Review Halo of the Damned by Dina Rae

HaloOftheDamnedFINALCover2ndpicTitle: Halo of the Damned
Author: Dina Rae
Genre: Dark Paranormal Romance, Horror
Publisher: Eternal Press
Publication Date: February 7th 2012
Author Website | Amazon | Author Blog | Book Trailer

A chain of advertising agencies, a new breed of humans, and a fallen angel to worship…
“Andel Talistokov is known for his slick advertising agencies across the globe. He is a fallen angel that uses advertising as a weapon for Satan’s work. His growing power emboldens him to break several of Hell’s Commandments. Furious with his arrogance, Satan commands him to return to Hell after finding his own replacement.
Yezidism, an ancient angel worshiping religion, quietly expands throughout the West. Armaros appears as a guest of honor during their ceremonies. He mates with young women to produce nephilim, a mixed race of humans and angels. They are alone and unprepared for their supernatural power.
Joanna Easterhouse, a recovering drug addict, steps out of prison shortly after her mother’s fatal accident. She and her sister, Kim, unravel their mother’s secretive past. Intrigued, they learn their bloodline is part of a celestial legacy.
Both worlds collide.
Halo of the Damned is a horrifying tale that weaves research together with suspenseful twists and turns.

Halo of the Damned is intense, and not like what I expected at all, which is a good thing. When I heard ‘paranormal romance’ and ‘angels’, even with the words ‘dark’ and ‘horror’ added in, I immediately jumped to conclusions. I love paranormal romance, but I’ve seen all the clichés one too many times to enjoy them anymore. Halo of the Damned isn’t your typical paranormal romance. It doesn’t throw around clichés, instead it works with them and features them in a new spotlight.

The story starts out with one of the bad guys, Andel, and what an amazing start it is. I immediately fell in love with this villain, although he is, without a doubt, eviler than most of the villains you see nowadays. I liked him because there was a certain dark passion behind his motives, and a surprising amount of originality. The author wasn’t scared to shy away from violence and some gory scenes, but I personally didn’t mind. I see how some people could find it disturbing, but it is horror. While I usually tend to prefer my horror more of the psychological kind, this book offered more than enough balance between blood and gore and psychological horror to be entertaining.

On the side of the good guys, we have Joanna and Kim. While I wasn’t particularly fond of them at first, they grew on me as characters. The most intriguing part behind the story is the brainwashing though, and the cult doing these things, no matter how horrifying, because of something they believe in. The author clearly did her research, and it shows. I thought the scenes of the rituals were, although gruesome, very fascinating as well, and it shows us the human pscyhe in a new shape and form. Even though there’s a romance storyline in this book, the book doesn’t depend heavily on it – it’s more of a side story.

I must applaud the author for bringing together a mix of genres that don’t always match well together: romance, horror, paranormal, mystery and thriller. This account of fallen angels is one of the most refreshing books I’ve read in a while in this particular genre. The book grabbed me from page one. It reads like a true pageturner, and kept me up till late in the night to finish reading. If you’re a fan of dark paranormal romance and/or horror, Halo of the Damned needs to be on your TBR list. Right now.

Book Review: Ripper by Amy Carol Reeves

11788444Title: Ripper
Author: Amy Carol Reeves
Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Supernatural Thriller, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: April 8th 2012
Rating: 5 stars
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Review copy provided by the publisher through Netgalley.

A paranormal mystery involving London’s most notorious killer
In 1888, following her mother’s sudden death, seventeen-year-old Arabella Sharp goes to live with her grandmother in a posh London neighborhood. At her grandmother’s request, Abbie volunteers at Whitechapel Hospital, where she discovers a passion for helping the unfortunate women and children there.
But within days, female patients begin turning up brutally murdered at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Even more horrifying, Abbie starts having strange visions that lead her straight to the Ripper’s next massacres. As her apparent psychic connection with the twisted killer grows stronger, Abbie is drawn into a deadly mystery involving the murders, her mother’s shadowed past, and a secret brotherhood of immortals—who’ll stop at nothing to lure Abbie into its “humanitarian” aims.

It seldom happens that a book enthralls me in such a way as Ripper did. The story sucked me in from page one and kept me up until the wee hours of the night, wanting to learn more about the characters and to solve the mystery of the Ripper threatening London and especially Whitechapel Hospital and district. Ripper is Amy Carol Reeves’ debut novel, but by the way she seamlessly adds words together into sentences that seem to flow right off the pages, you wouldn’t think so. This novel is really a startling debut and all fans of the original Jack The Ripper story, paranormal mysteries in general, or just Victorian England should take up this book and read it.

The setting is extraordinary. The way Amy Carol Reeves portrays historical England in the nineteenth century is amazing. She makes the streets, the hospital, the houses over in Kensington, the carriages and the entire vibe of Victorian England come to life on these very page. I felt like I had stepped straight into a Sweeney Todd musical. Not only does the author describe the setting wonderfully, she also gives us vibrant, mysterious characters who seem to crawl right out of the pages. The main protagonist, Arabella Sharp, nicknamed Abbie, is a lady born too early for her era, a tad bit rebellious, a tad bit too smart and opinionated. Although in most cases these traits in a lady would be totally unbelievable – I have seen some horribly bad-executed examples in previous books set in this era that I’ve read – but luckily this is definitely not the case in Ripper. With her upbringing in Dublin, joining street fights and learning plenty of skills from her mother, it’s no wonder that Abbie has difficulty settling for the dull, mundane life led by the respectable ladies over at Kensington. But Abbie isn’t the only character who shines right off these pages. But more about those later.

