Fantasy, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Magical worlds

Goodness me I started this post ages ago and then ran out of steam because I thought I didn’t have enough books to talk about and got distracted before I read any more. But hey I’ve got here at last…

Shades of Magic by VE Schwab

Cover of A Darker Shade of Magic

This is a trilogy set in three parallel Londons in the Regency era.  Kell is from Red London and is one of the rare people who can travel between the worlds and he does so as an ambassador for the Red King, but also as a smuggler, moving articles between one world and another.  White London is violent and enchanted, with frequent bloody regime changes, but its magic is disappearing. Grey London has Mad King George and no magic at all, and that’s where Kell escapes to early in the first book of the series (A Darker Shade of Magic), when one of his transactions goes awry, and where he meets Delilah after she picks his pocket.  I made the final book in the trilogy a BotW, so if you want to follow the madcap duo escaping mortal peril, rocketing through the three different worlds facing enemies and discovering the secrets of magic and trying to work out what happened to Black London.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgernstern

Cover of the Night Circus

There’s only one book in this world, but what a world it is.  This is another former BotW (but that was years ago, so it’s over the statue of limitations for repeats!), so I don’t need to write too much about it here because you can read more of my thoughts there. The Night Circus has been so successful, it already has a Vintage Classics Edition – as you can see.  For a slightly more spoiler-y summary than I was prepared to give back in the day, I’ll tell you that Le Cirque de Reves appears and disappears in towns without warning.  Inside is a wonderful world of marvels – but only at night.  Behind the scenes two magicians, Celia and Marco, are competing against each other in a duel, but what they don’t know is that it is a duel to the death.  When they meet, they fall in love but once a duel is started, it has to play out. Morgernstern’s second book The Starless Sea, also features a magical world – with a main character who finds an authorless book which seems to be telling a story from his own past and starts a trail that leads him to an ancient library.

The Discworld by Terry Pratchett

If you’ve been here a while, you’ll be aware of my love of Terry Pratchett, but new readers may have missed out because because I’ve already read pretty much all of his writing, I haven’t had an opportunity to talk about him recently.  I adore the Discworld.  I listen to at least one of the books set there on audio book pretty much every month, but because I’m a bit picky about my narrators (once you’ve heard Stephen Briggs you can’t go back) then they’re all from the later end of the saga.  I think my favourite book is Going Postal, but it’s tough to chose – especially as there are so many that are so good.  Unusually for me, I never tell people to start at the beginning of the series – but to go for either Mort, Wyrd Sisters or Guards, Guards as a starting point.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Rincewind and I want a Luggage of my own, but they’re not the most accessible of the series.  But what’s not to love about Death’s Apprentice (Mort), Granny Weatherwax and her Coven (Wyrd Sisters) or Vimes and the Watch (Guards, Guards) and they give you a starting point into some of the series’ big themes as well as the running threads.  And if you’ve got middle grade children, the Tiffany Aching books are perfect too.

The Last Dragon Slayer by Jasper Fforde

This is the most “Normal” of all of Jasper Fforde’s books, but don’t let the TV tie-in edition cover fool you, his middle grade series is just as mad and freewheeling as his adult stuff – just for kids. The Last Dragonslayer is set in a world where magic is disappearing. Jennifer Strange runs an employment agency for magicians, but then the visions start and they predict the death of the last dragon in the world and that it will be killed by an unknown dragonslayer. And well, you’ll have to read it. There are four in the series, and the last only came out in 2021. I’ve only read the first one, but I want to read the others – I just haven’t got to it yet, because, well you’ve seen the star of my to-read pile. Anyway, if you want a magical book for young readers that doesn’t involve a school, then take a look.

And finally, a couple of other books that feature magical worlds but that are still within the statute of limitations for me writing about them, there is The House in the Cerulean Sea, and although not strictly magical but because of the feeling that it creates while you read it The Circus of Wonders.

Now you’ll notice that all these books are set in the past – there are a few magical books that I love that are set in the present – but mostly you’d’ve got me wittering on about Peter Grant and how much I love the Rivers of London series – and I’ve already done that plenty!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Starless Sea

I read some really good stuff last week and I actually started writing this week’s BotW about a different book – because the Starless Sea has already had a lot of hype about it and I had a couple of reservations. And then I went out and bought myself a copy because I just kept thinking about it – and I realised that probably meant I should be writing about it instead. So the good news is you get another post from me tomorrow, but I figure spending full price on a hardback that I’ve already read means that this should be my Book of the Week.

