Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

“May your Paths be safe, your Floors unbroken and may the House fill your eyes with Beauty.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 272 pages.
Read from October 20, 2020 to October 22, 2020.

I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in 2010, more than 10 years ago. While I remember next to nothing about the book I must have enjoyed it enough to show interest in this new book by the same author. Now that I have read Piranesi and having added a few more years of age (maybe some wisdom in there too), I would probably enjoy re-reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell again. With more than 15 years between the publications of these two books, here is hoping we don’t have to wait that long for another book by this great author.

Piranesi is a curious man living within an even more curious home he calls The House. Its rooms and corridors are infinite and surrounded by oceans with its water that flood and fill rooms with ebbing and flowing with the tides. The rooms are decorated with stunning pieces of art and sculptures as well as ocean wildlife like birds and fish. Piranesi spends his time mapping this labyrinth that he lives in and living off the meagre resources it provides him. There are others in the House but the majority of them are dead in which Piranesi honours their rotting bodies and speculates how they came to be here and their previous existence. He doesn’t get lonely though as there is The Other, a man that comes and goes, talks to him frequently while he carries out his Great and Secret Knowledge research that he is obsessed with. Piranesi never questions his existence or the strange world he lives in until a newcomer, he calls 16, since they are the sixteenth person to come to the House (including the dead) but is warned by The Other to avoid this person at all costs. Piranesi’s inexpiable trust in The Other begins to wane as he begins to communicate with 16 through secret messages. 16 is trying to locate a person he doesn’t know and is inquiring about the bodies with The House. Piranesi begins to wonder if The Other is his friend at all and about his existence within The House, as well as the presence and life of a world outside of The House.

What a concept and plot! There were so many ways this book could have gone wrong since. From the historical references to the abstract concept and world within the book. To truly appreciate the genius of the book you need to know who Giovanni Battista Piranesi is. Piranesi lived in the 1700s and was a respected etcher, painter and architect. He is most known for his series of prints called ‘Carceri d’invenzione or ‘Imaginary Prison‘. The series shows a whimsical labyrinth of underground rooms, stairs, art, and machinery.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - First Edition - 1750 - 01 - Title Plate.jpg
First plate in the first edition of ‘Le Carceri d’Invenzione

This art as well as the artist is the inspiration and metaphor for The House Clarke’s story. When Piranesi’ world begins to unravel is when you start to fully grasp just how crazy this story is. The concept of this story could have easily gone wrong if it were in the hands of any other writer but Clarke executed it perfectly. The story is engaging and whimsical but grounded enough even for those who may not be as interested in fantasy. Having never seen the real ‘Imaginary Prison‘ etches prior to reading this book, Clarke’s imagery and descriptions of The House provided me with the intimate detail and feel of the real etchings. The world that Clarke creates is immensely visceral and as a reader, you come to feel at home in The House, especially because Piranesi’s character is so endearing.

I adored this book and was dismayed at its short length. Even with its historical reference, it wasn’t a requirement to enjoy this story though it adds an immense amount of depth to the story. It’s a book I would reread and would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or fantasy.

The Unquiet Past by Kelley Armstrong

Tess has always been haunted, literally, by visions of ghosts that she can’t explain…When the orphanage randomly burns down, Tess is left without a home. She then decides to works up the courage to learn more about her family and past so with only a phone number and an address, Tess sets out on her own.

2/5 stars.
ebook, 174 pages.
Read from September 14, 2020 to September 16, 2020

One of the perks of paying for a Kobo membership is that I get one free ebook from them a year. The selection is often limited and not always of the quality of books that I would read but for the most part I’ve enjoyed my selections, well, except for perhaps this one.

Set in the 1960s, Tess is seventeen has been in an orphanage in Ontario for as long as she can remember. Tess has always been haunted, literally, by visions of ghosts that she can’t explain. For a long time she feared there was something wrong with her but as far as she can tell, she is perfectly normal besides her visions. When the orphanage randomly burns down, Tess is left without a home. She then decides to works up the courage to learn more about her family and past so with only a phone number and an address, Tess sets out on her own. When she finds herself at ramshackle house in rural Quebec, she learns that the home was once home variety of mental health patients that were severely abused. While trying to unravel the mystery of the home she gets some help from an unlikely (but handsome) Metis stranger named Jackson. Could this home be the key to her past? What gruesome horrors occurred at this home and is she due to suffer the same fate?

