Caraval by Stephanie Garber

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Title: Caraval

Author: Stephanie Garber

Genre: Fantasy/YA

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 31 January 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 402

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems.

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

~*~

Caraval begins with a series of letters between Scarlett and Legend, the owner of Caraval over several years. Trapped on Trisda, one of the Occupied Isles, Scarlett’s only chance of escape, and her sister’s only chance – is the marriage her father, Governor Dragna – has arranged. Scarlett only has letters from her betrothed to go on, and so believes he is a kind man, yet she does not know his name. Scarlett’s mother disappeared many years ago, a mystery that nobody has solved. Scarlett and Tella long to get out from under the control of their father. When tickets arrive from Master Legend they see their chance and, Julian, a sailor, agrees to take them. Little do they know that everyone heading to Caraval will have ulterior motives, and things won’t be what they seem at Caraval.

Set in a fantasy world where dresses change colour and style, and where people are simply actors in a game, controlled by someone with strange powers, Caraval holds back as much as it delivers to the reader. Some secrets are kept secret, and it is not clear who can be trusted – can anyone be trusted? It is a game where participants follow the clues to win a coveted prize – one that some might even kill for – the dangers of Caraval and to Scarlett and her sister, Tella are everywhere, even at Caraval. Scarlett must work out if she can trust Julian – is he who he says he is, or does he know more about the journey to Caraval and her fiancé than he lets on?

Caraval had a nice balance of the fantasy, the adventure, and love – between sisters, and other kinds of love that develop throughout the story. Scarlett’s drive to find her sister is at first driven by her need to get home for her wedding, and is therefore her participation in the game takes time to evolve. Given that she has lived in fear of her father, her change in tactic and self-sacrifice soon comes through and she is caught up in the game, hurtling towards a disastrous series of events she could never see coming – it surprised me, as did the ending. The intrigue carried through the entire novel, and I hope there is a follow-up, because the ending felt complete in some ways but not in others.

A great read for fans of fantasy, Young Adult and a touch of genre blending that creates a storyline that kept me reading for hours. It is a delightful first novel from a debut writer, Stephanie Garber.

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Frostblood by Elly Blake

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Title: Frostblood

Author: Elly Blake

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 10th January 2017

Format: paperback

Pages: 376

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The first in a page-turning young adult series in a world where flame and ice are mortal enemies.

In a land governed by the cruel Frostblood ruling class, seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has spent most of her life hiding her ability to manipulate heat and light – until the day the soldiers come to raid her village and kill her mother. Ruby vows revenge on the tyrannous Frost King responsible for the massacre of her people.

But Ruby’s powers are unpredictable…and so are the feelings she has for Arcus, the scarred, mysterious Frostblood warrior who shares her goal to kill the Frost King, albeit for his own reasons. When Ruby is captured by the Frost King’s men, she’s taken right into the heart of the enemy. Now she only has one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who took everything from her – and in doing so, she must unleash the powers she’s spent her whole life withholding.

FROSTBLOOD is set in world where flame and ice are mortal enemies – but together create a power that could change everything.

~*~
Ruby’s life is one of peace and quiet, but also fear. She must hide her Fireblood talent from the world because of a ruthless King, determined to continue the war that the country has been in, and who is also determined to enforce Frostblood rule over everyone. After her unpredictable powers lead to betrayal, death and imprisonment, Ruby must train to destroy the ruler everyone fears, whilst learning to control her powers. She is rescued by an order of monks and a young man, Arcus, who hides secrets as well – secrets that cannot be revealed, much like the plan the monks have devised to destroy the Frost King, King Rasmus, with the Ruby’s help. Yet there is a darkness that Ruby must fight to gain control of, and with the help of the monks, Arcus, Marella and a few other unlikely Frostblood allies, she is destined, to overcome this darkness.

Ruby’s character overcomes several obstacles on her journey that make her into a flawed and believable character, one who has the potential for good or evil, depending on the perspective of the people she is with. Her reasons for revenge against the Frost King differ to those of Arcus, however, they will find that if they combine these reasons, they will be stronger together, and be able to fight together effectively.

Elly Blake’s debut novel introduces the reader to a world where fire and ice are enemies, where prejudice is built into a class system where abilities that haven’t been asked for are either valued, or hunted down and feared. In a way this mirrors our own world, where certain characteristics and features that people have no control over are valued more than others, or denigrated in the favour of others – whether consciously or subconsciously. In Ruby’s world – Tempesia – these prejudices are ingrained and conscious – for many characters, they fear the repercussions of speaking out, or not going against the ruling class – perhaps another real world parallel that can be found in history. Old stories and rumours are used to justify actions in Blake’s world – and she has effectively shown the spectrum of the prejudice, and how people can learn to trust those whom they’ve been taught to hate, and how hate can only take a person so far – that loyalty and friendship is stronger.

I only wished we found out more about Marella, another intriguing character with shades of grey. A member of the Frostblood court, befriending a Fireblood at great risk to her life, yet still withholding some information can make for an interesting character when done right – and the set up by Elly Blake seems to have started something with great potential.

I enjoyed this debut novel and introduction to a new series – I hope that book two is not far behind, and that the adventures of Ruby and Arcus continue. In a world ruled by frost, can frost and fire ever work together? We shall have to see what the following books have in store.

A great read for fantasy lovers and readers of YA fiction. A novel with a touch of Frozen magic about it, yet a little more complex, Frostblood will hopefully become a much loved series to sit alongside Narnia and Harry Potter.

The Farm At The Edge of The World by Sarah Vaughan

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I received a copy from the publisher for review

 

Title: The Farm At The Edge of The World

Author: Sarah Vaughan

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette/Hodder and Stoughton

Published: 28/6/2016

RRP: $32.99

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

 

Synopsis: 1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.

 

 

But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour – but has she left it too late?

 

 

2014, and Maggie’s granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn’t wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?

 

 

This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt, regret and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It’s about small lies and dark secrets. But above all it’s about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.

 

~*~

 

The Farm at The Edge of the World tells a dual story about the same family. Maggie’s story spans seventy years, and is intermingled with the contemporary story of her granddaughter, Lucy. Lucy has escaped to the farm after a relationship breakdown and is on leave from work after making an error that could have had disastrous consequences.

The intrigue of the novel is woven throughout the narrative, switching back and forth at the right time to keep the reader engaged. The use of different tenses for the different time periods is effective, allowing the reader to take note of the past versus the present. As Maggie recalls the days of the war and the presence of the evacuees, Will and Alice, and what led to a betrayal that could never be forgiven, Maggie’s granddaughter, Lucy, hopes a visit to the farm will help her work out what she needs to do with her life, and help her heal some wounds from a broken marriage and near-tragic mistake.

Over the course of the book, both Maggie and Lucy grapple with secrets and struggles that have made them who they are, and impact their emotions in the book. The opening of the book invites the reader into the mystery, wanting to know more as the story unfolds. As the book climaxes, and secrets come out, the family begins to heal and understand what has driven Maggie to want to keep the farm, rather than sell it. When reading this story, I was transported to a part of the world I wish to visit, and to a past time when expectations were different, when war plagued the world but human emotions and desires were very much the same.

Reading this book was a joy, and not quite what I expected, but in a good way: it had history, romance, conflict – a variety of themes that created a well-rounded story, that had more motives for the characters to give them more drive, which made reading it a delight and far too easy to keep reading late into the night. Sarah Vaughan has written a beautiful novel. Using World War Two, and the evacuee situation as a backdrop made the novel enjoyable.