Witchcraft, Murder and Demon Princes from Hell: Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalco

After a disappointing and frustrating experience with Stalking Jack the Ripper back in 2019, I was extremely hesitant to read Kingdom of the Wicked. But, in the end, there were just too many of my favourite buzz words associated with it to resist.

Who, What, Where?

The story follows Emilia, a Sicilian witch who has grown up being told terrifying stories about the demon princes of the underworld. When she finds her twin sister, Vittoria, murdered, Emilia vows to track down the culprit and get revenge. However, Vittoria is only the latest in a string of dead witches. Desperate for answers, Emilia summons a demon. To her shock, it’s no lower level lackey who answers her call but one of the princes, Wrath, with his own reasons for wanting to investigate the murders. And so, Emilia and Wrath come to an agreement to work together. However, Wrath isn’t the only demon, or member of the royal family, who’s recently appeared in Palermo.

Too Fast, Too Slow

One of the main issues I had with KotW was Maniscalco’s writing style. First up, there’s quite a lot of telling vs showing going on, especially in the first half of the book, and often in the form of Q&A type conversations. Second, there were points where I couldn’t help feeling as though certain scenes/developments were slightly rushed and would have benefited from greater build up or descriptive detail. This would have enhanced the sense of drama and better helped the reader follow what was happening. Prominent examples include the discovery of Vittoria’s body and the book’s end sequence, during which I was muddled as to what exactly was going on. Then, on the other hand, there were other scenes where it felt like we lingered too long. Did I really need to read about Emilia preparing what I’m sure was a lovely bruschetta? Probably not.

All About that Atmosphere

The atmosphere in this book is great. The descriptions of the buildings, food, markets, sounds and smells of Palermo worked wonderfully in not only creating lush Sicilian settings but varying the story’s tone from chapter to chapter. One minute we’re in a sunny, bustling, seaside city with the characters enjoying tasty cannoli, the next Emilia is rushing around ominous, darkened streets with demons potentially around the corner. Yet, I do have to mention that as I was reading I had trouble placing when the story was set. Had I not gone back to check the blurb before writing this review, I still wouldn’t be sure. While KotW is a fantasy, it takes place in a real part of the world and aside from a few references to clothing, there aren’t many era indicators which would have better helped immerse me in the story.

Witch/Detective/Chef

As a heroine, Emilia is a mixed bag. While I appreciated her tenacity, love for her sister, and passion for food, she has a habit of making annoyingly naïve, rash and bad decisions. At first, I was willing to let these slide but there comes a point where you wish you could just shake some common sense into her. She gets fixated on illogical theories despite there being a valid explanation to counteract them and often charges into danger without a proper plan. Here’s hoping for some improvement in book two.

Not So Fairy Tale Prince

In comparison, Wrath is a more interesting and less frustrating character. Mysterious, slightly dramatic, kind of a flirt, and I enjoyed Maniscalco’s somewhat dry approach to his humour. The only problem is that even after a whole book, I still know barely anything about him, which is very disappointing, but I expect that will change drastically in the next book. The interactions between Emilia and Wrath take some time to properly get going but I really enjoyed their conversations and seeing them slowly learn to trust one another, despite their opposition to the other’s species. Plus, the sexual tension is definitely something I’m keen to see more of *winks*.

No Rest for the Wicked

When it comes to the actual plot, KotW took a good while to grow on me. After the original set up, the earlier chapters deal mostly with Emilia attempting to investigate the murders on her own. This isn’t exactly a bad approach, but considering my issues with her as a character, it wasn’t the most exciting time. There’s also the fact that Emilia starts out with very little to go off which results in a lot of her poking around in a somewhat aimless fashion, just hoping a clue will land her in her lap (which it does). The other thing that dampened my enjoyment somewhat is I expected Emilia to team up with Wrath far earlier than she did and this delay was mostly out of stubbornness.

Following approximately the halfway mark, I began to enjoy myself a lot more! The investigation became more focused, Emilia and Wrath were pleasantly bouncing off one another, the interactions with the different demon princes representing the seven deadly sins was fun, and the bigger impending threat of the story was introduced. By the time I reached the climax, I was genuinely disappointed the book was about to be over. While I wasn’t a fan of certain elements of the ending, I’m really looking forward to the exciting change of scenery it creates for the sequel.


As far as a final verdict goes, there were things I liked about this one and others that missed the mark. Still, it’ll likely appeal to a lot of other readers, especially if you enjoyed the Stalking Jack the Ripper series. I will say though, I do feel like it’s set things up for a really good sequel and I’ll be eagerly picking that up later this year.

3 stars

How to Survive a Magic School Full of Monsters 101: A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

Magic, monsters, and dark academia. Did I need further reasons to read this book? NOPE.

Who, What, Where?

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation.

A Prickly Heroine & Bland Hero

El is far from your traditionally likeable heroine. She’s snarky, rude, foul tempered, frequently annoying and has a doom-filled prophecy about her to boot. This, among other things, made the early parts of the book a struggle for me to get through, particularly as it’s told in first person. However, as the book went on, I got to learn more about El’s history and came to understand why she’s so bitter and angry at the world and acts the way she does. After a while, I found that she’d grown on me, like a stubborn mould, and I was genuinely happy to see her build up some genuine connections by the end of the novel with people who saw past her prickly exterior.

Aside from El, the other major character is Orion Blake, golden boy and protector of students everywhere. While I didn’t dislike Orion, I did find him somewhat bland and it massively frustrated me that there was no explanation for his apparent “specialness”. This aside, I did really like his and El’s bizarre friendship. It’s mainly El telling Orion what an idiot he’s being and him simultaneously being frustrated by it and liking it because nobody else treats him like a normal human being. I can get behind that.

The Supporting Cast

There are quite a few side characters in this book. Although they’re ethnically and linguistically diverse, for the first half I found them to be vague and flat. Much like with El though, a few of the more prominent ones did improve as the story progressed, namely Liu, Chloe and Aadhya, who each developed their own traits and minor side plots. By the end I had a much greater appreciation for these three and really enjoyed seeing their relationships with El evolve.   

Tell, Not Show

Good news: the world is good. Bad News: We get told about it in ridiculous amounts of info dumping. And we’re not talking easy to follow stuff, we’re talking complicated world building necessary for understanding much of the events and dynamics between characters – magic sources, specialisations, languages and their relationship to magic, the structure of magical society, etc. It’s especially prominent in the first couple of chapters. After the opening hook I kept waiting around for an actual scene or conversation to take place for a good while.