Cover of the Starless Sea

The Starless Sea is the much anticipated second novel from Erin Morganstern.  At first when Zachary Rawlings finds a mysterious book in the university, he’s just a mildly intrigued. But then he reads it and finds part of his own childhood among the stories and he needs to know where it came from. The trail leads him to a masquerade ball in New York and then through a doorway to a mysterious ancient library, way underground that is the gateway to a hidden world. Time moves differently there and there are some who have sacrificed a lot to protect it – but there are also forces trying to destroy it. Along with one of the people who seems belong there – Mirabel – and Dorian, the man who brought him there, Zachary soon finds himself in the middle of a battle for the future of the Starless Sea.

Zachary’s story is interspersed with stories from the people who have lived in the Starless Sea. I actually found this a little discombobulating at first because it was hard to work out what was real and how it fitted in with Zachary’s story. But I think that that’s the point.  It did mean that it took me a little while to get into the book – because it was really easy to read a little bit and then stop. But once I did get into it, I ended up reading the last 300 pages (if you can have a final 300 pages of a nearly 500 page novel, but you know what I mean) in less that 24 hours because I was so totally caught up in Zachary’s adventure.  But then when I finished it, I wasn’t sure about the ending because I wanted it to be more definitive.  So off I went for the rest of the week’s reading and read something else that I really liked and was going to pick instead because of that slow start and my feelings about the ending. But then I found myself thinking about the book – the world, the adventure and what might have happened next. And I realised that I wanted to read it again. Now when I read it, I had borrowed it from the library – and as it was a skip the line loan it was a short borrowing period that had already run out. So really I had no choice other than to buy myself a copy. And what a lovely copy it is – it’s even signed.  And the endpapers are really pretty too. So now I get to read it again. And I suspect if/when my mum reads this post (*waves* hi mum) she’s going to want to borrow it too. And it’ll look lovely on my bookshelf.

Hardback edition of the Starless Sea

It’s eight years since Morganstern’s first book The Night Circus came out, and it was a mega hit.  I didn’t read it until 2016, but when I did it was a BotW. And it is one of those books that people love but is nearly impossible to find anything like.  It’s magical realism but there’s nothing really quite like it, which is why people have been so desperate to read another book from Morganstern. I honestly thought it would be hard for this to live up to the expectation, but it actually pretty much did.  It’s a completely different world, but it’s as beguiling and unique as the circus was. I think this is going to be *the* book club pick of 2020 – but there’s so much to talk about and to explore.  I hope it doesn’t take another eight years for Morganstern’s next book (even if I only had to wait three this time) because it really is in a little corner of the bookish world by itself.

Endpapers showing a library

As previously mentioned, I read this as an ebook from the Library, but have now bought my own. My copy came from Foyles yesterday (Monday), it’s signed and I got a nice bee pin page with it, but I can’t find the link that I did the click and collect from  – just the normal one, which is a couple of quid cheaper, but doesn’t have the badge or the signature so they may have sold out. Waterstones also have a special edition (they seem to be out of their signed ones though). And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy, fiction

Book of the Week: The Night Circus

This week’s book of the week is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  In another tale of the state of the pile, this was a Christmas book from my mother in 2014.  In my defence, it did get a bit misplaced for a while in a storage box and then got shuffled to the bottom of a pile it shouldn’t have been on – but thanks to my mum’s habit of writing dedications in the front of gift books I have the guilts.  Sorry mum.

Anyhow, everyone else read this 18 months ago at least, so I’m behind the curve, but in case you are too, The Night Circus tells the story of Le Cirque de Rêves and some of the people who live there.  The circus arrives without warning, is only open at night and is filled with enchantment and wonder.  The book focuses on several characters in particular, but to say much more is to say too much.  It covers decades in the lives of the key players – starting before the invention of the circus and switches backwards and forwards through time as you learn some of the secrets behind the Circus of Dreams.

I started it before those pesky nightshifts and it took my brain some time to recover so it took me longer to read than how good it is.  But once my brain was functioning normally again I gobbled this up.  It’s clever and it’s magical but not too far from reality in many ways.  It’s romantic and intriguing and I wanted more.  I suspect I’ll be going back to reread this again and that I’ll get even more from it second time.

Magic! Illusions! Kittens! Clocks! Scarves! The Night Circus has all this and more – and now it’s got me wanting some more books with magical realism.  I listen to Book Riot’s Get Booked podcast and there have been several people asking for books to fill a Night Circus-shaped void in their lives, so once I’ve got the pile sorted a little bit I may have to look into that.  In the meantime, I’m ransacking the existing backlog for stuff that might scratch that itch.  Luckily I still have some Peter Grant saved on the shelf.

Anyhow.  Get your copy from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles and on Kindle or Kobo.