Tag Archives: fantasy fiction

#BookReview ‘The Secret Commonwealth’ by @PhilipPullman

Oddly The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman feels like the first of a trilogy rather than the second in The Book of Dust. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book but the first half is taken up with world-building and the introduction of new characters, relationships and enmities. But this is the first time we see Lyra as a young woman ten or eleven years after we left her at the end of The Amber Spyglass, so much has changed. Oxford seems more modern, Lyra is surrounded by old friends and potential new enemies and, crucially, she is not getting on with her daemon Pan. Philip Pullman

This latter fact, at first unthinkable, is the power driving the narrative. When Pan despairs of Lyra, who he thinks has changed unrecognisably, he sets out to recover the thing he fears she has lost. Her imagination. And Lyra, being Lyra, charges off in pursuit. Except she doesn’t know where Pan is going. Both are driven by love.

Add to this a changing political landscape with a new generation of scholars, scientists, politicians, priests and criminals and it soon becomes clear that Lyra and Pan are separated from each other in an increasingly toxic and dangerous world. Meanwhile the farmers of roses and makers of rose oil are being persecuted across Asia. Prices are rising as rose farms are burned and those who make their living from the flowers are destitute. A new rose oil with powerful and mysterious properties has been discovered in the East, and the Magisterium wants it all.

There is a sense of inevitability that Lyra will embark on a new quest taking her to strange lands. Quite how everything connects together is not clear and that is Pullman’s magic, he tells us just enough to puzzle us, to keep the curiosity burning and the pages turning, without allowing us to become bored or impatient.

What an enjoyment to encounter old friends from His Dark Materials and some new ones made in La Belle Sauvage, the previous book in this second trilogy. I won’t name these friends as I don’t want to deprive you of the joy of meeting them again. As ever, this is a brilliantly imagined, intricately plotted world from Pullman with a modern story of refugees seeking safety from an oppressive and unforgiving regime. The refugees are fleeing the places through which Lyra and Pan are travelling. Will they be safe? Or will they be outwitted by old and new enemies.


Read my review of La Belle Sauvage, first in The Book of Dust trilogy.

If you like this, try these:-
The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden, #1 Winternight Trilogy
The Queen of the Tearling’ by Erika Johansen, #1 Tearling Trilogy
Divergent’ by Veronica Roth, #1 Divergent Trilogy

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH  by @PhilipPullman #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4tnvia @Sandra Danby

Book review: The Girl in the Tower

Katherine ArdenThere is so much to The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden, follow-up to The Bear and the Nightingale. A strong female heroine, magical mystical Russian folklore, fighting, horses and danger. Vasya is an awkward teenage girl in the mythical Middle Ages of old ‘Rus who does not like her traditional choice of marriage or convent; in The Girl in the Tower she is older and more defiant. You just know she is heading for trouble. She leaves home to wander and look at the world, refusing to worry about survival in the winter forest, and in so doing stumbles into banditry and violence that has implications for the power of the throne. I read the second half of this at a pace, wanting to know the outcome, not wanting it to end.

A faster-paced book than the first of the series, the two are tightly linked and so I hesitate to give away too much plot. Disguised as a boy, Vasya cannot help but attract attention despite the warnings of her magnificent stallion Solovey. Her exploits bring her to the attention of Dimitri, the Grand Prince of Moscow, and red-haired lord Kasyan Lutovich. Feted for her fearless fighting, Vasya’s disguise becomes more difficult to protect. Reunited with her brother Sasha, the monk who is Dimitri’s best friend and adviser, Vasya must maintain her disguise or risk the lives of her family. The secret must be kept at any cost.

It is a pleasure to read these books, confident that author Katherine Arden has a supreme hold on her material, the legends and the world she has created. And in Vasya she has a heroine who confronts evil in its many forms – the human sort of swords, ambition, bigotry and malicious words – and the superhuman sort of gods and demons, a firebird and magic jewels that confer control. Arden describes this world, and Vasya’s adventures, beautifully. In this second novel she grows from a teenager to a young woman, bringing with it an awareness of attraction and a kiss with a frost-demon. In parallels with heroes of other fantasy fiction – Philip Pullman, JK Rowling – Vasya shows respect for people and creatures which others may ignore and demean, so earning their loyalty and support at critical moments.