Info dumping aside, I just don’t think I’m much of a fan of Novik’s writing style. This is something I noticed while reading Uprooted a few years back. It’s dense and wordy (unnecessarily so), there’s a large amount of inner monologuing, and a tendency to spend time on things that aren’t important to the story or the reader’s enjoyment, e.g. the history of a spell El uses at a high intensity moment. While I was interested in the general gist of the book, I found myself bored and skimming chunks of it from time to time.

Wanted: More Plot

Another thing I see people having problems with is the plot. Or the lack of one until about 70% of the way through. Most of A Deadly Education feels like a collection of small subplots happening as El goes through her day-to-day school life. These include El figuring out what to do after graduation, her relationship with Orion, the resulting antagonism with the New York kids, Liu’s struggles with malia (dark magic), etc. For the most part though, it’s just El and the other students trying to avoid being killed by a variety of determined and crafty creatures which Orion regularly saves them from. Once a larger plot become apparent it did provide some context to a few of the earlier events and I quite enjoyed where the story ended up climax and ending wise.

Racial Controversy

Over the last few months there’s been discussion online about certain elements of this book being racially offensive (e.g. a problematic passage about locs). As a white, Australian reviewer, I don’t feel I’m the right person to comment on these, especially as others who are better qualified than myself have already done so at length. You can find three different posts here, here and here. I should also mention that Naomi Novik has apologised for some of these inclusions and vowed to do better in future.


A Deadly Education gets some things right and others, not so much. If you’re already a dedicated Novik fan, you’ll probably enjoy this latest offering. Despite the book not living up to its full potential in my eyes, with how things ended I’ll probably give the sequel a go when it releases in 2021.

3 stars

Let the Games Begin: Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Ah, Caraval. *sigh* How badly I want to like you and yet, how much you disappoint me.

I first read Caraval back in Feb 2017. The hype was real and I raced through that puppy lickety-split. But by the time I reached the end of it, I found myself in such a puddle of confusion that I quickly hit the three-star button and moved on without any intention to continue the series. Flash forward to 2019 – Finale is released, and it’s everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The damn thing won’t leave me alone. So, what do I do? I go out to the bookstore and buy Legendary. Peer pressure is not my friend. All I need to hear is, Wait! The sequel is a million times better, and suddenly I’m having ACOMAF flashbacks. However, with my memory being what it is, in order to read Legendary, I, of course, had to re-read Caraval. Now having gone through Stephanie Garber’s debut twice, I’m finally ready to sit my butt down and review it.

Scarlett Boring Dragna

One of the biggest problems I have with this book is that as far as protagonists go, Scarlett is about as interesting as watching paint dry. You could stick just about any other YA character in her role and the book would be more exciting for it. I feel as though I’ve seen her character so many times before– annoyingly naïve, easily embarrassed, swoons for pretty boys, makes stupid decisions and, once all is said and done, extremely forgettable. Honestly, Scarlett, you’ve been wanting to see Caraval for years, finally get a chance to play, and spend the whole time trying to shorten the experience and repeatedly worrying about the same silly things despite everyone telling you it’s unnecessary. Better yet, you’re warned repeatedly not to believe everything you damn well see and hear, and what do you do? BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE AND HEAR. *throws up hands*

It’s All a Game

I love the idea of Caraval. I do, I really, really do. A scavenger hunt-ish competition set in a magical world of make-believe with actors, costumes and a crafted story – it’s like a murder mystery dinner on steroids. If the game had happened the way you’re made to think it will at the beginning, boy, would I have been entertained. The problem is, this is not so much a competition (because come on, as if any of those other people ever had a chance) and more a case of, let’s see how many times we can get Scarlett to wander round the island looking for Tella and test their sisterly love. Need to find a clue in Tella’s room? It’ll just happen to be the only item still there after the place has been picked clean by other competitors. Need to find the next clue at a specific location? We’ll just hope you somehow wander into this exact tent and stumble upon the info you need. I’m sorry, but it all feels somewhat underwhelming and contrived.

It’s Magic, I Tell Ya!

You all know how much I love magic. I’m an addict. HOWEVER, in order to enjoy all that magic-y goodness, there needs to be some kind of structure and explanation for it. This is a story that rests entirely on magic and what do we know about the magic in this world? Absolutely nothing. There’s portals, dresses that change shape and colour, people who come back from the dead and others who never age, locations that create certain emotional responses, dreamscapes, transference of lifeforce…and we get no explanation, rhyme or reason for any of it except that Caraval is magical because Legend made a bargain many years ago. Sorry, but what?

Me this entire book: How did that just happen?

The Book: It’s Magic!

Me: Yes, but how?

The Book: ….Magic?

Spot on Atmosphere

I’ve been ranting a lot so here’s a burst of positivity: I really like the atmosphere and vibes of Caraval. If it were possible to visit somewhere like this in everyday life, I would be yelling ‘Sign me up!’ without any hesitation. Crazy shops, extravagant costumes, mystical objects, gondolas, castles, underground tunnels – it sounds like the best theme park ever and Garber details it well. I also love the idea that the participants are only allowed to be out at night. It really gives the story that mysterious and dangerous edge it needs.

Pretty Boys

I can’t help but like Julian. It’s probably because he shares a lot of the qualities of many of my favourite male characters – charm, roguishness, good looks and an air of mystery. All that’s missing is the self-deprecating sense of humour and pseudo arrogance (although I’m sure I’ll get the second one out of Dante in book two). I also find it extremely amusing that Julian was not supposed to be part of Scarlett’s Caraval adventure beyond her arrival and he not only stuck around but straight up lied to her every day just cause. That girl who died? My dead sister. Me and Dante? Working together. That dude? Oh yeah, for sure your fiancé. I low key love how insane it is.

Also, I have to mention, I find it hilarious that Dante was all sunshine and daisies until he realised that Scarlett liked Julian better and then, because he’s clearly the prettier boy, he decided to sulk for the rest of the competition.

