Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Apprentice was one of my favourite reads of 2019 and I mentioned in that post that I had started reading the second book of the Farseer Trilogy, Royal Assassin and was enjoying it. That was true but, since I had a very busy start to the year, I found that my reading habits were a bit stop-start in January and February and so it has only been in the last couple of weeks that I have really sat down to read Royal Assassin properly. As I expected, once I started getting into the narrative, I couldn’t put it down; just as with Assassin’s Apprentice, Hobb has crafted a novel that is full of action, tension, and twists, rounded out with well-written characters. It may not have been the best timing to have read such a tense book, but I enjoyed reading Royal Assassin and I am looking forward to finishing the trilogy soon. Read more

Noughts + Crosses (BBC, 2020)

Noughts + Crosses (BBC, 2020), adapted by Julian Holmes, Koby Adom, Lydia Adetunji, and Nathaniel Price

Spoilers: I watched the entire series on iPlayer, rather than as the episodes aired on TV, so there will be spoilers in this review for episodes that may not have aired yet.

Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses was one of my favourite books as a teenager. I had enjoyed some of Blackman’s children’s fiction when I was younger, but reading the Young Adult Noughts & Crosses series was a completely different experience and I was entirely absorbed by Callum, Sephy, and Callie Rose’s story. When I heard that there was going to be a TV adaptation, I was really excited to see this world brought to life on screen and, although the series is different from my expectations, I was definitely not disappointed. I really enjoyed this series and the way in which the original Noughts & Crosses novel was adapted for a modern audience.

Noughts + Crosses depicts an alternate reality in which Africa colonised Europe instead of the other way around, with the present society favouring those of African descent, known as Crosses, over those of European descent, known as Noughts. The primary narrative follows Sephy, a Cross and the wealthy daughter of the Home Secretary, and Callum, a Nought whose mother works for Sephy’s family, as they rekindle their friendship after several years of separation and fall in love. However, the world around them is filled with a growing tension, sparked by the death of Callum’s friend Danny at the hands of the police, and Callum and Sephy soon find themselves on opposite sides and in serious danger.

Since the original novel is written exclusively through Callum and Sephy’s eyes, in first person narration, adapting the source material into a television series actually allows for much greater insight into the world outside the main love story. This was definitely where the series really shined, from the sets, to the costumes, to the history, to the political insights we get not only into the Cross government but also the Liberation Militia. The series made its medium a real strength and this made not only for a great adaptation, but a great stand-alone television series with writing, directing, sets, costumes, and music all working together to pull the viewer’s imagination into the world of Albion. Another result of this expanded world was that it enabled the series to explore consequences of racism that are still a lived reality for many in our world today; from police brutality, to names being mispronounced, Noughts + Crosses tackled really important and relevant issues without ever detracting from the overall narrative.

However, there were some elements from the original novel that were lost in the process of adapting the source material into a television series. One of the most glaring character omissions for me was Lynette, Callum’s sister in the novel. Her story in the novel is short and tragic, yes, but she was a fascinating character and I missed seeing the relationship between her and Callum. However, it was the changes made to Callum and Sephy’s story that I was most confused about. Whilst I can understand the need to have Sephy and Callum be older than they are at the start of the novel from the start of the series, I was left unsure as to why they had not seen each other for many years and thus were only now seeing each other as adults. The fact that they had not been continuing a secret friendship whilst their families had grown apart, as they do in the novel, left the early part of their romance feeling rushed with little to explain just how quickly they decide to give up everything for each other. I was also very surprised to see that the series gave Callum and Sephy a happy ending, rather than the tragic ending of the novel. Given the darkness of the series I can see why there would be an impulse to inject some hope for the couple at the end, but it also felt a little too neatly tied up.

I really enjoyed this series and the way that it adapted the source material into a modern setting. I had high expectations for it and, although there are some elements I missed from the original novel, the overall quality of the series was so good that it did not change my opinion of how well this worked as a television series. I thought the world-building was incredibly strong and the way in which the alternate reality was used to highlight important real-world issues was very well-done. Given how the series ends, if there is a second series it seems unlikely that it will follow the novel series (a path which seems to be a trend in recent adaptations and, in my opinion, means that subsequent series can no longer be classed or reviewed as adaptations) but I am interested to see where Callum and Sephy’s story goes if they do make more episodes. This is definitely a series I would recommend.

