Category Archives: Young Adult

My Name is Victoria by Lucy Worsley

Bloomsbury Childrens | 2017 (9 March) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

My Name is Victoria by Lucy WorsleyIt is the late 1820s and King George IV is close to death. He will be succeeded by his brother William who is not expected to survive George for long. His heir, Princess Victoria, is effectively held captive in Kensington Palace by her mother and her mother’s dearest friend Sir John Conroy. Conroy is the creator of the Kensington System, a regime designed to keep Victoria constantly under observation and so secure from the plots of her royal relatives who might fancy themselves as heirs to the British throne, rather than this lonely, unhappy yet spirited child. But Conroy wants to extend his influence over Victoria even more and to do that he gives Victoria his own daughter, known to one and all as Miss V (to distinguish her from Miss Conroy, her elder sister, and from the princess), as companion, sister and, Conroy hopes, spy. But both Victoria and Miss V have minds of their own and, after uneasy and suspicious beginnings, they form the tightest of friendships.

And so begins the story of Princess Victoria and Miss V’s friendship. With half of the novel covering their years as small children, about the age of 10 or 11, the second takes us up to their later teens and the arrival of German princes and the relentless approach of fate in the shape of an ailing King William IV.

Lucy Worsley does such a fine job of spreading her enthusiasm and knowledge of history. She’s an inspirational presenter and writer, and I loved Eliza Rose, Lucy Worsley’s debut novel for young adults which told the story of Henry VIII’s tragic fifth queen, Katherine Howard. This time, the author goes back (or forward) to another period of history and once again reveals a young girl who is in many ways, despite the glamorous appearances of power, a vulnerable victim of history. Princess Victoria, though, is determined to win her freedom from the enemy, which is here represented by Conroy and the Kensington System. And history tells us how this will turn out.

But My Name is Victoria isn’t quite as it seems and it’s possibly because of this that the book lost me during the second half when we move from historical fiction to historical fantasy or alternate history. This is, though, my fault. I’ve never got on with alternate history, especially when I know quite well the period of history from which we’re diverted. However likeable, stubborn and proud she is, I didn’t recognise Princess Victoria from history, or her mother, or the German princes. The princess’s mother plays barely a role here.

Having said all that, this is a novel aimed at children, not at me. Whereas Eliza Rose seemed to me to have a wide appeal across ages – perhaps because of its themes and dire consequences, My Name is Victoria feels more comfortably targeted at younger readers. And I have no doubt that they will thoroughly enjoy it! I love the idea of children being inspired to discover history for themselves thanks to the skills of such historians and writers as Lucy Worsley. This happened to me as a child and teenager with the marvellous Jean Plaidy, whose books I still cherish all these years on. I can see parallels between Jean Plaidy and Lucy Worsley and that makes me very happy indeed. I’ll be sure to read all of the novels that Lucy Worsley produces, even though I must accept that not all of them, or indeed any, were written with me in mind!

Other review
Eliza Rose

Dark Made Dawn by J.P. Smythe (Australia 3)

Hodder & Stoughton | 2016 | 313p | Review copy | Buy the book

Dark Made Dawn by J.P. SmytheWith Dark Made Dawn, J.P. Smythe’s Young Adult science fiction trilogy Australia comes to an end. You obviously need to have read Way Down Dark and Long Dark Dusk first and this review assumes that you’ve had the pleasure.

It’s a difficult task to review the final book in a trilogy because it’s all too easy to give away something you shouldn’t. But what I can say is that Dark Made Dawn picks up shortly after Long Dark Dusk finished and it takes off at a rocket’s pace. Once more Chan finds herself in a compromised situation, having to do what she must to survive, driven on by her need to protect the people closest to her while continuing her quest to find the child she once cared for aboard Australia. But the time for compromise is drawing to an end. Chan must make a difficult choice and, once made, there can be no turning back. Chan is determined and once she sets off, it’s all we can do to hang on for the ride. And what a dangerous, thrilling ride it is.