The story starts with Abbie Sharp chasing down a pickpocket down the street and having a startling and mind-dazzling vision the moment she reaches the pickpocket. Although wary of what just happens, Abbie shrugs it off thinking she must have been hallucinating. The next day, her Grandmother reports to her that she has been offered a position as a nurse at Whitechapel Hospital by the most respectable Dr. Julian Bartlett. Although her Grandmother, Lady Westfield, isn’t convinced that this is a proper job for a young lady, she does agree because Dr. Bartlett has been a friend of the family for a long time. As Abbie begins working at Whitechapel Hospital, she actually begins to enjoy the job – anything is better than staying at home for yet another tea party, that’s a giving, but still, her particular fondness for the physician’s job is also noted by Dr. Bartlett and several other physicians. One of these other physicians is Simon, son of a wealthy family who lives in Kensington as well, and clearly a potential love interest for Abbie Sharp. The other potential love interest comes in the form of a more stubborn and more mysterious young man who goes by the name of William, and who is a relative of the notorious Ronsetti family, definitily not someone Abbie’s Grandmother would approve of.

As Abbie’s work in the Hospital continues, so do the murders. They are so gruesome and horrifying that they are soon dubbed the Ripper murders, based on the infamous Jack the Ripper case. Although the murderer targets prostitutes as well, he is especially inclined towards those who have been recently released from Whitechapel Hospital, making all the physicians there possible subjects, especially since the Ripper uses a surgical blade and performs procedures only a physician or butcher could do. But that’s not the end of it. Everytime the Ripper is about to commit a murder, Abbie gets a vision of it. Desperate to know the connection between the Ripper, her own visions and the Whitechapel Hospital she has grown to love, Abbie, Simon and William go on a search for the truth. A search that might very well cost them their lives.

Abbie Sharp is the protagonist of this story, and she makes an interesting one at that. She has a very complex personality. She’s one of those people who gives and takes back constantly. She is generous, kind and not afraid to work hard, but on the other hand she often appears as being cold and distant as well. The perfect kind of person for a physician’s job really – someone who can distance themselves from the terrible things happening around them. When she interacts with Simon and William she is like that as well: she gives information about herself, but immediately closes up afterwards. She is curious and wants to know all about them, but gives little in return. Additionally, she’s also very intelligent and clever enough to solve a mystery of this size, if only she puts her mind to it. On the other hand, she isn’t that good at rating and understanding people, especially when we deal with the more complex emotions of love, friendship and the borders between that. The only aspect of Abbie’s personality that made me cringe all throughout this novel is the fact that she gets over things too quickly. Oh hey, I have visions. Alright, I’m over. Oh hey, those visions show me the Ripper murders! Well, I’m over it. Oh look, people important to me die. I feel a pang of guilt…But oh wait, I’m over it already! You can imagine how that doesn’t make sense at all.

We have a love triangle in this book, or well at least partially, since one of the possible love affairs is only one-sided. Simon is the ‘appropriate’ choice for Abbie to make, because he’s someone her Grandmother would approve of. Additionally he’s also a nice, kind-hearted guy, who doesn’t have to work long hours and shifts at the Hospital but does so because he genuinely cares about the wellbeing of his patients. In fact, I probably fell in love with him from page one. It doesn’t happen often that you find this type of person: the person who is willing to put everything, including his own life, aside to help take care of others. Virtually, Simon is a saint. Unfortunately, saints are hardly as attractive as saint-like bad boy versions, which is where William comes in the picture. Although William is a devoted physician as well, he isn’t as eager to trust people as Simon is, nor is he as kind-hearted. He uses his wit and sarcasm to sometimes make a fool out of Abbie, to mock her and sometimes to tease her – and it’s working. It’s not surprising though, because if I were Abbie, I would have taken the bait a long time ago. William’s behavior, the so-called not-caring is exactly what draws Abbie to him in the first place. Typical yes, but that’s usually what happens in real life as well. You want what you can’t have. Why choose the easy path when the difficult one could be so much more fun? Of all the possible love interests I’ve read about during the last year or so, William is one of my favorites. He’s the kind of guy I could see myself dating. Also, the love triangle here isn’t as stereotypical as in most YA novels: good boy, bad boy. Both Simon and William are definitely the good guys – they’re saints actually, in my opinion – but William is the most bad boy like of the both of them. They’re just two very different people who both work hard for the good cause.

Next up, the mystery at hand. It kept me guessing for a while, but around halfway through the novel, the reader figures out who the Ripper actually is because he shows himself to Abbie. You would think that’s a bad move on the author’s behalf, but it isn’t. Because the mystery still isn’t solved. Sure, we now know who the Ripper is, but we still don’t know why he kills those women. And what’s up with the crawling on walls? The visions? There are still a ton of questions left to solve, and we only find answers to those in the last few chapters. Also, the Ripper…well, what can I say. He’s a complex character, that’s for sure. By the end of the book, we find him in a very strange relationship with his current number one prey, Abbie. It’s not unheard of, this kind of relationship between victim-killer (at least from the killer’s side), and if I have to admit, I find it beyond interesting, but it is weird for sure. See, it seems as if some part of him actually likes her. Not in a love-love sense, but more in the sense of “I want to rape you, or at least make you more than uncomfortable by ripping buttons of your dress” and something of the likes. It reminds me a bit of those relationships between a vampire and his victim in paranormal romance novels, and I can tell you, it’s hot. Weird, disgusting maybe considering he did kill a number of people whom Abbie loved, but hot. Of course these rather odd feelings are definitely not returned by Abbie, but that doesn’t matter. Think Buffy/Angel when Angel turned bad. Those were some of the most epic scenes in the history of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the scenes between Abbie and the Ripper are some of the most epic scenes in this book as well.

