Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel

https://i0.wp.com/www.orbitbooks.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Night-Vale-Final-UK-cover.jpg

A copy of this turned up in our new books delivery at the library, and I turned into one of those seagulls from Finding Nemo in about two seconds flat.

MINE.gif

I’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale since its early days.  For the uninitiated, Night Vale first appeared as an online podcast, each episode following Cecil Palmer, local radio host, and his descriptions of the events in the spooky desert town of Night Vale – where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and every night strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.

After following five years’ worth of episodes about Night Vale, when the creators announced a book, I was actually pretty sceptical.  Welcome to Night Vale has a very specific tone, its language carefully crafted to give just enough detail to keep you intrigued, and yet remain vague enough to be deeply unsettling.  A lot of this is carried across by Cecil Palmer’s low, melodious voice – zipping quickly from a dread-inspiring near-monotone for the spooky moments to upbeat chipperness for Night Vale’s weird sense of humour.  (Kudos to the actor, Cecil Baldwin, for that.  Yes, they are both called Cecil.  That’s only the start of the oddness of Night Vale.)

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Vasheren

(Artwork by Vasheren on DeviantArt.)

No way, I thought, can they pull that off in a book.

Man, I was wrong.  The Welcome to Night Vale book pulls off the exact tone of the Night Vale podcasts, expanding massively on the world of Night Vale and giving us a chance to see from the perspective of people that, until now, really only existed as secondary characters in Cecil’s stories (and man, Cecil can be a really unreliable narrator).  Plenty of favourites show up in the series, from Old Woman Josie to The Man In the Tan Jacket to Carlos the Scientist, without feeling like they’re awkwardly crammed in place for fanservice.

I was stunned at how fast the plot seemed to go in Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel, ripping me through one chapter after another and keeping me questioning the whole time.  This is especially impressive since the plot of Welcome to Night Vale: the Podcast is often … well, glacial.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating, but in comparison the novel felt like a mile-a-minute thriller.

Image result for welcome to night vale quote books

If I could find one flaw in the Welcome to Night Vale novel, it’s this: it’s not meant for new fans.  It’s packaged and advertised and presented as a way to get into the series for the first time, but I really, strongly recommend you don’t start with this book.

When Carlos appeared, a massive grin hit my face.  But to someone unfamiliar with the series, Carlos is a nonentity.  There are references to the forbidden dog park; the old woman who secretly lives in your home; the vast dark planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans – which seem utterly random and pointless without the context of the podcast.

My advice?  Listen to the podcast first.  It can take a few episodes to get the hang of its bizarre tone and content, but it’s worth it.  The whole series is on Youtube for free, so you don’t need to spend a penny giving it a try, and it’s great background noise for doing the washing up / ironing / cleaning out the hamsters.  When you’re caught up – or at least coming to the end of the 2015 season, which is when the book was released – then read the book.  You’ll get so much more out of it.

But if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale and you haven’t touched this book yet … for the love of the Glow Cloud, get yourself a copy.  You won’t regret it.

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ef/b9/e8/efb9e828c326edb4a1f02e4ccafcfa2d.jpg

‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ Blew Me Away

I suppose you could call this a review or a recommend, but really it’s going to be a mad, over-excitable rant, because I just finished A Court of Mist and Fury and now I’m a gibbering wreck.

Image result for A COURT OF MIST AND FURY COVER

Quick warning: there will be  SPOILERS here, and some discussion of adult topics. Beware!

I liked Sarah J. Maas’s first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses,but I wasn’t 100% sold. Feyre wasn’t the best protagnist, and honestly I found the love interest, Tamlin, pretty boring. The romance came across as lacklustre, especially since the pair of them kept unnecessarily hiding secrets from one another. Cue dramatic misunderstandings and eyerolls all around.

But in the sequel? Feyre straight up ditches him.

