Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Magisterium: The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Title: The Iron Trial
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Published by: Doubleday Children's Books
Publication date: 9th September 2014
Pages: 295
Genres: Middle grade/Fantasy/Paranormal
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the Guardian newspaper.

Think you know magic? Think again. The Magisterium awaits...

Most people would do anything to get into the Magisterium and pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt.

Call has been told his whole life that he should never trust a magician. And so he tries his best to do his worst - but fails at failing.

Now he must enter the Magisterium.

It's a place that's both sensational and sinister. And Call realises it has dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning. Call's biggest test is still to come...

Everyone who knows me should know by now that I am a HUGE fan of Cassandra Clare. After reading ten of her books and adoring every single one, I've got to know her writing style and, as such, I know what to expect from her. In short, I'd set my standards pretty high for this book... which ended up being a mistake on my part.

I've never read anything by Holly Black before so I have no idea if her writing is my cup of tea or not, and therefore I don't know whether it was her influence which ruined the book for me or if it was Cassandra Clare. Or perhaps it was the plot, the pace, the characters... there are many possible reasons for me not enjoying this book as much as I thought I would - I just don't know which it is.

I was incredibly lucky to receive an ARC of this at the start of July, and when it arrived I just stared at the book in shocked excitement. Whether I enjoyed the book or not, this is an ARC of a book written by two phenomenal authors and it still sits proudly on my shelf. I just wish I'd enjoyed it more than I did.

Everyone's said it already and I really didn't want to jump on the bandwagon, but... this is like a cheap version of Harry Potter. I'm sorry, but it is. J.K Rowling doesn't own the idea of kids going to a magic school, but there's a point when someone can get way too close to an idea, and that's what Black and Clare have done here. No, the story doesn't include broomsticks, Hagrid, fancy Latin spells or even wands, but what it does include are most of the major Harry Potter plot points.

The similarities

- A secondary school where kids go to learn magic. Hogwarts / Magisterium. 
- Two boys and a girl who don't immediately get along but quickly become good, loyal friends to one another. Harry, Ron, Hermione / Callum, Aaron, Tamara.
- A 'master' who gives them vague instructions that, at the time, seem to have no relevance to the overall task. Dumbledore / Master Rufus.
- 'The enemy' who used to be a student at the school but became evil. Voldemort / Constantine Madden.
- The army of 'the enemy' consists of black-cloaked evil people who wear creepy masks. Death eaters / Chaos-ridden.
- The woods surrounding the school are full of murderous creatures. Hogwarts / Magisterium.
- There's an archway in Harry Potter with a sort of shimmering veil - I'm not too good at describing it because it's been so long since I've read the books, but if you've read them you'll know what I'm talking about - and there's one exactly the same in The Iron Trial. It doesn't have the same function, but the design is identical.

Clare has a serious past with plagiarism. [source / source] Just so you know. Mostly with Harry Potter fan fiction. Yep, when I found that out after reading this book, I was so surprised I forgot to be surprised.

Not to mention that the world-building was awful. Clare's world-building is usually mind blowing and I'm sure Black's is too, being such a popular author. But it was so vague yet complicated this time. I tried to picture the scenes in my head but I just couldn't, and it seemed to me like the authors were struggling to picture it themselves which is why it came across so messily. Perhaps an illustrated map in the front of the final edition would be a good idea? It wouldn't make the writing any better but it would help...

Not only was the world-building practically non-existent, but the writing was as bland as cornflakes. I've only ever read Clare's YA books and I know this is aimed at a younger audience, but I don't believe that should cause the author to dumb down his or her writing. No matter how old a reader is, if they don't understand something in a book they'll ask someone, check in a dictionary, or Google it. Simple.

Aaaand the characters? Tamara was okay - she made me chuckle a couple of times - but other than that, all of the characters seemingly merged into one. Gone were the witty one-liners and clever dialogue I loved so much in Clare's previous books.

Was the reading experience any better? Meh. It was alright. I found myself wanting to put the book down a lot and replace it with the Twitter app, which is never a good sign, but I persevered. I got to the interesting twist at the end which admittedly shocked me but the fascination was temporary. I finished the book, and I didn't feel a thing. No excitement. No fangirling. I'm not even interested in reading the next book in the series because, really, what's the point? The Iron Trial felt rushed, messy; as if the two of them had just scribbled down all of their ideas onto a piece of paper, typed it up, and stopped there.

I'm sorry to say this but I think after writing about Shadowhunters for so long that Cassandra Clare might have lost her touch when writing about other things unless it was Holly Black's influence which made the book less enjoyable. But then again, this was a joint effort between the both of them. I really don't know what to think except the fact that it simply didn't work.

