The Starkin Crown by Kate Forsyth

starkin crown.jpgTitle: The Starkin Crown

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 1st May 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 285

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Last, the smallest and the greatest…
Though he must be lost before he can find,
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see,
The true king of all he shall be.

Prince Peregrine, rightful heir to the starkin and wildkin crowns, longs for adventure. But Vernisha the Vile, who seized the starkin throne, seeks to destroy Peregrine, his family, and all the wildkin of Ziva.

With Stormlinn Castle under attack, Peregrine flees with his best friend, Jack, and Lady Grizelda – a starkin girl. Together they seek the Spear of the Storm King – the long-lost weapon which, it is prophesied, will destroy the starkin throne.

But a hunter is on their tail and someone close doesn’t want them to succeed…

~*~

In the twenty-five years since the events of The Wildkin’s Curse, the true prince, who has starkin, hearthkin and wildkin blood, Peregrine, has been born. He has spent his life going between Stormlinn and the home of Briony, the Erlrune. Vernisha the Vile has seized the throne and driven our heroic families from the trilogy away, sending them into hiding and fighting battles as they try to reclaim the throne, and as Vernisha tries to destroy them.

As Yule celebrations begin, Peregrine’s parents – Liliana and Merry – send him off to the Erlrune with his squire, Jack, and the starkin girl who says she has come to warn them of impending invasion, Lady Grizelda. However, they are led upon another path by Stiga to find the Spear of the Storm King – and are pursued by Vernisha’s army along the way. As betrayal hangs in the air, Peregrine and his companions’ journey into unknown areas of Ziva to restore order to their world.

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In the conclusion to the Estelliana Chronicles, the third child of the prophecy, Peregrine takes centre stage as he seeks to help his family.  The final two books in this trilogy are recent acquisitions and this is the first time I had read them both, yet the first, The Starthorn Tree, was the very first Kate Forsyth book I ever bought and read, drawn to the flying horse on the cover. So when I discovered years later that there were two follow up books, I got them as I found them, and have been meaning to read them for ages – and since reorganising my shelves, I have found them all and been able to read them all together. And I have thoroughly enjoyed them, and the world they create.

As in many of her books, there are fairy tale motifs of princesses in towers, prisoners in towers, and prophecies and spells that lead to a satisfying conclusion as the heroes go on their journeys and quests to save the kingdom. Each book is unique and special and has something delightful about it. In this one, we have one companion who is not what they seem, as seeds of mistrust are planted early on. These seeds simmer throughout the week and a half long journey of the novel, coming to a head towards the end, when the prophecy begins to reveal its answers.

Throughout the journey, Peregrine, Jack and Grizelda face many challenges – and questioning of loyalties is threaded throughout the book. Who is loyal, and who is not? What does Grizelda want, and why has she suddenly appeared? These, and many more questions are constantly at play, as our heroes seek to save their home and unite the land of Ziva.

What I loved about this book was that it combined adventure, danger and wonder to conclude the story and unite the starkin, hearthkin and wildkin – a goal that began back in The Starthorn Tree with Mags, Briony, Lisandre, Pedrin and Durrik as they sought to save Lord Zygmunt from a strange, cursed sleep. From here, the journey to reunite the land under one who has the blood of starkin, hearthkin and wildkin has enthralled me, and I have wanted to see how it concludes, and where it takes the readers and characters.

I am so glad I was finally able to get to these books – there are very few Kate Forsyth books I have read now and am keen to get to the ones I still need to read, as well as read a few favourites again. I am also looking forward to more books from Kate in the coming years, as she continues to be one of my favourite Australian authors.

The Wildkin’s Curse by Kate Forsyth

wildkins curseTitle: The Wildkin’s Curse

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 380

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Three times a babe shall be born,
between star-crowned and iron-bound.
First, the sower of seeds, the soothsayer,
though lame, he must travel far.
Next shall be the king-breaker, the king-maker,
Though broken himself he shall be.
Last, the smallest and the greatest –
in him, the blood of wise and wild,
farseeing ones and starseeing ones.
Though he must be lost before he can find,
Though, before he sees, he must be blind,
If he can find and if he can see,
The true king of all he shall be.