Yep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a teen/YA book before. Their relationship becomes unhealthy, and she leaves (of course it’s all much more magical and dramatic than that, but still). Dear Sarah J. Maas: thank you for being the first writer I’ve known to admit first loves aren’t necessarily the best ones. You smashed apart the first love cliche, and I adore you for it.

On a darker note, it’s revealed in this book that Rhysand, the new hero replacing Tamlin, was raped by the previous book’s villain. I’ve read so few books that admit a man even can be raped, much less raped by a woman. And all in a fantasy book. It’s handled brilliantly, too, neither tip-toeing around the subject nor slamming it your face for shock value. I was stunned at how well this was done.

On top of the romance arc being ditched and replaced with a much slower and ultimately much more believable one, Feyre as a character grows massively over the course of this book. We see her suffer and slowly claw her way out of depression, becoming much stronger and more fleshed out. By the end of A Court of Mist and Fury, I loved (the previously lukewarm) Feyre. And more than that, I loved the host of new supporting characters. Those are tough to get right, so hats off to you, Sarah.

And finally, the plot. Holy wow, I am not exaggerating when I say the plot of A Court of Mist and Fury blows A Court of Thorns and Roses out of the water. It never feels contrived, or like it’s trying too hard to one-up its predecessor, but it rocks along at just the right pace, balancing action with character development perfectly. More than once, I looked up from this book to realise an hour had passed without my notice.

All in all, even if you just sort of liked A Court of Thorns and Roses, please read the sequel.  It’s so much better and definitely worth giving Sarah J. Maas that second chance.  It’s killing me that I have to wait seven months for the third book in the series, and we readers have to suffer together.

Books I Expected to Be Rubbish, But Were Actually Incredible

Okay, let’s have some positivity to counter that grumpy post I made before.  Time to talk about some books I expected to be awful, but which surprised me when they turned out to be flipping amazing.

Onward, to glory!


1: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Expectations: Great, a book about racism.

Reality: I was dragging my heels when it came to To Kill a Mockingbird.  The little I’d heard about it sounded preachy and miserable, and the only reason I picked it up at all was because Go Set a Watchman was expected to come out soon.  With a grumpy sigh, I rolled my eyes and started page one.  And didn’t stop.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful, multifaceted story about a young girl growing up in Southern America, and learning how to face inequalities of all kinds.  Yes, racism is a part of it, but the story doesn’t thump you over the head with its message.  It’s a sweet story about lovable characters, written so perfectly you can hear Scout’s accent in every line of the text.


2: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Image result for dracula cover

Expectations: Oh my god this book is so slow.

Reality: When I first tried to read Dracula, I was bored.  I knew next to nothing about the actual story, and gave up before I even finished reading Jonathan’s journal.  Yep, the very first section of the book.  Facepalm.

But when I picked it up a few years later, I was horrified at my younger self’s lack of taste.  All right, it’s not an action-packed Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of story (at least, not in the first half), but it’s a tense, eerie gothic story that kept me engaged all the way through.  Definitely worth finishing!


3: World War Z by Max Brooks

Image result for world war z book cover

Expectations: Oh goodie, another dumb zombie flick.

Reality: I know I bang on about this one a lot but seriously guys.  Guys, seriously.  Please read World War Z.  Every zombie story I encountered before this books (including the flipping movie for this books) followed a formula I found boring the first time.  But this?  This is something else.

A zombie story written like a history book, Max Brooks completely broke my brain reading this.  For the first time, zombies were scary.  The fall of humanity was portrayed in such a way as to be completely believable, with everything from military involvement to political scuffles taken into consideration.  It’s creepy, gory, and intelligent as hell.  10/10 Max Brooks, massive props to you for making me like zombies.


4: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Image result for do androids dream of electric sheep book cover

Expectations: Ugh, this is going to be hard going.

Reality: I never used to read science fiction.  I found it strangely hard to visualise, considering I come from a background of reading 99% fantasy.  And when Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? showed up on my reading list for uni, I may have panicked a little.  Expecting to struggle all the way through, I decided to read it first, and get it out of the way.