I can’t possibly think of anything bad to say about this book apart from the fact that it ends on a major cliffhanger, and I want to read a book two. So please, Amy Carol Reeves, start writing book two and keep me sane. I need to know what happens next. In return, I will bake you a million cookies, do a weird monkey dance or even make a shrine dedicated to your books. Your choice. But please, write. Don’t eat, don’t sleep. Write. Write. WRITE!

Of course, I’m just joking, but this only proves how much I yearn for the second book in this series. Since you have probably realized by now that I’m slowly going insane anticipating the second book, let me recap why you should read Ripper. It’s truly an extraordinary book that keeps you on the edge of your seat from page one. The characters are intriguing, original and refreshing. The love triangle is totally believable and sheds off most of the clichés. The Ripper is one of the shining characters in this book, and he makes one of the most memorable murderers out there. The mix of paranormal and thriller make for an outstanding debut that I recommend to all fans of both genres. Trust me, you will have a killer time reading Ripper.

This book counts towards the Mystery and Suspense Challenge, the Debut Author Challenge, the TBR Reading Challenge and the YA Historical Fiction Challenge.

Book Review Hellbound and Giveaway

13554828Title: Hellbound
Author: Su Halfwerk
Genre: Horror, Short Story Collection
Publication Date: February 2012
Publisher: Double-Dragon Publishing
Rating: 4
Author’s Website | Book Trailer | Author’s Blog | Facebook
Buy from: Publisher | Amazon | B&N

One-way ticket to Hell.
Bart is a greedy morgue attendant with money on his mind. He gets more than what he bargains for when he chances upon a pain-letter, one he must pass on or bear the consequences of his inaction.
Stan is a chiseler, a fake medium, preying on his unsuspecting clients’ earnings through bogus channeling sessions. When he meets mysterious Joanna Stark, he believes her promises of powers beyond his comprehension, powers blessed by the Netherworld.
Jenna gives up her old life and career to settle down as Troy’s loving wife. He is a God-fearing man who will consent only to marriage. Except fate maps a different ending to their love story, a conclusion that takes them both down and never up again.
Bart, Stan, and Jenna are destined to go on a long and abominable journey that sinks them below their expectations and forces them to endure pain and anguish beyond their worst nightmares.
On the paths leading to the depths of Hell, their sins don’t matter!

Hellbound is in fact a collection of three short stories that deal with hell, in one way or form. In the first short story, Bart is about to enter his own personal hell after finding a Pain Letter on the corpse of a boy who allegedly commited suicide. According to his friend Moe, Pain Letters are the real deal. After some investigation, Bart begins to believe what Moe’s been telling him all along…But by then, it may be too late.

In the second story, Stan, a man posing as a medium, finds himself suddenly able to see ghosts. Unfortunately the ghosts he sees and now channels are completely different from the ghosts he has supposedly been speaking with for months. Some of them are vengeful whereas he portrayed them as forgiving, others are angry, but all of them are equally scary. When not only Stan’s business but also his own sanity begins to suffer from the ghostly apparitions, he decides he must confront the source of them: a strange woman named Jo. But Jo has a story of her own. She died, and now wants to be resurrected. Being a powerful necromancer, she has the power to do so. The only catch? If Stan wants to help her, he has to become a warlock. And that might not be half as pleasant as it sounds at first…

In the third and last story, Jenna sacrificed everything for Troy, the man of her dreams. However, after a loveless marriage lasting seven years, Troy doesn’t only hit her, he’s just about ready to leave her for another woman. In order to take revenge on Troy and get her old life back, Jenna decides to get in touch with her old employer: Lilith.

I was pleasantly surprised with all three stories. Not only are they interesting, they’re also very different from each other. In the first one, I immediately felt sympathetic towards the main character because he gets thrown into an awful situation and can’t do much about it. In the second story, I didn’t like the main character, Stan, that much because he makes a living cheating on people. However, by the end of the story I did begin to like him. Jenna was probably my favorite character though. Although she gave up everything for love, when it came back to bite her in the end, she didn’t hesitate to take revenge.

If you want to read a fun, quick, but scary and disturbing book, look no further. Hellbound is the ideal book to read at night, when the roads to hell are easier to find than during the daytime. For everyone who liked some twisted stories, this is definitely an excellent choice.


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Book Review: No Exit by Julie Harris

13395040Title: No Exit
Author: Julie Harris
Genre: Paranormal, Thriller, Romance
Publisher: Self-Published
Publication Date: January 5th, 2012
Rating: 4,5 stars
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Review copy provided by the author. Visit the author’s website.

Sometimes glimpsing the future can be deadly.
US Navy SEAL Kelly Nolan, who commands a small special ops unit, is assigned duty to protect a Presidential candidate during a visit to England. So what has a woman from half the world away seen that makes them seek her out?
Rebecca Miller is an especially gifted psychic. Two years ago she ‘read’ a US Senator’s wife and although Elizabeth Glover’s fears about her husband’s death were real, Rebecca reassured her that measures would be taken to avoid it. She ‘saw’ two of the people protecting him – a Native American and an old flying buddy. And now, ex fighter pilot and Senator John Glover is a viable Presidential candidate, working hard to get the votes, while Rebecca Miller is invited to speak at a paranormal symposium in London.
At Heathrow, she’s not met by the event organizer, but by two men in military uniforms. One of them, Kelly, a Native American, is vaguely familiar. Has she seen him before? Is this handsome guy really talking to me? she wonders. Yes, he is and she’s now in protective custody… She knows this is about that Senator destined to be President. She has no choice but to go with them.
At the airfield, Rebecca refuses to get into the chopper that awaits because she knows she will die if she goes near it. He might be psychic himself, and he might even like her, but Kelly Nolan’s patience is wearing very thin. Then comes a shot from the woods and Rebecca Miller is dead at his feet.
Rebecca, from the other side of life, is given a choice; she may stay, or return to finish what she started.
After Rebecca wakes on a morgue slab and scares the pants off a medic, Kelly gets the call that she’s alive. Even disbelievers call it a miracle, and those who want John Glover dead return to their drawing boards.
Whatever lies in store for the psychic and the SEAL, life will never be the same again for anyone involved, and many lives change. Some for the better.

