Thursday, 31 July 2014

Stormbreaker, by Anthony Horowitz

I'm attempting to read at least the first volume of as many major Middle Grade and Young Adult series as I can manage, just to get the gist of what each series is about. First up is Stormbreaker, the first instalment of the Alex Rider series.

The book begins with super rich kid Alex Rider (14) learning of the death of his uncle and adopted parent, Ian Rider. The official story is that Ian (not Uncle Ian, never, ever Uncle Ian) died from being in a car accident where he was not wearing a seat-belt, which Alex and his American housekeeper (turned permanent babysitter) find strange, Ian being a seat-belt obsessive. He doesn't seem enormously cut up about it, if I'm honest...At the funeral of his uncle, Alex is introduced to the boring and mostly described as 'grey' Alan Blunt, who appears to be devoid of most personality traits- he identifies himself as a colleague of Ian's from 'the bank'. Suspicions aroused, Alex cuts school and decides to investigate- learning in a single morning that Ian Ryder was murdered, 'the bank' is actually an elaborate ruse for an MI6 spy operation and they want Alex to pick up where his uncle left off.

Alex is informed by his new bosses that successful Lebanese businessman, Herod Sayle, has built a revolutionary supercomputer and intends to donate one to every school in England. Suspicious of his over-philanthropic too-good-to-be-true vibes, they want Alex to dig around and find out his motives. Armed with a couple of gadgets and his wits, Alex sets off to Stormbreaker HQ in the guise of a computer genius competition winner, Needless to say, things get a little bit perilous for Alex down in Cornwall and he has to use every trick in his 14-year-old spy child book to survive his trip.

Alex Rider is basically little boy Bond. The villains (even individually) are very reminiscent of various Bond villains and the evil scheme that underpins the whole plot is dastardly to the Blofeld degree. There's tanks of dangerous sea creatures, hidden floor panels and underground lairs hidden in disused mines, helicopter fights and attempted murder by quad bike. There are gadgets and witty retorts and some spectacular escapes and explosions. The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but it's so fun to read that it never really matters. 

Despite its frequent deferences and cap-doffing to the Bond franchise, it never really feels like a rip off. Horowitz is evidently a huge Bond fan and a masterful storyteller, and his love and enthusiasm for the books is evident in every scene. Stormbreaker feels like it could be a Bond film, rather than a sequence of already-seen-before Bond moments strung together and repackaged. The plot is original enough to escape being called a reproduction, but the spirit of Bond (the action and the silliness) runs through it. It's pacey, exciting and filled with suspense and action, so it's hard to argue with.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Enemy, by Charlie Higson

I got so engrossed in this novel this summer that I actually sustained some of the worst sunburn I've ever had in my life- bubble blisters and the lot- because I couldn't put this book down. Now there's a testament if ever I heard one.

The Enemy is set in a post-apocalyptic London after a global epidemic of a horrifying sickness has reduced all people over the age of 14 into flesh-eating monsters. The remaining children have formed small bands of survivors all over England in an attempt to fend off the attacking adults and to increase their chances of survival. The story follows a group of survivors based in a Waitrose store, led by 13 year old Aaran and his right hand woman Maxie. They are becoming increasingly worried about the apparent increase in the intelligence of the attacking adults, they are getting smarter and they're picking off the little kids more easily. Waitrose is not going to sustain and protect them for much longer.

It's a brilliant combination of The Walking Dead and Lord of the Flies. But British, and with YouTube. How do kids cope in a world without adults? What if there are adults but they're fatally hostile? It's an action packed struggle for survival against the odds and against the people that are supposed to look after you, with additional themes of belonging, security, leadership and responsibility and the battles for power and dominance which have no age restrictions. 

Charlie Higson is such a brilliant, brilliant story teller, switching between the main Waitrose group (later allied and merged with the Morrison’s group) as they make their way across the grown up infested streets of London to the rumoured safe zone of Buckingham Palace, and the solo journey of Small Sam, snatched by the adults and taken to the Arsenal stadium as he makes his way to find them at the palace. The groups learn fairly quickly that safety always comes at a price, and in this case that price is manipulation and dictatorship. 

Higson looks at both the best and the worst personality traits that emerge in times of trial- it really is the only real way to ever discover what type of person you truly are. The leadership skills that only really reveal themselves under immense pressure, loyalty, cowardice, villainy and greed. Higson really does a brilliant job of distinguishing between those who want nothing more than to survive in modest security, and those hell bent on domination.

