Half Bad Novellas: Half Lies & Half Truths by Sally Green

 

If you have read any of my book reviews you know I am a big fan of novellas, and who wouldn’t be?  You are basically given all the little tidbits of information that couldn’t fit into the books served on a small little platter that is both simple and satisfying.  The two novellas have an odd coding used for their placement in the series.  Half Lies is considered 0.5 in the series and Half Truths is considered 0.6.  Listing the books 1-3, this means the novellas are considered prequels to the first book Half Bad.  Now you could read these two before reading Half Bad and everything would still make perfect sense.  Technically you would be reading the events in chronological order, but Half Truths jumps into Gabriel’s story whom we are introduced to later on in Half Bad.  Because of this I would still prefer having read Half Bad, then the two novellas after.

Half Lies follows the story of Gabriel, his father and his sister Michele as they move to America.  We know why Gabriel ended up in our story in Half Bad, but we don’t know how.  After receiving his gift, Gabriel discovers that he has the ability to transform into anyone he wants.  The gift is unique and very strong, too strong, as Gabriel finds out when he transforms into a regular human and gets trapped in that form.  Effectively stripping himself of his magical powers, Gabriel takes away the qualities that make him notable to other witches.  This also gives him the advantage of being able to slip in and out of situations without gaining the attention of other witches.  More importantly though, the story is about Gabriel’s sister Michele.  We don’t know much about his sister, or Gabriel for that matter, from Half Bad.  Half Lies is a novella so it is short and sweet.  We get a taste of what Michele was like, but it is the effect she had on Gabriel that adds to our story.

Half Truths builds off of Half Lies as well as Half Bad expanding on the story of Gabriel, a character we met later on in Half Bad and whom we love.  Nathan may be our main character of the series, and while we do side with Nathan, our loyalties also lay with Gabriel.  More importantly, they lay with Gabriel and Nathan together.  Through this glimpse into more of Gabriel’s story we also get more of a glimpse into the dark witch Mercury and the world that Gabriel must do for her to gain her trust and her help to gain back his true witch self.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, novellas are a must read when it comes to any series so I don’t need to tell you again…. read them.

Half Bad by Sally Green

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?1

With our affinity to love witches after J.K. Rowling blessed us with the magical world of Harry Potter, one can easily slip into this world of witches reminiscent to that of the later Harry Potter years.  Witches have been around for centuries, but over time they have been separated into different factions.  There are the white witches, pure blooded and good, though it is difficult to see how they are the good ones after all the atrocities that have occurred.  On the flip side there are the black witches, obvious for their dark natures and dark magic, though not all entirely evil.  Over time there has been interactions between the two groups which have created half bloods or half codes.  Nathan is known as a half code, both white and black though not entirely enough to be one or the other.  Shunned by both sides, Nathan is monitored his whole life to determine if he will one day show which side he falls into more.  The White council could easily just kill Nathan, though the prospect of using him to get to his father is just too tempting.  Nathan’s father just so happens to be the most feared and dangerous black witches.  Having killed hundreds of both white and black witches, Nathan’s father Marcus, has the ability to turn into animals.  With this ability he has transformed into an animal to kill his victims, eating their hearts and adding his victims abilities to his own.  Marcus has been able to harness the abilities of shifting into the form of an animal, invisibility, stopping time and even flying, or so it has been said.  Little is known of the whereabouts and details of Marcus who is as hard to locate as he is dangerous.

Nathan is now in his teens, having gone for testing each year and receiving a half code status each year.  This year is different though.  Nathan has been assigned a guardian and is immediately taken to a remote location.  Here he is trapped in a cage like an animal, beaten and trained to fight every day with no chance of escape.

Young witches are known as Whets until their seventeenth birthday when they are given three gifts and the blood of a relative.  After this ceremony, the Whet becomes an adult witch and begins to harness an ability that is unique to them.  Some learn their abilities quickly, while others take months to learn and harness their strengths.  Female white witches are the strongest of the whites gaining unique and strong abilities.  Many white female witches become Hunters for the white council.  Their strengths and abilities allow them to hunt down black witches and those who defy the council.  There are some female white witches who have the common ability of potions which many male white witches obtain.  It is rare to find a white male witch with a strong ability.  Black witches have the same ceremony though many Black witches, male or female, will gain strong abilities.  Along with their tendencies to prefer being alone and killing those of their own blood line, it is not hard to see why black witches are viewed as dangerous.