Light Books for Difficult Times

Light Books for Difficult Times

As we head into the next few weeks of social distancing and what is likely to be an isolating and anxious time, I thought it would be good to make some recommendations of ‘light and gentle’ books to read. I am definitely finding that my capacity for stressful media is quite low at the moment, so if you are feeling the same, here are some books that should be easier reads right now. Read more

Emma. (Working Title Films, Blueprint Studios, and Perfect World Pictures, 2020)

Emma. (Working Title Films, Blueprint Studios, and Perfect World Pictures, 2020), adapted by Eleanor Catton and Autumn de Wilde

Alongside Northanger Abbey, Emma is one of my favourite Austen novels and has led to one of my favourite Austen adaptations: the 2009 BBC Emma mini-series, starring Romola Garai. Although I have seen other adaptations of Emma that I have enjoyed, the 2009 mini-series tends to be the one I return to as my favourite. However, I try to judge each new adaptation that I see not on how it compares to other adaptations out there, but how it stands up against its source material. I was looking forward to seeing this film, but I did have some reservations even from having seen the trailer and I left the cinema feeling that, although it was a good adaptation, I still had some reservations about it. Read more

The Outsider

The Outsider by Albert Camus, translated by Joseph Laredo

My Dad and I recently had a trip to a second-hand bookshop without the supervision of any other member of our family and so, of course, we came out with some new books. One of the books I bought that day was Albert Camus’ The Outsider, which has definitely been one of those books that I have felt I should read for a long time. Probably Camus’ most famous novel, it has had a significant impact on literature and has definitely been a gap in my literary awareness as I actually had no idea what the novel was even about, aside from knowing the famous first line. Having read it, I can certainly see why it has inspired so much critical analysis, however I do think I preferred the other Camus novel I have read, The Plague, over The Outsider. Read more

Early Modern Women’s Writing: Aphra Behn

Early Modern Women’s Writing: Aphra Behn, edited by Paul Salzman

I have enjoyed slowly reading my way through the anthology of Early Modern Women’s Writing, edited by Paul Salzman. It has taken me over a year to reach the final writer, but I have enjoyed writing reviews about each woman individually rather than reviewing the anthology as a whole; I have learnt more about the range of writers during the Early Modern period by reading the anthology in this way, as well as learning more about the writers themselves. It is clear that there were many women writing in Early Modern times, despite the fact that they were often not publicly published or remembered. Read more

In the Hand of the Goddess

In the Hand of the Goddess by Tamora Pierce

During a recent intense period at work, I found myself in the position of wanting something quick and easy to read. Continuing my journey through Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series seemed the perfect way to relax in the quieter moments. I had enjoyed Alanna: the First Adventure and was definitely intrigued by all the different routes that In the Hand of the Goddess could go, especially now that Jonathan knew Alanna’s secret. As I had hoped, In the Hand of the Goddess took Alanna’s story in an engaging and entertaining direction, with some twists that I was not expecting. I enjoyed this second instalment in the series and I look forward to seeing where Pierce takes the characters from here. Read more

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

I had been curious to read Grief is the Thing with Feathers for a while and so, whilst I know I am behind the times when it comes to this book, I decided to use a recent evening babysitting to read this short and intriguing novel about grief. I definitely found it a moving depiction of grief, although I suspect that I would have a deeper understanding of Porter’s novel if I was familiar with Ted Hughes’ Crow. I actually have read very little of Hughes’ work but I think that this has definitely encouraged me to investigate him more. Read more

Jog On

Jog On by Bella Mackie

In the last couple of years I have started running regularly again, after a break of several years. Back in the world of secondary school stereotypes, I was an unlikely candidate to be relatively good at cross country: I was quiet, shy, in every music group I could manage, and more at home with fictional worlds than the real one. Yet I could maintain a steady pace and, more to the point, I enjoyed running. I stopped running regularly in my second year of university, dropping out of the university running club under the illusion that I would continue to run even when I didn’t have others to motivate me. It would take most of my twenties to actually motivate myself to start running again by which time a lot had changed in the world of running, not the least of which is the awareness of the benefits of exercise on mental health, which stories like Bella Mackie’s reinforce. Read more

Leonard and Hungry Paul

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

After seeing several good reviews for Leonard and Hungry Paul, it has been on my ‘to-read’ list for a little while now. I finally downloaded it on kindle and a grey, wet, and windy week seemed a good time to start reading a novel praised for its quiet hopefulness. It was a quick read, all about ordinary people in their everyday life and it didn’t take long for me to discover why it has been getting such good reviews. There is something comforting about the slow, small changes that happen over the course of this understated narrative. Read more