The Power – Naomi Alderman

The PowerThe story:
When teenage girls all over the world start developing the ability to give electric shocks, the men of the world immediately start to worry about how they can be controlled. When it’s revealed that they can also pass on this knowledge to older women, they start to panic. As more and more women discover ‘the power’ – societies all over the world start to fall apart and reform as something completely new.

My thoughts:
In this reality that Naomi Alderman has created, women dominate every aspect of society – from world politics to religion to the criminal underworld. Powerful older women can have their pick of eager young men hoping to impress them. Teenage boys are encouraged to carry rape alarms. Women form the backbone of elite military troops. For the first time, women are now inherently stronger than men, and this causes a huge upset on a deeper level.

There are a few key characters followed throughout the book – Allie, a foster kid abused by those charged with her care, Roxy, the unwanted daughter of a London gangster, and Margot, a politician ready to exploit every opportunity to rise. Each of these women use their newfound power to create a new life and build a new reality. World news is reported through the eyes of Tunde, one of the few sympathetic male characters, who travels the front lines of war torn countries to record history in the making.

There are some moments that make for uncomfortable reading. In her position of political power Margot takes full advantage of young aides eager to please, and there are scenes of extreme sexual violence against men. On a less extreme scale, armies are now female to take advantage of their natural aggression, while negotiators are male as they are inherently less threatening. But what makes this book even more disturbing to read is the realisation that all of these situations described have happened, and are indeed still happening, to women all over the world.

The fact that these ideas are so alien to us as readers, in a society claims to value gender equality and equal opportunity, is perhaps the most shocking thing of all. This is classified as sci fi, because of the powers that women develop, but the upheaval of gender politics is the thing that really strikes a chord. It makes you realise how deeply gender stereotypes are ingrained into society.

While there’s no doubt that this is a feminist novel, power and what we do with it is at the heart of this novel. The events shine a light on how those who currently hold power are abusing it, while also suggesting that if the situation was reversed it would be no different. That power corrupts is presented as a simple fact.

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How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

How to Stop TimeThe story: Tom Hazard, currently working as a teacher living in London, has spent his life hiding a secret – he was actually born in 1581. Tom has a condition that means that he ages so slowly that he has lived through many lifetimes. Now under the protection of others like him through the Albatross society, Tom is given all he needs to reinvent his identity every eight years. The only rule is never to fall in love.

But although Tom tries to stick to the rules, being back in the city where he was born brings back long forgotten memories and desires. He’s also been searching for something for a long time which seems to finally be within his reach.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written, and once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. I loved how Tom’s past was overlaid with the present throughout this book – over the centuries he’s been on a stage with Shakespeare, sailed with great explorers and drank in a bar in Paris with the Fitzgerald’s – and when he’s teaching his students history, he’s drawing on all his own personal experiences to really bring the past to life.

At first glance, he appears to have it all – he’s travelled the world, set up with everything he needs and has enjoyed all that the world has to offer.

But there are of course the inevitable problems. He’s watched loved ones die and been unable to stop it, he’s unable to for any meaningful attachments for fear of questions, and the mundane details of daily life become increasingly insignificant.

Threaded throughout the whole novel are little insights that make us think about what it means to be human.  It raises some really interesting questions – what is life without love and the people that surround us? Are existing and living the same thing?

The villain of the piece, Hendrich, the leader of the Albatross Society, is suitably dastardly and threatening, which keeps the pace moving along well and adds some additional drama to a story that otherwise may have run the risk of becoming a little bogged down in reflection and memories.

The subject matter and style really reminded me of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which I also loved. I’m not surprised to hear that there’s a film of this in the making, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. The skill of Haig’s writing means that in my head I can already imagine exactly how it will play out on screen, and I can’t wait to watch it.

My recommendations: If you liked… (Part 1)

One of my favourite things about book blogging is getting new book recommendations, so I’ve pulled together some of my top recommendations based on other popular books out there. These are all books that I’d recommend based on my own experiences and similarities in theme, writing style or general feel. This is part one, which mainly looks at the fantasy, urban fantasy and dystopian genres. Other genres, such as crime/thrillers and general literary fiction, are still to come! Continue reading

Golden Son – Pierce Brown

Golden SonThe story: Having made it through the Institute and secured a patronage from one of the most powerful men on Mars, Darrow has continued his studies in warfare and leadership. This goes further afield than his own planet and includes commanding fleets of ships in epic space battles. He’s fully embedded in the Gold ruling classes, while also working hard to break it apart from within.

