Posted in review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Exile – S.M.Wilson

“That was the thing about this place. Blink. And you missed it. Blink. And you could be dead.”

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Blurb: “After surviving on Piloria once, Storm and Lincoln are the obvious candidates to return to the dinosaur continent to test the new virus that should clear the way for human settlement. But they have their own priorities – finding a cure for the plague that’s sweeping Earthasia, and keeping themselves alive.”

I picked up The Extinction Trials on a whim after seeing a mixture of the buzz online and that it was pitched as “The Hunger Games meets Jurassic Park.” It only took a couple of pages for me to fall completely in love and try shoving it into the faces of anyone who would care to listen. It felt new, original and filled my need for dinosaurs eating people; yes, you read that last part right. My review of the first book can be found here.

The Extinction Trials:Exile shows straight off how history is destined to keep repeating itself. When barely any of the participants return from the dinosaur continent, Piloria, the government is still very much set on its plans to get rid of the dinosaurs by administering a virus to their water supply. A good majority of this book is set on Earthasia with both Lincoln and Storm being promoted to roles within Parliament. It can feel like a bit of a lull at times and I found myself just wanting to get to the dinosaurs, but it was important to flesh out the human continent and give a horrid reminder of just how bad the conditions are. A lot of the seemingly minor bits of information littered at the reader’s feet become quite important later on.

I love the two protagonists, Lincoln and Storm, in the sense that they really don’t like each other. They have returned home after surviving dinosaur attacks and it isn’t until they are forced back onto the island together that the duo is actually reunited; quite simply, they have no reason to. I can’t quite place it but this just made their “relationship” feel more real because they both want extremely different things and had nothing really tying them to each other. Lincoln cares only about saving his sister in whatever way he can, while Storm can’t stop thinking about the idealistic nature of Piloria. Storm gets to spend more time with her father, Reban, and it was interesting to actually see his side of things as he was pitched more so as the villain in the previous book. This mix of narratives did a wonderful job of giving a more rounded view of the important factors at play.

I also liked seeing Blaine again, the stipulator left behind by the government and seeing how he has continued to adapt to his new surroundings with very little help for Piloria. It fuelled that seed growing in Storm’s mind about the possibility of living alongside the dinosaurs without human interference, and showed just how adaptable humans can be.

Once again, S.M.Wilson does a fantastic job of building the tension when the characters, along with some new faces, finally land on the dinosaur continent. The descriptions were so lush and vibrant that I could picture it so clearly while venturing through the narrative. There were many moments when I held my breath; waiting in anticipation for a dinosaur to jump out of the bushes at the last minute.

Another brilliant addition to the series and I simply cannot wait for the next one!

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Posted in Non-Fiction

Becoming – Michelle Obama

“So far in my life I have been a lawyer, a vice president at a hospital, and the director of a non-profit that helps young people build meaningful careers. I’ve been a working class black student at a fancy mostly white college. I’ve been the only woman (the only African-American) in all sorts of rooms. I’ve been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn up by grief, and until recently I was First Lady of the United States of America.”

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Blurb: “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.”

Unless you’ve been living under rock which has been buried several feet underground, you’ve probably heard of Michelle Obama. For eight years she was First Lady of The United States of America, but as a non-American I only saw bits and pieces of what she used her position to create. So it’s pretty helpful that she decided to write a book all about her life! I always have to listen to non-fiction on Audiobook because I really struggle to read these kind of books otherwise; it also really helps hearing the individual tell their own story and Michelle Obama is really soothing to listen to.

Becoming is split into three sections: “Becoming Me” which lays down her roots and detail the significant moments from her growing years such as her piano teacher and the application advisor at Princeton who told her she didn’t stand a chance of getting in. She talks about the moment when she started to be treated differently due to the colour of her skin along with seemingly small events that she didn’t realise the weight of until she looked back on them with an adult perspective. The next section, “Becoming Us” details how Michelle met Barack Obama, their blossoming relationship, marriage and the family they began to make. The final section details the massive shift in the life of her family when Barack Obama became President of the United States of America. Overall, the book provides the stark reminder that Michelle Obama is just human; a woman trying to raise her child with the best values possible while having to cope with being on the world’s stage during two presidential terms.