No Exit focuses on the story of Rebecca Miller, who happens to be one of the most gifted psychics this world has ever seen. Not only can she occassionally read minds, she also predicts future events, sees glimpses of people’s past and has a connection with an Angel guide named Emmanuel. She can heal the injured, wounded and even the dying. In one instance, she even manages to return from death herself. But naturally, all these gifts come with a very high price. Her own father is afraid of her and has been ignoring her for years. Everyone she meets is interested in what she can do – not in who she really is. She has never gotten any further than a first date with anyone – and she’s already thirty years old. People are lining up to talk to her, but the only true friend she has is her assistant, Annie.

All of that changes, initially for the worst, when she is stopped at the airport in England by a bunch of Nighthawks, a special elite group of soldiers. Two years prior, Rebecca gave a reading to Elizabeth Glover, wife of senator Glover who is now running for president. In that meeting she warned Elizabeth about a possible attack on John Glover’s life. Now, it seems as if her offered advice comes back to kick her in the back. The special Nighthawke forces want to know what’s going on, when the senator’s life will be in danger and how they can stop it. To do that, Rebecca will have to tell them all she can.

Unfortunately, on the way to the helicopter, Rebecca gets shot. Straight through her heart. She dies on the spot. Miraculously enough, she comes back to live an hour and a half later, after consulting with her celestial guide and claiming she still has some work to finish on earth. From that point on, Rebecca lives in the Nighthawk center, undergoes experiments to test how far her psychic powers work, and falls in love with commanding officer Kelly Nolan. They’ve met each other one before, fifteen years ago to be exact, and ever since Kelly has been unable to put that strikingly beautiful and charming girl out of his mind. But now she’s back, as if by some sort of miracle, and he feels drawn to her more than ever.

As Rebecca and Kelly’s relationship unfolds, so do the events around them. Somebody is trying to kill senator Glover. But why? Are the motives primarily political, or do they need to search elsewhere? Is everyone to be trusted, or is possible that there’s a betrayar in the place they least expected – their own base camp?

No Exit is a very fluently written paranormal thriller with intriguing characters and an entertaining storyline. My favorite character was Rebecca. She shows us another side to being a gifted paranormal psychic – the loneliness, the feeling of being used only for your powers, and not for who you really are. While spending time with the soldiers, she discovers things she least expected to find here. Friendship. A sense of being just another regular human being. Maybe even love. Her character development, from a young woman who has build up walls around herself the height of the Chinese Wall, to someone who has more love, compassion and friendship than initially expected. She starts by trusting no one, and eventually goes to trust the people around her. The other main character, Kelly Nolan, is an intriguing person as well. He’s a man defined by his own history and the mistakes he made in the past. Whereas Kelly teaches Rebecca that she deserves to be loved, and that she can trust other people, Rebecca teaches Kelly how to believe in love again, and how to forgive himself for what happened years ago.

If you’re a fan of paranormal thrillers, or just a good romance story, No Exit is definitely worth looking at. The story is very suspenseful, the characters are entertaining and there are some twists and turns to keep you glued to your seat. I finished this book in one setting and would definitely recommend it to all fans of this genre.

Book Review: Abhorsen (The Abhorsen Trilogy #3) by Garth Nix

47666Title: Abhorsen (The Abhorsen Trilogy #3)
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: January 3rd 2005
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Rating: 5 stars

Orannis the Destroyer has been freed…

And only Lirael, newly come into her inheritance as the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, has any chance of stopping it. She and her companions — Sam, the Disreputable Dog, and Mogget — have to take that chance. If Orannis’s unspeakable powers are unleashed, it will mean the end of all Life. With the help of her companions and a vision from the Clayr to guide her, Lirael must search in both Life and Death for some means to defeat the Destroyer — before it is too late…

I already reviewed the first two books of this trilogy, Sabriel and Lirael, and I have to say that out of all three of these books, I enjoyed Abhorsen the most. It’s like everything finally comes together in a great climax: the characters are well-defined and familiar, so we don’t have to get to know them all over again, which brings us straight into the action. Finally we learn why Prince Sameth is scared of the Realm of the Death, why he never wanted to be an Abhorsen, and what the heck he is if he doesn’t fit into that pattern. With the return of my favorite two characters, The Disreputable Dog and Mogget, the charismatic but often incredibly sarcastic cat, and their more prominent roles in this book, we finally learn more about the true nature of Free Magic and why everyone involved is actually…well, involved. The ending has epic proportions and would look great on the big screen.

At the beginning of Abhorsen, we meet up with Lirael and Prince Sameth who’ve set off to rescue Nick, Sam’s old friend from his previous school in Ancelstierre, who unfortunately has had a fragment of The Destroyer placed in his heart, which results in him being the “vessel” of The Destroyer. Under the command and watchful eye of necromancer Hedge, poor Nick – who will now be forced to believe in the magic he claimed was non-existent – is leading the search for two silver hemispheres hidden deep beneath the earth. Each of them holds half of the essence of The Destroyer, and when put together, they can unleash the ancient creature of evil and potentially bring doom to the entire Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre as well. Lirael has finally come to terms with the fact that she’ll never See the future, and is instead learning how to ring the bells like a true Abhorsen does. They fight off Gore Crows, Dead Hands and other memorable creatures on their quest towards Nick – and their quest to save the entire Kingdom. Eventually the battle is brought from the Old Kingdom to the heart of Ancelstierre, where – quite literally – all hell is about to break loose.

