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Book Review: The Invisible Library

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Author: Genevieve Cogman

Publisher: Tor

Genre/s: Fantasy, steampunk

I thought this book was so promising when I started reading it. The first few chapters were unique and gripping, and it seemed like a quirky and unique concept despite the writing style not being to my taste. Unfortunately, the more I read the more that originality unravelled. There were too many things going on at once, and nothing was really explained in detail. There were Fae, vampires, dragons, steampunk elements, other worlds, magical Librarians, a magic system based on language, mechanical alligators… it sounds great in theory, but the poor execution and lack of plausible world building made all of this seem more ridiculous than believable. There were great chunks of info dumping in an attempt to explain certain elements of the world like the magic system, but these were rushed and unnatural and only left me scratching my head in confusion.

I also didn’t really care for the characters. Irene had potential, but sadly the cast overall were under developed and lacked charisma, and the slight hint of romance between Irene and Kai only came across as forced. Quite often, the dialogue was cliche, especially during moments of action, which only distanced me further from the characters and plot.

Sadly, this wasn’t one for me. There was a lot of promise here in terms of the idea, but the execution didn’t quite work.


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Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Author: Erika Johansen

Publisher: Bantam Books (UK), HarperCollins (US)

Genre/s: Fantasy, dystopia

Reading this book was like taking a masterclass in writing a strong fantasy novel. We follow Kelsea, a young woman who was raised in secret after her mother, the Queen of the Tearling, was murdered. Kelsea is destined to inherit the Tearling throne, and on her nineteenth birthday, the Queen’s Guard arrive to take her deeper into her kingdom in order seize the throne from her uncle, who has been manipulated by the twisted Red Queen, the ruler of the nearby land of Mortmesme.

One of the things that first struck me about this book (aside from the beautiful, effortless writing) was the world building. We are gradually fed information about the world; there are no info dumps to be found here, and the information we do get feels natural and not at all forced. That was one of the things that kept me hooked. I constantly wanted to know more about this magical, mythical land with a strong connection to our own world. That’s where the subtle blend of dystopia and fantasy comes in—we learn that everyone in this world was once part of our own world. An event called The Crossing changed all of that, presumably after a tragedy struck. There are a couple of references to ‘old’ technology and certain familiar procedures (cosmetic surgery, contraception, drugs), but even those felt natural given the believable world building we are exposed to throughout the novel. Even with those light references, it’s very much a traditional fantasy novel and feels very authentic.

The Queen of the Tearling is very much about Kelsea’s journey to become a strong and able queen—I really enjoyed that, as it was a refreshing change from the usual fantasy tropes. Kelsea herself is an incredible character; she’s unsure of herself at first, but she has a strong moral code and sense of justice that feeds into the rest of the story. She wants to build a better kingdom and remove the evil practices of her uncle and, in turn, the Red Queen. I think this is where the author’s background in law really shines through—Kelsea’s morals added so much depth to the story, especially as the plot itself can be quite political and also tackles issues such as fairness and doing what’s right.

Kelsea is also not your typical heroine, and I loved her. She’s not described as slender or particularly beautiful (there are references to her being thick and heavyset). This was such a refreshing change and drew even more attention to the elements of her personality that were admirable and inspiring: her intelligence, her love of books, her morals, her courage. She even shaves off her long, dark hair so she can blend in with her soldiers to rescue some townspeople. The entire book is about her journey, and I loved that it showed her developing her own voice and ideas to become a worthy queen.

The antagonists were very intriguing. The scenes featuring the Red Queen were chilling with just the right amount of gore and tension to make me shiver, and the ‘shadow creature’ that is hinted at within the narrative was incredibly creepy. The side characters were all developed well, my favourites being the Fetch and Mace, and they all brought something fresh and new to the story.

The writing itself is so vivid and descriptive; the scenes that are intended to pack a punch certainly do. One of my favourite scenes in the novel takes place in Kelsea’s library—Kelsea recommends some books to a group of children. Harry Potter and The Hobbit get a mention, which made my fantasy-loving heart very happy.

On that note, the fantasy aspects within The Queen of the Tearling (the magical crystals/gems in particular) were subtle and enjoyable; some fantasy tends to get bogged down with magic and tropes, but that wasn’t the case here. The dystopian aspects, too (including a Hunger Games-style lottery in which children are ripped away from their parents), were well done and added extra tension to an already gripping story, and really allowed Kelsea to shine as a character as she strived to put things right.

