Birds of Paradise by Oliver K. Langmead – Review

Birds of Paradise

Rating : 5/5 stars

Release Date: 30th of March 

I received an Advance Reader Copy from NetGalley for an honest review. I absolutely loved the reading experience and would like to thank the author and publisher for the opportunity.

Immortal individuals or groups, making their way through different lifetimes, faking identities in the process are often encountered in fantasy. The genre likes to ask what would happen if an individual, human or not, went on living through different eras, rather than dying. Birds of Paradise, attempts to answer even harder questions: what if the first man never died? What would living not through some, but through all eras would look like? As you might have guessed from my rating, I really enjoyed finding out the answers.

In Birds of Paradise we follow Adam, the first man, still living. He works as a security guard but overall he lacks purpose. Living since the beginning of time, losing many loved ones – even ones he knew since his time in Eden – and become increasingly disenchanted with the choices of his descendants, he’s a shadow of his former self. His memories have become blurry and unreliable, and while he’s immortal, his condition is something less than living.

But Adam isn’t completely alone in his exile. Fellow residents from the Garden of Eden, such as Rook, Owl, Butterfly and other animals he named also live in the contemporary world, hiding in human form. Some are relatively content while other struggle after so many years. Each has a vibrant, unique personality with mannerisms and traits inspired from their animal form without being stereotypical. Their backstories and quirks make the reader care and root for them. Crow, Rook and Magpie were my personal favourites. In their interactions with Adam, there is humor and banter of people who have literally known each other forever, but also bitterness and nostalgia for the long lost paradise.

Things become complicated when more and more pieces of Eden start finding their way into our world. To put it mildly, humanity isn’t good at dealing with those. As Adam and his immortal companions try to find and save these pieces of paradises – with a flood of biblical proportions as a background– two things are achieved: a great plot that never gets tiring, and a powerful comment on mankind’s cruelty – often justified through the misuse of religious text and symbols.

The writing is beautiful, polished and memorable throughout, revealing just enough to keep the reader going without dwelling on unnecessary details. I particularly liked the way different locations are described. Having been to a few of the places Adam and his companions visit, such as Glasgow and Manchester, I could really feel the care put into illustrating them in accurate but fresh ways. Adam’s inner world is also impressively written, increasingly so as he came closer to his former self.

Birds of Paradise is marketed as “American Gods meets The Chronicles of Narnia.” Both are works I enjoyed, but also had some issues with. I didn’t have any significant issues with Birds of Paradise, however. The concept is unique and exciting, the prose is beautiful, the characters very endearing and the plot simple to follow and increasingly interesting the more you read.

One of my complaints regarding American Gods, was that Shadow wasn’t proactive enough, for the most part simply allowing things to happen to him. Adam might also seem like an odd protagonist at first. After all, he’s taken a backseat in his own life and leaves other characters make choices for him for a large part of the novel. However, in Birds of Paradise, this seemed like a deliberate decision from the author’s part and felt justified. When Adam starts retrieving lost memories and finds something worth fighting for, the difference is all the more poignant because of his initial passive stance. I can’t really talk about the ending without spoiling anything, but I have to say, it was a punch, and I will remember it for a long time.

Finishing the book, I wanted more. More interactions between the characters, more immortal animals in human form, more information on Adam’s complicated feelings about humanity. But I also felt this book is complete, every scene mattered and everything happened as it should. The best books finish at the right time, but also suggest their world and characters will live on – here quite literally – and this is definitely the case with Birds of Paradise.

All in all, I can’t recommend Birds of Paradise enough. It’s a remarkable achievement, tender and violent at once, about the possibility of keeping a piece of paradise in the contemporary world.

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The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – Review

This review was originally written for The Nerd Daily. Please check out the contributors’ amazing work!

The Secret Commonwealth Rating: 4/5 stars or 8.5/10

Released two years after the first instalment of the new The Book of Dust trilogy and almost two decades after His Dark Materials trilogy, The Secret Commonwealth might be the most complex addition to Lyra’s world so far.

In The Amber Spyglass, we saw a chapter in Lyra’s life coming to an end. It was a satisfying, justified, if heart-breaking conclusion. One thing, however, was clear; while a circle closed for Lyra, a new season was beginning, full of learning, inspired by her wish to lead a fulfilling life and inspire others to do the same.  Such an ending is full of possibilities, leaving the reader with the impression that the characters live on after the book.

As is the case with most beloved book series, many fans craved yet another book about Lyra. While Pullman did release a short story called Lyra’s Oxford (2003), and another one, Serpentine, in 2020 as we wait for the third Book of Dust instalment, The Secret Commonwealth is the first full-length book about Lyra since The Amber Spyglass. With La Belle Sauvage (2017) focusing on a new character, Malcolm, who embarked on a perilous journey to protect Lyra when she was a baby, we had to wait a long time to find out more about Lyra’s future. As it turns out, The Secret Commonwealth was worth the wait.

As early as chapter 1, we are re-introduced to twenty-year old Lyra, now a university student. Clearly, she has grown in many ways. While she started His Dark Materials without close female friends and resistant to the influence of women in her life, the adult Lyra attends a girls’ college, is friendly with her old caretaker, Alice Lonsdale, and studies to the alethiometer under the tutelage of Hannah Relf. The core aspects that made her unique, such as her adventurous spirit, her creativity and curiosity are initially toned down. But the biggest change is her relationship with her daemon, Pan. While The Amber Spyglass left them in relatively good terms, Lyra’s choices have changed their dynamic forever. In stark contrast to the comfort and warmth they once shared, most of their interactions in The Secret Commonwealth are forced and awkward. They no longer truly listen to each other, and Pan doesn’t like the woman Lyra is becoming as he thinks she has lost her imagination, and sense of wonder.

Pan is not completely wrong. The almost ten-year lapse has changed Lyra. She is no longer the girl who found joy in every aspect of her journey. She has grown serious, melancholic and firmly grounded in the non-magical aspects of her world. The magic and wonder she once took for granted are questioned and replaced by obscure philosophical ideas that Pan hates. But the unimaginative books that make Lyra a sceptic – while deepening her rift with Pan – are far from their only problem. As a child, Lyra altered the fate of all worlds and survived the theocratic Magisterium’s deathly plots against her. This doesn’t mean she’s safe. The murder she and Pan witness early on shows that the stakes are high as ever. People are still persecuted, and the world has taken a sudden interest in a type of rose that grows in the deserts of Lop Nor and is rumoured to be associated with the Dust, a central concept in His Dark Materials. Once more, Pullman has crafted an interesting, well-written mystery that combines science (in this case botany) with the fantastic. Prosecuted and increasingly entangled in incomprehensible mysteries, Lyra must once again rely on her inventiveness to survive. Following her in her dangerous journey, we discover new aspects of her world – one that is parallel but different to our own.

