Category: Book Review

Unpopular Opinion: I like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Posted October 18, 2019 by Fictional Fox in Book Review / 0 Comments

Unpopular Opinion: I like Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8) by John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling
on July 31, 2016
Pages: 330
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

**This Post Contains Some Cursed Child Spoilers**

When the script book of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released I saw a few negative reactions. I’ve watched numerous reviews on YouTube where the presenter was not fond of it and I’ve read blog posts along similar lines.

I, on the other hand, loved this story. I’ve been lucky enough to see it on stage as well which ramps up the awesomeness even more.

I love seeing Harry, Ron, and Hermione grown up and facing new problems. More than that, though, I enjoyed the themes of family relationships, he fallout of the ‘chosen one’ storyline, time travel, and the way the Hogwarts House stereotypes were tested.

In this story the focus is on Albus, Harry Potter’s son. He has to deal with the burden of being the child of a celebrity and being marked as ‘different’ for being placed in Slytherin versus Gryffindor (where most of his family are). This is one of the consequences of Harry’s ‘chosen one’ status from the Harry Potter series. His whole family effectively carry the burden of his past whether they want to or not. This causes people to make assumptions about his children and if they don’t match those assumptions, like Albus, they receive negative attention.

On the other side of Albus’ story we have Harry who is evidently struggling with fatherhood as someone who hasn’t had a dedicated father figure to model himself on. He grew up feeling like an isolated member of the Dursley household for years. As an adult he is faced with the challenge of being a big figure in the family he has made for himself with little guidance or knowledge of how to do so.

I like that this story had a focus on two Slytherin students to evidence that there is much more to this House than the dark stereotypes. Scorpius, Draco’s son, is the best ambassador for this Slytherin rebrand. He’s super clever, sweet and loyal. I also liked how Draco is depicted in this story and that him and his father-son relationship is placed on the same page as Harry’s. This offers an interesting comparison as both Scorpius and Albus have been judged based on their family in different ways.

Another thing I enjoyed about this story is how it reflects on the casualties of the chosen one’s journey. People like Cedric Diggory die in the wake of Harry’s journey through the Harry Potter books. These are innocent people who have their chance to have their own story stripped from them because they are secondary to the ‘main character’. On top of that these innocents leave behind families and friends who are touched deeply by the tragedy.

What responsibility does the ‘chosen one’ have to these casualties of their story? It’s an interesting question and I enjoy how it’s explored in Cursed Child. Cursed Child shows us that Harry’s story, and that of the wizarding world at large, doesn’t just end with a neat bow on top at the end of Deathly Hallows. Cursed Child deepens my concept of Harry’s world and brings it back to life in a thought provoking and narratively conscious way.

Time travel is a favourite plot device of mine. Cursed Child uses time travel to excellent effect to play with alternate realities and explore the different routes Harry’s story could have taken. It also gives characters like Harry and Ginny a chance to confront the traumas of the past as adults. It’s the perfect setup for character development whilst also giving a fresh new look at scenes Harry Potter fans are already familiar with.

I will probably talk about Cursed Child and it”s themes again in a future post but for now I think I’ve sufficiently explained why I enjoy it.

Have you read Cursed Child or watched it on stage? What’s your opinion on it?

Lauren x

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

‘I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive’ – Review of To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Posted October 7, 2019 by Fictional Fox in Book Review / 0 Comments

‘I have a heart for every year I’ve been alive’ – Review of To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra ChristoTo Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Published by Feiwel & Friends on March 6, 2018
Pages: 344
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

A standalone novel about a siren and a pirate prince who are pushed together despite being bitter enemies?

I was sold on this book before I even read the first sentence (which is killer, by the way). To Kill a Kingdom is such a dark, fun and fantastical novel.

While I was reading it I took it with me everywhere. Unfortunately it ended up getting utterly soaked one weekend while I was working at a very damp flower festival. Turns out a story about the fate of the sea kingdom of Keto is at all waterproof 🤷‍♂️. Thankfully, my dad managed to save my book by re-laminating it. I’ve never been so happy to have a book saved! It allowed me to finish reading this lush tale of a murderous princess and her identity crisis.

To Kill a Kingdom is told via dual narrators, Lira and Elian.

Elian wrestles with two separate personas: one the one hand, he is the heir to the kingdom of Midas and expected to rule after his father. But in truth his heart belongs at sea. His second persona is as the Captain of the Saad. His main quest is to eliminate sirens and the treat they pose to humans at sea.

The ‘Princes Bane’ is the most infamous of these sirens as she rips hearts out of princes. Enter Lira, our other narrator and the Princes Bane in the flesh. She is the daughter of the vicious Sea Queen who has pressured Lira into doing terrible things in order to shape her in her own image.

The plot quickly focuses itself on a quest to find an artefact that could end the Sea Queen’s reign of terror. Elian wants to find it to end things while Lira is tasked with foiling his plans and taking his heart.

What ensues is a story about taking control of your own narrative . At the beginning Elian and Lira seem to already have their paths mapped out for them by their parents. The quest above widens in scope considerably. It takes on the added dimension of searching for a way to define themselves away from their parents shadow. The answers to the latter is what really saves their kingdoms and people.

The found family aspect of this novel also feeds into the ‘control your own narrative’ theme as Elian, and later Lira, find comfort in the devoted crew of the Saad showing that sometimes the best family is the one you choose for yourself.

There are plenty of neatly clever plot twists, betrayals, and double crossings throughout this novel. Which keeps it exciting. So, too, does the satisfying application of the enemies to lovers trope.

One of my favourite aspects of this novel, though, is that it is a standalone story. It is a nice change of pace from my habit of reading lengthy book series to instead enjoy a self contained story.

Lira and Elian’s character arcs felt fully explored within the bounds of this single volume and I found the ending very satisfying. There are just enough enough narrative doors open to allow the reader to run away with their imagination and think of what the future could hold for these characters. I certainly would not be sad if the author chose to write more books in this world but at the same time this ending felt just right.

In summary this book : Is deliciously dark. Features pirates, sirens, found family and the power of the sea. What more could you want for a great read?

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

“Everything is a story” -Review of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Posted October 5, 2019 by Fictional Fox in Book Review / 0 Comments

“Everything is a story” -Review of Carry On by Rainbow RowellCarry On by Rainbow Rowell
Published by Wednesday Books on May 9, 2017
Pages: 522
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

A #1 New York Times-bestseller

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here — it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.

Carry On - The Rise and Fall of Simon Snow is a ghost story, a love story and a mystery. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more monsters.

Quick note: This is a repost of a review I have posted elsewhere but I wanted to bring it across to Fictional Fox as a point of reference for when I review Wayward Son.

“This isn’t a story!”

Everything is a story.”

(Rowell, 2015, p.507)

The narrative in Carry On has a playful self-awareness. Carry On is not a repeat of the stories you know, Carry On is a play on the stories you know.

The book starts at the beginning of Simon Snow’s last year at Watford, a magic school. There are references throughout to Snow’s previous adventures at his wizarding school but we don’t get those stories in novel form. Honestly, you don’t need them because you already know them. This book interacts with the knowledge you already have of this kind of story, the story of the chosen one saving the world while going to school. Harry Potter ring a bell? The Harry Potter series is a pop culture reference that Carry On has a conversation with, works with, and plays with.

In Carry On  language has power. Having a good turn of phrase on the tip of your tongue is the way to be successful as a mage. Examples include ‘Time flies!’ to make the time go faster if you’re having fun, or ‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ to get people to turn a blind eye. The more popular the phrase, the more powerful it is.

[An aside: I loved the history of this magic system and the theoretical and political clashes that have occurred during its development. 

Basically: ‘Before the Mage’s reforms, Watford was so protective of traditional spells that they’d teach those instead of newer spells that worked better’ (Rowell, 2015, p.227). The Mage put a greater focus on looking at language as a living thing by recognising that there is as much, if not more, strength and relevance to new phrases as there is to ‘classic’ bits of language.

