This week’s One Word review will be A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll.
And the award for the book that just missed out on being the perfect introduction to a series goes to…
Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko
Reading Challenge: Popsugar Reading Challenge
Prompt: A #BookTok recommendation
Format: Physical book
This one was a lucky find in my local corner shop. It was only when I started reading it that I realised why someone gave it away for free. Some of the pages were blank so I missed about ten pagers worth of the story. Tarisai has never known the warmth of a family. She has been shut away for the first eleven years of her life in the company of servants and occasionally her mother who is only known as the Lady. Then, she is sent to the capital city of the empire of Aritsar to compete for a place on the Crown Prince’s Council of Eleven. If she’s picked, she will be joined with the other council members through a magical bond. This seems like a dream come true for Tarisai but, when she seems to have everything she wants, she finds herself under a magical compulsion to kill the Prince she has come to respect. Tarisai does not want to do this but is she powerful enough to resist the compulsion and choose her own path?
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the missing pages around the first third didn’t stop me following the story. I think they might have been romance scenes and the story didn’t suffer too much without them. I found the clashes between Tarisai and the existing council to be the most interesting. I wish there had been more clashes between her and Thaddace in particular. Those showed very well how corrupt and out of touch the empire had become in a rather elegant and understated way. I liked the world building in general. The Ray which protects the emperor’s life is fascinating, the magical gifts each of the council members possesses, known as Hallows, are all unique and interesting (Tarisai’s gift is very like Evie O’Neill’s object reading from the Diviners series but with an added little aspect that I won’t spoil here) and the hints about what the redemptors go through are scary but intriguing. I won’t spoil what more is revealed about them later on but it is worth the wait. As is the slow unfolding of the Lady’s plot. I just wish the latter had time to develop more as a character. Most of her character development is given second hand through stories and scraps of journals. For the little time she was on screen, she didn’t really grab the readers’ attention as much as she should have. Tarisai as a main character was decent but not very memorable. I thought Sanjeet and Dayo were the better developed. I also found the plot to be a little disordered and slower than it could have been too. The first two thirds were good but the book felt just slightly longer and more drawn out than it should have been. If Tarisai had stayed away from the palace and spent the rest of the book exploring the rest of the kingdom before coming back for a final confrontation at the palace, it might have been better. Generally, I just wish we had seen more of the empire and the different cultures of all the kingdoms. While it just slightly misses the mark with the plot, I still think this is a good start to the series and I will be continuing it. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for an original new world that isn’t based on Western European myth and with some good world building.
And the award for the book that feels like an extended Springwatch special goes to…
The Secret Life of the Owl by John Lewis-Stempel
Reading Challenge: Bookforager’s Picture Prompt Book Bingo
I decided on a literal interpretation of the prompt and went for a book about owls rather than the pile of books. Owls have captivated humanity since the Stone Age. They feature prominently in myth. They have been reviled as birds of ill omen and revered as the favoured animal of the gods. Humans see them as wise, loyal and almost human-like. Lewis-Stempel delves into legends and history and celebrates this fascinating species.
All the facts about owls were interesting and the research reached very far back into history. I never would have thought that Athens would be mad about one type of owl but unreasonably persecute the other. The inclusion of poetry around owls was great as well. The book goes into a good amount of detail on the physiognomy of owls, explaining why their heads move like they do and all the quirks of each type of owl. Even if you’re an owl expert, you still might find something you haven’t heard before. For me, the one thing I didn’t know is that owl is a species unto itself. After a brief period of being classed as other avian predators, it was finally decided that the owl fit none of the above. The style is lovely and I could just imagine the audiobook being played over a long montage of owls like a Springwatch short film. You can tell how much the author loves these creatures from the first line. Of course, my favourite part was the exploration of myths and popular fictional examples featuring the owl. I really have to look up the owl and nightingale debate. There was a big emphasis on the Greek myth and it provided an interesting insight into which owl was preferred and why but not a lot of in-depth exploration on other cultures. It’s a shame because I’m sure there’s a lot to say on the subject. In fact, while this was an interesting book, I didn’t feel like it went into depth on anything. It could have easily been twice as long and gone much deeper into debunking the negative stereotypes and in going around all the portrayals of owls in non-European cultures. It’s a nice place to start if you want a crash course in owls but don’t expect anything too deep.
I hope to see you again very soon.