Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Book: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Wow. That is all I can think just having read the book. Its based on Edgar Allan Poe's novella The Masque of the Red Death, which I read before this book knowing that that was what it was based on. I didn't really think that there was much substance in Poe's version, though it has given me a good idea of what may happen in the sequel, Dance of the Red Death.

At first I found it difficult to determine what time period the novel was set in, eventually I decided on early 19th century because of the mentions of steam carriages replacing the horse drawn type when all the horses died, the lack of any technology, mentions of how modest fashion was adapted to show as much skin as possible, and the mention of being chaperone-less (and being young and female). Despite it seemingly being set at least 100 years ago, the novel doesn't feel out of date in the slightest (though having been released last year it would have struggled to!)

EDIT: the goodreads entry for Masque of the Red Death, informs me that it is set in 1870

The dystopia itself was interesting, as with Poe's original version it is set off by a plague that causes people to weep blood and pus, add to this Prince Prospero and his wish to control everything and everyone and there is a powerful dystopia on all fronts.

The characters had the right amount of depth, Araby really felt real, and her emotions went through a real range of emotions, from grief at the death of her twin (happened pre-novel), her confusion over the opposite sex (not just specific people but in general), her fear of dying, her wish for 'oblivion', it all adds to her. Similarly I enjoyed how April developed throughout, and when she 'changed' personality (albeit only slightly) it didn't feel like it was just a plot point, it seemed natural.

Another notable part of the characterisations was how believable the desires to overthrow Prospero were for both Elliott and Rev. Malcontent, it doesn't just feel like rebelling for rebelling's sake.

The only bad thing about this book is that the sequel isn't available til June! Well and the fact that I can't seem to find a copy of the ebook novella Glitter & Doom to read!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Book: The Glimpse by Claire Merle

I was quite apprehensive about reading this book as it is a dystopia where people are segregated by their mental health status, which I thought was quite a sensitive topic.

Unfortunately I don't think that reading it was worth it, I found that the writing and the pacing were difficult to read at times, and not because of the sensitive topic, and the plot a little bit clunky.

The characters seemed to lack a real depth of emotion, though I guess that this could be because of the emotion controlled state. But they also seemed to be a little inconsistent, such as Ana's father, at some points he appears to genuinely care for her and at others he seems to not.

Ana herself is just what you expect from a dystopian protagonist, she doesn't question much at the beginning and then starts to question more and more as the book progresses. But, more than any other teenage protagonist of a dystopia, she seems to be too much of a teenage girl, there is very little will to fight back unless someone else was encouraging her or pushing her forward.

One thing I did like was the slight variation on the love triangle, its not really there. Ana knows who she wants more or less from the word go, and makes her choice clear to just about everyone. And this really does highlight the difference between duty and love.

Overall I don't think I'll be reading the sequel (yet to be released) any time soon. This book is different, and though I struggled to really get into it, other people may really enjoy it.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Book: Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George

This is the third and final book in the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and I thought that it was a step away from the previous two that were firmly based on fairy and folk tales. There is a central fairy tale that it seems to be based on, and that is that of Little Red Riding Hood, though this I had guessed due to the cover and Petunia's red cloak. Though the story, or nods to the story, of Little Red Riding Hood is apparent throughout the book it does not seem to be the main plot line.

Unlike Princess of Glass, this one can not really be read as a stand alone book as it refers frequently to characters and events in the previous books and is much more linked to the Prince's of the King Under Stone.

Before picking up this book I had read some reviews saying that the character of Petunia was trying to be Poppy to hard (in the way she had been written). I am happy to say that I didn't think that was the case, there were frequent references to what her older sisters would do, but I'm sure that would be the case of anyone with 11 older sisters!!

Like with the other two novels there is a degree of predictability to the plot, the typical fairy tale ending; good wins, true love prevails, and this should make the tale lighthearted all the way through, though this isn't quite the case! There is evil in the book, there is cruelty and plotting, in just the right balance for this to be a fun, not too heavy read!

