The Road to High Saffron (Shades of Grey #1)

Synopsis: Welcome to Chromatacia, where the societal hierarchy is strictly regulated by one’s limited colour perception. And Eddie Russet wants to move up. But his plans to leverage his better-than-average red perception and marry into a powerful family are quickly upended. Juggling inviolable rules, sneaky Yellows, and a risky friendship with an intriguing Grey named Jane who shows Eddie that the apparent peace of his world is as much an illusion as colour itself, Eddie finds he must reckon with the cruel regime behind this gaily painted façade.

My Thoughts: Don’t worry, this book has nothing to do with the story of a similar name by E.L. James. Essentially a dystopian sci-fi novel, you can get a taste of just how weird and wonderful this book is simply by reading the blurb. Eddie Russet is a humble Red seeking to improve his social standing by marrying into the Oxblood family when he decides to investigate a man who has seemingly been murdered, and he begins to see that the society he lives in is hiding dark secrets. And what a society it is; from “chasing the frog” to laws forbidding the manufacture of spoons, Chromatacia is an intricately-painted world with lots to uncover. Any writers of sci-fi and fantasy who want an example of good world-building should absolutely pick up a copy of this.

Despite a plot line that sounds pretty serious, it’s an incredibly witty story and there were many moments that really made me smile. I particularly loved reading the National Colour Association’s strange rules at the start of each chapter. My favourite is probably “unicycles are not to be ridden backwards at excessive speed”. The characters are just as wacky as the world they live in, and I love the colour-related names and places (who wouldn’t want to visit High Saffron?). It’s hard to really do this book justice but I just couldn’t put it down. There’s something addictive about the sheer originality of it, and it reads a bit like Douglas Adams (except slightly easier to understand than what I’ve read of his stuff). By the end of it I was eager to read more… but unfortunately despite being published in 2010, Saffron’s sequel isn’t out yet.

The next book in the trilogy will be called Painting by Numbers. I did some Googling and found that Jasper Fforde is currently spreading his time between the several different book series he’s working on. Book two might not be out until 2015, but apparently he is working on a standalone novel set in the Shades of Grey universe set some 700 years before and is about the Something That Happened (a mysterious historical event mentioned throughout the book). It may be a while until we see anything new in this series, but after being totally blown away by book one, I think it’s safe to say that it’ll be well worth the wait.

In Short: A wonderfully original book with a humorously quirky dystopian world and characters to match. Could not put it down. World-building is awesome; easily the best sci-fi book I have ever read. Now where’s book two…? 10/10

My Copy of Assassin’s Blade Has Arrived!

I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about getting a book in the post. It’s the same length as the first two books, but split into five novellas (and I can’t get over just how perfect they look together!). I’ll definitely be reviewing it on here, but I was thinking of doing five mini reviews over several weeks. I’m currently in my last year of A-levels and finding time to read is just impossible right now (trying to get through Brisingr in a week is just not going to happen) so this is probably what I’ll end up doing. And if you haven’t already, buy a copy of Assassin’s blade and show your love for Celaena! (and Sarah J. Maas of course, she’s awesome).

Eldest (Inheritance Cycle #2)

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Synopsis: Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, have just saved the rebel state from destruction by the forces of King Galbatorix, cruel ruler of the Empire. Now Eragon must travel to Ellesméra, land of the elves, for further training in magic and swordsmanship, the vital skills of the Dragon Rider. It is the journey of a lifetime, each day a fresh adventure. But chaos and betrayal plague him at every turn, and Eragon isn’t sure whom he can trust.

Meanwhile, his cousin Roran must fight a new battle back home in Carvahall- one that puts Eragon in even graver danger…

My Thoughts: After the exciting start to the series that Eragon proved to be, this book wastes no time in picking up right from where it left off. Eragon is sent to Ellesméra to train with the elves who hope to prepare him for the final confrontation with King Galbatorix. It’s a bigger book than the first one, and not what you’d call a casual read, but I’d say it’s a step up from what precedes it.

The first thing you notice is that there’s a lot more going on than in book one, and the POV alternates between Eragon, his cousin Roran, and the Varden’s leader Nasuada. Initially I found this a little distracting, but all three plotlines are exciting enough and it’s fun to see how their separate adventures intertwine. The majority of the novel is set in Ellesméra, and it is here I think that the story really shines. Granted some of it feels as though it might have been stolen from Lord of the Rings, but the magic of it seems to just radiate off the page. My favourite part of the entire series so far has to be Eragon’s training itself; to see him grow as a character whilst at the same time try to make sense of the world he is now a part of is something that was only really touched upon in the first book.

