Tag Archives: YA

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2019 (7 May) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffIt is 2380 and Tylor Jones is top cadet at the Aurora Academy. Training is over, crews are about to be formed, missions handed out – it’s time for the Draft, something that Tylor Jones has longed for. But he misses it. If only he hadn’t gone out for a joy ride into the Fold, the sub-space that enables impossibly fast travel between planets. If only he hadn’t have come across the distress signal from the Hadfield, a ship filled with sleeping colonists on their way to a distant planet. Except now they’re not sleeping, they’re dead and only one has survived – Aurora, a teenage girl who left Earth two centuries before and must now wake up lost into a world that is alien to her, with everyone she loved long dead.

Because of Aurora, Tylor misses the draft and comes back to the Academy only to be given the dregs for his crew that nobody else would pick. One of them appears to be a homicidal maniac, while another is an alien warrior with anger issues (and very attractive eyes). Then there’s Tylor’s twin sister who keeps calling him Bee-Bro. And then there are the others… Luckily, they’re given a mission that may well kill them before they can manage to kill themselves. Aurora isn’t going to be easy to shake off, either. But the mission sounded so simple, just to deliver relief aid to some refugees. Unfortunately, word is out of Aurora’s survival. People (and I use the word loosely) are after her.

I was so excited to read Aurora Rising! The Illuminae Files is, with no doubt, at all my favourite Young Adult trilogy, although I’d argue that it’s made to be loved by anyone of any age. And now we have the beginnings of a new trilogy. It is different as, I think, it had to be. It still features young adults in deadly peril in outer space but now we have a universe that is also populated by fascinating alien species who live alongside humans in varying degrees of harmony, although it is true to say that some species detest human beings and you have to watch out for those. There’s something of a Star Trek feel about Aurora Rising and I really liked that. This novel doesn’t have the epistolary structure and appearance of The Illuminae Files (and I couldn’t help but miss that at the beginning) and instead has a much more conventional structure but there is so much going on in this fantastic story of peril in space.

The premise is great! I love the idea of Aurora waking up after over two hundred years and finding herself in the centre of some terrible conspiracy that could have huge ramifications for all of life in space. This is exciting stuff and the action kicks off right at the very beginning in a fabulous first chapter and it doesn’t let up one little bit. But the stars of this novel are Tylor and his crew. Each is wonderfully distinct with a fantastic character of their own, a good mix of male, female and alien, and the interaction between them is brilliant. The chapters alternate between them. Some have a lot to say, others can barely spit out a coherent sentence, but we get to know them all and, as you’d expect, Tylor is just the man to turn a ragtag crew of dregs into a cohesive crew of dregs. There is sexual tension, plenty of sparks fly and a fair few fists, too. The dialogue is so funny. These characters shine. You’ll have fun getting to know them.

The world building is fabulous and the descriptions flood this universe with colour – except when travelling in the Fold, of course, when colour is lost. I loved the World Ship – a haven for outcasts – and a highlight is the absolutely ghastly great ultrasaur, surely the most disgusting creature in the entire universe.

This is great storytelling and, along with the humour, there is also emotion. Aurora is going through her own personal hell. There are some jaw dropping moments as the plot develops in its deliciously twisty way. Aurora Rising has it all – great story, characters and banter, some amusingly awkward relationships and lots and lots of thrills as well as a particularly nasty alien monster thing. Here we have the start of another great trilogy, which can be enjoyed by all ages, from this fantastic pair of writers. I can’t wait for book two and to get back into the Fold.

Other reviews
Illuminae 1
Gemina (Illuminae Files 2)
Obsidio (Illuminae Files 3)

The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin

Chicken House | 2018 (2 August) | 276p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Secret Deep by Lindsay GalvinSisters Aster and Poppy are having such a hard time of it. Their mother has recently died and neither of them are dealing with it well, particularly the elder sister Aster, and, with their father long dead, they are sent to the other side of the world to live in New Zealand with their mother’s sister, Iona. On arrival Iona takes them deep along the remote coast, to the ecovillage that she has created for a group of orphaned teenagers – and there they can run wild by the sea, learning skills such as boatbuilding and rope making. But both Aster and Poppy are uneasy. And then, one day, Aster wakes up alone on a tropical island, with no idea of how she got there, and Poppy is gone. With increasing dread, she realises that there is just her and the sea, with its impossible secrets.