Lirael has really grown a lot as a character over the course of the previous book, and this shows especially at the beginning of Abhorsen. Gone is the timid, scared teenager who is devastated over not belonging to the family of the Clayr in the way that she cannot See. Meet instead, our new Abhorsen, ready to challenge even the most fearsome creatures of the Realm of Death in a duel, and ready to fight until the very end. Confident, reassured, intelligent and unnaturally quick to learn the ways those Abhorsen bells work, Lirael is a crafty and skillful opponent. Except that for the numerous Dead unleashed, she’s only a small glitch in the path towards destruction. Sameth has done a lot of growing up as well. Finally finding his place in the world as Wallmaker, and finally realizing why he is the way he is, has done him a lot of good. He no longer doubts himself or his choices in life, and he isn’t worried about the fact that he’s not Abhorsen-material anymore either. It seems as though finally these two youngsters have found their place in the world, and have realized who they truly are inside. And not a moment too soon, because in this book there isn’t a lot of time left to ponder about emotions, life choices and fears.

At the verge of total destruction, the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre have to rely on these two heroes, their sidekicks, and occassional appearances of Sabriel and Prince Touchstone and other familiar characters. We’re thrown right into the action, and see the events unfold before the final countdown. Of all the books in The Abhorsen Trilogy, this one is no doubt the most fast-paced, action-packed and glued-to-your-seat one. The pace does not drop for one single second, the feeling of dread, fear and a soon-to-come climax never dissapears, and it feels like everything just clicks into place. A lot of unanswered questions are explained – some are left unanswered though, leaving room for a possible second trilogy or series – and the ending is cataclysmic to say the least. It’s a battle the size of which can only be compared with the battle at the end of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or at the end of the Harry Potter series. Epic in proportions, the ancient good vs. evil contradiction, and of course, there’s always a price to pay for victory…

Once again, it was Mogget who made the day for me. He is by far the most interesting and loveable character in the entire Trilogy, and Abhorsen is no exception. He has a sarcastic and cynical sense of humor, his loyalties are questionable the say the least, his intentions are not always the right ones, but it’s those little facts, like never knowing whose side he’s really on – probably his own, in the end – that make him all the more entertaining. If Garth Nix ever decides to write a book devoted to Mogget, I’d be the first one in line to buy it. I’m also thinking about starting a Mogget fanclub, complete with T-shirts and cat bells. Donations are welcome and of course, encouraged.

I would also like to applaud Nix’s magic system, which is explained in greater detail in this final installment in the series. While a lot of authors treat magic as a “deus ex machina”, Nix has a well-constructed, metaphysical magic system that is both impressive and unique. His world-building skills, although already shown through the first two books, are even more prominent in the final volume. His characters are well-developed, easy to relate to, and at all times entertaining. He highlights old but often forgotten values like loyalty, friendship, courage, determination, and the value of family, but he also portrays that sometimes these come at a very steep price. Although claimed as being ‘young adult’, I reckon that because these books deal with things like death, loss and severe suffering, they are aimed at an older public, 16-17 and older. I would recommend this final volume in one of the most breathtaking, innovating, enthralling and vivid series to every fantasy fan out there. The Abhorsen Trilogy is sheer brilliance, and I hope Garth Nix shows that brilliance in his other works as well. I am definately impressed.

Book Review: Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy #2) by Garth Nix

47629Title: Lirael (The Abhorsen Trilogy #2)
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: CollinsVoyager
Publication Date: September 1st 2004
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Rating: 4,5 stars

Lirael has never felt like a true daughter of the Clayr. Abandoned by her mother, ignorant of her father’s identity, Lirael resembles no one else in her large extended family living in the Clayr’s glacier. She doesn’t even have the Sight–the ability to See into the present and possibly futures–that is the very birthright of the Clayr.

Nonetheless, it is Lirael in whose hands the fate of the Old Kingdom lies. She must undertake a desperate mission under the growing shadow of an ancient evil–one that opposes the Royal Family, blocks the Sight of the Clayr, and threatens to break the very boundary between Life and Death itself. With only her faithful companion, the Disreputable Dog to help her, Lirael must find the courage to seek her own hidden destiny.

Fourteen years have passed since Sabriel deveated the evil lurking behind The Ninth Gate in the first book in the series, but still there are powers of darkness at work in The Old Kingdom – powers so ancient and devastating that this time, the powers of the Abhorsen alone might not be enough to deliver the kingdom from evil. With Sabriel running off on Abhorsen-duties and King Touchstone working around the clock to keep the kingdom in check, and re-establish old orders long forgotten, it might be up to their children to fight evil this time.

Prince Sameth, the youngest child of the most famous Abhorsen and her equally-famous husband, is taking classes at Ancelstierre and exceeding in all expectations, except those placed on him as future Abhorsen. After a trip to the river Styx gone bad, Sameth is deadly terrified ever to enter the Realm of the Dead again. Unwilling to let his mother, his ancestors and the entire Kingdom down, he tries to hide his fear, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the Kingdom, we meet Lirael. She’s a daughter of the Clayr, one of the important magical families of the Old Kingdom. She is separated from extended family by her strange looks and what’s even worse, her unability to See. Unlike the other Clayr, Lirael has no power to see into the future and, it seems, she is unlikely to ever gain it. What Lirael does have is cleverness and curiosity and an unmistakable talent for magic. However, that doesn’t mean that Lirael isn’t insanely jealous over the other Clayr for being able to See, and that she still feels like an outsider in her own home. Her only refuge is the library. Filled with knowledge and dangers (both remembered and forgotten), the library is a place of seemingly endless proportions. Exploring the library, Lirael’s magical abilities grow and she even forges a companion from Ancient Magic, The Disreputable Dog.

