T5W: Most Disappointing Books of 2018

I wanted to start the new year of blogging off on a more positive note by looking ahead to new releases I can’t wait to get my hands on and by looking back on the best theatre I saw in 2018. Now that we’re well into January though, it’s time to reflect on some of the books that not just fell short of the coveted three star or above rating on goodreads, but that were, for one reason or another, downright disappointing.

97817822719255. Clinch by Martin Holmén (translated by Henning Koch)
My rating: 2.5 stars

Admittedly it’s been more than a decade since I tackled a hard-boiled detective novel, but I remember really loving noir classics The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. The problem with novels like these, published in the 1930s and featuring masculine detectives and femme fatales, is that too often they also reinforce homophobic stereotypes. So I had high hopes for Clinch, a novel published in 2016 but set in gritty 1930s Stockholm and starring Harry Kvist, a bisexual ex-boxer out to clear his name. Unfortunately while the concept is there, the execution is sadly lacking. The plot meanders and fails to grab, but more critically I never felt anything toward Harry Kvist beyond a certain detached pity for his situation. Holmén seems to be trying for a rough-and-ready antihero type, but what he ends up with is a man who isn’t very bright, solves literally every single problem he encounters with violence, and has only one redeeming quality – a soft spot for animals. The resulting novel is a muddy mystery that has little in the way of looking for clues or deducing leads and a whole lot of hitting random people in hopes of gaining information. It gets old fast. Yes it’s brutal, graphic, and, to a certain extent, atmospheric, but I just didn’t care. This has to be the first book I’ve read where the protagonist gets crabs though, so there’s that, I guess.

363271174. The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin  (Translated by Anton Hur)
My rating: 2.5 stars
Another case of a terrific idea poorly executed. I hoped that this would be another great East Asian historical fiction read in the same vein as Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, but The Court Dancer is written in a way that keeps the reader at arm’s length so we never connect with any of its characters. Set in the 1880/90s, when isolationist Korea began to open its doors to the west, the book is divided between French diplomat Victor’s time in Korea, where he falls for Yi Jin, a skilled dancer and favourite of the Queen’s, and their time as a couple in Belle Epoque Paris. Unfortunately this is one of the worst paced books I’ve ever read. Quite literally half of the book is spent on Victor trying to gain permission to marry Yi Jun, who is so reticent that the reader has no idea how she feels about any of this. Victor himself is less in love with Yi Jun than he is enraptured by her beauty and the fact that she speaks French, so it’s hard to care at all about them as a couple. I was much more interested in the relationship between Yi Jun and the Queen, so naturally scenes between them occur only in brief flashbacks later on. The Court Dancer is the rare book that manages to be both lethargic and melodramatic, with high drama happening to characters we care little for. As a result, what should be a crushing, soul destroying tragedy is instead merely bittersweet and forgettable. Full review here.

356575113. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
My rating: 2 stars
I tried to foray more into Can-lit this year and the results were decidedly mixed. While I loved Our Homesick Songs, a magic realism novel about the decline of the fishing industry in Newfoundland, and liked Thea Lim’s An Ocean of Minutes, a dystopian love story about the immigrant experience, I barely made it through Ondaatje’s Warlight. The prose, I’ll admit, is eloquent; It’s elegant, poetic, and a little dreamy. But when the characters are dull and the plot non-existent, pretty writing alone is not enough. I never connected with any of the supposedly ‘eccentric’ major or minor characters and got the distinct impression that these were the sorts of character traits that only an author who reads exclusively literary fiction (and who has never picked up a sci-fi or fantasy novel in their life) would consider strange. Ondaatje is an illustrious enough Canadian author, and writes well enough, that I would consider reading more of his works in the future, but this one left me struggling to understand what the big deal is and desperate to cleanse the palate with a more exciting and cohesive read. Full review here.

302013272. The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill
My rating: 2 stars
A textbook case of take the comp titles with a grain of salt. I picked this up because it was being compared to The Night Circus, but tonally the two books couldn’t be more different. I didn’t walk away from The Lonely Hearts Hotel with any swell of emotion, appreciation for the imagery, or sense of magic. In fact, I was mostly just frustrated with this tale of two talented orphans in Depression-era Montreal. O’Neill’s over-stylized prose aims for whimsical charm, but sets a light and casual tone that doesn’t fit the dark and disturbing subject matter. The result is a book that seems to trivialize the very childhood sexual abuse, prostitution, abuse, and drug addiction it depicts. The tonal dissonance is so bad that it’s as if the entirety of Breaking Bad (not just a scene or two or a special one-off episode but the whole show) was told in the style of Pushing Daisies. I wasn’t won over by the romance either. How invested can you be in a ‘love story’ between a pair of characters who haven’t seen each other since they were 15 when all the male character can think about is how he can’t wait to penetrate her? There are some creative ideas here and a few lovely turns of phrase, but I didn’t find the emphasis on quirky descriptions of graphic sex, violence, and abuse nearly as charming as the author obviously does. Also, there are a lot of clowns. Your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about clowns.

13264201. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
My rating: 2 stars
While one of the classics I read in 2018 (Jane Eyre) ended up on my Favourite Books of 2018 list, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island tops my Most Disappointing list. Why oh why do we as a society subject children to this deceptively slim volume of tedium masquerading as an adventure story?! It took me two whole weeks and the grim determination to not DNF to make it through these 187 pages. I can sort-of understand why Treasure Island would capture the imagination of readers in the nineteenth century, but this is one classic that the years have not treated kindly. The over-descriptive prose robs the narrative of any sense of tension or urgency, the characters are thinly written, and unless you’re fluent in 19th century nautical slang you’re bound to miss at least some of what’s going on. It’s particularly distressing that this book is recommended for pre-teen and teenage boys – often the most reluctant readers. I appreciate the impact that Treasure Island has had on pop culture, but my advice is to enjoy the media it’s inspired (especially the brilliant television series prequel Black Sails) and leave Treasure Island on the dusty shelf where it belongs. Full review here.

