Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wither by Lauren DeStefano


Summary from Goodreads:

Obviously, something went terribly wrong. Genetic mutations have festered, reducing human longevity to twenty-five, even less for most women. To prevent extinction, young girls are kidnapped, mated in polygamous marriages with men eager to procreate. Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery, a recent victim of this breeding farm mentality, has vowed to break loose from its fetters; but finding allies and a safe way out is a challenge she can only hope she will survive. A dystopian fantasy series starter with wings. Editor's recommendation.


Wither is the first of The Chemical Garden Trilogy by Lauren DeStefano.  And I have to begin by saying if you like Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I felt like this story went along those lines with Linton and the young Catherine (kind of, not exactly)...it just felt like that.


First thing that caught my attention with Wither is the cover.  Isn't it beautiful?  The way the girls hands are gripping the skirt of the dress in such a frustrated and almost confined way and how the bird in the cage looks connected with the line and circles to those hands?  I love it!  It really defines the story as a whole once you've read it.


Rhine is an orphan along with her brother, Rowan and they try to make the best of things in the house their parents left them after they died.  They make it look like they are poverty stricken so as to not lure other orphans or anyone else not wanted to their door.  They lock away their most precious possessions and items so they aren't stolen.  They even take turns keeping watch each night with a gun to protect themselves and what meager things they have for themselves.  That is until Rhine goes for a job and gets kidnapped by the Gatherers instead and taken to a large mansion somewhere far away from Manhattan and ends up becoming a sister wife with two other girls who were taken, Jenna and Cecily.  


Being married to Linden Ashby couldn't be the worst thing in the world to Jenna and Cecily is in love with it all.  Rhine, however, hates everything about the place, especially Housemaster Vaughn who is frantically working on an antidote to keep his son alive past twenty-five and maybe even try to help the girls to live past twenty.  There's no way out unless you are escorting your husband to a party in the city and even then the way is blocked.  Rhine puts on her facade and grits her teeth through all this living until she can figure out how to get out.


I will say this first, the only bad thing I found is that there is a lot of whining from the all the sister wives.  I wanted to smack Cecily across the back of the head and say, "Chill out okay?  You don't need to be so stuck up and rude to everyone."  To Jenna, "Sorry about your life, but really, quit moping."  And to Rhine I'd say, "Do something about it or just quit whining."  Other than the whining that takes place, I love the characters.


Rhine is a strong willed heroine that determines after being forced into this marriage to Linden Ashby that she will earn his trust to be able to run away.  I love the fact that she can be so determined and it helps her remember everything about her brother and never gives up hope that he may be out looking for her.  I love that she is the favorite of the wives among the servants, they will do anything for her, even if it means they may lose their job, or even maybe, their life.  Even when she starts to believe in her own facade in certain points and ways, she is able to shake it off and remember what her plan is.


Jenna is a quiet character.  At first I thought Jenna was stuck up and didn't care about anyone else, but I loved her later on.  She does everything she can to help Rhine leave the mansion and Linden behind without getting caught by their father-in-law, Vaughn.  Cecily, yeah, I hated Cecily through the whole story until the last when I felt more sorry for her than anger.


Vaughn reminded me of Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights for parts of the story.  The unrelentless, merciless being he is and how he creeps all the sister wives out.  I shuddered with every moment Rhine had with Vaughn and even with what he may be hiding in the basement.


Overall, I really liked this story.  It has great character development and is a character driven story.  The imagery is realistic and Lauren weaved a fine new world for us to see and truly believe it may exist.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Last Four Things


Thank you to Wunderkind-PR, for providing me with a copy of this book to review.

UK Cover
The Last Four Things, by Paul Hoffman is the sequel to 'The Left Hand of God' and takes place in a world similar but different to our own historical world, where a powerful religious order 'The Redeemers' wages war against 'The Antagonists' and other 'enemy' nations. The focus of a very brutal kind of affection from Redeemer Bosco, the story continues to focus on Cale - a young man numbed by a brutal childhood, betrayed by his first love and now is a fierce weapon for his mentor Bosco's plans.

To the warrior-monks known as the Redeemers, who rule over massive armies of child slaves, “the last four things” represent the culmination of a faithful life. Death. Judgment. Heaven. Hell. The last four things represent eternal bliss-or endless destruction, permanent chaos, and infinite pain.

Perhaps nowhere are the competing ideas of heaven and hell exhibited more clearly than in the dark and tormented soul of Thomas Cale. Betrayed by his beloved but still marked by a child’s innocence, possessed of a remarkable aptitude for violence but capable of extreme tenderness, Cale will lead the Redeemers into a battle for nothing less than the fate of the human race. And though his broken heart foretells the bloody trail he will leave in pursuit of a personal peace he can never achieve, a glimmer of hope remains. The question even Cale can’t answer: When it comes time to decide the fate of the world, to ensure the extermination of humankind or spare it, what will he choose? To express God’s will on the edge of his sword, or to forgive his fellow man-and himself?


US Cover
The book begins almost immediately after the events of the previous book, but Cale has become an even darker character, changed by betrayed love and alone without his friends, he becomes more susceptible to Bosco's manipulative behaviour and begins to see himself as an Angel of Death. Compared to the first book, The Last Four Things is more slow to begin, but seems to explore the dynamic of Bosco and Cale's relationship and its sudden change from student-mentor to soldiers in a holy war.

