Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

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Publisher: Crown

Publication Date: August 21st, 2018

Page Count: 512

From the Jacket:

In a city that runs on industrialized magic, a secret war will be fought to overwrite reality itself–the first in a dazzling new series from City of Stairs author Robert Jackson Bennett.

Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.

But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.

Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.

To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

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Holy forking shirt balls, this book is fantastic! In Foundryside, Robert Jackson Bennett has created an epic urban fantasy full to bursting with a completely inventive magical system, mind bending scientific details, creative world building, vibrant characters and an impossible heist plot. It was completely addicting and I abandoned all of my nightly responsibilities until I finished it.

The city of Tevanne is ruled over by merchant houses, each vying against the other for power and money by selling magic. Through a magical technology known as ‘scriving’, inanimate objects are given coded commands which allow them to defy reality. (Here, Bennett spares no details, and describes in great detail how this technology works. It is absolutely enchanting and one of my favorite aspects of the book.) In order to scrive within the city, you must belong to one of the merchant houses, and gifted scrivers work to produce house designs in exchange for the comfort and safety of living within the house walls. Those that do not belong to a house live in extreme poverty and must fight daily to survive. Because of that, the city is also home to an active underworld of independent scrivers who create knock off designs for profit.

It is in this underworld where we meet Sancia, a talented thief with a very dark past, who survives life in Tevanne by taking risky jobs.  After successfully pulling off a particularly difficult robbery, she breaks one of her rules, and opens the box she has stolen. It is the discovery of what the box contains that sets off a chain of reactions that cannot be undone. Suddenly, she finds that her business partner is dead and she is being hunted by a powerful group of assassins who are wielding a kind of power previously unseen in Tevanne. While hiding out on a rooftop, she sees one of the men chasing her turn off all of the scrived devices in the city at the touch of a single button, causing panic and devastation (imagine the scene in Revolution when all the power goes out all over the world).

Sancia barely escapes with her life, and in order to stop the men pursuing her, she partners with some very unlikely people. Together they discover a truly horrifying plot that will forever alter their world. Racing against a very tight timeline, they plan a crazy scheme to break into the most guarded place in the city and pull off the heist to end all others. The action does not let up until the very end, and the last few pages will leave you very impatiently waiting for more.

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This book was so much fun to read! The plot moved quickly, and all the while Bennett  built a vivid and realistic world, full of political intrigue, unforgettable characters and fascinating technical explanations about scriving. This is definitely not your typical fantasy novel.  It gave me the same sort of vibes I got while reading the Broken Earth series, and if you enjoyed that crazy ride, I think this one is for you. Foundryside comes out tomorrow, so do yourself a favor and pick it up! A huge thank you to Netgalley and Crown Publishing for sending me this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

Screen Shot 2018-07-25 at 8.12.45 PMPublisher: Viking

Publication Date: February 8th, 2011

Page Count: 592 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

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To say that I love this book to the point of obsession would be an understatement. With A Discovery of Witches, Deborah Harkness wrote a book that felt like it was intended for me. It’s full of bad ass female characters, magic, books, history, libraries, witty flirtatious banter, sweet forbidden love, sexy devoted vampires, and just so much more.

As if I need to further my point, the very first scene of the book takes place in Oxford’s Bodleian library! Diana Bishop (as in the Bishops from the Salem Witch Trials) is conducting research when she unintentionally calls up a very old alchemical manuscript known as Ashmole 782, that has very clearly been bewitched. After losing her parents at the hands of other witches at a very young age, Diana has turned her back on her magic and lived a life as free from it and her powerful family as she can. It is because of this that she decides she wants nothing to do with the manuscript and sends it back to the stacks as quickly as she can. Completely unbeknownst to her however, Ashmole 782 has been missing for over a hundred years, and her short interaction with it sets off a domino effect that cannot be stopped.

It took me a few pages to really get into the story, but once I was in nothing could have stopped me from finishing. The action picks up quickly and never lets up, and the steady stream of mysterious new characters including vampires, daemons, and other witches was completely addicting.

After her unsettling interaction with the manuscript, it’s not long before Diana finds herself back in the stacks and face to face with Matthew Clairmont. Clairmont is a very old and very powerful and VERY DREAMY vampire who is initially drawn to her because he overhears that she has found Ashmole 782. However, after a few terse initial interactions, the two become inseparable while they work together to discover the mystery of the manuscript before it’s too late.

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I will not get into too many plot details to avoid major spoilers, but I will discuss some of the stuff that I loved about this book. There are just so many things about it that worked for me, and basically nothing that didn’t. One of my favorite aspects are the settings Harkness creates. They are so vivid and rich in detail that I felt like I was there. I could smell London in the fall, and feel the crisp breeze when Diana was out rowing on the river. She adds so many cozy elements to her scenes like thick soft clothing, warm fires, and a seemingly endless supply of hot tea. Some of the most memorable parts of the book take place in Matthew’s tower rooms in his fortress in France. I never thought I would want to live in a fictional place more than the Gryffindor common room until I read this book. And speaking of Harry Potter vibes, the house where Diana’s aunts live is alive and very opinionated. It slams doors to get their attention and adds rooms when visitors are coming, it hides things it takes a fancy to and keeps other things safe until they are needed. It was like a giant, sassy room of requirement, and I loved everything about it.

