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a blank slate

Tag: urban fantasy

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

“…where’s the skill in being a hero if you were always destined to do it?”

Un Lun Dun. Say it quickly, in one go. UnLunDun. Does it make sense? That’s it. UnLondon. Un-London. Un Lun Dun is a Young Adult Fantasy book by China Mieville, an English writer of weird fantasy.

Un Lun Dun is set in the fantasy world of UnLondon, a city which lies on the brink of London, formed out of the debris of the city, where anything or anyone that is obsolete within London is transported and takes on a life of its own. Every city in the world has one such Un-city or abcity. Paris has Parisn’t, Rome has Romeless and Helsinki has Helsunki. An UnSun shaped like a loop shines its light on UnLondon and at night, the white Loon smiles down on the abcity. Cutting the city cleanly in two parts, the Smeath flows through UnLondon, and its skyline is dotted by many iconic structures, the best amongst them perhaps the Webminster Abbey. It’s a treat for any London-lover and a testament to the bizarreness of the city.
Zanna is a young girl living in London. She’s been having some weird experiences lately, strange people recognize her on the street, animals seem to be staring at her funny and once, her friend Deeba saw a cloud shaped like Zanna’s face. Following her around, whispered in corners and graffiti-ed on walls is a word – “choisi” or “Schwazzy” – French for chosen” as she is called. That’s what she is – the chosen one, but chosen for what? Zanna travels to UnLondon to find out what destiny has in store for her, and she takes her friend Deeba along with her on what turns out to be the most twisted adventure ever.

The Smog has started to take over the city of UnLondon. It is a shapeless entity comprising all the smoke and pollution emitted across the twin abcities of London and UnLondon. It’s a sentient smog, and it is angry, hidden away after being vanquished from London by what was rumoured to be a band of magicians. The Smog is now secretly planning to overthrow the existing powers in UnLondon and take over the world. A prophecy in UnLondon says that no one can stop the Smog, except the chosen one. But when Zanna reaches UnLondon, the UnLonders hopes wane, because the Chosen One is just a clueless young girl, easily squashed by the mighty Smog. What will happen when the Smog defeats Zanna?

Un Lun Dun is a Young-Adult book through and through. It is fast, it is witty in that dry teenagerey way and it has a lot of excitement without the need for explanation and a healthy dose of puns and wordsmithery. It is a plot-driven book which works because its characters are utterly likeable. The main character, Deeba, initially thought to be a sidekick of the chosen one, comes through to be our hero of the book. The book keeps surprising you at every turn of events – the story is nowhere near linear… halfway through the book, you wonder what could happen next, because the resolution seems right around the corner. And bang, you end up in the middle of an all new adventure before you can bid goodbye to the first. An excellent quick read for the bored you.

It is an emotional ride as well, the book takes on all your typical fantasy tropes – hero, sidekick, destiny, prophecies, Chosen Ones and tasks and treasures – and turns them on their head. He surprises you with a depth that you unfairly would not expect from a children’s book. It talks about family also, and friends, and how fickle relationships can be. It shows you the practical problems of being a hero in a fantasy story and in the most fascinating way, shows you how the problems can be done away with. The book knows when not to tug at your heart strings also, and prefers sweet subtleties over maudlin displays. It’s quite an experience, one I would rather not spoil with over-analysis. I recommend this book heartily to lovers of fantasy, magic, urban fantasy, alternate worlds..

Un Lun Dun has the most ridiculous cast of characters – a book of prophecies which is quite opinionated indeed, Propheseers who read the book and generally philosophize on people’s destinies, a man who can control umbrellas, a half-ghost half-human boy, a milk carton which has a life of its own, and armed dustbins called the Binja who are a security force. Some people populating UnLondon are those who were of no use to London, and slipped through the worlds – they are as M.O.I.L, that is, Mostly Obsolete in London…which is why UnLondon has, among its residents, quite a large population of bus conductors and librarians!
A few months ago, I was on a trip to London and got lost underground on the very first day, stranded at Leicester Square with a suitcase and painfully without my passport, money or travel card. It was one of the craziest nights, I ended up in the control room with a bunch of guards trying to call different stations on the Piccadilly line to find my mother, who happened to be on the tube! It was a very Neverwhere thing to happen. I hadn’t read Un Lun Dun at the time, but that night I was pretty much M.O.I.L. myself… mostly obsolete. I just wish I could have ended up in UnLondon. Now that would have been something.

