* Review copy provided by the publisher... to someone else who kindly let me have it
Published 20th October 2016
I'm reluctant to call it a sequel, because although it is set in the same universe, it follows characters at whom we only got a passing glance during the first book. I thought this would be a problem, I thought that the characters and their relationships in Long Way were the strongest point of the book, and I wanted to see more of them so I started the novel very aware that I wasn't going to see my favourite characters again.
But honestly it didn't matter. After ten pages I was back in the lovely, rich universe Chambers has created and rather than following on from the last book, it takes us in a different direction and allows us to explore her reality from a whole new perspective.
It's hard to explain the premise of the book without hugely spoiling the first one, but I will say that it has the same warmth and joy to the story, and explores the same themes of making your own family, the complexities of gender, diversity and considering other people as people, even if you don't really understand or relate to them. It has such modern values and steers away from cliche and trope at every turn and it's a joy to see where a narrative can be taken when it isn't just pushed lazily along the usual paths. There is also some serious social commentary, including something I read as an unapologetic side eye at the way in which we all know our clothes and luxuries are made by slave children in the developing world, and yet we do nothing about it... because we don't see those people as 'real' people with 'real' lives. Chamber's really has her finger on the social pulse and knows what the more 'modern' reader wants in a book.
One of my workmates described this book as being like 'a literary group hug', and she's totally right. Chambers shows how you can create characters with compassion rather than just to be put through hell for cheap entertainment, and how you can show characters facing difficulties and overcoming obstacles, however awful, and growing as people, rather than spinning into turmoil just so that we as readers can watch the train crash.
I really hope that we get to see the crew from the first book again, but I really think that this book holds it's own with a cast of new characters and very different surroundings, as well as expanding on the world we only got a glimpse of in Long Way.
I can't wait until this comes out, because I can't wait to introduce more Waterstones shoppers to the joys of the Wayfarer universe. If you haven't read Long Way, read it. Then buy and read this when it comes out. You won't regret it. If in doubt come to Waterstones in Newbury and talk to any member of staff who will tell you how much we all love it.
Ok I'll go now. READ IT.
Despite having been published in 2014, and receiving fairly modest attention at the time, The Winner's series has started doing the rounds on Booktube. I've seen two or three people review it and it's been garnering fairly positive reactions from readers who, like myself, aren't generally YA readers and wouldn't normally look twice at this book.
I've been getting through some pretty heavy reads in the last few weeks and felt like I needed a break and to get lost in some gratuitous, brainless entertainment. But I can't just pick up anything, I'm too fussy about tropes and stereotypes and shitty writing. So given that this seemed like a good balance between the two and I bit the bullet and ordered all three books.
The Winner's Curse took me two days to finish and is a fast easy read. It follows the stupidly named Kestrel, the daughter of a General of the Valorian Army. The Valorian people are in the midst of expanding a vast empire across their world and Kestrel and her father live in the recently occupied Herrani territory. Ten years prior to the start of the book the Valorians conquered the Herrani people, enslaved them and now live in houses that used to be theirs.
At the start of the book Kestrel and her friend Jess find themselves accidentally at the slave market and watch the auctions. A young man with blacksmith skills and who, supposedly, sings beautifully is put up for auction and, despite never buying a slave before, Kestrel bids for him and wins.
The story then follows the two of them navigating the world of high society and gossip that Kestrel lives in, as well as their relationship with each other and the conflict between their two people.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It had some really interesting ideas in it and the characters were multi-faceted and complex, particularly Kestrel. She was a 'strong female character' in that she was flawed, made mistakes but also had admirable qualities. She's a completely shit fighter (which I enjoyed because far too many YA heroines are kickass for no obvious reason) but is able to best people with her sly and perceptive nature. She is kind and fair to the slaves in her household but, as the narrative points out, how kind can you be to someone while you keep them as a slave.
This book did slip into some cheesy eye-roll YA moments. There are plot points that are stupidly convenient. Several times she is privy to important meetings between people who regard her as their enemy. Why is she allowed to sit in on these meetings when her knowing this information could be their downfall? There is also an awful lot of 'What is this feeling? Why did I do this? "She felt something in her chest that she refused to name" bullshit hand-wringing which is just annoying, woman just admit you fancy him it's cool. Also there is an 'attempted sexual assault' scene that is just stupid and predictable and something out of a bad fanfiction.
That said there was a lot going on in this book and some really interesting concepts and ideas were explored. I would love to know more about other parts of the Valorian empire and the military which is not gender specific. There are hints of an interesting mythology and spirituality in the Herrani people but it's never more than hinted at. Unfortunately because the book is preoccupied with the plot moving forward we don't get much in the way of world building, or exploration of the moral ambiguities of some of the characters and the choices they make. That was a shame, as even a little more discussion about this would have added some richness to the book. This is the first in a trilogy so perhaps I will find the world expands later.
I don't know the extent to which I'd recommend this book. It was good fun, I did enjoy it and it seems to be one of the better YA fantasy romances out there. However it does still suffer from the family traditions of love triangles, dropping the bulk of the story for angsty love and bland side characters. I also feel the last third of the novel let down the rest of it. The ending is good but the way we travelled to get there was a strange decision to make and felt like the author was trying to make a literary point and failing terribly. I think it's still worth a read if you enjoy the genre, or if you're looking to zone out for a bit and think about pretty dresses and cute boys.
Let me know if you've read this book and what you thought!
Milk and Honey is split into four sections, each dealing with an aspect of love and relationships, there's the hurting, the loving, the breaking and the healing and each has a number of different poems exploring aspects of life and love connected with these titles.
I read this pretty sporadically so I'm not sure that I have actually read every single poem in there but I've definitely gone through the majority at least once. My work mates have been raving about this collection so I felt I had to check it out.
I always say that I don't like poetry but actually this gave me really lovely nostalgic feelings of being back in A Levels and University where we'd analyse poetry and it made me realise how much I'd missed it! And as a return to academia is currently in the works, this reaffirmed just how much I miss being in that setting.
I found the collection to be a mixed bag. There were some that amounted to little more than a fake deep Tumblr post, which I suppose makes sense given that these garnered attention on social media. I would read them over pen in hand and find nothing of any merit there. A few vaguely emotional sounding lines with nothing more to it is not poetry Rupi, I'm sorry it just isn't. Line breaks that seemed pointless, imagery that was sporadic and didn't mesh with the tone of the poem, and some pages were little more than two lines saying something cringey like
"I flinch when you touch me, I fear it is him." ... wut? Did nobody take Rupi's work and sort it into piles labelled 'dope' and 'um no'? It seems like everything she's done ended up in here regardless of it's individual quality.
But then there was just as many poems that I absolutely loved. I filled the space around them with analysis and fawned over how much depth and richness there were to her words.
There's one in particular titled Solo Performance in which she explores the idea of female masturbation for the pleasure of a man watching and I found it so interesting and clever. The idea that female masturbation has become, or perhaps it always was, something that men often see as for them, and their benefit, rather than the woman who is engaging in it.
An aside to any men, if you've ever watched porn of a woman masturbating, know that irl it doesn't look much like that. That sexy lip-bitey half lidded eye thing? Nope. That's called acting. Women's 'nobody's watching' orgasm faces aren't much different from men's. Just letting you know. Oh? Your girlfriend does it though? Is that when she knows you're watching? Cool.
There are a lot of poems about relationships and gender and I felt that, while a few times she missed the boat and came off sounding like a fifteen year old sat in the rain, her overall approach to these topics and the ideas she explored were very profound, especially for someone so young. The healing section has some poetry that is so uplifting and passionate, full of pride and hope for the future of young women, particularly women of colour, and our ability to appreciate and look after one another.
There's also one that cut me to the quick. So much so that the only annotation I could write beside it was the name of the person who made me feel exactly like that. I've never had a poem sit in my heart the way that one did.
I did enjoy this and it's definitely made me want to go and read more poetry, but I feel like quite a lot of this book was just junk. Perfectly good for a teenagers diary, but not something to be published. Doubtless Rupi has some serious talent and will go on to be a very important voice, but I feel like a lot of this is going to be reconciled to her juvenilia and, when she is older and more established, she's going to look back at this first collection and wish she'd cut a lot of it.
Regardless definitely worth a read :)
Let me know if you've read this and what you thought!