Each section ends with a breathless cliff-hanger and features all manner of escapes, rescues, battles and alliances. What I appreciated most of all was that none of his characters are bullet proof, which so often happens in survival fiction. There are characters that the reader is certain will survive that are killed off- nobody is safe. I love that Higson doesn't shy away from really going to town on some of the deaths, the gratuitous gore and some of the impossible decisions that these 12 and 13 year olds have to make. He's so good at creating these sympathetic, put upon teens that are just trying to keep their flocks together. He also has a brilliant knack for striking exactly the right balance between funny, horrific and the familiar things that modern teens will relate to. It all contributes to that horrible authenticity of the scenario.

It's a breathless, tense start to the series that really examines the nature of responsibility and leadership and the temptation of seizing control when the opportunity presents itself. Thoroughly engrossing, believable and full of genuine horror, I enjoyed it hugely and will definitely be reading the rest of the series. I am an absolute sucker for survival apocalypse stories, and this is such a brilliant take on the zombie genre.

Charlie Higson being a dude.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses is set in an alternate world where white Europeans never colonised, conquered and persecuted the rest of the globe. In this universe it is the dark skinned Crosses who hold the power and guard access to education, opportunities and politics. The pale skinned noughts work as drivers, servants, labourers and live in hovels on the other side of town.

The book focuses on the evolving friendship of Sephy a wealthy Cross, daughter of a prominent Home Office politician and Callum, the nought son of her mother's housemaid come nanny. Race does not really factor into their opinions of each other- they've known each other too long for that- each seems to exempt the other from their more general opinion of the other's race, which in both cases is not exactly generous...

This year sees a tokenistic attempt at equality and reform from the government: the admission of the brightest and most deserving noughts into Cross schools. As a result, there is outrage from the most important majority of the public; riots, demonstrations, violence. Caught between prejudice and judgement from all sides, being in the same school tests Callum and Sephy's relationship like nothing before and both characters start to question the reasons for their friendship. Is it really worth the guilt and second-guessing of eachother's reactions and feelings?

When Callum's family become mixed up in the Liberation Militia, a radical group of extremists bent on wiping out as many Crosses as possible in their fight for equality, it looks like Callum and Sephy are going to be forced onto opposing sides, despite their feelings for each other. As the book goes on, there are deeds that can't be undone, words that can't be unsaid and years' and years' worth of hostility, injustice and frustration gradually building towards crisis point.

I loved this book- I can't believe it's taken me so long to pick it up. It's really quite a traditional story of forbidden love and social injustice that flips racial persecution and hegemony on its head, and the results are quite eye opening. Every page reminds the reader of the catalogue of injustices that non-white people have been subjected to by the hands of the Europeans over the centuries; slavery, displacement, eradication and marginalisation. Worse, in most cases. But it also makes you realise that almost any other group of people (racial demographic or otherwise) would probably have done the same. It's just the way the human race is- that need to divide by type, to create hierarchies and rank by difference seems pretty inherent.

Noughts and Crosses beautifully written in alternating first person segments, which really gives a good insight into the characters' thoughts and feelings. The reader really understands their frustration and their fear- particularly Sephy as she begins to realise how much of her world, her opinions and her outlook are built on lies, propaganda and denial. The things she does to cope, the things she has to cope with- it just makes her such an endearing and inspiring character. Callum too- the struggles he has between patience and pride and heart and head are so well constructed, he's a really complicated character that continues to develop right up to the final page. Even when he descends into some pretty horrific darkness, it's hard not to sympathise with him because it's clear that his behaviour is rooted in pain and persecution.

The reader just desperately want Callum and Sephy to be together and be happy, and to show the world that it can be done. Malorie Blackman is an absolutely masterful storyteller- she builds whole worlds that feel so real. Brilliant.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Ghost Hawk, by Susan Cooper

Ghost Hawk, Susan Cooper, CarnegieGhost Hawk begins with the father of the story's narrator journeying to a secluded marsh island in pre-colonial New England to wedge the loose blade of a tomahawk into the cleft of a Bitternut Hickory sapling. He knows that when he returns 11 years later, the tree will have grown into a strong handle for the tomahawk; a gift for his new son. 11 winters later, that son, Little Hawk, takes that tomahawk into the forest for his three-month winter ordeal of meditation, solitude and survival that to his community represents the transition from boyhood. Some individuals do not return from the forest. Those that do return as men.