Buy this book on Amazon!

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

You know that feeling of utter delight you get when you explore a new fictional world, peek into its depths and corners, try to uncover its secrets, and doing that, spill coffee on yourself, miss classes, forget to talk to people, sleep or eat and in general lose yourself; you do know it, yea? I’ve so missed that feeling.

It’s been a while since I really devoured a book. So when I had a couple of hours to kill between assignments yesterday, I picked up Storm Front by Jim Butcher. The Dresden Files had been on my reading list longer than I remembered, and three pages into the series starter, I was wholly sucked into the world of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practising professional wizard and private investigator. The Dresden Files is witty, entertaining and superbly addictive. I’ve only read Storm Front and half of the second book, Fool Moon, so far, and there are fifteen in total and counting. But, I can’t wait to make my way through the series this year.


The thing that I like about the first book, and what I’ve read of the second, is the clean cut precision. Right at the very beginning we know what we’re dealing with. A professional wizard you’d find in the yellow pages, who consults with the Chicago police, assisting Special Investigations officer Karrin Murphy, who is incredibly reminiscent of Buffy and who is an altogether gentleman, mostly. In Storm Front, Dresden tackles two cases, one: two dead bodies with their hearts ripped out, murders committed undoubtedly by a black sorcerer; two: a man reported missing by his wife. 


Butcher also gives you a thorough look at the magic of this world… almost. He mentions a White Council which is a pretty self explanatory title, a realm called Nevernever that I haven’t quite figured out yet but which suffices for the time, he tells you how magic is good, it’s made by your soul and not by objects, it’s made in circles, from chalk circles to circles of people holding hands, there are demons, trolls and fairies hiding in the world, and there are wizards and witches who are basically humans (but not really) and he tells us how if you look in the eyes of a wizard, he can gaze on the secrets of your soul, and you see the darkest depths of his. And all this is revealed over the course of the story, revealing new bits of his world whenever you need them, and like a good narrator, Dresden never bogs you down with details.

Tell you what, though, the book is cheesy. There’s a youngish wizard, Harry Dresden, surrounded by women who all appear to be pointedly attractive and men who don’t, he is a trite mix of strength and rare self-confidence, has a mysterious dark past, cracks cynical jokes in the worst situations, talks to himself, engages in a lot of pop culture name-dropping for someone who is bad with technology, and is, in general, no different from every other noir-ish private detective you have ever read about. The police-procedural parts of it and the chunks of dialogue are very TV. For someone whose staple diet includes paranormal mystery television series, the action seems somewhat predictable too, for instance, love potions always go awry, amateurs know that. Google says there was a single-season show based in this world starring Paul Blackthorne as Dresden (I’d like to see that). So far, the two books have had little emotional depth but deliver full entertainment. I’d call Storm Front an airport read, the kind of book you pick up when you’re bored and finish off within a couple of hours. Except, and here’s what I can’t get over, the writing, when it’s not casually dry, is very lyrical. Well researched, interesting, fun and often startlingly literary, sounds like a good deal to me, see for yourself.


The world is getting weirder. Darker every single day. Things are spinning around faster and faster, and threatening to go completely awry. Falcons and falconers. The center cannot hold. But in my corner of the country, I’m trying to nail things down. I don’t want to live in a world where the strong rule and the weak cower. I’d rather make a place where things are a little quieter. Where trolls stay the hell under their bridges and where elves don’t come swooping out to snatch children from their cradles. Where vampires respect the limits, and where the faeries mind their p’s and q’s. My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.


Almost as good as reading the books is reading Jim Butcher’s interviews. He’s given many, it seems. He sounds very honest when talking about his writing process, mentions Buffy a lot (the audiobooks are narrated by James Marsters, which earns the series so, so many brownie points.) I like authors who live up to their books, sound just as fun outside their fiction. I mean, this, I like this interview.

Re-reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman

My plan was to finish reading this during the R.I.P. Challenge, but these days I suffer from no time. It took me over a month to read the book, but what a month.