  The old approach placed language in stasis with cornerstone phrases that should not be interfered with. The current approach is to work with language as an organic and changing thing, with respect for the power of phrases alive and thriving right now. These different approaches remind me of the debate over what ‘good’ literature is. Can our contemporary literature open up and enter the hallowed halls of academia and be discussed with just as much respect and depth as classic literature? I would say yes.]

There is a lot more to discuss about the magic system in Carry On but I’ve digressed too far already from my point about the narrative. Basically, the novel calls on your knowledge of Harry Potter, and books like it, to lend it strength and power, just as the magic system within the novel calls on phrases you know to produce an effect.

Once this book has you on the same page as it, having invoked pop culture, it starts to dismantle it. The expected narrative fate of the characters and their relationships with each other frays. It frays under the tension of each of the character’s hyper awareness of how things are meant to go. Baz and Simon should be enemies. Agatha and Simon should ride off into the sunset to their happily ever after. Most importantly, to the Mage at least, Simon should end the threat to the world of mages once and for all.

All the characters know this is how things are meant to be. Some fight it from the off. Others cling to it until they realise that it isn’t, and doesn’t have to be, the story you expect. I think this is best embodied in Agatha and the Mage. Agatha flirts seriously with the idea of rejecting the fate set out for her as the Chosen One’s girlfriend. Her end decision made me proud. The Mage, meanwhile, is the one who forcefully snaps people into the available roles within the narrative structure he thinks he is in. He’s studied the prophecies inside and out and he is sure he knows this story and how it should function. The driving force behind much of the Mage’s actions in this novel is his frustration over the fact this story will not behave the way he expects it to.

All of this playful pop culture work is carried out with great humour, much of it played out in the conversations and the individual point of view chapters quite a few of the characters get. I loved Agatha’s comments on her headmaster’s sense of style when she says ‘he’s always dressed like Peter Pan, and he carries a sword. Like, all the time’ (Rowell, 2015, p.392). I grinned as Baz skipped between a blunt declaration to himself that he’s ‘hopelessly in love with’ (Rowell, 2015, p.176) Simon Snow to complaining that ‘Snow doesn’t give a shit about waking me up’ (Rowell,2015,p.179).

The characters are written with charm and spark.  They’re never too much of a cardboard cut-out of the character stereotypes they are cast as, which gave their struggle to break free of those roles more depth. I enjoyed this novel so much because of how endearing and interesting the characters are. They are, quite rightfully, the main driving force behind the dismantling of the Harry Potter-esque pop culture framework Rowell throws them in to.

Lauren x

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

“I still haven’t done anything for you”- Review of Wolf Children by Mamoru Hosoda

Posted October 3, 2019 by Fictional Fox in Book Review / 0 Comments

“I still haven’t done anything for you”- Review of Wolf Children by Mamoru HosodaWolf Children: Ame & Yuki (light novel) by Mamoru Hosoda
Published by Yen On on May 21, 2019
Pages: 176
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

When Hana falls in love with a young interloper she encounters in her college class, the last thing she expects to learn is that he is part wolf. Instead of rejecting her lover upon learning his secret, she accepts him with open arms. Soon, the couple is expecting their first child, and a cozy picture of family life unfolds. But after what seems like a mere moment of bliss to Hana, the father of her children is tragically taken from her. Life as a single mother is hard in any situation, but when your children walk a fine line between man and beast, the rules of parenting all but go out the window. With no one to turn to, how will Hana survive?

I watched Wolf Children for the first time a few years ago. I was at uni at the time. I played the DVD on my blue laptop, setup on a desk in my uni accommodation. I was probably putting off finishing an essay at the time.

I cried when I watched it and I have not watched it again since (because I’m a wuss). It had an impact on me and just thinking about it evokes all the thoughts and feelings I had when I watched it. I have owned the book of the film for a few months but I only got around to reading this novel recently. I wish I had picked it up sooner because it was a truly lovely reading experience.

Wolf Children is about one young mother’s journey bringing up her two ‘wolf’ children in a way that allows them to choose their own path in life. The children are posed with the question of how they want to live through the guise of whether they, Yuki and Ame, want to live as humans or wolves.