Whilst Eragon set a pretty high standard, I actually enjoyed reading Eldest more. Both Eragon and Saphira grow and develop as characters, testing the limits of their abilities as well as making feeble first attempts at romance. Arya proves to be more than just a potential love interest, and indeed we see many characters which were barely introduced now come into their own. We’re provided with a pretty epic finish as well as some surprising new obstacles that will no doubt shape Eragon’s course to come. I’m really intrigued by Angela’s prophecy since there are still many parts that are unfulfilled, and I’d love to know what Eragon’s true name is in the ancient language. In other words, still so many unanwered questions that I’d really love the answers to. Good job I have a copy of Brisingr then!

In Short: An improvement from book one with some interesting character developments. Excellent setting and still so many intriguing questions that I hope the next two books will answer! 9/10

Tau Zero

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Tau Zero Synopsis: It’s the twenty-third century. Fifty men and women set out from Earth aboard an interstellar craft, bound for a planet thirty light-years away. The ship will travel at almost the speed of light and as a result subjective time on board will slow down. A journey lasting thirty years will pass, for the crew, in less than a decade.

But the ship’s deceleration system is irreparably damaged when it hits a cloud of interstellar dust and its acceleration continues inexorably toward light speed- tau zero. Soon the ship is speeding through galaxies. On board, not just decades but eons are passing in the blink of an eye. Once you have travelled this far out in time and space, is there ever a way back?

My Thoughts: Despite the length of the blurb, this is actually one of the shortest sci-fi books I’ve ever seen! Spanning just 187 pages, it’s miniscule compared to the Alistair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamiltons that you see in the shops, and I thought it would be a great way to dip into some hard sci-fi, a genre I’m not too familiar with (unless you count Doctor Who).

I’m not great with sci-fi sub-genres, but it’s safe to say that this is a “ship story”. Almost the entire narrative takes place on the Leonora Christine, a ship capable of extremely fast travel that is in search of a new planet to colonise. Anderson has definitely done his homework here, and the systems of the ship as well as the scientific principles behind them are explained in detail. My knowledge of physics isn’t great but you only need the gist of it to follow the plot, and the resulting impression is that this is a concept which could be possible in the distant future and I found it much more immersive as a result.

What really struck me about this book is that the focus isn’t on the technology or the mission, but on the human crew and how they cope with leaving their home world forever and experiencing complete isolation from the rest of their kind. The main character Reymont is simply there to link all the characters together, the focus remaining at a “wide shot” throughout and incorporating many characters. None are portrayed in complete detail,but their struggles and hopes are all very humanly depicted. I especially love when they observe Christmas by decorating the ship with spare parts that serve as wreaths and tinsel. The futuristic setting doesn’t distract from the realism of the crew’s actions and feelings, but only serves to highlight the uncertainty of their journey. World-building so often distracts from a sci-fi or fantasy story but the author avoids this entirely by quite literally cramming all the characters into one place and watching them cope (or otherwise). I really enjoyed reading this and would recommend it to anyone interested in trying some sci-fi as well as the genre reader who fancies something a bit shorter for a change. I’m certainly going to try a few more!

In Short: Enjoyable quick read with realistic characters, carefully-researched concepts and plenty of jargon for the physics-savvy without alienating the rest of us! Great for a first dip into hard sci-fi. 8/10


“Buying books is immensely comforting. Maybe I won’t read them immediately, but they make me feel so much better whenever I’m sad and blue. Just their presence, it’s like having more to look forward to.”
—  Unknown 
Buying books is immensely comforting. Maybe I won’t read them immediately, but they make me feel so much better whenever I’m sad and blue. Just their presence, it’s like having more to look forward to.

—  Unknown 

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings #1)

Synopsis: In a sleepy village in the Shire, a young hobbit is entrusted with an immense task. He must make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ruling Ring of Power- the only thing that prevents the Dark Lord Sauron’s evil dominion.

My thoughts: This is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and now that I’ve got hold of the trilogy second-hand (lovely covers, I might add), it seemed a good time to start on them. I doubt there are many people who haven’t at least heard of these books, but the story of Fellowship is of a hobbit named Frodo who sets off on a quest to destroy the One Ring in order to bring down the Kingdom of Sauron. Very much a traditional fantasy story, the world-building is nevertheless very good. Landscapes of hills and mountains are depicted with loving clarity, in particular Lothlórien, the domain of the Elves.