I'd also like to make a note on the way the author's writing seems to have matured, there were quite a few instances when Petunia (and some of the other Princesses, particularly Poppy) use words such as 'bastard' and other curse words. I think that in some ways this is good, as it does show the maturing of the characters as we;; as their spirit.

This is definitely a series of books to read if you want to have stories where the female characters work to try and save themselves, and then do save themselves with help (but not reliant on the help of) the male characters.

Book: Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

This is a sort of sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, though I would say that you could read this as a stand alone novel as the only real references to the previous book is a short summary of the story of the Westfalin Princesses, and some of the characters.

As you can probably guess by the name of the story, this one is based on the story of Cinderella (though you won't find the name Cinderella anywhere), with the slight twist that the Godmother is the 'bad guy' (though for all I know she could have been in the original story).

Instead of following all of the Princesses antics, this just follows Poppy (who is 16 and the twin of Daisy, I believe she is 4th oldest of the 12 Princesses). Poppy is a heroine full of life, she's mischevious and a bit devil may care, and this makes her story and journey even more enjoyable as you see how her feelings and emotions progress. Throughout the book you also see her coming to terms with, and dealing with, the events in the previous book, and becoming a more independent and happy girl.

I actually found that I was surprised at the ending to the book, like I said in my post earlier today about Princess of the Midnight Ball, it was predictable in the sense that it was a happy ending where good vanquished evil, but the love story that took centre stage was not the one I expected to.

I believe that in this novel, the author has taken a step up from Princess of the Midnight Ball, the story was more fleshed out and there was definitely more depth to them, though this could be something to do with there being far fewer important characters.

I would recommend this book without a shadow of a doubt, though I would also say that you should read Princess of the Midnight Ball first, just because it will give you more of a feel for Jessica Day George's writing style, and indeed for Poppy, though as I already mentioned, reading it before Princess of Glass certainly isn't necessary!

Friday, 26 April 2013

A comparison of dystopian novels: Women

First a note

Having read a few dystopian books recently I have been thinking about the role that women play in the future. At the bottom of the page I have listed all of the dystopian novels that I am going to refer to in this blog post. I would like to also mention that my A2 English Literature coursework was on the role of women in Orwell's 1984 and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and the second piece was on the portrayal of Jo in Little Women (not a dystopian work but the coursework was based on a critical assessment of feminism), though admittedly this was all 3 years ago...

There is a chance that there could be spoilers below.

A comparison of dystopian novels: Women

Firstly I wish to start with a dystopian classic, George Orwell's 1984, in Orwell's world there seems to be very little difference between men and women in the inner and outer party, the only particular difference being that men are not allowed to work in the pornography department. In fact the sexual oppression in 1984 is equally on men and women. This doesn't necessarily stretch down to the lower classes, those not in the party, though there is not really any textual evidence as to the status of women in those societies, with the exception that we know that prostitutes still exists from Winston's tale, but it is also mentioned that visiting prostitutes is banned for members of the party.

Looking at other older dystopias, particularly Huxley's Brave New World and Zamyatin's WE, there is also evidence of the sexes being equal, though this could be refuted simply by the fact that women are prevented from having children, completely in Brave New World, and until the right time in WE. Interestingly in both there is very little done to prevent people having sexual relationships, though WE does control who those relations are between.

Of the more recent dystopias Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Murphy's Reform, Rivers' After the Fear and Collins' The Hunger Games Trilogy, all appear to have equality between the genders, though it is important to note that in most of these there seem to be very few women in positions of power. In this case, Never Let Me Go, should be mentioned as not relating to the government or any positions of power at all, and seems instead to be more focused on the wish to be normal by all characters.

An important feature of these 'modern' dystopias is that they tend to have very strong female leads, this is particularly true of Sola in After the Fear, Katniss in The Hunger Games Trilogy and America in Cass' The Selection and The Elite. Though America is the only one of the three that never physically fights for her life, they are all competing for something. In The Hunger Games Trilogy, the government itself places men and women (or more accurately to those competing in the Hunger Games themselves; girls and boys), as they choose an equal number of boys and girls to compete. It is also worth noting that it is Katniss who 'saves' the district 12 tributes and not Peeta (though it isn't really his fault he got given a life threatening illness really!). This idea is carried on with the introduction of the rebels, many of the rebel leaders being female, again these are strong characters who are fighting for everyone. After the Fear takes the equality even further in some ways, for Sola, there is no difference between the test for her to become a Demonstrator, and the trsts for the male demonstrators, they are chosen on merit and skill alone. Though Sola is made a bit of a sexual object by a certain character, she is never discriminated against, or forced to do anything, simply because she is female.