My thoughts: I’ve read enough YA thrillers to know that sometimes they fall down flat when they try and move past the trials of book one into the wider universe of their fictional book world. Golden Son manages this feat magnificently, despite having a far vaster and more complicated world than any other series I’ve ever read.

Where in Red Rising we were focused on just one tiny part of the universe Pierce Brown has created, in Golden Son we see much more of it. We also learn more about the structure of society and how it all fits together. Politics and strategy play a far greater role in this book, and there’s an emphasis on how all actions and decisions have consequences. Continue reading

The Hangman’s Daughter – Gavin G Smith

The hangman's daughterThe story:
Miska and her father have commandeered a prison ship, The Hangman’s Daughter, and forcibly recruited the inmates into their own private army of mercenaries. As their first job, Miska and her unwilling legion of convicts are hired to put down a rebellion on a mining planet, but things don’t go as planned.

My thoughts:
I’m torn with this book. There were lots of aspects that I really enjoyed, but some that I struggled with. On the plus side, the majority of the characters are really well developed and the author does a great job of building up an entirely believable and complex world in a short period of time.

The prisoners Miska forces into her employ are not are soldiers, they are dangerous criminals with their own agendas, and they hate her for making them risk their lives on seemingly pointless missions. She’s well aware that she has to be feared to stay in control. The result is that Miska is a fascinating character to read about – at times she comes across as almost as deranged as the criminals in her employ. She’s ruthless, cunning and not scared to make tough decisions.

However, we don’t find out anything about Miska’s true motivations behind taking over The Hangman’s Daughter, or why she makes certain decisions, until about halfway through the book, which is when it starts to get interesting. For me, if this had come a bit earlier in the book it would have kept me more engaged. As it was, I struggled through the first 25% of the book. It does pick up after that though.

I enjoy some aspects of science fiction, however, for me there was just too much science in this book. The descriptions of advanced technology, types of guns and spaceship parts were too lengthy for me and I had to force myself to keep reading on several occasions. I really enjoyed the scenes with character interaction, but felt like there was too much time spent in Miska’s head or bogged down in minute details.

As I said, I’m on the fence with this one. If you’re into science fiction though, this would probably be a great book for you.

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red RisingThe story:
Set in the distant future, where the human race is divided by a rigid class system of colours, colonies of Red miners toil under the surface of Mars, harvesting natural elements that will terraform its surface and make it an inhabitable environment in the future. Sixteen year old Darrow is one of these Reds, born underground and raised to risk his life on a daily basis. Food is scarce and life expectancy is short. The rules are enforced by a strict hierarchical class system that’s preceded over by the Gold’s – supposedly superior to all other colours both physically and mentally. When Darrow discovers that his life is built on a lie, he’s given a dangerous mission to integrate himself into the very heart of Gold society.

My thoughts:
Darrow is sent to the Institute, where young Gold’s play deadly games to win power. It’s a trial by fire that is designed to push them to the limits and teach them how to wage war and become the leaders of tomorrow. Weakness isn’t tolerated and not everyone will make it through. Parallels could be drawn to the Hunger Games, but it’s a very different type of competition. The aim here is for power and ultimate victory – achieved through intellect and strategy and the ability to command their peers.

Darrow is a great character. He’s definitely not perfect – he’s reckless, angry and overly bold. He’s smart but he also shows that he can be ruthless and brutal. This means that he’s not always a particularly likeable character, but you still end up rooting for him all the same. Throughout the book he goes through some intense challenges, questioning his own identity, who to trust and what actions can be justified for the greater good. Continue reading

Hold Back the Stars – Katie Khan

hold-back-the-starsThe story:
Carys and Max are floating through space with only 90 minutes of air left in their tanks and no conceivable means of getting back to their ship. As the clock ticks down, the young couple grow try everything they can to make it back to safety, while in flashbacks we learn about the history of their relationship, how they ended up stranded in space and the earth they left behind and how they

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed this book. We really got to know Carys and Max as characters. They’re in an impossible situation and their reactions seem incredibly real and incredibly human. They swing between from optimistic, practical bursts of activity to hopeless despair as the minutes tick by. They bicker and argue, but also laugh and joke and hold each other together.

I was completely emotionally invested in whether or not they’d make it and for the last 25% of the book I was literally holding back sobs on the train on my way to work. I really didn’t like the ending though. It’s hard to discuss without spoilers, but I just thought it was a bit of a cop out and it made me angry! Continue reading