This world, already complete and full of wonder in His Dark Materials is greatly expanded. We visit different locations, from Prague to Asia Minor and meet characters from different backgrounds, adding diversity compared to the previous books’ focus on England and the North. Moreover, The Secret Commonwealth focuses on a previously unseen group of people: those who have been separated from their demons, forcibly or voluntarily, but are still functional, though rejected by society at large. This condition, more common than His Dark Materials would have us think, is used to explore real-life issues such as mental illness, exclusion and fear of the unknown. The backstories of minor characters who are afflicted in this way adds a nice touch to the main plot.

At over 650 pages, The Secret Commonwealth might be a slow read for some, especially since the many point-of-view characters, ranging from mains we already know, such as Lyra, Pan and Malcolm, to minor characters, might initially be confusing. This is particularly true since the main villains, who also get point-of-view passages, can read a bit as interchangeable and decidedly less memorable compared to the terrifying Mrs Coulter and the ambiguous Lord Asriel.

Still, the constant suspense and dangers Lyra and Malcolm navigate make the book increasingly hard to put down. The writing is beautiful, and concepts such as imagination and scepticism are explored in poetic yet digestible ways. The one possible drawback is that while His Dark Materials had its dark moments, the narrative was riddled with the joy Lyra derived from her travels. This, and Pullman’s subtlety, meant that younger readers could still enjoy the trilogy and simply understand any age-inappropriate parts when older. In comparison, the mood of The Secret Commonwealth is more sombre, influenced by the adult Lyra’s struggles. Of course, as a main character grows, their problems are likely to become increasingly mature, and given all that Lyra’s gone through, her anguish is very believable. It should be noted, however, that this book is definitely not suitable for children. Apart from sexuality, discussed subtly but still more explicitly than in His Dark Materials, the book also contains triggering scenes including sexual assault. The hints of a possible romance between two characters with a big age difference might also be disturbing to some. This is not yet explicit, but it does seem a bit unnecessary so far, so we can only wait and see how this is going to unfold in book 3.

Speaking of which, for those enjoyed The Secret Commonwealth, book 3 – which doesn’t have a release date yet – can’t come out soon enough. In true Subtle Knife fashion (also a second book!) the ending of The Secret Commonwealth is ambiguous and little is resolved. Hopefully, the final instalment will give us a satisfying conclusion. Be prepared, though. Since this is Philip Pullman we are talking about, some heartbreak might as well be expected.

Although it has its pitfalls and lacks much of the original trilogy’s playfulness, The Secret Commonwealth is a highly imaginative, memorable book that expands Lyra’s world in believable ways. It might be a more enjoyable read for people who already loved Pullman’s work and eagerly awaited any new content, but even on its own, The Secret Commonwealth is an impressive literary achievement that leaves the reader wanting more.

Honeycomb by Joanne M. Harris, Book review

Honeycomb by Joanne Harris

I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher, author and illustrator for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars or 7/1o

Release Date: May 25th 2021

I was very excited to receive a copy of Honeycomb as I love Joanne Harris’ other books live Chocolat and The Gospel of Loki. Honeycomb was different from Harris’ other works, of course, but it was magical in its own right.

Within the span of more than 400 pages, the author weaves (pun intended), one hundred dark fairytales, some of them loose retellings or last-minute twists to stories we think we know, some distinctly her own. From main characters that consistently appear in most of the tales, like the Lacewing King, to those who only make a few appearances in-between stories, like the wayward princess with her clockwork tiger, Honeycomb is an intricate tapestry of memorable portraits, each of whom stirs different images and feelings.

What makes the tales of Honeycomb stand out is, first and foremost, its language. Poetic and lyrical yet very readable, the writing style gives birth to visual and auditory imagery readers are likely to remember long after closing the book. Through strategic repetitions – which however bear slight but important changes – the author creates a haunting, dark atmosphere. But not one without hope.

While many of the chapters are self-contained, structured almost as traditional fairytales meant to teach a moral or comment on society, Honeycomb has an overreaching plot that ties most tales through a delicate thread: the first part is largely concerned with the Lacewing King, a type of faerie king who starts off as an adventurous but cold and cruel character, prepared to steal and murder to get what he wants. While it takes a bit for his atrocities to catch up with him, the Lacewing King makes many powerful enemies but also – surprisingly – some friends. And when, in the middle of the book, the reader feels they have grasped Harris’ pattern and what the book is about, everything changes in a violent twist that forces us to see the story in a new light. Could there ever be any kind of redemption for a character like the Lacewing King? And if traditional fairytale villains get what they deserve, what can be said about a villain protagonist in a modern fairytale, who tumbles between pure villainy, anti-heroism and anti-villainy? Honeycomb attempts to provide some answers.

The writing is beautiful throughout, but perhaps a little difficult to get used to at first, largely due to the particularities of the Lacewing King. After a few chapters, I was tired of reading about him doing mean things, with the occasional one-shot fairytale interlude, but as more layers were added to his character I found myself compelled, not to forgive him but to keep reading, especially when his ward became an important character in her own right. I particularly liked the way Harris played with the readers’ expectations about a fairytale atmosphere, to eventually create one that is very much her own. The steampunk elements that became increasingly prominent as the story went on, were an unexpected addition, giving the fairy realm a unique flavour. As we got to know the main characters more, a few of the single-chapter tales felt a bit distracting, as they were similar to ones narrated before, and I found myself wanting to read them quickly, to see the main plot’s culmination.

Was that culmination satisfying? Yes and no. After such a long, intricate story I had expected something more. Some characters’ fates could be explored a little further, but given the conventions of the fairytale, from which Honeycomb borrows, even if just to twist it, perhaps the ending was just what it was meant to be.

And of course, I can’t finish this review without commenting on the illustrations by Charles Vess. They are a very beautiful addition that really enhances the reading experience and fits the atmosphere perfectly.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Honeycomb. I didn’t like all 100 stories equally, but a lot of them were surprisingly insightful, even moving. I would recommend it to readers who enjoy dark, adult fairytales with interesting twists. The pacing was a bit distracting at times, but overall, the fairytales are woven in an interesting, memorable pattern that stays with the reader after the last page.

