An ancient religion grotesquely modernized, The Purpose, deifies children for their deformities—a beautiful girl with three arms, a brave boy with one eye… the exceptional list goes on. Painted and costumed, they are worshiped on stage. Shy and exposed, they are ridiculed in the streets, often by the same faces. Glorious or repulsive? Gods or freaks? How deep will the identity divide be dredged, and to which side will the truth finally tip? Out of the city, through strange forests and dark dreams, we follow six young friends as they chase their answer. Lightning-lit and pulling moon into mountain, it awaits them at the top of the world.
Author Jeffrey Kinsey is a native of Jacksonville Florida, and a settler in Charleston, South Carolina. He makes cool stuff with his wife, Amelia Dreglewicz, goes for long walks by the water, and has a heavy interest in the dynamic, graceful and inventive interface of prose and visual art.
It’s that interface that takes center stage in “Areh” – a book that combines prose and art. That may sound like nothing new, but “Areh” is something unique – a book that places equal importance on both aspects, binding them together to create a memorable, special, and beautiful tome that, even when reading on an ereader, brings a story to life in vivid, colourful detail.
Set in a dark and trouble society, the book becomes a race against time to prevent a terrible catastrophe befalling the land. However, whilst there is a definite sense of pace to the story, the use of poetic, flowing language makes this a read that manages to be both timeless and current – the sometimes epic art lending it a feel of myth or fable. It doesn’t skimp on character either – with the plight of the children at the heart of this tale one that is conveyed with a great deal of sensitivity, and the character interactions between the children are cleverly written – reading as contemporary and youthful, without falling into any of the traps that many writers seem to plunge into when focusing on the language and syntaxes used by youths in an new setting.
The art that accompanies the prose is mesmerising – beautiful chapter headings that draw the readers eye without fail. Clearly influenced by ancient art forms, they help immensely to transport the reader to an other world, and some patterns linger long in the mind after the close of the book – intricate, delicate designs that represent points in the story and the characters lives.
All in all, “Areh” is a wonderful read – ambitious and original, it’s refreshing to read something that is clearly the product of years of hard work, determination and love between a group of people.
The Genetic Wars that turned most of the planet into a wasteland are over. The so-called “dregs” (short for “DNA regulars”) and superpowered “Supergenics” now live separately from each other: the Supergenics in the shiny towers of Jupitar City, the dregs across the river in the squat concrete buildings of the boroughs. But Supergenic children are still born to dreg parents, and under repressive laws must be sent to live with their own kind. To find these special few, every teen faces their Testing Day. When her turn comes, socially isolated Caitlin Feral is determined to Manifest superpowers. If she fails, she faces a lifetime of loneliness and drudgery in the boroughs. But how much is she willing to sacrifice to be the supergirl she’s always wanted to be? And when she uncovers dark secrets kept by both sides, does she dare start another war to reveal the truth?
Author Steven Bereznai is a Toronto based author and Travel Writer, who has previously published three other books, as well as having his short stories featured in various anthologies, and articles featured in a huge amount of publications. An avid water polo player, registered hypnotist and pilates instructor (not all at the same time. I hope), he’s also a keen fan of comics and superheroes – something that serves him extremely well in this tale.
“I Want Superheroes” is a book that manages to find a rather unique balance – the world is a dark, grim, dystopian one with very little light, but a lightness can be found in the characters, and, in rather touching scenes, their escape into the world of comics and superheroes. These characters live in a world inhabited by superpowered beings, but face injustice and mistreatment every day so it’s rather fitting then, that several of the characters find their escape in the fictional comics that once filled their world – comics that bear a very strong resemblance to those we read in our own Universe. Despite the huge popularity of superheroes in our media today, comics still rarely get acknowledged as pieces of literature, despite some storylines (the Dark Phoenix Saga and God Loves Man Kills are two of my favourite examples), being far better than many oft quoted works of classic literature – and modern graphic novels like “Persepolis” and “Safe Home” helping prove that the comic industry can give a huge amount more than many people may give it credit for. Comics are used here both as an influence and a catalyst – and Bereznai’s comic book knowledge shines through.
