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Why You Should Read Crooked Kingdom…

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5*/5*

Some books have solid plots but the characters are weak, other books nail world-building but the pace is slow…

But in Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo doesn’t compromise character for plot or plot for character; the world building is detailed and rich and it doesn’t slow down the pace or bog down the story.

Crooked Kingdom is as close to a perfect fantasy novel as it gets…

Picking up shortly after Six of Crows ended, the story finds all the characters from Six Of Crows, led by Kaz (who strangely gets the least POV chapters here) who is hell bent on getting revenge on Pekka Rollins as well as halting the plans of Jan Van Eck. But this is only a single plot thread in the half a dozen (and more) that pull Crooked Kingdom together. Each character has their own agenda, their own story and history. Somehow, Bardugo manages to make Crooked Kingdom both plot and character driven. At times the back stories can slow the pace when they crop up in the middle of an action sequence, but that can be forgiven because the characters benefit from it.

For a book that is over 500 pages long…

Crooked Kingdom never stalls or lingers too long in one place. The characters and plot are constantly moving forward. Tensions are constantly high, all the way to the stirring climax. Along the way there are twists and sucker-punches (the biggest sucker punch of all coming in the final few chapters) and Bardugo doesn’t hold back on action and high-stakes set pieces.
Bardugo’s writing is as compelling as in Six of Crows and the original Grisha trilogy, drawing out the places of this world in rich, believable detail.

You can smell the smoke and food, feel the wind and grit. It’s easy to be there with the characters, stalking the streets, climbing the rooftops…

Crooked Kingdom pulls you in from the first chapter, holds you for the next 500 pages and doesn’t let you go even when the cliffhanger (sort of) ending arrives. There is resolution here. All the characters arcs come mostly full circle, but Bardugo leaves plenty of threads dangling for a possible return…

Count me in.

Highly, highly recommended. But read Six of Crows first.


Have you finished reading Crooked Kingdom yet? What did you think? Did it live up to Six of Crows or miss the mark?

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Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin

Some books you don’t just read.

The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is a high-fantasy series that pulls you in so you’re fighting alongside the characters, in the mud and the blood…

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire sequence is another series that pulls you in. You’re there, in Westeros, snow or rain in your face, sword in your hand…

But it pulls you into more than just battles. The world building is some of the most detailed I’ve ever read. Martin has created cultures and languages, countries and regions, all with their own histories and customs.

Just as detailed as the world building are the characters. A Game of Thrones is divided up between several characters. Jon Snow, Ned/Eddard Stark (Whose story this first book is) Catleyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Martin divides the page space up pretty equally between the characters so they’re all developed well. Some of them you might like and some of them you won’t. But there are dozens more characters—the largest cast I’ve known in a book. But in this first book there’s never too many that you can’t remember who is who or what their agenda is.

And there are plenty of agendas. Everyone is vying for the right to the Iron Throne and to rule Westeros.

For a book that is over 800 pages long, there was never a moment where I wanted it to end. I tried reading slow, to make it last, but Martin’s writing style is addictive and it’s hard not to race through the book.

A Game of Thrones isn’t as action packed as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (worth checking out if you’re a Throne’s fan) but Martin still includes plenty of battles and set pieces to keep the pace moving pretty fast all the way to the end.

As well as epic world building, Martin builds good atmosphere. Whether it’s the suspicion and corruption in King’s Landing where Ned Stark tries to survive and uncover the truth, or far in the North where Jon Snow becomes a part of the Night’s Watch and learns of a plot unfolding beyond the Wall. Martin writes so that you can feel the heat of King’s Landing, smell the fires burning in Winterfell and feel the cold at Castle Black in the north.

Even though I’ve watched the TV show, know what’s going to happen, the books still seemed to be unpredictable, and Martin includes enough extra material that didn’t make it into the shows so that reading the books is still worth it.

If you haven’t started this series yet, check it out. If you think it won’t be as good because you’ve already seen the show, give A Game of Thrones a shot. I waited too long, and I regretted it.

Epic doesn’t cover it.

Highly, highly recommended.


Anyone else read A Song of Ice and Fire, or just started reading it? 

Avengers Age of Ultron movie Review

Avengers: Age of Ultron review

10 (11)/10

Sequels to movies are like sequels to books. Sometimes they’re not as good. Sometimes they’re just as good. And sometimes they’re better.