The storytelling is almost dreamily gentle which works well with the deep messages and questions it poses.

Whilst this story does cover the separate journeys Ame and Yuki follow to find themselves and their place in the world, their narrative threads are interestingly secondary to Hana’s as they fall under the umbrella of her story though she would likely see it the other way around.

At its heart Wolf Children is about Hana’s struggles and her dogged pursuit of her self-defined purpose to give her children freedom of choice. Early on in the novel, when faced with bringing up the children alone, she sets the objective for this stage in her life: “you can choose to be what you want” (p.41) she tells the children. She tells them this as she makes the decision to move away from all that she knows to give them the space they need to grow up safely and make that decision independently. This gets challenged later as she realises the cost of their decisions to herself, particularly in regard to Ame.

Sure, there’s clearly a supernatural thread to this story. Hana has prophetic dreams before she meets the children’s’ father and of course there’s the wolf transformation element. But the supernatural stuff is not what’s really important. It’s more about what that wolf transformation represents. To me it functions as a lens or filter to the realistic story beneath that of a mother fighting to give her children a choice and then finding the strength to let them go when they make those decisions.

From here on in I’m going to discuss some spoilers for the ending so turn away now if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Hana’s anguish in the final chapter as she watches Ame depart into the woods is to me the most heart-breaking part of this book. Throughout the book we see her staying strong in the face of adversity time and time again which makes her breakdown near the end so much harder to witness. Her partner’s death early in the story is deeply tragic. The resilience she shows to get through that and stay strong is worthy of respect. And we get to see her slowly earn the respect of the rural community she becomes a part of, which is heart-warming.

But then she wants one thing for herself. Her wish to keep Ame from the woods and the animal community he has found there is her one true act of selfishness and it’s hard to accept that she can’t have him and stay true to what she promised him when he was young. From losing her father to her partner it seems to be a cruel world that would take her son as well. Letting him go to be a wolf is the right thing but it is also clearly the hardest thing.

“But I still haven’t don’t anything for you,” (p. 164) she cries to him. But as readers we know that is far from true. His freedom to be in a position to make the choice to live as a wolf (the way that feels right to him) fulfils the objective she set herself as a mother. This is his answer to the question she posed to him and Yuki earlier in the novel: “How do you want to live? […] As children or as wolves?” (p.40). Her work is done.

Hana is a good person and her story is beautiful. It is just as dreamily told in writing as it is in the film. There’s a peaceful, dawdling nature to the narrative. Contradictorily Ame and Yuki seem to grow up and mature in the blink of an eye- which replicates how the time would have passed for Hana.

All the emotions in this novel ring true and real. I love it to pieces and it gives me the courage to watch the movie again.

To sum up in a few word, Wolf Children is: Beautiful, heart-breaking, a dream.

Lauren x

One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

“The fox found a way out”- Review of King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Posted October 2, 2019 by Fictional Fox in Book Review / 0 Comments

“The fox found a way out”- Review of King of Scars by Leigh BardugoKing of Scars (Nikolai Duology, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published by Imprint on January 29, 2019
Pages: 514
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Nikolai Lantsov has always had a gift for the impossible. No one knows what he endured in his country’s bloody civil war—and he intends to keep it that way. Now, as enemies gather at his weakened borders, the young king must find a way to refill Ravka’s coffers, forge new alliances, and stop a rising threat to the once-great Grisha Army.

Yet with every day a dark magic within him grows stronger, threatening to destroy all he has built. With the help of a young monk and a legendary Grisha Squaller, Nikolai will journey to the places in Ravka where the deepest magic survives to vanquish the terrible legacy inside him. He will risk everything to save his country and himself. But some secrets aren’t meant to stay buried—and some wounds aren’t meant to heal.

I won’t lie, I initially struggled to get into this book when I started it. Part of the problem was the bias I brought with me from Bardugo’s other books. I found the original Grisha trilogy okay but I was not head over heels in love with it. I read it long after its original publication and I felt out of the loop and out of kilter with other people’s opinions (I don’t think Mal is that bad, for example, but I’ve read a lot of reviews that mention reader’s having an issue with that character).