However, Little Hawk's time on Earth coincides with the arrival to the New World of white settlers from Europe, bringing with them their disease, their greed and their charters and laws. Little Hawk's ancient way of life, and the way of life of all the other tribal American Indian villages is under threat from these settlers who mistrust and persecute the natives and alter the country's landscape beyond recognition.

Little Hawk tries to help out a white settler during a terrible logging accident  and as a result, his fate is tied forever to that of young John Wakely, a boy he'd met some summers ago. Together, Little Hawk and John learn about each other's cultures, fears and behaviours in an attempt to build bridges between their communities, but as the years roll on, intolerance, prejudice and fear play bigger and more important roles in the narrative of the New World.

I really enjoyed the setting of this book- I love the idea of natural, wild America, untouched by European tools and boots. Cooper writes beautifully of the wilderness, the mood of the natural world and the seasons, and the Native characters' love for and respect of their world comes across brilliantly. I just wanted to savour that environment, knowing now that it no longer exists. I really warmed towards Little Hawk during his coming of age trip, his resilience and intelligence shone through and the reader gets a good insight into the conscience and upbringing of the character, even though one book will never be enough to understand Native American culture or life. I liked John too; we follow him through his seven year apprenticeship to a Master Cooper, his own community's idea of the journey to manhood. John grows to be a morally resolute  man, outspoken in the face of prejudice and inherently peaceful. He sees the hypocrisy and the extremism of the religious leaders around him and chooses to distance himself, to find somewhere where he can live the life he wants.

The book feels well researched, at least there are a lot of names, dates and events that match up with historical accounts. The author did a good job of creating the feeling of the bustling and expanding "civilisations" of Providence and Boston as they grow rapidly from small settlements to towns and the behaviour of the people in them felt believable and realistic. I think it was a nice touch that the first white American generation, those who've never seen Europe, were so different to their parents' and grandparents' generations that sailed the Atlantic for a new life. And also that the Native tribal leaders that have been born after the white settlers' arrival vary greatly from their predecessors. More suspicious, more affronted and faster to retaliate in both cases. I think the behaviour of colonials will baffle me forever.

Towards the latter part of the book I felt it lost its way a little as the narrative shoots forward in time and the lives that have been so skillfully entwined throughout the book begin to diverge slightly. I really liked Little Hawk as a narrator, though he fades away towards the end as the world becomes so divorced from the one he knows. I was a bit disappointed that John Wakeley, now a grown man, couldn't merely be a benevolent supporter of native Americans, he had to be the saviour of them too. That post-rescue gratitude had no need to exist really- it felt a little bit of a betrayal of the naturally trusting nature of John's character.

In summary though, this is a well written story of friendship and bravery that's eye opening and skillfully crafted. Though there are flaws with some of the themes and events, it's still a wonderfully written book that questions the nature of certainty and righteousness- it makes the reader wonder if life might be simpler if the human race was a little more flexible and a little less certain.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Excuse me for a moment while I squee a little bit; I love love loved this book. Okay.

I've been wanting to read this for a while, and the upcoming YALC this weekend gave me the perfect motivation. It's also become something of a Twitter juggernaut recently...I'm fully expecting a The Fault in Our Stars style explosion of love for this novel...

This book could so easily have been a soppy, twee story of teen-aged star crossed lovers making dramatic gestures and cooing at one another. Thankfully it is so much more than that; it's intense, sincere and tender and it is completely submerged in the heartbreak, pain and beauty of first love. To begin with it simply made me laugh, then it just killed me.

Briefly and without spoiling anything, the wild haired and unconventionally attired Eleanor has just moved into a too-small house in Omaha with her downtrodden mother and numerous younger siblings. Her alcoholic brute of a stepfather threw her out a year ago and has only just allowed her to come back. On the first day of her new high school, Park begrudgingly lets her sit next to him on the bus to avoid the agony of watching the new girl accidentally taking someone else's seat. Terrible bus protocol. Despite it taking several weeks to exchange a word, they gradually fall in love- the rest is a whirlwind of comic books, mix tapes, high school politics and the agonised exhilaration of first experiences. They fall in love in a way unique to teenagers- with intensity and self-consciously. A person only has one shot at first love and Eleanor and Park do not waste their chance on each other.

