Monday, 16 September 2019

The Testaments

The highly anticipated sequel to The Handmaid's Tale needs little introduction. Set around 15 years after we last saw Offred, The Testaments follows three women and reveals more about the rise and fall of Gilead. It also answers some questions you might have had lingering in your mind at the end of the first book.

Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes.

One of the women is Aunt Lydia, the leader of the Aunts and most feared of the all. I loved Aunt Lydia's chapters, which show how she ended up in her role and shaped the roles of women in Gilead. At the start of her "testament" she states that things could have been much worse without her.

The other two characters are young women, one living withing Gilead and knowing no other way of life, the other a teenager in Canada who only knows Gilead through the liberal media. Agatha is raised in a Commander's house, with three Marthas, raised to become a wife in another high-ranking home. She doesn't see anything wrong in the way they are living, Gilead only wants to protect her, to stop her being a temptation to men.

Daisy's living a pretty normal life until her parents are killed. The only thing that was ever odd was their rule about no photos. All she knows about Gilead is what she's learned in school and on the news. They're religious fanatics but nothing to do with her. Sometimes the Pearl Girls come into her parents' shop to leave brochures, spreading the propaganda of Gilead to the outside world.

Once a story you’ve regarded as true has turned false, you begin suspecting all stories.

I liked the change in perspective, showing much more about the inner workings of Gilead through the Aunts, the way it's perceived outside the country and about the Mayday resistance. Agatha's schooling shows how the girls are brought up to be pliable wives, or else punished accordingly.

It was such an entertaining and page-turning read. It's different in tone to The Handmaid's Tale and I can see people looking a for a Booker-worthy follow up being disappointed. But I can accept it's evolved into something else and I loved it, even if the plot gets a teensy bit unbelievable towards the end. The message is as relevant as ever.

You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.

I haven't seen that much of the TV show, I found it too bleak, so I can't really comment on any overlap in the story. Ann Dowd does narrate Aunt Lydia in the audiobook though, and does a fantastic job.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 11. A book with an item of clothing or accessory on the cover

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Book Source: Purchased

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The House of Sundering Flames

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

The House of Sundering Flames is the third book in the Dominion of the Fallen series and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books. If you're new to this series, read my review of The House of Shattered Wings.

He could taste the rot underneath, the earthy, moldy smell that clung to everything in Paris. A reminder that he was there, that the city was dying, and that he was part of it, trapped in it because no boats would take a Houseless back to the country of his birth.

Silverspires and Hawthorne are weakened but surviving, just about. When a huge explosion takes out House Harrier across the river, both houses are concerned at who would have that kind of power. Someone has unleashed an ancient weapon on the city, and they're seeking revenge, a revenge that threatens to destroy all of Paris, not just the Fallen.

Some months have passed since the events of The House of Binding Thorns and Thuan and Asmodeus have grown to love one another as spouses and joint heads of House Hawthorne. There wasn't a huge focus on their relationship but I enjoyed seeing Asmodeus mellow from the former tyrant, now playing with the dragon children and trying to make the house a better place to be.

I felt there were too many "big bads". There's Guy and his terrifying hawks, able to fly into bodies and drain everything, including bones and organs. Dan Chay, an immortal with immense skill with fire khi and justifiable hate against the houses that bound him. To add to that, there's also the children of thorns from Hawthorne trying to save themselves, as well as all the smaller antagonisms between houses and minor characters. With all this going on, there was a focus on action rather than the interplays between characters that was so well done in the previous books.

I wasn't born when the war ended, but I remember what it meant for our parents to be torn from our homes. Those wounds never really closed. This... we built this. We built our altars and we buried the bones of our ancestors, and every flat that stands is something we made with our own hands, against the indifference of the Houses. This is what home means. And this is where we'll be buried.

Part of the rational behind the attack is that everyone is to blame in a war, everyone who fights or turns a blind eye should take personal responsibility. The Fallen took Annamites for their war, but to then punish those Annamites for fighting when they had no other choice? There is a point when revenge has to stop, to accept and forgive. Again, there was a lot going on so this idea didn't seem fully explored, because the wronged was killing indiscriminately, including children, and it's hard to stop and reflect when someone is being so evil.

However, I would still fully recommend the series. The world-building is unique and the characters ambiguous, with some really lovely and poignant pieces of writing. It often focuses on the impact of colonialism and the meaning of living in a land that's not your homeland. Plus I love the setting of ruined Paris.

The House of Sundering Flames is published by Gollancz and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Month That Was... August 2019

Another month of lots of reading but not much reviewing. I finished my N.E.W.T.s for Magizoologist though and I'll be posting a wrap-up with mini reviews soon as well as some more in-depth reviews later. In the meantime you can see my star ratings at least.

Pictured above is a mini succulent garden I made with a cracked oven dish, planted up with sempervivum.

Josh made awesome pickled courgettes with our home grown veg. They are a bit like gherkins, and it's so nice having some alternative ways of using up courgettes. We're also deluged by cucumbers at the moment and have a bunch of long aubergines forming. I love having veg in the garden but it'll be sad when it's all died down again.

Scully the Labrador being hosed down

Can you believe Scully is three years old already? She's sort of quietened down a bit now but she still gets over-excited when her favourite people visit.