I’ve always loved books for children and youngsters about the sea. Helen Dunmore’s Ingo novels and the later Stormswept, are among my favourite novels. And so, when I was in need of a comfort read late one night, I turned to The Secret Deep by Lindsay Galvin, a novel that I’ve heard so many good things about. I’m so glad I did! I read it in one addicted sitting.

The Secret Deep begins with such sadness, with the loss of a dearly loved mother, and there is a darkness that shadows over much of the novel, a reminder of how fragile life is, what people will do to preserve it. But set against that we have the warmth of the relationship between the two sisters and also between them and the friends that they make. Adults in this world are not to be trusted. It is better for these youngsters to look out for themselves. They manage it in the most extraordinary circumstances.

This is above all else, though, an adventure! And it’s an exciting one. Set almost entirely on, in or under the sea, it is filled with the wonder of the oceans, but also their danger. The sea here is both an escape and a deathly trap. It’s described fabulously. Aster occupies the heart of The Secret Deep and how I loved her. She’s beautifully written by Lindsay Galvin. She’s both vulnerable and strong, deeply damaged by what has happened but she’s resilient, too.

I did find some of the science a little unbelievable and implausible but, nevertheless, it doesn’t pay to think about that. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed this thrilling adventure with its glorious setting, yet with more than a hint of true danger and darkness. There is much enjoyment to be found here for both youngsters and oldies alike.

Lady Mary by Lucy Worsley

Bloomsbury Children’s Books | 2018 (5 April) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Lady Mary by Lucy WorsleyMary is just a child when her father and mother separate. But this is no normal family break up – Mary’s mother is Catherine of Aragon and her father is Henry VIII. After years of marriage Henry wants Anne Boleyn and there is nothing he won’t do to win her, even if that means declaring his daughter Mary illegitimate and sending her off to Hatfield where she must serve as a maid to her new little half-sister Elizabeth. Removed from her mother, friends and possessions, Mary suffers everyday due to her resolution that she will never wait on Elizabeth, she will never deny her own title of Princess and she will never betray her mother who remains, in her eyes, Queen of England. There is little comfort for Mary as she grows to adulthood alone, frightened and uncared for. But Mary has the knack of finding friends in the most unlikely of places.

Lady Mary tells the story of Mary from when she is 9 years old, and happy, until she is a young woman of 21. During these years Mary is transformed, first by the appearance of Anne Boleyn in their lives and secondly by the King’s marriage to Jane Seymour. This is the story of Mary’s trials as a princess and royal figure but it is also, and more importantly, the tale of Mary’s suffering as a young person missing her parents and not quite understanding what is happening. She looks for friendship and sometimes finds it but she must also learn about dishonesty and betrayal.

This is a children’s book and I think, just like the earlier Eliza Rose, it will greatly appeal and hopefully spark an interest in this most fascinating and colourful of periods. As an older reader, there were certain parts of Lady Mary that I really enjoyed. I did like the depiction of life at Hatfield. It’s all very visual and full of little details, all reflecting Lucy Worsley’s knowledge as a curator of the royal palaces. There is also something very appealing about this portrayal of Mary. It’s so easy to warm to her and I didn’t want to put the novel down, I was so caught up in her story.

However, my biggest issue with the novel was also in this portrayal of Mary. Her religious fervour is removed and so, although I could believe in her gentleness and kindness as presented here, as a whole this depiction didn’t ring true for me. We’re given little glimpses of a possible romance, alongside quite upsetting scenes showing her brutal treatment as a prisoner, but, although she ages by over ten years through the book, her voice doesn’t change. It’s hard with hindsight to escape Mary’s legacy, that of Bloody Mary, but there isn’t a sign of any of that Catholic belief that dominated her life.

Henry VIII is equally unbelievable, in my opinion. He comes across as a bit of a fool. Some of the other characterisation isn’t subtle – Anne Boleyn is a horrifying ogress while Thomas Cromwell is as slimey as he is dangerous. Jane Seymour, by contrast, is a gentle angel. I did, though, really enjoy the scenes between Jane and Mary, and what they show about life at court. I did question the point at which the novel ended – with the birth of Edward VI. I would have loved it to have finished with Mary’s destiny – her accession to the throne.

Depth is missing from Lady Mary but in its place is an accessible and pleasing introduction to the Tudor court for young readers, and I found it much more successful than its predecessor My Name is Victoria. I certainly found Lady Mary very hard to put down, enjoying its Tudor richness and colour.