Dark Made Dawn does a fine job of completing the story. It’s exciting and it satisfies. It also continues the themes and mood of the other two books and in Chan’s progress she is true to herself. She knows better than anyone how hard it is to trust and in this society few people present a truly honest front to the world. Good and evil aren’t straight forward, people are constantly surprising, but there is one constant – the darkness of this dystopian Earth.

There is no doubt that this is a gloomy portrait of a future Earth but its worldbuilding is fantastic with cities enclosed by great walls or rising seas and outsiders scraping a living in the city-surrounding deserts of this ruined planet. There is futuristic technology but it’s used sparingly and effectively.

The main focus of this book, and the two preceding it, is Chan. Her life has been so hard and it continues to be so here. And we desperately want her to succeed, even though she knows that there are times when she must be the worst she can. But Chan isn’t alone in this novel. There’s someone else with her and they are fascinating to watch, although for me it is still Chan, the girl who fell to Earth, who rules this book.

I’ve been reading and enjoying James Smythe’s novels since the beginning and there is something very special about them. They’re intense and bold, dark and, at times, despairing. But they are always clever and very different, even from each other. I look forward to discovering what he has in store for us next.

Other reviews
The Testimony
The Explorer (The Anomaly Quartet 1)
The Machine
The Echo (The Anomaly Quartet 2)
No Harm Can Come to a Good Man
Way Down Dark (Australia 1)
Long Dark Dusk (Australia 2)

Also reviewed at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Long Dark Dusk by J.P. Smythe (Australia Trilogy 2)

Hodder & Stoughton | 2016 | 361p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Long Dark Dusk by J.P. SmytheLong Dark Dusk is the middle book in J.P. Smythe’s Young Adult science fiction trilogy, Australia. The good news is that the final novel in the series, Dark Made Dawn, has just been published and so now is the perfect time to read the whole story in one. And it is such a good story. But you wouldn’t want to read Long Dark Dusk without having read the first book, Way Down Dark, so, if you haven’t, proceed with caution.

Everything has changed for Chan since the events of Way Down Dark. She did all she could to save the people aboard Australia, the prison spaceship orbiting Earth, but on landing back on the planet she was separated from everyone she knew, including the little girl Maia whom Chan would do anything to protect. Chan does all she can to find Maia while spending her days simply surviving on a planet that has been all but destroyed by mankind. Chan’s world is now a walled city, no less a prison than Australia, she mixes with criminals, trading goods with gangsters, trading stories with the curious, grabbing what chances she can, however dangerous, to find her lost friends. But everyday Chan is reminded of events aboard Australia and those she left behind.

Long Dark Dusk might be at times a bleak and disturbing read – Chan’s life has had the light taken out of it – but it is thoroughly involving and its movement, in three parts, is gripping. For me, the novel really comes into its own during the second and third parts, when Chan is able to make her move. In these sections there are shocks and surprises galore, not to mention action and general mayhem. The world has undergone an apocalyptic event, technology has stalled for decades, and, although there are glimpses of advanced gadgets on display here (including cars and motorbikes that drive themselves), these are overshadowed by far by violence, blood, crime, punishment and fear. There are moments in the first third that really disturbed me – this might be a Young Adult novel but I think that young adults may be far harder to shock than me. In fact, I would argue that despite the Young Adult label the Australia trilogy is perfect science fiction reading for adults of all ages.

The worldbuilding in Long Dark Dusk is fantastic. We’re taken to a number of environments, both inside the walls and outside, and you can almost feel the heat of this burned Earth on your skin and taste its ragged, ungiving air. I do like Chan. She’s on her own and has to do the best she can. But she never gives up. There is another really intriguing character here but I’m not going to mention them as you should discover them for yourselves.

When all’s said and done, Long Dark Dusk is a thrilling science fiction adventure, now transferred from space to a ravaged futuristic Earth. It is full of mysteries and surprising developments, not all of them fully explained or explored. That is left for Dark Made Dawn and I can’t wait to see what happens.

I am a huge fan of James (J.P.) Smythe’s work. His novels are always ingenious, original and intelligent, albeit often dark and disturbing. He has a unique voice. It’s well worth listening to.