Caitlin is a strong lead character – her actions make a lot of sense, and Bereznai dares to take her to perhaps a slightly darker place than the lead is often put in in Dystopian YA books. In addition, she’s a layered, flawed and well developed character – intelligent, driven and talented enough to be a compelling character who stands above others, but normal enough to be relatable to the reader. Other characters too provide interesting counterpoints to Caitlin’s story – Normand in particular is both memorable and, as the story develops, an extremely intriguing character whose motivations are far more complex than one may feel initially. Bereznai writes teenagers well – even growing up in a dark world, they maintain the same complex feelings that regular teenagers do, and the author understands these. Older characters don’t just serve as antagonists or wallpaper here either – Caitlin’s mother is given an emotional backstory and hugely understandable motives, making her a character I’d be keen to see more of in future books. The characters being so well drawn really lifts this book above a lot of other YA books, and they work extremely well alongside the clever, surprising plot, and the general world building that Bereznai has done. In fact, the world he’s built is such a compelling one – similar to our own and yet so, so different, that I’d definitely like to read about how it came to be, and how it’ll change going forward.
Original, thrilling , and packed full of brilliant characters who take the reader on a twisting, turbulent adventure, “I Want Superpowers” is an entry to a universe that, no matter how dark or dystopian, I’m extremely eager to return to.
On its outskirts stands the Shard. Worshipped by some, feared by others, it’s revered as an artifact of wonder, a monolith of mystery. Where it came from and why it appeared, nobody knows. What is undeniably clear is that its very presence, like a dark poisoned dagger, is killing the land. A man who dwells in the crumbling ruins of Savrona, Justal, has dedicated himself to protecting a small girl, Kria. Like most people they survive by scavenging for whatever morsels they can find. One day their fortunes change when through a series of violent circumstances their paths collide with Avani Sovrarn, a young woman whose family controls the dwindling remnants of the city’s resources, and an unlikely partnership is formed between them. As tensions mount between the Sovrarn family and the citizens of Savrona, starvation drives the city to tear itself apart. This forces Avani and Justal to confront their pasts in order to save their future, and together find a way to shatter the Shard and free their world. Though between them and their goal stands a demonic entity known as the Prisoner, whose arrival threatens to wipe out what remains of mankind.
Reviewing debut novels by authors can often be a tricky thing. I wouldn’t call myself a particularly sunny person – but knowing that a bad review could crush someone’s dreams and ruin their image of the thing they’ve been working on for years, does mean that I don’t always accept offers of books to review, and when I do, it can be with some trepidation.
You will, however, be glad to know that none of my fears were realised here, as this is a very strong debut indeed. Compelling, with complex ideas made real in a dark and twisting plot, Bertrand writes layered and vivid characters, and detailed descriptions give life to a dangerous world – a world which, despite the many grim science fiction worlds we have seen before it, still feels fresh and original.
I had some mild issues with the pacing at the start, but soon adjusted, and I’ll admit that I do still have issues with reading ebooks – but that’s no fault of the author, more a consequence of me being an old fart. I was, despite grumbles, soon swept in to the tale of “Shadow of the Shard” – and there are some stand out paragraphs which really capture the way the author has with language, and some action scenes that move at a rapid and hugely engaging pace.
Whilst the ending is a satisfying one, these are interesting ideas and concepts that could do well with revisiting – and I hope that the author chooses to do that in the future. As a debut, it’s very strong indeed – so I can only imagine that further books will be even better.
Kali Ling competes in the RAGE tournaments – a competition of Virtual Gaming, where the world’s best gamers compete in a fight to the digital death. Every fights is broadcast to millions, and each player leads lives of fame. Although the weapons are digital, the players feel every blow… Kali Ling – the first female captain in tournament history, is famed for her prowess – but has her world shaken when her teammate and lover overdoses. Now, she must win the tournament and uncover the truth about the tournament, for the Virtual Gaming League has dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…
Virtual Gaming, or eSports as it tends to be called, has risen hugely in popularity in recent years – with over 71,500,000 people worldwide tuning into competitive gaming during 2013, and the number steadily growing. The industry is plagued by accusations of drug abuse, with players utilising prescription medication such as Adderall in order to stay awake and alert. The gender split in the industry is fairly large, with the vast majority of fans male, so unsurprisingly sexism is rife, although female representation in the industry is increasing.