I loved reading about the fire that Michelle has in her belly. Everything she does is to fiercely protect her family and her own reputation. She likes to stand on her own feet, not being tied down by her links to other people. She works hard to create new programmes for children and trying to improve health because she can’t bear to sit still doing nothing for eight possible years. She talks candidly about experiencing miscarriage and career sacrifices she makes for her children.

As a non-American, it was really fascinating to learn more about how a presidential run works, voting, campaigning and what happens when a new president enters the White House and what the role of a First Lady actually entails. The most surprising thing to learn from Michelle’s story is actually how much she hates politics. She’s incredibly open about her reservations when Barack started to become interested in politics and how she felt self-conscious when he eventually got into office. Sorry to those really hoping she will, but Michelle shuts down any possibility of herself running for presidency – she really does hate politics.

Listening to the audiobook, there’s something so soothing about Michelle’s voice and the way she talks so eloquently and always has food for thought is incredible. I feel like I’ve walked away from this book with a new outlook on life.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

“Author note: A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and break dancing. It’s my story.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped. Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.”

Tahereh Mafi is the New York Times bestselling author of the Shatter Me series, and her newest release sees her dipping in to YA Contemporary to tell a much more personal story. Tahereh has always been a rather private person but she felt compelled to write a story encapsulating her love for break dancing and fashion, along with the racism and islamaphobia she’s experienced. I was fortunate enough to receive a chapter sampler from the publisher which I reviewed here.Though I want to make it clear that I was not given the full book for free. this review comes from me picking up and reading it myself.

Shirin is a character that I connected with instantly. I’m not sure if it was the prior knowledge that Tahereh has put a lot of herself into the character, but Shirin just felt like a real person. I felt for her when she shared her experiences in the rise of racism following 9/11, how she dealt with both verbal and physical assault. Her concerns were understandable, especially when she meets a boy called Ocean and worries about what their association will do for his reputation.

Ocean is a prime example of someone who wants to educate themselves and learn more about other cultures and religions but is blinded by his privilege. He dismisses Shirin’s concerns a lot because he has a good social standing at the school. However, it’s so clear from the narrative that he really does care for Shirin.

Their romance is a bit of a cliché in the sense that Shirin worries about a big problem such as daily abuse and often fearing for her life, meanwhile Ocean’s biggest concern is….basketball. Despite this, it didn’t do much to knock my enjoyment reading.

The narrative addresses the mob rule in high school and how it’s hard to tell who’s really on their side when their peers flit so easily; especially when it’s those in power such as teachers also contributing to it which just made my blood boil.

Another unexpected partnership I ended up loving was Shirin and her brother Navid. I loved seeing him look after her and standing up for her when she was assaulted. He also helped give her something she could have purely for herself: break dancing.

The break dancing became more of a footnote, only really appearing at the beginning and end of the book. I wish there could have been more of that.

It’s been such a long time since I’ve felt such a weight of emotion in my chest finishing a book. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book and wanted to read it again straight away.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, thriller, young adult

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

“You really think someone killed him?

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Blurb:”Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town. He is also unexpectedly dead. Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?”

[AD – Gifted]

Trigger Warnings: Talks of death, depictions of death, emotional and physical abuse.

I’ve followed Savannah with her poetry for a long time so when she announced that she was writing a book, I had mentally signed up for it and waited patiently to finally get the lyrical brilliance from her in a new format.