Finishing drafts, not feeling like writing and other sad stories

Much has been written about the ways the ongoing apocalypse has influenced our productivity. I don’t think I have anything new to add. At this point, and at any point, simply surviving for a while is perfectly valid. But what happens for those of us who associate our quality of life with creativity? It might be an overstatement to say that writing has helped me survive, but in many ways it has. When creativity is what gives us joy and comfort and still writer’s block hits, pretty much any situation feels worse than it already is.

NaNoWriMo has come and gone and, once again, I didn’t hit 50k, though I only missed it by about 5k, which makes it a huge success for me. I didn’t write many inspirational writing posts as I had planned, though. It didn’t feel right, as I thought that to help or uplift others I should find joy in my own writing first. For the longest time, I couldn’t find this joy anywhere. Not in a new project I attempted to start (and gave up on day 1 since some sort of planning is necessary even for me to produce the amount NaNoWriMo requires), not in an old story that doesn’t work anymore (and yet I desperately want it to).

Then, 2021 came and two things happened. First; I finished draft 3.1 of my story (essentially just draft 3, fully proofread and corrected). Second; I decided to make 2021 a writing year. Now, I know that these New Year Resolution attempts hardly ever work. We are only human and a year change is first and foremost mental, rather than a solid change of circumstances. The same barriers that kept us from our goals last year still apply. And yet we hope. Thinking of the many works of fantasy – and not only – that have given me hope over the years, I decided to cling to that hope and see what happens.

Even though I currently work, I decided to still prioritise writing during my time off, something I had never managed to balance while a student – and set clear goals. I knew I could fail since day 1, but fortunately, something clicked. Things are still far from perfect of course (and when has any writer felt things are “perfect” where their work is concerned?) Nor can I say I will never feel blocked again. But after months of struggling, I finally feel I’m going somewhere with my writing. Not sure where, but finally thrilled to find out. So, I wanted to share some insights, in no particular order, hoping they might help others too.

Starting small can help

If you feel like writing 4,000 words in one sitting, by all means do. I know some writers can do that and I’m very, very jealous. But if you are starting now, or getting back after a long block, setting an intimidating goal might put you off before you even start.

On the first days of November, I didn’t do NaNoWriMo writing at all due to a conference (perhaps I should do a conference post at some point?) Being too harsh on myself, as I’m sometimes prone to be, I did some maths (very badly because I am that writer who can’t do math) and ended up with a schedule that required at least 3,500 words for some days.

Now, this might be perfectly reasonable for some, but it wasn’t for me. Not after a Masters, an exhausting job hunt and the world outside being so scary. I often found myself spending the whole day on the sofa or my desk, literally dragging myself through words that could have been written in 4 hours or so. I don’t regret writing those words. I hardly remember some of them, and I’m always curious to see writing that I don’t remember well. Surely, if these words don’t amount to much, they will at some point. But at that point, I was losing whole days, and even when I did manage to meet the desired wordcount, it didn’t feel like a win anymore.

This is why I made the difficult decision to take a step back from NaNo even though I was so close. I spent December editing my draft and some stories to submit to journals. Editing was a much better choice for me right then, because it reminded me that I can produce words and make them matter. It’s too easy to forget that during a block. During the holidays, I focused on reading as much as I could from writers I admired.

And then, on day 1 of 2021 I decided that this is the year I’m finalising my book draft AND writing 1,000 words every single day.

Now, after two literature degrees and writing for 10 years, I’ve reached that point where 1,000 is too little for me. If I’m really focused, I can do that in half an hour or so. But 1,000 words is 365,000 in a year. This is much more than your average novel, so it feels like a doable, modest goal that is still huge in terms of impact. Make it 438,000, since I often find myself writing 1,200 without even noticing. And if I miss a day, well, it doesn’t feel like much was lost, and it’s easier to do just a little bit more whenever I can.

So, if you feel intimidated now, don’t be afraid to start small, as long you just start. Whatever you manage to produce might be more than you think.

Sticking to a project is advisable, but don’t be afraid to experiment first

We often see advice along the lines of “you can’t jump between projects” and “you have to stick one, because all projects will feel equally interesting so whatever you choose is as good as any.” That’s an understandable sentiment, but one many art blocked creators won’t appreciate. Sure, starting projects and abandoning them in a day has to stop eventually, but you shouldn’t let your own creative work restrict you. You created it, after all.

As I’ve already mentioned, I started a novel on my first day of NaNoWriMo. I even managed 1,700 words, or whatever it is you are supposed to produce when you write every single November day I told you I can’t do the math. Then I hit a wall. Sure, I’ve always wanted to try a steampunk project, and I still might one day, but I had not thought that one through. We’ve heard George R. R. Martin’s metaphor about architect writers (the planners) and gardener writers (those who just produce words and see what happens) many times. I very much belong to the latter category, but at that point it wasn’t working. I didn’t know who these character were. To find out would require some writer things I love doing, that have helped me better understand my characters and setting many a time – but that wouldn’t be writing and I still wanted to give NaNoWriMo another chance.

So I shifted to my first ever story, that has changed and changed over years. Many writers I know have this baby project and sadly, it doesn’t always work out. At least, the shift allowed me to produce a huge amount of words at a short notice and I never regret exercising those writing muscles… Until the whole thing took a toll on my creativity and well-being as I’ve described above. That’s when I dropped NaNo and focused on editing.

New Year’s found me adding random 1,000 words to the baby project again, but only for two days. It was at that point that I decided to do some serious brainstorming about that initial steampunk project and another one that is basically Fantasy inspired by my culture (I wouldn’t have felt brave enough to even contemplate attempting this a year ago, but that’s stuff for another post). Eventually, the latter clicked. It’s very much new, and I can’t promise anything, but I did write 8,300 words already if that means anything. For the time being, I’m happy to have this as my main writing project, while editing and scribbling some shorts on the side. I really, really want this enthusiasm to last but I’m also glad to have felt it again at all, because writer’s block (not unlike reading slumps for bookworms) can persuade you that you are never feeling that joy again.

So, while there is some wisdom about the advice to stick to a project, I won’t begrudge the experimentation and shifts it took to get me excited about writing again – and neither should you.

A change of focus can help

For a person who doesn’t like numbers, I was too focused on the word count. This is normal, especially when you really don’t feel like working or when you have a specific amount to produce. You want the word count to hit the day’s goal so that you can stop… only, in my case, the wordcount was increasing so slowly it hurt. So, in 2021, I tried something different.