What were your most disappointing reads of 2018? Let me know in the comments!

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

T5W: Favourite Magic Systems

As an avid reader of fantasy books, I love a good magic system! I’m often drawn to books that are creative or original in some way, and a magic system is a great way to showcase these qualities. Without further ado, here are a few of my favourites:

nico minoru5. “The Staff of One” wielded by Nico Minoru
Marvel’s Runaways, created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona

I’m cheating a little with this selection because it’s less of a system of rules governing magic in a fictional world and more a set of rules that governs one magic user’s abilities, but I couldn’t resist a shout-out to one of my favourite magicians, Nico Minoru. She wields the Staff of One, a magical weapon that operates through blood magic. In order to conjure the staff, which resides inside her body, and use its powers, she must make a blood sacrifice, which can be from a wound, a small cut, or even from menstruation or bleeding gums. Spells are cast by speaking a single word or phrase, but a spell can only be cast once. Repetition results in unpredictable feats of magic – for example, summoning a flock of pelicans! Comic books can often be places where powers are nearly limitless – like Superman whose only weakness is kryptonite – so I love that the Runaways creators have not only capped the strength of what could be a very powerful weapon, but have done so in such a creative way. Being able to only cast a spell once means that Nico has to think fast, even in battle. I understand why the cutting to bring forth a weapon was changed in the TV show, so as not to send the wrong message, I love how this blood magic functions in the book.

The Killing Moon4. “Narcomancy”
The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin

I love an original magic system and I’ve never encountered anything quite like N.K. Jemisin’s “narcomancy” in her lesser known, but absolutely brilliant ancient Egypt-inspired The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. Priests, known as Gatherers, harvest the magic of the sleeping mind, known as “dreamblood”, and use it to heal. Since the act of collecting dreamblood usually kills the dreamer, Gatherers collect only from the dying – a serene process in which the guide the dreamer to a peaceful death – or from those judged corrupt. But when a conspiracy blooms and someone is killing innocent dreamers in the name of the dream-goddess Hananja, it makes the Gatherer Ehiru question everything he knows. Did I mention that dreamblood is also highly addictive, so Gatherers must be careful not to be consumed by their need for the original substance.

361593. Manipulation of the Fae
The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman

Combining elements of fantasy, science-fiction, and even horror, C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire Trilogy has one of the most fascinating, and complex, magic systems I’ve encountered. The books are set on the distant planet of Erna, colonized centuries ago by humans. The original colonists quickly realized that a mysterious force originating from the planet, known as the fae, had the power to let the humans’ subconscious fears and desires affect the environment around them. The impact of the fae on the planet ranges from making the use of technology near impossible (human fear makes operating technology unpredictable) to giving form to embodied faeborn or demons, creatures who feed on humans (either literally or in subtler ways).

After centuries on Erna, some humans have adapted to the point where they are born with the ability to perceive the fae and manipulate it in some ways, while other humans have managed to manipulate the fae to get their way through practicing sorcery and making sacrifices in exchange for power. The idea of a magic system based on our subconscious thoughts and fears is so interesting and offers such a threat of malevolence that it makes for a really interesting read, and Friedman imbues her magic system with such complexity and unpredictability that The Coldfire Trilogy is an unforgettable ride!

24955672. “Sympathy”, “Sygaldry” and “Naming”
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

I have my quibbles about these books over their portrayals of female characters, but I have only glowing words to say about Patrick Rothfuss’ magic systems. To begin with, these are just three of the types of magic found in his Kingkiller Chronicles, but they’re the ones that interested me the most.

“Naming” is the, fairly straightforward, practice of a magic user invoking the True Name that he has learned and commanding the named thing to behave as he wills.

“Sympathy”, my favourite type of magic in these books, is the art of energy manipulation. The user creates a sympathetic link between two objects so that whatever is done to one object will affect the other, for example: creating a link between two boulders so they can be moved equal distances with only the effort needed to move one boulder. More deviously, a magic user could create a link between a person and a doll of the person and then raise the person’s temperature by placing the doll near a heat source. The energy for a sympathetic link must be taken either from the magic user’s body, or from a nearby source of energy (like a fire).

Finally, “Sygaldry” is the use and application of runes, which creates effects similar to a permanent form of “Sympathy”. The thought that went into creating each of these forms of magic is evident and combined with Rothfuss’ gift for storytelling, it makes for an entrancing magical world.

Foundryside RD4 clean flat1. “Scriving”
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

A recent edition to my list of favourite magic systems but a great one!  Basically, the consciousness of objects in the world can be manipulated when they are inscribed (‘scrived’) with a set of magical symbols and codes. Operating like the rules of computer programming languages in our world, objects are scrived in a way that tricks, for example, carriage wheels into believing they are going downhill even on a flat road, which increases the carriage’s speed. Like coding, making a logic error can result in terrible consequences, only the practical application of this system means it’s less a website crashing and more, well, possible death. The more complicated the effect that is being produced, the more complicated formula necessary, and when these formulas are too large to be inscribed on an object directly, they’re stored in lexicons, a physical version of a database that is stored nearby.

Foundryside is set in a captitalist society based on a modernized version of the Italian City States, so a few large companies have a monopoly on the market and hoard the resources, including the intellectual property (certain scriving formulas) needed to create and maintain scrived devices. The poor are left to trying to cobble together their own formulas to produce the same effect (some with more luck than others) because they don’t have the same resources as the wealthy and powerful. Comparatively little fantasy these days is post-industrial and using it as a basis of a magic system that parallels our own use of technology is brilliant. I’m a devotee and I can’t wait to see where further books in the series take this intriguing magic system!

What are some of your favourite magic systems?

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

T5W: 2018 Reading Resolutions

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

January 3rd: 2018 Reading Resolutions: Self explanatory. Let us know 5 of your reading goals for the year.