America in The Selection is in a slightly different situation. As this book isn't really set outside of the Palace, it is unclear whether or not there is any relevant discrimination against women in general, though they at least appear to be treated as equals in the general population, it does appear that the man in the marriage determines the 'caste' of his wife, and there are different rules accorded to the marriage of Princes and Princesses. Altogether it is not particularly clear on the role of women, in fact it would seem that the role of them purely depends on the man in the role of father or husband, as it is in contemporary times.

Moving on to the more oppressive dystopias towards women, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, is probably one of the best examples of patriarchal society gone wrong. In the novel women are most definitely treated second class citizens, and the sexual oppression towards women is ripe, expected in the times by the women, andis certainly not shared by the men. This is contrasted with Offred, who is a strong central female character, though this is overshadowed slightly by the descriptions of her extremely feminist mother. It is also worth mentioning that even the name of the main character is oppressing, as it is changed from June (which is only a theoryt as it is never explicitly confirmed that that is her real name) to Of-Fred, which makes her seem like a possession not a person.

In Wilson's Whores, there is a reference to Offred (in relation to the character of Ofelia), whether or not Wilson did this in an attempt to draw parrallels between the two or not is unknown, however I would not class these books in the same league. The whole idea of Whores is that women's liberties to do with sexual conduct, health and child birth are all taken away, and women treated badly. Though the main issue with this book is that the writing itself seems to demean the female characters, which is something that the writer probably did not mean.

The last book I wish to mention is Greaves' 2022, a book that can easily be compared to The Handmaid's Tale. This again looks at the removal of women's rights, but it goes about it in a much better way than in Whores. This book isn't just about the removal of a women's sexual rights, but also to do with their right to work, to be independent, to have an education, they are simply expected to get married and have children. One of the things that makes this book work so much better is that the oppression is not just towards womebn but towards other groups too. The book follows a very independent women, Natasha, who wakes from a coma into a very different world, and her trying to come to terms with the changes that have occurred.

The Novels

It is probably worth noting that some of these I haven't read in a while, and that several are counted as Young Adult novels, though in my opinion this does not mean that the dystopias they portray are any less suitable for adults. Reviews of several of the below books (particularly the more recent ones) can be found on my blog.

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire (Hunger Games 2) by Suzanne Collins
  • Mockingjay (Hunger Games 3) by Suzanne Collins 
  • The Selection by Kiera Cass
  • The Elite (the Selection 2) by Kiera Cass
  • The Prince (a Selection novella) by Kiera Cass
  • WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin
  • Whores: not intended to be a factual account of the gender war by Nicolas Wilson
  • After the Fear by Rosanne Rivers
  • 2022 by Alison Greaves
  • Reform by Thomas Murphy

Book: Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

I would guess that genre wise this would count as fantasy, due to the nature of it and the fact that magic is a predominant part in the novel, but at the same time part of me does not want to class it as fantasy, it is more fairytale. The novel is based on the various versions of the folk tale; the worn out dancing shoes, in which (with some discrepancies depending upon where the tale is told) an old soldier tries to discover how the twelve princesses are wearing out a pair of dancing slippers every night, with the help of an invisibility cloak. When he discovers what is happening he is married to one of the princesses (this normally seems to be the eldest.)

The novel sticks to the basic outline of the folk tale, with the exception that in the novel it is very clear, from the very first page, that the Princesses are cursed and are not as frivolous as they appear to be in some of the folk tales. There are some other differences, such as the soldiers age and that there are only trees of silver (and lacking the gold and diamond trees).

I very much liked the way that, despite it being in third person narrative, and the fact that there are several parts of the novel where it is from the Princesses perspective, you don't actually find out what the curse is, or why the curse is there, or even who is behind the curse, until Galen does. There are clues and teasers throughout, but the suspense that the author builds up is put to good use in that way.