I mentioned above that I can write 1k in half an hour, but let me tell you, the writing (mis)adventures of last November had wiped that information out of my memory. Last weekend, I set my timer to 30 minutes – a modest, non-intimidating amount of time – shut down all Google Chrome tabs and just dove into writing. At 15 minutes, I was surprised to see the wordcount was already 450+. So I went on even faster, and hit 1k just before time was up. Writing “for x minutes” as opposed to writing “x words” produced the same effect but it was relatively stress-free and reminded me what I can do when I put my mind to it.

Another thing I found useful back when I tried NaNoWriMo in 2019, was focusing on finishing the chapter, as opposed to telling myself I’d stop at x words. Writing with the goal in mind can provide a much needed change of perspective. So if you think that whatever you are doing to measure your writing isn’t serving you anymore, the problem might be this- not you or your writing.

Accept that writing, editing and research are different skills and know what you’re doing when combining them.

This one took me ages to fully understand and I’m still not perfect at it, but I’m slowly getting there. When you start a new project it’s very tempting to just go back and correct what you already have, especially since what you have is so little. Research is also very tempting, especially when the information you lack about the culture or historical period you’re writing about keeps you from writing what you want. But please, hear me out.

For the longest time, I’ve ignored any advice along the lines of “never look back, just power through until you have a draft and then edit.” My brain just refuses to work that way. If I don’t occasionally review my writing, I might forget plot points I meant to expand on. Plus, exercising those editing muscles is not contrary to writing. And of course, you can’t write the draft without any research, while doing all the research first might delay you a lot.

I’ve discovered that it’s quite easy to find time to Google things, or purposelessly reread your draft, editing the odd typo and being surprised at what you wrote than one time at 4 am. Allocating time to tackle the dreaded blank page is trickier. And please, don’t be tempted to think that you’ll just Google a single thing you need to know. Unfortunately, the internet doesn’t work that way.

My advice, then, is to set time to actually write, as often as you can, and be very vigilant about it. If you find something you need to look up, make a note. Don’t think you won’t have time for research or editing later, you know you will. Mix them up if it works for you, but don’t be tempted to give them some of your actual writing time. This is the hardest to get back. I’m by no means an expert in writing this way, but during my last 2-3 writing sessions I fought the urge to Google stuff, and I promise you they were some of the best writing sessions.

Ladyofbooklot

A cosy image of a laptop, a bullet journal, coffee and cookies.

Finishing drafts is a wonderful thing but some complicated feelings are to be expected

So far, I’ve mostly talked about failed projects, finding the will to write, and focus. I haven’t talked about my finished draft. I might do a post on finishing drafts at some point for what it’s worth, but this is a post about writing struggles and, to be honest, while I’m really proud of this draft some dread it there.

Writing advice websites will tell you that no matter what you do, you need to finish your draft. I totally agree. Reading and rewriting something that is complete, finding themes you hadn’t even realised you put there, seeing your characters come full circle – these are all wonderful feelings and I want you to have them too.

Relatively fewer articles focus on the grief involved in the process, which is fair, because it’s a very positive process that should fill us with joy and pride. But some sadness can be there. It’s normal to already miss these characters you spent so long with. In some ways, I like editing my work more than writing it because I associate it with more confidence in my skills, but I do miss having late night epiphanies about character motivations, or listening to that one song that was just like a plot point I had in mind.

And, of course, after you finish a couple of drafts, if you intend to do anything with your story, you have to take the next step and show it to the world somehow. In a sense, this can feel like letting go of complete control over the story. Then, there’s the fear of rejection, and that little voice that keeps telling you you could have done more, handled things differently, crafted something better.

I have many tips on how to write, and a few on finishing drafts. I’m very much still figuring out what to do after that. So, if you have completed a draft and are in a similar position, my only real advice is to be proud of what you achieved, accept all feelings as valid and take your time to figure it out, taking all the help you can from those around you. This is all very new and, for now, I’m taking tiny steps. When I despair I remember why I started writing, and I think that this too will be worth it.

This ended up being much longer and more emotional than I expected. In any case I’d love to know if any of my thoughts helped you, or if there are other writing issues you want me to tackle next!

Do you have any other ideas about navigating writing struggles? Let me know in the comments!

Lore and Order by Steve K. Peacock – Review

Lore and Order by Steve Peacock

I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of his book for an honest review. I really enjoyed reading and reviewing it!

There are some character-driven books that you enjoy because you really love the characters to the point that you would hang out with them. And there are character-driven books you read because the characters are the opposite of the people you would be friends with in real life, but they are consistent and three-dimensional, with a voice that stands out and compels you to read on. For me, Lore and Order belongs to the second category.

From the Goodreads description:

“Humberside City, nestled in the north of Britain, is on fire, and it has taken a few weeks for anyone to really notice. The fire brigade have been doing their best, as have the other emergency services, but whoever is behind the fires has been systematically running them ragged. Whitehall is worried. Something doesn’t add up, so they’ve dispatched a warlock – a former illegal mage, pressed into service of the government to deal with matters of the arcane – to look things over.

Jameson Parker is that warlock, and he’s pretty okay with that. His freedoms might be heavily restricted, and any unauthorised use of magic means he’ll be struck down dead instantly, but it could be worse. He gets more or less free rein to swan around Humberside like the big I am, and it gives him a way to atone for his less than stellar past. He’s better off without magic, and he knows it.

But is magic better off without him? The warlocks of Humberside don’t seem to think so, and there are rumblings that, as well as the fires, something big is about to go down. Jameson is not best pleased.”

Lore and Order was a very interesting book. A lot of thought has been put into the magic system and what one can do with magic. At the same time, what the readers think they know is constantly challenged and – refreshingly – the narrative does seem to question whether systematising magic does more harm than good. I often felt annoyed on the characters’ behalf by Whitehall’s bureaucratic approach to magic, and I felt that was intentional. Interestingly, it was often stressed that magic cannot solve all problems, and I really like it when fantasy novels do that, as they feel much more relatable.

For all the bureaucracy Jameson suffers from, however, misadventures always seem to find him and challenge his resolution to do away with magic. The book is action-packed with a quick succession of twists that leaves the reader feeling constantly on edge. If things seemed to be going smoothly, well, that was an indication that they weren’t staying that way. I might have liked a few more “breather” chapters to get to know characters besides the protagonist a bit better and understand their backgrounds, motivations and everyday lives apart from their involvement with magic, but perhaps this is just a matter of personal taste. Overall, the plot was engaging and took some directions I had not suspected. I particularly liked the conflict between compliant warlocks who were content enforcing order and those who wanted to rebel and be free.

