The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library is exactly the kind of fantasy novel I would have loved as young teenager. The Library is a space that exists between worlds, inhabited by people who love books and have made it their mission to gather as many texts as possible from the various multi-world dimensions they are connected to. The opening chapter shows just how dangerous and unexpected this can be as the main character Irene is completing a mission where she is chased out of that world by hellhounds. Cogman plays with a great mix of magic, technology and chaos, meaning that just about anything can and will happen as Irene’s adventures unfold. As the first book in a series it sets up the story nicely for expansion into other worlds offering many different settings.
It has a strong female lead character in Irene, who is just neurotic enough to be relatable but when the time comes she pulls it together with a no nonsense, common sense attitude to get the job done. Unexpectedly burdened with a young apprentice she sets off on her next assignment with an awareness of her role as a mentor, which leads to some of the questionable decisions she makes along the way. Kai, the apprentice, makes for a good sidekick. Whilst he is handsome yet naïve, it soon becomes clear that he is hiding some secrets of his own.
The Invisible Library is a fun, adventurous story offering the reader some light-hearted escapism with a side of intrigue and humour. As a teenager I would have devoured the whole series and eagerly awaited the next instalment. I might even be tempted to read on as an adult…
Vox by Christina Dalcher
Vox is set in a near-future America where the entire female population are forced to wear wrist bands that limit their speech to one hundred words per day. The consequence of going over that limit? A severe electric shock. The story follows Jean, a woman who still remembers being allowed to talk, read and write and is desperately opposed to this new regime but feels powerless to stop it as she watches her daughter, who has never known any different, accept it unquestioningly and her son be brainwashed by the propaganda. She becomes swept up in a series of events that gives her the opportunity to prevent the next horrendous step the government are about to take, if she has the strength to do so.
I’m a bit of a sucker for stories that seem plausible, where there are just enough links to current events to make you think “Whoa, that could actually happen!”. For me it adds an extra edge to the story and makes it all the more terrifying. A great example of this and one of my favourites is the film version of V for Vendetta.
The main theme of Vox is feminism and all the current movements and marches that have been taking place over the last few years are cited as the catalyst for the backlash from a highly religious group called the ‘Pure Movement’ who believe that a woman’s place is in the home and that they should be seen and not heard. With some clever propaganda and by placing sympathisers within the government they ensured that their cause was heard and enforced. Dalcher’s well-placed allusions to the current president and recent real-life events such as the ‘Me Too’ movement make it all the more plausible. This adds a nice amount of tension to the book as Jean and the group around her fight back in the limited way they can, in a society that is constantly monitored and there is surveillance even within the home. One of the issues in the book is knowing who to place your trust in. Men have a lot more freedom than women in this scenario, but how can you trust them to help you when they are helping the government keep women silenced, even (or maybe especially) by doing nothing.
If you are looking for a book to get you thinking, give this one a go. It certainly had me feeling slightly nervous about the state of our society and the integrity of our government, and I don’t even live in America!
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
Eve of Man by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher
I decided to read Eve of Man because it was quite heavily promoted on my social media when it came out. On paper it’s right up my street; a classic dystopian YA novel. I have read so many of these over the years and most of them I thoroughly enjoyed, but this one I found a bit disappointing.
I had fairly high expectations because it’s by two well-known authors who between them have produced a fairly substantial amount of published material. I have not read either of their work but I know they have both received a fair amount of praise for their books.
The basic premise of the book is that no females are born to the human race and after fifty years of experimenting and trying to manipulate nature a girl is conceived naturally to aging parents and manages to survive. She is then cocooned in a virtual reality, heavily controlled by those in power. We enter the story when she is sixteen and about to be introduced to three potential suitors in order to begin repopulating the world.
There have been many comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, but having neither read the book nor seen the television series my mind immediately jumped to Consider Her Ways, a short story by John Wyndham in which there are no more men and the women have taken it upon themselves to reproduce. In that story the ‘Mothers’ are breeding machines and as the story unfolds in Eve of Man and we find out more about the character of Silva, this is what I envisioned as her intended future for Eve.
The book has some interesting concepts and explores the theme of humanity and how it would fare without the balance of both sexes. Would men destroy the world and it’s resources faced with the demise of the human race? Another theme the book takes a good look at particularly in the second half is power: the haves and the have-nots. This idea is taken to extremes where those who have access to Eve live in an impenetrable tower whilst the rest of the population lives in a world destroyed by flooding, in damp makeshift living quarters.
Eve of Man is a book of two halves. The first building up the character of Eve and the world she has been brought up in; the second containing a lot more action, driving the plot forward. The change of pace felt a bit abrupt and the speed at which events happened was a bit jarring. However, this is the first book in a series so some world building is necessary and the race to the cliffhanger does leave the reader wanting to know what happens next.
I found the overall feeling of the book a bit flat. Maybe the dystopian teen novel has been overdone in recent years, but I don’t necessarily think that means it has no place in the literary world. I’m hoping that as the series goes on the pace of it will even out and they will continue to explore interesting and relevant themes. I don’t know if I would rush to buy book two as soon as it comes out but I will definitely get around to reading it…I can’t leave a story unfinished!
Have you read this book? Are you looking forward to the next instalment? Let me know!
The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller
For June I’m looking at two books by Madeline Miller. Both of these books explore Greek mythology in more detail, focussing on people and their perspective of the story, rather than just recounting the famous deeds. I have always had a passing interest in Greek mythology and remember enjoying learning about it at school, but I’m a little hazy on the facts. I read these books back to back as I got so into the theme of them, but I have no idea how much is based on the original story and how much is Miller’s own artistic licence. Either way I thoroughly enjoyed them both and felt truly immersed in the worlds of both Circe and Patroclus (the protagonist of The Song of Achilles).
The Song of Achilles is a heart-breaking love story that follows two young boys as they grow up together and are thrust into a war that has nothing to do with them, all thanks to the whims and manipulations of those in positions of power. Being familiar with the overall story of Achilles I struggled to see how the naïve characters introduced at the beginning of the book would make their way to their inevitable end, but the detail that Miller supplies draws you into the narrative and you begin to understand the decisions the characters make that lead to the twists and turns of the story.
Circe follows the lesser-known daughter of a Titan, famous for turning sailors into pigs. This is all I knew of Circe before I read this book, but again Miller explores the motivations behind the actions of the characters that appear in the book and opens up your understanding as to what makes people behave in the way that they do; the shape their lives take due to the influence of others and how they choose to react to it. It’s a great journey of someone who is made to feel powerless by those around her, but gradually begins to discover the extent of her own power and how to use it to carve her own impression on the world.
Although The Song of Achilles was published first I actually began by reading Circe. Some of the characters do appear in both books, namely Odysseus who is at a later part of his story in Circe than he is in The Song of Achilles, however I didn’t feel it made a difference which way round they were read. The stories stand alone so you do not need to read both books to feel like you are getting the full story either.
I would recommend a basic knowledge of Greek mythology prior to reading these books. Having a good idea about the Gods and the Titans and other mythological creatures helps to set the scene and bring the ancient world to life, however I think these books are so well written that they can be enjoyed even without this background knowledge.
Have you read these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts about them.