To sum up, this was a fantastic read. The theme of reshaping the world and bringing about justice and fairness really resonated with me and I can’t wait to see how the series develops. I bought books 2 and 3 in this series immediately after finishing The Queen of the Tearling, so I can’t wait to dive in.


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Should You Study Creative Writing If You Want to Be a Writer?

A lot of writers who want to write for a living wonder if they should study creative writing at university or college. As a fiction writer myself, I studied a BA (Hons) in English Literature and Creative Writing and also considered studying a creative writing MA or MFA. Ultimately, I decided not to go down the MA or MFA route. I thought this would be an interesting topic to discuss on the blog, to help those of you who are weighing up your options.

Since I studied an undergraduate degree in English and Creative Writing, I thought I’d give you a rundown of the benefits of studying writing first and foremost.


THE PROS

  • You’ll meet other writers and industry professionals  

I loved being around like-minded people during my degree, and my lecturers really knew what they were talking about. Many of them took the time to give me advice on getting published (both traditionally and in the self-publishing sense), as well as guidance on finding a literary agent.

I also joined the student press office and the English society, and even got to work for a children’s book festival run by my university. These were amazing experiences that really helped me forge my career as an editor today. You never know what connections or experiences you’ll gain when you study writing, and they may come in handy in the future.

  • You’ll be able to take part in writing workshops

Writing workshops are a crucial part of studying creative writing. You’ll be able to share your work and receive feedback not only from your peers but from your lecturers, many of whom are published authors themselves.

  • It’ll boost your confidence

Although you’ll definitely receive feedback and critique that may be hard to swallow on a creative writing course, you’ll also gain confidence as you improve your skills. Extra-curricular activities can really help with this, too—writing for the student magazine or blog, for example, can give you a real sense of achievement.

  • You get to do what you love

What’s better than doing what you love, surrounded by people who also have a passion for the subject? How many times in life do we get to experience that?

  • You’ll be encouraged to pick apart literature and really hone your craft
  • This is especially true if you do a combination of literature and creative writing modules, as I did. All writing courses have required reading regardless, and you’ll learn to analyse texts to see what works and what doesn’t.

Obviously, there are some other factors to consider. Many of these pros can be turned into cons, which is why it’s such a difficult choice!

THE CONS

  • You will get into debt

When I was looking into postgraduate degrees (in the UK), an MA would have cost me between £4,000 and £6,000, whereas an MFA was around £8,000 to £9,000. Although there are loans available for this, it’s worth thinking about whether that money would be best saved for something else.

  • You don’t need to do a writing degree to network

You can join writing workshops anywhere. Many local bookshops run them, and if they don’t, you could set one up yourself. You can still network with industry professionals, too, by looking out for writing and publishing events. Although these usually cost a bit of money, it’s far less than forking out thousands of pounds for a degree!

  • You might not learn anything new, especially if you already have writing experience

I was 23 when I started my degree and I’d been writing seriously for years. There were other people on my course who had never written seriously and were just dipping their toes into the waters of creative writing. As a result, I was often taught things I already knew (such as grammar, punctuation, and how to set out dialogue). It’s worth thinking about how much experience you have now, and if you’d really benefit from what an MA or MFA offers. 

  • You’ll learn things you could have taught yourself

The internet is a gold mine of information about publishing and writing. Whatever you need to brush up on, I guarantee you’ll be able to find it either online or in a book. There’s Grammar Girl and similar sites for improving your grammatical skills, Writer’s Digest for reading about publishing, and a million other resources. Do you really need to fork out for a degree when the information you need is so easily accessible? 

  • Writing is subjective

Aside from the rules of punctuation and grammar, writing is an art form, and it’s subjective. Your story about zombies riding horses across the desert to defeat an evil wizard might sound fun to some, but a lecturer might say it’s not ‘believable’ enough. You only need to go on Goodreads and look at the star ratings of your favourite books to see that what some people love, another person will hate. 

  • Many MA/MFA courses have a literary focus

I was lucky in the sense that my undergraduate degree offered modules in genre writing including fantasy and science-fiction, but some courses are heavily tailored towards literary fiction and writing in a ‘literary’ way. These courses, and the people who run them, may not appreciate your children’s book about unicorns or your epic, sprawling space opera.

 


I hope I’ve given you some food for thought. Choosing whether or not to study creative writing is tricky business! You have to weigh up the pros and cons carefully, and also consider your own personal circumstances. Maybe you have the time and the money to invest in a creative writing course. Maybe you’d be better off working to pay your rent, and writing/learning about the craft on the side.

Remember: it’s an individual choice. There’s no right or wrong answer. I hope that whatever path you take, it’s the right one for you.