Also reviewed at Curiosity killed the bookworm.

Other reviews
The Testimony
The Explorer (The Anomaly Quartet 1)
The Machine
The Echo (The Anomaly Quartet 2)
No Harm Can Come to a Good Man
Way Down Dark (Australia 1)

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2016 (20 October) | 672p | Review copy | Buy the book

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffThis week sees the publication by Rock the Boat of Gemina, the follow up to the spectacular YA science fiction triumph Illuminae. I cannot overstate how fabulous Illuminae is. In fact it’s quite possibly the best YA SF novel I’ve read, although I’d ignore that YA label as this is a book for all ages, both young and less young, to relish. I was so thrilled to be invited to post my review of Gemina as part of the blog tour celebrating its publication on 20 October.

Gemina follows hot on the heels of Illuminae and, although it revolves around a different set of characters in another place, I can’t recommend enough that you read Illuminae first. Everything that happened in Illuminae is revealed in Gemina but, even more than that, don’t deny yourself the treat of reading such a magnificent and original novel. The review below assumes that you’ve already read Illuminae.

Hannah Donnelly is the rather spoilt teenage daughter of the commander of the Jump Station Heimall. Heimall, poised on the edge of a wormhole, is, at least as far as Hannah is concerned, the most boring and remote space station in the universe. It’s fair to say that a number of the adult inhabitants would agree with her. Hannah passes the time being pampered and buying drugs from one of the station’s bad boys, Nik, much to the disapproval of her perfectly manicured boyfriend. At the moment, Hannah is most interested in the outfit she’s bought (that her father bought) to celebrate Terra Day, a big bash that is due to take place in just a few days.

Unfortunately, the most boring space station in the universe is about to become the most lethal as a bunch of baddies choose the day of the festivities to launch a bloody attack. The starship Hypatia is on a desperate run to Heimall and it brings survivors from the invasion of Kerenza. The perpetrators are adamant that nobody on the ship or the space station will live to pass on the sorry tale. Hannah Donnelly and Nik are thrown together to defend Heimall, and not just against the baddies either. If there’s one thing worse than gun-toting mercenaries, it’s aliens.

I was so excited to read Gemina, not least because it provides more of the same of Illuminae‘s fantastic style and structure. Both novels tell their stories through extracts from emails, computer communications, witness accounts, schematics and diagrams. Some of these are used particularly brilliantly, conveying tension, drama or death. Parts are astoundingly clever as well as really witty. You never quite know what you’re going to get when you turn the next page. In one section, two versions of the same story are told on facing pages. So clever! It makes demands on the reader and we are rewarded for the effort with added involvement in this extraordinary adventure and these wonderful characters.

I loved Helen and Nik. I wondered if I could possibly love them as much as I did Kady and Ezra in Illuminae, but I did. There are moments of excitement and tension and there are others of pure horror and disgust. We’re thrown into the thick of it.

I don’t think that Geminae is quite as perfect as Illuminae – to be honest, I think this is impossible, Illuminae is unique in several ways – but it is a fine follow up and I loved every single page, thoroughly enjoying the experience of reading it and being so grateful that we’ve been given a book 2. And the good news is, there will also be a book 3 to look forward to.

Please do yourself the favour of reading these books. Marvel at the skill of the authors, enjoy the company of these fantastic characters, and immerse yourself in the adventure, all set within a remote and, as it turns out, not at all boring region of space.

Other review

I’m so pleased to be part of this tour! For other stops along the journey, please click on the poster below.

Gemina blog tour

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Illuminae | Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | 2015 | Rock the Boat | 599p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffKarenza is a remote planet, its colonists happily ignored by the rest of the Galaxy, until the day comes when two rival corporations decide to go to war over its resources and then all hell breaks loose as a bombing barrage threatens to smash the helpless world into oblivion. On reflection, teenage lovers Ezra and Kady would agree that they could have picked a better day on which to split up but, as the two scramble to safety in the small fleet of ships that come to the colonists’ rescue, there is grief in their hearts alongside the pain of watching their world literally fall apart.

