Tag Archives: Fiction

Witch Crag by Kate Cann

So here’s a problem with Witch Crag – there’s not enough book for the story. It’s odd, isn’t it? It’s as if there’s a massive story and huge character development crammed into too small a space so it can’t flourish properly. It’s like those tea flowers you buy all curled up and you have to drop into hot water to make them blossom. It’s a great story that hasn’t had the space to spread out properly.

Despite that, I really enjoyed it.

The blurb:

In a tribe where basic survival is the only priority, Kita must make a choice: to accept arranged marriages and being treated with less value then sheep, or escape and journey to the place that even the strongest men fear with their lives – Witch Crag.

But a common threat is facing the witches and sheepmen alike. The tribes must somehow overcome their prejudices and join together if they’re to win a war that threatens to destroy everything they hold as good.

I was given the proof of this one in a goody bag after the Summer Scream event at Foyles (which was ace), and I have no idea why I went for it first. It was one of those “I’ll just see what the first page is like” moments that slipped away and became two hours of being engrossed in the rather compelling scene-building that Cann very ably engages in for the first quarter of the book.

It’s an easy read, unsettling moments notwithstanding; Kita is dynamic and interesting to follow, though the other characters feel half-sketched for the most part. Arc, for instance, could have done with a bit more attitude in a scene or two more. Kita’s friends could have had just a touch more presence. Geegaw could have been coloured in a bit, made more vivid. There could have been more, really – more time in each place, more described, more filled in. It felt like we were skimming over a really detailed back story. Sometimes, that’s fine. It works. Our imaginations can fill in bits and pieces and make it feel more real. Other times, however, it just feels like we’re getting the bare bones of the story and it just feels distant and vague. Witch Crag leans towards the latter. It’s the sort of book I’d love to see a bunch of teens illustrate or write a bit of fanfic about, because there’s just such a strong feeling of there being more lurking beneath the surface. So much more. I did wonder how it would have felt if it had been written as an “adult” book, or aimed for a slightly older readership.

Arc was a particular highlight and lowlight. Towards the end everyone just seemed to stop being a character and started to become mouthpieces – little speeches sounding the same from every quarter about uniting against a common foe, doing what’s right. It got a bit preachy and Arc suffered in particular, seeming to become a completely different character in the last third of the book – not in a good-character-development kind of way, but in a way in which he became unrecognizable. It’s sort of lampshaded by Raff in a random comment, but it doesn’t feel like his arc (yes I know) makes much sense. It’s a shame, because he was one of the strongest elements of the tale. I would have loved to read it from his perspective. His character only really unravelled right at the end in the most rushed chapter – a shame, racing to a conclusion that didn’t need to be hurried and could have been open-ended in a way that tied in with the atmosphere of the book as a whole, but I get that a lot of readers want that kind of ending. I’m just annoying.

Otherwise, I loved it. I gave it four stars on Goodreads – it’s a good-hearted story which lets people change and mature and grow up, lets the main character be a girl but also strong, lets her rage and mope and whine and still be a hero, lets the love interest be a complete boy and yet seek comfort, and lets people both redeem themselves and strive to redeem others. It’s a book with an overly obvious message, which usually pisses me off in YA, but it’s done with charm and Kita is a bit of a marvel when it comes to YA main characters. It’s a great story to visualize and has a wonderful sinister undercurrent the entire way through that did make me fear for what Cann was building towards. When it’s out I know I’m going to be giving it to a couple of teenagers I know.

So yes, I’d recommend it whole-heartedly. There’s a tantalizing sense of what else could be revealed about that post-“Great Havoc” land and the people in it, and I wish Cann could have gone into more depth about the world and the history and the people and the characters and everything, but it’s a really good addition to the Dystopian YA genre, perfectly pitched to appeal to boys as much as girls. It’s one notch below The Hunger Games in my personal rankings, and two above Divergent, and I reckon it’s closer to The Knife Of Never Letting Go in tone than anything else I’ve read. So yes. I liked it.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

I have an admission to make. I’m very geeky, I really am, and now I’m reading sci fi and watching a tv show about vampires (yes, The Vampire Diaries, I’m not even sorry) and dorking out over Tom Hiddleston aka Loki’s face (it is a lovely face) and generally speaking I am nerdy in my tastes and distractions, but I’ve just read Rules Of Civility and do you know what, I recommend it ever so much.

I first picked it up because of the cover, I freely admit

It’s got a gorgeous cover which suits the novel so entirely – it reads like a glass of prosecco tastes, if you know what I mean. It’s crisp and fizzy and handles heavy things with such lightness and dexterity that it’s a joy to read, tremendously diverting without having the solid weight of a Fitzgerald – still sparkling and intoxicating, just without that slight edge of oh-crap-there’s-a-bad-hangover-coming.

