Apologies in advance for the length – when studying literature it’s far too tempting to turn every review into an analytical essay. I’ve tried to keep it as unanalytical as possible, but wanted to give this one my full attention and thoughts! And there’s a teeny tiny spoiler right in the last paragraph … oops!

After getting sick of waiting for this to be available at my local library while hearing endless praise and recommendations for it, I ordered Veronica Roth’s debut novel from Book Depository with the intention of reading it on my holiday. By the time I landed in at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, from Melbourne, I had not only slept for 7 hours, but devoured all 496 pages of Divergent.

Distopian stories seem to be the new vampire novels. After hearing nothing but praise about The Hunger Games, I struggled to get into it at first and have to admit that it’s sitting on my bedside table half finished (I must finish it before they release the film). Yet deciding to give Divergent a whirl is by no means a decision I regret! Once again, difficult getting through the first couple of chapters, as I like to try and get my head around a new world and characters reasonably quickly, but once I pushed through, I really fell for Tris’ desire to prover herself to herself. Ultimately, it felt like as much as she ended up proving to others’ that she belonged with the Dauntless (or rather, not in Abnegation), she was really proving to herself that she could be more than she had previously allowed herself to be.

The concept of choosing one main personality/character trait for life is an interesting one. It makes me wonder whether or not we are capable of doing such a thing, and in our world of ‘you can be whoever you choose to be’ and political correctness, do we flounder in our freedom to be too many things at once? As someone who personally struggles with wondering which of my characteristics to develop or talents to pursue, I can’t help but allow myself to imagine what my life would be like if I was forced to choose one and spend my entire adulthood (and perhaps childhood too) exploring it to its fullest.

Reading from a real-world however (although hardly perfect itself), this lifestyle seems extreme and unfulfilling. To make such a permanent life decision at only 16? In a society where it isn’t legal to vote at that age, or drive or buy alcohol, and considered preposterous to marry… It seems inconceivable.

Having said that, Roth’s portrayal of human interactions and relationships felt right on track. The differing personalities (and backgrounds) of the new transfers in Dauntless, and the way they act in their new world and around each other, are brilliantly done and interpreted wonderfully through Tris’ perspective. Four’s openness to reveal his greatest fears and vulnerability to share them with Tris, was so beautiful it nearly broke my heart. Perhaps my favourite moment of unexpected humanity (in a setting where it is easy to forget these characters’ humanity) is when Four gets drunk. It reminded me so much of a moment that could have happened between Tris and Four if the book were set in a different time and different place – a world more like our own.

Which brings me to the key of what I love in a successful distopian story – the idea that humanity is humanity, regardless of what circumstances they exist in. I got the impression at least once that there is a distinct possibility that Tris’ world is an isolated community within a more recognisable one (think: that creepy M. Night Shyamalan movie The Village) – yet don’t quote me on this, as it was quite possibly my own active imagination. Nevertheless, the desire for power and control beyond human rights and civility will always create villains, and Divergent has some nasty ones. More than once I was on the edge of my seat (tricky with the lack of leg room available in plane seats), due to the outright evil nature that prevailed through the eyes of someone who had only known peace and selflessness.

Naturally, a debut novel will contain the occasional twitch or plot flaw that will remind you that it isn’t actually perfect, but they were just little things that jumped out at me while reading and I can’t recall any of them now. The only thing I still roll my eyes at just a little is the mildly cliche “the quiet submissive mother turns out to be a gun-totting hardcore bitch”. Okay, so maybe not a cliche, but it was the only part that frustrated me. Yet I loved the naturally necessary “boy ends up with girl” and as much of a “good triumphs” ending that a first-in-a-series can have.

My only regret in waiting so long to pick it up? Realising that I still have another 9 months or so until I get to find out what happens next!

After a couple of disappointing YA Fantasy novels in the last couple of weeks (The Iron Witch and The Iron King), I took a short break to devour an excitingly easy historical romance (This one!). Feeling that my palate was cleansed, I stared at my overcrowded bookshelf debating what to read. My mother, sister and I, went book shopping yesterday afternoon – it’s been gray and raining here in Melbourne, so we all felt the need to peruse the shelves and enjoy the smell that new books provide. I picked up The Help by Kathryn Stockett, which has been recommended more times that I can count, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and Forgotten by Cat Patrick. Also sitting on my bedside table are a few books from the library that I was hoping to read before I go on holidays next Tuesday. But after my disappointment with the last two books I’d read, I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood. After seeing Die For Me in the bookstore though, I remembered that I’d borrowed it recently and that it was sitting at home. A 340-page YA Fantasy by a debut author that mentioned nothing of vampires or fae. In addition, I’m off to France in less than a week, and the story is set in Paris!

