A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

“It begins with absence and desire.
It begins with blood and fear.
It begins with a discovery of witches.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover, 579 pages.
November 15, 2018 to November 29, 2018.

I have committed a crime against books and against readers with my thoughts on this novel. How I came upon reading this book is through a smaller sin but it is the decision I made afterwards which is what makes me truly abominable. I discovered this book after watching the first season of the TV series based on the book trilogy. So my first book crime is that I read the book AFTER watching the TV show. Before I share my guilt about my most atrocious book crime, let’s discuss the book further.

Diana is a witch, though she has spent her whole life denying her heritage and her abilities. All she has ever wanted was to live a normal life and for her to reach her career goals based on her own merit. She left the US to pursue schooling in the UK as soon as she could as to escape the pressure of her aunts, who also raised her. Diana’s parents were both witches too but they were murdered when she was quite young, or so she was told. Diana’s family history and her heritage start to unearth themselves after Diana pulls a unique book out from the library. The book is magically embued and she quickly returns it after feeling its power. Shortly after, creatures of all kinds start to pester Diana. Demons. Witches. And especially vampires. All of who want to get their hands on this book and she doesn’t know why. The book has apparently been missing for centuries and she has been the only one who has been able to recall it.

Diana starts being pursued by a tall, dark and excessively handsome vampire named Matthew, which causes some concern for her friends and family due to the dark history between the two species of creatures. However, something is different about this vampire and Diana doesn’t feel threatened by him, in fact, he seems to want to help her. Diana cautiously enters into his confidence after some of her own kind turn on her and something more than friendship begins to develop between the two of them. Relationships between creatures of different species are forbidden but as the two fall for each other.  Now the congregation of creatures is after them and the book that Diana found. The two of them now must try and unravel the mystery surrounding Diana’s past, her heritage and the book that could be the key to the future of all the creatures.

Sounds like a really great concept right? That’s because it is but I have to admit the idea was not executed as well as I was hoping. The writing goes on tangents and isn’t very organized. This writing style was also confirmed to me when I attempted to read the second book in the series, Shadow of Nightwhich I could not finish as it was a disorganized mess. An editor clearly had a heavier hand in the completion of this novel making it readable and thank goodness, as this concept could have been completely ruined.

Here is where I commit my biggest atrocity and it pains me to say this… but… THE TV SHOW WAS BETTER! There I said it. And when I say better, I mean a lot better. Like infinitely better. The show took this great idea that the author had and polished it up and made it all shiny and awesome. I have no regrets because it’s true. I like the character of Diana more in the TV series as she seems stronger and more independent and the love story that develops between her and Matthew is an intense slow burner that felt realistic and was a pleasure to watch. The Matthew in the books is just too perfect and I found myself rolling my eyes with the romance that developed in the book.

Needless to say, I will not be pursuing the books series further. I will, however, continue to watch the TV series as I anxiously await the return of the second season. If you find the plot of this book intriguing and you want something smart and intelligently done, I would recommend the TV show.  This book wasn’t terrible but it just didn’t compare to the organized and streamlined show that came after it.

 

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

“It is very hard for evil to take hold of the unconsenting soul.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 240 pages.
Read from November 26, 2018 to November 27, 2018.

Published in 1968, this novel is one of Ursula K. Le Guin first ventures into children’s literature. She never intended to write children’s literature but thanks to her persuasive publisher this classic fantasy piece exists. Ursula was not only a pioneer in fantasy and science fiction but she also managed to create accessible and YA novels that were also pieces of literature.  I’m not sure how this author went under my radar as she is a highly acclaimed author but I’m glad I’ve found her.

This story the classic coming-of-age story of a young wizard named Ged. Ged has a natural talent for magic which is what gets him away from his poor upbringing and into a prestigious school to hone his magical skills. However, Ged is overly confident and he makes a mistake that will affect him for the rest of his life. After learning the hard way the cost of power, Ged must find a way to deal with the Shadow that he has released upon the world and come to realize that you are defined not by your mistakes but how your rise to overcome and learn from them.