1. Read 60 Books. This year I read 65 books, including the 1,300 page War & Peace, so I’ve set my goodreads challenge to a respectable, but not taxing, 60 books for 2017. I do a fair amount of my reading on the daily commute to work, so it should be achievable, even if I don’t have as much time to read after work and on the weekends. This goal also takes into account the fact that I have made a commitment to doing a time-consuming and challenging course for my day job. The course has to be finished by the end of November, so I need to set aside time to study, which may impact my reading habits.

2. Read what I own. I don’t tend to buy a lot of books since I have a fantastic public library system at my disposal, but over the years I’ve definitely built up a collection of titles that I mean to read but just never get around to. So far there aren’t a lot of new releases for 2018 that I’m eagerly awaiting, so it seems like an ideal year to concentrate on reading the books that I already own. The ultimate goal is to clear out some much needed bookshelf space by reading and then donating or selling back books that I know I won’t read again, and keeping only my favourites.

3. Read more classics. I made some progress towards this goal in 2017, by tackling my first-ever Russian author, Tolstoy, with War & Peace. Even though it wasn’t a particularly positive reading experience for me, I would love to use this year to read some of those books I have been meaning to read for years. High on the list of classics to try this year are Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I’d love to tackle The Count of Monte Cristo as well, but I think I need a year to recover from War & Peace before I dive into another classic doorstopper!

4. Read outside my comfort zone. For the last few years, I have been part of an online book club that anonymously votes on member-submitted suggestions across a wide variety of genres to choose each month’s selection. I’ve realized that, for better and for worse, some of the most out there books I’ve read in the last few years have been book club selections. I loved Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Erik Larsen’s Devil in the White City in previous years, true crime and non-fiction choices that I would never have picked up on my own. Although the monthly selections have yielded some duds, like Roxanne Gay’s An Untamed State (one of my Worst Reads), Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and Omar El Akkad’s American War, I’ve mostly enjoyed the experience of reading new-to-me titles across a wide range of genres. Sadly the book club hasn’t been as active over the last few months and, I suspect, is over, so I may need an extra push to find and read some of these outside my genre choices going forward.

5. Participate in some reading challenges. I’m not going to fully commit to anything right now, but I would love to participate in either/or another personal reading challenge or in a book blogger reading challenge. In 2017 I committed myself to reading the nominees for Best Novel at the Hugo Awards and it was generally (see my thoughts on Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, which I couldn’t finished here) a rewarding experience. I think I’ll wait and see what my summer looks like and what’s nominated before I 100% commit, but I’m considering either doing this again, reading the Nebula nominees this time around, or taking up a challenge that will let me engage more fully with the blogging community. If there’s a challenge you think I’d be interested in, ping-back here or let me know in the comments!

What are your reading goals for this year? Let me know in the comments!

 

T5W: Problematic Faves

I have to preface this week’s awesome topic – Characters you don’t want to love but you can’t help liking – with a bit of a disclaimer. You see, I hate the word ‘problematic’ about as much as I love this topic. It’s one of those words that I would be quite happy to see disappear from the English language forever.

I find ‘problematic’ is far too quickly and casually thrown around these days, often without a deeper exploration of why something or someone presents a problem. There’s also sometimes a lack of thought about the difference between ‘problematic’ when applied to celebrities or real life people versus fictional characters. I accept behaviour and traits in fictional characters, because I know they’re not real, that I would never accept from a real person. For example, since I just saw Thor: Ragnarok yesterday, I find the Marvel Universe Loki fascinating and fun, but I would drop-kick (or at least try!) anyone in real life who betrayed, killed, and generally caused chaos as he does. Ultimately, when it comes to fictional characters, I tend to prefer the term ‘flawed’ to ‘problematic’, and boy are these five characters flawed!

1. Gerald Tarrant (The Coldfire Trilogy by C.S. Friedman)
gerald-tarrant-1452851243-74687Gerald Tarrant is the most problematic of problematic faves. Although he was a great tactician and learned man, who crafted The Church of the One God, The Coldfire Trilogy opens with him quite literally murdering his wife and two children in order to strike a deal with the Fae, a powerful, magical, energy force that surrounds the planet. The Fae can be influenced by the human psyche, but working with the Fae often requires a great sacrifice, in Tarrant’s case, his humanity. Let’s just say that if you don’t like your characters morally grey, this is probably not the series for you!

900 years later, Gerald Tarrant lives, but as a force that feeds on fear itself. Yet when his life’s work, the Church, is threatened, he is drawn into a quest to destroy this new force of evil. It makes a lot more sense when you realize that Gerald is more or less a vampire – the most original twist on vampires (an overdone subject I’m not particularly interested in) I’ve seen in ages, but still basically a vampire (he’s allergic to sunlight and feeds on fear instead of blood). Gerald Tarrant’s relationship with traveling companion Damien Vryce, a warrior priest, develops from a mutual hatred but shared purpose, to a grudging respect, to a deeply felt friendship over the course of the series. They also rub off on one another, at least enough for Gerald to start doing the right thing and begin atoning for his past. All in all, he’s a snarky, good-looking, intelligent creature and there might just be heart buried under all that.

2. Walter Kovacs/Rorschach (Watchmen by Alan Moore)
rorAlan Moore’s acclaimed 1980s graphic novel turned the superhero genre on its head with a grim take on costumed vigilantes. Intending to show “that even the worst of them had something going for them, and even the best of them had their flaws” the pages are full of ‘problematic’ characters, but my favourite has always been Rorschach.

Objectively, Rorschach is a pretty awful person. Childhood experiences involving his abusive prostitute mother have stoked his misogyny, and he also appears to be homophobic. Sure he dresses up in a trademark trenchcoat and shifting inkblot mask and fights crime, but his belief in moral absolutism -an ethical view that actions are intrinsically right or wrong and there are no shades of grey – and inability to compromise make Rorschach a ruthless opponent.