From the outset, I knew I was going to like the book, it was easy to get into and the characters seemed realistic and likable. The protagonist Kate was a grieving orphan who was living in her own little world. I respected that Amy Plum didn’t focus too heavily on Kate’s depression (think: the 80,000,000 pages in New Moon when Edward leaves Bella…), but didn’t skim over it either. Now, I don’t think there is such thing as an ‘original’ romance set up these days, yet Vincent’s initial awkwardness and Kate’s uncertainty works well. When Kate begins to realise that the information isn’t matching up, however, she is determined to get to the bottom of this mysterious man who keeps turning up in her world. Ultimately, their relationship doesn’t become about possession of each other, but about mutually realising that they like each other and that pursuing a relationship seems to be the right decision.

From what I understand, revenants are a completely original concept (some combination of angels and zombies). Even though some of the descriptions and explanations were lengthy, I was fascinated by Vincent’s identity and the world he and his kindred operated in. I don’t think it was constructed absolutely perfectly (flaws can be found in nearly all fantastical worlds), but it was one of the best supernaturals-in-the-real-world novel I’d read in a long time.

I feel like I should have more to say about a book I enjoyed so much, but other than ‘Highly Recommended – 4 stars!’, I can’t think of much else. It wasn’t a hard read, and I knocked it over in less than 24 hours on a lovely rainy day. But it was the kind of story that made me grin while reading it, before realising that I was being thrown funny looks from my family, and I just couldn’t put it down!

If only I didn’t have to wait until next year for the second installment!

I’d heard great things about Holly Black – and after initially taking me a couple of chapters to get into, White Cat was a great introduction to her writing. The concepts reminded me that I’ve been reading a lot of ‘typical’ YA Fantasy, and while I love a well-written typical fantasy, White Cat felt like the breath of fresh air I hadn’t realised I’d been missing!

Cassel is an antihero. In a broad sense, the magic of the world is feared and hidden, yet in Cassel’s immediate circle, being a curse workers means inclusion, power and acceptance. His whole life he’s felt on the outer with his family, particularly his brothers, because he wasn’t born a worker. Yet he doesn’t quite fit in with his school friends either, and constantly tries to act like the person he thinks he’s supposed to be. Although the predictable plot would take Cassel from powerless to top of the heap, Black writes in a way that doesn’t feel obvious or predictable. The first person narrative allows for the reader to learn about Cassel’s past (as well as his present and immediate future) while he discovers it himself.

The portrayal of magic as hand to skin contact is brilliantly done, and the different types of curse workers ingenious. If there are books that use similar concepts, I certainly haven’t read them. Blacks’ characters demonstrate real humanity – and I feel like she explores the darker side of man’s nature in a deep and reflective way. There are seemingly no stereotypical ‘good guys’, as even Cassel himself is a criminal by birth and nature.

Lila’s character stunned me at first, as I realised that I expected her to be passive and feminine. She is neither of these things. Yes, she wants to win her father’s approval, but her nature allows her to be brutal and cruel in a way that negates any feelings of pity the reader may have towards her. Once I got over my shock at this female representation, I realised how narrow many feminine moulds can be.

Ultimately, White Cat presents a refreshingly dark and dystopial world that isn’t so far from our own. The ending sets the sequel up nicely, without feeling like the story had no conclusion. I look forward to reading book #2!

I am yet to figure out if I really enjoyed The Iron King. Having never read anything about the Fae universe before, and having heard great things about Julie Kagawa from authors I know and love, I had an open mind and was expecting something new and exciting.

Perhaps my expectations were too high? Introduced to Meghan Chase (the social outcast who discovers, on her birthday of course, that there is something truly different about her), the formula is easy to predict. For the record, I like the formula. I don’t need a book to have an original plot line to love it – but it needs to be done well. Iron King just didn’t feel like it was put together properly. Maybe my lack of Fae knowledge was to blame, but I found it difficult to construct the fantasy world in my head – Meghan, Puck, Grimalkin and Prince Ash move through so many parts of this world that it’s hard to keep a mental image of what’s going on. I found myself skim reading large chunks of descriptions that felt excessive and not overly necessary to the story, and there seemed to be a relatively low content of actual dialogue.

Aside from the setting, the characters were a mixed bag. Robbie/Robin/Puck was beautifully constructed in the first section of the book, and I was looking forward to his character development – yet he disappeared and reappeared so many times during the course of the novel that this never happened. Prince Ash, too, held amazing potential for development after his initial introduction, but again, he tossed and turned between the good guy love interest, and the back-stabbing enemy. The romance between Meghan and Ash seemed like a great idea for most of their journey, and yet when it happened it felt disjointed and strange. The jump from, ‘I’m just here for my own selfish reasons’ and ‘You make me feel alive again,’ happened within less than 20 pages. Kagawa teased the reader (but maybe it’s just me) with the suggestion that Meghan’s ‘dad’ plays a crucial part in her journey – but it amounted to absolutely nothing. I only hope it’s something that’s addressed in later books.