Merry, Zed and Liliana – three children born between those of hearthkin blood and starkin blood – are on a perilous quest to the Palace of Zarissa. Amid the splendour and treachery of court, they watch and wait: planning the rescue of Princess Rozalina, held captive in the dazzling Tower of Stars.

And as their pasts and presents unfold, their destinies become clear.

The engrossing companion to The Starthorn Tree by one of Australia’s best fantasy storytellers, Kate Forsyth.

Zedrin is a starkin lord, and heir to the Castle of Estelliana.

Merry is a hearthkin boy, the son of the rebel leader.

Liliana is a wildkin girl, with uncanny magical powers.

They must journey on a secret mission to rescue a wildkin princess from her imprisonment in a crystal tower. Princess Rozalina has the power to enchant with words – she can conjure up a plague of rats or wish the dead out of their graves. When she casts a curse, it has such power it will change her world forever. Set in a world of monsters and magical creatures, valiant heroes and wicked villains, The Wildkin’s Curse is a tale of high adventure and true love.

~*~

Sixteen years after The Starthorn Tree, Merry and Zed are fulfilling their parents’ promise – they have gone to live with Briony the Erlrune. Here, they meet Liliana, a wildkin girl who hates the starkin but is forced to work with Zed and Merry on a secret mission – they must collect seven feathers from seven birds to break a curse and save Princess Rozalina – doing so will set their land on a path to peace once the blood of the starkin, hearthkin and wildkin are united.

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Their mission is dangerous, and as they venture further into the land of Ziva, they encounter many dangers, but grow closer together as they begin to understand their mission and each other. Filled with fantasy creatures, magic and elements of fairy tale, this is a stunning companion to The Starthorn Tree. It continues the story seamlessly, but at the same time, enough hints are given that they can be read as stand-alone books, though work better read together, and I am going to read the final book – The Starkin Crown – soon.

The dangerous mission is filled with monsters and moments of terror – when you think the characters won’t get out of it – but of course, as in fairy tales, they do. I couldn’t decide who my favourite was – they were all such wonderful characters, but I think my favourite moment was when Priscilla, Zed’s sister, dressed in clothing a starkin wouldn’t usually wear, and pushed the sinister Zakary over when he tries to force her to marry him. Each character is complex, and this was definitely a delightful moment in the book as the characters worked towards uniting their land. There were many moments I enjoyed – this was just the stand-out for me.

These books are beautifully written and evoke all the classic archetypes of fairy tale quests but with unique twists that place the girls and women at the centre of the story and with great agency and powers, whilst still containing nods to Rapunzel and her tower. The role of towers is common in Kate’s books, and as a fellow fairy tale scholar, I love reading her works, and seeing how she’s incorporated the tower and Rapunzel story into her work. These fairy tale elements are seamlessly and creatively woven throughout – they might be more obvious in the children’s books, or certain adult books, but they are always there.

Another brilliant offering from Kate Forsyth that I loved as I work my way through her books that I have not yet read or not read for some time – there are ones I wish to re-read and hopefully, can get to them soon.

The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1) by Kate Forsyth

starthorn treeTitle: The Starthorn Tree (The Chronicles of Estelliana  #1)

Author: Kate Forsyth

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st May 2002

Format: Paperback

Pages: 500

Price: $16.95

Synopsis:

Under winter’s cold shroud, the son of light lies.

Though the summer sun burns high in the skies.

With the last petal of the starthorn tree

His wandering spirit shall at least slip free…

Nothing can save him from this bitter curse,

But the turning of time itself inverse.

The young Count of Estelliana lies sleeping as still and cold as if he was dead. His mysterious slumber has subjected the people of his land to the harsh rule of Lord Zavion, the cold and ruthless Regent.  But when Durrik, the son of the town’s bell-crier, involuntarily prophesizes the count’s death before the entire starkin court, he catapults himself and his best friend Pedrin into the adventure of their lives.

Pursued by starkin soldiers, they must seek refuge in the Perilous Forest, home to the dangerous and unpredictable wildkin. It is only when they are forced into the company of the spoilt starkin princess, Lisandre and her servant-girl Briony that they begin to realise the meaning of Durrik’s riddle. But if they are to waken the count and save their people, they must survive the hazards of the forest where the sinister Erlrune of Evenlinn awaits them…

~*~

The Starthorn Tree was one of those books I just happened to stumble across at the age of sixteen during a visit to the big three level Dymocks in the city. I was looking for something new to read when my eyes fell on this book in the children’s section. It was the first Kate Forsyth book I picked up, and had an autographed edition sticker on it – my first for both, and as I found out from Kate over the weekend after showing her a picture, it is also a first edition – I will be hanging onto this one!