As Nathan’s seventeenth birthday approaches he must find a way to escape to get his three gifts and his ability.  The only catch is he would need the blood of a relative, the blood of Marcus.  Not belonging to the whites or the blacks Nathan must journey across the globe in search of the darkest witch in history and ask for his help.  When Nathan learns of a prophecy involving himself and his father, his hopes of receiving any help or contact from his father become even more unlikely.  Thankfully Nathan gains the help of some very interesting characters and some of our favourites from the series.

Green has created a new world of witches built on our love for the Harry Potter universe.  The magic and adventure in the Half Bad world is too tempting not to fall into. With the diverse group of witches and their unique abilities, Green has created an array of intriguing and loveable characters.  Though it is not always easy to see good and bad in others and while we are taught to be good and want to be good, we can’t help but be bad and be drawn to the darkness of Black witches and the Black witch characters.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Half Bad World webpage.

Talon by Julie Kagawa

 

THE DRAGONS OF TALON: Once hunted nearly to extinction, they are now poised to take over the world. THE ORDER OF ST. GEORGE: The legendary dragonslayers will stop at nothing to wipe dragons from the face of the earth. 

These mortal enemies are locked in secret and deadly combat, with humanity none the wiser. 

To take her rightful place in the Talon organization, young dragon Ember Hill must prove she can hide her true nature and blend in with humans. Her delight at the prospect of a summer of “normal” teen experiences is short-lived, however, once she discovers that she’s also expected to train for her destined career in Talon. But a chance meeting with a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught.

As Ember struggles to accept her future, St. George soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian is tasked with hunting her down. But when faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything the Order has ingrained in him—and what he might be willing to give up to uncover the truth about dragons.1

The cover of this book always reminds me of Mortal Combat.  The scales and dragon head, as well as the title, give you an idea of what we are about to get into.  Dragons.  Dragons are mythical creatures from legends of old.  These creatures have been talked about for centuries and probably will be for many more to come.  Something to get out of the way is that dragons do exist.  Ember Hill and her brother are fledgling dragons and are unique.  While technically they are not twins, it is uncommon for dragon hatchlings to be born so close together.  Because of this, Ember and her brother are paired together to blend into the human world as twins.  This gives the added benefit of tricking their enemy because they also know how rare it is for two dragons to be related and would not be expecting it.  Fledgling dragons are trained hard by their instructors and must learn to blend into the human world as they are not always in their dragon forms.  During their training they are given instructors to teach them and train them for what their careers in the dragon society will one day be.

Ember could not be more thrilled about her time training as a human.  Ember and her brother have been placed near the ocean and Ember has taken to surfing like a natural.  The feeling of flying across the water is the closest thing she can get because she is not able to transform into her true form with so many humans nearby.  Dragons must take every care possible to ensure that they do not expose their kind to humans.  Risking detection by being seen in their true forms could result in exposure, but also detection of the elite group known as St. George.  Trained from a young age, these elite soldiers are aware of the existence of dragons and train daily to hunt down and kill any and all dragons.  The dragons are taught to beware of St. George, they are the enemy and must be killed and visa versa for St. George.  When Ember meets two very different and very dangerous boys, she begins to question everything she has ever been taught by her trainers and listen to what her instincts and her heart are telling her.

The Mortal Combat series, I mean Talon series has popped up on my radar a few times over the years.  Julie Kagawa’s name is also well known to be, despite never having read any of her books before this.  I was eager to start Talon without knowing much about the actual story.  I tend to avoid reading book summaries where possible as I find most of them tend to give away more than they should and spoil a few things that could have been left as a surprise.  It took me longer than expected to wrap my head around the dragon world, the transformations, St. George and just the whole world that Kagawa was creating for us.  The concepts and ideas are understandable enough, but it was difficult to find any sort of connection to the story to spark anything within me.  Sure the teenage girl in me had stirred a few times with the introduction of the two very attractive, very dangerous and strong boys to the story, but I was too distracted by the superficial.  The fact that our main character is a fire breathing dragon and her name is Ember boarders on cute/clever and tacky/obvious.  You are trying to blend in and not draw attention to yourself yet you have one of the most dragonesque names you can find.  Although I am very aware that Ember is female and I am not, her character and choices were so alien that I could not relate at all and found myself not quite rooting for her which is the opposite that readers should feel for their main characters.  Our “villains” of the story come from an ancient organization known as St. George.  The choice of a Saint name seems to only barely represent the age of the group, but does not bolster any images of strength or fear that we should probably be feeling for these soldiers.  I think something along the lines of The Knights Templar inspires more of these feelings.  The boys of St. George creates more of a boarding school for hunky teens/men who have rippling muscles, combat skills and weapons training that inspire a desire to pull up a lounge chair with book in hand, peeving over the top of the page pretending you have been reading that same page for the last hour; natural spies among us.

