Lyra’s Oxford / Once Upon a Time in the North / The Collectors

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my review of these novels [here], [here] and [here].

As there’s only a month to go before Philip Pullman releases his new and exciting novel, I thought that I should probably finish off my series of reviews of His Dark Materials. In previous posts, I’ve already taken a look at the main trilogy – Northern Nights (published in America as The Golden Compass – 1995), The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000) – but today I’m going to be looking at the three companion stories that complement these.

All three shorts were published in separate short volumes – Lyra’s Oxford (2003), Once Upon a Time in the North (2008) and The Collectors (2014). They are each set in a different time period, with Once Upon a Time in the North and The Collectors being prequels to the main series, and Lyra’s Oxford set some years after the events of The Amber Spyglass. The collections also contain a number of other titbits, ranging from maps to newspaper clippings, some of which are reported to tie into Pullman’s upcoming The Book of Dust trilogy.

Lyra’s Oxford contains a short story called Lyra and the Birds, in which Lyra and Pantalaimon manage to protect a witch’s dæmon from a mob of angry starlings. The dæmon has come to Oxford in search of an alchemist who can save his partner’s life, however Lyra soon grows suspicious of his story. The alchemist is reported to be an unstable individual and there is clearly something that the dæmon is hiding from her. Just what is the dangerous secret that he is protecting?

Once Upon a Time in the North focuses on the adventures of a young Lee Scoresby and his dæmon, Hester. Scoresby has recently won a hot air balloon in a game of cards and is using it to explore the world. In this early adventure, he finds himself caught in a tense political situation that involves a politician who wants to wage war against the armoured bears, and a murderous gunslinger who bears a grudge against Scoresby.

The Collectors paints the creepy tale of a man who has come into possession of a pair of works of art – a painting of a young woman and a bronze statue of monkey. It is rumoured that if the two are separated, they will eventually find their way back to each other. However, the strangest thing is that when the collector shows the painting to his friend, he recognises the young woman as a former lover. Yet how can that be when the portrait is over eighty years old? The answer is stranger than he ever could have imagined…

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The Spectra United

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Spectra Unearthed. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Spectra United was written by Christie Valentine Powell and first published in 2016. It forms the second part of the The Spectra: Keita’s Wings series and follows on directly from where The Spectra Unearthed (2015) left off. The third instalment of the series – The Spectra Uprooted – was released earlier this month. The novels don’t really stand alone, so I would strongly advise reading them in sequence if you want to have any idea as to what is going on.

Keita Sage and her friends managed to emerge triumphant from their first encounter with Donovan but the war is far from over. Although they have wrestled back the Nomelands from the Stygian’s evil rule, the other Spectra kingdoms remain under his control. Although Keita wants nothing more than to liberate her home, the Spritelands, she knows that she cannot hope to do this alone.

Unable to return to her people, she settles for helping her younger sister Avie to restore peace in distant Lectranis. However, in order to unite the people, they soon realise that they will need to restore Lectranis’s true heir. There is only one problem. The deceased Lectran King had several children and no one knows who was chosen to rule after his death.

With only the vaguest idea of where to search for the missing princes and princesses, Keita and her friends set out across the war-torn land to deliver messages to each of them, begging them to return to the capital. However, the party soon finds itself divided. Left alone with her best friend Sienna and Brian, the boy that she was once betrothed to, Keita must deal with her distaste towards the strange Lectran culture. If she can’t save Lectranis, she has no hope in saving her own home.

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Minecraft: The Island

Minecraft: The Island was written by Max Brooks and first published in 2017. It is a fantasy story based around the immensely popular video game, focusing on a youth who wakes up to find themself in a strange world. The novel proclaims that it is the first official Minecraft novel, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

A youth finds themself drifting in the ocean with no idea of who they are or how they came to be there. As they swim, desperately searching for land, they eventually come across an island and head to it in the hope of finding answers. However, this is where everything takes a turn for the odd. Everything on the island, from rocks to trees to animals, seem to be made up of cubes.

To the youth’s horror, they discover that they have also changed. They have become some bizarre fingerless mutant with a square body and blocks for hands. Unable to manipulate things in the usual way, they learn by trial and error that they can only eat certain objects that they find, and that others can be combined into new items by passing them from hand to hand.

As night falls, they discover that the island is full of danger. Zombies, spiders and explosive “creepers” appear in dark areas and seem desperate to hunt them down. To survive in this strange world, the youth realises that they need to use their power to combine blocks to create shelter and weapons. With this knowledge in mind, they set out to learn the mechanics of the world and craft themself a home.

