Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge – 7.5/10 (Kindle version)
This book felt to me like an extended fairytale, and I guess that’s what it’s supposed to be. I read a lot of good reviews of both the book and the author, so was excited to find out what all the fuss was about, and I wasn’t really let down. So the story goes: Triss wakes up one morning not feeling herself. Her family explain she’s been in some sort of accident, but she doesn’t remember it. Trying to find out what has happened, she discovers the pages in her diary have been ripped out. Her memories of her life before are still all there in her head, but don’t feel quite right, and she can’t seem to find her way through the house properly. It is put down to illness based on her accident, although we all know there’s something more to it than that, especially when her dolls start to scream at her and both in retaliation and through insatiable hunger, she eats one of them. It becomes clear there’s more to this than just Triss, including the mysterious things her little sister Pen is doing, the strange thing she sees in her older brother Sebastian’s room, who died at war years before, and the way her parents talk about her and the situation when they think she can’t hear. Without giving it all away, it transpires that she is, quite literally, not herself, and that she has to team up with her sister, who appears to hate her for an unknown reason, and travel to the “Underbelly” of the city to find the truth and unravel the situation.
There are plenty of fairytale elements going on in the book entwined into the city of the day (which is at an unspecified point in the past), making it seem almost as if the story could have really happened, despite the surreal and magic elements to it. I would say it’s another YA read, but erring on the creepier side. I loved the relationship between the sisters, the way it develops and changes, and Pen is just a fantastic character in general – so spiky, fiery and brave, despite being only young. It was a fairly quick read for, quite easy to get through, and I would definitely recommend it.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – 8/10 (Kindle version)
So I mentioned I read a lot while being delirious and ill, and this one got devoured in a single day, along with the one below too! Although the subject matter was not the greatest choice when I had flu, considering it begins with an estimated 99% of the earth’s population dying from the Georgia Flu…oops! Onto the story though: we actually start at a production of King Lear, where the main actor, a famous Hollywood actor, Arthur Leander, falls to the floor dead almost immediately from a heart attack. While a little girl sits and watches on stage, a paramedic in training, Jeevan, from the audience leaps up to try to save him to no avail and the curtain falls. This seems almost irrelevant when the next thing to come is a warning to Jeevan that the Georgia flu has reached America, then that is spreading, then to lock himself away immediately before he too catches it. Within a matter of hours, the hospitals are filled with patients, and within days most of the population of America has died. 20 years later, we join the Travelling Symphony, including the little girl, Kirsten, now woman, who saw Arthur die on stage all those years ago; it is a group of survivors, travelling from one “town” to the next, each made of mostly only 5 or 6 families now and sparsely spread, performing music and Shakespeare to keep spirits high. We flit between the new present world of survivors, the world as it was before, including the story of Arthur’s life with his 3 ex-wives, focusing in on the first one and Jeevan’s life as a paparazzo, then entertainment journalist, then paramedic, bouncing off Arthur’s life occasionally. We also see a bit of the intervening years between now and the “end of the world”, and find out why the little things, such as the comic books entitled “Station Eleven” that Kirsten carries around, mean so much to her, and how they fit in to the story.
The current storyline sees the Travelling Symphony reaching a town, leaving quickly when they realise the state it has come to as a “cult” under the “Prophet” and that the friends they left there 2 years ago have moved on to the “Museum of Civilisation” at an airport a fair journey away. The group is inexplicably split though, and it becomes apparent how dangerous the new world is, even 20 years after the apocalypse when guns are really now only used for hunting, gasoline is stale and there are so few people left.
By now you should now that I like post-apocalyptic and dystopian world books, so this was always going to be along the right lines for me. I really liked the way that there was a good balance between the current story, the past story, the mixed up characters and their relationships to one another, and the descriptions of the world itself. Sometimes with these type of books, there will be too much focus on the characters getting through the new world, or too much on the new world itself, but this struck a good balance between them. I really liked the way the story came together; small parts throughout the book had relevance later and everything tied up neatly. It’s a fascinating study of society and how it might continue after the world as we know it has ended, how relationships go on, and what’s meaningful to you in your life before might change or might stay the same. I’d definitely recommend this one, a very good read, and one of my favourites recently.
BloodLight: The Apocalypse of Robert Goldner – 3.5/10 (Kindle version)
So, I’ve had some good books this month, some not so good, and some ones that I really haven’t enjoyed, and unfortunately this one was the latter. To be honest, it’s my fault for not reading further into the blurb: I should warn you now, this is not the YA book it seems to be at first glance, it is a surreal, metaphysical fantasy book that’s dark and strange. It does seem like it might be for me, but in the end it turned out not to be.
At the beginning, it seems to be about a teenage black boy (the colour of his skin is emphasised very much, both through his own thoughts and through taunts throughout the book) struggling through his school career in high school wrestling and with “friends” that seem much more like bullies to me. Some strange descriptions are going on though, such as the very beginning where he is seemingly being attacked by snowmen, and despite his protests that he doesn’t drink or take drugs, I thought it was to sway the reader or least show the beginnings of a mental breakdown. There are plenty of struggles with racism and homophobia, as well as the mentions that shortly before his mother was murdered, she called him a mistake, and that stuck with him. To me, I was imagining a boy struggling to come to terms with his identity has a breakdown. So it seemed, until it took a few turns I didn’t fully get, and which I know understand more that I’ve read the description more thoroughly.
The book is in three parts – part one, he begins having strange hallucinations, then goes crazy and passes out a wrestling match after performing some illegal moves. Part two, he is partially recovered, but then begins having more hallucinations which become worse and worse. Part three, what seems to be a complete breakdown on his birthday sends him into an alternate reality of his body and mind where supposedly “truths” are revealed to him – this was the metaphysical part of the book.
There are lots of Biblical elements going on throughout the story too, and the question the book is supposedly answering is “What would happen if God went mad?”. While it is an interesting concept, I don’t think it’s done well enough for me to enjoy it. I started the book thinking it was a bit of a rubbish YA book, it didn’t seem to be dealing well with the concepts it was presenting, but then dived headfirst into this metaphysical prose, which to be honest I had enough of with my ancient philosophy modules at uni! The two sides of the book clashed horribly for me, but since I never put a book down, I persevered, and ended up disappointed unfortunately. It’s not for me, but may be for someone else. As you can see, there’s a lot to it, not a lot of which appeals to me, but may for you.
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