From my ramblings you may have started to formulate where I am going with this, but I didn’t really care for Talon and I have zero hesitation to say that I have no intention of continuing with the series.  There are rumblings of possible movie adaptations which could potentially catch my attention, but likely not enough to read the rest of the series.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Julie Kagawa’s webpage.

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

 

 

Tell the Wind & Fire is about a young girl called Lucie who lives in a New York very different from the New York we know: the city is torn between two very different kinds of magic, and Lucie’s own family was torn apart years ago by that conflict. Lucie wears magic rings and carries a burden of guilt she can’t share with anyone.

The light in her life is her sweetheart boyfriend Ethan, but it turns out Ethan has a secret too: a soulless doppelganger created by dark magic, who has to conceal the face identical to Ethan’s with a hood fastened by a collar nobody but a Light magician with magical rings can take off… and who introduces himself to both of them by, for reasons nobody can understand, saving Ethan’s life…1

 

Sometimes when you are reading a book, listening to a book or even just reading the summary there comes a moment when you know that the author has struck gold.  I was familiar with Sarah Rees Brennan from her teaming up with Cassandra Clare for some of the Magnus Bane Chronicles, but had never read any of her solo work.  While she does have quite a selection on her webpage, there is that self-published/low budget publishing quality to some of her book covers.  Obviously we all know the old adage that one should never judge a book by it’s cover, but I assure you there is also no low budget book covers on the New York Best Sellers List.

Lucie and Ethan are travelling home back to New York city, the city of light.  Lucie and Ethan’s city of light is different from the lights you may be imagining though.  The train that they are travelling on is powered by magic, the same magic that runs through Lucie’s veins.  After letting her guard down, Lucie and Ethan are woken from their sleep by a team of Light Guards come to arrest Ethan.  Despite Lucie’s protests the guards have dragged Ethan off the train and onto the platform and informing Ethan that he is being arrested for treason, punishable by death without trial.  Completely helpless and Ethan mere seconds from death, a dark figure emerges from the train, buying Ethan and Lucie the time they need to reason with the Light Guards to return Ethan to New York and seek the opinion of the Stryker family.  Ethan Stryker’s father and uncle are leaders of the city and part of the Light Counsel that governs.

Lucie may be dating the son of one of the most important families in the light city, but she was not always welcome within its walls.  Lucie grew up in the darkness in the areas outside the light city walls with those known as dark magicians.  While the City of Light has the appearance of perfection, a resistance is building and the darkness is beginning to seep into the city.  Both the light and the dark are trying to control Lucie and to use her as their face to rise up from the darkness and snuff out the light, as well as to continue to be a beacon of light to keep away the dark.

I was pleasantly surprised with Tell The Wind And Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan.  From the cover of the book I would have expected the story to be a cheap romance novel.  As the adage of  not judging a book by its cover rings true, the cover is also the first impression that readers will have and often gives you an idea of what exactly you are dealing with.  The cover will give you an idea of the subject, the genre and also creates a benchmark for expectations.  If little effort or quality is put into the cover, you can generally expect the same from the book.  While TTW&F does not completely resonate cheap and low quality, it also doesn’t do the story justice.

It has been quite some time since I read the book which is making the review even more difficult.  I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the story more than I thought I would, but any hope of continuing the series is basically shown by the amount of time between finishing the book and completing this review.  There was no readily available ebook or audiobook through the library and I jumped onto the next project too quickly, leaving this one and the chance of continuing the series in the dust.

Huge points to Rees Brennan for the unique and fun magical elements that ultimately create and save this story, but the magic spark needed to keep it alive was lost within the darkness.  The world that she has created for us is exciting and something we want to explore but the route that she has taken us is more off course away from the things that really made the story.