Joss Whedon had a crazy task on his hands with bettering The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble for those of us in the UK). It was a tough ask to deliver a sequel that could top the epicness of The Avengers. But… Whedon and the team managed it—and then some.

Age of Ultron doesn’t just rival its predecessor, it knocks it out of the park and keeps on knocking it out of the atmosphere. It’s that good.

Age of Ultron is a different movie to The Avengers, the team are already assembled, they know each other, and the opening sequence as they break into a fortress to retrieve (don’t worry, no spoilers here)… Whedon makes sure we know that the Avengers are now a fully working team. And that is the core of the movie. How do the Avengers work together. The plot has many more strands than the first movie. There is more going on (which is set up for the next instalment). But the main focus of the story is the Avengers working together, and how they hold up when someone is trying to break them apart from the inside.

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As well as that Whedon delivers another ‘earth at stake’ scale disaster with Ultron at its centre. Is Ultron a villain worthy to rival Loki? Hard to say, but Ultron is definitely a worthy adversary. And with James Spader’s awesome voice-work and motion capture behind the CGI, Ultron isn’t just a robot.

Like in The Avengers, Whedon balances the Avengers well, giving each of them separate stories, but allotting them (mostly) equal screen time. Hawkeye and Black Widow get a more solid story this time around, and through new additions to the cast (Quicksilver and his sister the Scarlet Witch) we get to find out (again, no spoilers in how) more about the Avengers past… maybe even their futures…

Whedon’s trademark humour is on fine from once again, and all of the characters, even minor ones (and the villains) get more than one witty one-liner. The plot is much more complex than in The Avengers, the world, story, characters all feel more solid. More strands are introduced and the movie feels much more substantial than the Avengers (which had a solid plot too, which tells you how good Age of Ultron’s plot is). Things are resolved, and things are left unanswered, ready for the next (two-parter) instalment, Infinity War.

The CGI is as high-quality as with all Marvel movies, but while there explosions and fight sequences aplenty, the CGI is mixed with enough real sets and physical effects to not be distracting. Whedon’s direction is all but faultless. There’s no choppy editing to make action sequences impossible to understand and the pace is relentless when it needs to be and a little steadier when the story is about the characters. And for a story about the potential annihilation of Earth, Whedon (on script duty as well as directing) makes sure the characters are the focus of the movie.

Overall, Age of Ultron is possible the best Marvel movie so far. Everything we’ve come to expect is present and correct: action, pace, humour, explosions—but Whedon and the team inject enough originality and make this different enough from The Avengers that it never feels like we’re watching the first movie with a few bits added. The only, tiny, fault is the soundtrack. The main Avengers theme that ran through the first movie and made action sequences more gripping isn’t used enough this time around. I didn’t leave the cinema humming the theme tune like I did last time—but I did leave with a huge grin on my face and feeling pretty damn satisfied.

Avengers Age of Ultron is out now in the UK, and hits cinemas May 1st in the US.

Review of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (There’s still life in YA Dystopian fiction)

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5/5

I’m a big fan of dystopian, but the YA market has been flooded with so much of it that it’s now almost impossible to find a solid, unique dystopian novel. There’s always too much romance, or too little world-building, or the plots are always derivative of other superior series/novels.

The Fire Sermon by poet Francesca Haig isn’t perfect. There are some things borrowed from other books—but creating a completely unique dystopian novel would be nigh on impossible these days. But Haig gets very close with The Fire Sermon.

After a world-wide (or so the characters believe in this first book) event called the Blast swept across the planet and destroyed infrastructure and poisoned the earth, the remaining population have reverted to living in a more simple, medieval word. But the Blast also affected humans—it made every birth a twin birth, in which one of the twins is born sickly or with some form of deformity, while the other is born strong and healthy. The weaker are the Omegas, the stronger the Alphas. Separated when it becomes apparent which is which, the twins go on to lead separate lives—in physical sense. Because they can never really be separated. They are bonded by  link that means if one is seriously injured, so is the others, and if one dies, so does the other. Cass and Zach are the two twins this first book in what will be a series focuses on. Specifically Cass who flees capture when her brother imprisons her to keep himself safe, and goes in search of a ‘mythical’ place known as the Island—a refuge for Omegas.

