Book Review: The Glittering Court, by Richelle Mead

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_glittering_courtThe Glittering Court is a Cinderella story in reverse. It is the story of Lady Witmore, a countess whose family fortune has depleted. Faced with an arranged marriage, to a bit of a “wet blanket”, and the prospect of a a future spent with a domineering mother-in-law, the Countess takes matters into her own hands. Assuming the identity of her ex-serving lady, she becomes Adelaide Bailey, and runs away to join the Glittering Court – a school set up to transform impoverished girls into upper-class ladies, fit to send into the “New World” as potential wives.

With her high-class upbringing, one might suspect Adelaide would excel at her studies – and indeed she could – but there is a fine line to tread if she wishes to keep her identity a secret. Also, despite her knowledge in the higher classes, her basic training is, well, something of an embarrassment. She cannot sew, but knows the correct silverware to use. So, while the other girls receive a crash-course in behaving noble, Adelaide hones her skills of deceit, and picks up a few more along the way. She makes friends too: Fierce and determined Tamsin and beautiful and intelligent Mira, a Sirminican refugee. And, of course, there is rivalry, with Clara, the resident “queen bee”, who is determined not to be out-staged.

Her deceit becomes more complicated when we discover her true identity is known to one person, the intriguing Cedric Thorn. He has secrets of his own, as Adelaide discovers, secrets that could have him killed. The two set up a scheme to make the best of her deception, and free them both from the binds of the society they are soon to leave behind. Settling in Adoria brings more complexity, however, as Adelaide quickly catches the eyes of a promising suitor, just as she is falling in love with someone else… someone who could create scandal and force her to leave behind, entirely, her former comfortable life. Is she ready to forego a life of comfort and good food, in favour of love and hard work?

The Glittering Court is a complexly woven story, with deception, secrets, social politics, romance, blackmail, scandals, adventure… there is never a dull moment to be had. Adelaide is, despite her upper-class upbringing, far from being a rich snob and very, very determined. Her friends are equally personable, unfortunately, they fade somewhat into the background as the story’s journey takes new twists and turns. Her rivalry with Clara, likewise, dissipates into the greater scheme of things. Despite this, many of the earlier threads are tied up later in the book, with enough left hanging to leave the reader anticipating the follow-up.

This isn’t Vampire Academy (although the teen girl politics are similar in the earlier part), and it bears more semblance to a historic novel than fantasy (albeit historic set in a world reminiscent, but dissimilar to our own). It should appeal to fans of Kiera Cass’s Selection novels. It is richly written, compelling and engaging. The cast of characters is rich – although not especially diverse (Mira notwithstanding), which I guess fits the setting – it’s a very “white colonial” style plot. A highly enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Glittering Court
by Richelle Mead
Published by Razorbill
ISBN 9780670079360

Book Review: Awakening, by Natalie King

Available in bookstores now. 

When Zelie Taylor moves with her family to cv_awakeningNew Zealand, she has no idea how drastically her life is about to change. She is suddenly surrounded with strangers, can’t stop thinking about the charismatic Otis Hayes, and is trying to move on after the sudden death of her mother. Zelie’s first week in New Zealand has been a hectic one, but things are about to get a lot stranger…

Fragile Kate Hearn certainly doesn’t seem like a witch at first; and yet all of a sudden, she has tricked Zelie into retrieving a pendant from the icy depths of Lake Tekapo. This is no ordinary pendant, however – inside it lives the mind and soul of a seventeen-year-old boy from 19th century Europe. By the time Zelie has tried on the pendant on Kate’s orders, it is too late to go back. A spell has bound Zelie’s life to the life inside the pendant – and if she takes it off, the boy inside will die.

Several things become quite clear over the next few days; first of all, Tamas is not going to be easy to ignore. Just as confused as Zelie is, he demands news about the modern-day world, exhausting her mind as he scavenges for information. Then there’s the problem that Tamas sees everything through Zelie’s eyes, completely invading her privacy. This means never being alone at any time, and at first Zelie can’t stand it. She is desperate to get rid of the pendant – and Tamas – as soon as possible…all she needs to do is wait until he is strong enough to survive without her. But Tamas is no ordinary boy – it soon becomes obvious that he has powers even stronger than Kate’s.

Zelie is slowly drawn into this bewildering world of magic, and realises that when the time comes, Tamas will no longer need her. Will she be able to forget about the brave and witty soul that she has known for what seems like years? Or will Zelie never be safe from the magical dangers that sweep around Lake Tekapo? Only one thing is certain as Zelie tries to decide what the right thing to do is – nobody can be trusted, and nobody is safe…

Awakening by Christchurch author Natalie King is a novel for young adults that will thrill and inspire, intrigue and mystify. An addictive fantastical romance, readers will find themselves reading for hours on end as the complex relationship builds between Zelie and Tamas, and as they try to identify the true villain who is hidden in plain sight. This book is certain to become a huge hit with New Zealand teens, as it is sophisticated yet never dull. Unpredicable and filled with both relatable and eccentric characters, Awakening teaches readers that they needn’t go looking far to find their own adventure.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon

by Natalie King
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143570790


Book Review: Lamplighter, by Kerry Donovan-Brown

Available from bookstores from today – launched tonight at The Southern Cross.

Donovan-Brown pens a fine and eloquent prose, rich witcv_lamplighterh detail and depth. He has created a tiny South Island settlement, Porbeagle, a village lost in the transition of time: where computer games and modern technology have been overshadowed by dark fables and folklore. Where the last Lamplighter is about to retire, and his apprentice, Candle, will never claim the position because technology will replace the traditional and dark secrets will come to light.

The cover is beautiful, as moody and subtle as the text – dreamy watercolors, monochromatic shades of sepia depicting the old man and his apprentice – distracted – on the edge of the swamp. It summarises the tale well, for the writing has a sort of murky other-worldness to it. It could be historic, it could be present. It could even have shades of future dystopia.

Candle, a teenage boy, is our protagonist. It is not his real name, but more a “title” from his apprenticeship. He lives in a small town, where his homosexuality has cast shadows on his relationships amongst his fellow villagers. His best friend (and lover), Rib, is himself a former apprentice-lamplighter (and now an aquarium guide) with a love of spooky tales. Tales like that of Wet Pete, the drowned man returned from the dead, and the mysterious doggod. But there is a truth amongst the shadows and dark secrets that may well involve the Lamplighter himself, Candle’s gruff old grandfather.

The writing is rich and vivid, the sort of tale that should be savoured slow. It flows at a smooth, deliberate pace that fully submerses the reader into the murky world. Evocative, elegant with echoes of poetry translated into prose.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Lamplighter
by Kerry Donovan-Brown
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739162

This book will be launched at The Southern Cross, 6pm, 25 February 2014