Today we bring you a new feature, called “What She Said…” in which we both review books that the other has already read and reviewed. The idea arose because of the dilemma that if one of us reads and reviews a book, the other can’t really post again about it, right? WRONG! Hence, “What She Said…” was born. For those books that we REALLY want to read after the other has reviewed – and gushed – about it. For today’s installment, we take on Jasmyn by Alex Bell, and The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.
Jasmyn by Alex Bell
Gollancz (UK), June 2009, Trade Paperback 320 pages
Original Review June 2009
Original Rating: 8 Excellent
What Thea Said:
“You know those books, the ones that when you finish them you feel like your heart is being twisted in your chest – with love for how wonderful the book was, but inexplicable sorrow too because the book has come to an end? Such is Alex Bell’s beautiful, haunting contemporary fairy tale, Jasmyn.
Jasmyn is a 27-year old widow, her beloved husband of less than a year having just passed away by sudden aneurysm. Jasmyn’s world is thrown into darkness with Liam’s death, leaving her alone and lost in the world. And that’s when the strange things begin to happen – at Liam’s funeral, six black swans fall dead out of the sky. Jasmyn starts to feel that she is being watched by a shadowy figure, and a few weeks after the funeral, a strange pushy man shows up at Jasmyn’s home, completely unaware of Liam’s death and claiming to have known him through work. With the help of her brother-in-law, the strangely spiteful and cruel Ben, Jasmyn uncovers a whole secret life Liam kept from her, leading her down a path into a fantastic world filled with cursed swans, star-crossed love, and shocking revelation. Jasmyn learns that Liam has meddled with some potent magic, and more importantly, that Liam is not at all the man who she believed him to be.”
What Ana Says: Thea’s review of Jasmyn made me almost regret sending the book to her instead of reading it first: Jasmyn, the book, travelled all the way from the UK to LA and back before I was able to read it, almost an exact imitation of the journey that Jasmyn, the character, undertakes in the book.
Starting in the UK, the 27 year old recently widowed albino woman tries to live through the grief of losing Liam, the man who was not only her husband, but her soul mate, her childhood sweetheart. Ever since that day, in primary school and he walked to her and instead of voicing the usual cruel taunt of “are you a ghost” he asked “are you a snow princess”, he has been her safe port, her best friend and Jasmyn is overtaken with loneliness when she loses him.
Then strange things begin to happen , starting with black swans falling from the sky on the day of the funeral and her wedding photos, all of a sudden showing her face twisted in agony instead of the happiness she remembers feeling – to an around the world race for answers – about Liam and who he really was.
Jasmyn is one of those books where the STORY itself outshines everything else and I simply loved reading this book – regardless of how I sometimes felt about Jasmyn and her lack of self-confidence. Regardless of the fact that I felt like punching Ben, Liam’s brother, in the face. Regardless that sometimes, the writing was tentative and the lack of detail about the background fairytale left me wishing for more. The fact remains, that from beginning to end I was completely captivated by Jasmyn’s story – it is everything a fairytale should be: difficult and sad sprinkled with bits of horror and heartache but with such beauty that was almost painful for me to read.
This is at its core a love story and it has a most rewarding happy ending but beware: two things you need to know before starting to read it
1)This is a contemporary fairy tale, which means that all that happens in the book happens in a world like our own and people believe in stuff like fairies and magic swans. There is no point in reading it if you are going to question the magic behind it or to question how people can believe in those things. It is a fairy tale: to question these here would be akin to reading Snow White and asking: “what do you MEAN there is a talking mirror?”
2) I cannot stress this enough: Don’t start this book unless you mean to finish it. As difficult as it may be especially with Jasmyn and Ben’s frustrating behaviour in parts, the pay off only comes when you read till the end – this is one of those books where the ending rewrites the whole story and it’s all the more poignant for that.
I will end with Jasmyn’s opening words:
“You have never heard a story quite like this one. I can hear you protesting already but, the fact is, it doesn’t matter how old you are, how many books you’ve read, how many things you’ve seen…this story will be new to you. Maybe it will even haunt you a little. Because what happened to me….well, I don’t think it’s even happened before.
This story (..) has the ribbons and the glitter and the magic. But it also has the blood and the sacrifice and the twisting evil – for this is a real fairy tale, not the sugar-coated imitation. It is a story of love, loss, illusion, castles, hatred, seduction, ice palaces, adventure and knights.”
And what a story this is. If it isn’t clear enough: I totally loved this book as much as Thea did and wholeheartedly second her recommendation.
Rating: 8 Excellent
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
Margaret K. McElderry (US)/Simon & Schuster Children’s (UK), June 2009, Hardcover 336 pages
Original Review June 2009
Original Rating: 8 (leaning towards a 9) – EXCELLENT
What Ana Said:
“The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that Nick kept his favourite sword under the sink.”