Hold the Melodrama

Something that bugged me even on my first read through was the extremely melodramatic and rushed nature of the ending. While I understand what’s trying to be achieved here, it’s all just too much, even verging on ridiculous. I mean, what’s with the Legend actor trying to get Scarlett to jump off the balcony? WHY? The twist I appreciate but the way in which we reached it could have been done more believably.


All in all, a disappointing read, but despite the negatives, I still find it weirdly speed-readable? For some inexplicable reason there’s just something about it that pushes me to read all the way through to the end so I’m settling on 2 stars.

Okay, Legendary, let’s do this.  

Ghosts, Dark Magic, and Murder: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Now, this is a tough one.

Ninth House was easily one of my more anticipated releases for the second half of 2019. Magic, dark themes, secret Yale Societies and Leigh Bardugo. Why, hello there, irresistible combination. As Leigh’s first adult novel, I was also super intrigued to see how it would be different from her YA works. And yes, it’s definitely different. But good different or bad different? In the end, it’s a bit of both.

Who, What, Where?

Ninth House is set at a fictional version of Yale University. Here, the rich and powerful members of eight secret societies regularly engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a smaller ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman to join its ranks, opening their eyes to the uses and potential dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts or ‘Greys’. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position within Lethe.

The book largely flicks back and forth between two time periods – Winter & Spring. The Winter chapters take place shortly after Alex’s arrival at Yale and deal with her starting to learn about magic and the societies through the assistance of a Lethe senior named Darlington. The Spring timeline occurs following Darlington’s bizarre disappearance, with Alex now largely handling the duties of Lethe on her own. When a young woman turns up dead on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies, despite being told to do otherwise, Alex decides to follow her gut and look into it.

Dark & Mysterious

If I were grading Ninth House on a lettered scale, it’d easily get an A for atmosphere. Leigh’s version of Yale is dark, dangerous and full of secrets. Ghosts roam the streets, magical substances exist to charm people and remove their free will, and wealthy, privileged students abuse dark magic for pleasure and power. It’s an intriguing setting and grounded well by Leigh’s ability to mix her own knowledge of the real Yale with her fantastical take on it. This twisted depiction of the University is further aided by the fact that it’s also populated by a multitude of morally grey, and sometimes black, characters – people willing to do whatever it takes to better themselves regardless of the costs to others. Even Alex, herself, is not so morally clean cut, but necessarily so to be able to survive in this kind of environment.

A Trigger Minefield

As I said above, Ninth House is not a young adult novel, by any means, and it won’t be for everyone. This book goes to some dark places and the trigger warnings list for it is lengthy. Drug addiction & overdose, murder, self-harm, child rape, forced consumption of human waste, toxic and abusive relationships, sexual assault involving video and date rape drugs, and more. For the most part, these things do tie into important plot elements and character development rather than being simply thrown in for extra colour, but it’s important to be prepared if any of these are things you’re sensitive to.

Connecting with Characters

One of the things I love about Leigh’s previous books is her ability to write interesting and loveable characters. With Ninth House, however, I had great difficulty connecting with them. Alex is a complex character with clear personality traits and a detailed backstory but at the same time, it just never really clicked for me. In terms of the other characters, Darlington was easily my favourite and yet, he’s only in a small portion of the book. Then we have Lethe’s support staff and perpetual PhD student, Dawes, and Lethe’s police liaison, Detective Turner, both of which I thought were okay, but was again missing that spark with.

There are a lot of side characters in this book and at some points it does feel crowded. Society members, Alex’s roommates, Yale faculty, ghosts/historical figures, people from Alex’s past, etc. Some are better fleshed out and more important than others, but I do feel as though there could have been a slight cut back to reduce messiness and confusion.

Stop & Start Plot

The plot of Ninth House is a lot like a dying engine, stopping and violently starting at a moment’s notice. This book could definitely have been shorter than 458 pages and there are a lot of sections in which the pacing is very slow, especially early on (& the info dumping doesn’t help). Momentum on the murder investigation takes a while to kick in and even when things do start to pick up, after every new puzzle piece discovered or dramatic moment that unfolds, there’s a long, drawn out pause. This is usually to shift to character backstory or something else. If you find these side-plots interesting, you’ll get by okay but if not, there’s likely to be some periods of boredom. While I wasn’t gripped in a constant state of excitement, I will say that, for the most part, I did remain consistently intrigued in how things would turn out, even though the ending wasn’t the satisfying conclusion I’d hoped for.


Overall, for one of my most anticipated releases of the year, Ninth House was somewhat of a disappointment for me. However, despite its flaws, I can still say I found it a mildly enjoyable, if bleak and at times confusing, reading experience. As to whether I’ll read the follow up, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 Stars

Love and Witchcraft: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

A witch and a witch hunter fall in love. That was all I needed to know about Serpent & Dove to race out and buy it as soon as possible. Throw in a stunning cover and a heap of absolutely fantastic reviews, and I let this bad boy waltz its way right to the front of my TBR queue. But did it live up to expectations?

Not quite.

Who, What, Where?

Serpent & Dove is set in a vaguely historical French-ish land called Belterra characterised by a longstanding conflict between witches and the royal family/church. The witches argue that humans have taken over their lands and so, continue to use aggressive magic to get them to leave. Meanwhile, the church believes the very existence of witches goes against religious doctrine and use an army of witch hunters, called Chausseurs, to capture and burn them at the stake. Enter our leading lady, Lou, a thief and witch in hiding from her own coven. After a public stunt designed to help her avoid capture backfires, Lou ends up wed to Reid, the archbishop’s star pupil and golden boy of the Chausseurs. Hi-jinks and eventual romance ensue.

Spunk & Stubborness

As far as lead characters go, I really enjoyed Lou. While she might be similar to a lot of other ballsy female leads we typically find stuck in chauvinistic fantasy worlds, she’s too much fun for me to care. She’s spunky, snarky, flirty, independent and strong. Any woman who can hold her own in a conversation as well as a fight immediately has my heart. I will say though that I do feel she lost a lot of her spark by the climax of the book. It was almost as though her affection for Reid smothered her personality – a big no-no.

Reid, although not nearly as likeable for me as Lou, was still an okay character. Stubborn, religiously devout, and conservative, I get the feeling he’d probably verge on boring without Lou to bounce off. He’s a tad thick and frustrating at points, especially early on when trying to control Lou, but as the book progresses he does have his sweet and romantic moments.