 

  1. Book summary courtesy of Sarah Rees Brennan book page.

The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher

From a basement office in London’s notorious Bethlehem Hospital, former policeman and Pinkerton agent Sebastian Becker is sent to interview Sir Owain Lancaster at his country estate. They wealthy industrialist returned alone from a disastrous scientific adventure in the Amazon, claiming that wild beasts killed his family and colleagues. He tells Becker that the same dark creatures have followed him home and are responsible for the deaths of two local girls and rumors of beasts on the moor. But while madmen may see monsters, some monsters hide in plain sight.1

Perusing through the available audiobooks through the library app I came across this one.  It appears that there is a previous book following the main character, Sebastian Becker, who is a former policeman and Pinkerton agent.  Having retired from the life of a policeman and agent, Sebastian now works for the Lord Chancellor’s Office in Lunacy.  It is Sebastian’s job to interview and inspect individuals whose mental state is being questioned and if they are in the right state of mind to be in charge of their own finances and property.  Sebastian is called to the small town where a wealthy industrialist named Sir Owen Lancaster has escaped to his country estate after being chased out of London.  After returning from a tragic trip to the amazon where almost his entire crew, including his wife and child, were killed during the expedition.  Sir Owen has written a book on the  events of his journey which accounts how terrible beasts were the cause of the disastrous expedition and what had killed his crew and family.  With only one other survivor from the trip, Sebastian must find out what he can to either clear Sir Owen of his mental state or deprive him of his property and finances.  When two young girls are found murdered in the moors, Sebastian discovers that there is a long standing folklore of the moors and mysterious beasts that lurk in the darkness.  Could it be possible that Sir Owen was telling the truth and that the beasts from his expedition have followed him home and are wreaking havoc on the small town?

I can’t say I was overly thrilled by this novel.  Despite the mystery, murder and thrill of uncovered secrets and current drama to fill the story, the tale remained bland and lacking any real suspense or mystery.  The detective/not detective who is in town to follow up on the mental state of Sir Owen ends up assisting with a double murder investigation and uncovering the past.  We then return to London where there are random events involving his wife and family before remembering we were supposed to investigate Sir Owen and return for a bizarre and rushed wrap up.  The return trip to London and waste of time with his wife is only made up by the addition of his son to the story.  His son has some form of mental variance which makes him awkward and devoid of some common sympathies and interactions, but in return is gifted with a rather talented mind.  His mind helps guide Sebastian in his journey though not as much as the story could have used.  This issue is mirrored in the addition of Grace Ekels, a young lady who lives on Sir Owen’s land in the home of her deceased father.  Grace has lived in the town her whole life, but after a disturbing and traumatic experience as a child she remains a recluse.  Her abrasive and abrupt nature ads some comedy to the tale, though very minor, but she is so different from the other characters, aside from Sebastian’s son, that it is a welcome reprieve.

The addition of these two characters is so minor to the tale that they are not involved long enough to have saved the story.  We find ourselves bumbling all over the country side and in London never really discovering anything, rather that things all fall into place and Sebastian just happens to be there at the right time and place.  There are certainly worse things that you could read, but surely something more worth your time than this one.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Penguin Random House The Bedlam Detective book page.

The Siren by Kiera Cass

IMG_1816

 

Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who’s everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger…but Kahlen can’t bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?1

My inner teenage girl absolutely loved the whole Selection series and novellas by Kiera Cass.  Normally when you find an author that has a series or more than one book you like you tend to look at all the books they have written and read those as well.  While I loved the Selection Series it took me quite a long time to check out The Siren.  Written well before her success with the Selection series, Cass takes us on a unique adventure to the sea.  We may be expecting mermaids, but what we get is something closer to the Greek mythology than any form of mermaid.

It was the 1950’s and kahlen is on vacation with her family.  Her and many other families were enjoying their time on a ship until a sudden storm threatened to capsize the ship.  When a strange and melodic sound is heard, the people onboard the ship begin to make their way on deck, despite the storm, and begin to hurdle themselves over the rail to be near the sound.  Struggling against the soothing sound Kahlen begs for her life before a calm falls over everything.  A strange voice confronts her and questions whether she would truly do anything to stay alive.  I imagine that most people would be willing to make such a bargain in such a crisis, but Kahlen did not truly know what kind of bargain she would be making.