The Demon’s Lexicon starts with this opening line and it’s a great beginning because it serves the book well. This line is significant in the way it shows how the “abnormal” coexists with the “normal” in this world. Right there and then, I am taken. And this feeling only increases as I read and every single time I had to put this book down, I felt its absence. Much like an umbilical cord between myself and it, there was a calling, something that connected me with to it; I kept thinking about it when I wasn’t reading, mostly theorising about the main character and what it all meant. I am in a way, a few days after reading The Demon’s Lexicon, still hooked in its characters, still thinking about them but mostly still overflowing with admiration for the author. For what she did, for what she dared, for how she constructed the characters, the world, but mostly for how she showed a wondrous dark world and amazing, wonderful feelings such as sensitivity, devotion, fondness and sacrifice through the eyes of a character that feels none of these very same feelings and who is, at every turn and all the time, conscious of this…lacking.
What Thea Says:
Ana has been trying to get me to read The Demon’s Lexicon practically from the second she started the book. I’d received countless emails from Ana about the darkness of the main character, the compelling plot, the strong writing and the humor of the novel, and was instantly intrigued. So, when I picked up Ms. Brennan’s debut novel for myself, I had some pretty high expectations, given Ana’s enthusiastic endorsement – and I’m pretty happy to say that I really liked this book.
The Demon’s Lexicon is told from the third person perspective, but with insight to the protagonist, Nick’s thoughts. Right from the beginning of the novel it is clear that Nick isn’t all that much like his kind and sympathetic brother Alan, and it rapidly becomes clear that Nick isn’t much like anyone else, either. Nick’s defining trait is his strange coldness; he doesn’t understand the motivations that fuel other people around him (like his brother Alan protecting two strangers, to the point where he takes on two demon marks willingly), nor does he get why people are so quick to emote, touch each other in comfort, or talk so much about anything and nothing. And I think Ana describes Nick best when she says:
Nick is a character that makes it hard for the reader to connect with – it is so very hard to feel sympathy for Nick but it is impossible NOT to feel for him.
Ms. Brennan does a ballsy thing by writing a character that is angry, cold, distant and almost alien – but it’s impossible NOT to care for him. Even though he doesn’t ever think or say it specifically, we know that he feels protective of Alan because he loves him (at least, that’s my interpretation). Nick might not identify with our concepts of love, but much like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter, I think that he subconsciously knows and feels this. Maybe not in the way that “normal” people feel love…but it’s there, and he expresses it in his own way. In short, I loved Nick. He’s a very different character from the norm, and being privy to his thoughts, reading how he interprets (or fails to interpret) the people around him is fabulously different and insightful. Most YA novels tend to take the perspective of the everygirl/everyboy and look at the scarier, different characters from the outside – but Ms. Brennan flips convention through the eyes of a very different anti-hero protagonist. I cannot stress enough how much I loved that Nick was not written as a badass with a heart of gold – NO ONE in this book is what they seem. Besides Nick, Alan is another character that surprises with hidden depth. It is Nick as a character, and then the bond of brotherhood between Nick and Alan that makes The Demon’s Lexicon such a fabulous read.
My only problems with the book had to be the uneven start and some of the writing. In the early chapters especially, the odd descriptions of movements and repetitive details read very much like a debut author trying to write her debut novel – which isn’t really bad, and doubtless will improve in subsequent books (as it is, by the end of The Demon’s Lexicon, Ms. Brennan finds her voice and smoothly tells her story). My other quibble would be with some of the humor – Jamie’s jokes, endearing to Ana felt forced and awkwardly un-funny to me – and with a level of predictability with the plot. There are many not-so-subtle hints strewn throughout The Demon’s Lexicon concerning The Twist – but to the book’s credit, even though you KNOW what’s coming from a mile away, it doesn’t really matter because the story is so dratted compelling!
Basically, with only a few reservations I really enjoyed this book – and I cannot wait for the next in the series! Also, I just have to quote one part that gave me the goosebumps because it was that flipping awesome:
Nick threw his head back and let himself laugh. It was a slow, delighted laugh, rolling cold as the sea and washing through the whole room. He’d used the laugh before to make people shiver and turn pale…
“What?” [he] snapped, and then, as the low laugh continued, his nerve broke and he shouted, “What?”
Nick leaned forward in the dark and whispered, “You don’t know my brother.”
He was still speaking when the first shot was fired.
Rating: 7 Very Good – and Ms. Brennan is clearly an author I need to keep my eye on in the future!
Reading Next on What She Said:
Ana: Heir to Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier
Thea: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss