Currently Reading: Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

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Remember how much I liked Grave Mercy? It was years ago, and I never wrote reviews for the other two books in Robin LaFever’s excellent His Fair Assassin trilogy, but the stories of Ismae, Sybella, and Annith have stuck with me for ages and have, quite honestly, made other historical fantasies pale in comparison. So imagine my joy when I saw, newly arrived on our YA shelves, Courting Darkness!

I’d been in a book slump ever since finishing Normal People. I needed something gripping, intricate, and not so close to home.  Enter my old assasin-nun friends, the girls I’d grown to love over three books and miss terribly in their absence. Even better, we get to meet new characters with connections to Saint Mortain in Courting Darkness.  I’m already so invested in the betrayals and connections at court, and can’t wait to read more tonight.

It did take me a few minutes to re-adjust myself in the world of 15th century France and Brittany.  Luckily for those of us who don’t have such canny memories, Robin LaFevers’ website has quite a lot of helpful information. A quick break to absorb it all and I was right back in the action (and the romance, and the drama… all that good stuff.)

I’ll try to post an actual review when I’ve finished the book. I imagine it will be soon. It’s been so long since I dove headfirst into a time-period and setting so rich as this, and I’m so happy to be back.

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Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney’s novels have away of finding me right when I need them most, and they always hurt my feelings.  There’s not much I can say about Normal People that other reviewers haven’t already said, so I’ll be brief.

I liked Conversations With Friends quite a lot when I read it this time last year, though again I took it right to heart and needed a moment to recover after. On the surface, Normal People is very – almost overly – similar, in style and structure especially.  Normal People also focuses on the internal workings of some complicated and intense relationships. The settings are even similar: Trinity College, a summer house abroad…  But Rooney’s already good writing has improved tenfold in this second offering. Her characters feel so real I miss them. And the joys and anguish they suffer through, though dramatic, are flawless mirrors held up to the experiences of so many individuals learning to be adults and trying to be people.

The plot, quickly, is as follows: Connell and Marianne are schoolmates in county Sligo. He’s quiet but popular, concerned about how others perceive him, secretly intellectual.  She’s friendless and refuses to alter her abrasive personality to remedy this. Normally the two of them would never come into contact, but Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house for a living and in this pocket of the world the two become something like friends, something like lovers.  The narrative skips ahead days, weeks, months every chapter to show us the progressions and regressions of their entanglement. Eventually, both characters are students at Trinity, where Marianne has found herself among like-minded people and Connell feels isolated. Though their circumstances have changed, their fraught reliance on one another has not.

We follow Marianne through abuse, genius, friendships, and attempted self-destruction. We watch Connell struggle with class, creativity, love, and depression. All the while, I was desperately hoping they’d be there for each other. And sometimes they are.

Even though the characters in Normal People are teenagers, it’s definitely a book for adults. I would have enjoyed it as a young person, but part of the magic here is that they were slightly younger than me, and I felt oddly protective of their feelings even while they were destroying mine.  (There’s also quite a lot of sex and misery, so, like, not a book for people under 13.)

It will take me a few weeks to get my heart back on straight(ish) after reading this.  Normal People comes out in the states this April. Buy it – locally! independently! – and fall right in.