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The Starthorn Tree begins with Durrik and Pedrin listening to orders from the bell-crier, set forth by the Regent for the coming summer for all boys their age to help build a tower. But during a dinner at the palace, Durrik has a vision of the death of the count, stuck in an everlasting sleep in the palace, unable to be awoken by any remedies. He has been struck down by the same mysterious drink that took the life of his father and several others. Fleeing their home, Durrik and Pedrin soon stumble across Lisandre and Briony – and together, they venture deeper into the Perilous Forest, searching for a way to save Lisandre’s brother, the count. But with Zavion’s spies after them, and danger looming from the wildkin – can the four children – a combination of starkin, wildkin and hearthkin, find a way to work together and save their beloved country?

With each of her novels, Kate Forsyth works fairy tale motifs into them. Towers, those stuck in an enchanted sleep, princesses, and many more to create her stories. Drawing on this rich and diverse fairy tale history, she creates worlds like Estelliana that are captivating and when reading, it feels like no time has passed and as though you are within the story itself, so it felt like the pages just flew by. In this one, she sets everything up well, and the journey is both exciting and filled with peril, creating a fantasy world that has everything from Australia’s master storyteller. The amount of fantasy novels written by Australian authors has boomed since 2002 – but Kate Forsyth’s Starthorn books and her Eileanan books are the first ones I remember seeing, buying and reading – though I am sure there were others. It was these books that were my gateway into Kate Forsyth’s books and works as a whole, and I have a great many on my shelf today.

I could not put this one down and am starting the second one as soon as I am able to over the next few days. This was Kate’s first book for children as well – so many firsts with this book for her and me – which makes it really special. I am keen to see where The Wildkin’s Curse takes us – and how things have changed in Estelliana since Durrik, Briony, Pedrin and Lisandre’s original journey.

The Honourable Thief by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

the honourable thief.jpgTitle: The Honourable Thief

Author: Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 31/7/2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: ‘Achilles? Because…?’
‘Obsession of mine. Half man, half god – and his own worst enemy. 
My kind of man.’ He laughed.

Istanbul, Turkey 1955

Benedict Hitchens, once a world-renowned archaeologist, is now a discredited – but still rather charming – shell of his former self.

Once full of optimism and adventure, his determination to prove that Achilles was a real historical figure led him to his greatest love, Karina, on the island of Crete and to his greatest downfall, following the disappearance of an enigmatic stranger, Eris.

He has one last chance to restore his reputation, solve the mystery of Eris and prove his Achilles theory. But it is full of risk, and possibly fatal consequences…

In her breakout novel, Meaghan Wilson Anastasios weaves an action-packed tale of honour, passion, heroes and thieves across an epic backdrop of history.

~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseIn 1955, archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is searching for proof that Achilles, a hero from the Trojan War legends, was a real person, and not just a myth in Homer’s Iliad and other interpretations of the Trojan War myth cycle. This is the main crux for the novel, despite there being no evidence to suggest Achilles existed, and it makes for a very compelling story about the intersection of mythology, history and archaeology, especially given that in ancient history, archaeological remains are perhaps what tell us the most about a society where written records may be mythology based or fragmented. But there is more to Benedict (Ben) than discovering the burial place and shield of Achilles. It’s been ten years since World War Two ended, and he is living with the scars and memories of loss, and tragedy that will never leave him. Living a lonely existence on archaeological digs across the peninsular that was home to the Trojans and the islands of Greece, such as Crete, where the Minoan and Mycenean civilisations thrived, Ben has become obsessed with proving the existence of Achilles.

This obsession deepens when he stumbles across the mysterious Eris, travelling to a home in Turkey where she reveals a cache of hidden treasures and archaeological finds that are linked to the period of history he is obsessed with, that he hopes will lead him to Achilles and in the aftermath of his fall from grace as an archaeologist, he hopes the discovery will restore his reputation.