And I loved it.  Philip K. Dick messes with your mind in the best possible way, using a story about near-apocalyptic Earth, extinct animals and psychopathic androids to make you question what it even means to be human.  Could you pass a voigt-kamf test?  Man, I after I finished this book, I didn’t even know anymore.


5: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Image result for jane eyre cover

Expectations: Wuthering Heights, here we go again.

Reality: After reading Emily Brontë’s master work, I went into Jane Eyre highly sceptical.  Sure, this wasn’t the same sister, but come on.  They were bound to be as miserable and awful as each other, right?

Wrong.  Unlike Wuthering HeightsJane Eyre is a genuinely beautiful gothic love story.  Jane is a wonderful character (perhaps even a little too perfect), and you desperately want her to succeed and have a happy ending.  On top of that, the writing itself is beautiful–but very comfortable to read.


6: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Image result for harry potter book cover

Expectations: I never like anything popular, so it’s bound to be rubbish.

Reality: Oh my god, childhood me. You were wrong. So very, painfully wrong. In fairness, popular authors of the time included Jacquline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo, both of whom failed to enegage me. Even if Harry  Potter was fantasy, its sheer popularity made me suspicious. I never liked popular stuff.

But of course, Harry Potter was actually incredible. I love those books, and they’ve stuck with me into adulthood. They’re a comfort and an inspiration, and I utterly adore them. I suppose I’m with the popular crowd after all.

 


 

So there we go, some positivity from me!  Have you ever picked up a book you expected to be awful that surprised you with their brilliance?  Are you shocked and appalled by my terrible taste?  Let me know!

6 Books That Disappointed Me

I try to be upbeat and positive on this blog, because I think there’s already enough negativity out there.  On the other hand, sometimes I come across a book so infuriatingly disappointing, I just have to scream about it to the world.  Or to my blog, anyway.

Image result for reading angry

Bear in mind these are not bad books.  I don’t finish bad books, so they never have the chance to disappoint me.  These are books that seemed great when they started, but gradually (or swiftly) failed to live up to the hype.  Insert generic ‘this is all personal opinion,’ etc, etc, ‘please do not skin me,’ and so on and so forth.

Spoilers ahead.  Beware!

 


1: 1984 by George Orwell

I know, you’re all shocked.  (The sarcasm is strong in this post.)

After finishing The Hunger Games, I craved more dystopia.  After rattling through a few YA titles, I grabbed 1984, the big daddy of dystopia … and hated it.

The protagonist was loathsome, the story unbearably depressing, and the plot entirely, 100% predictable from just a couple of chapters in.  Winston attempts to overthrow the government, discovers the rebellion is a trap, is kidnapped, tortured, and becomes a husk of a man.  The entire story is really just window dressing for a thumping great political message, delivered with the subtlety of a brick through the window.  I’ll stop, because I’ve ranted about it before.

Even more infuriating, 1984 has the gall to be a really, seriously important book.  For all that the story is miserable, the book teaches a political message about totalitarianism and media bias that’s really worth learning.  You have to finish it.  Or at least watch the film made in the 1980’s which, while equally miserable, is at least over in an hour and half.

 

2: The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean

Image result for the white darkness cover

Gasp, a book I’ve never talked about before!  Shock!

I read The White Darkness for my secondary school book club.  It’s about a girl named Sym, who’s haunted by the ghost of Captain Titus Oates, hero of the Antarctic.  When Sym’s adopted uncle believes he’s discovered an ancient civilisation buried beneath the ice, he takes Sym (and, of course, Titus) on an adventure to find it.

It sounds absolutely perfect.  My problem with it?  It’s not fantasy at all.  By the end of the book, you learn Sym’s uncle is a total whacko, the civilisation isn’t real, and Titus is simply Sym’s imaginary friend.  In fact, the end of the book implies that, by letting go of her fantasies, Sym has finally learned to grow up.