Some of my favourite main characters are the ladies (of any age) who are spirited and will stand up for themselves and have something of a sense of humour about them. Katey, this protagonist, is a fabulous creation of just this type, both observant and witty and proactive and interesting, damnit, without being insufferable. The dialogue is absolutely cracking and definitely one of the book’s strongest aspects to the point that I was sitting in my room trying some of the phrases out loud, because I am a nerd, I have totally mentioned this. It’s so strange a feeling to have such strong visuals and characters and sounds and sensations in what’s quite a svelte book. It’s suitably economic with the language while still retaining a lyrical quality, with Katey ruminating on scenes and people using quick, clever little phrases that sum up so much in so few words so skillfully that it makes me green with envy.

So, yes. It’s a great book, especially if you have an interest or fondness for 1930s New York, the 1930s in general, or those addictive tales about high society and social climbers. It’s a witty, pretty book, and has strong echoes of everything from Fitzgerald to Hemingway to Christie and wears all those influences openly without getting too deep or dark. The main way I’ve described it in the bookshop has been the glass of prosecco line because that’s the first synaesthetic reaction I got within the first chapter, but it’s also been touted as the women’s version of The Great Gatsby – it certainly isn’t that, but it’s a lovely little perspective of a fascinating point and part of American society.

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori – the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?
– from amazon.co.uk

The front of the proof copy of this book says “EVERYTHING YOU BELIEVE IS WRONG” which is quite a statement to make but the concept was interesting enough to overcome my immediate sense of ?! upon seeing the tagline. It is well worth reading, guys. Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson. Well worth it for reasons above and beyond the very soft science fiction concept.

Firstly, if you’ve ever heard of synaesthesia then you’re ahead of the protagonist, which is a slight drag, but for YA readers unlikely to be a problem. Our protagonist is sixteen-year-old Alison who exists in a chaotic swirl of colours and tastes and sounds and she’s ridiculously sensitive to everything around her. She starts the story waking up in a hospital and it’s a slow, foggy beginning to the book, just like Alison’s wakening; it’s really not the strongest part of the book. It doesn’t quite set a tone, Alison comes across as being SO sensitive and squishy and fragile that there’s nothing to her but her confusion and that she’s involved in the disappearance of the perfect, popular but hated Tori. It improves as it goes on, quite a bit, but throughout I found Alison difficult to like and difficult to feel anything for. I suppose it works in a way to suggest that Alison MIGHT be totally insane, but canny readers are going to be totally aware that this isn’t really an option given that she’s the main character.

That said, RJ Anderson uses the synaesthesia beautifully and the writing is, at times, gorgeous. It stretched credulity a little later in the plot but it’s done with completely effective language and that near-poetic resonant edge to it. It’s an excellent treatment of a very weird and curious condition and I’d urge people to read this book just to enjoy the mad variety of ways very simple things are described, colours as tastes and emotions and so on, even in the chapter titles.

Faraday’s sessions with Alison, where he informs her of her synaesthesia and various other moments, are good scenes. He never seems like there’s anything solid to him so I have to say he didn’t really interest me very much (also what is this thing about his eye colour, that sort of thing would alarm me greatly!) but the twists served to build character ginormously well and I was well impressed with RJ Anderson’s ingenuity in everything from providing us with a very well-rendered and dynamically populated mental institute to the climactic part of the plot. The soft science fiction aspects are well-handled and though I’ve seen reviews saying that they feel out-of-place and jarring with the rest of the story, I feel that it all actually serves to make it stronger, building on the developing characters and plot, and I found the ending pretty much pitch-perfect.

The main thing that I really heart about this book is Tori and the manner in which Alison, who’s had to put up with a relentlessly intense multi-dimensional world for so long, comes to realize that there’s more than one dimension to people as well. It’s a wonderful way to approach it, something everyone struggles with because we’re all trapped as unreliable narrators – and in this case it’s very convoluted. I’ve always got a strong distaste for stories with the perfect prissy blonde cheerleader type who acts horrible and is horrible and has no redeeming qualities simply because she’s a stereotypical female villain; people like that simply don’t exist and the idea that it’s okay to hate these people (like it’s okay to hate Slytherins!) really pisses me off. Ultraviolet sidesteps this travesty of a concept and makes it into something far more interesting, deep and worthwhile. Although Alison and Faraday were lacklustre to me, it was a merry read, well-written, at times ingenious, and very pleasantly diverting.

Thanks to @NotRollerGirl for the book!  ALSO check out the excellent review by Jessie over at Bibliophile Anonymous!

Buy on Amazon.co.uk