But Eris has secrets, secrets she’s not willing to share with Ben, and throughout the novel, his encounters with Eris, Ilhan, a shady figure whose dealings helped bring about Ben’s downfall, and many other nefarious people, weave a mystery through the novel – the disappearance of Eris and the treasures, thieves, and forgery in the archaeological and ancient art community comes to light, and Ben is caught up in this web, finding items in unconventional ways, where he doesn’t realise whom it is for, and where secret upon secret is layered on to ensure he does not find out the truth.

The end was quite the surprise – equal parts unexpected and something I thought might happen, and as the novel moved back and forth between Ben’s present and his past, his motivations and reasons for feeling what he felt at times became clear, though there was always a sense that a Big Bad Thing had happened and happened to someone Ben cared about very deeply.

As a student of ancient history, the references to Crete, the Minoans, Homer and his lliad were some of my favourite things about the book – they instantly fell into a timeline in my head of this period and imagined him traipsing around the various sites such as Knossos and Troy in Turkey, where Schliemann excavated during the nineteenth century. It was an aspect of the novel I really enjoyed and found engaging, just as much as the mystery was, which mainly took place in Turley and Greece, but occasionally went back to England and America. It is a gripping novel, where action and adventure, history and mythology intersect to create a chase to solve a question and obsession that has plagued Ben, and that he will do anything to ensure finds its rightful place in history.

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The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

the burning chambersTitle: The Burning Chambers

Author: Kate Mosse

Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 24th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 608

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties…

Carcassonne 1562: Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: SHE KNOWS THAT YOU LIVE.

But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes her destiny forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.

Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.

Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power…

~*~

In 1562, France is caught in a war between the Catholics and the Huguenots – a Protestant movement who faced persecution from the Catholics and were called heretics. Carcassonne and Toulouse are at the centre of this novel, where Minou Joubert is charged with taking care of her brother – Aimeric, sister – Alis and the bookstore that her father owns in his absence when she stumbles upon a Will, and a note delivered to her, inscribed with She knows that you live. And so, Minou sets off on a journey to discover the person behind the note and find her father, and ask about her past, and makes discoveries that will forever change her life. Amidst this mystery, is the backdrop of religious conflict between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the latter considered to be heretics, and the ownership of a Protestant Bible feared. On her journey, Minou meets Piet Reydon, a Huguenot convert, who has his own mission. Their missions and tasks will cross paths, leading to a confrontation where it seems those who want them dead, such as the mistress of Puivert, where Bernard Joubert was headed, might just succeed.

The Wars of Religion in France were a sequence of eight civil wars between the Catholics and the Huguenots, ending in millions dead or displaced over the thirty-six-year conflict. If modern wars are much to go by – I don’t think very much has changed since the 1560s.  In a time of darkness and brutality, Kate Moss has done an excellent job showcasing this dark history for what it was, and what it meant to so many – that two factions of the same religion, who followed the same God, and a similar religious text to fall into war seems unfathomable these days, yet for people like Minou and Piet, was very real, and very harsh.

It is a very long book – dense with historical fact, and strong women who did what they could to fit in, were strong and brave and yet at the same time, appropriate for their time – they knew what they had to do, and how to act. Minou, the main character, is caught between these wars and her heritage – she has always known she is not quite like her family – and the way Mosse has dealt with this ensures the mystery is intriguing and holds its own for the entire book, and is also sensitive, showing that Minou’s heritage was something that was worth another woman pursuing her over, going to extreme lengths to draw Minou into her deluded game of cat and mouse. It is this mystery that drives the novel, and the shorter chapters in italics are at first a mystery, making the reader wonder who this person could be – until later in the novel, when things start to become a little clearer, but are still a little murky and need to be resolved. Opening 300 years in the future in South Africa – a time and place that we will hopefully return to soon, hints at what is to come, in a strange yet mystical way. What connection do these characters have with those in 1562?

It is a dark history, and the book is one that a genre cannot be pinned down to. It has history, mixed with suspense, with a touch of romance woven throughout that happens as the war progresses, with the dark, gothic backdrop and mystery that influence everything the characters do. The reader is swept up into the story, living in these times along with the characters, which shows that Kate Mosse’s sense of time and place is evocative and highly emotive.