Rather fitting to her previous work, the central themes of The Truth About Keeping Secrets are quite dark. The protagonist, Sydney, is reeling from the unexpected loss of her father and has taken to devoting most of her time to thinking about death, along with scrolling endlessly through a website called TOD which posts surveillance footage of real life deaths. Her father was a renowned therapist in the town of Pleasant Hills and Sydney also struggles with the fact that people out there had a relationship with a dad in a way that she never did; that he mattered and existed to other people, that he wasn’t solely hers. It’s incredibly easy to feel empathy for this character, especially when the mysterious threatening text messages begin and none of the adults around her take them seriously. She completely regresses into herself until she meets June.

I had a lot of problems with June because for a big portion of the book she trends the edges of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope. Sydney is so fascinated with her and becomes obsessed to the point where she even says that her life could be boiled down to the 20 minutes a day she spent driving to and from school with June. While the big lulling middle of the book focuses so much on establishing their relationship, you learn nothing about her until the climatic end of the books. When the details did arise, they added so much to her character and completely changed my perspective and I just wish they hadn’t been confined to the last few pages of the book. Especially as Sydney and June both express a romantic interest in each other.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets is clearly very well planned and the details that come to light at the big climax left me reeling. However, because so much of the book is focused on Sydney’s obsession with June, there’s a massive lull between the first couple of text messages, the subsequent ones, and the events that ramp up at the end. For this reason, when that big turning point comes it feels like the story has gone from 0-100 because it becomes so dramatic so quick and there wasn’t that natural incline. This really shook my enjoyment of the book because it’s been marketed as a YA Thriller but for the most part it’s not particularly thrilling.

I loved the twist and turns but I just wish there had been more of them.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month, Uncategorized

Audiobook Of The Month | The Humans

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After getting into Matt Haig’s books last year, and one of them making it onto my list of favourites for 2018, I’ve decided that I really want to read more of his back catalogue so when I was scrolling through audible desperately trying to find my first listen of 2019, I came across The Humans. 

The Humans is about an alien who comes to earth and takes over the body of Professor Andrew Martin. The unnamed narrator has been sent to stop the humans discovering the answers to a mathematical theory. Initially, this summary didn’t really interest me, but I adored the writing style in How To Stop Time so I took a tiny leap out of my comfort zone and decided to give The Humans a go.

A lot of my pure enjoyment from this audiobook so far comes from the narrator, Mark Meadows. He is simply fantastic. The delivery of the lines and the tonal usage really makes the funny and witty moments land perfectly and I’ve found myself laughing out loud many a time at my desk during a work day. Of course, part of this falls to the clever nature of the narrative constructed by Matt Haig. The narrator talks about walking around naked and being confused about why the police have been called on him, not understanding why on earth someone would have a wife, and learning the human language through magazines such as Cosmopolitan.

It’s a short audiobook – standing at just over 8 hours- so I’m wondering where exactly the story is going to end up given the length.

At the time of writing this I am 29% into the audiobook and loving every minute of it.

What audiobooks are you listening to this month?

What were your favourites of 2018?

Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

A Cover Is Not The Book

Recently, I went to see Mary Poppins Returns in the cinema and I absolutely loved every single second of it. But among all the familiarity, the contrast of colours and the pure magic weaved into its story, one song in particular stuck out to me.

The song is called “A Cover Is Not The Book” and tackles the topic of how really you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover because then you’ll be surprised and find that your preconceptions were actually quite wrong. It got me thinking about some books I’ve come across where I wasn’t that enamored with the cover but, whether through knowledge of the author or hearing many good things, I decided to continue on and see what happens.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of books where I hated the covers, but really loved the story:

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

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Did you really think this would be the year where I didn’t mention The Great Gatsby at any given opportunity? One of my favourite books of all time but has a truly appalling original cover. Of course, like with many classics, there are many different editions out there but I chose to stick with the original as this was the cover of the copy I read. It was purely because of the 2013 adaption that I picked this book up so that I could experience the story for myself. Little did I know that the glitz and glamour of 1920’s parties, luscious prose and complex, intoxicating characters would have me coming back for many a reread.