Slow Burn…Up to a Point

One of the main reasons I was so keen to read S&D was because it was said to have a great slow burn romance. And it does…for the first two thirds. I really enjoyed the development of Reid and Lou’s relationship for most of the book as there’s a gradual build up from annoying the hell out of each other to enjoying one another’s company. I had a fantastic time with their verbal sparring, usually involving Lou in a bathtub or singing crass pub tunes, but also the softer moments like going out for cinnamon buns or discussing Reid’s favourite book.

Then we reach a point where, all of a sudden, Shelby Mahurin becomes every impatient romance reader screaming, JUST KISS ALREADY. I was more than fine with this, especially as it involves a definitely not YA appropriate scene in a theater *waggles brows suggestively*. What I was NOT fine with was the immediately following ‘I Love You’s. And not just the regular kind, the desperate, I can’t live without you, you are forever part of my soul kind. *sigh*. Shelby, girl, why you gotta give me this lovely slow burn only to put foot to pedal as we’re approaching the finish line?

Plot & Pacing

Let me say this straight – the first two thirds of Serpent & Dove were enjoyable, even with a few silly plot elements. The last third, not as much. The book starts out really well – there’s heist vibes, an action scene involving Chausseurs vs witches, and Lou & Reid’s version of a meet cute. I was hooked quickly. After Reid and Lou get married (for reasons I’m still very much like: well, hello, plot convenience) things slow down a lot to focus on relationship and character development. This goes on for a good while so if you were wanting your romance with more external conflict, you’ll be disappointed. Personally, I was going, yes, give me that slow burn!

Then I hit the climax/ending. Behold my disappointment:

  1. The romance reached melodrama levels
  2. Our heroine lost her lustre
  3. Our villain turned out to be nothing more than a cackling “evil” witch without proper development
  4. I was hit with several trope-y and contrived plot twists
  5. AND what should have been a difficult and gradual change in thinking for Reid was thrown out the window because PLOT WAITS FOR NO WITCH HUNTER TO BELIEVABLY PROCESS ENORMOUS CHALLENGES TO HIS ENTIRE LIFE’S BELIEF SYSTEM.

Magical Patterns

A big tick for me on this book was the approach to magic used for Lou’s category of witches, la dame blanches. For Lou and her coven, magic is an exchange and every use must be bargained for/balanced. There are multiple approaches to reach a specific goal but it’s up to the witch to determine the most suitable “pathway”. For example, at one point Lou uses magic to pick a lock and in exchange breaks a finger.  I loved this ‘use and consequences’ design and that there was a degree of skill involved in working out non-debilitating pathways. I also like that this system factored into the plot in both small and significant ways.

Where Are We?

Magic aside, the world building in this book is not one of its strongest qualities. While it’s technically fantasy, there isn’t much time devoted to building up a decent fantasy world. If not for the inclusion of magic and certain location names, I would have said it felt more like a French historical setting. Or, well, a very watered down version of it with a bunch of out of place elements thrown in. There’s no real sense of politics, customs or geography (beyond a couple of towns and features) and, weirdly enough, the Catholic church exists complete with bible, archbishop and mass. Colour me confused. 


Despite Serpent & Dove not exactly living up to expectations, for the most part, I enjoyed this book and expect that I’ll have forgotten the ending enough by 2020 to give the sequel, Blood & Honey, a go. Would still recommend.

3.5 Stars

Murder at Magic School: Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey (ARC)

Magic for Liars is a book with both a solid and fun concept – I mean, a murder mystery at a magic school? – but somehow, it never really manages to scratch either your crime or fantasy itch in quite the way you’d hoped.

Noir Meets Magic

The story centres around Ivy, an alcoholic PI who has difficulty getting close to people. While Ivy herself is a regular Joe, her estranged sister Tabitha is a mage and teaches at a secret academy for magical teens (think American high school that just happens to teach magic subjects alongside the regular). When one of the teachers dies under mysterious circumstances, the headmistress hires Ivy to investigate. A murder case seems like the perfect opportunity for Ivy to test her skills and pick up some well needed cash, but it also means facing Tabitha and somehow getting a bunch of adolescents to tell it to her straight. She has her work cut out for her.

Ivy Gamble, P.I

As a protagonist, Ivy is basically how you’d imagine a standard noir private investigator to be – never far from a bottle, a loner, unresolved family problems, and accustomed to dealing with unsavoury types. However, she’s also very unsatisfied with who she is and because of this, she’s spends a lot of the novel acting out different (alternate universe) versions of herself e.g. flirty/giggly Ivy or Mage Ivy. At first, it’s fine, as it shows just how much Ivy wishes she could be like the image she has of her sister, attractive, free and special. After a while, it does start to get repetitive and annoying, especially when it predictably blows up in her face. On the upside, the plot does give Ivy a lot of opportunities to showcase that she’s very good at working out people – when they’re lying, what they want, and how best to manipulate them for information. I really enjoyed this side of her, mostly because it showed just how great of an investigator she is.

Let’s Solve a Murder

The murder mystery storyline takes a while to properly warm up. The first part of the novel deals with Ivy taking her time to learn the lay of the land (working out who the main players are & their stories, and attempting to understand relevant magical principals). Aside from a couple of tense moments during character interviews, there isn’t a heap of excitement during the first half. However, once we get over the mid-way hump, some of the little things Ivy picks up on earlier start to show greater relevance and the plot moves along more briskly. By the time events start coming together at the end, the momentum has vastly increased and everything gets dramatic FAST. You’ll likely be able to guess where things are heading, but as it’s both emotionally charged and makes sense within the context of the story, that’s not such a bad thing. I will say, though, that the ending itself does feel somewhat rushed and incomplete in that some big choices are made, especially by Ivy, and we have no idea what the consequences will be.

Red Herrings (Aka. Side Plots)

Magic for Liars involves several side plots. These weave in and out of Ivy’s investigation to varying degrees. There’s Ivy’s flirtation with the hot physical magic teacher, her fractured relationship with Tabitha, a prophecy about a chosen one, and a mysterious student relationship with a potential pregnancy. For the most part, these are designed to provide the overall book with extra colour and the investigation with some red herrings.