Despite all this, there is something admirable in Rorschach’s devotion to his principles, in his friendship with fellow former vigilante Nite Owl, and in the sheer badass approach to fighting crime. The moment where an incarcerated Walter Kovacs yells at a crowd of inmates, many of whom he helped put away, “None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.” is epic. Perhaps my favoritism comes from the fact that Rorschach’s narration of events, in the form of a journal, puts us inside his head, or perhaps it’s influenced by Jackie Earle Haley’s brilliant performance as the character in the 2009 movie. Then again it might just be the sympathy I feel for a man who tries to do good, leaving criminals bloodied but alive for police to deal with until he sees the very worst that humanity has to offer and is irrevocably changed by the experience.

3. Inspector Javert (Les Miserables by Victor Hugo)
javertWhile I’m firmly in the camp that will fight anyone who calls Javert, the nineteenth century policeman who doggedly chases escaped convict Jean Valjean, a villain, he is the main antagonist of the story. Javert is not evil. Rather, like Rorschach, he is an absolutist. Javert believes that the law is infallible and lives with the utmost respect for authority, and hatred for rebellion (which encompasses committing any crime, regardless of the reason for doing so). As Hugo writes, “He would have arrested his own father, if the latter had escaped from the galleys, and would have denounced his mother, if she had broken her ban. And he would have done it with that sort of inward satisfaction which is conferred by virtue.”

This binary worldview leaves no room for ambiguity, and Javert is so shaken by the realization that the law is not infallible that he sees no way in which he can continue to exist in the world.

Javert is a fascinating character though, one of my favourites in both the book and musical adaptation of Les Miserables. He’s persistent, ultimately does the right thing by showing Valjean mercy, and even has an excellent sense of humour! Sure he’s misguided and it leads to his downfall, but Javert’s really not a bad guy.

4. Kaz Brekker (Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo)
Fanart by Merwild (https://merwild.deviantart.com/art/Kaz-Brekker-648574110)Shaped by the tragic circumstances of his childhood, and driven by revenge, Kaz Brekker reinvents himself as a criminal mastermind and leader of a prominent Ketterdam gang, The Dregs. Ruthless, particularly in his pursuit of a prize, Kaz has cultivated a reputation for doing monstrous things, which conveniently means he doesn’t have to carry out every bluff.

Kaz definitely falls into a morally grey area. He’s someone that I would never want to meet in real life, but on the page I find morally ambiguous characters like him fascinating. As a reader, I can’t help but admire his obvious brilliance and the machinations of his mind. Even as obstacles come between him and his goals Kaz changes plans on the fly to accommodate, often with success. And then, of course, there’s Inej. In Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, Inej functions partially as Kaz’s conscience. His deep regard for her and developing romantic feelings allow him to let down his guard around Inej, revealing a softer side to the reader.

5. Cyril Avery (The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne)
33253215In the interest of getting through at least a few weekly memes without answering LYMOND (although he definitely qualifies as a problematic character!), I’m taking a different route this time and saying Cyril from The Heart’s Invisible Furies. More than anyone else on this list Cyril is not a bad person, he’s just a very flawed human being who consistently makes poor choices. It’s easily to sympathise with Cyril and to understand where he’s coming from. I can only imagine the toll that being a gay man in Catholic Ireland during the twentieth century would take on a person, but Cyril’s choices are often enough to make the reader bang their head against a desk, culminating on his wedding night as he (SPOILERS) reveals to his best friend, who is also the brother of the woman he’s marrying, that he has been in love with him since they were young, and then takes off during the reception and never comes back!
Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

I realized I have a lot of morally dubious fictional character faves (and even more if you move out of books and into the realm of TV!) but these are some of the characters who have really made an impression on me. Who are some of your ‘problematic’ faves? And how do you feel about the term ‘problematic’?

T5W: Favourite Fancasts

Although it was a lot of fun to put together, I actually found this week’s Top Five Wednesday topic, Favourite Fancasts, quite the challenge! Although I can quite easily create casts for a ballet version of a favourite book, or cast stage actors for a fictional musical adaptation, I had trouble coming up with film/TV casting for some of my favourite books. I’ve put together a list (by book/series) of some of my top choices though.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

1) Luke Newberry as Kell Maresh
(The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab)

luke newberry    381bb32216b1e478c2f5b53b8ea0e18d

I feel like there are two types of fancasts. There are the ‘oh you know who would be great in this role? so-and-so!’ You’d like to see them play the role and you believe that they would be great, but it wouldn’t break your heart if there was an adaptation and another actor was cast instead. Then there are the other kind. The kind of fancast where an actor is SO RIGHT for a character that it’s hard to picture anyone else in the role. Luke Newberry is this second kind for me.

Physically he fits the role well. He’s English, in his twenties, and has a fair, slender, red-haired appearance. We know he’s fine with wearing contacts in order to portray Kell’s mismatched Antari eyes because Newberry wore contacts frequently when he played PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferer Kieran Walker on (the excellent drama) In The Flesh. Most importantly though, his acting on the show was brilliant and has some similarities to our beloved Kell Maresh. Kieran is an outsider, alienated from others in his village initially due to his sexuality and then by his condition as a re-animated person. His  worries and past deeds weigh on him heavily, meaning Luke Newberry has a perpetual furrowed brow on the show and can scowl with the best of them, perfect for serious Kell. And Kieran eventually stands up against those who seek to oppress his kind and becomes more confident with who he is as a person. His acting in this show is brilliant and I honestly can’t picture anyone else as Kell anymore!

2) Eddie Redmayne as Felix Harrowgate and Jamie Bell as Mildmay
(Doctrine of Labyrinths by Sarah Monette)

tumblr_nijb5bkxzd1roci9qo1_1280    tumblr_opjxxitpsl1rtuvjto1_1280

jamie-bell-turn-2   mildmay

When I saw the Jupiter Ascending trailer for the first time I had two thoughts – what the Hell is this? and OMG it’s Felix! Sarah Monette’s criminally underappreciated Doctrine of Labyrinths series is told primarily from the perspective of two protagonist half-brothers, dramatic, gay wizard Felix Harrowgate, and laconic, gruff but inwardly sensitive thief Mildmay.

