: ‘As I worked, I sang in a language I didn’t know; the words sounded like the babble of water over stones, like rainfall pattering across the surface of a pond, like rapids rushing through a canyon.’

In the beginning, this story could have been the one I’d wished I’d written; however, the narrative is unable to sustain the fire, pace, imagery and ideas of the first third. Our heroes’ journey, while interesting, could perhaps have been more dramatic – I’m sure the author considered whether to have them cross her pirate father’s path and experience her mother’s magic– perhaps in sequels we will see this, but in some ways the reader is set up for a drama which does not then take place. Ananna is a pirate; the reader wants more pirate action, battles and lore.

Swearing and curses are always difficult to get right in an imagined world. In this case, the author chooses to use conventional swearing, ‘bullshit’, which jars in the exotic setting. The invented prayers and invocations are far more appealing: ‘…still there, thank Kaol and her sacred starfish.’

The last section re-engages with and echoes the earlier creepiness, although again does not quite hit the gripping suspense and sheer wonder of the new magic of the first sections. Our heroes are possibly saved too early in the final settings, which defuses what could have been an explosive climax, given this author’s superlative powers of strong voice, evocative imagery and strange magic.

Overall, this book is highly recommended for anyone who loves YA paranormals – it really shines above the general. Sequels will be anxiously awaited, promising unusual and dramatic adventures with a most engaging protagonist.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Goldrush (Vanguard Prime, #1)

Goldrush by Steven Lochran
4 of 5 stars false
Recommended to Maryanne by: NetGalley
Recommended for: Everyone who enjoys comics and superheroes. Perfect for reluctant readers and middle grade boys.

This review is made possible through NetGalley ARC from Penguin Books Australia, (Imprint: Puffin). Thanks NetGalley!

Publication Date: July 25, 2012

Vanguard Prime is Steven Lochran’s comic book imagination brought to life in novel form. A feast of superheroes with superpowers, powered up villains and high stakes burst from the action-packed pages.

An ordinary teenager turned reluctant superhero is a device which works well in Rick Riordan’s bestselling Percy Jackson series, and is used to good effect again here. In Vanguard Prime, we may be slower to engage with the protagonist. The book starts a little slowly, but it is worth persisting. The explosive action and strongly drawn characters of the final quarter are well worth the purchase price.

This reviewer, at first uncertain, was thoroughly captured by this description on page 16: ‘She looks less like a military officer and more like the person who just took out the military officer with a single punch’.

The few weaknesses occur in the beginning of the novel. The first chapter is filled with American phraseology, a little off-putting for Australian readers: ‘pops the boot’ ‘stooge with a two-dollar haircut’ and a father using phrases such as ‘well, okay, son.’ The present tense voice and short sentences seem intrusive in the initial chapters, as though they are not the author’s natural style, but have been edited to convey immediacy and to suit the perceived market – which of course is a terrific approach when done well. Something is missing in character portrayal, too: the reluctant hero is just a loser with no particular attributes to engage our interest.

However, keep reading! Both the story and the characters dramatically improve after we relive the incident where Sam becomes aware of his superpowers. The action explodes, we are committed to Sam and his journey, and suspense heightens through poor decisions of the ‘good’ team, which compound our hero’s problems.

The story is alive with terrific superheroes: Agent Alpha, Gaia, Knight of Wands and Machina – the tough, sassy, straight talking girl colleague, a staple of YA fiction. The villains are larger than life with their own superpowers: Metatron is a wonderfully extreme bad guy, as is Overman. We are hoping to hear more of the villainous Major Arcana in subsequent books.

The final solution is youth-led, an important idea in YA. Another delight is Lochran’s comic book landscape: ‘The sky is a vivid blue, a superhero comic book blue, with clouds looking like thought bubbles.’

With lines like that, and the author’s flashes of humour: (when fitting Sam’s new suit) - ‘that’s how all the superheroes are wearing them this season’, the series promises to be a winner.

Recommended for everyone who enjoys comics, superheroes and action, and is clearly destined to be a perfect present for reluctant readers and middle grade boys. 

This review is also published on Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/377768454

NOTE: Steven Lochran will be a panelist at the Ballarat Writers and Illustrators Festival, September 1, 2012. Please see http://www.ballaratwriters.com/?page_id=2256 for details.

Skulduggery Pleasant (Skulduggery Pleasant, #1)

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

Read in July, 2012 — I own a copy

4 of 5 stars false
I read this book as it was recommended by my Goodreads friend Sam. I put off reading it for a while, as I wasn't sure the cover looked like my kind of book. I read it because Sam said it was very funny - and yes, it is!! The one-liners and asides are delightful.

The characters are terrific, the action is satisfying and magic-enhanced, the baddies are pretty bad. It would normally be about 3 stars for plot, ideas and content, but it gets an extra star for lovely writing style, genuinely engaging, appealing, clever and competent young female lead characters, and for the tailor, a unique creation. I hope we see more of him, and I wish he could make me a work suit.

Looking forward to reading the next books.

Also posted on Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/377750526

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Matched (Matched, #1)


3.79 of 5 stars

I read Matched primarily because a Goodreads reviewer suggested Glitch referenced it heavily, and I enjoyed Glitch (see review - ARC from NetGalley).

There is lots to like about Matched, in particular, for me, more literary writing dropped into the prose than is common with much YA - some phrases and images are simply beautiful. The book hooked me with this image in the first few pages: 'Compact means small. I am small. I also like the way it sounds when you say it: com-pact...like the one the artifact itself makes when it snaps shut.'
I enjoyed the Dylan Thomas references and explorations of meaning in his words. The very controlled society is portrayed with flair and conveys an enjoyably creeping unease.

In common with its modern literary fiction cousins, though, Matched suffers from a lack of drive and action in the plot. Me, I like action and frights, danger and gutsiness, and you won't find an over abundance in Matched.

Worth reading for its gradual character and relationship development, its dystopian world and its occasional beautiful imagery.
Also posted on http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11310465-matched