Friday 26 October 2012

YA REVIEW -'Quintana of Charyn' - Melina Marchetta (Viking, 2012)

Separated from the girl he loves and has sworn to protect, Froi must travel through Charyn to search for Quintana, the mother of Charyn's unborn king, and protect her against those who will do anything to gain power. But what happens when loyalty to family and country conflict? When the forces marshalled in Charyn's war gather and threaten to involve the whole of the land, including Lumatere, only Froi can set things right, with the help of those he loves. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Quintana of Charyn (Lumatere Chronicles, #3)It goes without saying (although I shall, say it anyway) that this review will contain spoilers-a-plenty for the first two books in the Lumatere Chronicles series. So before you read any further, go to the library, Fishpond site, or wherever, and absorb the Lumatere story up until this point. And the you can come back and read this review. You promise you will come back and read this review? Good, that's settled then...Or you could just go ahead and read this review...

So, the final instalment in the Lumatere Chronicles, and my review is just a touch speedier to appear than my one of Froi of the Exiles. If you're read that review, you may have gathered that I had a few issues with the second book of this series. Not in terms of the quality of writing, but mainly due to the fact that I didn't engage with one of the main characters (see review for more details). Now, I'm fully aware that I'm in the definite minority on this one, but it didn't stop me from wanting more from this vast set of characters and locations so I'm was itching to get my mitts on the last in this intriguing series. 

Whereas I felt Finnikin of the Rock was a rollickingly-addictive page turner and would work as a stand alone novel, the latter two books are so deeply entwined that sometimes it becomes a bit tricky to separate them in my head. Or maybe that's because I read them so close together whereas there was a criminally large gap between my reading of Finnikin and Froi. I had hopes for some full-on Quintana bonding with this one, but my detachment from her continued right through to the end. BUT, in some ways this was a good thing. Let me explain...

Far from having large sections from Quintana's point of view, with are fed tiny little nuggets showing the way her mind works, but for the most part, Quintana is seen through the eyes of others, most interestingly Pheadra, the wife of Lucien the Mont, caught between hiding out and protecting her queen from certain death and her burning desire for her estranged husband. The Pheadra and Lucien story was my favourite part of Froi and the character of Phaedra is developed here. I adore Pheadra. I personally found her the easiest character to engage with. Or maybe that's just because I could so easily picture myself being married to Lucien.....ANYWAY, the friendship between Phaedra and Quintana was my favourite element of THIS book. In some ways, Pheadra provided a sort of world view - as her initial opinion of Quintana transforms from a degree of derision to acceptance to respect and friendship, I grew to understand Quintana more through her eyes, just as Pheadra did.

Let's just talked about Lucien for a bit...LUCIEN. I think my feelings can be summed up in this set of tweets I exchanged with Jo and Rey

Me: Just got to the bit in Quintana I have been waiting for. About bloody time :)

Jo: Lucian taking off his fleece/pants?


Jo: "May I be reminded of how the gods made you?" *LOSES SHIZZ* I know Rey likes that bit too.


Me: *jumps in cold shower*

Jo: *grabs a fleece-clad Mont* WHAT? Fine, we can share. 

Rey: *cue caterwauling* *lascivious grin*

Jo: I love the word caterwauling. As much as I love his bum. ANNA YOU HAVE TO FINISH SO WE CAN SHOUT AT EACH IN JOY!

Yeah, you get the idea. Now, what were we talking about again...?

Oh, yes important literary type discussion that DOES NOT involve fleece and pants. The removal of. More's the pity...

This being the conclusion and all, the story strands gradually come together in an genius, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping fashion, especially one particular scene involving Isaboe (who I had become to get a bit hacked off with since the end of Finnikin, I have to admit) where she does something so astonishing and heart-wrenching that I might have stopped breathing for just a little while.

I still remained a bit detached from this book. I think my opportunity to get hooked by the heart strings came and went with my reading of the Froi. But, much like the previous novel, this is writing of the highest order and it is a complex and intelligent tale that will get your brain juices flowing. With added fleece and sexy Mont. (insert smutty comment about other juices flowing here) (Whoops. I already did).

Monday 22 October 2012

Help Required! Pretty Please...

So I have a favour to ask. I'm doing a bit of research into a few interesting topics for a few interesting reasons (secrets, secrets) and I need some help. I've been trying to get hold of some recommendations  for YA that deals with political issues, be it directly, such as elections or actual proper mentionS of political type things, or indirectly, with broader political themes.
British Politics For Dummies

Also, any YA set in the 1960s, either written back then, or set back then. Or both. Anything. I'm desperate.

And do you know what would be abso-blimmin-lutely amazing? If anyone has any tips for political YA set in the 1960s. Does such a thing exist?

I will love you forever and ever and a day if you are able to help...

Monday 8 October 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Froi of the Exiles', Melina Marchetta (Penguin Viking, 2011)

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home... Or so he believes...
Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.
And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

And now, keeping up the tradition of always being at least one book behind everyone else, I will now post a review of Froi of the Exiles when everyone else will be posting a review of Quintana...