After expecting a fantasy story, I felt betrayed and patronised.  This book inspired one of my personal pet peeves: ‘cop-out fantasy’.  That is, books that advertise themselves as fantastical to draw readers in, but turn out to be realism (an unnervingly common ploy in teen fiction, at least it was in the early 2000s).

 

3: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Image result for wuthering heights book cover

One of the many books I read for my Gothic Literature class at uni, I wanted nothing more than to throw Wuthering Heights out the window.  (I didn’t, because it was my mum’s fancy vintage copy, and because I lived by a main road, and didn’t want to cause a ten-car-pile-up in the middle of Winchester.)

Wuthering Heights: a story that begins with a ghostly child clawing at the window, calling, ‘Let me in, let me in!’ … and turns out to be an awful romance story about terrible people.  Was the ghost real?  Was it a dream?  Who cares, have 300 pages of angst and death!  I gather it was written to expose how awful and unhealthy many classic romantic stories are, but that doesn’t change the fact it could’ve been an epic ghost story.

I hated just about every character, and the plot moved at an agonising crawl.  Considering how well I got on with the rest of our Gothic Literature texts, this one surprised me because I only very barely managed to finish the damn thing.

 

4: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Image result for stolen lucy christopher book cover

Of all the books I’m whinging about today, this one gets the gold star for Least Terrible. In fact, it barely made it onto the list, and I feel a bit mean including it.  But alas, I am a heartless monster, and must complain a little.

Stolen is the story of Gemma, a sixteen-year-old girl and kidnap victim.  Ty, a young man  obsessed with her for years, steals Gemma away to the Australian Outback, where she can never escape.  The first few chapters of this book are heart-stoppingly tense, some of the dialogue sending shivers down my spine, and implications that Gemma would eventually develop Stockholm Syndrome kept me reading all day.

The trouble is, the the plot wavers after the first chapter, and Ty changes rapidly from terrifying creep to poor, sad woobie.  Gemma only seems to develop feeling for him in the very last pages, after she’s already escaped.  What could’ve been an intense and haunting psychological thriller falls flat, seemingly too cowardly to make real the threats of Chapter One.

 

5: The Pillars of Creation by Terry Goodkind

Image result for the pillars of creation book cover

I loved The Sword of Truth series at first.  Richard and Kahlan were great characters you could look up to, if a little unrealistic at times, the fantastical world was something I longed to step into, and the villains were so violently, gruesomely evil, that seeing justice dealt was satisfying as watching Joffrey Baratheon choke on that pie.

But, as the books went on, I realised they were a bit … samey.  A new villain, Emporer Jagang, arose … and just sort of stuck around.  Coming up on the seventh book in the series — The Pillars of Creation — I was already tired of the main characters being repeatedly kidnapped, of Richard’s evil relatives popping up (despite the fact he was meant to be the only surviving son of Lord Rahl), and Jagang still not being dead yet.  Regardless, with every book, I hoped the series would get better again.

Aaaand then I read The Pillars of Creation, and my hope died.  I have no idea who that book was written for.  No newbie to the series would start at book seven, but no veteran could possibly stand the level of dramatic irony through this book.  We follow the hopelessly clueless Jennsen, who spends the entire book thinking Richard is a villain.  Even around the time she sleeps with fantasy Satan himself, she’s like ‘Yeah, this is definitely the good guy’.

After crawling through 300+ pages of her idiocy, Jennsen finally meets Richard at the end of the book, and within the space of a single page, is utterly converted.  Facepalm?  Facepalm.

 

6: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Image result for only ever yours book cover

I saved the worst (at least by my reckoning) for last.  I often tout this book to my friends as The Worst Book I Ever Finished.  Worse than 1984, although similar to it, in many ways.