  • Ivy’s relationship with Rahul is a cute addition, even though it ends in a rather unsatisfying way. It’s somewhat awkward but sweet to see Ivy try to connect with someone, even if she goes about it very badly.
  • The teen pregnancy story is the most relevant to the overall mystery, but I do wish it had felt a little deeper considering it was dealing with something so emotionally heavy.
  • I really enjoyed the sections of the novel devoted to trying to repair Ivy’s damaged relationship with Tabitha. It’s interesting to see them attempt to overcome their issues with one another and realise that many of them stem from incorrect ideas about the other or a lack of communication. More importantly, this groundwork ended up being essential to the emotional impact of the book’s ending.
  • Of the four, the chosen one plotline is the one I could have done without. It not only feels unnecessary but has a predictable outcome from the moment it’s introduced.

Scientific Magic

Unlike books like Harry Potter, for instance, Magic for Liars tries to take a slightly more scientific approach to magic. In a way, it’s more akin to something like Lev Grossman’s The Magicians but less complicated or fully explained. While I didn’t always understand the terms and principles being thrown around, I still enjoyed the use of magic here and found that it served to ground the story by making the world building and plot events seem more realistic. Yet, I do wish that we’d gotten to see more of the magical elements instead of having them mostly relegated to the background.

While Magic for Liars wasn’t the epic crossover between the mystery and fantasy genres that I’d hoped for, it still possesses some solid character moments, a mildly intriguing mystery, and a decent approach to world building that’ll be enough to entertain some readers.

3.5 Stars

Let’s Steal a Magical Artefact: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves was one of my big anticipated releases for 2019. ASix of Crows-esque squad pulling a heist in post-revolution France with some magic thrown in? How could I possibly resist?

Complex World Building

I don’t know if I’m not paying enough attention, just obtuse, or it’s the book itself, but either way, I was massively lost on a lot of the world building elements of TGW because there’s just so much to process.

There was once the Tower of Babylon which God broke up into a bunch of smaller pieces. These fragments were then hidden in different parts of the world. Through their presence, some members of the population developed special abilities. Known as ‘Forging’, these abilities are either physical or mental and involve altering objects in unique ways (forged objects). Forging affinities are also highly specific e.g. manipulating stone.

To protect the fragments, the Order of Babel was created and is made up of powerful houses spread across the globe (there were once 4 French ones each led by a patriarch or matriarch, now only two remain). The members of the order are responsible for moving the Babylon fragments every few years and ensuring the location isn’t discovered. This is to avoid someone attempting to misuse, destroy or reunite them. 

Still following? Because I haven’t even mentioned anything about:

  • The special rings the house heads wear
  • The forged objects designed to locate Babylon fragments
  • OR the branches of forging that somehow allow you to transfer souls (…what?)

In one word, it’s overwhelming. As the book went on, despite the author’s attempts to explain, I just found myself getting more confused, especially during the climax. The frustrating thing is that I’m so impressed by the amount of work and creativity that’s gone into crafting this world and I feel as though it has so much potential for awesomeness, but at this point, I AM CONFUZZLED. SEND HELP.

It’s Heist Time

The plot of TGW revolves around a heist. It’s Paris, 1889 and Severin Montagnet-Alarie is the denied heir to one of France’s two now-extinct houses of the Order of Babel. When he and his associates come across something that may lead them to an object Severin believes could force the Order to give him his rightful place as patriarch and resurrect his house, he jumps at the idea. That is, until he finds out the object is locked inside the protected vaults of House Korre. Deciding to let it go, plans change when he’s soon forced into a magically sealed deal by the head of House Nyx, the charismatic Hypnos –  deliver him the object and he’ll give Severin exactly what he’s always wanted.

The plot of TGW is intricately linked with its world building and because of that, I had trouble understanding (or even just avoiding zoning out during) some of the technical parts of the story. However, because the pacing is so spot on and the narrative has such a great balance between action-packed/tense scenes and quieter character moments, it actually managed to distract me from this fact on numerous occasions.

Me: I have no idea why Zofia & Enrique broke into this museum but OH MY GOD, THAT DUDE JUST THREW A BLADED HAT!

As you’d expect, there’s also some romantic drama which I quite enjoyed because we got both the cute, awkward flirting pairing and the intense I-love-you-but-we-can’t-be-together pairing.

The End

I have to give Chokshi points for her ending. I was on the fence about reading the sequel for ages and then…we got to the last few chapters where she dumps a whole bunch of teasers for future character drama and THEN wham, hits us with a solid twist in the last line. *sigh* I think she may have got me.

Diversity & Commentary

This book has such an ethnically diverse cast of characters and it makes me ridiculously happy. We have Algerian-French, Indian, Filipino-Spanish, Polish, Haitian-French and…Tristan.

Through the use of her cast and setting, Chokshi also makes some great commentary on some of the darker issues associated with France during this period in history such as:

  • Cultural appropriation and exploitation – Laia is pushed to perform a traditional Indian dance for mere entertainment
  • Racism & Discrimination – Severin is denied his place as head of House Vanth because the Order refused to have two mixed-race patriarchs, Zofia is harassed for being Jewish
  • Slavery & Human Trafficking – the existence of human zoos
  • Colonialisation – The occupation of the Philipines by the Spanish & Enrique being of mixed race is considered part of neither population.

A Loveable Family

My favourite part of TGW, hands down, was the characters. Severin’s team of quirky, adorable and brilliant associates are all likeable and distinct. They also interact with one another in ways that feel real, familiar and humorous.

Severin: Owner of the L’Eden Hotel , Severin is calculating, good at recognising the talents of others and using them to his advantage, and generally tries to hide his emotions behind a calm exterior. However, deep down, he thinks of his team much like a family and would protect any one of them at all costs.      

Laia: Exotic dancer & hotel baker. Laia is wonderfully confident, cool-headed, mysterious and always trying to feed everyone. She has the unique ability to read the history of objects by touching them and can go toe to toe with Severin.

Enrique: The team historian and a massive nerd for all things scholarly. He’s bisexual and possesses that cocky bravado thing which pretty much assures I will fall in love with you. Also, will turn up to parties to get first dibs on chocolate covered strawberries.

Zofia: A Jewish, Polish engineer with autism who’s great with numbers, patterns, and chemicals. Zofia’s not so good with people or humour and tends to count things when she’s nervous. She has a love of sugar cookies and is basically an awkward, little cinnamon roll. 