Tall and handsome with red hair, pale skin, and mismatched eyes (one yellow, one blue), Felix is a member of the court, well-dressed, and impossible to ignore. I can think of no one better suited for the role than Eddie Redmayne circa his Jupiter Ascending days. Felix is the kind of part that requires a balance between camp and genuine emotion, as he is charming, but is also capable of cruelty, even towards those he loves. I think Eddie Redmayne would be an ideal choice.

As Mildmay, I’d cast Jamie Bell (pictured in Turn). Mildmay and Felix have a striking resemblance that leads them to discover that they’re actually half-brothers. How appropriate then that I sometimes mix Bell and Redmayne up! Mildmay is one of my favourite fictional characters. Short, but strong, he moves with grace (perfect for an actor who once starred in Billy Elliot!) and is also fair and red-haired, but has a long scar down one side of his face. I feel like Bell’s more compact build and sharper features, yet physical similarity to Eddie Redmayne would make him a great choice for the role. I feel like Jamie Bell is one of those actors who is really very good, but is either not cast in, or isn’t choosing the best parts to show off what he can do. Mildmay would definitely give him a chance to shine.

3) Alfie Enoch as Maia
(The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison)

ALFIE ENOCH    tumblr_npxrelheia1r02jobo1_1280

Alfie Enoch seem to have this eternal vaguely clueless, puppy-dog look to him. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the first season or so (before things got especially dark) as Wes in How To Get Away With Murder. Add some prosthetics and makeup and he would be absolutely perfect for Maia, the lonely, mixed-race character in exile who becomes emperor when his estranged family die in a mysterious accident. What I loved so much about this book was how nice Maia is. Literally all he wants are to have a friendship or two and to make things better for everyone. It’s impossible not to love Maia as he tries to muddle through complicated court intrigues alone. I’m convinced that the utterly adorable Alfie Enoch would be perfect for this role.

4) Amandla Stenburg as Syenite and Harold Perrineau as Alabaster
(The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin)

photo-2-copy_67_orig   harold-perrineau

I haven’t decided on picks for The Fifth Season‘s other two narrators, Damaya and Essun, but even though she may be a little on the young side, I’d love to see Amandla take on snarky and headstrong Syenite as she becomes a confident and talented young woman and finds love. For the older orogene Alabaster, who is described initially as older than 40, with black so dark it’s almost blue skin, and tightly-curled hair, I think Harold Perrineau would be a good fit, capable of showing both vulnerability and irritation.

If you thought I could make it through a T5W without including The Lymond Chronicles, well then you are wrong! This is my favourite book series of all-time, which means I have a lot of thoughts on who I would cast in major roles. Unfortunately for Francis Crawford of Lymond himself, I have to cheat a little, because I would need a time machine to make either of these castings work!

5) Tom Hiddleston OR Peter O’Toole as Francis Crawford
(The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett)

tumblr_mk0h0exw1v1qzub73o4_250    b3685be69445e74e3b5a59bb886a741dgiphy

So this was Richard’s brother. Every line of him spoke, palimpsest-wise with two voices. The clothes, black and rich, were vaguely slovenly; the skin sun-glazed and cracked; the fine eyes slackly lidded; the mouth insolent and self-indulgent.

When I read The Lymond Chronicles for the first time in 2012, The Hollow Crown miniseries was still fresh in my memory and Tom Hiddleston in Henry IV became my indisputable headcanon for Francis Crawford. For so many reasons, Hiddleston seemed a perfect fit. Physically his long fingers, fair hair, thin mouth, blue eyes, and slender build are all appropriate. Hiddleston is a mimic who seems to enjoy (and does a passable job at) different accents, including Scottish and Irish (I wonder how his Spanish is). He even has Scottish heritage! The actor enjoys Shakespeare, meaning the sometimes dense language in Dunnett wouldn’t throw him off. Five years ago Hiddleston was on the older end of the spectrum to play this character, but could have pulled it off. Now, unfortunately, I think he’s a little too old for the role, but oh if I had a time machine! Regardless, I desperately want him to voice the audiobooks of this series, how perfect would that be?!

Peter O’Toole circa his Lawrence of Arabia days was the author’s imagined dreamcasting for her famous character. When I finally watched the film (for Lymond reasons, of course) I felt like I understood so much more about the way Dunnett had written Francis Crawford. The deliberate choice to describe Francis’ hair not as blond but as “yellow”, his “cornflower blue” “heavy-lidded” eyes, and of course the melodic timbre of his voice. All of that is in Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence. If I had a time machine and could bring forth a young Peter O’Toole he would be excellent in the role.

Kathryn Winnick OR Natalie Dormer as Marthe

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“A girl far younger than Kiaya Khatun, with high cheekbones and open blue eyes, set far apart; with a patrician nose, its profile scooped just less than straight. The face of a Della Robbia angel, set in gleaming hair, golden as a Jupiter’s shower.”

Marthe is described as having a such a physical resemblance to Francis that the similarity is striking enough to be uncomfortable. Importantly, Marthe is also a badass and has to look like she could kill you and you would enjoy it. Kathryn Winnick is superbly in control as Lagertha in Vikings, and Natalie Dormer’s smirk is just perfect for the bitter Marthe. Either of these women would be wonderful but Winnick is the better physical match for Tom Hiddleston and is capable of an ice queen demeanor that makes her my top choice for the role.

Sarah Bolger as Philippa Somerville

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Philippa is probably my favourite character in the series, and I feel like the charming Sarah Bolger, pictured here in period-appropriate clothing thanks to her role as Mary Tudor in The Tudors, would be a splendid choice to play this Queen of my heart.