When you read the blurb it sounds like a fascinating paranormal horror mystery with a little YA romance on the side right? Well, that’s not what I felt I got. I’ll put it out there that when it come to YA books I don’t generally care for the majority of love relationships that tend to build in YA books but if the rest of the book comes together I’m often willing to look past the relationship stuff. In this book, the story starts out strong but fell apart for me when Tess met Jackson. The story falls prey to all the standard YA tropes and falls away from the unique concept of this book. After Tess meets Jackson, the plot becomes less about her paranormal abilities and the mystery of the home and rather about their obvious impending relationship. The story went from screaming souls to sappy teenage romance full of tropes and stereotypes. Further the structure of the plot felt like it fell apart after Tess meets Jackson. Not only is Tess’ best friend, that she left in Ontario completely dropped from the story, but the parts about the home and its mental patients felt rushed, and you only get fleeting details on her mother (the most interesting part, in my opinion) before the writing is focused back on Tess and Jackson’s relationship and their random side quests. The book severely lacked in depth as well as a missed opportunity to expand on an interesting concept and plot that may have been series-worthy.

This story had a lot of promise and started off with a bang that quickly died away for me. I appreciate that the relationship is why many readers liked this book but this was not my cup of tea. Further, the book wasn’t structured well enough outside of that for it to be redeeming for me. I did enjoy the French that was through the book and the descriptions of the Canadian settings but I actually forgot that this book was meant to be set in the past and have some sort of historical fiction thing going for it. The author could have expanded on this a lot further.

Sadly, this will probably be my first and last Kelley Armstrong.

Cursed by Thomas Wheeler

If watched or read the book, what are you thoughts on them? Did you enjoy one and not the other? Or did you like/dislike them both?

3/5 stars.
ebook, 416 pages.
Read from September 8, 2020 to September 10, 2020.

You know, the problem with not doing book reviews within the same week that you read them is that the ones that don’t make an impression then become hard to write about because you forget about them. Eh, my bad. Let’s see what I can pull together for this review.

Cursed is an interesting take on the story of King Arthur. Nimue is of the fey people and is an outcast in her own community due to her mysterious and uncontrollable powers. When the fanatical human religious group called the Red Paladins begin exterminating her kind, Nimue’s mother sends her off with a mysterious sword with strict instructions to bring the sword to Merlin, a fey who is considered a traitor to his kind. Merlin has been working beside the human king and seems to have lost his powers so he takes to drink (a lot) and tries to fool others into thinking he is still powerful. Yet Merlin can sense something is stirring within the magical realm and feels a deep connection to the sword. Nimue is assisted by a human mercenary named Arthur who helps her escape the Paladins in her journey to deliver the sword. Throughout the journey, Nimue becomes the voice and figure of hope for the fey people as she wields the sword and uses her magic to combat the Paladins. The Paladins call her the Wolf Witch and they want her head but Nimue is resistant to this heroic role that she has been thrown upon her as she now finds herself responsible for the fate of her own people.

Nimue is supposed to represent the average underdog but she was not the heroine I was hoping for. I was often disappointed with how she handled herself in situations and there were a few very stereotypical YA tropes that took place within her character, the plot, and Nimue’s relationship with Arthur. Conceptually I enjoyed this book, it’s a great idea, but it wasn’t as exciting as I was anticipating. For one, and sorry to Frank Miller and his fans, the artwork wasn’t what I was expecting and it felt really disjointed from the story and writing and added absolutely nothing to the plot for me. When I picked up this book I was actually expecting a graphic novel as I knew that Frank Miller was apart of it, I didn’t actually know it was a novel. The images felt like they were meant for a completely different plotline and that perhaps Frank Miller was not the best choice of artist for this story like somehow a YA novel shouldn’t be paired with one of the most violent graphic novel artists? The artwork wasn’t even all that prominent even, just a few images thrown throughout the book. It’s like the publishing company knew that by having Frank Miller put in a couple of images the book would do better.

I didn’t hate the book but I was disappointed with it. It had the potential to a really engaging and unique take on a classic story. I watched some of the TV show on Netflix and felt the same there too. It was interesting but engaging so I didn’t even bother to finish the season but at least I finished the book.

If you watched or read the book, what are your thoughts on them? Did you enjoy one and not the other? Or did you like/dislike them both?