Tristan: A botanist with forging abilities centred around plants. Tristan is like a little brother to Severin and he’s pretty much an overexcited puppy who spends most of his time in the greenhouse working on his inventions with his pet tarantula, Goliath. 

Hypnos: Charming, ostentatious, and flirts with anything that moves. Hypnos is smarter than he seems, adept at getting what he wants and swears by using alcohol as a thinking asset. If there’s one thing he needs, it’s friends. He opened his mouth, and I fell in love.

The Gilded Wolves showcases solid writing, good momentum, and diverse, interesting characters. However, due to the overly complicated nature of the world building and it’s inextricable links to the plot, I found myself unable to enjoy the story as much as I wanted to. Still, with an intriguing ending, the chances of me reading the sequel remain high.

3.5 stars 

The Ultimate Harry Potter Tag

You know me, I never go too long without expressing a lil’ bit of the old Harry Potter love. Tomorrow night I’m attending an HP trivia, dress up, and treasure hunt event at my favourite bookstore so it seemed like the perfect time to tackle this chunky HP Q&A tag. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. I’ve no clue where it originated from but if you know, pop it in the comments and I’ll give them the credit they’re due.


1. Favourite Book?

Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite. I love the challenges (come on, dragons anyone?), Draco Malfoy as a ferret, the Quidditch world cup, introduction of the other schools onto the scene, and dramatic ending. Plus, it’s the last book before things become dark and serious.

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2. Least Favourite Book?

Order of the Phoenix. It’s not that I don’t like Order of the Phoenix, I do, it’s just a lot heavier (in tone and physically) than the previous books. Harry’s extremely angsty through large chunks of it, Sirius dies at the end, and I hate how Dumbledore spends the entire book blowing Harry off. Also, Umbridge. She’s worse than Voldemort.

3. Favourite Movie?

I adore Philosopher’s Stone because it’s the very first and has such a purity to it but my favourites are probably Prisoner of Azkaban (Buckbeak, Lupin, time turners, werewolves, so much to love) and Deathly Hallows Part 2 (it’s not exactly true to book but I love the epicness of the fight sequences).

4. Least Favourite Movie?

Order of the Phoenix. Now, this was a book that could have used two films. They stripped that novel down to the barest of bones and left it feeling hollow and bleak. There’s barely any of the character building elements other than the DA and I feel sad when I think about all of the wonderful side plots that were missed out on.

5. Favourite Quote?

There are so many wonderful quotes in this series, I couldn’t possibly pick just one so here are some of my favourites (which I’m sure you’ve all heard many, many times before):

“…[T]he world isn’t split into good people and death eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” – Sirius Black

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals” – Sirius Black

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – Albus Dumbledore

And a quote that’s especially important to remember in the world of today:

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” – Albus Dumbledore

6. Favourite Weasley

Fred and George – they’re a package deal. They never fail to make me laugh and I enjoy every scene they’re in.

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7. Favourite Female Character?

Hermione Granger – it may seem a bit cliche but Hermione was one of my favourite characters growing up. She was brave, hardworking, smart, and without her, poor Harry would have been a very dead chosen one not far into the series.

8. Favourite Villain?

This is a tough one. Umbridge, for example, is a “good” villain but she also happens to annoy the hell out of me. I think I may go with Barty Crouch Jr/Mad Eye Moody for this one. Mad Eye is such an entertaining character in Goblet of Fire, but because it’s not actually him, I guess it’s Barty I find so enjoyable. I like the unpredictability, the thought and patience that went into his plans, and the backstory to him ending up masquerading as Moody.

9. Favourite Male Character?

I have a bit of a soft spot for Neville. He’s such a sweet character – clumsy, forgetful, and loves plants. How could you not love that? I also like the fact that over time he gets more chances to showcase just why he got selected for Gryffindor house – deep down, he’s got the heart of a lion (well, except where Snape and his Grandma are concerned).

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10. Favourite Professor?

Minerva McGonagall – that woman is amazing. The sass alone is enough but she also happens to be a badass who can shapeshift into a cat. Need I say more?

Lupin gets points as well for always having a stash of chocolate on hand.

11. Wash Snape’s Hair, or Spend a Day Listening to Lockhart Rant about Himself?

Snape’s hair because I’m sure there’s an easy spell for that somewhere.

12. Duel and Elated Bellatrix, Or an Angry Molly?

An angry Molly because Bellatrix is freaking scary and crazy as hell. At least Molly could probably be reasoned with. Probably.

13. Travel to Hogwarts Via Hogwarts Express or Flying Car?

The Hogwarts Express, hands down. Watch all the beautiful scenery go by and eat a million sweets from the trolley at the same time, yes, please!

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14. Kiss Voldemort, or Give Umbridge a Bubble Bath?

Er, neither. Is that an option? If not, maybe the bubble bath provided I get earplugs and a blindfold.

15. Ride a Hippogriff, or Ride a Firebolt?

Definitely a Firebolt. As lovely as Buckbeak is, I’m not so big on birds (terrified of them actually) and hippogriffs have eagle heads so that’d be a no. Broom all the way.

16. Is there a Character you felt Differently about in the Movies VS the Books?

Ah, Ginny. I really, really like Ginny in the books – she’s such a strong character but she’s massively shortchanged in the films to the point where she’s almost a non-entity unless the plot specifically requires her to show up e.g. Chamber of Secrets, romancing Harry. So disappointing

17. Is there a Movie you preferred over its book?

I do love the movies, but no. The books are better.

18. Richard Harris or Michael Gambon as Dumbledore?

I think Richard Harris is absolutely the perfect Dumbledore. Visually he’s fantastic and just has the perfect combination of quiet strength, quirkiness, kindness, and intelligence that Dumbledore possesses. However, there are moments where I wonder how he would have done with some of the more action-packed parts of the books such as the fight with Voldemort in book 5, especially since Michael Gambon managed these very well. Guess we’ll never know.

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19. Your Top Thing (Person or Event) which wasn’t Included in the Movies that Annoyed you the Most?

God. Just one? Peeves, SPEW and the house elves (especially Winky), Hermione & Ron’s prefecture, Hermione blackmailing Rita Skeeter to help Harry, Cho blowing up at Harry in some teeny-tiny teashop, there are so many things I wish had been included but I recognise the fact that a lot of them weren’t necessary to the overall plot.

20. If you could Remake any of the Potter Movies, which would it be?

Order of the Phoenix, surprise, surprise. I’d split it in two and add in more of the side plots from the book to enrich the characters and story.