With the dangers of Chlorr of the Mask and the necromancer Hedge lurking about, the Old Kingdom may just have to face its greatest adversaries up till now. But although these two are bad enough on their own, there might be an even greater and more terrifying evil behind them. And Prince Sameth, his best friend Nick and Lirael are right in the middle of it…

It was obvious from the start that Lirael, the main character of this book, has a lot more personality traits going for her than Sabriel. With that, I don’t mean that she’s a more interesting character per sé, she just leaves a more memorable expression in your mind. Why? Because whereas I was convinced the first book in the series, Sabriel, was clearly directed towards an older audience than the book’s apparent genre (young adult), it’s obvious that Lirael is much more like a whining teenager than Sabriel could ever be. And even though I found her at times annoying, and I wanted to slap her across the head on multiple occassions, she isn’t as untouchable, stony and all-mighty powerful as Sabriel was. Don’t get me wrong, Sabriel had issues as well, but she was practically an adult by the time her story started, and in any case she managed to behave herself like one. Lirael on the other hand, is a prime example of how any ordinary teenager reacts to not feeling wanted in her own home, of not being like everyone else, to being an outsider.

Putting that aside though, Lirael is a real crybaby as well. So she doesn’t See and she hardly fits in with the other members of the Clayr. But even when trusted upon with ancient secrets, even when being able to practice such advanced Magic that she manages to create/summon The Disreputable Dog, Lirael still continues to whine and whine and whine. She even thinks about ending her life, because nothing in the world could be more important than Seeing something. It doesn’t once cross her minds that she can do things the other Clayr could never dream of, or that she’s pretty special in her own way. Also, did I mention that she’s remarkably beautiful? So beautiful that people she doesn’t know come to talk to her from the other side of the Clayr’s dining room. Whereas other people would atleast try to have a pleasant conversation, or behave politely, Lirael could care less about other’s feelings, and she doesn’t care about boys admiring her. Why? Because she can’t See. And if you can’t See, in Lirael’s world, then you can’t be pretty/intelligent/nice to hang around with/interesting/special either. That’s how short-sighted the girl really is. She might be more memorable and easier to relate to than Sabriel, but she’s immature and ignorant as well.

Fortunately for us, the reader, she does turn around as the story progresses. Sure, she wasn’t exactly as grateful as I would have liked her to be when she discovered more about her ancestors and her purpose in life, but hey – it’s whiny teenager we’re talking about here. She wouldn’t be grateful if her life depended on it. She loves The Disreputable Dog but hardly realizes what a trustworthy, loyal and strong companion he is. Like everything in her life, she doesn’t respect him/her (what is the dog? a female or a male? I have no idea) the way she should, because he/she didn’t help her to See. Well, boohoo. That’s kind of like saying: everyone in my family is a mime player. If I have no talent whatsoever to be a mime, than everything else in life doesn’t count. Not even if I have the brains and skills to create something that travels faster than the speed of light, or if I can become President of the United States. You know, because I’m not a mime and everyone in my family is a mime. Suuuure, Lirael. Sure. Saving the Old Kingdom vs. being your average, ten in a dozen Seer is so much cooler. Please grow up already.

Prince Sameth has a couple childhood-issues of his own to deal with, but they make him interesting rather than whiny. He struggles with his responsibilities as the next Abhorsen, since he’s terrified of travelling to the Realm of the Dead ever since getting attacked there by an opponent far stronger than he. Instead, he loves to build things. Anything. And he’s actually pretty good at what he does, because his displays of craftmanship are often looked upon respectfully by others who see them. By his own family not so much though. Whereas Lirael doesn’t fit in due to something she had no choice in, Sameth purposefully chooses not to belong to his family. It’s not that he wants it though, it’s that his choices in life, mostly his fears, prevail him from doing what his family expects. Lirael is too ignorant to see the other choices life has given her besides being a Seer, Prince Sameth sees the choices but is too afraid to choose one of them. Teenagers nowadays…Why I liked Sameth more was because his problems seem less due to his own ignorance than to his position and fears. He’s a Prince for god’s sake. Cowardice doesn’t suit the royal blood well, and yet that’s exactly what Sam encounters while venturing to the Realm of the Dead. His own cowardice. The struggle between Sameth and his own fears is an interesting one, a coming-of-age story that’s quite inspiring and puts a lot of thoughts on your mind.

But scratch Lirael’s ignorance and Sameth’s irrational fear. Scratch the evil necromancers Chlorr of the Mask (although I did find her interesting) and Hedge. Because that’s not what makes this book great – although it helps a fair share. It’s Lirael’s ventures into the library, which is an impressive example of world-building skills alltogether with its many secret rooms, its hierarcy of librarians, and its ancient secrets waiting to be unlocked and The Disreputable Dog – a creature of magic more ancient than the Kingdoms itself that make this book interesting. A character of great intelligence, courage and determination, The Dog is also witty, hilarious and highly entertaining. Not as much as Mogget though, who makes another appearance in this book (by far the best scenes, if I’m being honest) and who is still captured by a sleeping-spell causing him to sleep at least fifteen hours a day. I think I might just start a Mogget fanclub soon. Anyone feel like joining?