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare 

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I promise that this list isn’t going to include all my favourite books! Another book that I picked up because of an upcoming film adaptation, City of Bones was a game changer for me.  After devouring this book and its subsequent partners, I took a shift in my reading life to YA fantasy and also realised it was the kind of stuff that I wanted to write more of. A tale packed full of half angel- half human individuals battling demons in a world of warlocks, vampires and werewolves. There sure is something for everyone.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea by Tahereh Mafi 

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A Very Large Expanse of Sea made it onto my list of favourite books for last year. It follows a Muslim teenager called Shirin as she tackles school and wider society a year on from the events of 9/11. She is an incredible well-rounded character with so many layers to her than what those see around her, and I actually really liked the romance in it. The cover itself, however, I just found a bit bland. I get the effect of showing the reflection in water but I feel that it’s just too simplistic.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab 

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Victoria Schwab is an auto-buy author for me so most of the time I pick up her books not really knowing that much about them. City of Ghosts is a prime example of the US cover being infinitely better than the UK cover. I just really don’t like the way the red and black blend together and it makes it actually hurt my eyes to look at. The story, however, is fantastic. It’s about a girl who can see ghosts and sometimes step into the veil to the other side. It will appeal greatly to fans of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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Again, another one where I feel that the cover is a bit too simple. But the story is outstanding, and turned into an equally amazing film adaptation. It’s about a boy called August with a facial disfigurement who starts his first year in public school after being home schooled. It’s multiple perspective which works really well to see into the minds of other characters and how they view August. It’s a tearjerker, so make sure you have tissues handy.

So that’s my list! What are some books that you loved but didn’t like the cover?

Alternatively, what are some of your favourite book covers?

 

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Notes On A Nervous Planet – Matt Haig

“I had already written about my mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive. But the question now was not: why should I stay alive? The question this time was a broader one: how can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?”

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Trigger warning: talks of suicide

My first exposure to Matt Haig was when one of his tweets about anxiety appeared on My Twitter timeline. I followed him and have done ever since but it’s only recently that I started to delve into his books.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is the second of haig’s books that I have picked up but it is the first non-fiction of his. In this book, Matt Haig talks candidly about his panic disorder, anxiety disorder, depression and suicide attempt. While the he bounces around other topics, these in particular can be quite difficult to read so if you feel you may be triggered, take this book at your own pace.

He focuses a lot on how the modern day world seems to demand more from us and that, as a result, our lives have become cluttered and It’s far too easy to have more things to worry about; especially as the development of technology allows us to stay plugged in to the wider world.

I found it very comforting to read about his struggles with anxiety as it reinforced the knowledge that I am not alone in my own anxiety disorder. He offers lots of tips on how to control negative thoughts and worries in a “nervous planet” and offers metaphors of what he feels like to have this illness which just resonated so well and have given me a way to explain to others exactly what it feels like to have my mind.

He also touches on the pressure of men in society from body image to emotional connection to suicide statistics. It was important to see this highlight as to not be “men too” but… well men too.

Notes On A Nervous Planet has provided lots of food for thought and techniques to try for focusing on what I can control and not getting stressed out over the things I can’t.

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Posted in Charlotte Writes Things

Charlotte Writes Things | An Introduction

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I’ve wanted to start a series about writing for a while but held back for a multitude of reasons. Among them are niggles like: would anyone actually care? Will I bin it off when I burn myself out for trying to do too much on my blog at once? And will people just roll their eyes thinking that I’m another “book blogger turned writer”? But then I sat back and remembered that I’ve been a writer for longer than I’ve been  book blogger, and I’ve been a reader for longer than I have a writer. And also it’s kind of fundamental to be a reader if you’re going to be a writer. So, anyway, I’ve pushed those thoughts aside and I present to you Charlotte Writes Things (yes, very on brand and took me two seconds to come up with).