In contrast, I really love Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. Although they were set in the same universe as the Grisha trilogy the locations , characters and plots felt fresher.

King of Scars, meanwhile, returns us to the Ravka of Shadow and Bone and puts the spotlight back on familiar faces from the original trilogy.

But despite my reservations I really did end up enjoying King of Scars by the time I finished it. Read in conjunction with the previous Grishaverse books, this entry in Bardugo’s canon works really well at satisfyingly maturing the world and characters from the original trilogy in a way that helped bring them in line with the joy I got from Six of Crows.

My favourite thing about King of Scars is the character work. I liked that, whilst our protagonists are still young, they have had to noticeably grow, develop and handle the consequences of events they went through in previous books.

We get three main perspectives: Zoya (the general), Nikolai (the King) and Nina (the Spy).

For Zoya and Nikolai a few years have past since the end of Ruin and Rising (enough time for them to establish routines but not enough to feel secure). At the beginning of King of Scars, we are presented with the current state of play: Alina’s old Grisha allies have put all their eggs in the ‘Nikolai as King of Ravka’ basket, which would be just fine if he wasn’t battling a monster who takes over his body and mind during his sleep (Jekyll and Hyde style). 

That is the central issues of the Nikolai/Zoya chapters. It’s a great arc for Nikolai because his inner monster is the physical embodiment of the emotional and mental stress he internally faces every day in regard to his right to rule. The monster is the living metaphor for Nikolai’s internal crisis. Yes, it’s origins are just straight up magic but you can’t ignore the poetic symmetry of it all. We know from previous books that his blood claim to the throne is doubtful (to put it lightly) but nevertheless he is the one sitting on the throne with the weight of his country’s future on his shoulders.

As in the first Grisha trilogy Nikolai is as witty and charming as ever on the face of things, but his internal conflict with the monster fleshes out his character beautifully. I respected his ongoing devotion to portraying himself as the king he believes his people need, no matter the depths of his personal struggles.

Zoya, meanwhile, has also matured in leaps and bounds from how she is presented in the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Though, in part, her character development owes a lot to the fact Bardugo gave her a voice of her own in this one rather than us only seeing her through the lens of being Alina’s rival.

In King of Scars Zoya is at Nikolai’s right hand as a general and confidante. Zoya, to me, becomes a queen in everything but name. Her politics are now entirely about putting her country first, not her personal gain. I was taken by surprise by where her journey took her, actually. Whilst there have always been higher powers at play in the Grishaverse I don’t think I’ve ever seen it more dramatically demonstrated than it is in this novel. I think Zoya is the one most impacted by this new complication and it completely shakes up the whole Grisha system.

The Nina chapters, meanwhile, are quitea separate story from Zoya and Nikolai’s. For Nina we jump back into her story reasonably close to where we last saw her at the end of Crooked Kingdom. Grief, finding the strength carry on, and forge a new future, are the main themes of her journey. She really has to dig deep to discover who she is independent of the relationships she made in Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom. Not to mention how she defines herself as a Grisha given the change to her powers. She has to work through all of this whilst working deep undercover in another country.

Whilst Zoya and Nina’s stories are separate they both compliment each other thematically. They both act as a good lens for examining the cultural biases and prejudices in the world Bardugo has formed. Through them we get to see the changing roles for women and how different countries are at different stages of development . We also get to examine further the theme of prejudice towards Grisha. In both women’s story lines we have to revise our conceptual understanding of Grisha from the somewhat simpler system we were presented with in Shadow and Bone.

I did end up enjoying King of Scars a lot and appreciated the ways in which Bardugo deepened the Grishaverse. I don’t want to start ranking it against Six of Crows yet just because I need to read the sequel before I cast final judgement. There are a lot of open doors left in this narrative by the final chapter, with new ones opening left, right and centre.

Have you read King of Scars yet? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Lauren x

One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star