21. Which House was your First Gutfeeling you’d be a Part of?

I think everyone wanted to be a Gryffindor when they were little but as I got older I came to realise that Hufflepuff is where my heart truly lies. Loyalty, honesty, and dormitories right near the kitchen. Sounds about right.

22. Which House were you Actually Sorted into on Pottermore?

Back before Pottermore was re-vamped, I did the quiz and got sorted into Hufflepuff. After the changes, I had to do the quiz again for some reason and ended up in Gryffindor, surprisingly. I guess I’m more a Gryffinpuff (or Huffledor) than I realised.

23. Which Class would be your Favourite?

I think Charms would be a lot of fun – levitating feathers, freezing things, making your wand light up, and so on, but Defence Against the Dark Arts could be exciting as well.

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24. Which Spell do you Think would be the Most Useful to Learn?

Lumos would certainly be useful when you need to do something in the middle of the night without waking everyone up (or stepping on a cat, in my case), but I’m extremely lazy so Accio would probably be my pick.

25. Which Character do you Think You’d Instantly Become Best Friends with?

Hagrid – I could teach him how to bake better and he could convince me to get out of the house more. Plus the hugs would be amazing, and I’d get to pat Fang.

26. If you Could Own One of the Three Hallows, Which Would it be?

The invisibility cloak. Nobody should have the power of the Elder Wand, plus I don’t want people murdering me for it.  The stone scares me a little and it seems a bit unhealthy in encouraging you not to let go of those who’ve died. However, I can’t deny that it’d certainly be cool to have conversations with some famous dead people.

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27. Is there any Aspect of the Books You’d Want to Change?

Hm, I haven’t read them in a few years now so things aren’t as fresh in my mind as they could be. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is maybe the first section of Deathly Hallows. There’s a lot of what feels like nothing and during my first read, it did get a bit boring. I wish there’d been more direction, less bickering.

28. Favourite Marauder?

All of them are great except Peter but if I had to pick, probably Lupin as James and Sirius did some bullying in their teen years which I’m not a fan of.

29. If you could Bring one Character Back to Life, which would it be?

Hedwig. I don’t even like birds and her death was bloody traumatising. I get it was supposed to be about the loss of innocence and all that, but really, WHY??

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30. Hallows or Horcruxes?

Hallows. I’m not really up for (a) murdering people, (b) tearing up my soul, or (c) living forever. Nope, nope, nope.Divider

There we have it, 30 questions done! Some of them were quite difficult, too. Doing this definitely made me want to do a re-read of the series. It’s been AGES. But when do I find the time? The TBR just never stops growing (aka. I never stop buying new books, so it’s my own fault).

Enough from me, tell me all about your own HP favourites and disappointments! What’s your house, favourite book, and fave character?

Love Ashley

Let’s Talk: Fairies in Fiction

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When I was ten, I was captivated by the magic of The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi. The fey in these stories varied in their appearance and nature, ranging from brownies and goblins to nixies and ogres, but just like in any other book about the fair folk, they were also tricksy, mysterious and of course, dangerous. As I moved into my teenage years, fairy stories soon began to lose their appeal in favour of vampires, angels, and werewolves. However, over the last few years the genre has had an epic resurgence in fantasy and, much like a lot of other people’s, my interest has returned with a similar vengeance. So, recently I started thinking about what it is exactly that’s so appealing about stories dealing with the fey these days, and here’s what I came up with:

Magic

One of the best parts of fantasy is magic and it’s something that features pretty much constantly in fey stories. It’s most common purpose is  reinforcing a hierarchy – separating the all-powerful rulers from the ruled or, more commonly, the annoying antagonist character that needs to get their butt kicked from our central characters. Magic in fey stories is also often a court identifier and shows just how rooted a fairy character’s court is in their personality. In Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, Summer King Keenan isn’t just the ruler of the Summer Court, he literally exudes sunlight and warmth. And we wonder why fey are usually arrogant asses…

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Magic’s great at spicing up conflict situations. I mean, reading about Aelin kicking ass in the Throne of Glass books is pretty awesome but assassin abilities plus fey magic? Now you’re talkingFairy magic also acts as a great plot device in regards to coming of age or transformation stories, particularly where it’s somehow bestowed upon someone who used to be human (or at least thought they were) and now has to learn how to use it. Eventually they accept themselves, develop as a person and progress on their path towards bad-assery, as we find with Laurel in Wings and Feyre in A Court of Mist and Fury.

Truth Telling & Two-Sidedness

A fascinating component of fairy lore is the idea that the fey are incapable of lying. Yet, because of this they’re exceptionally good at telling half-truths and using the truth to manipulate situations to their advantage. Just look at the scene introducing the fairy queen in Cassandra Clare’s City of Ashes – one conversation, a little bit of honesty, and suddenly everything’s topsy-turvy in our characters’ relationships.  I love this trope because it forces you and the characters to read between the lines of what’s being said and creates the perfect circumstances for a plot twist or betrayal.

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…Or a reverse betrayal as the case is in Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

This idea feeds into the fairy nature of being two-faced. While the fey are outwardly very beautiful and seem to delight in light-hearted things like games, music, dance and food, underneath it all there’s a compelling darkness and twisted cruelty. This provides such a great opportunity for characters to rise above all of that in order to serve as interesting protagonists. Yet, it also allows for some pretty terrible villains, acting out of a desire for power or simply their own amusement (like the asshole fairies in Black’s The Cruel Prince).

Immortality & Beauty

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s rare to find fairy based stories that don’t involve a romantic component and if there’s romance going on, you can bet that the characters involved will be damn attractive.