A lot of my writing journey has been accidental. By that I mean, a lot of how I’ve grown as a writer, minus the University side of things where I did joint honours in Creative Writing and English Literature, hasn’t been planned. I just wrote stories. Ridiculous ones from a young age, writing them more for me than to be read by anyone else (though there was one time I sold copies of my book to people in primary school for a pound each). I just wrote stories more about myself in certain situations and working out how I would handle them before I moved on to characters that had barely any of me in them; those kind of people I only wished I could be. It was only really when my mother approached me during my A-Levels with a list of universities she’d found that did joint honours Creative Writing that I realised that I could actually bring what I loved into the education sphere, but that I also had the support of a parent in what I wanted to hopefully make some money from in the future.

As I’ve said, my own story is littered with accidents. I was still just writing stories and thrown into uncomfortable writing situations at University where I was expected to write in styles I’d never tried and from briefs that didn’t interest me. It wasn’t until someone I knew told me that I had to read this John Green book called The Fault In Our Stars, and I did, that I discovered that I’d actually been writing Young Adult stories without actually realising. So naturally, I threw myself into everything I could find on those shelves in bookstores, desperate to work my way through everything I had missed out on. I’d mainly just read early teen books and Harry Potter over and over up until this point. It wasn’t until I started reading The Mortal Instruments series in preparation for the film adaptation that I discovered that, not only do I write Young Adult, I also wanted to write fantasy as well. See? Accident after accident.

Some things have obviously been more planned. Such as this blog to try and create a presence online, finding the online YA book community and, while I promise that I do try to write my stories following a plan, I often stray off the path and barely recognise them by the end of it.

So I’m starting a new series and I plan to cover a whole range of topics from planning to drafting, authors that inspire me, and querying as I plan to bite that bullet in 2019. If there’s anything you’d like to see me talk about to do with writing, please let me know!

Here’s to another long writing year!

Posted in contemporary, review, thriller

Monday’s Not Coming – Tiffany D. Jackson

“This is the story of how my best friend disappeared. How nobody noticed she was gone except me, and how nobody cared until they found her… one year later.”

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Blurb: “Monday Charles is missing, and only Claudia seems to notice. Claudia and Monday have always been inseparable—more sisters than friends. So when Monday doesn’t turn up for the first day of school, Claudia’s worried. When she doesn’t show for the second day, or second week, Claudia knows that something is wrong. Monday wouldn’t just leave her to endure tests and bullies alone. Not after last year’s rumours and not with her grades on the line. Now Claudia needs her best—and only—friend more than ever. But Monday’s mother refuses to give Claudia a straight answer, and Monday’s sister April is even less help.”

Monday’s Not Coming is a book I didn’t really hear much about until I saw Tiffany D. Jackson talking about in on the Epic Reads channel talking about what inspired her to write it. When children go missing they can be the front page of newspapers, the breaking stories on a news channel. But what if they aren’t from a rich background or a “perfect family?” What if they’re a different ethnicity and their absence barely making a ripple in the water?

Monday’s Not Coming is a YA thriller centered around a girl called Claudia who’s best friend Monday Charles has gone missing, and no one seems to notice or care: her phone is disconnected, her friend’s mother won’t get her a straight answer – much less her siblings – and when she contacts the police they don’t follow up her concerns. The story flits around the timeline, for before to after, to one year before the before, allowing the reader to piece together who Monday is, her friendship with Claudia, Claudia herself and the wider issues starting to face them. There’s talk of the estate Monday’s family lives in being torn down to make way for fancy rich apartments, Claudia’s mother telling her off how using slang instead of proper English because she wants Claudia to integrate more, Claudia herself falling under the radar and later being diagnosed with learning difficulties after the school didn’t take her lack of development seriously, the handling of the investigation as a whole. Simply: no one wants to listen to Claudia going on about her missing friend and it’s nothing short of infuriating.

I listened to the audiobook which is narrated by Imani Parks who has made it onto my list of favourite narrators. Her voice is just magnetic and she breathed life into Claudia’s character and I was invested from the first paragraph. Every emotion conveyed by the narration I felt deep in the pit of my chest. I wanted to scream, to have someone take this teenage girl’s concerns seriously.