Cassandra Clare is one of my favourite authors. In fact, I think she might be THE favourite. Maybe if I was slightly younger and not so analytically minded I might have enjoyed this. But the faults just popped up like flashing neon signs, one after the other, and it was so terribly disappointing, especially as it meant that my first experience with Black's writing was... this.

Overall, I don't recommend this at all whether you're a fan of the authors or not, and I can only hope that someone looking to read a Cassandra Clare novel for the first time stays well away from this one.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens

Title: Valentine Joe
Author: Rebecca Stevens
Published by: Chicken House
Publication date: 1st May 2014
Pages: 160
Genres: Middle grade/War/History
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Buy the book (Waterstones) | Buy the book (The Book Depository)

Rose goes to Ypres in Belgium to visit the graves of those who died in the Great War. There, the name of one boy stays in her mind: fifteen-year-old Valentine Joe. That night, Rose hears marching and when she looks out of her window, she sees a young soldier...

Unfortunately, this is one of those three-star reviews, a.k.a one of those reviews which is difficult to write because you didn't love it but you didn't hate it either.

We'll start with what irked me a little.

Valentine Joe was on the brink of being slightly too young for me, which is no fault of the book of course, but the language was very simple and didn't go into much depth about the war. That really disappointed me because history is one of my favourite subjects and I've been interested in the war ever since I was really young. This is a MG book so it makes sense that the language would be simple, but it was almost bland. Not to mention the book was written in third person, which can work occasionally, but this time it just made me feel so detached from the characters. I didn't connect with them at all.

It was slow to start with, too, but soon enough I was joining Rose on her search for Joe, through trenches and barracks to vintage cafes and a mysterious hotel. I enjoyed it, but I had expected it to be phenomenal and...it just wasn't. It was okay. It's set in Ypres, a place I've wanted to visit since way before I discovered one of my relatives is buried there, as he was killed in WWI. And it was clear that the author had done a LOT of detailed research, right down to what a visitor might see from the window of the Eurostar as it pulls into the city.

If you're a fan of war stories then it's highly likely you'll enjoy this, but don't expect it to be completely mind blowing. In a word, Valentine Joe is bittersweet.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Pointless Book by Alfie Deyes

Title: The Pointless Book
Author: Alfie Deyes
Published by: Blink Publishing
Publication date: 4th September 2014
Pages: 192
Genres: Non-Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Brought to you by YouTube Vlogger Alfie Deyes, The Pointless Book is the ultimate addition to his YouTube channel - a weird and funny video-diary of fun, challenges and nothingness: bake a cake in a mug; take part in a people-watching challenge; create a time capsule; diarise a week of your life, and learn to make origami. Fully illustrated and packed with a host of games, activities and pranks, Alfie invites you to join his online following as he challenges you to complete your journal of pointlessness and do virtually nothing with pride.

Those who know me will know I love YouTubers. I watch their videos every night before I go to bed and they're so entertaining - some even have upwards of a few million subscribers! My favourites are Zoella, Jim Chapman, Marcus Butler, and Alfie Deyes (PointlessBlog) to name a few. Well today, a very special book arrived (so special, in fact, that I'm writing the review and publishing the review the same day I got the book - I never do that!)

What book? The Pointless Book by none other than one of my favourite YouTubers himself, Alfie Deyes. But don't be fooled by the title - it's not so pointless! Full of random things to do from origami and passing the book to a stranger and having them draw you, to making paper aeroplanes and baking a cake in a mug, boredom won't even exist anymore with this book around. Just flip to a random page (don't do it in order) and you're good to go!

I'll admit I wasn't hugely excited about the book when it was first announced, but by the end of Alfie's video where he revealed the book I was fangirling so hard. I personally love books like this. Having filled my copy of Wreck This Journal, a similar book, I was in need of something else... and then this book was revealed. Good timing. I'd say this is more fun and definitely more random; I think the 'Draw genitals on the people below' page proves that. But my favourite page - yet to be completed - is 'Places I'd like to travel to' which for me is pretty much everywhere.

You don't even have to be a fan of Alfie to enjoy this book (although if you're not a fan, I suggest you go and marathon-watch all of his videos until you are.) However if you are a fan, like me, this book also comes with a free app which unlocks exclusive digital content. I couldn't actually get the app to work but it was only released a couple of hours ago and seeing as I haven't seen anyone else scanning a page with the app, I was probably doing it wrong. I'm really looking forward to using it, though! Edited to add: I just tried again and it works - no idea how! Very cool addition to the book.

And the final reason for me loving this book? It's really positive, and I'm all about spreading positivity! There are tasks such as 'Write a compliment, rip out this page, and give it to a stranger' and 'Write five things you like best about yourself and why."

Grab some pens, close your eyes, and flip to a page; your boredom is about to disappear in 3, 2, 1...