Everless – book review

  • Everless by Sara Holland
  • Published 4th January 2018 by Orchard Books
  • 368 pages
  • Rated: 5/5 Blood-irons

“Time is a prison. She is the key.”
This book felt like it bled me dry – pun definitely intended! I binge read it in a couple of days and am waiting on tenterhooks for book 2! I received this book in the December Oh So Regal box from FairyLoot.

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Everless is the debut novel by Sara Holland and is the first in a so far untitled series.
“In the land of Sempera, the rich control everything – even time. Ever since the age of alchemy and sorcery, hours, days and years have been extracted from blood and bound to iron coins. The rich live for centuries; the poor bleed themselves dry.
Jules and her father are behind on their rent and low on hours. To stop him from draining himself to clear their debts, Jules takes a job at Everless, the grand estate of the cruel Gerling family.
There, Jules encounters danger and temptation in the guise of the Gerling heir, Roan, who is soon to be married. But the web of secrets at Everless stretches beyond her desire, and the truths Jules must uncover will change her life for ever … and possibly the future of time itself.”

The concept of ‘time is money’ has been around since the Ancient Greek times and has slowly trickled its way through history when it was, albeit mistakenly attributed to Benjamin Franklin who’d used it in his 1748 essay Advice to a Young Tradesman. In the world of Everless, time literally is money; citizens go to have their blood bled, diminishing their life span, which gets melted down into blood-irons, the currency of Sempera. Those blood-irons are used for paying rent to the time collectors (read tax collectors) on behalf of the rich people who own all of the land and villages.
For me, Holland has struck gold (pun again intended, sorry not sorry) by weaving elements of our own realities into this fantasy environment. I’m not sure if she did this intentionally but Everless smacks of that old Robin Hood story of the rich stealing from the poor, something which can still be prevalent in many countries today. The idea of the elite and the 1% owning everything whilst we peasants have to ask permission or apply for licences just to be able to do simple things like drive, pay taxes on the wages and incomes we spent our own hours of life earning just to be able to afford a living, be registered at birth, have a National Insurance number, pay VAT on goods we buy in shops, who really does own the ground we actually walk upon…? The list is everless! I could go on forever with this! So as you can see, Holland really hit my nerve with her Semperean world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, purely for the parallels that I read in it of our own lives on planet Earth.

Jules in the opening scene reminded me so much of Katniss Everdeen and Feyre Archeron, the way she hunts through the woods trying in earnest to find food to trade or sell. She has no self pity and enough sass to make her a believable and strong lead character, although at times, just a few, I feel that I’m more invested in her story and what is happening to her, rather than being concerned with the person that is Jules herself…if that makes sense?! Mostly, everything she does, whether out of naivety or her own admitted selfishness is for her Papa and the good of her friends and family. She has a determination and grit which desires to see a little bit of justice in the world, someone who is not afraid to stand up and fight for what they believe in whilst still retaining humility and nervousness about how she can accomplish what she needs to. Her story throughout the novel really intrigued me as it begun to unravel and although I guessed or had my suspicions of some elements within the plot, others pulled the rug out from under my feet and were so unexpected that I would actually gasp aloud whilst reading and immediately Snapchat my friend who was reading the book at the same time as me! Some of those moments…that is what I live for in a book! Fair play Sara Holland, you kept me on my toes!

The Sorceress and the Alchemist were great plot devices and well laid out. I loved how they merged with the characters within the story and it gave the book that traditional fairy/folktale feeling. It’s got me wondering whether theirs is an old tale which inspired Holland to write Everless or whether she’s just taken two well known character tropes and devised their narratives from that. Either way, I really enjoyed the dynamic that it brought to the story.

If you love a good ending which leaves you dangling off the precipice of the White Cliffs of Dover then Everless should satisfy that need. Towards the ending, the story increasingly quickens in pace, just as the world around Jules starts to unravel yet knit together at the same time! And then…bam! In the space of a few pages, again drop-jaw moment, something happens from out of the blue and you end up shouting, “I knew it!” out loud in front of your family and doing 😱 face multiple times as the book finishes in front of your very eyes! Ok, there are unanswered questions to do with minor characters which I’m not sure will be revealed in the second book as I don’t know how they would link to the main plot. Shoving that aside, if I had enough blood-irons I could spend eons raving about what I love in this story and I only hope that I’m not waiting lightyears for the next instalment!

