December Countdown, Day 10 : Under the Tree

December book meme (details here).  Under the Tree – a book you forgot you owned:

Temeraire

Can’t Wait Wednesday : A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik

W&WIMAGE CREDITS: Flaming phoenix by Sujono Sujono | Decorative phoenix by Tanantachai Sirival

“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  For the month of May I will be joining up this event with Wyrd and Wonder and highlighting fantasy books.  This week my book is : A Deadly Education (Scholomance #1) by Naomi Novik and here’s why:

DeadlyLesson One of the Scholomance

Learning has never been this deadly

A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets. There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.

Expected publication: September 2020

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Posted On 16 July 2018

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SpinningSpinning Silver was a book of surprises.  A story that brings together the faint whisper of other fairytales and a tale that I was fully immersed in for the most part, in fact I’d go so far as to say I was all but convinced that this would be the one. And, in some respects I preferred this to Uprooted.  It’s beautifully written and some of the characters are just wonderful to read.  I think the only thing that prevented this becoming the perfect read was a slightly stilted feeling that I experienced during the second half of the read combined with maybe one too many character povs.  But, for now, yes, this is a beautifully rendered retelling of Rumplestiltskin that gave me chills reading, not just because of the cold and aloof Staryks that inhabit their own icy world, but also because of the shivers you feel when you’re reading a book that seems near perfect.

The story is loosely based on the original fairytale.  In fact I love the way that we begin the journey with the strong voice of Miryem explaining that not everything you hear in your bedside stories really happened in the way depicted.  In fact, she’s here to put the record straight.  Miryem’s father is a moneylender, but a very poor one who doesn’t seem to grasp the concept and very rarely collects the debts he’s owed leaving his family more often than not with a lack of food on the table, fuel to keep them warm and the basic comforts of life.  Miryem becomes tired of seeing her mother suffer and basically, much to her parents shame and consternation, takes over the running of the business and does so not only with ruthless determination but also with a certain flair that demonstrates how well suited she is to the business.  Of course her exploits don’t go unnoticed and soon she finds herself on the receiving end of unwanted attention from the Staryks.   Creatures of myth, the Staryk only ride forth to take gold.  They’re cold and seemingly heartless – I’m not really sure if they’re from the winter court of the fae but that’s what came to mind when reading about them.  Changing silver into gold is much akin to magic in their covetous eyes and so Miryem finds herself being drawn into an unwanted and seemingly impossible bargain.

At the same time we make the acquaintance of Irina.  Born into a noble house, Irina spends her time trying to keep beneath the notice of her father.  Her father is disappointed in Irina.  She isn’t beautiful enough to attract a suitor who is well connected and she seems to have inherited nothing of her mother’s other-worldly characteristics.  But Irina is clever, she uses the invisibility that her feminine demeanour bestows to listen when none would believe her to be interested and so is politically astute and knowledgeable in terms of potential contenders for the crown.  More than that Irina cares about the people who she will ultimately be responsible for and this leads her to take great risks in order to protect them.

As if that wasn’t enough we have a third strong female character in Wanda.  Wanda and her brothers suffer horrible cruelty at the hands of their drunken and abusive father.  Wanda however manages to find herself a position working for Miryem and her parents and her steadfast reliability gradually sees Wanda becoming almost invaluable – to such an extent that her brothers all eventually become entangled with Miryem’s family.

So.  I’m not going further into the plot.  Just read it.

What I really loved about this book.  Well, firstly, the start of the book was positively enchanting and was just like reading a fairytale for adults.  The pacing was spot on, the descriptions were evocative.  The forest, the cold, the fear of the unknown, Miryem’s tale, everything about this was captivating.  And I was suitably enchanted.  I also really enjoyed Irina’s story.  The way she dealt with the people around her, her compassion and strength, again, a very compelling part of the story.  Wanda’s story was, for me, the weaker link in that she felt necessary in some respects to drive the plot forward.  That being said, I still found myself very intrigued as things began to unfold.  Then, there’s the writing.  The descriptions and the dialogue are just so damned good that I can’t even begin.  I loved the frosty kingdom and the people we met there.  I loved the threat from the fire demon and I particularly loved the feeling that other stories were playing a part – particularly strong Hansel and Gretel vibes, even Little Red Riding Hood and maybe a couple more.

In terms of criticisms.  I felt like there were just one too many POVs and not all of them really brought anything to the table – not that I could discern anyway.  I also felt the story slowed down somewhat when the two leading ladies began to formulate their plans.  Something went missing about that point for me, I didn’t feel the tension as much as I felt I should, I was intrigued, but not as gripped and the fundamentals of all of it felt like it left the realms of fairyland and was too ‘real’ somehow’.

To conclude though, I would definitely recommend this to lovers of fairytales retold.  In spite of a few niggles I had a very good time with this and found it quite hypnotic.  It has a great ending – although I would have liked more (just saying) – and I sincerely hope that Naomi Novak takes up the pen again to bring us some more enchanting fairytales told in her own sweet style.

I received a copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

 

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Posted On 20 December 2015

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22544764Uprooted was my first book by Naomi Novik but it certainly won’t be my last.  This book is a delicious combination of fairytale, fantasy and beautiful storytelling.  It took me by surprise and I loved it.

The story is based in, well, your basic fairytale setting!  A small village nestled up against a foreboding wood, the mountains looming in the distance.  The villagers are all scared of the wood and pay it a certain sort of respect in that they never under estimate what could happen!  In a tower on the outskirts of the village lives a powerful sorcerer.  At 150 years of age he still appears as a young man and his magic keeps the wood from encroaching further and swallowing the village and it’s people entirely.  Every ten years, the sorcerer chooses a girl from the village.  Of course the villagers don’t rebel against this because the sorcerer is their only source of protection.  In fact, over the years the villagers, recognising the girls that will be chosen, prepare them for this eventuality.  Nobody knows why the sorcerer needs the girls.  Whether he has lewd plans or uses them for something even more nefarious!

We start the story with Agnieszka and what a wonderful narrator she is.  She totally captivated me from page one.  Her lifelong friend, Kasia, is the village beauty and, as such has been long acknowledged as the sorcerer’s (or Dragon’s) next choice.  Of course the villagers know the year that a new girl will be chosen which makes it easy to narrow down the possibilities.  However, when the time comes things are turned on their head slightly and totally out of character the Dragon chooses Agnieszka.  A choice which is about to turn both their worlds upside down.

So, characters.  Well, I liked Agnieszka.  I liked her honesty in the face of certain revelations that occur during the story.  I liked her narrative voice and her loyalty to her friend.  She’s not perfect.  Sometimes you could shake her.  Sometimes you could almost shout into the pages to her but overall I really liked her.  Sarkan.  Well, he’s 150 years old and frankly he’s a grumpy and curmudgeonly so and so.  He’s been far removed from polite society for too long and he just doesn’t know how to treat people any longer.  He’s thoroughly rude to Agnieszka on occasion and he certainly has no intention of making her transition easy, in fact it wouldn’t even occur to him to do so.  However, Agnieszka seems to surprise him out of his comfort zone on a fairly regular basis, she’s got magic of her own and she seems much more adept than he would have ever considered.  Mysteriously, the girls from the village are needed for a certain reason and he’s not really trying to form lasting friendships here.  All the girls, upon leaving, usually seek new starts elsewhere.  The village just doesn’t seem to hold the same appeal to them any longer.

Recall the song, ‘if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise’ well, the wood in this story is the surprise character.  Wonderfully sinister and with a history of it’s own it seems to ooze malevolence and is full of magic and mystery.  This wood has it’s own tale to tell.

Now, a few things here.  Firstly, and I won’t elaborate, but the dragon (or Sarkan) has his own reasons for the choices he makes.  The Villagers also have their own reasons for staying put and seemingly giving up a girl every ten years and likewise the girls have their own reasons for leaving after their time at the tower concludes.  That all sounds very teasing but I’m afraid I can’t say more.

The world is a wonderful fantasy and fairytale place combined.  The magic is creative and unusual.  The characters are alternately grumpy and stubborn, there’s some wonderful sizzling going on between the main pair, although this is not a story focused on romance.  The plot is a lovely combination of fairytales with echoes of Baba Yaga and Beauty and the Beast.

I really enjoyed this and can’t wait to read more from this author.