Review: The Boy in Red by E M Holloway

The Boy in Red coverThe Boy in Red (UK link, US link) is the fourth book in E M Holloway’s The Sum of Its Parts series. It’s undoubtedly my favourite in the series, but it will probably only make sense if you’ve read the other three books first. There are a lot of references to the events of the previous book and characters show up without any real introduction (even though an introduction might have been a helpful reminder in the case of characters who only played minor roles in the earlier books).

In this book, Puck and his werewolf pack face a sorcerer who has heard of Puck’s reputation as the formidable “Boy in Red” (a reputation he earned based on his actions in the previous books) and decides to test his skills against him. This sorcerer casts spells that torment the pack as a sort of game to see what Puck’s reaction will be. Puck just wants to protect his pack, but the sorcerer is putting other people in danger and someone has to protect them too, even when they’re people Puck can’t stand.

On top of it all, Puck has to cope with going to school and dealing with an asshole teacher who seems determined to make Puck’s life hell. With all the magical attacks, this mundane issue could be the final straw.

I mentioned that this book is my favourite so far and that’s largely because the characters are established and have settled into their relative roles. This book jumps straight in with the plot and there is a lot of plot. The first book of this series felt as much like a murder mystery novel as a supernatural adventure and this book comes back to that. Puck has a puzzle to solve to figure out the sorcerer’s identity, to track him down and to find a way to stop him, and lot of this feels like a crime novel and the questions keep you turning the pages to find out the answers.

There’s also a lot going on in this story, with various plot threads that are all connected but that also feel strong individually, such as the conflict with Nealy. Here we have a very human conflict surfacing in the form of lawsuits and lurking, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the action, and which brings out a different set of reactions in Puck.

These events also bring out a response in Puck’s PTSD. This book, like the others in the series, deserves points for the careful handling of this difficult issue. Puck suffers from PTSD following the events of the first book and it’s clear the author put a lot of time and effort into research because Puck’s symptoms feel very real. This book explores the impact of his PTSD in a deeper way than some of the others and includes Puck starting therapy to deal with it.

There are a lot of characters in this book, with Puck front and centre as the protagonist, but with the rest of Puck’s pack, Puck’s father, a local magic-expert, others at school and their families, some teachers, the werewolf-hunters in the area, contacts Puck has from the previous book, law enforcement officers, and so on, until there are a lot of people involved. There’s a reason why I thought a bit more introduction to some of the minor characters might have been helpful because there are a lot of people involved. It can get quite complicated, but the interplay of all these different people makes the story feel very real.

Definitely my favourite so far in the series, but as I said, if you’re new to these books you should probably start off at the beginning to save yourself a lot of confusion.

September’s diverse book giveaway

Every Heart a Doorway coverEvery month in 2016 I’m giving away a different science fiction or fantasy book that highlights some form of diversity (preferably more than one). September’s book is the charming Every Heart a Doorway which I have reviewed in a previous blog post.

I chose this book for its LGBTQ representation. The protagonist is asexual, and actually uses this word to describe herself which is astonishingly rare. Another major character in the book is trans. There is an incident of transphobic language from one of the other characters but this is clearly addressed by the narrative and the other characters as being unacceptable behaviour.

If you want a chance to win this book, head over to Tumblr and reblog the giveaway post before the end of September.

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway coverEvery Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire is an original and interesting take on the classic fantasy concept of children stumbling into magical worlds. The protagonist, Nancy, has recently returned from the Halls of the Dead and she came home changed. Her parents, believing she was kidnapped, are concerned for her health and are convinced to send her to a special boarding school. To Nancy’s surprise, all the students (and some of the teachers) are people who have been on similar adventures to her, travelling to worlds of many different types. She meets students who fought goblins, danced with skeletons, or ran across rainbows. Here they can talk about their experiences and know they will be believed. But this sanctuary isn’t safe. When students start getting killed, Nancy finds herself one of the prime suspects. As a recent arrival and someone who lived among the dead, the other students are wary of her. If she is to win their trust, she must convince them that she isn’t the killer. All the while, she dreams of returning to her magical world.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s a different take on a classic concept. The variety of magical worlds is hinted at and I loved the idea that there are people at this school treating the travel to these worlds like a science, trying to figure out how it all works and understand what it all means.

The characters are interesting and each feels like a genuine person with their own personality traits, desires, and opinions. The style of the story is quite simple and makes for a pretty quick read, but that simplicity adds to the magic of the world. It feels a bit like hearing a fairytale in places.

From a diversity standpoint, it does well. The protagonist is asexual and this is clearly addressed – as well as being a reason for the isolation she felt that led her to find her magical world. Her sexuality added to her character and never felt stereotyped or disrespectful. There is another character in the story who is trans, which is again treated in a respectful way by the narative (though there are incidents of transphobic language from another character).

On the whole, I highly recommend this book. It’s a simple read but well worth it. Five stars.