Top Ten Tuesday: Fictional Worlds and Characters I Never Want to Be

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten fictional worlds we’d never want to live in, or characters we’d never want to trade places with! Here are mine – I’m going to do five of each! :)

Fictional Worlds I’d Never Want To Live In
1) Panem: I think this one goes without saying. Whilst I might be lucky and be born into the Capitol, more likely than not I would be born in one of the twelve districts and then have to worry about avoiding being picked for the Hunger Games. Because I wouldn’t do well as a tribute, not at all.

2) Westeros: As much as I love A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros does not seem like a very inviting place to live. War, white walkers, dragons… yeah. I’ll stay happily behind the pages of a book.

3) Camorr: And the surrounding areas. I love the city of Camorr in The Lies of Locke Lamora. It’s incredibly well described and brought to life. But would I ever want to live in a place with jumping sharks, cut-throat thieves, and as much filth and grime as I could shake a stick at? No, thanks.

4) Middle Earth: I would probably be slaughtered by orcs. :( Also, there are giant spiders. Nooooo.

5) The Muggle World: I would love to live in the Wizarding World, but sadly, I’d probably be a muggle. And, knowing my luck, I’d have a magical child, so I would know about the Wizarding World and be forever jealous. :(

Honourable Mention: Gilead (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Characters I’d Never Want To Trade Places With

1) Locke Lamora: The amount of crap this guy goes through on a regular basis? No way. I love him and his brains, but I’d never want his life.

2) Anna (from My Sister’s Keeper): Anna was born specifically to be a bone marrow match for her sister, Kate, who is dying of a rare form of leukemia. Imagine having that hanging over your head.

3) Mo (from Inkheart): I love his power to read things out of stories, but it brings him so much heartache. :(

4) Hazel (from The Fault in Our Stars): *gross sobbing*

5) Sansa Stark: Because. Just read books 1-3 of A Song of Ice and Fire. I’m on book four, so things could get better, but it’s been pretty horrible so far. To be honest, this could have been any number of characters from ASOIAF, but I’m pretty sure I’d be most likely to be in Sansa’s position.

Honourable Mention: Severus Snape (Harry Potter)

So, that’s it. What would you guys choose?

Review: The Republic of Thieves

Title: The Republic of Thieves

Author: Scott Lynch

Series: The Gentleman Bastard (#3)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Brutal, Thieving Fantasy

Pages: 598

Rating: 7.5/10

“I don’t expect life to make sense,” he said after a few moments, “but it could certainly be pleasant if it would stop kicking us in the balls.”

Summary: Locke and Jean are in Karthain, working for the Bondsmagi. Their task is to win the election for the party they have been assigned to. This is the Five Year Game. It’s different from their normal work, for sure, but the Bondsmagi have another trick up their sleeves. Their rival, fighting to win for the other side, is none other than Locke’s one true love – Sabetha.

Review: Firstly, this one has a map! Yay!

The Republic of Thieves is really split into two stories, two strands of narrative. The first strand is the Five Year Game, set in the present. The second strand is mainly the summer when the Gentleman Bastards were in training as players in Espara, and the summer where Locke is determined to win Sabetha’s heart. (Though it goes back further than that, and shows us the full story of Locke and Sabetha’s past, from Shade’s Hill to the end of their time in Espara).

This works well, in some ways. It’s nice to have the backstory about their summer as players at last, as it’s been mentioned in previous books, and it’s also nice to see Locke’s backstory with Sabetha. I enjoyed seeing Locke in Shade’s Hill, as all previous knowledge we had of that time was second hand and not through Locke’s eyes at all. I enjoyed seeing the slow growth of Locke’s affections towards Sabetha, from the moment he first lays eyes on her, to meeting her again at Father Chains’s, and beyond.

To be honest, unlike the first two books, this was more about the characters than the plot. It felt like it was building up to something, and it kind of did, but I think this one was setting the scene for how the rest of the series will play out. It felt like a prologue to something much bigger, in a sense.

I did appreciate the character building, though, and it has certainly piqued my interest and anticipation for the next book.

Sabetha has been an elusive character throughout the first two books. We didn’t even get to see her in reminiscences of the past. She was always mentioned in passing. This has built a certain mystique and anticipation around her character, and therefore she had a lot to live up to.

Does she live up to this anticipation?

Yes and no. She’s certainly a clever character, and certainly gives Locke and Jean a run for their money. But I didn’t exactly like her. She has insecurities, sure, and reasons for it, but she gives Locke the brush off so many times, and he just kind of follows her around like a lovesick puppy. I just wanted to shake Locke (both young and older versions) and tell him that she’s not good for him. I don’t think it’s a healthy relationship at all.