Only Ever Yours is a dystopian novel in which women are forced to choose between three careers: to be castrated, and work as a teacher; to be a prostitute; or to become wives — breeding stock — for powerful men.  Our protagonist, Frieda, is determined to become the latter.  But, as graduation approaches, the girls in her class tear each other apart.  And the best of them, Frieda’s friend Isabel, begins to rebel …

… unfortunately, her rebellion goes nowhere.  Supposedly a work of feminism, this book had me loathing women, as every single female character was portrayed as petty, vapid, back-stabbing, and downright nasty.  Hilariously, the only character I liked was a boy.

The story in unrelentingly grim, giving the barest sparks of hope that force you to keep reading.  But those sparks are a lie.  A lie, I tells you!  The feminist message is ham-handed and backward, the characters are loathsome, and the plot manages to simultaneously tempt you with wonderful things that could happen, without ever actually allowing them to happen.

This is, in summary, a YA version of 1984 … but without that whole important political message.  Y’know, 1984‘s only redeeming factor.

 


 

Phew.  That got heated.  I’m going to have a glass of water and a little lie down to save my blood pressure, and later, I’ll talk about the books I expected to hate, that surprised me with their greatness.

In the meantime, tell me what books have disappointed you!  Or, if you love one of these books I’ve shredded, feel free to tell me why I’m wrong and also a horrible person.

Recommends, Not Reviews

I’ve been rethinking the way I write this blog.  Especially since, right now, the way I write this blog is mostly Not At All.

The reviews I write on here are pretty long, which means they take a long time to write (funnily enough!), and when I’m trying to focus on finishing my first novel, I rarely have the time to sit down and type out a thoughtful, interesting review.

That aside, I’m starting to find that reviews are … kind of unhelpful?  After all, I can only discuss my own opinions, and what use is that?  There are plenty of books I hate that other people love, and vice versa!

So, instead, I’m going to have a go at writing ‘recommends’, rather than reviews.  For each book I read, I’ll write a much shorter review, explaining who might like to read it, and who might prefer to avoid it.  This also means I get to be more upbeat and positive on my blog — not ripping books to shreds (even if I feel they deserve it, hehe), but rather pointing them towards an audience that would actually enjoy them.

I’m hoping to get the first recommend out soon, starting with some of the books I’ve already reviewed (yes, even the ones I loathed)!  I hope you like it.

I Love Twilight

This week is the 10th Anniversary of the publication of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, which I think means it’s time to do the post I’ve been threatening for a while: I love TwilightPlease, let me continue to love it.

I first read the Twilight books when I was fourteen or fifteen, and reread them about six months ago.  For the purposes of this journal, I’m going to ignore the films and focus on the books, because … well, this is a book blog.

Believe me when I say that I know Twilight is flawed.  I’ve had those flaws thown in my face (usually with a tone of frustration and disbelief) any time I’ve mentioned I enjoy the books.  But I also recognise the flaws in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, and if I’m still capable of loving those books, then goshdiddlydarn it, I can still love Twilight, too.

I think a lot of people come to Twilight with the idea it’s meant to be a horror story, because there are vampires in it – thus the cries of ‘real vampires don’t sparkle!’, to which my response is, ‘when you find a real vampire, you can show me what they actually do, then’.

Years ago, I read this essay by Megen de Bruin-Molé, in which she likens Twilight to a gothic novel, and it clicked for me why I liked it.

Because that’s exactly what Twilight is: a story about a helpless-but-goodhearted-heroine, saving the Byronic hero from his inner darkness, while he saves her from external danger – all set in a spooky, otherworldly setting, like the moors in Wuthering Heights.  Just look at the way Meyer describes Forks: in lavish detail, describing it as ‘too green’ and ‘an alien planet’.  Edward eerily advises her in the first book, ‘Don’t go into the woods’.

This is also why the story is slow.  The intrigue is not in a fast-paced plot, but in a slow, creeping feeling that something isn’t right, and then in the worry of how to deal with the unknown once it is known.

