Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house-a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

For readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and fans of Madeline Miller’s CircePiranesi introduces an astonishing new world, an infinite labyrinth, full of startling images and surreal beauty, haunted by the tides and the clouds.

Piranesi is definitely best read without any prior knowledge. I didn’t know much about it before I started it, and I’m glad that I got to discover the world on my own.

For that reason, I don’t intend to seriously analyze any part of the book, just deliver my opinion in the case that it will help you make the decision about whether or not you want to pick this up.

First of all–it’s weird. Like really weird. Random things are Capitalized with No Apparent Reasoning behind it. It makes the book choppy and quite difficult to flow through, at least for the beginning. The characters are quirky and parts of the plot do not Make Sense. You will be confused for about a third of the book, and by that point you might find it a bit monotonous. Based on other reviews I’ve read, most people speed through it (me included), but I can see how others found it a bit of a drag at times.

Luckily, all of this weirdness resulted in a lovely atmosphere. For the most part, the book was utterly captivating, and I agree with praise that compares its tone to Circe by Madeline Miller. It felt dreamy and ethereal, hard to grasp but also a bit nostalgic. Unfortunately, I think Clarke’s attempt to explain things towards the end was a bit disenchanting to me. It was almost The Secret History-esque in how it lost its air of mystery with explicit “here’s why this happened” dialogue. Which leads my to my next point:

I think it’s one of those books that has to simmer. My first conclusion upon finishing it was that I was not impressed. I thought the plot was predictable and a little conventional, at least as far as other similar magical-realism-type fantasy goes. However, after sitting on it for a while, I’ve come to appreciate its nuances and subtleties a bit more. It has some themes that are relevant to things many of us have experienced during the past year, and for me it provided a little hope and comfort regarding that. It was surprisingly wholesome and will provide food for thought for a while. It’s quite short, so really there’s not much of a downside in giving it a go.

Happy reading,

The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike (Release Day & Review)

Rating: 4 out of 5.
Shielded (Shielded, #1) by KayLynn Flanders

AD 573. Imprisoned in her chamber, Languoreth awaits news in torment. Her husband and son have ridden off to wage war against her brother, Lailoken. She doesn’t yet know that her young daughter, Angharad, who was training with Lailoken to become a Wisdom Keeper, has been lost in the chaos. As one of the bloodiest battles of early medieval Scottish history scatters its survivors to the wind, Lailoken and his men must flee to exile in the mountains of the Lowlands, while nine-year-old Angharad must summon all Lailoken has taught her and follow her own destiny through the mysterious, mystical land of the Picts.

In the aftermath of the battle, old political alliances unravel, opening the way for the ambitious adherents of the new religion: Christianity. Lailoken is half-mad with battle sickness, and Languoreth must hide her allegiance to the Old Way to survive her marriage to the next Christian king of Strathclyde. Worst yet, the new King of the Angles is bent on expanding his kingdom at any cost. Now the exiled Lailoken, with the help of a young warrior named Artur, may be the only man who can bring the Christians and the pagans together to defeat the encroaching Angles. But to do so, he must claim the role that will forever transform him. He must become the man known to history as “Myrddin.”

Bitter rivalries are ignited, lost loves are found, new loves are born, and old enemies come face-to-face with their reckoning in this compellingly fresh look at one of the most enduring legends of all time. 

Hi all!

I just want to with a big happy release day to one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, The Forgotten Kingdom by Signe Pike. Huge thanks to Atria Books for sending out an ARC so I could get in on the action a little earlier.

For those of you who haven’t read the first novel of the planned trilogy, I’d highly recommend you check out The Lost Queen. The book follows Lailoken, the man who is supposed to have inspired the legend of Merlin, and his “forgotten” sister Languoreth as they navigate religion, politics, and love in 6th-century Scotland. The novel is a heavily-researched historical fiction with a lush setting, beautifully rich characters and culture, and incredibly sweet love stories (of the sibling, romantic, and platonic variety). I’d recommend it for fans of Outlander (although, unpopular opinion, I think Outlander is overrated and this is much more appealing to me).

But moving on to the second book…wow! I won’t give any spoilers for either of the books, but this one picks up about twenty years after the first one ends. I was a little sad to see how my favorite characters fared (*ahem suffered*) as they grew older, but they continued to develop beautifully in this installment, and we got insight into some amazing new faces as well.

My favorite part of any historical novel is the portrayal of culture and how the author adapts it to the story and modern perspectives, and this book was no different. There is a continual development into the belief system of the early Scots, with emphasis on the cultural prominence of priestesses & Celtic Wisdom Keepers and how they practiced their religion. One thing that I found fascinating was that Signe Pike mentioned classifying this novel as historical fiction rather than historical fantasy in her Author’s Note. She discusses how she writes the characters with the second sight as they would have actually had it in the past–it is more about interpreting signs and meditation/spirituality than fantastical magic. Because these ideas are rooted in a polytheistic (“pagan”) belief system, they are generally given less credence than something like prayers in Christianity. I loved seeing how this played out, and, reading the Author’s Note, I was impressed by the level of thought and research that went into portraying this.

This book was, however, a little more focused on the bloody physical wars of Scotland’s history rather than the more idealogical wars between the “old Gods” and Christianity. For that reason, I think it was a bit less of a pull for me, since that is a topic I am incredibly interested in. I think the battles started to lose my interest at times, which is why this book is a bit less successful than the first (in my opinion, of course). Still, the plot was intriguing and still very much a page-turner.

