Thursday, 25 January 2018

Renegades, by Marissa Meyer

Ms Meyer is the author of the very successful Lunar Chronicles series, her marvellous ‘adaptation’ of our most beloved fairy tales (see review below); this time she tackles SuperHeroes with the same gusto and flair – reading this was like racing through an exciting, fabulous comic without the illustrations – and with Ms Meyer’s writing talent, who needs pictures?

In a future riven by war and anarchy, a group of Super Prodigies restores order where there was chaos, justice and laws to combat criminality, and peace to a fractured world society. They call themselves the Renegades; each have a particular power of their own and they have used these gifts to triumph over the Anarchists, groups of criminal gangs who reduced the country’s population to poverty and starvation. As the Renegades’ power and success grew, so did a mantra: ‘If you need them, call the Renegades: they will come’.

But that is not always true, as six year-old Nova Artino discovers when hitmen from the Roaches gang murder her parents and baby sister because her father refuses to make weapons for them anymore. She has called for the Renegades but no-one came except her Uncle Alec – too late to save her family but in time to save her and kill the assassin. Nova’s childhood ends that night, but her Uncle keeps her safe; he is her island in a sea of sadness, her protector even though he is known as Ace Anarchy, leader of the Anarchists and sworn enemy of the Renegades. (Still with me? Pay attention, it’s worth it!)

During the decade that follows, Nova meets other Anarchists, all prodigies as she is, all with a particular super talent: the Detonator can make bombs from blue light issuing from her fingertips; Queen Bee has complete control of bees, hornets and wasps, guaranteeing some very nasty stings, and no-one would ever want to meet Phobia, ghostly instigator of your worst nightmares. They have all sworn to destroy the Renegades, especially since the defeat and loss of their leader, Ace in the last great battle that the Renegades won. But how?

Until the plan to infiltrate the Renegades’ echelons takes shape: Nova can enter the Renegade Trials which are held every year for Prodigies; if she is successful she can undermine the organisation from within, become a Super Spy for the Anarchists and provide enough information to mount successful assassination attacks on Captain Chromium and the Dread Warden, the Renegade leaders: ah, revenge will be SO sweet – until her successful integration into the Renegades reveals that not all of them are villains. She finds the double game she is playing dangerous indeed, especially when team leader Adrian starts to show his feelings.

The action is non-stop and there are even some curly moral questions concerning the nature of good and evil, and what really makes someone heroic. Like all Ms Meyer’s stories, ‘Renegades’ is a page-turner extraordinaire; the story ends on a cliffhanger, and the concluding volume will be published at the end of this year. Can’t come soon enough!


Cinder, by Marissa Meyer

Our Children’s librarian recommended this book to me and as she’s seldom wrong in her reading choices, I’m happy to give this the ravingest (ravingest??) endorsement possible: WHAT A STORY!

The tale of Cinderella – yep, Cinderella, her nasty stepmum and the two stepsisters – is transferred hundreds of years into the future. Cinderella is now Cinder, living in New Beijing with a family who are, to say the least, most reluctant guardians. She is a mechanic (truly!) and a Cyborg, to her shame, having been fitted out with a steel hand, leg and inbuilt computer screen after a terrible childhood accident. Cyborgs are the future’s Untouchables, considered fit only to perform the most menial and degrading of tasks, but Cinder is such a good mechanic that a Royal prince visits her to have his tutor android repaired, and after that visit she and the reader are lost: she to alien romantic impulses (she is not programmed for this!) and a reluctant involvement in a life and death experiment - and the reader to being nailed to one spot until they have reached the last page.

To add insult to injury, the hapless reader finds that after a thrilling journey at a breakneck pace through more clever plot twists than a pretzel, there are three more books to come – and they haven’t been written yet! To say I feel cheated is an understatement and the withdrawal symptoms are dire, but I also say with complete confidence that ‘Cinder’ will be the next big Blockbuster book/movie series: you read it here first. 


Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer

FINALLY! The sequel to Cinder - this time a completely different take on Little Red Riding Hood, and not before time, I say.

Ms Meyer’s sequel to ‘Cinder’, her fabulous, futuristic version of ‘Cinderella’ was so good that this reader found it a real chore to have to wait for Book two – and I’m grinding my teeth to think that Book three won’t be released until next year: couldn’t Ms Meyer speed things up a bit?


Cinder is in prison, having been captured at the the Prince’s ball – instead of leaving a slipper behind, she leaves her Cyborg foot! How’s that for a variation on the old tale? A? A? Sadly, the loss of her foot means that she was an easy catch and is now disabled in her cell – until a secret visit from professor Erland, a research scientist: he provides her with a new state-of-the-art hand and a top-of-the-range foot, enabling her to engineer (she’s a mechanic, remember) a daring escape from jail. And guess who he is? Yep, Ms Meyer’s version of Cinderella’s fairy Godmother.

She also takes with her another prisoner, Thorne, because he has a stolen spaceship hidden in a warehouse, and on their travels they link up with Scarlet Benoit, who has been looking for her beloved grandmother, kidnapped by a gang of wolves. Scarlet wears a red hoody, has a nasty temper and a reluctant attraction to a street fighter called – Wolf. Now. Who do you think she could be? And guess what happens to poor old Grandma imprisoned by the wolf gang in the bowels of the Paris Opera House, derelict and in ruins since the Fourth World War? (the Opera House, not Grandma!) Nothing good, that’s for sure.