Aidan Turner as Jerott Blyth

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“Blyth himself, his handsome black head bent, his only ornament the gold ring belonging to the dead girl he was to have married, looked distant and unlike the intelligent, talented and spectacularly wild young gentleman he had been.”

This one came to me recently, but now I can’t get it out of my head! Jerott Blyth is dark and handsome, but also incredibly stubborn, repressed, and not the sharpest tool in the shed. I haven’t actually seen Poldark, but I’m definitely a fan of Aidan Turner’s from Being Human UK and Desperate Romantics. He can brood with the best of them, and would be an excellent companion for Francis.

Holiday Grainger as Joleta and Michael Fassbender OR Arnie Hammer as Graham Reid Malett

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This is another time-machine cast since I think they’re all getting on a bit to play these roles. Graham Reid Malett appears on the scene as a match for Lymond’s mind and talents. Handsome and tall, with guinea gold hair, I can see either Michael Fassbender or Arnie Hammer playing the role well. I think I’ll always picture apricot-haired Joleta Reid-Malett as Holliday Grainger from The Borgias.

Eddie Redmayne as Will Scott and Amy Manson as Christian Stewart

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He was a graceful creature, with fair skin and a thatch of carroty curls

Comely and tall, with hair of fine dark red and a decisive air to her, she was pleasant and positive to talk to, and it was impossible to tell that she was blind from birth.

I won’t hijack the entire post for Lymond, but I can also strongly picture Eddie Redmayne (the only actor to appear on my list twice) as Will Scott, although he’s again perhaps five years too old at this point. Will Scott is rash and young, joining a band of outlaws because, despising hypocrisy, he admires the band’s consistency in professing no virtue and being exactly as bad as they say they are. Is he a bit of an idiot? Yes, absolutely, but there’s something lovable about Will Scott nonetheless, particularly since the first book in the series, The Game of Kings, is largely viewed through his eyes. I hold an almost Marius Pontmercy affection for the character, and can definitely see Redmayne (an excellent Marius in the Les Miserables movie) doing ‘Marigold’ justice. I’ve had Scottish actress Amy Manson in mind for blind, good Christian Stewart ever since her Desperate Romantics days and I remain convinced that she would be an excellent choice.

Surprise, surprise this week’s Top 5 Wednesday more or less dissolved into fancasting for Lymond, but hopefully it was still an interesting read! If you’ve read some of these books, what do you think of my fancasting choices? Who are your choices this week?

T5W: Favourite Bromances

It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these, but how could I resist sharing some of my favourite literary bromances?! This week’s topic focuses on Favourite Bromances, defined here as a ‘platonic relationship between two characters who identify as male’.

My personal take on bromance has always been really close, through thick-and-thin male friendships, so I’ve stuck to close friendships, rather than just my favourite platonic relationships between men. For example, I adore everything about the dynamic between Richard and Francis Crawford in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Lymond Chronicles, but it’s not always a close relationship so they don’t make the cut here!

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

TheDreamThieves1. Gansey and Adam Parrish/Gansey and Ronan Lynch
(The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater)
One of the things I love most about The Raven Cycle is that the platonic relationships are depicted as being equal in importance to the romantic relationships that develop over the course of the series. In fact, Stiefvater said that while writing the book she had a post-it note on her computer that said, “Remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they can stop being friends.” As someone who has no interest in being in a romantic or sexual relationship, it means so much to me that all of the friendships in The Raven Cycle are depicted so well and that they are placed on equal footing as romantic love. Even though there are ships in this book, including one that is among my favourite fictional romantic relationships of all-time, I also adore the friendships between characters and especially the ‘bromances’ that Gansey has with Adam Parrish and with Ronan Lynch. Despite their differences in social class and upbringing, Gansey obviously thinks the world of Adam Parrish, and although he experiences some understandable envy, Adam cares so much about Gansey. Both Gansey and Ronan have siblings of their own, but their relationship with one another is so close that they seem to consider each other brothers. I love that platonic relationships in general, but especially the bromances between these characters, are so important throughout The Raven Cycle.

‘While I’m gone’, Gansey said, pausing, ‘dream me the world. Something new for every night.’

5290152. Frodo and Sam/Merry and Pippin
(The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien)
I’m pretty sure you could fill an entire Top 5 with just bromances from Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings, but I’ve stuck to (cheating slightly) just two between my beloved hobbits. Sam and Frodo are definitely the kind of friends who stay by each other’s side (quite literally!) until the end. When the Ring has Frodo in its grasp, Sam is there to give him the strength he needs to carry it forward. It’s a beautiful friendship inspired, I remember being taught in an undergrad course, by the WWI soldier relationship between a private and a batman (A batman, was a soldier who was required to fight but who was also tasked with looking after an officer’s kit, cooking, and cleaning – Downton Abbey fans may recall the connection between Lord Grantham and Mr. Bates). Although perhaps not put through the same intense testing as Frodo and Sam’s connection, I also love the bromance between hobbits Merry and his cousin Pippin. Nearly inseparable, their paths are forced to diverge and they swear fealty to different lords, but remain the best of friends.

‘Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get!…. Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.’

AConjuringOfLight3. Kell and Rhy Maresh
(The Shades of Magic series by V.E. Schwab)
I think that what I love most about Kell and Rhy’s relationship is how well these brothers complement one another. Kell is often serious, restrained, and worrying about something, while Rhy is jovial and flirtatious. They couldn’t be more different and yet they would do absolutely anything for one another, to the point where Kell literally binds their lives together in order to save his brother. Although Kell feels like an outsider when it comes to the royal family and his adopted parents, he has always considered Rhy his brother.

Kell smiled. It was a rare thing, and Rhy wanted to hold fast to it—he was the only one who could make his brother smile, and he wore it like a badge.