But this is just the beginning. As the evacuating ships limp to safety they take danger with them. An enemy ship is in pursuit and, perhaps even worse, the survivors are under attack from a virus working its way through the ships and even the AI in charge of the lead ship, the Alexander, has been affected, becoming untrustworthy, frightening. Kady works to find answers by hacking in to the data streams of the stricken fleet while Ezra is put to another purpose, both of them realising how insignificant their squabbles have been. Everything conspires against their survival, against even seeing each other once more before the end. And that end is surely inevitable and could come from any one of so many horrific directions. Space is cold, vast and merciless.

Illuminae is an extraordinary accomplishment and no review I could write could do justice to the creative genius of its authors. First off, you need to read the print version. It is a marvel to read, to experience even, as the authors play with the shapes of words and prose, the use of colours, or rather black and white, and diagrams to reflect the human and AI turmoil of the Alexander’s flight for life. There are shocks throughout the book but the authors illuminate these moments in creative ways that don’t just surprise but also tear at the heartstrings. When lives are lost we’re made to feel it.

There are themes that might at first seem well-used and lead the reader to expect the familiar, perhaps with a groan – a zombie-like plague, an AI gone mad – but what you find instead is something completely original, largely thanks to the ingenious relationship between what happens and how it is conveyed on the page.

The story itself is told through extracts from reports, diaries, interviews, emails, briefing notes, computer logs, schematics and so many other fascinating sources. In no way does any of this get in the way of the thrilling action of the adventure or block our emotional connection to Kady and Ezra. I became so fond of Kady, willing her on to survive, her indomitable, plucky, brave, wonderful character plain for all to see and enjoy.

Illuminae is a Young Adult science fiction novel but its appeal is ageless. I adored everything about it. It’s the first of a trilogy and I am counting down the days to the second book’s publication in October. It cannot come soon enough. I crave it.

Second Lives by Scott K. Andrews

Second Lives | Scott K. Andrews | 2016 | Hodder & Stoughton | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

Second Lives by Scott K AndrewsSecond Lives continues the excellent time travel adventure begun with TimeBomb. You wouldn’t want to read one without reading the other and so this review assumes that you’ve read TimeBomb.

Jana, Dora and Kaz are back. These three young time travellers from our future, past and present continue to find themselves pulled back by some force in time to the laboratories under Sweetclover Hall in Cornwall. A quantum bubble draws them in like a magnet but it also keeps time out, giving them a temporary respite. They have escaped the mysterious, malign Quil but she continues to pursue them as they must also continue to pursue her. Each holds the other responsible for catastrophes in the future, on colonised Mars and on Earth. The time bomb is ticking. One would have thought that time is something that our young heroes have plenty of but they are discovering that it is running out. They can’t stay in the bubble forever, they have to go out there, throw themselves into the frontline, and try and change time.

I thoroughly enjoyed TimeBomb but Second Lives definitely takes a step up as we follow Jana, Dora and Kaz into the recent past (Beirut in 2010) and off planet in the future to Mars in 2158. In both cases there is an event to prevent, one of which is deeply personal to one of our three, and the team is about to learn just what happens when you try to meddle with time. There are more time paradoxes here than you can shake a cat at and, while it certainly becomes extremely complicated in places, it’s all done with a touch of humour. The solution is just to go where we’re taken and not to worry about what’s going on as strands of the story become increasingly entangled and characters meet themselves time after time, leaving enigmatic clues.

There’s a lot going on here that isn’t explained. We know more about Jana and Dora but there’s still much that’s being hidden for the next book. Likewise, Quil is more intriguing that ever and responsible for some of my favourite sections of the novel.

There are more shocks and emotional upset here than I was expecting and I liked that. There are a couple of moments when I had to ask myself if I really had just read that. Our three heroes are young people but they’re fast learning the consequences of deadly force and the potential tragedy of life. But despite some gloomy realism, Second Lives is such a fun novel to read. There’s plenty of humour, interesting character development (particularly between Jana and Kaz) and an abundance of puzzles – just enough to make your head spin.

