I can’t promise there won’t be spoilers.
The Darkest Part of the Forest – Holly Black
Holly Black is a new favourite author. If I hadn’t been so overjoyed in discovering ‘The Cruel prince’ earlier this year, then this stand alone definitely sold me. The central premise revolves, once again, around faerie lore, with a heard of magnetic characters and themes integral to the fantasy genre. There are mystical forests, hidden worlds, knights and dream walking. It’s set in a small town in America, always a promising setting for the weird and wonderful. The plot follows the lives of a sister and brother, now in their teens, who have grown up infatuated with the mysterious presence of a young boy in an unbreakable glass coffin in the woods. In this town the people aren’t strangers to the trickster work of the faerie folk and even have a half breed changeling boy living amongst them. The story is all sorts of magic but has it’s roots in the modern world which is always the best doorway to escape.
As a kid I used to love being let lose in the woods, my imagination whirring in the same direction as the tale Black weaves in ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’. For some reason the setting just stuck with me, a little like the Shiver series by Stiefvater, where the forest is home to the uncanny, a deep, twisted land of possibilities. If you’re a fan of the genre then you have to give this one a read. Black is sort of phenomenal.
A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge
A stunning write with a fascinating concept at the heart of it. The opening to chapter ten is one of the countless pages I bookmarked and I’ve included some snippets here because, gosh darn, they’re illuminated by imagery. Such prettily strung words they are.
‘Twenty-seven months is long enough for a place to seep into your bones, its colours become the palette of your mind, its sounds your private music.’
‘Humans are strange, adaptable animals, and eventually get used to anything, even the impossible or unbearable.”
‘One day you wake up in your prison, and realise that it is the only real place. Escape is a dream, a lip-service prayer that you no longer believe in.’
So many of the lines are almost poetic and there’s a constant solemn tone to every paragraph. I found it almost draining to read because there wasn’t really any comic reprieve or any love story. But the tainted bones of it all only made it all the more impressive. It had the senses of a classic in the detail of description, the setting in an old manor in the marshes, the severity in class divide and the themes of war and politics. The characters are pretty much all ghastly, the redeeming qualities are forever in self interest. It’s all very pessimistic and very…honest.
Makepeace is likeable in her naivety and in her struggle. She’s just so good despite her “curse” and the family that are bestowed on her. I say it in every single book review when I’ve quite obviously chosen the novel because of the protagonist, but she’s such a gem of a female character. She doesn’t give up, not in the cemetery where the dead could get the better of her, not at the house when she’s caught time and time again daring to escape and then not on her brother James, even after he seemingly gave up on her. The way she and James utilise their curses in the end is so fulfilling too. But bear is my favourite character, I love the way he becomes an extension of Makepeace, possesses her and turns her into a feral girl capable of protecting herself. Like a witches familiar, only a whole lot more discreet. The heart of the story is bonkers and, for me, a very original concept. Massive love for Hardinge.
Dark Elements – Armentrout
I think this may not be the first time I’ve read this series which wouldn’t be a wild guess seeing as it’s an Armentrout creation. The first two books were niggling at my memory and I kind of had a grasp on the outcomes and felt familiar with the characters and their relationships. Regardless, it was such a throwback series, a very teen me kind of deal, and I felt a bit weird reading about eighteen year olds falling in love at twenty three. Is that silly? Regardless, I dig the plot. Being that it revolves around my all time favourite subject matter, demons. It’s a classic, over done, concept but I always go back to it.
Layla is fiesty and headstrong, though the self pity in the beginning made her my least favourite Armentrout heroine. But the whole, mother is Lilith, boyfriend is Prince of Hell but demons have redeeming qualities and one once feeble eighteen year old girl can now save the world thing had me hooked. And of course the ease in which the books read is just bliss. You can drown in the world because you don’t have to think about an overly complicated language or navigate your way through a completely new realm. That’s not to say the simplicity is a bad thing but a strong foundation to place witty banter between well rounded characters. The dialogue in Armentrout’s books has forever impressed me. There is always such a rhythmic, realistic, flow to it and the characters are always so dominating of their own identities. You could read the lines without, ‘he said, she saids’ and know from the story who’s speaking when. It’s a powerful thing that.
As always recommendations are welcome, hope all of you lovely people are doing well.
Light and Love, N x