Review: The Ashes of London, Andrew Taylor

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✮✮✮☆☆

 

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

CONTENT WARNING: Rape and sexual assault.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I was in the midst of a reading slump when I decided to pick up this book on a whim in Waterstones last week. I tend to find that murder mysteries are great easy reads that I fly through, so I thought this book would be perfect to get myself excited about reading again. This period of British history is also something that I’ve read about and hugely enjoyed before, so I thought that the context I already had for the 17th century would help in getting myself through this a little quicker.

 

The bad: 

First and foremost, I really felt as though this book could have been severely trimmed down, by at least 50 pages. Some scenes gave a huge amount of unnecessary observations on behalf of the characters, and considering one of the two protagonists (James Marwood, possibly the wettest lettuce alive) didn’t ever seem to have anything interesting to say, it really dragged in places for me. I was also expecting something much more fast paced, whereas The Ashes of London ended up relying more on the historical fiction side of things than the murder mystery, which is the part I was most looking forward to. For the majority of the book, there was hardly any mystery at all, and only a small twist at the end seemed to give any excitement. I did enjoy the main female protagonist, Cat, who seemed to have much more personality than her male counterpart, but she still felt a little stilted. Her slightly feminist leanings and opinions seemed a little forced in, and the phrasing of them slightly too modern to be believable, but admittedly it did give her much more depth and motivation.

 

The good:

I think the aspect of the narrative that Taylor handled the best was his depiction of the aftermath of rape. The scene itself was not shown, but the raw emotion and gut reactions to the male touch afterwards were extremely heartfelt. Unlike other historical fiction and even fantasy I’ve read previously, this plot point did not seem throw-away in order to give some ‘edge’. Instead the act was pivotal to the main plot, and was handled delicately enough to be realistic and sympathetic without being too graphic or character defining for the victim. I also enjoyed the obviously excellently well-researched religious exploration that occurred throughout, and Taylor dealt with some complex issues surrounding how the beliefs and actions of parents can affect their children and legacy.

 

Overall rating: 3/5

 

Review: Bender, Gene Gant

 

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At nineteen, college freshman Mace Danner works as an escort, hiring himself out to customers who want a submissive they can dominate. Having no carnal urges himself, the sexual side of his job leaves him cold, but he sees the pain inflicted on him by his clients as punishment for causing his brother’s death when he was in high school. Pain is not enough, however, to wash away his guilt, and Mace starts binge drinking in an effort to escape his remorse.
The dorm’s resident advisor, Dex Hammel, sees Mace spiraling out of control and strives to help him. Despite the mutual attraction between them, Mace is disturbed that he still feels no sexual desire for anyone. Even with Dex’s support, Mace’s self-destructive behavior escalates, leading to a situation that endangers his life.

 

Why I picked this book up:

When I was searching through the LGBT section on NetGalley, the synopsis really stood out to me – this was a fresh, if dark, take on most romances in YA, although I was skeptical as to whether this book would manage to do these themes of self destruction, asexuality, and healing justice.

 

The bad:

I think the only ‘bad’ thing I possibly have to say about this book is the violent sexual scenes, but that isn’t a fault of the book or the writing, just an uncomfortable thing to have to experience, especially as the narrative is so well written you empathise so completely with Mace. I definitely felt his isolation and his confusion, as well as his want to be around loving people but at the same time pushing them away. I can’t really find a negative thing to say about this novel, aside from how downtrodden and emotional it has the potential to make you feel.

 

The good:

I was thrilled to read about an asexual, bi-romantic character in YA, especially where the main character discovering his sexuality is only one strand of this plot. His journey and confusion regarding how he feels alongside his personal trauma and his shady life as a submissive escort made this a book that I flew through, rooting for Mace in every chapter, hoping he would find a way to help himself and let others help him. I think this is such an important book, as it not only highlights the difference between BDSM as something that turns you on and BDSM as something you can be forced into (without any judgement cast on the first), highlighting the struggles of asexuals and the problems with a lack of information about queer sexualities for young people, and shows a healthy, helpful healing process and ways to manage mental illness.

 

Favourite quote:

“I believe in friendship. I believe in love.”

 

Overall rating: 5/5

 

I was given a free copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Review: The Diviners, Libba Bray

Disclaimer: this review was originally posted on my old blog URL.

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Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City—and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is that she has to live with her uncle Will and his unhealthy obsession with the occult.

Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.

As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl named Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened.

 

Why I picked this book up:

I had seen this everywhere on Tumblr, and as soon as I read the synopsis I knew I had to read it. Flappers? Check. Murder mystery? Check. Occult? Check. Sassy female characters with badass superpowers? Triple check.

 

The bad:

This book does take a while to get going, but considering its length at almost 600 pages, it’s understandable as to why. I’ve had this book for almost a year and never got further than fifty pages, but that’s mainly because I always ended up reaching for it whilst I was in a huge reading slump. Although I found it interesting, the plot hadn’t really started picking up in the small section that I’d read. It was only recently I decided to give it another go and carry on from where I’d left off.

 

The good:

But boy, when this book got going, it really got going. I was so heavily invested in every single one of the characters, despite the narrative flicking quickly between them all, as well as a few side characters as well. The setting of 1920’s New York with an occult murder mystery and a huge cast of contrasting teenage characters really made the book come alive for me. Every one of them had their own motivations, their own family or friends to take care of and their own attitude towards the powers they hold, which alongside a gripping detective narrative meant that I could hardly put it down once I made it past 200 pages. The setting, the tensions, and the huge climax made this such an easy and almost indulgent read.

 

Favourite quote:

“She was tired of being told how it was by this generation, who’d botched things so badly. They’d sold their children a pack of lies: God and country. Love your parents. All is fair. And then they’d sent those boys, her brother, off to fight a great monster of a war that maimed and killed and destroyed whatever was inside them. Still they lied, expecting her to mouth the words and play along. Well, she wouldn’t. She knew now that the world was a long way from fair. She knew the monsters were real.”

 

Overall rating: 5/5