I haven’t read a tone of urban fantasy, but most such works I’m aware of take place in major American cities or big capitals, so I really like the fact that Lore and Order was situated in North England instead (shhh, let’s pretend that I don’t have a soft spot for this since my draft is also set in North England). More than that, the narrator often drops interesting hints, suggesting there are more about the setting than meets the eye. I would be interested in seeing if the next book takes place in America – and if it’s really ruled by vampires

And now, let’s talk about the part that is always my favourite; characterisation. As I have already mentioned, the main character had a very distinct voice that was fun and easy to follow. At first, I thought I would be very annoyed with him throughout, as I’m usually not impressed by overconfident magicians (got too badly burnt by Kvothe from The Name of the Wind – sorry Rothfuss fans). And while I still don’t think Jameson is someone I would hang out with in real life, I appreciate that he is well-written and consistent, and the book is what it is because of his sardonic narration. I like spending time in the heads of deeply flawed characters that are well-written, whether I conventionally ‘like’ them or not. More than that, Jameson seemed fully aware of said flaws in ways other characters with similar personalities are not:

“It’s an easy thing to convince yourself when you are completely aware of what horrors you are capable.”

I would have liked to know a bit more about the backgrounds and personalities of other characters such as Ania and Kaitlyn, but I found his Jameson’s relationship with Charlie quite heart-warming.

As a whole, Lord and Order was a very interesting read that I would recommend to those who like less common urban settings, detailed magical systems, action and most of all, humorous, flawed and sardonic main characters.

Lore and Order by Steve K Peacock
A lot of fires happen in the book and this photo aims to suggest that – fake candles don’t help but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Best books of 2020

Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2021 is treating you better than 2020 so far! This should have been my last post of 2020, I guess, but The Burning God destroyed me, so this didn’t happen. I rarely make detailed reading plans as that depends on my mood, so I thought I could still share my 2020 favourites. Like last year , this post will not only include books released in 2020, as that would literally leave me with two books. I keep saying that I’ll actually keep up with pop culture and I might even manage now that I’m not studying anymore? We’ll see!

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle book by Diana Wynne Jones

“I think we ought to live happily ever after.”

This needs no introduction and no analysis. Just putting it here because it was so perfect, funny and subversive and so much better than the film (and I do love Ghibli films) and I can’t believe I hadn’t read it earlier. Will definitely reread soon!

The First Sister by Linden

As I’m slowly getting started with Sci-Fi, I have limited experience and can’t really tell where The First Sister sits in the genre in terms of tropes. However, I have to say I was mind-blown by the twists and the characters’ struggle for autonomy.

The First Sister by Linden Lewis

Moreover, the book was very diverse, not only featuring lgbtq+ characters but also showing that futuristic cultures can be multicultural and multilingual as opposed to having adopted a fully Anglophone culture. Really looking forward to the second book. Full review here.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

According to the author, Tam Lin is about “keeping the heart of flesh in a world that wants to put in a heart of stone.” I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot. Reading this book just after completing formal education for the foreseeable future was really emotional. After all, my love for dark academia aesthetics is no secret. Nor is my love for my English Literature studies. Add a ballad retelling with clever twists in the mix, and there you have one of the best reads of the year.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

A very interesting book that combines urban fantasy, body horror and magic and fantastic rituals based on Caribbean traditions. Brown Girl in the Ring had a unique language, ideas I’ve never seen before and a main character who – while a bit annoying at times – was open to change and willing to do what she must to save her city and her people. I really loved the inter-generational relationship between her, her mother and grandmother, as well as the fact that she is mother herself, and still has her own needs and wants, which is something I’ve not seen often in fantasy.

The Poppy War Trilogy by R. F. Kuang

“Ruin me, ruin us, and I’ll let you.”

Once again, I’ve already talked about this series a lot on social media so I’ll be brief and just say that the entire trilogy is perhaps the best thing I read in 2020. The characters, while very morally ambiguous, stayed with me, and I don’t doubt they will for a very long time. I will forever admire how Chinese history and real events are intermingled with legend and magic . And, of course, I will never forget the heartbreak.

The Burning God by R.. F. Kuang

What about you? What were you 2020 favourites? And are you planning to read anything exciting in 2021? Let me know in the comments!

Review: The Burning God by R. F. Kuang

Hi everyone. I hope those of you who celebrate are having good Christmas holidays! I’ve not been as active as I wanted here lately, but this will change in 2021 as I’m preparing a lot of new content. I will do another post before the end of the year if I can help if, but if not, my last post won’t be very cheerful because I recently finished reading The Burning God by R. F. Kuang and I just couldn’t help sharing my heartbreak.

In The Dragon Republic, the second book of The Poppy War Trilogy, Nezha and Kitay disagree about the translation of a saying in old Nikara: one reads it as “Nothing lasts” and the other as “The world does not exist.” These ideas haunt The Burning God both literally, as Rin recalls the incident, and metaphorically. In this memorable, heart-breaking conclusion to one of the best trilogies I’ve ever read, nothing can be taken for granted. Already from the previous books, Rin had lost many things : her friends and allies, her security and her innocence. As she goes from pawn to the Dragon Republic to a key fighter for the liberation of the southern provinces were she grew up, her world is more dangerous than ever. Alliances shift, betrayals abound, and the Phoenix, who calls for more destruction, is her only certainty in a world that becomes more and more unpredictable and unreal.

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang

In The Burning God, Kuang outdid herself in many ways. The writing was amazing as always while the plot (and the promise of tears and doom) made it impossible to put the book down. The nuanced ways in which the narrative interacts and converses with Chinese history make this book so important, while the characters, who have come a long way, are one of the main reasons why I am so attached to this story.

Already from the ending of The Poppy War, Rin was established as an anti-villain rather than anti-hero, having committed atrocities she can never be redeemed for. The Burning God, fittingly titled, does justice to the arc of a character who is not meant to be likeable, but is still extremely interesting, tumbling between madness and divinity. Rin has come a long way, has paid for her naive faith in the Dragon Republic and reconnected with the roots for which she was once mocked, finally deciding to rewrite history rather than be a “footnote” in it. This is not to say that she has learnt from all her mistakes. She is still unable to contain her anger and thirst for vengeance, and she still makes naive choices, which, however, feel very consistent with her character. Family-related sub-plots that could have taken up a significant portion of other books do not concern her, which feels alienating but also refreshing in the sense that she is a fully developed, deeply flawed character unlike any I have read. Due to her complex personality and her interactions with her vengeful god, the book was both readable and demanding, asking difficult questions and avoiding easy answers as Rin descended into paranoia.

