embracing the wonder

OK… I’m going to warn you right now that this is a bit of a long rambling post, so unless you’ve read ‘Akarnae’ or have some interest in YA fiction or fantasy, you probably want to skip this post…

This morning I finished reading Lynette Noni’s debut novel ‘Akarnae’. (It’s pronounced “ah-kar-nay”, as helpfully explained early in the book, in case you were wondering.) I first heard of ‘Akarnae’ through the author’s blog. I started following her blog last year (?) when she was in the final stages of getting her book ready for publishing and release. It was a pretty exciting time, and even more so for me because she’s a local author (same state still counts as local, right?), so I wanted to support her and buy her book when it came out.

It was released early this year, but it took me a while to get around to buying it, and then it took me another while to get around to actually reading it (too many other books in the way). But now I’ve finally finished ‘Akarnae’, so let’s get on with the review!

I haven’t read a fantasy novel since October last year (when I read ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman), so I had another reason to be excited – especially since everyone says ‘Akarnae’ is a cross between ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Narnia’ and ‘X-men’ (which, by the way, it pretty much is). However, as I started reading it, I kind of felt like my (unintentional) break from fantasy novels was hindering my ability to let go of reality and embrace the fantasy world (or “embrace the wonder”, as the tagline for the novel goes). During the introductory few chapters, where we learn about Alex (the protagonist) and Akarnae (Hogwarts-esque academy for gifted teenagers) and Medora (the parallel world where Akarnae is), I kept thinking that everything was happening too conveniently for Alex. My brain also kept asking questions, and wanting more explanations and for things to be more logical.

Of course, in a fantasy novel, not everything is going to “make sense” exactly, but considering that ‘Akarnae’ is about a fictional world that has a link to our world, I would have liked for it to be a bit more believable (if that makes sense).

When I had a quick look on Good Reads earlier, it seemed like everyone who read ‘Akarnae’ really loved it. I started thinking that maybe I hadn’t been in the right mindset to read it …until I found one reviewer that pretty much had the same critiques as I did. Mostly it was about how Alex just instantly became friends with Jordan and Bear, who also promised keep her secret about coming from another world, and dedicated themselves to helping her settle in; and also about how she kind of just went along with everything and resigned herself to spending months in this bizarre academy while she waited for someone to send her home. I mean, if I’d found a door to Medora, as awesome as that would be, I’d be majorly freaking out (a lot more than what Alex did).

In my opinion, however, the descriptions – of people and landscapes and whatnot – were actually quite good (if a little cliched). However, I think there’s something about idyllic scenery in novels that kind of puts me off a bit (is that weird?)

Unfortunately this particular GR reviewer had only read about a quarter of the novel before deciding to abandon it. To Noni’s credit, I thought ‘Akarnae’ actually got better as it went along, particularly the second half of the novel. I kind of wonder if Noni rushed through the introductory part of the book so that she could get stuck into the action. That being said, there’s a lot of detail throughout the novel as well. I actually considered re-reading it so that I can soak up all the details, but I usually don’t re-read books (in general), so it’s probably not going to happen (unless I have to wait years for the sequel).

The only other (kind of) negative I’d add is that the writing style didn’t seem very refined. However, if you go from reading Irving and Marquez to reading YAF, you’re probably going to notice some disparity in writing style… I will say, though, that her writing generally flowed quite well, so it was really easy to just keep reading and reading (particularly the second half!)

Since I followed Noni’s blog before I read her book, I also wonder if that biased my opinion. On one hand, I think I was more likely to enjoy reading it because Noni actually comes across as a genuinely awesome, yet humble person on her blog. Conversely, being aware of this potential bias, I might have subconsciously tried to counteract it by being hyper-critical about her novel. I’m not entirely sure which way it went in the end.

Speaking of ends, I really liked how ‘Akarnae’ ended. Everything clicked into place and everything made sense. It does well as a stand-alone novel, but there are enough hints and teasers to make me want to read more. On top of that, I kind of get the feeling that Noni has a bit of a crazy imagination (in a good way, of course), so I’m quite interested in seeing where she takes Alex next.

like a moth to a light

Over the week-end, I finished reading ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman. It’s a book/series that I’ve wanted to read since I was a kid, but just never got around to it for one reason or another. Yep, it seems that even as a kid I had an impossibly long and ever-growing TBR list. And while I kind of forgot about the series as I grew up and moved on to other books, when I saw a shiney new copy at the library the other week, I just could not resist!

In a way, it was kind of refreshing – to the mind and the imagination – to read a YA fantasy novel again. I regretted never reading it when I was younger (it’s exactly the kind of book that younger me would have loved), but I don’t think my enjoyment of ‘Northern Lights’ was lessened at all by all these years of intending to read it.

I kind of wondered about writing a post/review for ‘Northern Lights’, seeing as it’s certainly not a new book, but I figure that people discover “new” books all the time. A colleague of mine, who I consider to be quite well-read, said she’d never heard of ‘Northern Lights’ before I started bringing it to the lunch room every day.

Well, anyway, I did thoroughly enjoy reading ‘Northern Lights’. I liked the premise of the story, especially the whole “daemon” concept, and having a constant companion (in the form of an animal) that you live and die with. I reckon Pullman did well with explaining about daemons throughout the story, in ways that made sense, rather than overloading readers with facts and background information at the start. The book made me want to have a daemon, and more than once led to day-dreams about what sort of daemon I would have… That’s the sort of thing that good fantasy novel does!

I also liked that he used a female protagonist in Lyra Belacqua. (I also have a certain admiration of fantasy/sci-fi authors who are good at coming up with really cool names, or names that really suit the character they belong to.) She’s a bit tomboy-ish, a bit brazen and daring, but still human and overall reasonably relatable.

There’s actually not much that I didn’t like about ‘Northern Lights’. Well, except maybe the ending. The ending wasn’t bad, but it felt kind of random and rushed, and not explained properly. At first I thought that this impression was born from my rush to finish reading it before it was due back at the library, but I actually re-read the ending the following morning, and was only slightly less dissatisfied…

I think there may also have been a few instances where the conversation didn’t seem to flow as naturally as it could have, but it was never anything really major. The overall writing style, however, was energetic where it needed to be, and smooth everywhere else. It was just incredibly easy to read (and not just because the font’s a bit larger than your average adult novel).

However, as much as I’d like to get on to reading the sequel, I kind of feel like I need a break from YA fantasy for a little bit. You know, just to allow my imagination to have a bit of a breather or something. Nevertheless, if I never get around to reading the rest of the series (which is quite possible at the rate I’m going), I’m perfectly content with having read the first instalment anyway.