I absolutely and completely loved the characters; Eleanor and Park are simply brilliant creations. I loved the way that each of them only really came to know themselves when they'd begun to know each other. Park, the only (obviously) half Korean kid in Omaha doesn't struggle with his own identity exactly, but he struggles to place himself in the wider world. Eleanor is hugely self conscious about her body and her home life, but Park manages to make her forget that and truly escape into his company for a few hours a day. Each of them are incomplete without the other, and it is simply a beautiful story of love and discovery, rather than romance, and about the slow building of trust and the self-sabotaging impulses that run through even the strongest of people.

I loved Park's family, and all the crazy that came with it. His relatives were all believable and their relationships were realistic, easy to relate to and really endearing. His "best shape of my life" action hero Tom Selleck dad had me in stitches and it was such a lovely (though inevitably complicated) father-son relationship.  My heart broke for Eleanor and the awful, terrifying situation that she was placed in daily, and I was so angry at her mom for letting it happen, for not taking herself and her family out of the clutches of her husband. I admired Eleanor's strength and her courage, and I loved Park for being able to see through all the secrets and the shame.

This book is incredibly well written, with brilliantly funny prose that can have you laughing on one page and wincing with internal pain on the next. It was compelling and nostalgic, and the intensity of that first love screamed out from every line. I really liked the frustratingly enigmatic ending, some things are just unknowable, even to readers who get to know characters as intimately as we get to know Eleanor and Park. It is simply a lovely book about love and finding the place that you belong.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Season to Taste: Or How to Eat Your Husband, by Natalie Young

Season To Taste, Natalie YoungSeason to Taste is the story of ordinary housewife Lizzie Prain, who one day caves in the back of her husband's head with a spade on the spur of the moment. She considers her options and what would be the best way to dispose of the body. Being a logical, pragmatic soul and bearing the environment and the feelings of the locals in minds, Lizzie concludes that the best way to dispose of her husband's remains is to eat him. Eyeballs, bones and all. 

It's clear from the gradual way that Lizzie reveals memories of her husband, Jacob, that he was something of an  unpalatable man, so her decision to consume him certainly tests her resolve, her imagination and her cooking ability (the one skill Jacob would ever admit she possessed). Turning Jacob's flesh into a series of appetising meals is no small task, and that's before she's even sat down to eat them.

I really warmed to Lizzie, despite her technical criminality. I admired her self control, which is evident fro the very first page. The novel's first scenes begin with Lizzie calmly adjusting the seat in her Volvo, breathing in what remains of her husband's "buttery...tobacco" smell as she drives to the shop to purchase the vegetables she will need for her Jacob-based menu. Her tone is matter-of-fact and precise from the beginning as she assesses her options and calmly makes her decisions. She is not usually one for rash actions and is inherently sensible. Her motives become clear as the story goes on, and it becomes easier and easier to empathise with Lizzie's plight. Freed from her misogynistic and controlling husband, Lizzie dreams of a simple, frugal life in Scotland- a new start and a chance to be by herself.It reminds the reader frequently that not all domestic abuse is physical and that fear can drive people to the most remarkable actions. 

I had to admire the author's skill at making the reader empathise so completely with a character as they tuck into what remains of a human leg. It's quite a conflicting reading experience, simultaneous pangs of sympathy and gut churning revulsion. Natalie Young writes incredibly delicately of the life of dismissal, belittlement and neglect that Lizzie endured living with Jacob, but also does an excellent job of showing why unconfident or shy people might find themselves trapped in an unhappy marriage through no fault of their own. It seems to be the curse of the gentle, the unhappy or the optimistic to be taken advantage of like Lizzie

The book's structure sees little additions of Lizzie's, written in a brisk, detached way offering helpful tips- how best to fillet a human torso, what to do when one feels a confession brewing, things to remember when justifying your decisions...It's this sense of detachment, developed through her desperately unhappy marriage and her husband's psychological abuse that helps Lizzie through her grisly task. She's well practised at confining these unsavoury tasks into a mental box and locking it away. In the end it's Jacob that crafted a person that was so suited to quietly killing and disposing of him. It's sad really that Lizzie feels it's the only thing she ever truly achieved in all her time as a his wife.