14kiizd4. Prince Aleksander and Seyonne
(The Rai-Kirah Trilogy by Carol Berg)
This is one of those tropey (but somehow still really fun to read?!) cases of enemies who become reluctant allies and ultimately close friends. Many of Seyonne’s people, who have been waging a secret war against demonkind, were enslaved by the invading Derzhi people. After 16 years as a slave, he is purchased by the heir to the Derzhi Empire, Aleksander. Naturally at first they despise one another, but Seyonne sees a spark of greatness in Aleksander and as he sets about trying to save him from a powerful demon that is pursuing the heir, they become fast friends. The friendship is developed slowly enough that it’s believable and feels true. Although the rest of the trilogy unfortunately never quite lives up to the promise of the first book, I do love this friendship, a true bromance of two men who may disagree on issues but don’t love each other any less for their differences of opinion.

‘Grandfather was right, wasn’t he? This is not just about your oath anymore, not about saving the world from demon chaos. This is about Aleksander.’
‘I would give my life for him – a stubborn, arrogant, murderous Derzhi. I think I’ve lost my mind.’
‘You sound just as he did, cursing you for an insolent barbarian…just before he went dashing off to Avenkhar to find you.’

242805. Les Amis (especially Enjolras and Combeferre and Courfeyrac)
(Les Miserables by Victor Hugo)
As much as I love Les Miserables, both the book and the musical, I have sometimes felt that the fandom tends to get a little hung up on les amis, the revolutionary students fighting on the barricades, to the detriment of the other characters. For a topic like this week’s T5W though ‘The Friends of the ABC’ fit perfectly. Introduced in a chapter titled, “A Group That Almost Became Historic” are Enjolras, a charming young man capable of being terrible who represents the logic of the Revolution, Combeferre, who “completed and corrected Enjolras” and represents the philosophy of the Revolution, and Courfeyrac, full of youthful animation. I love this trio and how different they are, yet how well they fit as a team and build on each other’s strengths. Whenever I’m seeing a musical adaptation of the book I can’t help but keep an eye out for a strong central trio of amis thanks to the descriptions and interactions of this trio in The Brick (as the unabridged Les Mis is affectionately known).

‘Enjolras was the chief, Combeferre was the guide, Courfeyrac was the center. The others gave more light, he gave more heat; the truth is that he had all the qualities of acenter – roundness and radiance.’

That’s it for my, somewhat eclectic, list of favourite literary bromances. Have you read any of these? Who are your favourite bromances? Let me know in the comments!

T5W: The Middle Was Best

After a few weeks off (and a lovely whirlwind vacation to New York City where I ate some fantastic food and saw some wonderful shows), I’m back with another Top 5 Wednesday! This week’s topic: Second Book is Best. While I’ve tried to stick to series where the second book was my favourite, I’ve tweaked the definition slightly for one choice, selecting a book that is the third in a (currently) five book series.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

TheDreamThieves1. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (Book 2 of The Raven Cycle)
I enjoyed Stiefvater’s first book in this world, The Raven Boys, but it’s The Dream Thieves where the series really gets going. Part of the reason for this is that The Dream Thieves is Ronan Lynch’s story. For the first time, the reader gets a vision of what makes Ronan tick and the stew of feelings and fears that lie under his rough exterior. Although there’s a vein of magic running through the books courtesy of the quest to find Glendower, ley lines, and Blue’s psychic family, it’s not until the very end of The Raven Cycle where Ronan’s abilities are first mentioned, and The Dream Thieves is where they come into focus. This second book in the quartet deepens the story and reveals more about each of the characters. I really enjoyed The Raven Boys, but I devoured The Dream Thieves and this is the book where I knew I would re-read this series until the day I die.

2198112. The Virtu by Sarah Monette (Book 2 of The Doctrine of Labyrinths series)
Like The Raven Cycle, Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths books take a bit to get going. To begin with, one of the two P.O.V. characters spends half of the first book quite literally insane! I love the whole series, but The Virtu is a better written book. The plot seems to wander a little less and since Felix Harrowgate is sane(r) in this volume, the sometimes antagonistic and complicated relationship between Felix and his half-brother Mildmay makes for a more interesting read. The reader also gets a lot more of Mildmay’s inner thoughts in this book and he is one of my favourite characters period, so I loved spending more time in his distinctive voice. Monette is a master of worldbuilding, and having established Melusine in the first book, she’s able to expand on and deepen the reader’s knowledge of this fantasy world. It all makes for a captivating second volume. You could definitely make an arguement for the third book, which is also fabulous and offers both a strong female P.O.V. and a heartbreaking plot, but the fourth book, while still worth reading and a worthy conclusion, is less interesting than the previous volumes.

2r7nc603. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (Book 2 of The Grisha Trilogy)
The Grisha Trilogy is a perfect example of The Second Book Is Best because it’s the only book in this trilogy that I gave a full five stars to on Goodreads! It’s often difficult with a fantasy series because there is so much worldbuilding that has to occur to set up an interesting and believable setting for a series. Bardugo’s first book in the series suffers a little from this set up, but Siege and Storm kicks into gear and also features the introduction of my favourite character in the series, Nikolai. Nikolai’s swagger and wit instantly grabbed me, and I’m not alone – he’s a fan favourite for a reason! While I was actually fairly pleased with the way the series I ended (I know that’s a fairly unpopular opinion), I also didn’t find the final book of the trilogy as gripping as Siege and Storm, so this series naturally deserves a place on this week’s T5W.