I actually find it a shame that the blurb tells us Edward is a vampire.  Admittedly, it makes the blurb interesting, but it spoils the mystery of the novel.  Like Rochester’s insane wife in the attic, the fact that the Cullens are vampires could have been an incredible plot twist.

Oddly enough, though, I find that a lot of the complaints about Twilight sound like people have misread or simply forgotten the vampire lore Meyer set up.  The argument that Edward is too old for Bella would be compelling, if it weren’t for the fact that Meyer’s vampires remain whatever mental age they are when they turn into a vampire.  It doesn’t matter how many years Edward lives, in his body and his mind, he is always going to be seventeen.  This is what set up child vampires to be so dangerous in the later books.  They’re killing machines with the mental age of a toddler.

(I said I wasn’t going to talk about the films, but this clip gets a horrible cackle out of me every time.)

The argument that Edward is abusive becomes hand-wavy when you take the lore into account, too.  I’m not going to say his stalking Bella and watching her sleep was okay – good grief, it creeps me out, too – but many of the things people point out just make me think, ‘Well, yeah, he’s a vampire, trying really hard not to be a vampire, while trying to keep a human girl alive.  Whatcha gonna do?’

One person argued with me that he was controlling for trying to prevent Bella meeting with Jacob in the later books.  But Jacob, at that point, is a werewolf – a species with so little practise at self control, their leader shredded his own wife’s face in a fit of temper.  I wouldn’t blame Edward for doing eveything in his power to keep Bella away.

Besides, Bella in the books has backbone.  She snaps at Edward and tells him off when he’s being cryptic or annoying or controlling (admittedly not enough in the infamous watching-you-sleep scene, but still).  She has a sense of humour, too.  The famous line about ‘You’re my personal brand of heroine’, so moodily delivered in the film?  That was a joke, in the book.  Bella was making fun of Edward.

Bella is self-depreciating to the point of being infuriating.  But, honestly, I know plenty of real people who are like that.  It’s a character flaw, along with her shyness and social awkwardness.  It makes me chuckle when people think Bella is a jerk because, in reality, people who are shy and awkward often do unintentionally come across as jerks, simply because they’re not great at being sociable.  But Bella’s also brave, and protective, and has her aforementioned sense of humour.  She’s not Katniss Everdeen, but she doesn’t have to be.  She’s her own character.  I like Bella.

The moral panic, by the way, that teenage girls would fling themselves into dangerous situations and abusive relationships after reading Twilight, is absurd.  It uses the same logic as the idea that playing violent video games will make children act violent – something that’s been disproved more than once.  As Doug Walker said, we’ve had panics like this before and we’ll have them again.

I honestly think that Twilight‘s greatest flaw is that it got too popular.  It was a fun, but ultimately silly, romance story for teenagers.  But when it got big enough, it was everywhere.  I remember the posters and t-shirts and mugs and various other merchandise, in every single shop on the high street.  If it wasn’t your cup of tea to begin with, I can see why it’d be frustrating.  And when enough people kick up a fuss, even the people who initially liked it jump on the bandwagon.  I’m seeing the same thing happen with Frozen and Game of Thrones right now!

The little counter at the bottom of my screen says I’m coming up to 1000 words now, and I haven’t even covered half of what I’d like to say about Twilight.  I’m looking forward to reading Twilight: Life and Death, Meyer’s reaction to people insisting her books were misogynistic by switching Edward and Bella’s genders around.  I’ve seen a lot of hatred flying around for that, too, though.

I’m going to end on a John Green quote, because I think he deserves some love after I wrote a post saying I don’t like his books (I’m sorry, John, I really do like you):

Twilight is fun, it distracts me from the pain and brokeness of the world, and it argues that true love will triumph in the end – which may or may not be true, but if it’s a lie, it’s the most beautiful lie we have.’

The Immortals

This is an exciting review, because I was actually asked to do it!  S.E. Lister was kind enough to send me an early reader’s copy of her new book, The Immortals.  I hope I’ll do her lovely writing justice.