“Religions are, by definition, metaphors, after all: God is a dream, a hope, a woman, an ironist, a father, a city, a house of many rooms, a watchmaker who left his prize chronometer in the desert, someone who loves you – even, perhaps, against all evidence, a celestial being whose only interest is to make sure your football team, army, business, or marriage thrives, prospers, and triumphs over all opposition. Religions are places to stand and look and act, vantage points from which to view the world.” 
Summary: Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
My thoughts: When I first read American Gods, it was all new to me. The word I
used to describe the book was fascinating. That’s not the right word to
describe the book. Gaiman is fascinating. As are The Graveyard Book, Coraline,
Stardust, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. American Gods is disturbing, strange, real and not fascinating. I did
like the book then, but not as I should have, because it is a book that would
not make complete sense if it were new to you, or you new to it.

Some would say Gaiman’s writing is an acquired taste – but I don’t
agree with that either. Though loaded with allusions in this book, his writing style is basically direct. His snippets of insight into people and places are universally relatable. But a reader of American Gods should have a knowledge of mythology and
appreciation of storytelling. You can’t afford to be world-weary, rather be world-wise. You cannot be hesitant in your approach to
it and you cannot expect to fall in love with it. American Gods shouldn’t be
your first taste of its genre of dark, bleak humour and whatever you call it. It is a book better read slowly than devoured and best enjoyed on a
second or third reading.

The old gods in American Gods are delightful. Wednesday (think Woden’s Day) is your typical high-minded deity: cruel, careless and vindictive, not to mention, nosy. He loves his power and his care for people holds only so far as it is reciprocated. The old gods are only impressions of their original versions worshipped across the world, carried to the shores of America through half-remembered tales and customs of their native people. So they all have a bit of America in them, from their people slowly merging with the new world. Wednesday, Low-key, Nancy, Jacquel and Ibis, for instance, make wonderful retold approaches to the old Norse and African biggies. And there are so many smaller gods, smaller myths, every character has a purpose (a counterpart) and I can’t even imagine what treasure chests of knowledge Gaiman’s mind must hold. The new Gods are, well, they are perfect mirrors of the new world, not altogether pleasant.
But more than the gods, American Gods is about people. American Gods is about belief, and how limiting it could be. It also attempts to show the power of stories. Stories are alive, they change as the tellers grow, and the world changes too. Gaiman tells us some of these stories, some old tales of the gods who then travelled across the world with their believers. It’s when it talks about belief and stories that American Gods reminds me of Terry Pratchett and his books that do an infinitely better job portraying the ideas – like Small Gods and Hogfather, and even Good Omens for that matter.


“This is the only country in the world,” said Wednesday, into the stillness, “that worries about what it is.”
“What?”

“The rest of them know what they are. No one ever needs to go searching for the heart of Norway. Or looks for the soul of Mozambique. They know what they are.” 

American Gods is a nostalgic look at America, which is a character all by itself. The mixing of religions and the alienation, the insiders and the misfits, the otherworldliness, the disconnectedness in geography and culture, everything that comes under Americana, is built with mastery. It is about the absurd beauty of myths, about nightmares and dreams taking flesh and blood form, about the horrors that unarguably pour out of our own minds. It deals with death in a manner no book I have ever read has. The book is cold and blunt and emotional at the same time. It’s very essence lies in its secrets; it has more than one thing to say and you can be never be quite sure of them all. It is perfect, almost.
Why? Ok, the thing that makes me not like American Gods is that it is too commercialized, sensationalized. The subtlety that Gaiman is capable of is absent. It isn’t simply the
emphasis on “anything can happen” that makes Gaiman put it all out there – the loud, brazen, dirty seems at times like a
deliberate genre-defining kind of addition, and that’s where American Gods gets on
my nerves. It reads attention-seeking in parts, and by extension, dishonest. The climax,
as with so many books of this great a scope, is a little disappointing. Not
because it isn’t a resolution I wanted, it is. But the writing loses its
lucidity, its clarity towards the end and the finale is a rushed affair.

I’ve been told I should read his novella The Monarch of the Glen, from Fragile Things, to get closure for Shadow. Maybe I will. Meanwhile, now that I am done ranting, I would love to know what you make of this book. Some books are meant to be reread. Do you agree?