This is such an entertaining series, utterly confusing (in a good way) and full of fun and teenage troubles. The series might be intended for a younger readership but I definitely think there is so much here for all ages to enjoy, especially if you like a good old flux in the space time continuum.

Other reviews

Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley

Eliza Rose | Lucy Worsley | 2016 | Bloomsbury | 354p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Eliza Rose by Lucy WorsleyWhen Elizabeth (Eliza Rose) Camperdowne turns twelve years old and stands in front of her father, the formidable Baron of Stone, she knows that her adult life is about to begin. Eliza is told that she is to marry the Earl of Westmorland’s son. She is the daughter of a noble house. Duty is paramount! Eliza’s mother died when she was just four and so her Aunt Margaret is the one to provide the words of advice while her maid Henny is the one with the comfort. Eliza does what she’s told.

But even the best laid plans have a habit of going wrong – Eliza swears it wasn’t her fault – and the marriage comes to nothing. Touched by the hint of scandal, Eliza is sent to Trumpton Hall, the home of the Duchess of Northumberland, where she and lots of other noble young ladies will be trained to be maids at court. With Eliza will go her cousin, Katherine Howard. Who knows? In time, they may even be sent to court to serve Henry VIII’s new Queen, Anne of Cleves. At court, they’ll have their pick of rich, noble husbands.

Lucy Worsley, royal palaces curator, has the gift of bringing history to life, through re-enactment and accessible scrutiny and mostly through fabulous documentaries on BBC4. I was so pleased to hear that Lucy had written a debut historical fiction novel for young readers and was lucky enough to go along to her talk all about it at the Oxford Literary Festival this spring. I’d bought the book the day before and by the time I queued to get Lucy to sign it, it was two thirds read. Addictive, engrossing, charming, packed with glorious Tudor detail, I was hooked on Eliza Rose, book and character, from the very first page.

The story of Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s excitable and unfortunate fifth wife (and Hampton Court’s most famous ghost), is a familiar tale to many of us and now Lucy has given a new generation of potential history addicts an inspirational gift – a thoroughly entertaining and informative story about Katherine’s teenage years (not that she had many other years to write about). Katherine is/was a real person, as are the majority of the other people in the novel, and the nitty gritty detail about life at the Tudor court and in general at this time is vividly, fascinatingly presented, but Eliza is fictional. She still feels just as real, in a novel singing with historical authenticity. Eliza gives us access to all areas. She is an eye witness account to everything, including the King, but she also gives Lucy Worsley the chance to play with history and create another charming story within it.

Katherine Howard’s life was tragic and Lucy Worsley doesn’t spare her readers. We’re pulled through the emotional hedge as Katherine heads towards her fate and I wept through the final inevitable moments. This was also a coarse, sex-drenched court for all its splendid fabrics, feasts and monkeys, and we’re made well aware of this. Not in graphic detail by any means but there can be no doubt as to what went on.

Many of the figures here are beautifully drawn, especially Anne of Cleves (I loved her, I really did) and Henry’s jester. Katherine herself is a wayward girl, usually, ultimately, her own worst enemy, but she is just that – a girl – and who wouldn’t pity her? Eliza is a gem from start to finish. While the ending for Eliza didn’t feel quite right or believable enough to me, Eliza Rose is undoubtedly an extremely impressive debut novel from an author who obviously knows her stuff, writes brilliantly and with wit, and knows how to use that knowledge.

I grew up on the historical fiction of Jean Plaidy. I read every single one of her novels as a teenager and they played a crucial part in developing and inspiring my deep, deep love of history. My favourite Jean Plaidy novel is Murder Most Royal, Plaidy’s own account of the lives of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. I can’t tell you how many times I read it and there are lines and moments in it that I can still remember. All these years later we have a new novel about Katherine Howard, also aimed at younger readers, and I can see no reason why Lucy Worsley can’t inspire a whole new generation of readers, just as Jean Plaidy inspired me. I must also say, though, that Eliza Rose isn’t just for young readers. I’m a bit older than that and I adored it. More, please!