Book Review

Book Review: Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan.

ShadowboxerThai martial arts, international crime, celebrity and mythical creatures combine in this masterful new tale of two people facing incredible dangers, from award-winning author Tricia Sullivan.

Nothing she’s faced in the cage will prepare her…

Jade is a young mixed martial arts fighter. When she’s in the cage she dominates her opponents—but in real life she’s out of control.

After she has a confrontation with a Hollywood martial arts star that threatens her gym’s reputation, Jade’s coach sends her to a training camp in Thailand for an attitude adjustment. Hoping to discover herself, she instead uncovers a shocking conspiracy. In a world just beyond our own, a man is stealing the souls of children to try and live forever.

Every now and then I see a book talked about that hooks me instantly, I proceed to read it and love it, and then wonder how on earth I’m going to even attempt to review it. Shadowboxer is one of those books. I never realised I wanted a book about a female fighter as much as I did until I read this book and then it went and exceeded every expectation I didn’t even know I had.

Jade, our main character, is truly awesome. She’s tough talking, tough acting and this has the potential to get her into lots of trouble both inside the cage where she fights and outside it. She has huge potential as a fighter, but she’s angry. So angry, and this is putting that potential at risk – you can’t have a fighter with poor self control. She gets sent to Thailand to focus on training and that’s where the secondary plotline of the book really starts to twist around Jade’s story.

We have another great girl character you see, Mya. The first couple of times we meet her I must admit I was a little lost as to what was going on, there’s a strong mythology feel to her story and it didn’t relate to anything I knew. I had the gut feeling that I just needed to go with it though and this was absolutely right, the more I saw of Mya’s world the more I understood what was going on. Since reading the book I’ve discovered that the story around Mya in particular draws from Thai mythology – I definitely want to read more now and learn about these fascinating stories.

The plot is really exciting, I was warned that once I started reading I wasn’t going to want to stop – this was very accurate. There are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected reveals – there were a couple of things that became apparent about key characters that I really hadn’t expected, though they felt very true to the characters and what we knew about them. It’s really hard to talk about them because you really do need to discover them as you read, I’m looking forward to re-reading the book knowing what I now know.

This book has a really fresh feel to it. It is exciting, energetic and just down right brilliant. I find I can sometimes get a bit lost when reading written fight scenes but in this book there was absolutely no chance of that happening. They’re written really clearly and are very engaging – the author has martial arts experience and this shines through in the writing. The characters leap off the page, they’re well imagined and feel very real. There’s plenty of diversity represented within this book, many of the characters are from different ethnic backgrounds.

I absolutely loved this book, my only sadness was that it had to end. I think I could have read about Jade for a lot longer!

Shadowboxer is published by Ravenstone in the UK from 9th October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall.

GardenOfDarknessTheir families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem are thrown together. They realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure. A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.

Or does this adult have something else in mind?

Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the cure. But they are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect — adults, alliances, trust, hope. But perhaps friendship has its own kind of healing power.

I absolutely loved the sound of this book, particularly the mentions in the blurb of friendship and very different teenagers being thrown together in the face of such adversity. I’d not long read a grown up post pandemic novel and loved it (Station Eleven) so was eager to read another such title.

The book primarily follows Clare, she’s fifteen years old and all too close to adulthood – the time when Pest will catch up with her (it catches up with everyone eventually you see). To begin with she’s on her own, remembering the demises of those closest to her and trying to work out how to exist in this new world. This beginning is brilliantly claustrophobic – I loved the way that Clare doesn’t fall to pieces or turn into some super strong survivalist. Instead she falls somewhere between the two, having moments where she shuts down and moments where she manages to work out a next step to take. Then, slowly but surely she meets others – Jem first and then other little groups of children – and they begin to work together both to survive and to try and find the cure being promised to them. For me the book really began to shine once Clare was with the other children.

The book also follows the Master, the voice in the radio promising a cure to all children who are hearing his broadcast. Very quickly we realise there is something seriously weird about this man, this only increases as the book progresses. I found that when it became a Master chapter I was willing it to end quickly – there was something so incredibly unsettling about him. If anything this was the part of the book I enjoyed least, whilst I know there is a need for peril I’m not sure the true level of wrongness about him was really necessary within the book.

One element of the book that did surprise me was the presence of the Cured – adults who, when the pandemic first broke out, received a supposed cure that left them in a zombie-esque state. I enjoyed the dilemmas that the Cured brought to the young people, but at the same time felt like a number of the scenarios were quite familiar to me.

Whilst I generally enjoyed this book it didn’t do a brilliant job of capturing my attention. It took me over two weeks to read it – by my standards this is virtually glacial. I found I could only read it in smallish chunks, maybe to do with my intense dislike of the Master, and then once I’d put it down there was no great pull to pick it back up. Interestingly there was never any question of my not finishing the book – there was obviously something hooking me to it, I think this was the central focus on Clare and the other children. I did genuinely care about them to some extent.

I’m sad that this isn’t a book I’ll be rushing to revisit or to recommend, though I’m sure there will be lots of readers who’ll feel entirely differently about it (Goodreads already has a number of glowing 5 star reviews of this book).

The Garden of Darkness is published by Ravenstone. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.