The characterisation fell a bit flat for some of the characters, though that can be expected from something based on a folk tale, particularly when there are 12 princesses (I can't name them all, and am thankful that the author gave at least some of them defining traits to help!), but Galen and Rose in particular did seem to have an interesting amount of depth to them. I did particularly enjoy the fact that Rose wasn't just a simpering Princess wanting to be rescued (and the second eldest Princess, Lily, was even less like that!) and she was seen as acting as a mother and otherwise strong figure for the other girls to look up to.

Like all folk and fairy tales it is obvious what the ending is going to be, and that good will triumph over evil, but in my opinion that didn't make the story any less enjoyable! Well worth a read!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Book: Reform by Thomas Murphy

I would definitely describe this as more of a novella than a book, I downloaded it for free from Amazon and read it within a couple of hours.

One thing that I just couldn't work out about this book was what time it was set in, the political parties were the same as they are nowadays, and there was mention of some famous British leaders (as well as people such as Karl Marx, though no surnames were ever given and it was simply my prior knowledge of Marxism that led me to believe that that was a reference to Karl Marx).

The story seemed very basic, there are very few named characters, and only two in the present day (discluding the Labour party leader, Alice, at the end, from who's point of view the last few pages are told). This allows Murphy to further explore Lily and her feelings, the whole novella really does seem like an explanation of why Lily did what she did. Ultimately she seemed to be entirely selfless, which made her lack a small amount of credibility. Though at the beginning I sensed that there was a lot of resentment from Lily towards the State, for what they put people through I presume.

In a similar way to 2022, which I wrote about earlier, this book is chilling in the way that it is about England and how everything changes for the worse, in this case through the eradication of the welfare state, that are brought on by recent politics. Though it is slightly more generic than 2022, it is only mentioned close to the end that the novella is set in Liverpool. I think that it is good and refreshing to read dystopias set in smaller cities (and even smaller countries) rather than just in London for British dystopias, and America.

For a quick read I would recommend this book, though there is nothing exceptionally astounding about it, it is still good enough to read.

Book: 2022 by Alison Greaves

As far as the speculative dystopian fiction books I have read go, this is by far the most unsettling. Though Orwell's 1984 was set in a future of the UK where things had gone badly, it still doesn't quite live up to the unsettelingness of 2022. Saying that, unfortunately come the actual year 2022, I believe that this novel will no longer pack the same punch.

The storyline is extremely clever, Natasha was part of a terrorist attack in Newcastle and was in a coma for 10 years. Even though the terrorist attacks are supposed to have happened in what would be the past to us in the present day, this doesn't detract from the power of the novel, or the shock at what England, and mainly the setting Newcastle, has become.

I think the worst thing about the dystopia (and so one of the brilliant things about the book) was that it was all so plausible, the changes weren't too extreme that the world was unrecognisable, for example they still used the pound, still had cars and buses, and even takeaway pizza! But at the same time it clearly isn't the England that we know today. The thing that Greaves did that made the dystopia so believable, was to explain how the changes came about, it started with the change from first past the post, to proportional representation, in parliament, allowing more extremists into power. Greaves also really illustrates the power of the press, even Natasha notes at one point that some of the more outlandish policies were placed in the minds of the public through newspaper articles, and that some articles were used as deterrents for crime.

I thought that the characterisation of the characters was good, the limited cast meant that Greaves had a lot of scope for diving into them, and it was interesting to uncover motives slowly, such as Jason's. The one exception is probably Mark, though most of his page time was mentions by Natasha and not his actual character, thus making it make more sense. The limited third person narrative surprised me, though I think, particularly in light of the conclusion of the book, that it was a good choice. The reader never really knows more than Natasha does, making their shock the same as Natasha's, which in my opinion works two fold; firstly, it allows you to feel there is more of a depth to Natasha, as you yourself are feeling how she is about the changes, having had no pre-warning, and secondly, the changes shock you, it really makes you think how  the changes happened, and the references to Cameron and the coalition just re-enforce that.