These are adult fantasy tales, complicated, dense and a rollicking read. A quite unusual combination. Can’t wait for the third in the series.

Read here how Katherine Arden was enchanted by Russia when she was eighteen.
Read my review of the first Winternight book, The Bear and the Nightingale.

If you like this, try these:-
‘The Quick’ by Lauren Owen
‘The Seventh Miss Hatfield’ by Anna Caltabiano
‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman

‘The Girl in the Tower’ by Katherine Arden, #2 Winternight Series [UK: Del Rey]

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE GIRL IN THE TOWER by @arden_katherine #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2YK via @SandraDanby

Book review: The Magician’s Land

Lev GrossmanThrown out of Fillory and back in the non-magical world, Quentin Coldwater retreats to his former magical university in Brooklyn. Brakebills. He becomes a professor where he teaches his discipline, described as ‘mending small things’. Remember this, it will be important later. This is the final book of the trilogy by Lev Grossman and like book two, The Magician King, this final instalment is action-packed.

The story moves between present and past, Fillory and earth, above ground, in the air and underground. Seeking adventure, and money, Quentin meets a new group of underground magicians and accepts a task for payment of $2m. On the team is Plum, who admits she once attended Brakebills too.

In parallel we get the stories of Quentin, Eliot [still in Fillory] and Plum. In order to understand the threat in the present, we have to go back in time to fill in the real story of what happened to the Chatwin children [whose true adventures inspired the novels of Fillory]. And it becomes plain that the Fillory known by Quentin from his childhood love of those novels, is incorrect. The novels were fictional and Fillory is not what it seems.

Depending on them all, is the very existence of Fillory.

A cracking finale.

Click here to read my reviews of the first two books in the trilogy:-
The Magicians #1
The Magician King #2

If you like this, try:-
‘The Queen of the Tearling’ #1 by Erika Johansen
‘The Invasion of the Tearling’ #2 by Erika Johansen
‘The Lost Girl’ by Sangu Mandanna

‘The Magician’s Land’ by Lev Grossman, #3 Magicians Trilogy [UK: Arrow] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MAGICIAN’S LAND by @leverus #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1rD

Book review: The Magician King

Lev GrossmanQuentin is now living in Fillory. And he is king, or a king, one of four human kings and queens who rule this magical land. In the first book of ‘The Magicians’ trilogy by Lev Grossman, we saw Quentin accepted at a magical university in New York and finally find his way to Fillory, which he thought was a fictional world from a children’s book.

He is living his childhood fantasy, but he is bored. Life is like living in a 20-star hotel and he is getting fat. Then one day, out hunting the Seeing Hare, one of the Unique Beasts of Fillory – this world is full of magical beasts which can talk or have special powers – a new adventure starts.

The big difference for me from book one of the trilogy is that the action starts straight away. All the setting-up has been done, the background is in place, Fillory is understood, key characters  are established. Most intriguing is the presence of Julia, who was Quentin’s love interest in the non-magical world, briefly at the beginning of the first book. Quentin was offered a place at Brakebills, the magical college. Julia wasn’t. But now she is a magician too. She learned her magic the hard way, in the magical underground in the ordinary world. And she is moody and edgy. She talks to the animals, speaks in an old-fashioned cadence, she dresses in black. She is interesting. I liked Julia.

Quentin and Julia set sail on a magical ship, heading for the Outer Island to collect overdue taxes. They end up back in the real world, trapped, and unable to return to Fillory. Of course they manage it in the end, via the underground magic network, trips to Cornwall and Venice, an Australian magician, and a dragon.

This book is three quests, one after another. The action is continuous. I saved books two and three to read while on holiday, and read them back –to-back.

Click here to read my review of the first book of the trilogy, The Magicians.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt
‘In Ark’ by Lisa Devaney
‘Ferney’ by James Long

‘The Magician King’ by Lev Grossman, #2 Magicians Trilogy [UK: Arrow] Buy now

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE MAGICIAN KING by @leverus #books via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1rx