The Wicked King by Holly Black – Book Review

Spoilers if you haven’t read The Cruel Prince!

In the second instalment of the Folk of The Air series, we return to the Kingdom of Elfhame, now under the rule of King Cardan. That’s how it appears to both citizens and courtiers, but in reality, mortal Jude is the puppetmaster behind the throne. Her job isn’t easy – consistently trying to undermine her authority, Cardan’s enigmatic behaviour leaves the High Court, and Jude, guessing. It soon becomes apparent that someone close to her will betray her, so Jude must juggle keeping the Faerie world safe and asserting her power as a mortal in the volatile Court.

The first novel set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trilogy in terms of the plot twists, backstabbing between characters and mystical intrigue, and this novel certainly followed this precedent. Once again, there was a focus on the political maneuvering of the key players in Elfhame, and I was not disappointed.

One thing that has confused/frustrated me in both books is the absence of the citizens of Elfhame. The storyline focuses on the courtiers and monarchy of the isles, so you’d expect that most of the people that they would interact with would be people from their social class and family. However, when Jude’s out on her travels, she doesn’t seem to pass any villages, or interact with “ordinary” faeries. Even though she left the human world when she was seven, she would have understood that some people have much more than others, and that in most societies, there is too much variation between the wealth of the 1% and the rest of the population. So why do none of the discussions that she has concern the welfare/rights of ‘the people’? do they not exist? Maybe I’m looking into this too deep, but the stakes sometimes didn’t feel that high because the only people that would be affected by any decisions made by the characters in the novel would be people with wealth and influence.

I really appreciated the fact that we stayed with Jude’s point of view for this book, as opposed to switching to another character. Some fantasy series go for alternating points of view in later books, which I’m not really a fan of, so hearing from Jude for this second book really appealed to me as a reader.

If you’re looking for a book where everyone supports one another through the highs and the lows, the characters have a policy of honesty and there’s a nice atmosphere when a group of characters convene, then this is not the book. This observation is not a reflection on the book’s quality at all, but there are few moments of respite from endless backstabbing and an absence of genuine friendliness between the characters, which wasn’t a problem for me, but I do enjoy seeing women supporting other women and characters having one another’s back.

Overall, this is a strong second novel in a trilogy full of treachery, decadence and mythical creatures, and I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone looking for an enthralling YA fantasy novel to get stuck into.

Star rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

June in Non-Fiction: Brit(ish), So You Want To Talk About Race, The Little Book of Feminist Saints

This is the first post in what will hopefully become a series on my blog, where I give you a run-down of what I’ve read alongside my YA Fiction reads this month, and share my thoughts on what I’ve learnt.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, many people, myself included, have made an increased effort to read more books tackling the topics of racism, race and privilege, and you’ll see that two of these books do so. I’ve made extensive use of my library’s online catalogue through the Libby app, and I’d really recommend that you have a gander as there’s a great selection of non-fiction reads on there.

Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch

I was first introduced to this book when I listened to an incredible lecture by the author through May’s Hay Festival Digital. Her views on journalism, coronavirus, and the pandemic’s impact on people of colour were very thought-provoking, so I had to have a look at her debut book.

Hirsch weaves vivid accounts of her own experiences as a biracial person in the UK grappling with identity with in-depth historical information. When she talks about tracing her roots in Ghana or growing up in affluent Wimbledon, her writing style brings descriptions of place and people to life with strong imagery and word choice. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book, but it was also a very interesting perspective on identity and race.

So You Want To Talk About Race? by Ijeoma Oluo

This book is a perfect starting point if you’re just beginning to do some research on race and racism. Addressing topics such as hair, privilege, microaggressions, intersectionality and the school-to-prison pipeline, to name a few, each chapter poses a different question. When she’s talking about an argument, she uses an example or comparison to help explain, which I thought added to the accessibility and clarity of the book.

The language in this book is really accessible – I borrowed the audiobook, which I’d recommend. The only thing I would say with an audiobook is that I couldn’t access the footnotes, which I find useful as starting points for further reading. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from this book, which I’ll be taking with me into future conversations.

The Little Book of Feminist Saints by Julia Pierpont, illustrated by Manjit Thapp

@alyssamaereads on Instagram

This book is packed with a diverse range of inspirational women, and a brief biography covering their background is accompanied by a beautiful illustration of the woman in question. Every woman is given an area to be a “matron saint” in; for example, Virginia Woolf is the “matron saint” of writers, while Nina Simone is the “matron saint” of soul. This is a really unique idea, showcasing household names as well as women who should be more widely known – a contrast to the male-dominated curriculums and textbooks that we see so often. I find that this kind of book is a perfect way to find further reading – I’ve been jotting down names of people that I’d like to follow up on, and I’m looking forward to reading some of their work.