I want to start with a confession: The Immortals is not the kind of book I would normally read.  The genre certainly is – when I read the first few words of the blurb, I was sure it was exactly my kind of book:

‘Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller.’

Yes!  Woop!  Science fiction!  But there’s a twist: I usually read commercial fiction, and The Immortals is super literary.

For anyone who doesn’t know the difference, commercial fiction is the kind that’s easily dismissed as ‘just a story’.  It can have deeper meaning and beautiful language, but the main draw of the novel is the fact it’s a fun story.  Literary fiction, on the other hand, is clever.  It uses stunning language and lots of metaphor.  It’s the kind of thing that gets nominated for big, fancy awards.

I won’t say I don’t like or read any literary fiction.  To Kill a Mockingbird is literary and I love it!  I just want to admit up front that this is not always my forte, lest you think I am being horribly stupid when I (most likely) miss some of the finer details of Lister’s book.

Onward, then, to the cover!  This is the cover on the publisher’s website.

It’s very close to mine, minus a few, minor differences (Rosa’s dress is blue on my cover, for example).  Lister wrote to me and said my cover isn’t quite the final version, but I hope it’s close, because I love it.  It’s simple, it’s elegant … it’s literally everything I want in a book cover.  At the beginning of the book I enjoyed wondering who all those people were, and by the end I enjoyed picking out each individual character.  Kudos to you, cover designer.  Good work!

Okay, it’s time I got on to the book itself!  I’ll start with the thing I loved best about The Immortals: the language.  Lister has a real talent for making words just feel beautiful.  Every setting she described – and Rosa, as a time traveller, visits a lot of strange and wonderful places – was vivid in my mind.  I could feel the cold in the icy landscapes of pre-human history; I could see the dancing masks in Venice; I could taste the food in Victorian London.  When Rosa ate olives, I felt a craving for them so strong I almost put the book down to run out a buy them!  Even unpleasant places sounded romantic in Lister’s writing.

As someone accustomed to commercial fiction, this heavy, almost flowery writing was sometimes a bit tiring.  But if I put the book down for five minutes and picked it up again, I found myself grinning and re-reading sentences just to enjoy how poetic they sounded in my head.  It must have taken a serious amount of effort to write an entire novel in such vivid prose, and I respect that.

(Image from here)

The settings in the The Immortals – and there are many, from the frozen wastelands of pre-human history to a medieval castle to a Venetian carnival – benefit especially from Lister’s beautiful writing.  More than anything else, the settings drew me back, as I kept wondering where Rosa would travel to next.  My only complaint – as I’ve hinted above – is that, sometimes, the settings felt a little too romanticised.  I imagine a medieval castle, with little to no bathing or toilet facilities, would be pretty stinky.  A Venetian carnival would probably be full of irritating, boisterous drunks.  These grittier details were often skimmed over in favour of making each place – barring the pre-human wasteland – appear beautiful and mysterious.  Whether you prefer beauty or grit is down to taste.  Personally, I like a reasonable dose of both.

There was one only thing about The Immortals that I struggled to get on with: the main character, Rosa.

(Photograph by AlesanaCore on DeviantART)

Rosa was an odd character, emotionally unattached and, for the most of the book, lacking in any one exact goal.  This often made it difficult to root for her.  There’s even a line in the book, where Rosa asks herself, Have you ever truly felt any human emotion, Rosa?  I wondered if her cold personality was something to do with her being a time traveller, that perhaps their race was just like that, but the book insinuated towards the end that this wasn’t the case.  Perhaps this is all part of a greater literary theme that flew over my head, but I found Rosa a little frustrating to try and understand.

That aside, though, The Immortals was an excellent book.  S.E. Lister clearly did an enormous amount of research into every place and time period, and her writing style is mature and elegant.  Although the protagonist irked me a little, she didn’t stop me from tearing through this novel to the very end.  I sincerely recommend The Immortals to anyone who’s looking for a beautiful literary novel, with a fantastical twist.