Rin’s interactions with other characters, particularly Kitay, Nezha and Venka, both bring out different layers of her personality and illustrate the others as great, complex characters in their own right. Throughout the book, I felt so much love, particularly for Rin’s relationship with Kitay. Despite the very difficult and brutal choices they had to make, I wanted them to be ok, even though this looked highly impossible. Nezha, while flawed and infuriating for many, many reasons is also a tragic character and the dynamic of the three echoes the twisted, self-destructive relationship of the Trifecta. Learning more about the latter added layers of meaning to many scenes. My one criticism is that I felt a bit more could be written about the relationship between Su Daji, Riga and Ziya, as their choices regarding Riga, who had few redeeming qualities, if any, felt quite naive. I won’t say more because I want to keep this spoiler-free. Moreover, since the trilogy is heavily inspired from historical events and comments on history’s cyclical nature, repeated bad choices made sense in-universe:

“There are never any new stories, just old ones told again and again as the universe moves through its cycles of civilisation and falls into despair.”

But some old stories can be told in unique ways and this is what happens here. As the author herself has said, for someone who knows enough about the relevant historical events, the ending will come as no surprise. The promised heartbreak is delivered, almost poetically so and still, one or two elements surprised me (and added to the sadness). Two days later, I still think about it and no doubt I will for a very long time.

I could go on forever, but instead, I will just urge you to read it. The whole trilogy is a remarkable achievement, showing us why fantasy can be a great vehicle to explore power dynamics, cycles of violence and historical trauma. I can’t wait to read Kuang’s next books.

The Burning God by R. F. Kuang

Have you read The Poppy War trilogy? Do you plan to? More importantly, do you have any suggestions for the inevitable book hangover? Let’s discuss in the comments!

Finally reading The Testaments – A reflection on late book instalments

The Testaments by Margaret Atwwod

I first saw Margaret Atwood’s Testaments when I was younger and more hopeful – that is 1.5 year ago, in a London airport, waiting for my first ever flight to Glasgow. It was a hardback and my hands were full at the time. I have to admit I was wary of a Handmaid’s Tale sequel three decades later. It was the same wariness I had for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (though I read that one immediately upon publication, because I was feeling like a Hunger Games scholar at that time).

Fast forward 1.5 year and an Apocalypse, and I somehow still have energy to read dystopian literature. Eventually, I could not resist an affordable copy of The Testaments when I found it. So I thought, “ok, now that I have it, I can check out the first 1-2 pages and see what this is all about.”

Well, “this” was about 1-2 pages becoming 100 in one sitting. Definitely not what I had expected, given that The Handmaid’s Tale was so bleak even I had to take breaks (and you know that I kind of like reading about dark worlds). I had expected many things but I had not expected The Testaments to be a page turner. I suppose part of my interest was because I had always wanted more information on Gilead and the forms of resistance within it.

While A Handmaid’s Tale focused almost solely on the Handmaids, this group only appear very little in The Testaments. Instead, the book focuses on the lives of the Aunts -especially those who worked with the founders of Gilead- and the Daughters -the children of Commanders and their wives, adopted or otherwise. The narrative alternates between the point of view of the infamous Aunt Lydia, a Commander’s Daughter called Agnes Jemima, and Daisy, an outsider living in Canada, who finds herself entangled in a Mayday scheme against Gilead.

As always, Atwood’s writing is beautiful, reflective and critical of the ways women have been silenced, and are still silenced in different parts of the world. Even more than its predecessor, The Testaments is preoccupied with subtle forms of resistance that can be formed even under the strictest regimes. While the abuse suffered by the Handmaids remains one of the most horrifying things about Atwood’s dystopic worlds, seeing the lives of girls who have been indoctrinated in Gilead’s misogynistic theocracy ever since they can remember is also very hard to read. Through the character of Agnes, we see a girl who has never been able to fit in the standards set for her and eventually comes to see Gilead for what it is and fight, making this a more hopeful narrative. Aunt Lydia’s testimony, aimed at a future reader, is beautifully written and while I did not particularly like Daisy, who often acted rude and immature for no reason, her character development was interesting.

Now, I aim to keep my reviews spoiler-free when I can, but there are some particular plot points I want to address so do expect some SPOILERS in the next few paragraphs.

While, as I have already said, I enjoyed reading Aunt Lydia’s reflection, I found her representation hard to reconcile with Offred’s description in the first book. Sure, Offred is meant to be an unreliable narrator, but Aunt Lydia still did horrible things to her and other women. I will admit I don’t know what else she could have done given the shocking circumstances presented in her backstory in The Testaments. Seeing that she was a mastermind subtly working against Gilead from the beginning was mind-blowing to read. But to what extend should such a character be redeemed? Perhaps I’m too heavily influenced by her representation in the Hulu series, which makes it almost impossible to imagine her as a secret rebel. It didn’t help that the way she chose to execute her revenge against Gilead didn’t feel entirely plausible. Exposing Gilead’s dark secrets is exactly what happened in Season 2 of the series, through the leaked letters of the Handmaids, and we didn’t see that bringing Gilead down. This, along with the girls’ success in a seemingly doomed scheme, made it hard for me to suspend disbelief.

Which brings me to my other issue : The Handmaid’s Tale is very open-ended, leaving enough room for a sequel. Such a belated one, however, makes me wonder about the extend to which it came naturally. Its being heavily influenced by the series suggests this book might not have happened, if not for the adaptation’s huge success. This is not necessarily bad and we should try to be open-minded about adaptations and about media influencing one another. At the same time, I couldn’t help being a bit irritated with ‘Baby Nicole’ who only existed in the series being such an important plot point, especially since I could tell immediately that this was Daisy’s true identity. Perhaps this was intentional as the way this realisation changes her is more important than the mystery surrounding her identity. I would be really interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments.

END OF SPOILERS

In short, I’m not against books getting sequels, on the contrary, I’ll often be very excited. What I’m wondering is this: if a book gets a sequel after the huge success of an adaptation, is the sequel really needed? Is the adaptation enough to cover the audience’s need for more?

Then there is the question of genre. In speculative fiction, as an umbrella term covering fantasy, sci-fi, horror and dystopian literature, creating a sequel might be particularly tempting. When you create a whole new world, it grows with you and adding to it might just feel natural. It does seem to happen a lot lately, not only in dystopian but also in fantasy literature with books like The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman and Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater (reviews coming soon, promise). I might be wrong on that one, but I feel sequels work better in fantasy, particularly since dystopian literature is often so effective because it doesn’t give answers. Part of the reasons why The Handmaid’s Tale is so enduring is that we don’t know what happens to Offred in the end and while I still crave an answer, I respect Atwood’s decision not to provide a clear one. In The Testaments, while I enjoyed the plot and could not stop reading, I felt that some solutions were a bit too easy. Mind you, I wouldn’t want them to be harder, as the implications of the main characters’ failing would be too horrifying. But I suppose that given the fatigue some viewers felt in the third season of the series, it’s natural to wonder at which point the warnings offered by dystopias become too chaotic.