“You thought, as a boy, that a mage is one who can do anything. So I thought, once. So did we all. And the truth is that as a man’s real power grows and his knowledge widens, ever the way he can follow grows narrower: until at last he chooses nothing, but does only and wholly what he must do.”

 

Ged’s trials are what makes this book timeless as the message the story provides to youth is essential, especially when the majority of kids are terrified of making mistakes. The book also emphasizes kinship and friendship with others and with animals and the choices it takes to be brave. That, and what kid doesn’t want to read about winning over dragons and beating their own shadows? This book is exciting enough to appease any youth reader and insightful enough to satisfy any teacher or parent. In a way, I am surprised that this series doesn’t have more a cult following as I imagined it reading like the Harry Potter of its day.

What is also pivotal in this book, especially considering its date of publication is the colour of Ged’s skin. Ged is described as dark-skinned and is not Caucasian, despite the cover art on most of the earlier published books. Imagine the ethnic minority readers this would have spoken to in the late 60s, and even today, who might have never had a character to admire or look up before that looked like them. Ursula became known for pushing boundaries on gender, race, environmentalism and more in some of her other works adding that exceptional element of brilliance to her writing.

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Image by Charles Vess

While I have heard that this novel isn’t necessarily Ursula’s best work it laid the foundation for a phenomenal series and I know for me, it has made me want to read her more well-known adult novels and series. I would highly recommend that this book and its series be added as an essential to any fantasy-readers list and for those that love YA. This book is perfect for almost all ages making it a great book to re aloud to children or for those kids reading on their own.

 

Brother by David Chariandy

“Had I recognized it only then? We were losers and neighbourhood schemers. We were the children of the help, without futures. We were, none of us, what our parents wanted us to be. We were not what any other adults wanted us to be. We were nobodies, or else, somehow, a city.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 132 pages.
Read on February 7, 2019.

This is the only full-fiction selection from the Canada Reads 2019 shortlist though its story is likely all too real for many. This is an intricate story of a set of first-generation Canadian brothers, Michael and Francis, and their upbringing in the rough neighbourhood of Scarborough, Ontario in the 90s. 

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“Brother” will be defended by Lisa Ray in the Canada Reads 2019 debates taking place on March 25-28, 2019.


The story has a weaving timeline that begins in the present day in which Michael is welcoming an old school friend, Aisha, into the home he still shares with his ailing mother after Aisha’s father has passed away. The two of them allude to a tragic event involving Francis and from there Michael ruminates on the details of his childhood opening the whole story up to the reader as well as the events that brought about the death of his brother, Francis.

Michael and Francis’ mother is originally from Trinidad and Tobago and with their father absent, she is the sole provider for her boys. She works hard, too hard, in order to keep food on the table for them. It is her character I find the most tragic. After Francis dies, she is never herself again. She tried so hard to bring her boys the best yet they were never able to overcome the impossible circumstances that poverty and race trapped them in.

Francis was the cool kid in the neighbourhood. Popular and into his fair share of trouble and with a dream of being involved in hip hop and music but was constantly fighting the barrage of prejudice against him. Kids from this neighbourhood were made up of a variety of immigrant families struggling to get by. Crime, poverty, and gangs became prevalent and not much was expected of kids like Michael and Francis, and like many of the kids in the neighbourhood, they got smothered in this trapt environment. Aisha was the exception. Aisha did well very well in school and managed to escape the neighbourhood with a scholarship. Aisha and Michael used to spend lots of time at the local library as a way to get out of the house and because Michael was never quite cool enough to hang out with Francis and his friends at a local barbershop.

The story is an encompassing story that touches on immigration, race, poverty and the Black Lives Matter movement, yet the approach of these difficult ideas is broached in such a delicate manner. It’s written in a very matter-of-fact way in that it emphasises that this is just another ordinary family and that their situation isn’t all that unique, making the impact of the story that much more poignant. It’s a very politically and timely piece that is uniquely Canadian in terms of the setting but all-encompassing with its ideas.

The ideas alone are enough to move you but the way Michael and his mother’s life end up, without Francis and without hope of a better life, are what truly make this novel.