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Author Frencesca Haig

Haig keeps the pace moving all the way to the climax, which offers a great twist—which I had suspicions about, but was never certain. Her writing is detailed, but somehow the vivid descriptions never bog down the pace of the story or detract from the action. And there is plenty of action—some great chase sequences that Haig builds some gripping tension in. A lot of the book is about journeying across the desolate landscape, but I was never bored and the pages always kept turning quickly. Cass and Zach are great characters, as are the other characters who are introduced throughout the story. There is romance, but luckily it isn’t the focus of the story and doesn’t get so heavy it takes away from the main plot.

The world-building is well done, Haig describing the half-post-apocalyptic, half-medieval world in enough detail that it feels real and believable. The ruined landscapes aren’t the most original setting for a dystopian, but Haig offers enough pace, plot, quality character development and vivid writing that any problems are quickly forgotten.

As with most first books in a series, this one ends on something of a cliff-hanger. The plots started in this book are mostly resolved and this does have a satisfying ending. But once you’ve read this book, you’ll be eager for the sequel/s.

There are some books I wish I’d written myself, and this is the second review in a week where I’ve wished I’d written a book by another author. Francesca Haig is a brilliant writer, and it shows on every page of The Fire Sermon. Even if you’re tired of dystopian, give this book a shot—it won’t disappoint. A movie is already in the works, with a screenplay being written by Haig and the team behind Guardians of the Galaxy, so this book/series will be talked about for some years to come.

Highly recommended.

I received this arc from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire review

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Up until yesterday, my favourite movie of the year (to be released in cinemas, and that i have seen) was Thor: The Dark World. But that all changed last night when i saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Unlike a lot of people i, in some ways, preferred the movie the the book (though don’t get me wrong, i am a huge fan of the books). The movie toned down the annoying focus on clothes and makeup that bogged down the first half of the book for me. It was an action packed, gripping and intense movie that did full justice to the book and had very few flaws. And so, it was with high expectations, dangerously high in fact, that i sat down and waited for Catching Fire to start. After the usual, annoying half hour of ads the lights dimmed and the movie started. It opens with a sweeping view of a bleak, snowy forest. And then we meet back up with Katniss, doing what she does best: hunting. 

From that moment that pace is pretty much relentless. Yes, there is a slow build to start as we follow Katniss and Peeta on their victory tour through the districts. It is in this first hour or so that Francis Lawrence delivers much of the hard hitting scenes. I won’t reveal anything but we get to see just how corrupt and dangerous Panem really is and how ruthless President Snow is. Then, once the games start it is full on action right up until the credits. Many were worried that previous director Gary Ross’s departure would be felt, but, as far as i’m concerned, it didn’t even cross my mind while watching the movie. In fact, new director Francis Lawrence pales the first movie and delivers something awesome. His skill at both action and emotion elevate this film from the first and he doesn’t feel the need to shake and jerk the camera around every couple of seconds as Ross did and the movie is all the more gripping for it. The new arena is brilliantly imagined: dangerous and lethal and the action that takes place there is visceral and breath snatching. The special effects have been taken up a notch and the scenes involving the threats in the arena (monkeys, poison fog, etc) are intense and engrossing as a result. 

As far as the performances go, Jennifer Lawrence proves she deserves her Oscar and cements the fact that she was born to play Katniss and that no one else could do a better job than her. It is impossible not to root for Katniss. Other stand out performances come, once again, from Woody Harrelsen as Hamitch, Donald Sutherland as President Snow and Elizabeth Banks as Effie. Newcomers Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason deliver brilliant performances and the rest of the cast are equally praise worthy too.  

At two and a half hours it is undeniably a long film, but i was at no point bored. Those two and a half hours raced past and by the time the credits role you have barely had a chance to catch your breath and register the cliffhanger ending. Catching Fire truly is a master class in film making and it’s hard to find anything that wrong with it. The dialogue is snappy and sharply written, the action is unyielding, there is a real sense of tension and danger and the actors couldn’t have put any more into the performances. 

Now all we have to do is wait for Mockingjay part 1 and then part 2. And until then, i may just re-read the books, watch the first movie again or go watch Catching Fire for a second time. 

If you haven’t see it, what are you waiting for, go now!

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