Were we meant to like her? I’m not sure. I think I understood why she is the way she is, but I really disliked how she played with Locke’s feelings.

Locke is the hero of these stories. We’re close to him. We root for him. Seeing someone shoot him down again and again does not really endear them to us.

I’m interested to see how Sabetha and her relationship with Locke develops, though.

Once again, we see the strength of Locke and Jean’s partnership. I love both of them so much, and their rapidly turning into one of my favourite fantasy duos. Perhaps I also resent Sabetha a little bit for getting in the way of that, but then I didn’t resent when Jean got a love interest in the last book.

I love Jean so much. Locke is very lucky to have him.

One minor niggling thing – every time Scott Lynch was supposed to write ‘stories’, he wrote ‘storeys’ instead. Once I could forgive as a typo, but this happened repeatedly. And no, I don’t mean building storeys. I mean tales, stories. Not sure how an editor missed it, to be honest.

The ending, though. Oh my god. What? What?! WHAT?!?!?

I need the next book now. ;_;

Top Ten Tuesday: A Reading Wishlist

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten things on our reading wish lists, or what we would like to see more of in the books we read. Here are mine. :)

1) More unconventional relationships in books where the relationship is not the number one focus of the text. Kind of like Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, where the main characters are in a gay relationship. I want to explore the relationship spectrum: gay, straight, lesbian, poly, etc.

2) On that note, more LGBTQ characters/protagonists where their sexual orientation is not the main focus of the book. For once, I want to see how an asexual or transgender character saves the world. We need more LGBTQ heroes.

3) Fantasy worlds that are not based on medieval England. There are so many other cultures and so much history in our world that fantasy worlds could find their roots in.

4) Love triangles that do not have an obvious conclusion. Usually when there is a love triangle in a novel, you can see from a million miles away who the protagonist is going to end up with. Why not make both love interests equally as likely? Why not have your protagonist end up with someone completely different, or no one at all?

5)  Unreliable narrators. I find them fascinating. Related to this, unlikeable narrators.

6) Protagonists that are parents, particularly in the fantasy genre.

7) Court/political intrigue, once again in the fantasy genre. I love tangled webs of lies and characters that are able to navigate all of this.

8) YA fiction that deals with mental health issues (anxiety, OCD, autism, schizophrenia, etc) or physical disability, though not necessarily as the thrust of the plot. Similar to the above point about LGBTQ characters. Everyone is capable of being the hero of their own story; why don’t we let them?

9) Sibling relationships. I want to see more books where the protagonist is really close to their brother or sister, or when their sibling is along for the ride to save the world.

10) Unconventional gender roles. Characters that are defined by who they are and not what’s between their legs.

So there’s my list. What would you guys like to see more of in fiction? :)

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten 2014 Debuts (That I’m Excited For)

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten debuts that we’re looking forward to in 2014. Here are mine. :)

This actually took quite a bit of research, seeing as most of the books I’m excited for are from authors I already know and love. But it was worth it, I think.

Click on the links to find out more about each book! :)

1) The Headhunters Race by Kimberly Afe

The Headhunters Race

2) The Murder Complex by Lindsay Cummings

3) Landry Park by Bethany Hagen

4) Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

5) Pointe by Brandy Colbert

6) Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano

7) Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

8) Fake ID by Lamar Giles

9) Alienated by Melissa Landers

10) The Fifty-Seven Lives of Alex Wayfare by M.G. Buehrlen

So there we have it. What debut books are you most looking forward to in 2014? :)

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Author: Scott Lynch

Series: The Gentleman Bastard (#2)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Brutal, Thieving Fantasy… with pirates!

Pages: 630

Rating: 9/10

The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming noise of city watches everywhere. Several other whistles joined in a few moments later.

“It is possible,” said Locke with a sheepish grin, “that I have been slightly too bold.”

Summary: With his sights set on the Sinspire, a gambling house no one’s ever stolen from and lived, Locke Lamora is in the city state of Tal Verarr. The game is proceeding as planned, and Locke and Jean are looking forward to their hard-earned windfall.

But the Bondsmagi of Karthain have a long memory, and soon someone else in Tal Verarr wants Locke and Jean’s expertise. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy, and are once again embroiled in a fight for their lives.

Review: Once again, wow.

I knew I’d like this book from the moment that Locke hopes Jean gets his cock sucked by a shark. Yes, that is a thing.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting as much from this book as from the first one. Second books tend to have a bit of a stigma surrounding them. I take back any hesitation I had.