This is the first in a series. with book two, The City of Tears, due in 2020. A rather long time to wait, but given the depth of this book, will be well worth it for the deepening research that Kate Mosse will be undertaking for it.

Thanks to the NSW Writer’s Centre for a copy of this to read

The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

elephant whisperer.jpgTitle: The Elephant Whisperer

Author: Lawrence Anthony with Grahame Spence

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Publisher: Pan MacMillan

Published: 1st July 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $24.99

Synopsis: When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of rogue elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his common-sense told him to refuse. But he was the herd’s last chance of survival – notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn’t take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape…

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Lawrence Anthony is a highly-respected conservationist and co-founder of The Earth Organization. His previous title, Babylon’s Ark, about his involvement in saving the animals in Baghdad Zoo, is being made into a major film. Graham Spence is a freelance journalist and author.

~*~

In the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) region of South Africa, there are many game reserves that host smaller, private game lodges that are dedicated to the protection and conservation of African animals such as elephants and rhinos, hunted for their horns. Thula Thula, the reserve and lodge where Lawrence Anthony lived and worked up until his death several years ago was one such park. When Anthony and his partner, Francoise arrived at Thula Thula, they were soon asked to take a rampaging herd of elephants from another game park before they had to be culled. Lawrence took these elephants in, and spent years building up trust, to a point where they knew him and his family, and where they would visit him to show off new additions, and greet him as he arrived home from overseas.  Lawrence’s experiences with the elephants always amaze him and leave him, and those he works and lives with in awe of these majestic creatures.

Written in 2012 about the previous ten years or so, The Elephant Whisperer shows the beauty of elephants, and what they can teach us, and the amazing side to them that so many don’t get to see. The elephants are central to the book and Lawrence’s experiences with poachers, staff, snakes and family, and their comforting presence at times of distress and highly emotional times illustrates the special relationship Lawrence had with the herd and what he observed in these creatures.

Filled with frustrating, triumphant and heartbreaking moments, Lawrence Anthony’s personality and sense of self and justice shines through and the story is engaging and engrossing – from his battle to get the elephants to Thula Thula, to his negotiations with the Zulu tribes and desire to communicate across cultures and respect each human and animal he works with, to his battle with the poachers in the early part of the book, there is a passion that ensures his love of elephants and legacy lives in through his words and work at Thula Thula.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartless.jpg

Title: Heartless

Author: Marissa Meyer

Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy

Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia

Published: 8th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 464

Price: $18.99

Synopsis: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, the infamous Queen of Hearts, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favourite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness and monsters, fate has other plans.

~*~

Heartless by Marissa Meyer is the story of Wonderland before it became Wonderland, before the Mad Hatter became the Mad Hatter with his tea party, and of course, before Alice tumbled down the rabbit hole into a world of food and drink that changed ones size, of Mock Turtles and before a White Rabbit is late for something. In this world, there is only Lady Catherine Pinkerton, and her parents the Marquis and Marchioness of Rock Turtle Cove, and Catherine’s dream of opening a bakery. Her parents do not share her dream, especially her mother, who spends all her time trying to force a courtship and marriage between Catherine and the King of Hearts.

As all this goes on, a terrible monster called the Jabberwock threatens Hearts, where the main characters live. The King is useless, so it will become the destiny of an unlikely crew to save the kingdom, even if this means that their fates will be sealed – whether they are fates they seek out or not. It is this climax that will lead the reader into the fate of Hearts, The Looking Glass, and everyone who will come to populate Wonderland.

Marissa Meyer’s origin story for the Queen of Hearts borrows from the world created by Lewis Carroll, but also incorporates other elements of literature. A couple of Shakespeare’s plays are given nonsensical titles to fit in with the nonsense theme, Raven is often known to quote from The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, and of course, from the works of Lewis Carroll. Meyer has woven all of these together to create a story befitting the world of Wonderland before it became Wonderland. Set in a quasi-Victorian setting, where nonsense survives and the real world norms of the Victorian world are topsy-turvy – it wouldn’t be Wonderland if they weren’t – Heartless is a delightful story that has a bit of everything: fantasy, romance, humour and nonsense, and a sense of adventure that will appeal to many readers who enjoy fantasy or retellings of classic tales, fairy tales or origin tales of key characters and lands. It is well written with well rounded characters.