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

This is the sixth book I read for the Once Upon a Time challenge
This fabulous review by Delia made me want to get this book, and I’m glad I did. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a unique read. I’ve encountered jinnis (or genies and djinns) quite a few times in books, but never a golem like this one. The only other golems I remember reading of are those from the Discworld series; they have scrolls of instructions in their heads, fiery eyes, are huge, sexless and as you see, look somewhat like clay ogres. —>

Not in this book. The story of the Golem begins on a steamship off to New York. The Golem is a woman made out of clay by a corrupt rabbi who dabbles in dark magic, for a man who would be her husband and master. But on the ship, before the husband can do much other than introduce himself, he dies. Alone in New York city, the Golem, who has been built to be an obedient wife, to fulfill her master’s desires, finds herself swarmed by the wishes of every person on the ship. That is until, a rabbi who recognizes her for what she is, takes her in and teaches her to control her brutal strength and her need to serve others and survive without a master. Becoming her makeshift caretaker, the rabbi names her Chava, meaning life.

Meanwhile, in the neighbourhood of Little Syria, a tinsmith named Arbeely accidentally frees a jinni from a copper flask brought to him for repair. The Jinni has been trapped in the body of a man, an unnaturally handsome man with an iron cuff fixed on his wrist, with no memory of how he came to be in the flask and only the vaguest recollection of a wizard who may have, centuries ago, condemned him to this fate. Reluctantly adopting the name Ahmad, the Jinni begins to come to terms with his limiting existence and form. His ability to work with metal, shaping it to his desire with his bare hands leads him to make a deal with Arbeely, and by the time the close knit society of Little Syria meets Ahmad, he plays the role of a Bedouin apprentice taken on by the tinsmith.

The Golem and the Jinni meet by accident, and discover, instantly, each others’ true identities. After the initial fear and discomfort, a mixture of curiousity and loneliness brings them together and they become unlikely friends, exploring New York together, strangely free in the dead of the night. The book is the story of their friendship and how their opposing natures, the Jinni reckless and passionate, the Golem mature and prudent, strike an uncanny balance and helps them understand themselves better. Their conversations and inner struggles, the questions they raise and their almost inevitable arguments resonate with those of ordinary people. The character flaws that we all have are parts of their being, it is the Jinni’s nature to be selfish, and the Golem’s to be submissive, he doesn’t tolerate being tied down and she is afraid to break her careful boundaries.

“What are you?” he asked.
She said nothing, gave no indication she’d understood. 
He tried again: “You’re not human. You’re made of earth.”
At last she spoke. “And you’re made of fire,” she said.

The writing is beautiful, as are the concepts and the working of intriguing mythology into the story. The setting is perfect, late 19th century New York, a city full of strangers with incomprehensibly varying stories, alone in throngs, trying on identities, looking for their true selves and for some semblance of meaning to attach to the randomness of their lives. In this blend of historical fiction and fantasy, along with the adventures of the Golem and the Jinni, we experience seemingly simple lives – from a brazen young girl dealing with a pregnancy to Ice Cream Saleh, a homeless ice cream maker who sees the devil in people’s eyes.

The story is delicate, and slippery; there are many viewpoints and sometimes, it seems haphazard, overly detailed and as if scarcely enough thought went into it; but trudging on through each momentary drabness leads to a seamless conclusion that catches you by surprise. At the very beginning, I thought I could already predict the ending – halfway into the story, it seemed to be heading nowhere – three quarters in, I came close to calling it a bit convoluted – but by the end I was in love. The Golem and the Jinni is an absorbing fusion of ordinary and miraculous. It may not be for everybody, but it is worth a try, at least. 

The Burning Bush by Kenya Wright


I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: The book is set in Santeria, a caged city for supernaturals. Soon after the humans discovered the existence of supernaturals, there were the Human-Supe wars, in which the humans, with the advantage of having weapons, won. Now, throughout the world there are caged cities, where the supernaturals are contained by the humans and are allowed to lead their lives. They have their own society and rules and have also got human cops called habbies. There are two types of supernaturals, the purebloods and the mixbreeds. Lanore Vesta is a Mixie with the power to control fire, and has spent the first book in this series (Fire Baptzied) helping Rivera, a habbie, solve a murder mystery, with the help of her boyfriend Zulu and and ex-boyfriend MeShack, a were-cheetah.

In The Burning Bush, two girls have been found murdered and tied to the eponymous burning bushes. The fire is intact and the bodies are unharmed, leading Lanore and Rivera to the conclusion that this is an act involving magic. As Lanore tries to solve this mystery, she has other problems to deal with. Lanore and her friends have to try and take down a scary, age-old vampire businessman Dante Botelli. Lanore becomes involved in a dangerous turf war with disastrous consequences for all of them.