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The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club was written by Alex Bell and is due for release this November. It is a middle grade fantasy story which focuses on team of brave explorers on an expedition to discover the coldest place on the planet. The novel is the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Stella Starflake Pearl knows that she is destined to become a great explorer. She has to be, as only explorers are given three names. She longs to join the prestigious Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, however knows that they are old fashioned and do not allow girls on their expeditions. However, her adoptive father, Felix, has never been one for rules. He convinces the head of the club to allow Stella to join them on one expedition to give her a chance to prove her worth.

As Stella sets out, she is quick to make acquaintances with the other kids on the expedition – wolf whisperer Shay, Beanie the half-elf and bad-tempered magician Ethan. Yet their mission to find the coldest part of the Icelands quickly goes awry. When an accident separates the four youths from their parents, they are forced to band together to survive in the frozen wastes and complete their quest.

Danger and adventure lie between Stella’s team and their goal. Along their journey they are forced to deal with frostbite, savage cabbages and, most terrifying of all, the huge and ferocious yeti. Stella is determined to prove that she can be an explorer. Yet, as she travels deeper into the Icelands, she also begins to learn more about where she came from. Stella has always known that she is different from other girls, but the truth of her origins is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined…

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The Wheel Mages

The Wheel Mages was written by Aimee Davis and first published in 2016. It is a fantasy novel which focuses on a water mage on a mission to hunt down rogue mages that threaten her clan. The book forms the first part of the Changing Tides series and is followed by The Blood Mage (2017).

As the last of the water mages, seventeen-year-old Alena Kozlov has a lot resting on her shoulders. She has just passed her final test and been accepted into the Sanctum, meaning that for the first time in recent history they have a full Wheel – a group of mages representing each of the four elements. While Alena’s existence is precious to them, the Sanctum cannot miss out on the opportunity to use the Wheel’s increased power to root out some of the enemies that threaten their way of life.

All over the world, dark mages are abusing their power in direct rebellion against the Sanctum’s strict rules. Alena and her allies – Nikolai, Filipe and Catalina – are dispatched to the city in order to hunt them out. While Filipe and Catalina masquerade as nobility to enter high society, Alena and Nikolai take advantage of Alena’s history as a street urchin to set up a drug den and lure in the lower elements.

However, it is their enemies that manage to find them first. Alena is approached by a nobleman who recognises her as a water mage and wishes to trade her for his sister. It seems that someone else is trying to gather a Wheel of their own and is in desperate need for Alena’s power. In order to find the rogue mages, Alena must tread a different path. However, it’s not long before her discoveries shake her faith in the Sanctum. Could be that the rogues are right to rebel, and that it is the Sanctum that is corrupt to the core?

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Flame in the Mist

Flame in the Mist was written by Renée Ahdieh and first published in 2017. It is a historical fantasy story set in Feudal Japan, focusing on a teenage girl out for revenge on the shinobi clan who want her dead. The book forms the first part of a planned series, though at the time of writing no further instalments have been announced.

Hattori Mariko has never been a perfect daughter. Blessed with a keen intellect, she has always sought to learn as much as possible. Yet it is finally time for her to serve her father. The Emperor’s son, Raiden, has requested her hand and Mariko has no choice but to accept. While she has never met Raiden, the marriage will secure more power for her father and ensure that he can move up through the political strata of Inako.

Everything goes wrong while Mariko is on her way to their first meeting. Her convoy is attacked as it passes through the woods and all of her servants are killed. As Mariko flees into the night, she realises that the infamous Black Clan – a group of mercenaries and assassins – are responsible. Vowing that she will have her revenge, Mariko cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy. If she can only be accepted into their ranks, she knows that she can destroy them from within.

Yet the Black Clan’s trust is not easily won. Mariko finds herself under the scrutiny of their leader, Ranmaru, and his sullen second-in-command, Ōkami. They make quite clear that if Mariko slips up, she will find herself facing a gruesome death. To make matters worse, Mariko’s brother Kenshin is searching for her. As a well-regarded samurai, it’s not long before he has enlisted the help of the Emperor’s sons. Kenshin suspects that the Black Clan has its hand in Mariko’s disappearance, and is willing to kill every last one of them to get her back.

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Venturess

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Mechanica. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Venturess was written by Betsy Cornwell and first published in 2017. It is a steampunk fantasy story that focuses on a gifted inventor and young prince as they try to unite two warring nations. As the novel follows on directly from where its prequel – Mechanica (2015) – left off, you really need to read the novels in order to have any idea of what is going on.

Following her success at the exposition, Nicoletta Lambton has become a household name. Every woman in Esting wants to buy her glass slippers and a line of fashionable dresses made by Jules and the Buzzers has proven equally as popular. She has fallen into a comfortable relationship with Fin and Caro, and she’s confident that she will be successful despite the difficulties that the embargo with Faerie has put on her business.