On the other hand, one can argue that dystopian literature is not only there to give us a bleak view of what might be. It is also supposed to tell us how, after the disaster, things can get better. In these hard times, perhaps this message is as needed are the warnings speculative works provide. I can’t argue against that.

And then, there is the idea of texts being breathing things, and the characters continuing to live beyond the last page, and through the readers’ continuous engagement. I read once, in a writer’s interview in a magazine many years ago that after the book’s end the characters are suspended in time. I definitely disagree with that. I believe the characters continue to live, through fandoms and dedicated readers if nothing else. Should they also live through much belated sequels by the author? Something about the death of the author could be said here, but as an aspiring author myself, I have no easy answers.

This ended up more chaotic than I thought, but at the end of the day, speculative fiction is about asking questions. I would love to hear your thoughts on The Testaments or sequels in general, dystopian or otherwise.

5 Reasons why new writers (and not only) should watch Whispers of the Heart

I hope everyone is keeping well. This has been a tough week for many reasons and I have tried to find comfort in writing. Despite hope that I will learn my lesson, I am trying Na.No.Wri.Mo again this year, so I thought I might do a weekly writing positivity post to uplift fellow writers who are attempting it.

I recently watched Whispers of the Heart, one of the few Ghibli films I hadn’t watched before. While I felt I would have enjoyed it slightly more had I been closer to the main character’s age, I nevertheless liked it very much, and saw a bit of my younger self in it. I do wish I had watched it around middle/high school age, when I knew less about my writing practice than I do now, as I feel it would have helped me with some of my struggles. So here are 5 reasons why I think this is a great film for young aspiring writers (and other artists).

1) It’s a fun, uplifting story that contains specks of a writing theory.

The animation might not be as striking as that of subsequent fantasy classics like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle, but as is the case with all Ghibli films, Whispers of the Heart is beautiful in its simplicity. From everyday occurrences, such as visiting a library or following a cat around, to the less mundane antique shop and the and the magical scenes taking place only in Shizuku ‘s imagination, the animation alone makes for a great viewing experience.

Whispers of the heart young aspiring writers
It’s not by chance that this image is considered to have inspired the lo-fi study girl. Ghibli films remind us that the small things are beautiful and important.

The story itself might not be the most original, and in many ways it is your typical middle school romance. This is not to say that it’s not a cute story, with a main character who feels misunderstood but also determined to follow her dreams. even when they feel very far away.

What I loved the most about Shizuku’s journey was that I saw my younger self in her. Always writing and studying, looking forward to being able to focus on my book idea, experimenting and very emotional about my work. I think that the theme song “Country Road” that Shizuku sings in one of the film’s most iconic scenes isn’t coincidental. For many writers, the worlds we build become home, but the road that leads to that home isn’t easy, so we have to remind ourselves that it’s totally worth it.

2. It’s honest about the struggles of balancing life with writing practice.

What happens when you want to be a full time writer but aren’t quite there yet? When responsibilities get in the way?

Shizuku’s struggle to balance her school grades with her decision to take her writing more seriously – at the expense of sleep and a healthy lifestyle – may resonate with anyone who wants to make their writing practice part of their daily life, but haven’t found the right balance just yet.

Whisper of the heart GIF - young aspiring writers

Watching this film after finishing my Masters – and right after deciding to wait before enrolling in full time education again – made me feel grateful that I can currently make writing one of my priorities. It also reminded me that such a thing as a perfect schedule doesn’t exist. Putting writing first is a choice many writers might want to make at some point, and it can make all the difference when it comes to completing a project. At the same time, choosing to focus on other priorities, like education, might be just as important and even benefit one’s writing in the long run. Whispers of the Heart realistically shows both sides – and the fact that we can’t always balance them, but we can get there.

3. It shows the importance of a support network.

When I was around Shizuku’s age, I wouldn’t show my work to anyone. Not ever. I had this notion that a story had to be polished to perfection before the world could see it, and I wouldn’t even mention I was writing, because I somehow thought the statement wasn’t valid, unless I was writing something of quality. It took me years to realise this is not how artistic expression works.

 Whisper of the Heart (1995), dir. Yoshifumi Kondō gif young aspiring writers

I don’t know if it was intended that way, but the scene in which Seiji plays the violin and Shizuku reluctantly agrees to sing felt to me like a foreshadowing of her decision to share her work with Seiji’s grandfather, Nishi, and receive feedback. And while her determination to write a story while Seiji’s is away starts off as an antagonistic pursuit, there’s some truth in the fact that surrounding ourselves with people who are passionate about their craft can inspire us to work on our own.

More than that, the support of loved ones can be very important for a writer, whether or not they are involved in the writing. Shizuku’s conversation with her parents, their concerns, but also their understanding of the fact that she needed to prioritise what mattered to her, and their decision to support her even though they were worried, was so important and heartwarming to watch.

4. It tells hard truths about first drafts and feedback.

Most writers at the beginning of their career have felt this to some extent: we want to polish as we go, until we have something perfect, and perhaps this is what discourages so many people from actually finishing something. I’m totally guilty of that, which made me admire Shizuku for getting a draft done the first time. Not that this makes accepting a draft’s flaws much easier.

Whisper of the Heart (this is one of the reasons why I relate to Shizuku)

We are invested in our writing. We become emotionally attached to it, and no matter how many resources insist that we shouldn’t be, I insist that it’s ok. We are allowed to have feelings about what we wrote, because, at the end of the day, how much would it matter if we didn’t feel strongly about it?

In that sense, Shizuku’s meltdown after voicing what she had pretty much known, that her writing isn’t where she wants it to be, feels very relatable. The film doesn’t shy away from the fact that writers won’t necessarily like the first feedback they receive. At the same time…

5. … it reminds us that it will get better.

Writing well takes a lot of effort. Regardless of one’s talent, it’s still a skill that needs to be cultivated, and much time can pass without seeing tangible improvement. This means that we can’t get enough reminders that it’s ok, we are doing our best and will, eventually, get there.

shiro nishi  Whispers of the heart young aspiring writers

I particularly liked the gem metaphor Nishi used. While by no means the most original, it made me smile, because it’s a reminder of all the things each writer has to offer, and will only be able to offer by taking that first step, getting something out there, that is rough, that requires much more learning and effort to shine, but can be polished. And while such a positive, optimistic solution isn’t new or unheard of, it is really uplifting.