This has been a strong month for me on the non-fiction front, and the wonderful thing about this side of literature is that the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn, and to learn about. I’m looking forward to discussing July’s reads with you soon!

With The Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo – Book Review

Aspiring chef Emoni has a lot on her plate – work, looking after her young daughter, and school. Juggling all of this is tough, but when she is in the kitchen, her mind is transported somewhere else as she unleashes her creativity on dishes drawn from her Puerto Rican roots, following her gut to make mouth-watering food full of flavour. When the opportunity to take a Culinary Arts class in school arises, Emoni can’t wait to get involved and see if she has what it takes to take her passion professional, but life seems to keep getting in the way of her dreams. She’s going to have turn her fire on high if she’s going to do her talent justice and show everyone what she can really do, regardless of the obstacles that the world throws at her.

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And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness – Book Review

Update: The recent Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death have prompted increased learning and listening for people around the globe, myself included. I cannot over-emphasise the power of literature to educate yourself on racism and white privilege, so here’s a really good list of books: https://bookshop.org/lists/antiracist-reading-recs . I’ve got a long list of books that I’d like to read, and I’m looking forward to sharing them on the blog soon in a dedicated post.

And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a retelling of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (The Whale), but with a flipped perspective: this time it’s from the point of view of a whale, Bathsheba. Her hunting pod of whales, led by the inimitable Captain Alexandra, is obsessed with getting revenge on the human hunting vessels that sail above them; the relentless war is between two species constantly seeking vengeance for the crimes committed against one another. The man the whales seek the most is Toby Wick, and they’ll go to great lengths to find him. As the hunt progresses, Bathsheba begins to question whether its worth sacrificing everything for this conflict.

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Want To Start Blogging? What I’d Wished I’d Thought About When I Started Out

Blogging is special. It allows you to elucidate your thoughts and stances on issues that are important to you, and share this with the world through written word.

If you already have a blog, then you’ll know this, but when I was starting out, I wasn’t fully aware of the power blogging had, and how to best utilise this powerful tool. I’m not referring to the nitty-gritty of web design and SEO (although I’m still getting to grips with that today), but rather the way to use a blog to make it best fit your needs and aims. I believe to get the most out of your blog, it’s good to have a think about why you are doing it and what your hopes are. As such, I’ve made a list of three things that I think you should ponder if you’d like to start a blog. Now, I’m by no means an authority on blogging and the like, but here are some snippets of advice that I hope you’ll find of interest!

  1. Don’t Give Up (Even If You Don’t Get The Response You Wanted)

Blogs are the perfect platform for sharing your interests with like-minded people, and this was one of the main reasons that I started fictionforteens.com. When I posted my first blog post, I wasn’t quite sure what would happen; whether the book enthusiasts of the world would flock in their masses to my humble site, or whether my posts would lie unread, the comments sections a barren wasteland. I got a couple of views on the post, and it took me a while to build on that, but what kept me going was the knowledge that I was doing what I loved and sharing that enthusiasm with other people. 

Along your blogging journey, some people may not mirror your enthusiasm for blogging and your subject of interest, and others may not give you the support that you hoped for. I must emphasise that the kind of people that I have just described are definitely in the minority, but this is significant enough for a blogger to down tools and forget about something that they have worked hard on. If your posts immediately blow up and reach visitors in all corners of the globe immediately, then that’s amazing, but if your posts don’t, do not become disheartened, but post because a) you enjoy it and b) you are passionate about the subject on which you are blogging. Your passion for what you do will come through in your content, resulting in an invested reader and a quality blog. 

2. Be Prepared to Promote

Once you’ve built your blog and published your first post, it’s time to start on some Shameless Self-Promotion. It may feel unnatural at first, but to get your post read, you need to shout about it from the rooftops (not necessarily literally, but whatever works for you, I guess). Utilise Social Media, pester your friends, and use whatever ways you usually spread the word about something to spread your blog around. When you’ve spent time and effort working on something, it should be spread – people won’t know about it unless you tell them. Not everyone will be interested, but there will be some people that are.