Having said all this, I was determined to finish the book. Long story short, if I don’t like a book, I refuse to finish it – there are too many great books in the world to waste time with ones I don’t enjoy. So perhaps it was the impending romance, or the desire to find out where the heck Meghan’s little brother was, I don’t really know. But I finished it, and I will probably read the sequels (apparently there’s a love triangle – can’t really go wrong with one of those!).

I originally picked up the anthology because Maria V Snyder is a contributor. I am yet to read anything of hers that I have not loved.

Reflectively, I realised that I have not had much experience reading short stories – and I found that they frustrate me greatly. Although I adore a good romance, I have a great deal of respect for those which are established realistically (and realism is relative to the context of the story), I discovered that the lack of background and setting to these stories made their romances more difficult for me to relate to.

That aside, some of the stories were beautifully written, with original ideas. Many of the 24 stories made for a great read – but for every one that captured my interest, there was one that didn’t. Perhaps it was based on personal fantastical preferences, but there were quite a few that I felt had no sense of reality, which regardless of the genre needs to be established. That isn’t to say that these stories wouldn’t benefit from an extra hundred pages or so of build up, but they just didn’t work in the format of this collection.

Overall, it was a easy read. Enjoyable for the most past – if only because I was laughing at the many ways in which two people could manage to fall hopelessly in love with each other in less than 50 pages.

I have many of the same reasons for loving the second installment of Kristin Cashore’s The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy. Perhaps it follows a formula we’ve seen in many other female-protagonists-with-agency fantasy novels (read: Alanna of Trebond, not Bella Swan), yet the writing is enjoyable, the plot fantastical, and the romance realistic – which is hard to come by in a genre full of sparkly vampires. As with Graceling, if you like the formula, you’ll love the book!

Fire is delightful because she if flawed. She is an easy protagonist to read, and Cashore doesn’t disclose all her secrets from the outset. Unlike Katsa in Graceling, Fire evolves from her stubborn mould into a woman who realises her value, worth and individuality – and that they are things that can be shared and useful.

Many reviews I’ve read comment on the use of sex in the novel. While it is true that Archer’s use of women for their physical pleasures is increasingly apparent, yet the reader is positioned to be weary of Archer’s jealous and possessive ways – even though we know he means well. Not wanting to add spoilers, but one could argue whether or not his behaviour is punished. The rest of the incestuous links between nearly all the principle characters made me laugh more than balk.

Brigan’s sexual history, in contrast to Archer’s, creates substance and background to his depth as a character. The Commander and Prince is a man whom the reader could realistically expect to meet and fall in love with (if one lived in a Kingdom). He has intense feelings of more than war and his own pleasure. While he doesn’t immediately trip over himself to be noticed by Fire, he is constructed to still have feelings towards his family – that is, just because he is able to resist Fire’s charm, does not mean he is immune to human affection. His past (with his father and Cansrel) demonstrates his development from a boy who was forced into manhood too soon, into the best man for a tough job. I fell in love the moment he first walked onto the page.

When I recover from the knowledge the Cashore may never bring Brigan back into my life, I will eagerly look forward to the third installment.

I certainly didn’t hate The Iron Witch, but I can’t say that I loved it either. I finished it, so it can’t have been too bad, but I’m struggling greatly to write about it, so it most certainly wasn’t inspiring.

I talk a lot about the YA Fantasy ‘formula’, and if you’ve read any of my reviews before, you’ll know I am a huge fan of following the formula IF it is done well. Karen Mahoney adopted the formula without following through with originality. The whole set up of the story gave plenty of room for an excitingly original plot line, and there were many points when I allowed myself to get enticed by an idea that never surfaced again. Although it is the first in a planned series, the excuse of an ‘introductory’ novel isn’t enough for me to overlook the neglect of some of the open ends created during the novel(the term ‘Iron Witch’ was mentioned once, with no explanation). The climax was a kidnapping-rescue story that occurred in less than 100 pages, with a slight love-triangle and conspiracy thrown in for good measure.

Plot errors aside, Donna was a beautifully developed character. She had a complicated background which Karen Mahoney explained over two occasions during conversations with Navin and Ash. Far from being just an ostracized teenager, Donna comes from a secretive ancient organisation that has invested richly in her, both through education and her physical iron arm tattoos. Navin had a suitably enriched background that informed his interactions with Donna, and I wish we’d gotten to see more of his potential (the damsel in distress role didn’t suit him). Ash was appropriately tortured and seductive (towards Donna and reader alike), and I would hope that future books would delve further into his past.

Overall, this was a book with incredible potential that felt wasted. I don’t believe Mahoney is a bad writer, but perhaps felt that she had to ‘dumb-down’, for want of a better term, her ideas for an implied readership or editor. Or maybe she just had difficulty finishing her ideas as they came to her. I’m undecided as to whether I’ll continue reading the Iron Witch series as they’re published, but I don’t regret reading this one.