We also get to see more of the people of this world through Kleitze experiences and the battles between Redeemers and other nations/people. As before, Hoffman's strength lies in the description and detail of battles. His characterisation of the main characters is excellent and their actions remain true to the characters. My favourite moments of this book have been the interaction between Vague Henri and Cale - which shows a more boyish side to the later. I'm intrigued by the plot twists, characters and the world Hoffman has created and definitely am looking forward to the third book to see how this story develops.

My only fault is regarding female characters - there were a couple of good developed female characters in this book but considering the underlying theme concerning women and how pivotal it seems this is going to be in the future plot - more strong female characters would be nice. That being said, this is a high military fantasy set in a world where women seem to be worthless (and soulless) so it does make sense from character's perspective.

I can't wait for the next book in this series, especially with the cliff-hanger ending so I sincerely  recommend reading this series to anyone! 

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Left Hand of God


Wunderkind-Pr was kind enough to give me the second book of the Left Hand of God series, 'The Last Four Things' to review, so obviously I needed to read the first book.

When I say that I read this book and the sequel, 'The Last Four Things' over the space of two days, I think you can get an idea of how good these books are.

The Left Hand of God, follows the story of Thomas Cale, a 14-15 year old boy who has lived a brutalised existence at the hands of The Redeemers, specifically Redeemer Bosco - who takes a special interest in Cale. Following the discovery of a horrible secret, Cale with his two companians (Vague Henri and Kleist) escape the fortress, knowing that if they stay the will become 'An Act of Faith'. However Cale's escape becomes an unlikely catalyst for Redeemer Bosco's carefully laid plans.

From the summary I've given, you could be fooled into believing this is a typical young hero story, but that would be cheapening the complexity of the characters, the plot and of the world Hoffman has built. Cale as a character has no admirable qualities - he's cold, brutal and can kill a man in moments, but Hoffman makes you empathise with this character due to the horrible life he's lived. In the end as the story progresses, you realise that although all three boys have been trained to kill and seem to be mature beyond their years - their emotional maturity is that of a child. 

Hoffman development of the characters is excellent - although sometimes the female characters seem to be less developed (which isn't surprising considering the genre). From Bosco to minor characters, each character has been well developed - and given characteristics even when only mentioned in passing. Of all the characters, I believe the most interesting is Vague Henri - while Kleist and Cale seem to be numbed from the beginning (and slowly let others in as the series progresses), Vague Henri (which is such a wonderful name) seems to be the strongest character emotionally. He may not have gotten singled out as Cale was, but still he received the same brutality that Kleist and others received, but still seems to empathise, be loyal and make friends. I think he's an interesting contrast to Cale - and Hoffman has done exemplar job of capturing the complexity of their friendship which allows Vague Henri to almost act as a grounding force for Cale especially as the series progresses.

The world of The Left Hand of God, seems to be a strange alternative reality, where at some point in time - a moment of forgiveness was replaced with a moment of vengence/violence. Therefore, elements of our world like Jesus of Nazareth seems to be pushed to one side for the Hanged Redeemer. Similarly besides the mention of religion, familiar places such as Italy and Switzerland exist and cultures such as the Laconians. Although I found the mentioning of places like Switzerland slightly jarring, I found the whole idea behind the world of the redeemers to be very interesting and realistic.

Beyond the characters and the world building, Hoffman displays his skill as a wonderful story teller of military battles and political intrigue. Honestly, when I read fantasy I usually skip any battle scenes as I find them boring, but I was completely glued to those in this book. And as for political plot, the Redemers would do the Borgias proud with their mix of religious zeal and corruptive power.


To summarise I have given this book 9 stars, as a military and political fantasy it is well written with really good characters and plot, my only fault is concerning the female characters, especially in relation to the main characters. It is a small thing (especially in regards to the genre) but considering how important the relationship between Cale and Arbell and it's repercussions - I felt that there could have been more insight to it. Yes there are moments of 'fade to black' and I don't think there was any problems with the physical relationship but to me the emotional connection (which we're told of) is never shown to the reader. But like I said, this story isn't really about romance etc. so it's a small fault.

So, even if you don't read high fantasy - I would highly recommend The Left Hand of God series but be warned you won't be able to stop reading once you start :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Review coming soon : The Last Four Things


Thanks to the wonderful people at wunderkind-pr, I received an advanced copy of Paul Hoffman's second book of the Left Hand of God trilogy, THE LAST FOUR THINGS.

The epic story of Thomas Cale-introduced so memorably in The Left Hand of God--continues as the Redeemers use his prodigious gifts to further their sacred goal: the extinction of humankind and the end of the world.

To the warrior-monks known as the Redeemers, who rule over massive armies of child slaves, "the last four things" represent the culmination of a faithful life. Death. Judgement. Heaven. Hell. The last four things represent eternal bliss-or endless destruction, permanent chaos, and infinite pain.

Perhaps nowhere are the competing ideas of heaven and hell exhibited more clearly than in the dark and tormented soul of Thomas Cale. Betrayed by his beloved but still marked by a child's innocence, possessed of a remarkable aptitude for violence but capable of extreme tenderness, Cale will lead the Redeemers into a battle for nothing less than the fate of the human race. And though his broken heart foretells the bloody trail he will leave in pursuit of a personal peace he can never achieve, a glimmer of hope remains. The question even Cale can't answer: When it comes time to decide the fate of the world, to ensure the extermination of humankind or spare it, what will he choose? To express God's will on the edge of his sword, or to forgive his fellow man-and himself?


Sounds amazing, I hope to review this book soon so stay tuned ;)

In the mean time, the book is being released tomorrow - if the first book is anything to go by, this sequel should be excellent!!
 
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