The ocean is a living being, a spirit that helps the entire world, but in return she must also take.  With the aid of her carefully selected Sirens, the ocean will speak to the girls and inform them when it is time to sing.  Mysterious shipwrecks are chalked up to urban legends and tragedies, but there are a few girls who know differently.  The Sirens serve the ocean for a period of 100 years where they do not age and they do not get sick as they stay in a perpetual state of beauty.  Once their time of serving is done they are placed back into human society, their memories wiped, to live out the rest of their lives.  Though the Sirens are immortal, if they disobey the ocean she can easily destroy them.  The girls must live among humans without anyone discovering their true identities.  Each one stunningly beautiful makes this difficult to begin with, but they are also marked by their muteness.  The girls can speak to each other, but if they speak to humans the sound of their voice causes them to instantly sacrifice their life to the ocean.

Kahlen, the oldest of the current group of Sirens has served 80 out of her 100 year sentence, but when she meets the human named Akinli, their relationship threatens to compromise her remaining 20 year sentence and also threatens both Kahlen and Akinli’s lives.

Though I should have known differently from the title I just assumed the book would be about mermaids.  The concept of Sirens is usually only heard in passing when discussing Greek mythology and was an intriguing knew topic for a young adult novel.  Cass creates a world of these young and beautiful girls who are also extremely dangerous.  A story of life and destruction that mirrors the give and take cycle of the ocean and the world.  There are many interesting qualities about the story and I enjoyed the interactions between the characters, but I was not quite as wrapped up in the story as I was with the Selection series.  The Siren tickles at my interests in the new and the fantastical, but it failed to ignite any burning desires for my inner teenage girl that I had been hoping for.  A fun and different read but highly suggest reading the Selection series if you have not already.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Kiera Cass webpage.

A Cruel Beauty Novella: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

 

Gilded Ashes is an atmospheric and darkly romantic reimagining of Cinderella set in the world of Cruel Beauty. Perfect for fans of An Ember in the Ashes and A Court of Thorns and Roses.

Maia doesn’t see the point of love when it only brings people pain: Her dead mother haunts anyone who hurts Maia, and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother’s approval, even though she despises them. Meanwhile, Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn’t believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. But when Maia’s and Anax’s paths cross before the royal ball, they discover that love might not be the curse they once thought. And it might even be the one thing that can save them both.1

Cruel Beauty was an imaginative new retelling to the tale of Beauty and the Beast but with a twist.  Hodge creates a new world for us to explore as the backdrop for the retelling of some classic favourites of ours.  While everything was essentially gift wrapped and put on a platter, Cruel Beauty didn’t quite deliver but I was willing to give Gilded Ashes a try.

As mentioned the story is set in the same universe with demons and bargains with shadows as Cruel Beauty has created for us.  Maia lives with her step mother and two sisters.  Though her father and mother have died, Maia’s mother is a constant presence in her life after she had made a deal with a demon.  Those closest to Maia live in constant danger, unbeknownst to them.  Maia plays the part of a good daughter, always happy and always obedient to keep her mother’s spirit happy.  She has seen what has happened when those around her upset her.  She has seen what lengths her mother’s spirit will go to for her daughters happiness.

Maia’s step mother is set on upholding the honour of their house and her two daughters will do whatever it takes to make their mother happy.  When it is announced that young Prince Anax will be hosting a ball to search for his future bride to be, the eldest daughter makes it her goal to win over the young prince.  With the help of Maia, letters are delivered to the prince to appeal to his personal interests rather than the vain swooning performed by other young women in the kingdom.  While executing these missions for her stepsister, Maia has unexpected encounters with the young prince where the two are able to be themselves.  The moments are short lived as the darkness is always threatening to creep in and Maia will discover that her mother’s spirit is not the only darkness that she need fear.

While I am completely open to these retellings they seem to be following the same pattern.  These amazing stories that have a huge following on their own are picked up and given these twists that we can’t help but be intrigued to read.  Nothing will ever live up to the classics, but this issue aside there is something still causing the stories to ignite and fizzle out in a flash. I was willing to accept the story as a stand alone tale set in this intriguing new world, but once again we only get the briefest of glimpses into that world. Even worse, Gilded Ashes only gives us the briefest of tales as it turns out that this story is merely a novella.  While Cruel Beauty added too many elements to its story and carried on far too much on things that should have been left alone, Gilded Ashes has the opposite effect.  Gilded Ashes failed to focus on the many things that build the story with so little time to do it in the novella format.  Though this makes two potentials for greatness in retellings that turned out to be mediocre for Hodge, and a further mediocre attempt with Crimson Bound, I still have hope for the author and perhaps one day she will be able to reach that happy medium.

  1.  Book summary courtesy of Harper Collins Golden Ashes by Rosamund Hodge book page.