A Discovery of Witches is also bursting at the seams with so much history. Matthew is old, like VERY old and Diana is a historian. The conversations they have about historical figures and events and the books that Matthew has in his personal collection made all my nerdy parts sing with joy. The action and magic and romance would have been enough to draw me in and keep me hooked, but these extra details made this book something more for me. And speaking of romance, I am complete Diana and Matthew trash and will ship them until I die.

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(This is from the TV show because apparently there is a TV show and I need to watch it IMMEDIATELY!)

Another thing Harkness mastered in this book, was her creation of well imagined and dynamic characters. They are realistic, relatable, and memorable and she does a phenomenal job explaining their personalities and personal motivations. I fell in love quickly with Diana and Matthew, but also with Ysabeau, Marthe, Hamish, Sarah and Emily. In the wrong hands, such a large cast of characters introduced so quickly could have fallen flat, but she builds each one up expertly and even her minor characters have depth. Additional characters are weaved into the plot up until the very end of the book, and I felt as engaged with the newcomers as I did with the rest.

I could go on and on and on about this book and how much I loved it, but mostly I just want to go start the next one! I hope you will read this series and come chat with me about it. If you’ve already read it, please let me know. I’m running out of people to flail with and could really use your emotional support.

Happy Reading!

Saga Vol 1-7 – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

 

Publisher: Image Comics

Publication Date: October 10th, 2012 to April 4th 2017

Synopsis:

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. From New York Times bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) and critically acclaimed artist Fiona Staples (Mystery Society, North 40), Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

Before a couple of weeks ago, my entire experience regarding comics consisted of religiously picking up Archie comics from the grocery store as a kid and rereading the Calvin and Hobbes books like it was my job. Both of these obsessions happened over two decades ago, so I was a bit uncertain on whether or not I would review Saga when I initially picked it up. Fast forward to today, just a few hours after finishing volume 7, and that uncertainty just seems silly. I have SO MUCH to say about this series, and I don’t think I could shut up about it even if I wanted to.

Full of Fiona Staples’ breathtakingly beautiful art, Saga is part space opera, part fantasy, with a whole lot of romance and family drama. The cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, including, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, non binary, and POC characters.  There is a lot of nudity and sex, which I am SO HERE FOR, as well as graphic depictions of violence. I realize this may not be everyone’s bag so it’s worth calling out.

Saga tells the story of Marko and Alana, soldiers from opposite sides of a long fought intergalactic war. There is an extensive history of hate and prejudice between the two races (the wings and the moonies), when Marko is captured as a POW by the army that Alana is fighting for. After a series of events (that I won’t spoil for you here), the two fall in love and escape together, intent on living their lives in as much peace as they can find.  The entire series is narrated by their daughter, Hazel, and the first volume literally opens with her birth. Hazel’s birth is the catalyst for the rest of the story, as we follow two parents wiling to do anything to keep her safe, and carve out a life they can live together despite the constant violence happening around them.

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You guys. After this truly incredible, addictive, and immersive reading experience, I fully intend on making graphic novels a habit again. And while I may read hundreds more, I have no doubt that Saga will stay on my top favorites list for all time. Everything about this story is designed to draw the reader in and keep them as a willing captive until the very end. The world building is jaw dropping and full of lush details that I stopped to admire even while wanting to zip ahead though the rest of the story. Brian K Vaughan writes whip smart, tender, and downright hilarious dialogue and characters that I was invested in from the first panel.

I love the way there are multiple story lines going on at once that swap every couple of pages. Even though I couldn’t wait to find out what was happening to one set of characters, I immediately put them to the back of my mind to focus on the immediacy of what was happening to the rest. I cared about them all that much. There wasn’t a single arc that felt boring or less important than the rest. The sheer number of alien species and worlds that Staples creates is astounding. I was delighted by the creativity and especially loved the robot race and the way the different classes and royal family were portrayed. It doesn’t seem fair that one person can hold so much in a singular imagination.

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Final Thoughts: I cannot recommend these enough. If you’re considering jumping into the world of comics, I think Saga is a great place to start, but prepare yourself for a serious hangover and a lengthy wait for the next installment. I’m fully invested now, and cannot wait to check out other work by both Vaughan and Staples as well as other graphic novel series. If you have any good ones to recommend, please please let me know!!

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Favorite Characters: Alana, Hazel, Klara, Lying Cat, Sophie, The Brand, Isabel, Barr

Memorable Quotes:

My name is Hazel. I started out as an idea, but I ended up something more. Not much more, to be honest. It’s not like I grow up to become some great war hero or any sort of all important savior… but thanks to these two, at least I get to grow old. Not everybody does. (Vol 1)

Cool. So glad I got to do all this in a towel. (Vol 2)

All good children’s stories are the same: young creature breaks rules, has incredible adventure, then returns home with the knowledge that aforementioned rules are there for a reason. Of course, the actual message to the careful reader is: break rules as often as you can, because who the hell doesn’t want to have an adventure? (Vol 3)

A lot of people who came into my family’s life looking like heroes ended up acting more like villains. (Vol 4)

Every relationship is an education. Each new person we welcome into our hearts is a chance to evolve into something radically different than we used to be. (Vol 5)

We’re all aliens to someone. Even among our own people, most of us still feel like complete foreigners from time to time. (Vol 6)

If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then a family is more like a rope. We’re lots of fragile little strands, and we survive by becoming hopelessly intertwined with each other. (Vol 7)