Have you watched any other films or series that focus on writing? And what other writing posts would you like to see in the upcoming weeks? Let me know in the comments!

Controversial Ranking: American Horror Story Seasons From Worst to Best

Hi there! I hope you are all enjoying this spooky season (as much as reasonably possible, at least). There are no Halloween parties or events these year where I am, and of course this is sensible. Thankfully, it’s a nice, cosy time for creepy books and series. I introduced my flatmate to American Horror Story and she didn’t kick me out, so I guess this is a forever friendship.

Since the early years of the American Horror Story fandom, I’ve been encountering lists that attempt to rank the seasons. It’s a side effect of the anthology format: with so many different settings, plots and styles, some are going to work better than others. Seeing what other fans and critics thought of each season, and their reasons for ranking them the way the do has always been interesting. However, I have yet to encounter the list I actually agree with, so I decided to make my own.

So grab some tea/coffee/pumpkin spice latte (or not, as eating while watching AHS isn’t necessarily a great idea) and let’s rank the seasons from worst to best. I won’t include 1984, the newest season, as it’s not on Netflix and I haven’t managed to watch it yet. As I have mentioned in my previous post, where I tease some of my preferences, feel free to fight me in the comments, as long as you’re nice about it.

8) Hotel

I’ll be honest here. This is the one season I haven’t finished. It was not Lady Gaga as I actually liked her acting. Was it the absence of Jessica Lange? Was it that, as the first one I actually tried watching, back in 2015, it just didn’t do the trick for me? No clue. Knowing that this isn’t the best for the credibility of my rankings, I’ll just admit it was a dnf for me, and I might update this list, when I actually get down to watching it. Given my tendency for settings in which bad people who hate each other are stuck together and have to cooperate, I feel this might not actually be so bad.

7) Roanoke

Yes, people praise it for being a subdued season with short episodes that avoided some of the pitfalls of Freak Show and Hotel. It didn’t help that I enjoyed some of the things most people perceive as pitfalls of Freak Show.

The concept, of course, was amazing. The story of the Roanoke colony is an enduring mystery, already teased in murder house, and I’ve been interested in finding out more from a very young age. I also love a good meta story, and the idea of a story within a story within a story, while parodying all these cringe-y paranormal tv shows was genius. Unfortunately, this was only 4 episodes. Then the fourth wall was understandably broken, and my, wasn’t it a mess. Great actors portraying mediocre, uninteresting characters who simply did not live to do enough for me to care about them, pointless body horror in the form of cannibalism and and a really disappointing ending that did not feel like a resolution at all. Not a fan.

6. Cult

Another one I’m not a fan of. I understand it was meant to be political satire, and it was rather chilling for an episode or two. However, after some time, I felt I lost track of what was satirised. Between the toxic relationships and what I felt was a ridicule of real life phobias and other issues, I couldn’t find anyone to root for, and I really don’t know where the whole thing was going. I have no memory of the ending either, which says a lot.

5)Apocalypse

There are a lot of negative things one can say about Apocalypse. I don’t know if it was objectively good, but to me, it was the point where things became entertaining again. Sure, it was over the top, totally unbelievable, and there are many, many choices I’m not at all sure about, but at least it was fun to watch, which is more than I can say of Cult or Roanoke. While Coven had a conclusion, it did feel pretty incomplete compared to other early AHS seasons, so it was nice to see an attempt at tying loose ends. Plus, Cody Fern was the most entertaining anti-Christ I’ve seen on TV. I will never stop enacting his over the top quotes.

4)Murder House

This is where it all started, and the story was arguably one of the neatest, with a relatively tight focus. It was a great introduction to the workings of the AHS universe. Having re-watched it recently, I think it has high re-watch value because things are foreshadowed so perfectly. The acting was also great and started a tradition of quirky characters, and actors who give their whole heart to the role even if a scene is a bit silly. The only negative thing for me was that I didn’t like most of the characters (I will forever rage at Ben Harmon, though Violet, Vivien and Moira were nice). I felt much more about the next 3 seasons, but this was nevertheless a really strong start.

3)Coven

A really fun season and perhaps the most stylish and aesthetically pleasing one. Some things did feel ridiculous and, as is the AHS tendency it soon descended into a hot mess, but it was a very enjoyable mess. From the iconic quotes, to some of the most iconic characters the returning actors ever plays (Myrtle Snow is my personal favourite) this season was witty and full of girl power. Something I definitely missed in Cult, for once.

2)Asylum

One of the grittiest, scariest seasons in my opinion. An asylum in the mid 2oth century is a terrifying even without a Nazi and the Devil himself running it. But more than that, I enjoyed the fact that, rather than being about horror as such, Asylum was about people. Sister Jude and Lana, especially, are some of the best characters I’ve seen in an anthology TV series. While Jude starts off as an antagonist, her life story is heart-breaking and while some of her actions are unforgivable, she did achieve character development, making one of Jessica Lange’s best moments. Lana, on the other hand, was an imperfect protagonist. I am really tired of protagonists who only have superficial flaws. Lana was selfish and ambitious in destructive ways, but at the same time she was such a survivor making it impossible not to root for her. It definitely deserves to be called one of the best AHS seasons if not the best.

1)Freak Show

Ok, hear me out. A lot of people hate this season and believe this is where it all went downhill. And yes, Asylum is probably better crafted plot-wise. I definitely considered putting it first, but, at the end of the day medical horror is not my cup of tea. Carnival horror is. So is any tragic story that features wandering circuses, actors etc, who live together in a found family structure. Yes, the plot seemed non-existent at times, but characters over plot is a rule I live by. A lot of people lament the fact that Twisty the Clown wasn’t the main villain, which I get, but also, the many different villains felt very realistic to me. While it might have seemed dull to the audience, I felt it perfectly captured the dangers faced by those the society perceived as monsters – and showed who the real monsters are. While not all characters were equally developed I cared about most of them to the point that the last two episodes made me cry. Also, despite popular opinion, I really loved Edward Mordrake and the musical numbers. Plus, Pepper’s story was one of the best TV episodes ever in my opinion. Obviously, all these are a matter of personal opinion, but I loved many things that people hated about Freak Show, so I’m making a list just to defend it.

Aaaaand that’s it. A very spooky, very subjective list, but then again aren’t all AHS lists subjective?

What was your favourite American Horror Story Season? And what are you watching this Halloween? Let me know in the comments!