However, everything changes when Fin is shot during a speech. Old hatreds are ignited as the incised people of Esting begin to cry for a strike on Faerie. It is at this time that Nick receives a note from her old Fae housekeeper, Mr Candary, who invites her and Fin to the shores of Faerie to discuss a truce with their leader. Eager to prevent a war, Fin agrees at once to travel to the distant land for a meeting.

However, it may be too late for even the prince to be able to stop the war. Fitz has already begun work on an army of automaton soldiers and many members of the Fae resistance are unwilling to trust humans. It’s up to Nick and her friends to convince the sides to stop fighting, yet when Nick makes a sinister discovery her belief in what is right and wrong is shaken. How can she possibly put an end to the fighting when both sides harbour dark secrets?

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Curse of Stars

Curse of Stars was first published in 2017 and is Donna Compositor’s debut novel. It is a dark fantasy story about a teenage girl who is captured and kept prisoner by the lord of a distant world. The book forms the first part of the Diamond Crier series, yet at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Sabi Perez and her sister Matti live a pretty uneventful life. Although her parents can be overbearing, Sabi is really just a typical New York teenager. However, when a strange man appears at her home, she starts to realise that she’s far from ordinary. He is Javier Goquin, ruthless overlord of the planet Raydin, and she is the last Diamond Crier. Sabi’s parents brought her to Earth to escape from him, yet now he has come to take her back so that he can harvest her priceless tears.

Ripped away from her family, Sabi is thrown into Javier’s dungeons and her life becomes a cycle of starvation and suffering. Although she finds a friend in her cellmate, Anya, she slowly starts to realise that she will soon die as Javier’s slave. Her only hope is Cabal – a slave that has earned some iota of trust and independence due to his strange powers. As Sabi belongs to the same clan as Cabal, she hopes that she can also learn to harness the same magic.

Working together, Cabal helps Sabi to unlock her potential and the two quickly hatch a plan to escape. Yet doing so is fraught with danger. Their homeland of South Fair is weeks away on the other side of a deadly expanse known as the Void. Even if they manage to survive the journey, there is no guarantee that they will be welcome there. Not after Javier punished their kin for allowing Sabi to escape all those years ago…

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The Amber Spyglass

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for the earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

The Amber Spyglass was written by Phillip Pullman and first published in 2000. It is the final part of the epic His Dark Materials Trilogy and draws all of the threads of the previous instalments together. As the novel follows on directly from where Northern Lights (published in America as The Golden Compass – 1995) and The Subtle Knife (1997) left off, you really need to have read both of these novels to have any idea of what’s going on in this one.

Lyra has been kidnapped by Mrs Coulter who now keeps her drugged in a remote Tibetan cave. She hopes that it will be enough to keep her hidden from the Magisterium, who plan to have her killed to prevent her from beginning a second fall of man. To achieve this end, they have already dispatched an assassin to locate Mary Malone – the one they call the serpent – in the hope that the doctor will lead him to Lyra.

Meanwhile, Will has been approached by two angels who wish to take him to Lord Asriel. They are aware of the powers of the knife and know it will be vital in Asriel’s war against the Authority. Will agrees to go with them, but only if they help him find Lyra first. Their journey takes them half way around the world and necessitates that he joins forces with one of Lyra’s oldest allies in order to find her.

Meanwhile, the sides have been drawn and the final battle against the Authority is beginning. Lord Asriel’s army has taken arms against the angels of the Authority, led by the warrior known as the Metatron. The result of this war will affect all worlds. Either the Authority will be destroyed, or the Metatron will seize control of everything…

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The Savage Dawn

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for the earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

The Savage Dawn was written by Melissa Grey and first published in 2017. It is the final instalment of The Girl at Midnight Trilogy, following The Girl at Midnight (2015) and The Shadow Hour (2016). The novel carries on exactly where the previous instalments left off, so you really do have to read them in sequence if you want to have any idea of what’s going on.

Echo and the Avicen somehow managed to survive their first battle against Tanith’s dark forces, but their victory was at a terrible cost. Caius was taken by his insane sister, who now plans to torture him to allow the Kuçedra to feed off his magic. Just as Tanith was born with the ability to control flame, Caius’s gifts give him power over the in-between and this is exactly what the monster needs.

The loss of Caius rocks Echo’s confidence. Although she holds the power of the Firebird – the entity of pure light – she now realises that the battle against the Kuçedra is likely to cost the lives of the people that she loves. Still, before she can focus on the war, she knows that she must get Caius back and sets off with Dorian and Jasper in tow to do just that.

Meanwhile Ivy and Helios sneak into a human hospital, determined to use the bloodweed to heal the humans infected with the Kuçedra’s blight. However, they soon make a horrifying discovery. The Kuçedra is more insidious than they could ever have imagined, and is growing in power every moment. If they don’t find a way to defeat it quickly, it could mean the end of everything that they know.

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