My Thoughts: Wow, I did not expect to like the book quite so much. I certainly did not expect to almost turn into a desperate fangirl waiting for the next book. Here’s what I thought:

What I liked: Let’s start with the cover; I think it’s great, and I don’t usually like the covers of most contemporary YA/urban fantasies. Most of them have pictures of girls in huge gowns or couples staring at each other. I like how this cover displays one of the key scenes in the book. The book began with a bang. I liked the action and the fact that the author has maintained a fast pace till the very end. This book gives us a much greater insight into the world of Santeria and the work put into creating an intricate world is evident throughout. Not having read much from this genre, I still couldn’t say if the concept of this world, its history and creatures are altogether unique but I do like the way it is written. The idea of Human-Supe Wars and caged cities is fascinating. The traits and behaviour of the old characters are consistent with the first book, though many back-stories are revealed, which I found interesting. The characters that are newly introduced are also well written. I liked the way the author uses this world to draw parallels with ours. There are so many underlying themes in the book, like family, race, abuse, justice. But the message is sent without making it too obvious, unlike in most books and I like the discrete symbols more than anything.

What I didn’t like: The love triangle and the throwing around of “I love you”s reminded me of Twilight (in a bad way.) I don’t think there was any other purpose of Lanore not being able to choose between MeShack and Zulu other than to attract readers (the kind who like Twilight.) It was also sort of sickening to see an otherwise uncharacteristically strong and confident woman to turn weak and desperate around both of the men. Not to mention, the fact that the only way she was ever able to say “No” to either of them was by burning them. If only the author had cut down on the mushy romance a bit, this book might have been a lot more interesting, but that might just be my opinion. Another thing I absolutely loathed was the cliffhanger ending. The only reason I avoid reading series is because there is a chance that the ending might be left hanging and I was extremely furious when I realized that this book did not have a conclusion. It is infuriating to have to wait for an entire new book to release to find out what happens next. Every book in a series should stand alone.

Thanks to that cliffhanger ending, it is no wonder that I’m going to read the next book. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, I’m sure you’ll like this book. I recommend you to start reading the series too before the third book comes out! Grab your copies right here.

Fire Baptized by Kenya Wright

I received this book in exchange for an honest review from the author.


Summary (partly from here): Since
the 1970s humans have forced supernaturals to live in caged cities. Silver
brands embedded in their foreheads identify them by species. Lanore Vesta
is marked with a silver X, the brand of Mixbreeds, second-class citizens
shunned by society. She stays to herself, revealing her ability to create fire
only during emergencies. All she wants to do is graduate college and stop
having to steal to survive. But when she stumbles upon a murder in progress,
she catches the attention of a supernatural killer. Now all she wants is to
stop finding dead bodies in her apartment. Enlisting help from her
Were-cheetah ex-boyfriend MeShack and a new mysterious friend named Zulu, she
is steered through the habitat’s raunchy nightlife. But their presence
sometimes proves to be more burden than help, as they fight for her
attention. 
The book has a fast pace, it begins with action, rather than
an introduction to this new world we’re in. The characters are strong and
realistic, in that, in spite of the stereotypical traits, they do manage to
surprise you. The book deals with race and gender and discrimination in a clear
way, without overdoing any of it. I found the romance, sex and the love
triangle a bit overdone, unnecessary and irritating, but that may just be
because I don’t like romance novels. I couldn’t say the idea of this book
is different or new, because I can’t really confirm that, but it is genuine. It
makes sense and it seems complete and well thought out. It also creates a
perfect place to set a series in, with endless possibilities. I would love to
find out what happens next! 
Let me just say: this is not the kind of book that I usually
read. I can think of many people who can overlook the problems I had with it
and find it amazing. If you’re a fan of paranormal romance, urban fantasy fiction,
contemporary fiction, do make it a point to read this book – it’s one of the
better ones. For me, though, it’s both good and bad at the same time. It’s the
first book in a series, and the one thing that makes me lean more towards
calling it good, is the fact that I definitely want to read the sequel. And I hope you do too, because Book Two, titled The Burning Book is coming out in mid-September.  
You can buy Fire Baptized (Book One) here. Go read it before the next one comes out! For more reviews, visit Goodreads.