Okay, some people might not like the fact that there’s more than one plot thread going on (though they tie up neatly in the end), and the fact that the piracy plotline doesn’t start until you’re a fair chunk into the book. But, you know, I liked that. Locke’s life, with its layers upon layers of deception, isn’t going to be straightforward. There’s going to be complications. Just as his Sinspire game looks to be going well, BAM. Something HUGE comes along and messes up all his plans and he has to do major damage control.

Kind of like the first book.

Poor Locke. I believe that he had some major character growth going on in this book. The events in the last book have taken their toll on him and his relationship with Jean, and I feel like he’s growing up. He seems to think more about consequences (well, sometimes), and isn’t quite as cocksure and reckless as he was in the first book.

And we see the aftermath of the first book, even though this first one is set two years after the end. For the first part of the book, we get reminiscences of the previous two years, bringing us up to date on Locke and Jean’s adventures to the starting point of the novel. I liked this feature. Not only was it in keeping with Lynch’s style (like the flashbacks in book one), I’m glad we got to see what happened in the missing two years of time. Locke and Jean’s relationship was strained to the breaking point, and we got to see that, and see the ramifications of that even two years later.

We also get to see the beginnings of the Sinspire game, which, in the main plot, is coming to a close. All in all, I really enjoyed the flashbacks. I always enjoy when an author is clever with time, and with their narrative structure. Especially when it’s not confusing at all.

The prologue was and is, I admit, a dirty trick. Prologues that are a scene from somewhere near the end of the novel always put me in two minds as a reader. Firstly, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to spend the entire book waiting for this scene, or feeling anxious because it hasn’t happened yet. No, thank you. On the other hand, I admire the ballsy hook.

Jean got some character development too! I appreciated the scenes from his point of view – I know there were a few in Lies, but not nearly as many. Jean is the source of MANY FEELS in this novel, just to warn you. I was SO HAPPY and then I was DISTRAUGHT. That aside, you really get to see what a damn good friend he is to Locke. Locke puts him through so much crap sometimes, and yet he is still always there. Always looking out for him.

I love their friendship. They would die for each other. Just die. And we get to see evidence for this over and over again. It’s not just words for them. It was never just words.

Let’s talk about some of the other characters in this book. I LOVE the badass women pirates. I love the fact that Scott Lynch’s world is so totally different than our own when it comes to gender roles. Being a woman doesn’t stop any of his characters doing anything. His women are as real and vibrant as his men, with as many nuances and shades of grey and badass awesome moments.

Like Zamira. She’s a middle-aged pirate woman, a captain of one of the most feared pirate ships in the Brass Sea. She also is the single mum of two kids, and is raising them right out there on the high seas. She’s a great character. She oozes authority, and courage, and you definitely do not want to get on her bad side.

There are, of course, other great characters. I particularly liked the antagonists in this one. I felt that they had a lot of depth to them, rather than just being assholes for the sake of assholes. There are loads of other characters I could mention – Ezri, for instance – but you really need to experience them for yourself.

There is no map at the beginning of this one, which was a grievance I had in the last book. Once again, I feel that the novel would have benefitted from the inclusion of one.

The writing, though. I love the way Scott Lynch can turn a phrase. I really, really do. Amongst beautiful descriptions and plenty of atmosphere building, there are moments of pure humour and snark and wondrous narration.

For example:

“Mew,” the kitten retorted, locking gazes with him. It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming. ‘I was comfortable, and you dared to move,’ those jade eyes said. ‘For that you must die.’ When it became apparent to the cat that its two or three pounds of mass were insufficient to break Locke’s neck with one mighty snap, it put its paws on his shoulders and began sharing its drool-covered nose with his lips. He recoiled.

I am in love with his writing. Pure, unadulterated love. *swoons like a maiden*

Whilst The Lies of Locke Lamora can stand alone as a novel, the same isn’t entirely true of this one. Sure, the main plotlines are all wrapped up at the end, but there is a massive great question mark left hanging over the characters. Technically, you can read this one as a standalone too, but I, for one, am very glad to have the next book sitting right next to me.

If you like cons and thieves and brutal fantasy and enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, read this book. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, read that first, then come and read this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Goals for 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a book blog meme hosted by the lovely people at The Broke and the Bookish. This week, it’s asking for the top ten goals for 2014. So here are mine! :)

1) Read at least 50 books this year.

2) Polish the reviews I’ve already posted on Goodreads and cross-post the best ones here.

3) After spending my book voucher today, limit buying books to, at most, once a month. I already have so many books on my shelf I haven’t read yet.

4) When I’m more established as a reviewer, check out NetGalley and request some ARCs (this is more an end of 2014 goal, I think).

