Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1)Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think some things are important to note when reviewing this book. For one, while the video game and TV series inspired by this series of books is called The Witcher, this series of books actually isn’t entitled The Witcher, and none of the books are. It’s also important to note that while this is, indeed, the first novel in the series, it’s not the first book, as there are two short story collections that you really need to read first. It’s also perhaps interesting to note that those short story collections were originally published in Poland in a different order than their English editions.

You see, while Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, is in this novel, it’s not about him. Oh, and if you think it might be about Dandelion/Jaskier from the cover of the edition I read, you’d be wrong too. He’s in it, of course, but it’s not really about him either.

It’s about Ciri.

Particularly it’s about her time at Kaer Morhen, training to be a Witcher, followed by her time at Melitele’s Temple, training to be a wizard, with Yennefer. There’s some other stuff too, some politics and a bit of subterfuge…all of it mainly involving Geralt trying to stop everyone from finding Ciri and various monarchs planning to start a war with Nilfgaard. But, mostly, this is either directly about Ciri or people looking for Ciri.

And it’s really, really good. Having thoroughly enjoyed both short story collections it’s no real surprise that I enjoyed this, but, nevertheless, I did.

If you come to this novel straight from the TV show (I can’t speak for the video games as I’ve not played them) then you’ll probably be disappointed. As I said, Geralt’s barely in this, there’s not a lot of monster hunting and there’s none of him bedding beautiful young women while secretly wishing they were Yennefer. Instead we get a group of haggard old Witchers failing to deal with an adolescent girl having her first period. So, you know, be warned.

What we also don’t get is a complete story. Which in some ways is unsatisfying, but, you know, I’m not going to knock points of for that as I’ve already ordered the next book.

But, yeah, if you’ve finished the TV series and you want MORE, then…well, read the two short story collections, which lay the groundwork for this novel and are referenced A LOT in it…and then read this novel.

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Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein

Cobalt Squadron (Star Wars)Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book charts Paige and Rose Tico’s final mission together before the events of The Last Jedi…so you already know how it’s going to end…ominously. With a sense of looming tragedy. Knowing that their last goodbye really is going to be their last goodbye.

Spoilers for The Last Jedi, I guess, but Paige Tico dies at the start of the movie.

Now, had I read this before I’d seen The Last Jedi, it might have meant that death had more impact for me (I read Catalyst before I saw Rogue One, which meant that Lyra Erso’s death hit me like a ton of bricks and I was crying before anyone else in the cinema knew what was going on).

(Seriously, I cried so much during that movie that my youngest leant over in the cinema and asked me if I was okay…)

Anyway, I liked Rose Tico, and wanted more of her and her sister, and this book does give you that…but it’s incredibly hard to get into. Paige and Rose end up part of a mission delivering supplies to a First Order occupied planet. What this means in practice is a lot of lengthy runs to drop supplies that are described in detail, while we’re given little reason to care about the occupied planet or anyone on it. Which is a shame. At times Wein gets it right, and creates a real sense of tension during these runs…but at other times we feel literally nothing. There’s no sense of threat. No tension at all. Well…until she weaves in a sense of impending doom at the end.

I feel like the biggest problem this book has is the complete lack of any antagonist. The First Order exists as a largely abstract threat, just nameless and faceless TIE Fighter pilots…we have nobody to root against, just a crew to root for, and none of them are particularly fleshed out beyond Rose. We don’t even really get to know Paige, other than how she relates to Rose. She’s never allowed to exist as a character in her own right.

That said, I still enjoyed the book, and I’m aware that I’m being hypercritical, mostly because it feels like something of a missed opportunity. Hopefully we’ll get more of Rose in the future, because she was tragically underused in The Rise Of Skywalker. And maybe we’ll even get a chance to get to know Paige too.

All in all, a little disappointing, but if you do want more of the Tico sisters after the movie, it does at least go some way towards giving you that.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I honestly knew less than nothing about this book before I started reading it. I had heard of it, of course, but I had it in mind that it was a children’s book and was probably some kind of whimsical urban fantasy piece, like a Wes Anderson movie, about some sort of night time dog.

Obviously, for some reason, it hadn’t registered in my brain that the dog on the cover has a garden fork sticking out of it. But I guess that just goes to show that I’m not as observant as Christopher, the protagonist of this book.

Christopher is quite severely autistic, and the book is presented as a novel that he has written (with a little help from his teacher, Siobhan). Therefore we see the events through his eyes and his unique perspective. Given that this perspective includes an inability to make things up that haven’t happened, I think that the author’s ability to see things from a perspective uniquely alien from that of someone who makes a living doing just that, is to be commended. The representation of autism isn’t perfect, although there are as many different experiences of autism as there are autistic people, but it is very good.

Now, I am not autistic and my father didn’t lie to me about my mother being dead and then kill a dog, but a lot of this book hit very close to home for me. My mother left when I was in my teens and I had to travel to London on the train by myself, and get the tube on my own, to see her. I don’t know, I found it a little strange to be identifying with this severely autistic boy, but here we are. I found myself in absolute floods of tears at times, as I found parts of this book to be truly heart breaking.

Is Christopher annoying at times? Undoubtedly, but that’s kind of the point. His quirks and habits are interesting at first, but you become increasingly frustrated with them…with him…and wish that he’d just get on with things rather than hyper-focusing on a road sign or whatever. But despite that he’s still the same endearing, likeable character. You find yourself feeling just as anxious as he is about whether or not he’ll get to sit his A-level maths exam. Or, at least, I did.

I agree with some other people that the ending is slightly anticlimactic, but then it has to be. There’s no miracle cure for being Christopher (because, ultimately, he doesn’t need fixing, he just needs people to understand that he’s different) and there’s no miracle fix for his messed up family. But Christopher, his father and his mother have all grown and learned things by the end of the book. And, well, that’s what matters. I don’t need some trite “and they all lived happily ever after” ending. Christopher still faces some big challenges in the years ahead and I find myself wondering how he met those challenges, and hoping that he made it to university.

There was a lot about this book I did not like and did not enjoy…mainly the way it made me feel, the way it dragged up certain memories from my past and reminded me of a time in my life when I was learning things about my parents I didn’t want to know and having to travel to London on my own (which is something I actually loved as a teenager and still love today…but the anxiety was also real). But, ultimately, I’m glad I read this book. It’s a good book and it made me think and feel, and that’s what good books do.

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Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston

Queen's Peril (Star Wars)Queen’s Peril by E.K. Johnston
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t expecting this to be better than Queen’s Shadow, which I loved, but it was. It was so much better.

I also wasn’t expecting it to be so wonderfully open about the feelings the handmaidens, and Padme herself, developed for each other. To the point that I find myself weirdly annoyed that I know that Anakin comes along and so Padme and Sabe don’t end up together.

Also, teenage girls getting their first period in an embarrassing way has become something of a theme in the media I’ve been consuming lately, having recently also watched The Craft: Legacy and The Queen’s Gambit. But it was refreshing to see it covered here, in a Star Wars book. And, really, while it may have made some male readers uncomfortable, it’s a book about a group of adolescent girls, for it not to come up would have been absurd.

I particularly loved the way the invasion of Naboo essentially comes out of nowhere and completely derails the plot. It felt very real, and very disorienting. Suddenly a story about a group of young girls getting to know each other and build political ties with the other planets in their system becomes a story about torture and pain and loss.

This leaves me wanting more from EK Johnston, although another book about the handmaidens seems unlikely (is there room for one set between Epsiodes II and III? Where, perhaps, Sabe deals with her jealousy of Anakin and the handmaidens have to pretend they don’t know about Padme and Anakin’s marriage? Perhaps… I’d also like to see Johnston tackle the as yet untold story of Obi-Wan and Satine’s romance. And maybe we could finally learn the truth about Korkie Kryze…?

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Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #0.75)Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was initially disappointed that this second collection of Witcher short stories included less stories that are longer…simply because I don’t get a lot of time to read prose books and found the first volume a quick and easy read because the stories were so short. I was also initially a little put off because this volume doesn’t include interludes between each story that connect the whole thing into a cohesive narrative.

And then I started reading it and discovered that I love it.

I wasn’t sure if I’d continue into the novels but the moment I finished this I ordered the first proper novel, because it left me wanting more, and certainly wanting to read more about Geralt’s bond with Ciri.

If you’ve watched the series, this book only includes one story that made it into that, but what the last couple of stories do is explain a lot of what was going on in the series (especially the Ciri stuff). I do like the series, a lot, but would definitely recommend that anyone who enjoyed watching it should read the books…they’re a lot better.

Now, I’m going to impatiently wait for my copy of Blood Of Elves to arrive…

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FCBD 2020: X-Men/Dark Ages #1 by Jonathan Hickman

FCBD 2020: X-Men/Dark Ages #1FCBD 2020: X-Men/Dark Ages #1 by Jonathan Hickman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Absolutely loved the X Of Swords teaser…it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be read as Ten of Swords and that it might be a tarot reference (but maybe I’m an idiot…or maybe I’ve been reading the X-Men for so long that an X is always just an X to me). Very excited to see any X-Men story include Opal Luna Saturnyne, who, of course, has been showing up in the pages of Excalibur recently. And it only makes sense that any sword related X-Men event would include Excalibur. The art is absolutely gorgeous and the writer, by Hickman, is as obtuse as you’d expect it to be when teasing an upcoming event.

As for the second story, well, that’s the reason I’ve only given this three stars. I guess the idea of the power going out in the Marvel Universe is a fairly interesting one, but the execution of this story was just a little…off. I mean…having Tony lose a foot just seemed a bit much. He’s not just going to be able to grow his foot back. Although, that said, he recently grew his entire body back in his own book, so what do I know? But, just generally, something like this needs a grittier art style, in my opinion.

All that said, I can see from the other GoodReads reviews of this book that most people loved the Dark Ages tease and hated the X Of Swords tease, so it’s all subjective, innit?

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Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston

Queen's Shadow (Star Wars)Queen’s Shadow by E.K. Johnston

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel I should make it clear that, essentially, nothing happens here. There’s virtually no action, aside from a brief space battle towards the end. There’s a LOT of politics, a lot talking, a lot of lengthy descriptions of what Padme and her handmaidens are wearing, and lots and lots of political intrigue.

And it’s wonderful.

Beautifully written and incredibly compelling, and despite that fact that there’s really not going on…there’s really a lot going on…at least there is in Padme and Sabe’s heads. And that’s where we spend a lot of this book, examining their thoughts, feelings and motivations.

There’s a lot here to reward fans of both the Prequels and the Clone Wars, which was greatly appreciated as a fan of both.

So, in short, if you like space battles, laser swords and blaster fights, this might not be the book for you. But if you love Padme Amidala, the Prequels and the Clone Wars then this is almost certainly essential reading.

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