If you asked me whether I liked Sabriel or Lirael more, I’d have to say that I prefer Lirael. Maybe not for the characters or their incredibly interesting personalities (notice the sarcasm?) but because there weren’t so many things to explain in this book. Whereas in book one, the author still had to introduce us to the world of Ancelstierre and the Old Kingdom, the various ways magic is practiced here, the duties of the Abhorsen and their use of enchanted bells, we already know that by the time we venture into book two. Less explaining to do, more action and dialogue to enjoy. I also enjoyed the fact that whereas Sabriel could be a stand-alone read, Lirael really isn’t. By the end, I couldn’t wait to grab the next book in the trilogy, Abhorsen, and devour it completely in one reading session.

As usually, Garth Nix’s writing style is spot-on. He develops his characters nicely, and even if I find some of their personality traits down-right nauseating, that doesn’t mean that they’re not well-developed, or that they don’t go through some sort of growth-process. Lirael is a fast-paced, action-packed sequel to Sabriel, and exceeds the first novel in the Abhorsen Trilogy in both storyline and plot development. The world we are presented with, from the frosty mountains of the Clayr to the Royal Palace where Sameth resides, is rich, compelling and enthralling. I cannot wait to venture into the world of the Old Kingdom again, and do some more exploring. Recommended to all fantasy fans bored of the elves/humans/dwarfs war triangles, and up for something new and refreshing. The Abhorsen Trilogy will not dissapoint.

Book Review: Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy #1) by Garth Nix

1042542Title: Sabriel (The Abhorsen Trilogy #1)
Author: Garth Nix
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Dark Fantasy
Publisher: CollinsVoyager
Publication Date: May 6th 2003
Rating: 4 stars
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Who will guard the living when the dead arise? Sabriel is sent as a child across the Wall to the safety of a school in Ancelstierre. Away from magic; away from the Dead. After receiving a cryptic message from her father, 18-year-old Sabriel leaves her ordinary school and returns across the Wall into the Old Kingdom. Fraught with peril and deadly trickery, her journey takes her to a world filled with parasitical spirits, Mordicants, and Shadow Hands — for her father is none other than The Abhorson. His task is to lay the disturbed dead back to rest. This obliges him — and now Sabriel, who has taken on her father’s title and duties — to slip over the border into the icy river of Death, sometimes battling the evil forces that lurk there, waiting for an opportunity to escape into the realm of the living. Desperate to find her father, and grimly determined to help save the Old Kingdom from destruction by the horrible forces of the evil undead, Sabriel endures almost impossible challenges whilst discovering her own supernatural abilities — and her destiny.

A wall is the only thing seperating Ancelstierre, a mostly human-inhabited town with technology, electronics and weapons (although one can hardly use any of those things in such close distance to the wall) from the Old Kingdom, a place where strange monsters terrify little children, ancient magic is still practiced often, and necromancers can bring the dead back to life. It’s also the place where Sabriel’s father, the Abhorsen – which is not exactly a name, but more like a rank – is still residing, making sure the dead do what they do best: staying dead. Although the job subscription might sound interesting and honorable at first, it’s a tiring task that brings the Abhorsen from the one end of the Kingdom to the next, and often keeps him away from his daughter.

On recommendation of her father, Sabriel attends a boarding school in Ancelstierre. Although magic is not commonly practiced there, it is at her school, and every single student knows who she is. The daughter of the Abhorsen, destined to be Abhorsen too one day, to learn the Book of the Dead by heart and to spend her entire life chasing dead people on the River of Death and putting them back to rest. But on the day before her scheduled meeting with her father, it is a servant of Death who comes to visit her instead. The only possible conclusion is that Sabriel’s father is in great peril, probably kidnapped or defeated by one of the Higher Dead.

Now, with no one left to stand between the world of the living and the world of the death, Sabriel is the only left who can don the bells of necromancy and use the ancient secrets of charter magic to stop the walking dead from overwhelming the Old Kingdom. Because one of the most powerful entities from the Realm of the Dead has escaped, and he’s out to take revenge, and to reclaim what was once his. The Old Kingdom, and possibly Ancelstierre as well.

There isn’t much I can say about The Abhorsen Trilogy that hasn’t been said before. With his books Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen, Garth Nix crafts a dazzling, strong and compelling fantasy series with highly original concepts, entertaining and genuine-sounding characters, and one of the first series that successfully combines epic and dark fantasy, featuring both a magical Old Kingdom, necromancers and the rising dead. Garth Nix’s cleverness as a writer shows as he manages to create both an instantly addictive plot and an alternate world that seems both halfway familiar but also unsettingly strange. Every day events are colored with references to a most dark past, creatures that once roamed the Old Kingdom, and magics so ancient and strong that they could change the world forever. The plot hardly stops to catch a breath, and I felt quite surprised when I turned the final page. Not that everything hadn’t wrapped up nicely – it had, up to some point, which can be expected from the first book in the trilogy – but because I was surprised that I had already finished reading.

One of the best things about this book, is the distinction between the world on one side of the wall, Ancelstierre for example, filled with technology, cars, etc. and cosely resembling England in the 1930s, whereas the world on the other side of the wall, The Old Kingdom, still dwells in the middle ages and is the setting for magic, ancient bloodlines, prophecies and epic sword-wielding heroes. The world-building is nothing if not impressive, and I must admit that I loved everything Garth Nix introduced: from the island of the Abhorsen, to the Realm of the Death, to the Perimeter in front of the wall. He manages to provide his readers with an impressive amount of information in a short period of time, without ever going overboard or letting the plot slow down.