Unfortunately it was is not all good news for Greaves, I was sadly disappointed in the ending, though I must admit that I find it difficult to imagine any other ending, particularly as this book is contrary to most dystopias, and is primarily about discovery rather than rebellion. Personally though, I found that the ending robbed some of the punch from the rest of the book, though I guess it could be described as somewhat ambiguous, it was just a bit of a let down. Though throughout the book you will notice that there are hints towards the ending, though I didn't pick up on them until I had read thew whole story.

On the whole I would recommend the book, it was unsettling and chilling, but it was everything that I dystopia should be! Though I think if you know Newcastle well (which I don't, thank goodness), you may find it even more unsettling. Natasha is a good character, and just the idea of someone waking up from a coma into a dystopia, works brilliantly. Overlooking the ending, this is a good book, there is real depth, and most disturbingly of all, it all seems so plausible!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Book: After the Fear by Rosanne Rivers

It would appear that I am on a somewhat dystopian role at the moment! This is a book that I came across purely by accident, and am I glad I did! Though similar to the Hunger Games in some ways, the book stills manages to retain its originality, and is actually set in the UK!

This is Rivers' first novel, and though part of me wants to know what happens next to Sola, I kind of hope that she leaves it at the one book, though I will definitely be reading anything else that she publishes!

The dystopia is interestingly structured, there are 26 cities (named after the NATO Phonetic alphabet, i.e. \Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta etc.) around the UK (including Ireland), which fear each other, and each play their part in repaying the nation's debt.

The story follows Sola, and her change of life status to becoming a demonstrator. Despite the fact that this was a first person narrative, there were several moments where I truly feared that Sola might die, which I think really shows the skill of Rivers' writing!

I was also impressed by the way that the relationship between Sola and Dylan was written, it was very real, with all the awkwardness, tension and time that a real relationship has, which is something that is missing in many books, making the world seem even more real.

Contrary to most dystopias, the people themselves don't seem to be particularly unhappy, or particularly limited or repressed (with the exception being the ban on travel, well and the demonstrations), which I believe adds to the originality, and it doesn't make the ending seem out of place. The book really felt like it was just people trying to make their way in life, and that was very refreshing.

I would definitely recommend this book, it is original, the characters develop well and have a good depth (even the 'bad guy' has other sides), and it is well written! Seriously: what's not to like???

Book: The Elite by Kiera Cass

This is the sequel to The Selection, it came out on Tuesday and I had finished it by...Tuesday.

This was a brilliant sequel, and I am very pleased to be able to say that Cass surprised me. One of the main issues I have with first person narratives is that you know 100% that they will survive until the end of the book (unless it is a multiple narrative first person narrative), though for dystopias the first person narrative definitely works, or at least it does for me, and if a dystopia is not in the first person then it benefits from being a limited third person narrative, the person working out what is going on is part of the thrill of reading it!

Anyway, I thought that the ending of the Elite was surprising, and the events leading up to it just as so, which made it refreshing to read, and not just a rehash of book 1. I was also happy to find out that I was right with my suspicion about what Marlee was up to!

I really felt that throughout the book the characters developed more (with the possible exception of Aspen, whose 'devotion' or 'obsession' with America grates on me for some reason), with America and Maxon in particular taking on more rounded and nuanced roles, they make mistakes and deal with them in a realistic way.

What I did find interesting was that there is no action by any of the central characters to actually bring down the government, the rebels are present, as they are in book 1, but there are no named characters on that 'side' in the book, yet at the same time there is a desire to change things.

Overall I would recommend reading this (after the Selection that is!) and am excited to see what Cass comes up with in the conclusion to this trilogy!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Book: Whores; Not Intended to be a Factual Account of the Gender War by Nicholas Wilson

This is another dystopian novel, though this one I would definately not recommend for younger people! The whole idea of the dystopia is that women have lost the right to abortion, contraceptives and other sexual freedoms, and that there is opression based on that. At the same time in this world there seems to be a stigma towards pregnant women and women who have previously had children, and them being able to work.