It’s safe to say that the story takes a while to get going (it’s not until page 93 that Frodo finally leaves the Shire to set off on his adventures, and that’s after two months of planning!) but the leisurely pace allows a sense of timelessness which is carried throughout the book. I felt that the supporting Hobbit characters let the cast down a little; Pippin and Merry are virtually indistinguishable from each other and even Sam seems to lack much substance, but their utter devotion to Frodo is rather sweet and helps to make up for this a little. Gandalf and Aragorn are both strong characters later on, and although it wasn’t covered in much detail in this instalment I would love to read more about the friendship between Gimli and Legolas, a Dwarf and an Elf. Traditionally they are rival races and initially don’t get along but become fast friends. I wouldn’t say that any of the characters truly step off the page, but the real magic of the story is in the scenery and the lore behind it.

To expand upon this, much of the back story is interesting, covering past wars and ancient Elves. The only problem is that much of it is conveyed through song. There are pages and pages of verse, and whilst this may provide lots of extra insight into the world of Middle Earth, I ended up skipping over much of it because there was just too much. The character of Tom Bombadil was the worst for this, and over half of his speech is stuff he insists on singing. Not going to lie, I was pretty glad he was only in a chapter or two. But don’t get me wrong, I still really enjoyed reading the start to the trilogy and I’m going to be reviewing the other two in the future.

In Short: Classic fantasy series that no aficionado can fail to have read.  The story takes a while to get going and there’s far too much singing, but its innocent charm and breathtaking scenery make waiting worth the while. 7/10

Throne of Glass Novella Collection Out in March!

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As any regular visitors to this blog will know, I am a big fan of the Throne of Glass series. As well as book three being released in autumn later this year, there is to be a book containing five prequel novellas (one of which is a new release and the rest previously available as e-books). The Assassin’s Blade is being released in 28 days according to the Waterstones website, so now is the time to preorder! Show your love for SJM!

Eragon (Inheritance Cycle #1)

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Synopsis: When Eragon finds a polished blue stone in the forest, he thinks it is the lucky discovery of a poor farm boy; perhaps it will buy his family meat for the winter. But when the stone brings a dragon hatchling, Eragon soon realises he has stumbled upon a legacy nearly as old as the Empire itself.

Overnight his simple life is shattered, and he is thrust into a perilous new world of destiny, magic and power. Can Eragon take up the mantle of the legendary Dragon Riders? The fate of the Empire may rest in his hands…

My Thoughts: This is a book series I’ve been meaning to read for a while and now that I’ve finally got started I wish I’d tried them sooner. It’s very much your traditional fantasy plot: an ongoing quest, information to find, people to save and a lot of walking. Eragon journeys across the land fleeing foes and discovering the extent of his newfound powers along the way with the help of various characters including his dragon companion, Saphira. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking or original about the plot itself but the writing style is quite more-ish and it moves along at a reasonable pace.

The laws of magic are more interesting than stories where the character just clicks their fingers and unleashes a column of fire. There are real limits to Eragon’s power, and I like the concept of having “true” names for things in order to manipulate them, and that each person has their own true name. There are some really impressive settings too, particularly the Dwarven city of Tronjheim towards the end of the book which is painted with love and care and reads like something from Lord of the Rings. Back-plotting isn’t too cumbersome and there are lots of seeds sown for the story to be continued, including the Elven character of Arya and Eragon’s ultimate destiny as Dragon Rider.

The progression of events is fairly relaxed so you won’t find thrill-a-minute writing here, but it’s a good book to read at leisure if you’re in the mood for something more traditional. It’s a suitably interesting story, and I’m curious to see where Eragon ends up. There are four books in the Inheritance Cycle series, and I’m planning on reviewing book two, Eldest, at some point in the next few weeks (I also have a copy of Brisingr waiting patiently on my shelf when I’m done with that one). The next few reviews will most likely alternate between this series and Lord of the Rings, both of which I’m reading at the moment.

In Short: Traditional adventure story with good pacing and a very more-ish writing style. Not particularly original, but great fun and suitably gripping.  8/10

Extra Note: I’d like to say a quick thank you to DavidFarland for being my very first follower! He runs a writing advice blog here if you’d like to check it out: http://davidfarland.tumblr.com/ Also a thank you to anyone who has dropped in for a read. It’s been great fun starting this blog and I hope that I’ve managed to advise a few people on some good books. Until next week!