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And fairies are just that. They’re athletic, beautiful (often almost verging on too much so), experienced in the ways of the world, and will likely stay that way forever – that is unless someone decides to physically attack them. Essentially, there’s the attractive elements found in the vampire genre minus the creepy, well, dead issue. Listening to every human character go on and on about how amazing looking fey characters are in comparison to themselves does get a bit old but hey, a reader needs someone swoon worthy once in a while, even if they can be kind of a sucky person on occasion (e.g. Prince Cardan from The Cruel Prince, Dorian from Dark Swan, or Kiaran from The Falconer)

Courts & Conflict

Another very common feature of fey based stories these days is to follow elements of traditional fairy lore by dividing the population up into different courts. This is usually based on seasons, times of day or whether they’re feeling particularly Seelie or not (haha…okay, bad joke. I’ll see myself out.) It’s a structure used in Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan books, and Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series, just to name a few. And why? Because it’s a perfect driver for conflict. These courts don’t just differ in name, but also in culture, attitudes and temperament. Then again, it doesn’t help that fey kingdoms often resemble modern-era Europe in their desire for power and tendency to prey on the weak. Plus, anyone who lives as long as fairies do is bound to build up some serious grudges over the years. If it were me, I’d start screwing with people just to alleviate the mind numbing boredom of immortality…

Fairy courts also provide opportunities for alliances and political intrigue, and at times even all-out war. The fun part is watching them try to interact with one another with sometimes awful or hilarious results. See A Court of Wings and Ruin for an entertaining example. Essentially, Me:

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Are you a fan of fey related books? If so, why and what are some of your favourites?

Love Ashley

Magic & Romance Under the Big Top: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

4 stars

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“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” 

I have a new rule this month.  Finish a book, write the review before you start the next one. I’ve been very slack with my book reviews lately – I think I only wrote two for the five books I read last month. Time to fix those figures! With book one for October down, it’s review time. The Night Circus, I’m almost ashamed to say, has been sitting on my shelf for over a year now. Drawn in by its mysterious blurb and striking cover, I couldn’t help adding it to the pile. But despite hearing how absolutely wonderful it was for months on end, I never seemed to find myself in the exact right frame of mind to tackle it. But at long last, last week, the time had finally come.

Plot

To discuss Erin Morgenstern’s novel purely in terms of plot would be, in my eyes, a complete disservice to its beauty. If I were to sit down and write you out a timeline of all the events that make up the story, you’d probably look at me and say, “Well, not much happened there”. In terms of the bigger picture, you’d be right. However, with this one, the devil is very much in the details. In truth, The Night Circus is not a novel about events. It’s a little bit about people but really, it’s about a place (Surprise, surprise, that place is a travelling circus that opens at night). It’s about the things that happen there and the way in which it affects the lives of the people directly connected with it. As a result, what I’ll call the “plot” is made up of a series of subtle and gradual developments which take place over the course of many years. In other words, if you were hoping for some crash, bang magic akin to Dumbledore vs Voldemort, sorry, but this is not the droid you’re looking for. But if you’ve got the patience and the appreciation for it, you’ll find something quite special.

If you were to have read the blurb for this book, you’d know two key things – first, the story concerns a competition between two magicians (Celia & Marco) within the confines of a circus, and second, the competition is complicated by the two falling in love. Viewed in black and white, both are correct but without the additional context, it’s a bit like me telling you about my day and only mentioning that I caught a train and ate an apple. There’s just so much more to it. So, while The Night Circus may involve a love story, and that love shapes a great deal of events in the second half of the book, it’s still not what you’d call a romance. The main concern really is the competition.

Understanding the way the competition works took quite a bit of time for both for me and the characters.  I went into this expecting something akin to a boxing match – aggressive and direct, while in reality it was more like a sudden death round of trivia, competitors taking turns strutting their stuff until the other cracks under pressure. Except instead of answering questions, they’re adding new and amazing magical attractions to the circus. Once I finally grasped this, I enjoyed the novel a lot more. Yet, I do have to say that the competition’s resolution, which is tied closely to the romantic relationship, feels quite rushed and somewhat unsatisfying. The last third of the novel is full of teases of coming drama and there’s a slow build of underlying tension. Unfortunately, both of these factors failed really to come to fruition in the big way that I’d hoped.

 The romantic relationship between Celia and Marco doesn’t truly begin until at least halfway through the novel. Even then, the two essentially continue to dance around each other whilst sending the most beautiful and unique forms of love letters through the means of their circus attractions.

 “Everything I have done, every change I have made to that circus, every impossible feat and astounding sight, I have done for her.” 

Some people have argued that the relationship falls on the side of the ‘insta-love’ category but I never felt like this was the case. The novel takes place over an extended timeline and both characters have a very deep knowledge and understanding of the other through their magic long before their first proper conversation. The connection is even more believable considering they both see one another as the only other person who could possibly understand exactly what it is they’re going through. It’s quite a sweet and charming relationship which provides for several lovely moments scattered across the book, and it’s easy to see exactly why the two feel so completed by each other.

Writing

When I wrote my review for Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, I described her writing as dreamlike. This same description aptly applies to Morgenstern’s prose. Dreamlike and magical. Here is an author who lives and breathes the images in her mind and knows exactly how to make a reader see them too. Clothing, scenery, objects, people, even the intoxicating smells of her fantastical circus are described in such loving detail that it’s difficult not to be absolutely enchanted by it all. You find yourself wanting to read certain moments over again, just to picture the beauty of something as wonderful as a ship made of books floating upon an ink sea beneath a starry sky. There are brief segments throughout the novel written in second person as if you yourself are a visitor to the circus. For me, however, I always found that viewing the circus through the eyes of the story’s characters was far more rich and engaging.

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I also need to emphasise just how lovely Morgenstern’s dialogue and wording is. This is the kind of book you highlight and tab, just to keep track of specific passages. Here are a couple of my favourite examples:

“Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds.” 

***

“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.”

“But you built me dreams instead.”

 ***

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”

Characters

While Celia and Marco are definitely the two key players of this story, The Night Circus has a large supporting ensemble cast. Each individual is very different and serves important roles in relation to the development and running of the circus. As I said above, this is a book focused centrally on a place and as a result the circus acts as the lens through which we see into the lives of these other characters.  But despite having multiple chapters devoted to each of them (there are about 15 featured characters in total), aside from Celia and Marco, none of them are extensively well developed or experience much in the way of growth. We have a sort of sense of them as people but no real deeper understanding. It’s probably something I’d call fondness or an appreciation, and yet, this doesn’t stop them all being compelling just the same.

If you’re someone who’s getting a little tired with the same-old-same-old books and wants to spend a couple of relaxed hours in a magical world with some romance, historical settings, and stunning imagery mixed in, then I definitely recommend this one to you. Is it the most amazing, fantastical, splendid book I’ve ever read? No. But I can say without a doubt, it was definitely a lovely ride.

 4 Stars

Find it on Goodreads here!