63079644. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin (Book 3 of A Song of Ice and Fire)
Although not the second book in the series, A Storm of Swords is smack dab in the middle of the five books currently published of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. It’s the finest book in the series so far, and includes THAT scene which makes people hurl their books against the wall. Although it’s a long read, coming in at over 1,000 pages in paperback, I found it the most gripping, as it contains plotlines with most of the major characters we know and love (compared to AFFC and ADWD, which divides point of views by geography) and some truly phenomenal plot twists and climaxes. This was the book I couldn’t wait to see adapted on screen, and although I have some (many) issues with Game of Thrones, like many book fans, I enjoyed the true initiation of show fans to Martin’s world and brutality when the Red Wedding appeared onscreen.

cityofblades5. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett (Book 2 of The Divine Cities Trilogy)
I didn’t expect to love this book as much as I did. The first book, City of Stairs, featured one of my favourite female characters in literature, Shara Komayd, as the protagonist. This glasses-wearing, tea drinking, petite woman of colour torn between her love of history and mythology and her occupation as a spy won me over quickly. When I heard that the second book would feature this beloved character in only a minor role, I was skeptical. Instead, Jackson Bennett gave us Turyin Mulaghesh, a disabled, middle-aged, WoC General who swears like it’s going out of style for a protagonist, and a plot that was even better developed than the first book. City of Blades cemented this series as one of my favourites of all-time. I wasn’t as enchanted by the third book in the series, City of Miracles, which focused on a protagonist who couldn’t carry the story as well, but it was still an interesting read and a wonderful series.

What are some of your favourite middle books in a series?

T5W: Books That Aren’t Set In The Western World

This week’s Top Five Wednesday is one that I have been looking forward to – Talk about books that are set outside of the Western World (so outside of North America and Western Europe) or if they are SFF, books that aren’t inspired by those places (so no medieval setting fantasy!)

Admittedly a lot of the fantasy, YA, and historical fiction I read is set in North America or Western Europe, but I’ve been making an an effort to read more diversely (and would love recommendations if there are books with diverse settings you think I should check out!) recently. In fact, some a few of the best books I’ve read this year are set outside of these places! For this week’s countdown, I’ve stuck to books that are very clearly inspired by or set in places outside of North America and Western Europe, not books that don’t seem to be inspired by anywhere in particular.

Top Five Wednesday is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Want to join in the fun? Check out the goodreads group!

Pachinko1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (Japan/South Korea)
Setting and history figure heavily into this multigenerational family saga, which takes place between 1910 and the late 1980s. Lee’s novel follows four generations of an ethnic Korean family living in Korea under Japanese rule and then in Japan itself. It’s a beautifully written book that doesn’t shy away from depicting the discrimination and hardship that Koreans living in Japan during this period, who were seen as foreign residents and shut out of many traditional occupations, faced. Knowing as little as I did about this time and place before I picked up Pachinko, the opportunity to learn about this period in history was part of the appeal for me. I was not disappointed. Lee has a wonderful ability to make history come alive on the page, and the details of a myriad of twentieth century Korean and Japanese settings are richly rendered in elegant but simple prose. What I really love about Pachinko though is how realistic its characters are. Although they make mistakes, most of them are hardworking people trying to make good, and it’s incredibly moving to be taken on a journey through their successes and failures. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction!

15q8eaf2. The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Russia)
Rarely am I hooked by a novel as quickly as I was by Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale. This gorgeous debut, a medieval Russian folktale/fairytale about the winter king and a brave and wild maiden absolutely enchanted me. Arden writes with lyrical prose and uses imagery to richly recreate the world of medieval Russia with all of its magic. It’s a style of writing that appeals to the senses, and you can almost feel the residual warmth of the giant oven on which the family sleeps and the cold foreboding of the nearby woods as winter approaches. As someone who enjoys mythology and folktales, I love the way that she brings the spirits, from the meek domovoi and the steady vazila to the more mercurial rusalka, to life. Additionally, this book contains a new favourite character of mine in Vasya, a free-spirit who is happier riding a horse or playing in the forest than she is performing needlework. Watching her grow from an impulsive child to an honest, compassionate, and bold young woman, is a joy as a reader and I look forward to returning to medieval Rus’ and to Vasya’s story when the sequel arrives early next year!

5yghvd3. The Dreamblood Duology by N.K. Jemisin (Fantasy inspired by Ancient Egypt)
As much as I loved The Fifth Season and Obelisk Gate, my favourite N.K. Jemisin books so far belong to this lesser known duology. Set in the desert city-state of Gujaareh, loosely based on Ancient Egypt, the plot deals with Gatherers, who are Priests of the dream-goddess. Gatherers maintain order in this peaceful city by harvesting the dreams of citizens, healing the injured, and guiding the dreamers into the afterlife… whether they’re ready to die or not. When Ehiru, the most famous of the city’s Gatherers, is sent to harvest the dreams of a diplomatic envoy, he finds himself drawn into a conspiracy that threatens to drag the dreaming city into war. Fantasy that is based on a non-Western setting is still uncommon, and I have an interest in mythology, so I loved this unique duology. If you’ve never read anything by Jemisin before, she’s one of the best worldbuilders around and writes beautifully, so this series is worth checking out.

251507984. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See (China)
This was my first Lisa See novel and I cannot wait to read more of her books! The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane tells the story of Li-yan, an Akha ethnic minority girl in Yunnan, China and her family, who align their lives around the farming of tea. The arrival of a stranger in a jeep (the first automobile anyone in the village has ever seen) it marks the entrance of the modern world into the lives of the Akha, and Li-yan begins to reject the superstitions and rules that have shaped her existence. Setting is a huge part of Lisa See’s work of historical fiction, and she describes the Chinese ethnic minority, the Akha, with care and in rich detail. Again, this was a place and time in history that I knew nothing about before reading this book, but I found it an engaging read and I rooted for Li-yan through her joys and her hardships.

271906135. And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Ottoman Empire)
Set in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey and beyond), this gender-swapped YA alternate history of Vlad the Impaler sees Lada Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu held as pawns by the Ottoman courts. While Radu begins to adapt to their new setting, Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Part of the appeal of this duology for me was the fact that I’d never seen anything quite like it before, including the setting. Sure enough, I enjoyed the first volume in this series and will be reading the second part later this month.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations for me on books set outside the western world that I should read? Let me know in the comments!