As before, Ms Meyer has her readers in an iron grip and doesn’t relinquish them until the very last page: once again, the reader is screaming ‘but what happens NEXT! And once again, we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m sure all this suspense is hell on the digestion, but I’ll just have to tough it out. This is a great series.


Saturday, 13 January 2018


The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz

         What a pleasure it is to meet Lisbeth Salander again!  Her creator Stieg Larsson’s untimely death sent thriller readers into mourning;  surely no other writer could hope to reproduce Lisbeth’s brilliance, foresight and verve, not to mention the satisfying levels of clever plotting, action and suspense – until David Lagercrantz presented us with ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ (see 2015 review below) and proved that the impossible can be done, and done well.
            This episode of Lisbeth’s story starts with a two-month prison sentence:   despite her heroic rescue of a little boy whose life was under threat, she is imprisoned for a minor infringement connected to his case, a classic example of being damned for doing something, or damned for doing nothing.  In true Salander fashion, she hunkers down to silently serve the time – until the terrible plight of a young Bangla Deshi prisoner being abused and bullied by the terrifying prison Top Dog offends her sense of fairness:  in due course the Top Dog is sent to hospital with shocking facial injuries – and Lisbeth’s sentence ends early for ‘good behaviour’. 
            She is free again, free to investigate more aspects of her horrendous childhood in orphanages and psychiatric hospitals and, with the usual expert help from Millenium Magazine editor extraordinaire Mikael Lindkvist, try to expose the perpetrators behind early psychological experiments on twins that all went shockingly, fatally wrong.  For Salander has a twin, Camilla – as evil as she is good, and they were both subjected to the same psychiatric ‘evaluations’.  Thanks to her guile and beauty, Camilla escaped and fled to Russia and a life of crime with their gangster father.  Now Salander feels that it is time to find out how many other cases of ‘separated’ twins are out there, and who authorised it – and most importantly:  why are people starting to die so that these ‘experiments’ may remain secret?
            As with the previous book, there is plenty of action;  Lisbeth is still a champion karate expert, not to mention the Queen of Hackers and a superior mathematician ( is there nothing this girl cannot do?  Yep!  She can’t cook – not that she cares – she adores junk food.) but this story has a couple of subplots that require a lot of characters;  it is as though Mr Lagercrantz had several causes he wanted to promote and tried to fit them all into one story.  That is a shame, for the plot slows, moving along by fits and starts:  the ghost of Stieg Larsson must be tsk-tsking and wagging his finger.
            Nevertheless, Mr Lagercrantz’s mastery of the complex character that is Lisbeth Salander is absolute;  he’s still a worthy successor to Stieg Larsson and if there are a few less subplots in the next novel that’s all to the good.  FOUR STARS

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz,
Continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millenium series.

Swedish author David Lagercrantz has been given the daunting task of continuing Stieg Larsson’s blockbuster series of novels about Lisbeth Salander, ace computer hacker, mathematical genius and all-round general recluse and misfit, and Mikael Blomkvist, crusading investigative journalist, founder with his some-time lover Erika Berger of the high-end Millennium Magazine, their weapon against graft and corruption in high places.  They have many enemies;  those who don’t want their dirty secrets exposed, and colleagues from other publications who envy their stellar reputation.  Millennium is constantly under siege from those whose causes would be furthered if it became defunct, and when this story opens, Blomkvist and Berger are facing a takeover that has definitely turned hostile.
            Mr Lagerkrantz has done a formidable job of filling in the backstory from Stieg Larsson’s three wonderful books;  he is meticulous in the origins of Salander’s and Blomkvist’s relationship and has fashioned a credible, clever plot that every reader will find compelling, especially as Lisbeth’s long lost sister Camilla – as beautiful as Lisbeth is not – makes an appearance to equal that of her half-brother Ronald Niedermann, a monster impervious to pain.  It is very clear that the siblings’ awful father, Alexander Zalachenko has bequeathed some horrific genes to his unfortunate progeny, but Lisbeth is the only one with a conscience and a sense of what is right – which makes her a formidable opponent of her sister, whose hatred of Lisbeth is as deep as it is irrational.
            The reader has to concentrate;  Mr Lagerkrantz’s plot is not simple.  Professor Frans Balder, a technological genius and front-runner in the race to produce superior artificial intelligence is murdered by intruders but all they take are his computer and cell phone.  Unfortunately for the assailant, Balder’s 8 year-old son, August, witnesses the murder.  He is severely handicapped by autism – but he draws beautifully and it is absurdly easy for him to produce with photographic realism his impression of the death scene and the killer.  Which means that he has to die, too. 
            Enter Lisbeth Salander:  she literally comes to the rescue of August with a flying rugby tackle and the hijacking of an innocent motorist (who will never be the same again!) – she knew Professor Balder and has uncovered from her various hacking exercises (the National Security Agency has received special attention) that his worries about keeping his studies and conclusions secret were anything but unfounded.  She takes it upon herself (with the help of Blomkvist and Berger) to go into hiding with August, whose traumatic experiences Lisbeth identifies with completely. She is a formidable protector and once again the reader is swept up and borne inexorably on the waves of suspense to the end of a great story.
Mr Lagerkrantz is a highly efficient and meticulous writer;  he has covered every base, recreated Mr Larsson’s characters superbly and generated enough suspense for more than one novel – which I hope means that another won’t be far off for the beautiful, evil Camilla is still at large, and the NSA is still highly suspect despite being on the side of right. This is a very competent sequel and I look forward to reading the next one.  FIVE STARS