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Wolf Hall/Bring Up The Bodies: THE PLAYS

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RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Wolf Hall begins in England in 1527. Henry has been King for almost twenty years and is desperate for a male heir, but Cardinal Wolsey cannot deliver the divorce he craves. Yet for a man with the right talents this crisis could be an opportunity. Thomas Cromwell is a commoner who has risen in Wolsey’s household – and he will stop at nothing to secure the King’s desires and advance his own ambitions.

In Bring up the Bodies, the volatile Anne Boleyn is now Queen, her career seemingly entwined with that of Cromwell. But when the King begins to fall in love with Jane Seymour, the ever-pragmatic Cromwell must negotiate within an increasingly perilous court to satisfy Henry, defend the nation and, above all, to secure his own rise in the world.”

REVIEW: Having devoured both ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’, I was delighted to discover that they were being made into plays that would hopefully ease the boredom of waiting for the third novel in the trilogy, ‘The Mirror and the Light’, to be released. I went to see both plays over the summer – both were phenomenal – and purchased this book, which contains the scripts of both plays, on my second visit (when I saw ‘Bring up the Bodies’). These plays are brilliant adaptations of Mantel’s groundbreaking works – full of wit, humour, treachery and lust, they capture the truly perilous and tempestuous atmosphere of King Henry VIII’s court. Every moment of the plays, even those filled with humour, run with an undercurrent of danger, just like the English court. I am writing a book set in the Tudor court myself and I can only hope in vain that I will be able to capture the very essence of Tudor high society even as little as a third as well as Mantel and Poulton have done. The characters are complex, vivid and extremely accurate in their attitudes and behaviours – although I have always been a little upset with Mantel’s portrayal of George Boleyn, who becomes in this (as in, unfortunately, many works of historical fiction) a foppish idiot rather than the skilled poet and diplomat we know him to be. Overall, however, I loved the plays almost as much as the books they are based on, and loved having the chance to relive seeing them again through this book.

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Fallen Angels by Tara Hyland

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “San Francisco, 1958. On a dark December night, a baby girl is left at the Sisters of Charity Orphanage on Telegraph Hill. One year later, movie star Frances Fitzgerald takes her own life. Her husband, wealthy businessman Maximilian Stanhope, is rumoured to know more about her death than he’s letting on, but nothing is ever proved. What is the connection between these two events? That’s what Frances’ daughter, Cara, wants to find out. Abandoned by her mother when she was just seven years old, Cara’s childhood was filled with hardship and loss. As a young woman she finds professional success as a journalist, but on a personal level, she still struggles to trust those around her. Cara becomes convinced that uncovering the secret behind her mother’s death is the only way to lay her demons to rest. But learning the truth may end up tearing her apart.”

REVIEW: This novel was an absolute delight to read from start to finish. The story begins with the tale of young Franny Healey, an Irish girl with dreams of becoming a film star. After falling pregnant and being abandoned by the child’s father, she flees her family home and begins a new life in the East End of London with her baby daughter, Cara, living with a woman named Annie and her mischevious young son Danny. As more and more opportunities begin to open up for the ambitious Franny, however, she makes the decision to return Cara to Ireland, abandoning the child with a grandmother she has never met in order to make her name as Frances Fitzgerald, Hollywood movie star. From this point onwards, while Franny’s life changes in ways she only ever dreamed of, Cara’s begins to fall apart. After the death of her grandmother, Cara is sent to live at an Orphanage where the conditions are stark and the treatment almost unbearable. At the age of fourteen, she manages to escape to the East End of London where she was first raised, returning to the home she once shared with Annie and Danny. As the years pass, we are shown the stories of the lives of both women; Franny’s transformation into glamorous movie ┬ástar and her marriage to millionaire Maximilian Stanhope, and Cara’s love affair with Danny, which soon turns sour as his darker side begins to emerge. After the death of Franny in a car crash, however, the book gains a level of mystery, as both the reader and Cara try to work out what exactly happened to Franny, and whether, as many characters suspect, her husband could truly have been responsible for her death. The book takes many twists and turns and the ending is a brilliant work of genius, truly surprising the reader. Although the ending felt a little bit rushed, the conclusion that this novel brings the reader to more than makes up for this minor flaw – finding out Franny’s fate was truly shocking, involving many complex plotlines and ideas, and served to make this into a novel very much worth reading.