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress Book 1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publisher: Philomel Books
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling
Release Date: 10th October 2017
Pages: 363

Wow! Forest of a Thousand Lanterns truly swept me up into an intriguing East Asian wonderland of politics, romance, betrayal and bloodshed. An exhilarating ride of the tussle between being true to yourself and following your destiny whether for good or for evil, ‘For that is the way of the world, Guma’s voice echoed. Some are given a rope to the moon, and others claw up the sky.’

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is the debut novel from Julie C. Dao which follows the story of beautiful village peasant Xifeng (pronounced SHE-fung) on her journey through the empire of Feng Lu. Her majestic quest consists of fulfilling her regal destiny to become the Empress of Feng Lu, bestowed upon her by a set of mysterious card readings performed by her cruel aunt Guma; there’s just one problem – the current Empress of Feng Lu is not only still alive, but she is also the descendent of an ancient line of Dragon Lords who have ruled over the empire for many years. To add to this, the Emperor has numerous concubines including the formidable Lady Sun who has already provided the Emperor with a male heir. As Xifeng traverses from village peasant to member of Empress Lihua’s Court, she must wrestle not only with her life’s prophecy as told by Guma’s cards, but the very own desires of her heart, asking herself of the lengths she will go to and the sacrifices she will make in order to achieve her destiny.

 

From the Great Forest with its Tengaru inhabitants and hidden glades, to the Imperial Palace with its opulent elegance, to the hidden caves and tunnels buried beneath the Palace’s compound, Dao’s fantasy empire is magically brought to life through her exquisite world building and description. The presence of mythology and destiny is intricately woven throughout the narrative and heightens the aspects of magic within the story. The characters within the novel are equally well developed. A helpful glossary at the beginning of the book gives helpful pronunciation tips and provides a useful reference to all of the roles within the story.

‘“I am the moon and the darkness around it,” Xiifeng hissed in that ancient, ageless voice. “I am the Wind and rain and the ceaseless sea. I am time itself, and yours is running out.”’
Xifeng is a strong female character who has almost two separate halves; the ambitious yet familial village girl compared to the ruthless evil spirit which lingers deep down in her soul. Whether Xifeng is an anti-hero or an anti-villain depends entirely upon the reader’s depiction of her as a character. Her thought processes and actions are well-mapped by Dao and I found myself both supporting her and then vilifying her within a matter of paragraphs! Likewise, her relationship with Wey equally has you championing their union and then backing her whenever she decides that she needs to go it alone. At the Imperial Palace, the initial relationship between Xifeng and Empress Lihua appears at odds to the relationship between Xifeng and the formidable Lady Sun. Dao strikes the balance between Xifeng’s need to make alliances simply because she wants to make friends, as well as those unions which will enable her to further her own quest to make herself the Empress.

 

‘“I believe our lives have already been decided, and it is our purpose to make the choices that lead us to that fate.”’ Fate and the idea of Good vs Evil are two of the main themes which are prevalent through the contrasting elements and relationships within this story. Each aspect or event has its own flipside which keeps you on your toes and turning page after page to uncover the truths of the narrative. The tenderness and nobility of the Tengaru and their Forest deeply contrasts with Guma’s prophecies, the evil spirits and the disconcerting voices within Xifeng’s head. Dao also spins a web of political plots and subplots which leave you questioning who the real villains are and whether they are hiding in plain sight or disguised from view.

‘There are no coincidences, Guma always said. Everything that happens is meant to.’ And this book was definitely meant to fall into my lap. This Evil Queen retelling certainly keeps you on your toes and for me Dao has written a superb Yin and Yang type of book. For every good thing which happens, there’s almost always something else which happens to tip the scale and flip it onto its head, and it’s usually to do with Xifeng and the decisions she makes within the story. Just like in the story, I devoured the heart and lifeblood of this superb novel! A fabulous protagonist, beautiful East Asian setting, magic, evil, destiny all lyrically spun into a rich narrative; I cannot wait for Rise of the Empress #2!