Author Holly Jennings, a lifelong gamer who has spent many hours in the virtual worlds of World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, explores the industry to great effect in her novel, setting things in a near future where the Virtual Gaming League is one of the major sporting events, and its competitors lauded like footballers are today. The issue of drugs is tackled head on, and the lead is a strong female with a complex and interesting personality. Plot developments come swiftly, and the violence is frequent and bloody – even when the reader knows it’s taking place in a virtual field, some of it is still genuinely gory.
There is a love story thrown in, and whilst initially it seems a little inappropriate, it’s convincing and written well – although thankfully the main aim of this plot is to encourage the development and growth of the lead character. Kali Ling is truly a fascinating character, layered, complex, and a good companion for the reader throughout the book, and her rise is a gripping one to watch. I can’t deny that there are some issues I had with this book – some prose is a little clunky, and the Hunger Games meets Ready Player One shtick is a high bar that isn’t always explore to the full potential it suggests. However, I’m inclined to remember that this is just the first book of a series, and I’m sure the potential of both this world and the character of Kali Ling will be explored more going forward – and I’ll definitely be reading.
This review was first posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk
Stanly Bird is about to turn sixteen – a solitary teen in a small Welsh town, he has few friends. Unless you count his talking dog, Daryl…
A splitting headache on the eve of his birthday soon develops into incredible powers, and Stanly swiftly finds himself defending his neighbourhood, falling in love, and gaining his first real friends. When jealous rivals, a mysterious figure and a horrific evil come into play though, Stanly finds himself cast away from home, and struggling to save everything he has come to hold dear.
I’ll start by admitting that my name is Luke, and that I am a fully fledged comicholic. I grew up on tales of the X-Men, and whilst they remain my first love, I’ve come to enjoy all sorts of comics – and I think they are often an overlooked medium where some incredible writers and artists often tell epic and groundbreaking stories. Spiderman is probably one of the best known superheroes, and the one whose origin story is the most iconic – intelligent, but often weak and unpopular Peter Parker gains fantastic powers in a mysterious accident, and becomes a strong and powerful superhero, winning the girl and saving the day. Whilst Spiderman may no longer be particularly relatable to teens (Spidey has had a hell of a lot happen to him in the fifty or so years since his creation; clones, dead Uncles, resurrected Aunts, awkward neck snapping incidents and a marriage that may never have existed…), several young heroes have sprung up in his stead – Ultimate Spiderman – a mixed race young boy called Miles Morales, and Ms Marvel – a shapeshifting young Muslim called Kamala Khan, have proved huge critical and commercial hits, and show that there is still a big market for grounded, relatable heroes.
However, one thing that never seems to work is novels about superheroes. Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem are books that, whilst brilliant, can’t really be called Superhero novels, despite featuring powers and heroes as part of the story. The only real success I can think of is Perry Moore’s Hero, and sadly the author passed away before he could expand on the story he began. Novels commissioned by the major comic publishing houses tend to be pale imitations of the original comics, and seem to be crying out for speech bubbles and beautiful art.
That could all change with the publication of Bitter Sixteen though, a novel that manages to conjure up the relatable thrill of early Spiderman, grounds it in rural Wales, throws in a talking dog, a winding plot and fantastic twists, and peppers little geeky references throughout the novel that both fit with the main character’s interests, and made this reviewer laugh out loud.
The plot is an absolute page turner – it is hard not to like Stanly, and Daryl (the talking dog) becomes an immediately likeable presence. The plot moves in a way that may seem relatively formulaic for those who have read a lot of Superhero tales, but the twists here are stonkingly big, and always surprising, making this a very fresh and original read. In addition, the villain is truly chilling – and one who I would love to see portrayed on screen.
I initially gave this book a second look due to the bizarre collection of recommendations on the cover – Cerys Matthews, BBC 6 DJ and former Catatonia singer is a fan, as is award winning screenwriter Andrew Davies, and Human Traffic director Justin Kerrigan. Pepper anything with multiple Buffy the Vampire Slayer references, and there is a good chance I will love it, but Bitter Sixteen does that and more – this is both a fantastic start to a trilogy, and a dazzling introduction for a great new character.
Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
This review was originally posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk/reviews/index.php?title=Bitter_Sixteen_by_Stefan_Mohamed