If you use WordPress, you can write your Social Media posts with a link to your new article when you publish your post – you just have to link your accounts for them to be posted. This works best for Twitter and Facebook, and I’ll usually put a photo of the new post on my Instagram story directing people to a link in my bio. All of this will help to do your hard work justice. Make your follow button for people with a WordPress account high up on the sidebar of your blog, as well as the box where people can put in their email address so they can be notified of new content.

3. You Will Improve

I’ve been looking at some of the posts that I wrote when I first starting my blog, and comparing them with my recent ones. Granted, I was only 13, and the progress is over a period of almost 6 years, but it’s satisfying seeing my personal growth and how I’ve formed my writing style through reviewing books. There’s still got a long way to go, and I try to make each post better than the last, but at the start, I didn’t feel like I could do any better than what I was already doing. All of this advice comes down to one thing: just keep going. That’s the best way of improving, as well as pushing yourself to write in formats that you’re not used to. For example, I found it difficult transitioning from writing book reviews and listicles to writing articles such as the one on multiple points of view, where I was forced to think more deeply about the structure and organisation of my article, along with having to determine what the crux of my conclusive argument was. Similarly, starting my new blog opinionalwrites.wordpress.com (any opportunity to promote) was a challenge, because delving into the world of politics and the arts, while I am familiar with the two, stretched me, and I’m very much still learning!

I hope this is helpful if you’re starting out on your blogging journey! Even if you’re a seasoned blogger, I’d be interested to know what your thoughts are, and any advice that you’d give to a fledgling writer!

Take care, Al.

My Point of View on Multiple Points of View in Fiction

Lately, I’ve been getting back into writing stories. My go-to hobby in primary school, I still have the notebooks containing my rather unique storytelling attempts from my youth. Seeking to reignite my passion, turning to an online course and writing down story ideas when they strike me, as well as looking at what I’ve been reading, has helped me to get out of the starting blocks.

This means that I’m starting to be more conscious of the structures and techniques that writers employ in their storytelling. Of course, this is something that I like to mention when I’m writing my reviews here on Fictionforteens.com, but approaching literature from the authorial angle has given me a deeper appreciation of the challenges of form and establishing a character’s voice, as well as what works in different situations. Obviously, it goes without saying that I’m no literary expert, or author (yet…), I’m just an opinionated girl with a passion for books.

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The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – Book Review

Charlie is used to being on the periphery of the social lives of his cohort, observing, without fully engaging, all of the drama, parties and relationships that come with the teenage experience. The move from Middle School to High School offers an opportunity for change for Charlie, making friends with some older students who show him what it is like to “participate” – going to parties, meeting new people, and living life to the full. It’s not plain sailing though – hidden to the outside world, Charlie struggles with family relationships, and the all-encompassing guilt he feels over the death of a close relative. Conscious to shake off his wallflower moniker, Charlie tries to live in the moment and change his perspective on life.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – Book Review

In Norta, the colour of your blood defines you – your social status, your occupation, and whether or not you have superpower-like abilities. The elite Silvers exploit the Reds, sending them to the front line in the North and using them as their servants in their lavish residences.

Mare is a Red, and every day she becomes closer to being conscripted on her seventeenth birthday. After a chance encounter, she finds herself serving the King in his summer residence. One day, however, something happens to Mare that makes her question her identity – she appears to have Silver abilities but Red blood, so the royal family decide to declare her as a long-lost princess, to prevent any questions being asked. Mare is thrust in to the Silver world, engaged to a Silver prince. She now has the chance to take down the oppressive system that has caused her family and community so much pain and suffering. This won’t be easy; she must dodge the jealousy, lies and rivalries of the royal courts to try to bring justice to her people.

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Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda – Book Review

Fragments of the lost

A month after a terrible flood took her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s life, Jessa is asked by Caleb’s mother to tidy their house to prepare them for moving. As she begins to sort his belongings, she learns more and more about the boy she thought she knew. As the memories overwhelm her, she begins to piece together his story, until she’s left with a picture that is unrecognisable – what exactly happened on that bridge, and was it his fault?

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Running Girl by Simon Mason – Book Review

Running Girl

Meet Garvie Smith, a 16-year-old with a genius IQ, and, to his teachers’ and mother’s dismay, the student with the lowest grades. Nicknamed ‘Sherlock’ by his friends, he is known for solving every puzzle that his friends give him. His skills are put to the test when he tries to solve a real crime – the disappearance and murder of his ex-girlfriend, Chloe. He soon learns that people aren’t who they seem – as he delves into Chloe’s secrets, he realises that there is more to the case than originally thought…

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