The writing was rich and atmospheric, and Pike’s love and respect for the setting really shone. Pretty much everything was spot-on for me, and for that reason, I think this novel is something the author should be proud to have next to The Lost Queen. The series is especially impressive considering the historical basis that Pike has compiled as the foundation for this world. I can’t wait to see where this story takes us next.

Happy reading,

July 2020 Wrap-up

It seems like July passed in a heartbeat! Honestly, I am kind of happy about that since I am eagerly awaiting fall book release season (and just fall vibes in general). August is a nice in-between of summery warmth and the beginnings of cozy, so I think it will be a nice reading month. Anyway, I just wanted to give a quick overview of what I read this July and what I rated each one.

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

A Cathedral of Myth and Bone by Kat Howard

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

Unsouled by Will Wight

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Rating: 4 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

Soulsmith by Will Wight

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

The Near Witch by V.E. Schwab

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor): Lawrence, Mark: 9781101988855 ...

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
A Cathedral of Myth and Bone: Stories - Kindle edition by Howard ...

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
Amazon.com: Unsouled (Cradle Book 1) eBook: Wight, Will: Kindle Store

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Reviews:

My favorite was definitely the Ancestor series by Mark Lawrence. I’m currently reading the last book in the trilogy. The most unique was Gideon the Ninth. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the sequel comes out in about a week, so I’m super excited about that! I also think I did a good job with actually reading sequels at all this month. I have an unfortunate tendency to prioritize different books rather than finishing a series. Definitely something I’m working on though.

What were your favorite reads this month? Do you have any new releases you’re looking forward to in August?

What is magical realism?

Today I wanted to talk about one of my favorite genres: magical realism. A few years ago, I read my first Haruki Murakami novel–and although I loved it, I had no idea how to classify it, or find more books like it. After a bit of research, I learned more about the term “magical realism”. I’m sharing a bit about it here in hopes that it will pique someone’s interest and allow them to discover a new niche.

What is magical realism?

Magical realism is a genre in which fantastical events take place in the modern world. Extraordinary or hard-to-believe phenomena live alongside realistic depictions of daily life. This may sound similar to a lot of fantasy out there, but there are a few distinctions that separate it from urban fantasies like Harry Potter (I am going to use this example throughout to show why it is not magical realism).

What makes magical realism unique?

  1. There isn’t a new magical world to discover.

In magical realism, the magic resides in our world, blending seamlessly with reality. Although the character may not realize that it exists, the author reveals it over the course of the story. This qualification already rules out a sizable chunk of urban fantasy. The wizarding world of Harry Potter, for example, is exactly that: a wizarding world. There is a division that essentially separates the muggle reality from any magic that may exist.

2. Maintenance of logical order by the narrator and characters.

Magical realism treats any fantastical events like they are perfectly normal. The description of these events feels completely natural, so a scene about traversing a dreamscape wouldn’t be any different than a scene describing a walk to the park. This is true about character reaction as well: there isn’t any more an extraordinary response to a fantastical event than there would be to its more mundane counterpart. Harry’s extreme surprise to learning about his heritage (I’m a WOT) does not follow this convention of logical precision.

What are some magical realism tropes?

3. Mysteriousness.

Magical realism tends to have a layer of fog that permeates the plot. Readers will often walk away from a scene thinking “What just happened?”. Most likely, there will never be an explanation for how certain fantastical events came to happen. Unlike fantasy, there is no magic system to uncover. Readers must excpect the strange happenings, and act as a bridge between reality and fantasy to make their own interpretations. Trying to find out how something happens is often a lot less important than discovering why.

4. Overlapping planes.

Although #1 did say that the fantastical lives alongside reality in magical realism, often there is a contrast between planes of reality. Murakami utilizes this quite a bit in his novels, contrasting life in rural Japan and the chaos of inner Tokyo. There are jolts as a character travels between nature and urban landscapes, which helps to set the scene for the strange events that take place.

5. Less of a conventional plot.

Readers who like a well-defined arc will probably be put off by the lack of such plot in magical realism. Of course, there are a series of events set up in a plot-like structure, but often the storyline can become muddled and dreamlike. Since there is an overlap between reality and fantasy, the focus tends to be exploring those relationships rather than having a concrete exposition, rising action, etc.

6. Criticism

Authors use magical realism as a way of juxtaposing what is and what could have been, or highlighting the strange disparities of reality. Political and historical critique are interwoven throughout many stories of magical realism. Other topics include gender roles or other societal norms.

What are examples of magical realism?

Famous (and widely agreed upon) examples of magical realism include Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novels like One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Haruki Murakami’s novels, such as 1Q84 or Kafka on the Shore are other examples. Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Neil Gaiman novels incorporate themes of magical realism. Some recent examples you might have heard of include Life of Pi by Yann Martel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.

Of course, there are many different opinions about what qualifies as magical realism, and how it distinguishes itself from other forms of fantasy. Some will argue that any fantasy is magical realism. There are those who will fight to place Harry Potter under that umbrella. To me, there is certain tone that comes with magical realism that you can’t find in urban or epic fantasy. It is dreamlike and almost nostalgic, it’s those subtle moods you feel but don’t know how to describe. It invokes a sense of de ja vu for places you haven’t been and times you haven’t experienced. I encourage you to read books like the ones listed above and see what you think.

Happy reading,