Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 12.21.31 PMPublisher: Emily Bestler Books (Atria)

Publication Date: December 4th, 2018

Page Count: 480

From the Jacket:

On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.

Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.

Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.

Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.

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Along the borders of this world lie others. There are places you can cross. This is one such place.

Diane Setterfield, I love you.

Once Upon a River is remarkable–expertly written, it is an enchanting and engrossing adult fairytale. Setterfield has woven a timeless story that is dark and sad, yet beautiful,  full of mystery and magical realism. Reader’s Digest calls it, ” a novel for book lovers” and I could not agree more.

Set in a fictional town on the bank of the Thames during a time when the world was still illuminated by gaslight, the story opens in a small inn called the Crown. Here the regulars gather each night to drink and tell stories. On one of these nights just as things are winding down, the door bursts open and a badly injured man comes inside carrying the body of a little girl. First thought to be dead, the girl lives and her survival sets an extraordinary course of events into motion.

Setterfield uses the next several chapters to introduce new characters, each one ending the same way: “Something is going to happen.” It is clear that the character introductions  are happening along the same timeline, creating an eerie groundhog’s day vibe which I absolutely loved! Representing the full range of humanity, the characters are vibrant and full of depth, with personalities that burst off the page. Mysterious and deeply enmeshed in folklore and magic, the river itself is perhaps the most important character and so much of the tone and pace of the story are set by the behavior of the water. At times slow and calm and at others rushing and fast, the storylines come together as the characters make their way towards and intricately plotted conclusion that I’m still thinking about days later.

Even after writing this review, I’m still trying to find the words to express how much I loved this book–trying and coming up short every time. Diane Setterfield is a magician, and with this book she has worked pure magic. Once Upon a River is such a quiet and powerful story, and the writing reflects the movement of a river so perfectly that I was completely swept up in it from the very first page.  I emphatically and enthusiastically recommend this one! The biggest thank you to Goodreads and Atria for the advanced review copy!

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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.

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!