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.

YA on Screen: Netflix’s Cursed Review

Image: Netflix via IMDb

Netflix’s latest fantasy release, written in tandem with the YA graphic novel of the same name, takes the age-old legends of King Arthur and Merlin, and retell them from the perspective of Nimue. A member of the persecuted Fey, she is forced to flee her village after a savage attack by the Red Paladins, and join forces with mercenary Arthur. With the Sword of Power in her possession and as a holder of mysterious yet devastating botanical powers that she is learning to control, she must embark on a personal and literal journey to protect her people and stand up for what is right in a corrupt kingdom.

There are few moments of respite in this high-octane story that takes us travelling through the forests and settlements of early Britain – when we are not witnessing gruesome slaughter and attacks by heartless paladins, we are privy to some heated, intense confrontations. Some pertinent themes are also intertwined with the plot: the futility of war, supremacy, religion, and the corruption of those in power.

Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite TV series of all time is BBC’s Merlin – every time someone mentions it, I feel a pang of nostalgia for it’s charm, humour and quality characters. So, I really wanted to love Cursed, and find a series that would take the tale that I had grown up watching in a different direction.

This series has an incredibly ambitious storyline; there are constant cuts to different characters, interspersed with beautiful illustrations, perhaps a homage to the graphic novel that this is based on. I really struggled to understand the relevance of the many side-plots scattered here and there, as they clouded the story and didn’t seem to relate to Nimue’s journey. Maybe, they’ll have greater significance in series two, but for now, they felt like they were slightly irrelevant. That being said, I particularly liked Pym’s (Nimue’s best friend) story, as she is probably the most entertaining character in the series.

There were too many elements in Cursed for my little brain to comprehend: I still don’t know where it’s set, which is a key detail. In the series, we see the following groups: the Trinity Guard, Red Paladins, Romans, Fey (with many groups amongst them), Viking raiders, the Pendragons, nuns, and the Lepers. Some more Vikings drop in at some point, but I couldn’t tell you want they wanted or why they were there, and there’s also this guy with tattoos on his face that sneaks around doing creepy things and a woman who wears a bird costume and can deliver messages by bird. I still don’t know who both individuals are, and neither IMDb nor Cursed’s Wiki page is giving me many answers. If there had been substantially fewer parties in the series, then I think it would have been easier for the audience to keep track of everyone’s motives and ideologies, both of which were not always clear.

Looking to some of the individual characters, there were definitely some highlights. Merlin was incredibly compelling and enigmatic, and was the focal point of any scene in which he appeared. Uther was the stereotypical tyrant, and as I mentioned before, I really liked Pym’s character, as well as Igraine/Morgana. I’m holding out for some big character development for Nimue and Arthur in the next series, because I felt they could be fleshed out a little more. The Weeping Monk really intrigued me, and has potential, while I wanted a little more backstory on the Green Knight aka Gawain. If some of the sub-plots had been cut away, then maybe there would be more space for character development and general explanation of what is going on.

Comparing series is difficult when the intended audiences are different and different stories are being told, but I think that BBC’s Merlin has a slight edge over Cursed. Why? It has strong character development, humour, and the aforementioned charm, but in all fairness, it’s had five series to build on the initial foundations laid in series one. Cursed has strong foundations, and I think if the plot is streamlined, more time is given to developing characters and more exposition, then I think the show could be a real winner. I will definitely be watching series two (if there is one), and I’ll be back with another review.

Is it worth watching? I would say yes, for the stand-out performances, salient themes and impressive battle scenes. Maybe keep a notebook handy, though!

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Take Care, Al

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A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer – Book Review

In the heart of Washington, D.C., Harper is on the lookout for her older brother, Jake. Their mother is battling cancer, their father is absent, and Jake is constantly getting caught up in trouble; life hasn’t been easy.

When Harper sees a potential kidnapping unfolding on the street below, she steps in. She’s immediately transported to what she later learns is the magical kingdom of Emberfall, cursed by an evil enchantress to be tormented by a horrendous beast, who, like in the tale of Beauty and the Beast and unbeknownst to Emberfall citizens, is actually the Crown Prince, Rhen. Rhen lives the same autumn over and over again, ending with his transformation into the cruel creature that shows no mercy to the people of Emberfall. There’s one way to stop this – if a woman falls in love with him, then the curse is lifted and the kingdom saved. Harper is one of many women that have been taken to Emberfall, but she’s different. With so much at stake and the odds stacked against them, will they be able to break the curse before it’s too late?

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black – Book Review

Seven-year-old Jude led a normal life, until one day, unannounced, the mysterious Madoc appears at her doorstep. Her life changes in an instant, as Madoc brutally murders her parents and kidnaps Jude and her sisters to live with him amongst the High Fae in Elfhame, a magical and unfamiliar land populated by Faeries. Immortal, beautiful and incapable of lying, they see Jude and her twin, Taryn, as weak and inferior, and don’t let them forget it through unrelenting bullying and exploitation.

At age seventeen, Jude desperately wants to fit in, fight alongside them, and to be equals, but the youngest prince, Cardan, will seemingly stop at nothing to make sure that these things don’t happen. When she sees that there is more to the High Court than meets the eye, she becomes embroiled in the conspiracies, betrayal and espionage that cuts below the surface of faerie politics. Determined and incisive, Jude must make sacrifices to protect the world she has been thrust into, her family, and Elfhame.

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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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On the Come Up by Angie Thomas – Book Review

On the Come Up, Angie Thomas’s second novel, stars sixteen-year-old Bri, who dreams of becoming a rapper. Inspired by her late father, pursuing a music career feels like the only way to get her family out of their desperate financial situation.

The odds seem stacked against her: her mum was a drug addict during Bri’s formative years (and Bri’s worried that she’s relapsing), and even though her brother has a psychology degree, he only earns the minimum wage at a Pizzeria. Compounded with the constant stereotyping and racial profiling that she faces at school, she must carve her identity and make her voice heard in order to get her come up.

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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.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – Book Review

On the windswept island of Thisby, capaill uisce, or water horses, dominate life. Every year, these water horses emerge from the surf on the beaches lining the island, and are caught by islanders to race in the infamous Scorpio Races; an often fatal race of the brutal creatures in which the victor gains glory and riches.

Sean Kendrick knows the races well: he’s a seasoned racer, winning four times out of the six that he’s taken part in. His ability to calm even the most agitated or violent of the capaill uisce has earned him a reputation on the island for his abilities.

Puck Connolly has never ridden in the races, but this year she feels like she has no choice – the money from winning the prize could be life-changing for her family. The first girl to race, she’s no idea what the races really entail.

Both lost parents to the capaill uisce. Both are struggling to get by. Drawn together in a time when you can trust no one, this is more than just a race.

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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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