Navigating this story is like trying untangling a pair of headphones. When you think you’ve finally worked it all out, you find out there’s still a knot you missed. I didn’t know what to believe, or what the outcome would be and the pacing was incredible.

As mentioned earlier there are a lot of elements woven in that deal with the treatment of black individuals and their families which I cannot relate to or feel comfortable commenting on, so if you know of any own voices reviews, please let me know!

The only real issue I had with this book is the timeline. It jumps around a lot and not in a way that is really clear. I would have preferred maybe a “September 2016” rather than a vague “before the before” because the narrative is so crisp that it’s hard to tell when thing are actually taking place and I did have to restart chapters sometimes to understand when they were happening.

Monday’s Not Coming is a terrifying book full of twists and turns with moments that will make you despair.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Queen Of Air And Darkness – Cassandra Clare

“We are dust and shadows,” Emma said. “I guess we’re all ashes too.”

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Blurb: “Innocent blood has been spilled on the steps of the Council Hall, the sacred stronghold of the Shadowhunters. In the wake of the tragic death of Livia Blackthorn, the Clave teeters on the brink of civil war. One fragment of the Blackthorn family flees to Los Angeles, seeking to discover the source of the blight that is destroying the race of warlocks. Meanwhile, Julian and Emma take desperate measures to put their forbidden love aside and undertake a perilous mission to Faerie to retrieve the Black Volume of the Dead. What they find in the Courts is a secret that may tear the Shadow World asunder and open a dark path into a future they could never have imagined.”

It’s no secret that Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors and, like many, I have been sat impatiently waiting for the final instalment of The Dark Artifices series. This new aspect of the Shadowhunter world has not been plain sailing for me: I didn’t like the previous book and even in my reread in preparation of this release, I still didn’t rate it much. To me, it’s a series that peaked at the first book.

The first thing that really strikes me about this world is just how detailed it is. Cassandra Clare has stated in talks before that she’s a full on planner and it really shows in her writing. The Dark Artifices features her biggest cast of characters to date and she manages to ride that perfect balance of allowing each group the appropriate amount of readership time. It’s so intricate and carefully handled that I can’t help but marvel at it.

The blackthorns are reeling from a family tragedy and the many ways grief is explored throughout the book is painful to read but absolutely necessary. There’s a distinct shift in how Dru and Ty deal with the loss compared to Julian and the older siblings and all of it was so beautifully done. Consistently, Mark Blackthorn has been my favourite character and his overall growth throughout the series has been an absolute treat and, dare I say it, he may be up there with Alec Lightwood as my favourite Shadowhunter character. He’s come such a long way from the sugar incident in Lady Midnight to protecting his siblings with his life and I just adore everything about him. In fact, love triangles are one of my least favourite tropes but my favourite segments to read were any scenes with Kieran, Christina and Mark. The growth and development there was, again, beautiful to read. I also loved seeing a bisexual character exploring relationships with both men and women.

The Clave are a government body that have always absolutely terrified me and this book was no different. If anything, they really ramped up the fear factor. As lot of their decisions feel all too familiar from our world with talks of walls to keep certain species out, creating registries and handing out numbers to identify Downworlders. I love seeing politics in other world and it was fascinating to have the character of Diana through which to see these Clave events play out.

However, at 800 pages, Queen Of Air and Darkness really feels its length. I had periods where it just felt like a slog to get through and I really didn’t enjoy the majority of Part Two and find myself getting distracted by other things. I’m not really a big fan of “alternate reality” stuff within an author’s work and, minus one particular factor, it just didn’t feel like the reader gained much apart from an long drawn out “what could have been” segment. And frankly, if I wanted to see that I would turn to fan fiction. Also I read this via ebook and there were a lot of typo errors.

It’s sad to say goodbye to another area of this world, but with the news of The Last Hours due to be released next year, I won’t have long to wait before I delve back in!

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