It's not going to be a book that everybody enjoys because of the gruesome nature of the plot- but I think it's a really interesting portrayal of the aftermath of a marriage. It becomes almost a cleansing experience for Lizzie, she becomes a different person be consuming another, which I think people will be able to relate to. Metaphorically, obviously. Or at least I hope metaphorically...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven begins with a Canadian production of King Lear, starring the famous Hollywood actor Arthur Leander. When Arthur collapses on stage, a Paparazzi turned paramedic rushes to his aid, thinking about the strange connections that have brought him and Arthur together over the years- connections that have been significant to him and probably unnoticed entirely by Arthur. As he walks through the snow later that night to his apartment, he receives a panicked call from a Doctor friend, warning him of the speed and efficiency of a new type of flu strain. He prepares for the worst.

Elsewhere in the world, the Georgia Flu rips through the human race, spreading instantly from person to person. It's guessed that the fatality rate was around 99%.

Twenty years later and settlements of survivors are gradually developing. New, post-flu families are coming together and children are being born. Scavenging, growing crops, living communally in petrol stations and airports, rebuilding some sort of life albeit one without technology, medicine or electricity. The human race is depleted, but it goes on.  Station Eleven charts the historical and future paths of six key figures and the curious fingers of fate that hold them together; the actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan, the paramedic alerted to the pandemic in the nick of time; Arthur's first love Miranda and her mysterious artwork; Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony; Arthur's oldest friend, Clark who boards the last scheduled flight and the sinister self-proclaimed 'prophet'.

Firstly, I haven't enjoyed such an absorbing, believable post-civilisation novel for ages. The pre-flu world is recognisably mundane, the human race going about its business and arrogantly assuming that it will continue to do so forever. The panic, the disbelief and the fear inherent in any catastrophe is presented in a very personal way through the eyes of various characters, rather than from society as a whole. The reader senses the panic on the streets, but nobody truly witnesses it. The author really conveys how horrifically isolating surviving a disaster can be and raises the point that whoever you are standing next to at the time are the people that you are going to have to try to survive with. The post pandemic world is strangely beautiful, nature reclaiming the cities and human life much more communal and sustainable and in some ways quite appealing. I was absolutely swept up in this novel's world and events, the characters were brilliantly crafted and the way that their connections to each other was gradually revealed was incredible.

I loved the out-of-sequence format of this book, the jumps back to civilisation in the pre flu world and then forward to the different groups of survivors in different post-collapse eras. Once the reader assembles the parts in their heads, it builds up to a shocking reveal that draws the elements together wonderfully. There are so many delicate strands to this novel, all connected through decades that tie up in unexpected ways and at the centre of it all is Arthur, the man that dies in the first chapter. His life has a water-ripple effect that continues to be felt years after the end of civilisation when his fame has been forgotten.

I relished the value placed on art in this novel, its importance to any civilisation and the need that all human beings have for stories. Among the bands of survivors are the Travelling Symphony, a theater group slash orchestra that roam the Eastern territories of what was once the United States, performing the plays of Shakespeare and  musical concerts to the people of these settlements, because 'Survival is Insufficient'. I love that there are always some survivors that want to preserve what came before, that can't bear to see so much history and heritage snuffed out for good. I always wonder what it is that will come to define certain generations in the future, what will be remembered or rescued and sometimes whether or not certain generations will be lost forever.

The book was so elegantly written and so compact in its themes and focus. Every event is significant, every character is important and has an impact on the course of events or on another character's behaviour. The storytelling is absolutely gripping, weaving in and out of the lives of the characters and gradually tying up the loose ends. It asks questions about the legacy of fame, the different things that comfort and sustain people in hard times and the inestimable value of art and music, and does so in a way that is ridiculously compelling.

It's a beautiful, unique book that combines elements of The Year of the Flood, with its rural settlers and the fragmented structure, shifting backwards and forwards of the event that changed the world, with the nomadic storytelling importance of The Postman and the gradual return of the man-made to the natural world of Earth Abides. It makes you consider what lengths you would go to to survive and whether or not you'd want to remember and preserve what you'd lost or to begin anew. Faultless- an absolute pleasure.

Thank you to @SamEades at Pan Macmillan for the proof copy.

Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige

Amy Gumm, high school student and Kansas trailer park resident endures her unremarkable life with a sort of grim defeat. Her pink hair and slightly sullen attitude has not won her any admirers, her mother is permanently in a semi-comatose state of pill and alcohol dependency and she resignedly lets the school's dim heart throb copy her homework, knowing already that he's blown his chance of a sports scholarship. And she's just been suspended from school for picking a fight with a pregnant girl despite not actually hitting her. Things are looking bad and they only get worse- that night a tornado sweeps through the park whirling Amy, Amy's mum's pet rat Star and their trailer home away- away to Oz.