Other reviews
Eliza Rose
My Name is Victoria

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Rock the Boat | 2018 (13 March) | 615p | Review copy | Buy the book

Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay KristoffBefore I go on to review a book that is guaranteed a place in my top books of 2018 post, a word of caution! Obsidio completes the Illuminae trilogy and, if you haven’t read Illuminae or it’s successor Gemina, then you must take not a step further! Everything that happens here is a direct result of what has happened before and every character has been changed by what they have endured and who they have loved and who they have killed. But you must begin with Illuminae for another very straightforward reason – it is quite simply one of the most extraordinary, ingenious, compelling, obsessive reads I have ever had and you do not want to deprive yourself of the pleasure. And then there’s Gemina, the middle book, which is every bit as good. The fabulous news is that Obsidio, the conclusion, is BRILLIANT! Not many books make me want to shout about them in caps, but this one’s managed it.

So, having assured myself that you have indeed read the previous two books, let me tell you just a little about why I love Obsidio and why this is a landmark trilogy in Young Adult science fiction. Actually, I say Young Adult but I can see no reason at all why anyone of all ages wouldn’t love these books. I’m a Slightly Less Young Adult and they could have been written for me so maybe we’ll ignore that label from here on.

I’m going to tell you next to nothing about the plot as that is something to discover for yourself. But you can rest assured that it’s every bit as thrilling as everything we’ve experienced so far. But there is a sense of things coming full circle as the structure divides between life (such as it is) on the occupied planet of Kerenza, where it all began, and on the spaceship Mao which is hastening to its rescue or to share in its demise. There is simply nowhere else to go. We meet new characters but we also spend good time with old friends. I’m not saying who because survival odds have never been lower. But I soon loved the new people every bit as much as the old, and the relationships between them are as rewarding as they are fraught at times.

This is quite simply brilliant storytelling by two masters of the craft. I cannot praise them enough. This is no straightforward story. There are multiple layers of meaning and feeling. There are characters we think might be bad but then we see another side of them and we realise that they are just people. And fear can make good people act in bad ways whereas sometimes even those who want to be seen as bad, who have committed atrocities, still worry about their cat back at home. This is sophisticated stuff. Many of the characters here are youngsters but they’re growing up fast, having adult relationships and swearing like tomcats (swear words are amusingly blacked out or censored!), dealing with very real danger as well as grief.

Obsidio is all about war and we are spared none of the horror of it. There are moments here that left me shocked and really rather upset. Innocence is no guarantee of survival in this world. Some of it is truly heartbreaking, heroic and utterly tragic and brutal. But this is offset by the humour. These are people who could be dead at any moment, almost before they’ve lived. Better to joke about it. And then there’s Aidan, but we’re not going to talk about him here…

Obsidio continues the wonderful narrative technique of the previous books. The tale is told through surveillance footage summaries, emails, notes, messages on noticeboards, pictograms, cartoons, drawings, forum posts. And this is absolutely captivating. It brings these people alive. There are a couple of sketches that reduced me to tears. But you never know what’s going to be on the next page – the way in which dogfights are portrayed is inspired! There is one page in particular that made me almost shout out loud in triumph!

The Illuminae trilogy is an incredible achievement – for its brilliant plot, for its superb characterisation, for its ingenious style, for the quality of the writing, for the humour and the tragedy, but perhaps most of all for its sheer emotional impact. This is powerful.

The sadness at finishing is, thank the stars, offset by the joy at reading in the extremely entertaining acknowledgements at the end that a new series is in the works – The Andromeda Cycle. What a relief…

I’d be hard pressed to think of another science fiction trilogy that I’ve loved as much as this. These are books to keep and treasure and encourage others to read. So that’s what I’m doing – read it! You will not regret it!

Other reviews

The World of Supersaurs: Raptors of Paradise by Jay Jay Burridge

Supersaurs, Bonnier Zaffre | 2017 (21 September) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Supersaurs: Raptors of Paradise by Jay Jay BurridgeIn this world the real stars of the nature world are dinosaurs. They never died out. Instead they have evolved into countless different types, of all colours, sizes – and moods. Some make attractive and cute pets, some (especially the large and ungainly) are excellent beasts of burden, others are just too mean to be anything but scary dinosaurs. But in special parts of the world, particularly the Indonesian island of Aru, they are fabulous. These are the raptors of paradise, with their beautiful feathers and elaborate courtship rituals. They tempted Bea’s explorer parents to the island. Unfortunately, that was the last that was heard of them. And now Bea has come to the island along with her redoubtable grandmother in search of…. Bea isn’t quite sure what but it’s soon very clear that they may have bitten off more than they can chew.