Froi of the Exiles (Lumatere Chronicles, #2)
I just thought I'd let you know that this is my second attempt at writing this. It's just that kind of book. This is the first review I've ever had to do that required essay-type prep work - making notes of my arguments, drafting out a summary etc etc. Under normal circumstances, I just, well, starting typing and hope I produce something coherent and witty and amusing. *clears throat*

Yeah, well, that didn't quite work with this book. So in honour of all my prep work, I've set myself an essay type question -


I'm in a conundrum. A literary conundrum involving a certain set of broad shoulders (thanks Jo). And here is my dilemma -

Froi of the Exiles is an excellent read. It's complex, it's tightly structured, it's a romance, a mystery, a coming-of-age tale and it manages to juggle all these elements ...

So why didn't it make me go all wobbly?

I read Finnikin of the Rock last year and it was one of those day-and-a-half-constant-devouring-of-book-can't-actually-remove-it-from-my-hands-so-will-try-to-chop-this-onion-whilst-reading-and-oh-whoops-I-appear-to-have-nearly-taken-the-tip-of-my-thumb-off-not-to-worry-I'll-just-sit-and-read-until-the-bleeding-stops.

Yes, THAT sort of book.

Evanjelin completely got under my skin. So much so that I fear I may have neglected my family for a few days in the process. So, boy, did I have high hopes for Froi and his shoulders. Obviously not in the way of neglecting my nearest and dearest again, or maiming myself, but I did fear I may end up in hospital as a result of trying to read a 600 page book whilst carrying the weekly food shop up the stairs, or something.

This book is raw and unapologetic. The first third could have been a much more uncomfortable read if the writing wasn't so bloody brilliant. The character of Quintana, Princess of Charyn is one of the most challenging I have ever encountered. A girl who, since the age of thirteen has been used as a vessel to, not only continue the royal line but to break a curse of infertility that has been placed on the kingdom since her birth. So, in other words, she has been raped and abused for all of her teenage years. It is not only this fact in itself that makes her so confronting, but it is her treatment by all of these characters , including Froi in the early stages of their relationship, that is the most shocking.

In her review of of Jasper Jones, Jo brought up the interesting question of how the way we are emotionally affected by a book may be influenced by a current event we're exposed to. In recent news and for the last couple of months in fact, that has been so much astonishing talk about what constitutes rape and ridiculous questioning about the victim status of abused teenage girls. Rage inducing stuff that, in short, gets under your skin and stays there for a very long time. As it should do.

So how do I relate this back to my question? Well, whereas the first part of the book got my emotions in a bit of a tizz, for some reason, the longer her story progressed, the more detached I felt from Quintana. Her nature and her condition helps her put up her own barriers and maybe this was part of it.
I think the main reason was that her story was so raw and so shocking and because of this, I may have stopped myself getting too drawn in, made a concerted effort to remain detached from her as a character with realising, that maybe her defence mechanisms worked on me as a reader. I don't know. Maybe I'm just talking a load of old piffle.

You know the amazing thing about this book? Even over a week after I've finished, I'm still thinking, still pondering. Let's talk about Froi for a bit. FROI...

When we first met him in Finnikin, I think he could summed up as a right little so-and-so that showed promise. Agree? Well, with a bit of time, a smattering of discipline, and a bucketful of love, some tough, some not so tough, we see a slightly more mature Froi, but still with his macho bravado and teenage boy traits intact. And the genius behind the character of Froi is that I thought I knew him. I thought I had him sussed, but of course, did I heck. By putting Froi next to a character like Quintana, it was like revealing all those dark secrets, all those horrors in his past that we knew were there already, but it still whacks you around the noggin when you are reminded of them all the same. His bravado did such a good job of pulling the wool over the eyes of this reader, and it came as quite a shock to remember what he had gone through to get to this point. (Notice how I talk about him as if he was a real person.) (Because he is)

There's so much going on here. I can't even talk about Lucien and Phaedra. Well, maybe just a little bit. I think I might have just adored their story even more than Froi and Quintana's. Which is why I was just a little bit miffed that there were some sizeable gaps before we came back to their little dance of luuuurve. I know it sounds ridiculous asking for MORE from 600+ pages but I also would have loved a bit more of Beatrice's heartbreaking journey..

Maybe the reason I didn't let myself get too involved was because of all these things going on. Or maybe it was because of the prickly nature of the two central characters. These two are difficult to love but as compelling as they come. I had certain pre-conceptions about such a long tale - surely there would be sections that would drag, lulls in the action? But just I was approaching a section that I thought might not completely hold my attention - BOOM! - dramarama central.

It has taken me bloody ages to write this review. And I'm still tweaking it and pondering over this book. It my not have burrowed it's way into my heart in quite the way I expected it or wanted it too, but it hasn't half set up camp in my brain. And will remain their like a worthy renegade voice speaking up for intelligent, unapologetic stories for, hopefully, a very long time).

(So it turns out prepping for a review doesn't produce much in the way of coherent ramblings. Sorry about that)