Kansas girl swept away to a strange and magical land called Oz. Pretty familiar, right? Amy thinks so too, only this isn't the Oz that she remembers reading about. Its magical inhabitants live in constant, intense fear, petrified of the insane wrath of their leader, the maniacal Dorothy. The magic is gone, mined by hoards of slaves on the princess' orders and forbidden to everyone else. Dorothy rules her kingdom with an iron fist and the help of her devoted followers- the mad scientist Scarecrow, the walking implement of torture and High Inquisitor, the Tin Man, and the ravenous, deadly lion. The rest of the population either cowers in terror or is brainwashed into acceptance, even pleasure, at their good fortune to have such a beautiful, wise and generous ruler. The wicked have turned good and the good are causing a lot of problems.

Being from "The Other Place" too, hopefully therefore able to understand their feared dictator, Amy is Oz's best chance to end Dorothy's reign of terror. Forging an unilluminating allegiance with a mismatched band of Wicked Witches and learning their magic, defence skills and their powers and secrets of concealment, Amy sets out to infiltrate the Emerald City and bring about an end to Dorothy's reign. She must get close to her, learn her ways and her habits but remain undetected- because if the Magic is ever going to be allowed to return to Oz, Dorothy Must Die.

A twisting fantastical story of power and corruption, Dorothy Must Die pits a whole host of new characters against some old and familiar (but not as you remember them) faces. It's definitely an intriguing concept and is bound to appeal to fans of Wicked and Grimm. It's full of nasty surprises, gruesome detail and debunks the idea of the magical Ozian Utopia completely.

I grappled with this book . I was impressed with the story's beginning that saw Amy battling prejudice and bullying at her high school; she came across as a really admirable character, empathetic yet defensive and brave and she was really easy to relate to. However, once she got to Oz, I felt that the plot became a series of perilous events that brought her closer and closer to the Emerald Palace and into the household of Dorothy, without really developing her character much. I couldn't really understand Amy's motivation for most of her behaviour. I found that Amy became very invested in the population and the fate of Oz incredibly quickly, despite her earliest encounters with its populace being quite hostile, but nothing really provided an answer as to why. It wasn't vengeance, nor greed, she had no score to settle. She put up very little fight at the idea of becoming an assassin for a cause she previously had zero knowledge of. As the book went on, Oz Amy was barely recognisable from the endearing high school loser. Maybe it was supposed to be a transformational journey, but I liked her much better in the beginning.

I'm afraid it wasn't just Amy that I struggled to comprehend. Despite never being a huge Dorothy fan myself, I was a little confused by this new version of Dorothy Gale. I just didn't feel that the author utilised much of the original Dorothy's character in creating the power-crazed version. A version based on an exaggerated aspect of herself might have worked, but Dorothy seemed to have had an entire personality/interest/memory transplant. Why did she suddenly become so power hungry? How did she manage to seize control of Oz so effortlessly? Some of the best supervillains have always had the source of their hunger for power rooted in loss, seeking to redress unbalance, righting imagined wrongs or in some other quality that would usually be an asset but in excess is dangerous...I just didn't think evil Dorothy worked as a character, and without that buy in, the whole book kind of  falls down.

I really liked the idea of the decrepit, mouldering Oz, starved of the Magic that keeps it alive, but once Amy enters the Emerald Palace, then the Oz setting becomes forgotten. The surreal landscape is brilliantly described to begin with, but then even that fizzles out towards the middle of the book, replaced with the luxury of the palace. The concept sounds so brilliant and I was really looking forward to reading this,  but I was ultimately disappointed with this novel's plotting and characters. As this is the beginning of a series, there's still hope! I'd love to see Amy reconcile her real and Oz selves a little more- to use her upbringing and the injustices and neglect that she's suffered to fuel her mission in Oz. I'd like her to gather her own parallel band of followers, rather than seeing her raving about how few people she can trust and about how uninformed she is. I'd like to see her out and about in Oz a little more, bringing uncharted Ozlands to the reader and gathering her own indigenous army. I want the Wizard to turn out to be either insanely important or woefully unimportant and I want Oz to fight back. There's hope and resilience in its population that is just waiting to be tapped into further down the narrative line. As a concept, it's got huge potential, and I'd certainly be interested in reading further installments to see if any of the aspects that frustrated me during the first book were worked out.