At first I thought this was a good basis for a dystopia, and in fact it still does remain to be a good one, but this book just didn't quite cut it. There was no real explanation as to why the world got like that or how it really affects the people in it. You hear stories of women in this world (well country, the rest of the world seems fine) but that's all really, there's no real wide spread explanations of how citizens are being treated. And these flash backs and stories themeselves take up time and space in the book which could have been used much more effectivelhy.

In part this led to the characters being somewhat flat, though this was also helped along by the severe lack of characterisation overall. When suffering a major loss, none of the characters really responded as you would expect them to at the loss of a close friend, lover or even body part in one case, and similarly no one seems to have particular feelings about the brands that they are given. This is for the 'rebel' characters. Add to this that at least every female rebel seemed to have a tendancy towards lesbianism and the characters just fell flat in my opinion, too samey for sure!

The characters that were part of the gender crimes unit were similarly vague, it was unclear to me whether one of the characters was male or female until part way through, and the only female character in this setting was basically just a seductress with no feeling for the women she's putting behind bars/killing.

The plot itself was pretty basic, and not just the interuption of everyone's life stories, but the detailed descriptions of weaponary, didn't allow the story to flow as easily as it could of, it tended towards being clunky. Also the ending seemed to be dispraportionally happy to the events leading up to it, including the big finale. There was no sadness just a great sense of having beaten the regime when, in my opinion, they hadn't actually done that much to even harm the regime really.

The one thing I did like about the book though, was the references to other famous dystopian novels, there was a nod to George Orwell's Winston Smith from 1984, and a part where Lisa asks Ofelia whether or not her name is in the style of Margaret Atwood's the Handmaid's Tale (in which the handmaids took the name of their commander and put 'Of' in front of it to give them their name, the main character is therefore Offred).

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Book: The Selection by Kiera Cass

And the Selection Novella: The Prince.

It may surprise you to know that I have read a book (and its related novella) that is not a fantasy novel (though I also re-read the Other Boleyn Girl). This book is a dystopia, though one that is not nearly so depressing as some dystopias I have read (1984 and Never Let Me Go being two of the most depressing).

I saw that this book is described as being in between the Hunger Games and the TV show The Bachelor, and I must admit that that description is correct in my mind. It is set 300 years in the future, not that you would know as many of the things mentioned are the same as today, and there is a caste system in place which is highly restrictive. Royalty has been reestablished all over the world, and there is a reality tv-like contest that results in a bride for a country's Prince. America (the name of the main character) is picked for this show and meets Maxon, and trys to forget her previous love, Aspen.

Like Katniss in the Hunger Games, America has the right amount of confused feelings towards the men in her life and what to do about them, and it is something that I am sure every teenage girl can relate to! But, though a lot of the focus is on the dresses and the nice food/parties, there is an underlying sense that everything is not well in the country, and that there are many more dangers than America knows about, and that definately adds another depth to the story.

The novella, the Prince, demonstrates the unfairness of the system for the Royal children, which is unusual in a dystopia as protagonists tend to be low down the scale, but I found that it in no way detracts from Maxon's character and how he comes accross in the Selection itself.

The second book of this trilogy, The Elite, is being released soon, and I honestly can't wait to read it, I think things will gain more depth and the story will develop much further.

If you are a fan of dystopian fiction then I would recommend this book to you.  

Book: The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

I read another book by one of my favourite authors, though I would probably refer to this as more of a novella than a book.

Once again, Sanderson proves to be the master of magic systems, the depth and detail that he puts into making and developping them is extraordinary, and even more so when you take into account that the systems themselves are so original, I have never read anything with a magic system similar to one of Sanderson's creations.

The fact that this book is so readable is a real credit to him, especially as the vast majority of it is set in one room, and that there are actually very few characters in the plot, and even fewer that actually play an active role.

For a quick read, definately give it a go! Sanderson once more remains unbeaten for magic systems!