Raptors of Paradise is the first of six novels aimed at young readers [it specifies ages 9-12] – although doing everything right to pull in this slightly less young reader. I adore dinosaurs (who doesn’t?) and I certainly feel that, just like dinosaur jumpers, hoodies, slippers and plushies, they’re just as appealing to the young at heart as they are to the young in body. And this book immediately entices, not least for its stunning black and white illustrations (by Chris West and Jay Jay Burridge) which fill these pages and bring Bea and the dinos to roaring life. The illustrations (and the rest of the book) are also interactive if you go to the app. This wasn’t yet available when I read the book but you can find out about it here:

The story itself takes us back to the glory days of exploration and reminds me of Indiana Jones as well as some of those early David Attenborough programmes. Even David Attenborough would have his hands full with these critters (although I think he would have done them proud, obviously). The adventure is very exciting, punctuated by a full host of dinosaurs as well as baddies, and then there’s the island terrain and weather… Not to mention the odd human inhabitants. They’re the ones you have to watch.

I really enjoyed this. The illustrations make it, they really do. There’s so much to look at. But I also enjoyed the adventure, the courageous and determined Bea, her slightly intimidating grandmother Bunty and her very handy friend Theodore Logan. And I certainly enjoyed the dinosaurs – which are all listed and described at the back of the book. All in all, it’s a long way away from the Oxfordshire countryside that Bea is used to. I think young readers will absolutely love this!

The New World by Scott K. Andrews

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (27 July) | 342p | Review copy | Buy the book

The New World by Scott K AndrewsThe New World completes the TimeBomb trilogy, Scott K. Andrews’ thoroughly entertaining young adult science fiction time travelling adventure series that began with TimeBomb and continued with Second Lives. This is a deliciously convoluted and complex trilogy, with more time travelling paradoxes than you can shake a cat at, so you’d have to be barking to read The New World without having read the other two books first. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

Having said all that, I don’t want to give much away here about the contents of this book or the two that went before because there’s pleasure to be had in trying to unknit the knots that Scott K. Andrews tangles before us. But over the course of the novels we have grown very attached to our gang of three: Dora (the 17th-century maidservant), Kaz (from our present) and Jana (from the 22nd century). All three have changed enormously since we first met them in extraordinary circumstances. Approximately five years have passed, I think, since the beginning, but there is nothing linear about time in these novels. We have leapt around, backwards and forwards through the years and centuries, as our three attempt to put right the crimes against time that are being committed by Quil and the President of the US (or World, as she likes to describe herself).

If you can’t remember too clearly the events of the earlier novels, which would not be surprising, there’s a handy synopsis of past events at the beginning of The New World and this really helps to immerse the reader in this complicated yet thrilling world once more. There’s a lot of going back over past events in this third novel as the narrative attempts to tie up loose ends and unravel knots before its conclusion. This does mean that, mainly for the first half of the novel, there’s a lot of talk about memories. But this is done rather well, particularly for making us understand the torturous relationship between Quil and Jana. It’s moving, it really is. Added to that is the growing emotional bond between Jana and Dora, which is such a wonderful part of the book. A side effect is that poor Kaz plays a much smaller role in this third novel. But we need to spend the time with Quil, Jana and Dora. This is where the heart of the story lies and it is a thoroughly satisfying place to be.

In the second half of The New World, the action really kicks off as events build up to the glorious denouement of the trilogy. You’ve got to keep your wits about you to keep up – how many earlier versions of one character can there be? – but the effort is well worth it. I loved the end and thought it did a fine job of completing the circle. It’s satisfying as a fun thrillfest but also as an emotional journey.

The plot is undoubtedly complicated and, at times, exceedingly confusing. As one character muses: he could really have done with a flow chart to keep track of all of the timelines that have been contaminated and altered. At the times when the story is at its most confusing, then it’s best simply to enjoy the ride and let the paradoxes sort themselves out – or not. These are wonderful characters and the story is a lot of fun, backed up by some emotionally powerful threads about love, loss and betrayal. I really enjoyed myself reading this trilogy and I’m very sorry to say goodbye to Dora, Jana and Kaz.

Other reviews
Second Lives

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