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Archenemy by Frank Beddor

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “The battle for Wonderland has come to a head. Imagination has been wiped from the land and even Queen Alyss has lost her powers. The Queendom hangs in the balance…”

REVIEW: Much like the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Seeing Redd’, I found that the finale of ‘The Looking Glass Wars’ series, ‘Archenemy’, often became tangled and complicated due to the amount of material that Beddor was attempting to deal with. This time, however, this only served to make the book even more gripping and exciting, leaving me with the certainty that Queen Alyss and the force of White Imagination would triumph, but with absolutely no idea of how they would get there. Alyss suffers so many setbacks in her attempts to restore Imagination to Wonderland, regain the Heart Crystal and reunite her torn and suffering kingdom, that we begin to wonder if she will ever actually get there. With King Arch’s takeover of Wonderland and Alyss’ unexpected alliance with her evil aunt Redd, things take an unexpected turn for the worse as Wonderland descends into chaos and anarchy, with some dissidents believing that the land would be more fair and equal if nobody possessed any Imagination at all. With the help of her trusted companions – Homburg Molly, Hatter Madigan, Bibwit Harte, General Doppelganger and, of course, her childhood sweetheart Dodge Anders, Alyss manages to restore Imagination and justice to the Kingdom – and, at the end of it all, is finally free to be with the man she loves. Beddor’s increased inclusion of our world and his incorporation of Alice Liddell into the story is even more cleverly done in this novel, I would argue, with our world seeming to reflect a much stabler and more simple way of life that the reader begins to long for. The series also reaches a satisfying conclusion, giving the reader the sense that everything has been put to rights. I did, however, find this book to be the most confusing and complex in the series, and sometimes the battle scenes became a little repetitive – this did not, however, ruin my enjoyment of the book or my enjoyment of the series as a whole.

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The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “After a bitter betrayal, a King vows never to be deceived again. But the King’s plan to protect himself will endanger all of the realm’s young women, unless one of them volunteers to surrender her life to marry the King. To everyone’s relief and horror, Shahrazad, the daughter of a legendary storyteller, steps forward. On her wedding night, Shahrazad begins to weave a tale for the King. Fascinated, the King lets her live night after night. Just when Shahrazad dares to believe that she has found a way to keep her life – and has discovered an unexpected love – a treacherous plot disrupts her plan. Now Shahrazad must hope that love is strong enough to save her”

REVIEW: This book is one of many in the ‘Once Upon a Time’ collection, a project by a number of authors (including Dokey) designed to reimagine fairytales in a new and vibrant way, turning the women of these tales into true protagonists. This is the first novel of the project I have read, and I found it enjoyable. ‘The Storyteller’s Daughter’ is a retelling of the Arabian Nights tale, and Dokey introduces a strong and likeable main character with the blind but gifted Shahrazad, an outcast of society who remains the beloved apple of her father’s eye. The majority of the novel is a mixture of stories that Shahrazad reads from the scrolls left to her by her dead mother Maju, and the relationship that develops between Shahrazad and Shahrayar when she marries him in order to save other women from certain death. I enjoyed the tales told by Shahrazad, and the blossoming romance between herself and Shahrayar; I also enjoyed the coup that was staged against them both towards the end of the book. However, I did find that the writing sometimes seemed stilted, often simplistic and rushed, which made it a little dull at times. The relationship between Shahrazad and Shahrayar was also built up very mildly and never seemed to reach a point of culmination for the reader. This, and the simplistic writing style, could both be explained by the fact that these books are based on fairytales which, after all, are meant to teach and guide us rather than launch into vivid and length descriptions of each and every detail. I did, however, think that some elements of this book could have used more description and visualisation in order to give it more depth and prevent it from being just another traditional fairytale.

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Seeing Redd by Frank Beddor

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RATING:3/5

BLURB: “Alyss of Wonderland’s rule has just begun, but the Queendom is already under threat. Someone is using the brutal Glass Eyes and attacking Wonderland on all sides. It can only mean one thing: the evil Redd Heart has returned…”

REVIEW: This second novel in Beddor’s Alice-in-Wonderland-inspired ‘The Looking Glass Wars’ trilogy was, I found, much more complex than the first. Rather than having one plot, it seemed to have several smaller sub-plots that combined together to make a gripping but also rather tangled story of Alyss’ first few months as Queen of Wonderland. Firstly, of course, is the story of Alyss trying to fit in with her role as Queen, learning once again to manipulate her powers of White Imagination, dealing with an unruly populace, and attempting to determine and control her feelings for the much-changed Dodge Anders. On the opposing side, however, is the tale of Redd Heart, who has retreated to our world and is attempting to build up her armed forces enough to take on Alyss, while also trying to complete her own unfinished Looking Glass Maze which, she believes, will make her far more powerful than Alyss. The introduction of a more personal story for Hatter Madigan was one that I really enjoyed, and I felt that it added an extra dimension to the novel, dealing with themes of love and sacrifice that make the novel far more touching. The addition of King Arch of the Boarderlands as a second enemy to Alyss and Wonderland was also inspired, making the novel even more full of conspiracy and treachery. This is a great follow-up to the first book, and I am really looking forward to reading the last book in the series!