Book: The Hythrun Chronicles by Jennifer Fallon

This is also sometimes referred to as two seperate series, the Demon Child trilogy and the Wolfblade trilogy. Though the Demon Child Trilogy were written first, the Wolfblade trilogy is set first. And so, the recommended reading order is:

  1. Wolfblade
  2. Warrior
  3. Warlord
  4. Medalon
  5. Treason Keep
  6. Harashini
I didn't really know what to expect when I picked up Wolfblade, but I am really glad that I did. I found it while looking for books with strong female protagonists, and I must say, Marla, Kalan and Adrina definately fit that category! As does Aija for that matter, though maybe she is better described as an antagonist. 

The way that the story progresses is different in the two sets of books, the first is very much a coming of age story, for both Marla Wolfblade and her children (and various step-children, nieces, nephews, wards etc.). As well as focusing strongly on the political side of things, as you may have noticed, it is the political fantasies that I like the best, and this is definately one of those. There is magic involved but it plays a very limited role in the books (partly to do with the limited number of users) and so that isn't really the focus. 

The second set of books does focus more on the magical side of things and how the Gods are interferring (particularly with the demon child) and trying to get her to fulfill her destiny. In a way it is also a coming of age story for R'shiel, though it also has elements of discovery!

Some of the things that happened in the Demon Child Trilogy I saw as kind of predictable, though to be honest I would probably have been disappointed if they hadn't actually happened! 

Read this series, it really does deserve more credit! Though once again, read Wolfblade first or you'll be ruining some of the plot!

Book: The Realm of the Elderlings Series by Robin Hobb

So this includes the following books:

  1. The Farseer Trilogy Book 1: Assassin's Apprentice
  2. The Farseer Trilogy Book 2: Royal Assassin
  3. The Farseer Trilogy Book 3: Assassin's Quest
  4. The Liveship Traders Series Book 1: Ship of Magic
  5. The Liveship Traders Series Book 2: The Mad Ship
  6. The Liveship Traders Series Book 3: Ship of Destiny
  7. The Tawny Man Trilogy Book 1: Fool's Errand
  8. The Tawny Man Trilogy Book 2: The Golden Fool
  9. The Tawny Man Trilogy Book 3: Fool's Fate
  10. The Rain Wild Chronicles Book 1: Dragon Keeper
  11. The Rain Wild Chronicles Book 2: Dragon Haven
  12. The Rain Wild Chronicles Book 3: City of Dragons
  13. The Rain Wild Chronicles Book 4: Blood of Dragons
And also includes several short stories, not all of which I have read. I know this seems like a substancial list of books, but I found myself drawn into the world that Hobb creates and the books were somewhat effortless to read. Books 1-3 and 7-9 (on the list above) are all narrated in the first person by FitzChivalry Farseer (who I must say, has incrediable luck avoiding death!) and focus on a country called the Six Duchies. Books 4-6 and 10-13 are told in the third person narrative, following several characters throughout Bingtown and the Rain Wilds.

Throughout all 13 books there is the theme of fate and ultimately the part that each of the characters is playing towards the return of dragons. I really enjoyed the way that the books 'overlapped' more than just being set in the same universe. For example, a certain character from books 1-3 being carved onto the figure head of a liveship in book 6 (or maybe 5), Jek, and Seldon, turning up in books 7-9 after being characters in books 4-6. There are also little mentions of bits of information learnt from the other books. Hobb really does make sure that you know how things ended up for your favourite characters! And don't get me started on how proud I felt when I worked out Amber's secret before it was explicitly mentioned!

Hobb creates real characters, with real growth, that do little moping thankfully! The best example of this is probably Malta, who I really didn't like in book 4 but by book 13 I liked her at least a bit more!

I enjoyed the fact that these books all tied together but there was no overkill of the characters, because you were taken into another part of the world before you could get bored or frustrated. I was glad that this turned out this way because I must admit, I was apprehensive about the switch between the Farseer Trilogy and the Liveship Traders Series, and the fact that it was a different style of story and different characters. But in the end I think my favourite character of the lot was from the Liveship Traders Series (Althea Vestrit if you're interested) so those worries weren't well founded!!

Give these books ago, they are incrediably well written, easy to read and it is a fantastic story!

And my piece of advice: READ THEM IN THAT ORDER, if you don't then you will spoil some of the events from previous books (and reading them in that order makes the story much more logical!)