Sabriel is unlike any fantasy heroine I’ve come across in literature. She’s no damsel in distress or fierce warrior woman or almost-invincible sorceress. In fact, she’s a young adult who happened to inherit some wicked powers and is still struggling to make them work as they should, and who, on top of that, needs to rescue her father from the Realm of the Dead. She acts and behaves not like your average fantasy character – full of courage, determined, grown up beyond her years – but as a real human being would do: devastated, scared, but with the knowledge that, if anyone is to rescue her father, it will have to be her. Which involuntarily brings her to a position of responsibility, although her eighteen-year-old self would love nothing more than to stay as far away from those responsibilities as possible. She’s intelligent enough to know when to stay and fight – and not foolishly courageous as some fantasy heroes, who in the end have to rely on a deus ex machina to deliver them from their perils – and when to run as far away as possible as fast as possible.

I have to admit that the other characters, especially Touchstone, Sabriel’s prince-in-distress (it’s nice to switch a damsel for a prince for once) are a bit flat. And ‘a bit flat’ might be an understatement. I was occassionally worrying, especially the fifty first page Touchstone made his appearance, if he had any personality at all. It reminded me faintly of fairytales, wherein we get to follow the prince from page one, as he goes through trial after trial to save his beloved princess, who we only meet briefly because she’s locked up in an enchanted tower (castle/hidden by a dragon/sleeping a hundred years/a kitchen maid/insert whatever you like) and all we know about her is that she’s beautiful, fair and good-natured. Except here Sabriel is the brave and intelligent prince, and Touchstone is the princess, whose only mentionable character traits are that he’s fairly good-looking and he spend a couple of centuries turned into stone. So maybe that’s enough to make someone loose their personality alltogether, but I highly doubt it. For all I care, Touchstone could have never turned human again, and Sabriel could have just brought him along in stone-shape for the rest of the book, because he would have an equally charming personality (none whatsoever) and he would have done equally important things for the plotline (none whatsoever). Also, it was a bit too coincedental that Sabriel just happened to stumble upon the only living (well…turned into stone, but you get my point) prince of the Old Kingdom just then, and just happened to reinstall monarchy as a side-effect of her adventure. Yeah, right.

But whereas Touchstone has the personality of a bumblebee, there is one person (well, not exactly a person…) who makes up for any personality traits the other characters seem to be lacking. So much even that when Garth Nix would decide to write a novel focused on this character alone, I would literally run to the nearest book store to purchase myself a copy. It’s like in Raymond E. Feist’s The Riftwar Saga books, where all characters are pretty decent and fun, but there’s one character – in that case, Jimmy The Hand – who stands out so much from the others, because he’s intelligent, hilarious, cunning, mischievous and everything that makes him so much more interesting than all the other characters. The Abhorsen Trilogy has such a character as well, although it doesn’t come in the form of an actual human being here. Mogget, the touch of brilliance in this book, is not a human, but a cat. Or at least, he’s a being crafted from Free Magic and trapped into cat form by a collar. Where his true allegiances lie – with the people who bound him to his animal form, the Abhorsens, who he has served faithfully for thousands of years (but only because he had to) – or with the dark side, is a question that’s not answered in this book, and that leaves the readers guessing. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Whether Mogget is doublecrossing Sabriel, whether he has his own secret agenda, or whether he’s actually pretty decent and has grown to like The Abhorsens (or at least Sabriel and her father) remains a mystery, but it does not do anything for Mogget’s coolness. It only adds to the depths of his character. He is hilarious, intelligent, witty, sometimes even downright mean, and I love him all the more for it. A nice bonus is that he’s just so cat-like in his behavior. Sure, he talks, he gives sly remarks to Sabriel when she appears to ask stupid questions, and he has occassional comments about Prince Touchstone, but he also cries for fish all the time, and he bites people to get their attention. You can’t tell me that’s not cat-like.

One of my only concerns with this book though is that it’s promoted as being a young adult fantasy book, but it does rank pretty high on the age-list to be strictly young adult in my opinion. There are no sex scenes or anything, and it doesn’t really get beyond the occassional kiss, but that’s not what’s bothering me in the age-range choice for this book. What bothers me, is the dark subject matter this book deals with. Alright so, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is pretty dark too, and that’s young adult-oriented as well, but still I can’t help but feel like they’ve missed the mark here. It’s obvious that when Garth Nix wrote this book, he wasn’t aiming it at young adults either. Sure, his main character is barely eighteen years old, but he doesn’t once hesitate to raise the dead from their early graves, to make them bounce around like ragdolls, or to write blood and gore into every scene that could possibly need it. The subjects he addresses are dark and serious as well. The obvious focus point of this book is life and death, the borderline inbetween, the afterlife and everything after that. He doesn’t take death as a laughable subject in his book (the zombies are NOT hilarious, they’re rather scary in fact, death is not the key to some immortal life filled with happiness and joy) and I can’t help but think that this book was aimed more at adults from the start, and was never intended for a young adult public. Nowadays, publishers often think the only reason to promote a book as being ‘adult’ is when there are very graphic sexual scenes in it. Newsflash, that’s not the case. Talking about death and the afterlife, and imagining hordes of zombies taking on the main characters of a book, can be equally disturbing to youngsters as a sex scene in a book. Just saying.

Sabriel does not dissapoint. It’s epic fantasy, but with an entirely new layer added on top of it. There’s something in it for everyone: romance, the occassional drama, a well-developed and thought-through magic system, most impressive world-building mixing elements from the previous century and from “standard” medieval epic fantasy, entertaining characters and one of the most brilliant and well-crafted characters I’ve ever read about. I recommend this book to all fans of epic and dark fantasy, and to everyone whose ready to try out something new. Even if you’ve given up on the fantasy-genre alltogether, convinced that after reading Tolkien you’ve read it all, you still should give Sabriel a chance.