5) Read at least 3 classics this year.

6) Catch up with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (I’m on book four).

7) At least three quarters of the books I read this year should be from books already on my ‘to read’ shelf.

8) Write at least a post a week for The Book Bean.

9) Finish reading the pile of young adult books relevent to my PhD.

10) Try and read at least a chapter every day.

What are your bookish goals for 2014?

Writing the Taboo

Disclaimer: This post is pure opinion, and I make no claims at any authority on the subject.

Little back story here: I’ve been writing fantasy for about ten years now and have, on and off, been writing in the same world. However, I’ve actually not really made any attempt to cohesively world-build before. Sure, I’ve had ideas for cultures and things, and mostly have been consistent in the rules of magic and what-have-you, but my world-building is nowhere near complete.

One of my resolutions for 2014? World-build my heart out.

So, I was thinking about one of the religions in the country where my story is set, and came to the realisation that they eat their dead. In a very much reverant kind of way, you understand.

And that got me to thinking about how these characters would be perceived by readers. I mean, cannibalism is a pretty huge taboo in our society.

Can cannibalism – and other taboos, such as incest, beastiality and paedophilia – be written in a way where a reader may sympathise with the characters commiting them? (See? The word ‘committing’ already paints the act in a negative light.) Not necessarily empathise, but sympathise. Understand them. Like them.

There are two ways to go about this, I think.

The first way is to, as a writer, take a physical step back from these characters, so we as a reader view them through another layer of consciousness. The trouble with this approach, I think, is it is all too easy to paint the character committing the taboo as a villain.

For example, in A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, we know from the first few chapters that Jaime and Cersei Lannister, who are twins, are involved in a sexual relationship. We see them purely through the eyes of characters who don’t like them. When viewpoint characters discover this information about them (with the exception of Bran, the child who we as readers learn the information through), it’s treated as another layer of their villainy. In the ‘of course they’re having sex, Lannisters are horrible people’ kind of way.

(This changes somewhat when we get both Jaime and Cersei’s viewpoint characters in later books, making them much more sympathetic, but more on that in a minute.)

The only other example I can think of right now is Hannibal Lecter, but sadly I haven’t read any of Thomas Harris’s books so I can’t give much of an insight. I have seen the films, however, and Lecter is a very compelling character. Clarice Starling is definitely the protagonist, but Lecter is very much an overarching presence. He can’t be called a hero, not by a long shot, but I don’t think he’s entirely a villain either.

And considering the amount of fangirling I’ve seen over the recent tv series, I’m pretty sure that’s not just the film maker’s decision.

The other way of doing it, and the way I’m probably going to do it, is putting the reader inside the characters’ heads. This is an entirely different experience to having your opinion of them filtered through another character, as you’re experiencing the world of the story with them. They are not just a sightseeing stop along the way.

Jaime Lannister (and to a lesser extent, Cersei) is an example of this. Once you read a couple of chapters from his point of view, it is hard not to change your opinion of him. The incest (no spoilers here, honest) is a much bigger part of him than it first seems. In A Game of Thrones, it’s a) what sets the wheels of the plot in motion and b) a way to make the Lannisters seem that tiiiny bit more despicable. When you read from Jaime’s point of view, you see that it is his powerful love for Cersei that is the driving force behind him, and the thing that keeps him going when times are hard. You can’t help but fall for him, in that sense. In that way, I think that Martin handled the taboo incredibly well. He went along with readers’ gut reactions in the first book, and then turned it around when Jaime gets a voice.

Another author that handles the taboo of incest well is Tabitha Suzuma in her book, Forbidden. This novel is told from the alternating first-person viewpoints of Maya and her brother, Lochan. As a reader, you experience along with them the joy and agony of falling in love with a sibling. The whole book is very interior, with not much to distract you from the rising sexual tension and the fear of being discovered. You want it to work out for them, even if that want makes you feel rather conflicted.

Then, there is Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, told from the point of view of Humbert Humbert, a man with a rather unsettling obsession with young girls. If you look at the reviews on Goodreads, they’re divided between people who found Humbert Humbert disquietingly sympathetic, and people who are shocked and/or disgusted to be reading about paedophilia. I think there is a fine line between eliciting those two reactions from your readers, and Nabokov has found the balance.

It’s interesting to note that Lolita ended up on the banned books list for obscenity here in England for a while.

What does everyone think? Would you prefer to be distanced from a taboo, or to face it head on when reading fiction? Do you have any other examples of books that you believe have handled taboo subjects well, either from a distance or up close? Or do you believe there are certain subjects writers just shouldn’t tackle? Let me know your thoughts! :)